Ballads and poetry

In 1886, the very same year that Gow painted his famous picture, a poem by Sarah Orne Jewett was published on the other side of the Atlantic.

‘York Garrison: 1640’ evokes the anxieties of a Native American ‘raid’ on a New England refuge. Jewett, a contemporary of Mark Twain, grew up in South Berwick (now in Maine), one of the principle destinations of the Dunbar prisoners. The setting for the poem, ‘The Scotland Garrison’, is a dwelling much like the MacIntire or Maxwell garrison described in Step 4.12, which itself lies within Scotland in York County, Maine. The poem is attached in the PDF below.

There are several historical anachronisms in this piece. The poem is dated 1640 but the Scots did not arrive in New England until December 1650, nor were there any attacks and raids by Native Americans until after 1675. Parts of the story, however, do contain accurate elements of local biography. The Mastersons were a real family of early settlers in York (Maine) with a tragic history. The father and mother were both killed in The Raid on York (also known as the Candlemas Massacre) which took place on 24 January 1692 during King William’s War. Their two daughters were captured and later redeemed. From her historical research, Jewett was well aware of these perils of captivity on the frontier, hence her reference in the poem to ‘The awful march to Canada’. There were many such real-life incidents involving former Dunbar prisoners’ families (see Step 4.11 for more details). William Gowan’s son was killed in 1691, John Key’s five year old son James was badly beaten and killed in 1689 when John and two of his other children were sold in Canada. In his will of 1692 George Gray was still wondering what had become of his son and ‘if ever shall please god to deliver him out of captivity’.

Does it matter that a poem or another kind of creative response to a real event is not historically accurate? Discuss with other participants in the Comments section below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

Durham University