Friday, May 11, 2012

Penelope Book has Special Meaning to Me

Yesterday I received an email notifying me that the book pictured above, 'Penelope: A novel of New Amsterdam' by Jim McFarlane, was newly available. I recalled reading a story about a "Penelope", one of the people in my genealogy database, but it was so long ago that I couldn't quite remember the details. But my husband recalled every minute detail, as he's quite a "story" man. Evidently Jim McFarlane had done his research, and sent a notice of the publication of his book to the people he found online who had this "Penelope" in their genealogy work.  
I did a quick check in my RootsMagic file and found how I was connected to Penelope. While she's not a direct ancestor of mine, she is the mother-in-law of my 7th great grandaunt! I created this chart to show that relationship:
Penelope's son James Stout was the husband of Elizabeth Truax, who is the sister of my 7th great grandfather Phillipe Truax. 

This is the quick tragic story that I have in my genealogy notes about Penelope: 
Born in Holland in 1622, to English parents, Penelope Thomson married Kent van Princis in 1642 and then joined her young husband and other Dutch settlers headed for New Amsterdam. When almost there, violent storms wrecked the ship off Sandy Hook (now New Jersey). All survived, but Penelope's husband was seriously ill and she chose to stay behind and nurse him. The remaining passengers and crew then set off on foot for New Amsterdam.

Indians soon found the couple on the beach, killed the husband, partially scalped and disemboweled Penelope, hacked her left arm and left her for dead. The young widow lay unconscious, her skull fractured, her abdomen slashed open with bowels protruding, and her left arm so mangled that it would never again be normal. Somehow she revived, held her intestines in place with her right hand and dragged herself into a hollow tree.

Two Indians and a dog came along. The dog found Penelope in the tree. She had been in this forlorn, distressed condition for 7 days when the Indian found her and Penelope prayed that they might end her misery. The younger Indian was willing to oblige but the older Indian dissented. In his compassion, he took her out of the tree and carried her to his wigwam where, after sewing up her wounds with bark and fish bone needle, he treated her kindly, healed her wounds, and nursed her back to health. She stayed with the Indians, working, learning their language and their ways. Eventually, a reward was offered. When Penelope was restored to a condition of health, the Indians brought her into New Amsterdam and claimed the reward.

Penelope recovered completely and about two years later met Richard Stout in New Amsterdam. They were married in Gravesend, Long Island, in 1644, when she was 22 and Richard was 40. In 1668, they moved to Middletown, where they were the sixth white family in the settlement. They became rich in prosperity and rich in children. They had together seven sons and three daughters, all of which lived to raise large families. Several years after the Stouts came to Middletown, Penelope's old Indian benefactor called on her to warn of an impending attack by his tribe. Penelope and her children fled in a canoe, but Richard Stout and his neighbors stood up to the Indians and argued them out of an attack. So the Stouts lived on into the 18th century. Penelope died in 1732 at the age of 110.

While I believe that story was embellished somewhat, it tells the tragic story of the basic events of this experience. 

Author Jim McFarlane's book described it this way:
Jim McFarlane was tracing the family genealogy when he came across the story of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, who was shipwrecked on her first day in America, was scalped by Indians on her third day, and was left for dead on the beach along with her dead husband. She survived, was ransomed, remarried, bore 10 children, and lived to a ripe old age.

Fascinated by this tale, Jim studied the history of the Dutch colony New Amsterdam and located (in the history books) a shipwreck that matched the scant details of Penelope's ordeal. Frustrated with the lack of facts, Jim was compelled to write Penelope as a novel, which provided opportunities to embellish with a murder mystery, pirates, banishment from Peter Stuyvesant's house, a little romance, and additional dangers for Penelope. Jim hopes that Penelope's story of raw survival will encourage us to overcome our own troubles and hope for a better future.

This morning I purchased the book, which is available here. I'm anxious to read it.....I'll let you know what my impressions are in a couple of weeks!
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