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Woven Revolution: Helene

When I was growing up, New England was considered the bastion of freedom, especially during the American Revolution time period. It was from there that the first winds of change blew. The Puritans, in their quest to worship as they pleased, sailed from England to the New World to establish a colony based on religious freedom.

That was what I was taught.

That was not, in reality, what happened.

Colonial Tolerance

Let me honest here: none of the American colonies were especially freedom loving. There were stipulations placed upon members of society that went against what we would hold dear now. As a woman, I would have had no right to vote, but neither would a free African, the native tribes, or any white man who owned no land. When they speak of freedom, the Founding Fathers spoke of a limited freedom, but within that limitation the Middle Colonies were some of the freest colonies, especially in the form of religious freedom.

Pennsylvania and Maryland were both founded by groups the Church of England routinely harassed: Quakers and Catholics. Unlike the New England Puritans who harassed non-Puritans such as Quakers and Baptists, the Quakers of Pennsylvania and the Catholics of Maryland were a little more ecumenical concerning religious beliefs.

New York was founded by the Protestant Dutch who saw the colony as a business venture, and welcomed anyone who could make money. To the south of the these colonies lay the Anglican South and to the north lay Puritan New England, both opposed to other religious views to one extent or another.

A Woman Lost

Helene Keast is Catholic, but after she loses most of her family in a plague that hits her town leaves Maryland for Lancaster where her uncle resides. She takes her two nieces and nephew with her in hopes of securing safety. Like her namesake, Helen of Troy, Helene is a beautiful woman who attracts undesired attention.

Of the three women, she is the quietest, preferring to observe first. She is hard-working, and tends to push attention away from herself onto others. At the age of twenty-five, she is a widow, but without any children from her own marriage.

Helene's entire life was wrapped up in her family and community. Without that connection she is lost in the world around her. When she learns that her uncle is dead as well, her world spins out of her control, and Helene must make her own way in the world as well as provide for three small children.

For her, the decision is obvious: work her uncle's farm, but when that proves futile, she begins weaving to barter for goods. As the war draws closer to Lancaster, Helene realizes that she needs to become the leader she never expected to be.

Throughout her story, Helene sheds her submissive weaknesses to become a leader willing to step into the role life has offered her.


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