from Philip McFarland, former English teacher at Concord Academy:
I’ve finished your wonderful Vagabond Quakers, read every word with pleasure. What impressed me most was how much at home you were in your long-ago world, and how wide-ranging your research must have been to get you there. Clothing, speech, customs, transportation, seasonal variations, food, geography, politics, medicines and medical treatment, ecclesiastical matters, trades, legal and illegal punishments, domestic architecture, furniture, familial arrangements, history and government, amusements, delivery and care of babies, ship and boat architecture, trade routes, local botany, Native American culture and language, tidal movements—a very partial list at best. And you wear all that learning lightly and gracefully.
Yet there were other accomplishments in Vagabond Quakers equally challenging, equally impressive: your huge cast of characters, adequately individualized and the major ones realized in memorable depth; your complex and compelling plot; your clean, uncluttered narrative style throughout; the authenticity of the dialogue; and the effective use of contrast.
Not only are you at home in your distant world, but how vividly you’ve imagined and recreated it. One effect of such scrupulous imagining, of putting yourself into your characters’ shoes and surroundings so relentlessly and successfully, is a complete acceptance on the reader’s part of the authenticity of your presentation.
The plot, of unfailing interest before, grows gripping as soon as Mary and Allie approach falling into Walderne’s hands. We see it coming with dread, having learned to care for the women warmly by then, and to understand the deep faith that moves them. Similarly, we learn a great deal about what motivates the Puritan community, and why the mild Quakers were such a threat to the constrained puritanical life. Not the least of the many gifts of this remarkable book is its furnishing a deeper understanding of not only the Quakers but also the Puritans and their beliefs that were so instrumental, through migrations out of New England westward in the 17th and 18th centuries, in forming the moral code of early America.
But all that—admirable as it is—rather overlooks the novelistic skill of the author that the long and varied narrative illustrates: the skill at dramatizing exposition, the informative juxtaposition of contrasting characters, the careful back stories that add much to the substantial heft of the whole, and the narrative urgency throughout. This results in the sort of book that rivets and compels the reader’s attention the farther it proceeds. Novels may begin well and dwindle in interest in late pages; no such lapse could ever be charged to Vagabond Quakers.
from Clarence Burley, member Worcester Friends Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) of the Society of Friends:
A thrilling tale of faith and adventure recounts the true story of Mary Tomkins and Alice Ambrose, Quaker missionaries in 1662 Puritan New England. The novel, Vagabond Quakers, by Olga Morrill places these Friends with friends among settlers of several faiths, and foes among corrupt ministers and powerful magistrates. They are subjected to the Whip and Cart Act more gruesomely described than in Whittier’s poem, How the Women Went from Dover.
Alternating chapters tell the story of Richard Walderne, the Puritan magistrate whose warrant condemns the women to the whip and cart. His tale, beginning in 1635, recounts his immigration and rise to wealth and power, finally intersecting with the missionaries. He shows himself willing to go outside the law to protect the establishment against “the danger of these unnatural women.”
Caveat: The alternating chapters with over 400 pages and 90 characters make this a formidable read, but one well-worth the time and effort to understand life—domestic, commercial, and religious—of 17th century New England.
This book speaks of being Book One of The Vagabond Trilogy. Let us thank the author for donating it to all NEYM meetings, and hope for Books Two and Three.
from Marina Kirsch, Editor of Vagabond Quakers: Northern Colonies
I finished rereading Vagabond Quakers late last week and was as mesmerized this time around as the first time.
The characterization and dialogue are outstanding, and you have obviously done your homework on all points. Not only that, but you even gave a semblance of humanity to whom we otherwise might consider the most vile of characters—such as Richard Walderne. You supplied understandable reasons for his coldness.
I found the book to be comforting because of the Quakers’ respectful and loving treatment of each other and everyone else around them. I so enjoyed reading of their ministrations to each other in what must have been a very inhospitable New World environment. I look forward to installment #2!