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  • Mj Pettengill

From the Author's Pen: Another Version of the Truth


Mj Pettengill, Etched in Granite
Blast from the Past (1860s, Mj Pettengill)

How does it all come together? Write what you know, and know what you write. My work emerges from a treasure trove of experience and extensive research. In addition to my academic background, I have experience in Civil War musicology and music performance. I am a wildcraft herbalist, farmer, and teacher, not only of others’ children and adults but my own children, guiding them to college, conservatory, and beyond.

I have been drawn to history for a very long time, portraying people from the past—my own second great grandmother and others. I wore hoop skirts and kepis. I played on historic battlefields, ate hardtack, and carried a flask under my petticoat. I enjoyed and blew my own mind as a soloist on an 1860s Eb cornet. I was the principal in more than one band, owning it on multiple levels.

My shining moment was playing, Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming, at the gravesite of my ancestors, including Hollis Pettengill, who served in the 8th Vermont Regiment, Co. B. A few plots away are the burial sites of his cousins who served in the 1st Vermont Cavalry. They are all in our family genealogy book. I finally found their graves in North Troy, Vermont. Of course, I was dressed in my 1860s attire and playing my vintage horn.

Those experiences were grand, and I carry them with me. Then it all changed. My intentions became evident. I shifted my focus, examining missing pieces of traumatic information from our past cultures and DNA and how lost memories have manifested, translating into the now.

As I have mentioned before, my studies led me to remarkable historical, psychological, and theological subjects, reaching back to the (Gnostic Gospels) Nag Hammadi Texts and the Divine Feminine. All of this intertwined with my own and others’ more recent histories, going back to the seventeenth-century. Initially, my approach was from a genealogical standpoint, followed by a theological perspective that soon took on powerful spiritual meaning. I found the 298 and more. I answered a call then as I am now.

Earlier, as a historian and an Ingersoll, I was exceedingly curious about my ancestors’ involvement as persecutors in the Salem Witch Trials. At first, and for some time, I was plagued by this as I viewed various documents—testimonies and signatures as plaintiffs accusing alleged witches. Although I passed by, I did not enter the Ingersoll House, where the accused witch inspections took place. That was quite some time ago. I believe I am ready to go there now. Facing and unearthing past atrocities is often uncomfortable, bringing about emotions lost in time, but I am getting seasoned.

My genealogical research became a full academic study while attending Vermont College. This scholarly examination brought about an understanding of strict and rigid Puritanic beliefs and doctrines. Hence, this became a superb opportunity to go back even further, attempting to comprehend what it may have been like for my 12th-great grandfather and grandmother to cross the Atlantic in 1628.

Like others, they traveled from England to the “New World,” which I also discovered was my indigenous Abenaki ancestors’ world, long before my white ancestors arrived. So much untangling!

My research and writing is a work in progress. I go back in time and uncover stories, events, and circumstances that were either not recorded, edited, or skimmed over. During discovery and disclosure, I become aware of the extraordinary power in ordinary people’s voices.

History books are only a heavily revised version of the truth. I have concluded that they are but a distraction and distortion of the world view throughout time. We hope to arrive at another version of the truth through the commoner’s stories and what lies between them.

Until we dare to delve deeply into places previously feared or unknown, we are without direction. When we summon the courage to sift through the remnants—the old bones that lead to the truth—we begin to heal the wounds of those who came before us, ourselves, and future generations. Without such knowledge and wisdom, we are but rootless trees, destined to fall in the raging storms that continue to plague us.