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  • Mj Pettengill

It Doesn't Begin With You


The Stockades, Mj Pettengill
The Stockades, Mj Pettengill

It’s human nature to believe that our circumstances are unique. To a degree, they are. For the most part, we have been here and done this many times before. This lack of knowledge is not entirely our fault because we do not have fair access to a full scope of history or what is unfolding in real-time.


As far back as I can remember, I have insisted on seeing things for myself.

Until typing this sentence, I thought that my inquisitive nature had nothing to do with trust. I was wrong. Combining my academic background with ongoing historical research and my now experience, I can say that it’s entirely about trust. All of what we encounter should pass through our own intuitive filter.

It’s common knowledge (I hope) that history is grossly edited, omitted, and in a constant state of manipulation based on politics and corporate agendas. This twisting of history became fully apparent when I furthered my studies.

Right here in my own backyard, things were not as they seemed. I have covered this topic exhaustively. However, as I continue to research, I continue to find a steady stream of convenient omissions and intentional edits. One historical secret leads to another.

At first, I was overwhelmed. Now, I expect it. Viewing history and the research process as I do, has provided me with healthy coping skills in the rapidly fluctuating world that we inhabit today. Very little shocks me. Do I feel sad, compassionate, and some level of appropriate anger? Of course. It is not in judgment but acknowledgment. It is also of concern that many merciless human circumstances we thought of as strictly from the past are still very much in place. We have failed to learn from our mistakes. This might be because they largely remain out of sight. How can we correct and heal that which is unacknowledged? We can’t.

I believe that we are at the precipice of opening our eyes, minds, and hearts. We can no longer pretend that what we do not see does not exist. We have to be honest with ourselves and access the necessary courage to finally step into our truth.

Before setting out to reclaim the 298, my studies brought me to seventeenth-century Salem Village, Massachusetts. I was drawn to Salem because my ancestors—the Pettengill’s and Ingersoll’s—were among Salem and Newburyport’s founding fathers. The Ingersoll’s went on to persecute witches while Richard Pettingell eventually moved to Newburyport.

Richard wasn’t off the hook. Before the witch hysteria in Salem, he was a grand juryman for the Ipswich Trials. He was a patrolman and reported people who broke the Sabbath rules. For example, if you hunted a duck on Tuesday, and Richard saw you, you may end up in the stockades on Wednesday.

The purpose of my initial study was to examine the Puritan culture, gaining possible insight leading to the witch trials. This investigation branched off to yet another subject, the Gnostic Gospels. My work is an ongoing process of exploration. It will proceed until it is meant to cease. The stories are queued up and waiting to be shared.

So, I am the 8th great-granddaughter of Mathew Petingale and Mary Cooke of Shottesham, Norfolk, England. Mathew and Mary were the parents of two sons, Richard and Robert. Richard was the youngest son and was baptized at the All Saints Parish in Shottesham on January 6, 1610, or 1611.

Robert remained in England with his parents, and Richard decided to start a new life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As the second son, Richard was not in line to inherit his father’s land or possessions. This would likely have an influence on his decision to leave for the New World. It was also an era of economic depression, heavy taxation, and war with France and Spain. The English government’s determination to force the Puritans, Non-conformists, and Separatists to conform to the Established Church of England played a part.

Those who could not pay for their passage often became indentured servants or apprentices to obtain their passage. Richard Pettingell came to New England as an indentured servant.

Recruiters focused on those who roamed London’s slums, popular seaports, and other cities of England. These lost souls were encouraged to sign a contract, becoming indentured servants, joining the great migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was not difficult to find hungry and destitute individuals. After dinner and liquor, they would sign anything put before them. The recruiters would then swiftly move the victim to his headquarters, joining the waiting company of others, securely tucked away until a ship was ready for them.


A more straightforward method was to pick up a sleeping drunk from the streets and place him aboard a vessel heading for America. In this case, he had no indenture. Therefore, he could be sold—a significant disadvantage for himself and a great gain for the plantation.

The groups of people who migrated to New England were referred to as planters, and their settlements were plantations. Children, too, were valuable and were sometimes lured with candy and sweets to awaiting ships and were occasionally seized by force.

Voyages across the Atlantic Ocean were harsh, and the conditions were beyond comprehension. Passengers were consumed with scurvy and other severe diseases and general seasickness due to the Atlantic’s rough waters. Quarters were cramped and supplies low as ships made their way through foggy, stormy, and unpredictable weather.

It was common for the passengers aboard these ships to be so ill that they could not participate in or conduct daily worship services aboard the ship. In some cases, these services were the only time people aboard the vessel could see one another on deck. Women and children generally stayed below, separated from the men.

Midwives delivered babies in the middle of the ocean, sometimes going from one ship to another within the fleet by a shallop. Sometimes, the fleets confronted Spanish ships and engaged in battles during their voyage. It was a challenge to survive the journey to the New World before even reaching land.

In 1628, John Endecott was commissioned to begin a plantation in Massachusetts Bay at Salem, which was first called “Naumkeag” and then changed to “Shalom” meaning peace. In April and May of 1629, his group was joined by a great company of people who set sail from the Thames in England for Massachusetts’s Bay. They were the Higginson Fleet, comprised of six ships: The Talbot, the George, the Lion’s Whelp, and the Mayflower (not the original, there were several), the Four Sisters, and the Pilgrim.

Richard was listed as a passenger on the ship Lion’s Whelp under Richard Pengil. The Lion’s Whelp arrived in Salem on June 29, 1629, as a part of the Higginson Fleet. The Lion’s Whelp may have reached Newbury before Salem on June 29, 1629. It has been stated in various family records that Richard arrived in Newbury. Norfolk shipping and emigration records are incomplete.

I have concluded that Richard began his life in the New World in Salem, as it is consistent with my research on the Higginson Company. They settled in Salem and arrived in June of 1629, with no mention of Newbury.

Reverend Higginson kept a journal and was descriptive in explaining his journey across the Atlantic Ocean. His observations of the glittering ocean, the plant life on the islands surrounding Massachusetts Bay, and his brief life as a colonist painted a very optimistic picture.

In my book, The Angels’ Lament, I highlight the harrowing journey of my other ancestors who crossed the Atlantic during the Great Irish Famine. And, most of you know about Nellie and my Abenaki roots. Nothing has been the same for me since I decided to look back—to go there.

Why? Because it doesn’t begin with you. We all have our unique lineage and collective history. No one is more important than another. What do you know about those who came before you? Are you honoring by way of simple acknowledgment? Do you dare to look beyond rigid textbooks? What did those before us endure to survive? WHY ARE YOU HERE?

You may be loyal to their grief, sorrow, and trauma because you unknowingly carry it with you.

Healing happens in discovery—in the knowing field. Be very careful about unearthing, honoring, and protecting your ancestors—the ancients. We walk where they once roamed. If you are aware and awake, you will know. They are amongst us, guiding and leading the way. Know this. Know them. Don’t let them down.