Jobs in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

The North American continent was largely a question mark to those who left their European homelands behind to seek their fortunes, or, in the case of those immigrating to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, religious freedom. The immigrants may have heard great success stories about others who had crossed the vast Atlantic to find fertile land, endless opportunities, and perhaps even gold. These stories prompted many to leave behind everyone and everything they knew to take their chances in the unknown.

Often when we think of life in Colonial America we think of farmers going about their business planting and cultivating crops. While that was true in the Southern Colonies, settlers in the New England Colonies were not blessed with such fertile land. As a result, they needed other means to earn a livelihood.

The original 13 American Colonies.

The American Colonies were divided into three regional areas—the New England Colonies (Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut), the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware), and the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Caroline, and Georgia). The climate and natural resources available in each of the three regions determined the type of work available to those who lived there. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with its lack of fertile farming land, the fishing, timber, livestock, and shipping industries became the focus. There was still some subsistence farming to be had in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Even though the land was rocky and not as rich as it was in the southern region, colonists in New England were still able to grow crops such as squash, corn, and beans.

The Fishing Industry

With its location along the shore of the Atlantic ocean, Massachusetts was (and is) in a prime location to take advantage of the sea life there, and fishermen often found mackerel, herring, halibut, bass, and cod for their troubles. Whaling was also a popular job in the Massachusetts Bay Colony since whale oil was used in lamps and soaps. As Captain Ahab would tell you, whaling could be a dangerous endeavor; however, it was a money maker, so sailors took their chances.

The Timber Industry

The rich forests in the New England region provided great opportunities for settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Homes were built from the hard woods. Timbermen could find oak, maple, beech, birch, hickory, and ash trees. Saw mills were used to produce wooden planks for export to England, which were then manufactured into finished goods such as furniture. Wood was also a necessity for the shipbuilding industry, another money maker in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Wood was used to make barrels, and other products gathered from the plentiful trees included resin for varnishing, tar for coating and preserving timber, pitch for water proofing, turpentine for cleaning, and potash for soap, bleach, and fertilizers.

The Livestock Industry

Horse breeding was one way to make use of the hilly, rocky, often infertile land. Many breeds of horses were brought to North America by the colonists, and horse breeding used various breeds of horses including the jennet, the Andalusian, the Friesian, and Arabians.


The Ship Building Industry

Ship building was particularly important in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with its emphasis on fishing and whaling. The easy availability of timber made ship building cheap in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In fact, many found work related to the ship building industry—including carpenters, joiners, sail makers, barrel makers, painters, caulkers, and blacksmiths. Ship building was also important for the merchants who sold or traded their wares overseas since the ships and the barrels gave them the means through which they could reach across the Atlantic as part of the Triangle Trade. Items included in the Triangle Trade from the three regions of the American Colonies were timber, sugar, fur, cotton, flour, tobacco, rice, indigo, fish, guns, ammunition. wool, and rum. Sadly, slaves were imported into the colonies as a result of the Triangle Trade.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, as in any of the American Colonies, could provide opportunities for those with the gumption and the heartiness to learn new skills and grab opportunites when they arose. Some settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were subsistence farmers, eeking out a living from the less than fertile land. Others became successful fishermen, ship builders, or merchants. Adolescents played an important role in the growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony since a 15 year old was an adult in the eyes of the law (Enright, Lapsley, & Olson, 1985). Subsistence farming, mercantilism, and the wars with Native Americans provided the backdrop for all work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Despite the hardships settlers faced, the Massachusetts Bay Colony provided possibilities, which is why so many immigrants left their homelands behind.


Dow, G. F. (2012). Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Courier       Corporation.

Enright, R. D., Lapsley, D. K., & Olson, L. M. (1985). Early adolescent labor in colonial Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. The Journal of Early Adolescence5(4), 393-410.

Jernegan, M. W. (1929). The American colonies, 1492-1750: A study of their political,    economic and social development (Vol. 1). Longmans Green.

The Land of the Brave. The thirteen colonies. Retrieved from




Creative Inspiration: The Victorian Era

There’s a joke I’ve seen on Pinterest, a cartoon of a writer watching TV. The character says, “I’m researching!” to the cynical-looking people standing nearby. For those of us who write fiction, we know that watching TV or movies, listening to music, or going for walks really is research because all of it becomes part of the writing process. Writers, especially fiction writers, need their imagination fueled regularly, and it’s the little things we do, such as stealing an hour here or there to watch a favorite TV show or listen to our favorite music, that help to fill the creative well so that we have a brain full of ideas when we sit down to write.

When it comes time to write, especially if I’m writing an historical story, I try to immerse myself in the time period as much as possible. If I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time, then it’s easier for me to carry my readers along with me on the journey. Here are some of the places I found inspiration while writing my Victorian era story When It Rained at Hembry Castle. My hope is that by reading over my list, others will discover places to find inspiration of their own.



 How to Be a VictorianUp and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

How To Be a Victorian: A Dusk-to-Dawn Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (one of my new favorite historians—she lives what she studies)

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London and Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes

To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell

The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E. Hill


When reading novels, I look for books written during the era I’m writing about as well as novels written about the era. Other times I’ll find inspiration in a novel that isn’t necessarily set in that time period but there’s something about the story that provides some ideas.

Bleak HouseThe Buccaneers and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read A LOT of P.G. Wodehouse (but really, can you read too much Wodehouse?)

I read A LOT of Dickens (but really, can you read too much Dickens?)

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (set in the Tudor era—I know—but she’s such a master of historical fiction I needed to read the books again)

Television and Film

For me, TV and film are the same as fiction—some of what I watch is set in the era, some is not, but all stir my imagination in one way or another.

 Downton Abbey (Surprised, right?)

Upstairs, Downstairs

The miniseries of The Buccaneers

 North and South

 Lark Rise to Candleford


 Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth’s version)

Miss Fisher's Murder MysteriesSense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson’s—and Alan Rickman’s—version)

I tried to watch the TV versions of Bleak House and Great Expectations, but to be honest screen adaptations of Dickens’ work rarely thrill me. They get the drama down all right, but you’d never guess Dickens was one of the funniest authors in the English language from the dreariness of the adaptations. I’m doing a little better with Dickensian, if for nothing else but Stephen Rea’s performance as Inspector Bucket.

Keeping Up Appearances—Another Bucket (It’s BooKAY).

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries—this outstanding Australian show is set in the 1920s, but I love Essie Davis’ Phryne Fisher so much I’ll use any excuse to watch it. Phryne Fisher’s clothes are even more fabulous than the costumes on Downton Abbey.


Since my Victorian story is set in the 1870s, people were dancing to waltzes and polkas. Strauss and Chopin were favorite composers, which works well for me since I love to listen to classical music.

Victorian Love SongsI was also able to find a few mp3s of Victorian-era music. I wasn’t concerned with whether or not these were songs specifically from the 1870s, and the music didn’t necessarily make it into the novel, but I really enjoy listening to music from the general time period while I’m writing. It helps me get into the right frame of mind. Here are a few examples of what I found:

Victorian Dining by Peter Breiner and Don Gillis

Victorian Edwardian by Alexander Faris

Victorian Love Songs by Craig Duncan

If you’re writing historical fiction, I highly recommend listening to music from the era while you write. I find a lot of great songs on Amazon, and if you have Amazon Prime then you can listen to some of the music for free.


I adore Pinterest. For me, Pinterest isn’t social media as much as something I do for fun because I love it so much. When It Rained at Hembry Castle is the first novel I’ve written since I started on Pinterest, so it’s the first time I was able to use pictures from the site to inspire my writing. When I needed to describe the sitting room at Hembry Castle, for example, I simply needed to go onto my research board, find the pin for the photograph I wanted to use as inspiration, and describe what I saw. If you’re writing your novel on Scrivener, you can import those photos directly into your novel file so they’re readily available when you need them.

When I was researching the novel, I created a private board for Hembry Castle because I didn’t want to bombard my followers with my many research pins. Then, when I had everything I needed, I created a public board so people could see the inspiration behind the story. Want to check out the board? It’s here.


 I had a few things to say about traveling for research purposes in this post. Of course, it’s not always possible to travel, but if you can then do.

London, England: I’ll have more to say about my journeys to London for research purposes in a later post. For now, I’ll say that London is always a good idea.

Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon

Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon: An odd place to travel when researching a novel set in Victorian England, I know. I didn’t actually travel there for that purpose, but when I arrived I found Pittock Mansion, an American, smaller-scale version of an English country house, and Pittock Mansion provided a lot of inspiration for Hembry Castle. In fact, the music room and the library in Hembry Castle were modeled after rooms in Pittock Mansion.

This is just the short list of places where I found inspiration for my Victorian historical novel. I hope you’ve discovered a few ideas for places you might seek inspiration for your own historical stories, whichever era they’re set in.






Researching the Victorian Era

I have an odd habit of writing historical fiction set in eras I know little or nothing about. I came up with story ideas about the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, Biblical Jerusalem, New York City and Washington, D.C. during the woman’s suffrage movement, and the American Civil War, and for each of those stories I had to learn about the history to write the novel. I don’t mind when it happens that way, though. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and I enjoy learning about the past. I often get ideas for the plot from my research, so the research helps to make my novel even richer than it might have been without the historical background.

When It Rained at Hembry Castle was a different experience. Due to  my love for Dickens and my own research on the Victorian era, I was writing about a time I was familiar with. When I began writing Hembry Castle I realized that I could include aspects of my favorite TV show, Downton Abbey, to bring the story to life. The hero of Hembry Castle, the aspiring young writer Edward Ellis, became the focal point of the story, along with his love, Daphne Meriwether, but then I decided to include upstairs and downstairs elements of life during the Victorian era as well.

In order to write this novel, I started with the author I know best—Dickens. Of course, I’ve read all his novels, many more than once, some more than twice, so I started with the one I knew had the most in common with the story I had in mind for HembryOur Mutual Friend. From there, I went back to a few favorite books about the Victorian era—What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool and The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London and Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders. I had read those books previously but reread them for a refresher course. While reading about the Victorian era, I discovered a new favorite historian, Ruth Goodman, who impressed me with the fact that she doesn’t just talk about Victorian clothing, she makes it and wears it. She’s tried out many elements of living in the Victorian era, which gives her work that much more authority. Her book, How To Be a Victorian: A Dusk-to-Dawn Guide to Victorian Life, is a must read for anyone interested in life during the Victorian period. I also read The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes. Edward Ellis is loosely based on a young Charles Dickens, but I didn’t need to read anything specifically for that since I’ve read pretty much every biography about Dickens. It was nice to be able to use information I had in my head for a change.

Victorian England 2

I realized that I needed to learn more about what the upstairs/downstairs world looked like in the 1870s. To my surprise, it wasn’t so different from the way it’s portrayed in Downton Abbey, which begins in 1912. While I picked up a lot about manor house living from watching Downton, as many fans of the show have, I felt I needed more specifics so I read Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson. I gleaned some great information from that book, and it provided good background for me so I could see how the country house servant evolved over the years. The upstairs/downstairs world isn’t part of our culture in America the way it is in England, and I wonder if that accounts for Americans’ fascination with Downton Abbey—it’s a glimpse into a lifestyle we weren’t familiar with.

The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. I used to do months of research before I ever started writing. Now I do a few weeks worth of preliminary research to get a feel for the era, and then I start writing. As I write, I get a sense of what information I need so I know exactly what to look for. As I was writing, I realized that if Edward was a political journalist then he would know politics. I needed to figure out the political climate of the time, but it wasn’t too hard since I knew what I was looking for—events in British politics in 1870. I remember learning about Gladstone and Disraeli in a history class about Victorian Britain, and it was nice being able to put that knowledge to use as well.

Through the writing process I realized that I needed information about Victorian etiquette. There were such specific rules for every aspect of life, and since part of Daphne’s struggle is to learn to live in this upstairs/downstairs world, she had to learn those rules. I found The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E. Hill, which was written for Americans during the Victorian era, but after a little digging I discovered that the rules were the same in Britain so I used that book as my primary reference. The etiquette seems so antiquated now. I had a lot of fun writing those scenes because Daphne is rather amused by her grandmother’s nitpicking about how her manners aren’t refined enough for English society.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit England twice for research as I was writing When It Rained at Hembry Castle. Most of the London locations in the story were chosen because they were places I’ve visited myself so I had seen what I was describing. I stood on the Victoria Embankment near the Houses of Parliament watching the Thames roll as Edward is wont to do. I’ve taken some of Edward’s walks through the city. Many of the buildings are different (I’m pretty sure the The Gherkin wasn’t around in 1870), yet some of the buildings are the same, which is amazing to me. Here in Las Vegas buildings are imploded if they’re more than 20 years old.

In many ways, researching When It Rained at Hembry Castle was the easiest work I’ve done so far as an historical novelist because it was set in a time I was already familiar with. It’s always magical to me when I start to see how I can take this knowledge of history and weave it into the story I have in mind. What is even more amazing is when the history leads the story in directions I had never considered before. That, for me, is the joy of writing historical fiction.