Priscilla Mullins, Real-Life Inspiration for the Heroine in “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” + a Giveaway

Priscilla Mullins, Real-Life Inspiration for the Heroine in “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” + a Giveaway

From Mayflower History:

BIRTH:  Perhaps around 1602, likely either at Dorking or Guildford, co. Surrey, England, daughter of William Mullins.
MARRIAGE:  John Alden, about 1622 or 1623, at Plymouth.
CHILDREN: Elizabeth, John, Joseph, Priscilla, Jonathan, Sarah, Ruth, Mary, Rebecca, and David.
DEATH:  Sometime between 1651 and 1687 at Duxbury.  By tradition she attended the funeral of Josiah Winslow in 1680, but no primary source exists to confirm.

It is believed Priscilla Mullins hailed from Dorking, Surrey, England, and she was in her late teen years in 1620 when she sailed for America on the Mayflower, along with her parents and her brother Joseph. Her relations died that first winter at Plymouth, leaving Priscilla as an orphan. It is believed she moved into the residence created for the Brewster family. 

During that first year, it is assumed she became very close to John Alden (my 10th great-grandfather), a man hired to be a cooper (barrel maker). Alden was to take care of the barrels aboard the Mayflower when it set sail for the New World in the early fall of 1620. After his contract was up, he decided to remain in New England when the Mayflower returned home to England.

Priscilla is the best known woman who sailed to America on the Mayflower, because of the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (my sixth great uncle 5 x removed). I was inspired by Longfellow’s poem to write “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst.”  According to Longfellow’s legend, John Alden spoke to Priscilla Mullins on behalf of Miles Standish, who was interested in the lovely young woman. But she asked, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” You will find that line and a few more from the poem embedded within my tale. We assume Priscilla and Alden were married by 1623, because she is not listed separately in the 1623 Division of Land at Plymouth Colony. Each man drew lots to determine the location of his land. John Alden’s grant was “on the other side of the bay” from the original Plymouth settlement.

“Not much is known about their early married life, but records show that by 1627 they were living in a house on the hillside, across from the Governor’s house and near the fort. John Alden served in various offices in the government of the Colony. He was elected as assistant to the governor and Plymouth Court as early as 1631, and was regularly re-elected throughout the 1630s. 

“At first, the colonists only planted crops on the land given them at the Division of Land. But by 1632, John Alden and others wanted to stay on their new land year round, and Plymouth Colony reluctantly agreed. There, the Aldens helped to found the town of Duxbury, and raised their ten children.” [History of American Women]

Mayflower History provides us with a look at the house in which Priscilla Mullins lived in Surrey.

This is where the Aldens lived in Duxbury.

 

The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst

What happens when a lady falls in love,  not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?but rather with his cousin?

Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst since her birth. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, which it has, but that ending is not what the reader anticipates.

 

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EXCERPT: 

At length, she sighed, these few moments had been some of the most precious ones she could recall. “The fishing was excellent, as was the food,” she said in contentment. “Thank you for sharing part of your day with me.”

Mr. Alden placed his empty plate and service into the basket. “I had one more thing to share with you, but I was forgetful and left it behind at the abbey. Say you will forgive me.”

“Most certainly I shall forgive you,” she assured. “Might you provide me a hint to the nature of the surprise?”

He did not look upon her when he responded. “Another letter from Lord Blackhurst.”

“Another?” she said with delight. “But his lordship has not had time to receive mine. Do you think he regretted his last communication and wants me to forget what I have learned of him?”

He shook off the idea. “I just imagine Blackhurst is enjoying the freedom of corresponding with you.”

Although she schooled her countenance, Cilla knew a certain level of disappointment. Despite being glad of the marquess’s offer to know each other better, she had secretly hoped Mr. Alden had thought to provide her a small fairing. It was deceitful of her to think that because they were friends that he would wish to please her: They were, after all, not the couple who was courting. She said softly, “I shall retrieve it tomorrow.”

“You do not plan to call at the abbey today?” he asked with a lift of his eyebrow.

She placed a smile upon her lips. “I think not today. I have things to accomplish at my father’s house—things I promised him before he departed for York earlier today. Moreover, there is a strand of music floating about in my head, that I simply must address before it drives me to Bedlam. I doubt you would want to hear me playing the same phrase over and over again until I have mastered it or it has mastered me.”

“I enjoy hearing you play. You are quite incomparable,” he said dutifully.

She ventured to share her secret, “I do not simply play, I compose.”

“Compose?”

“Yes, I have sold two pieces to a music publisher in London. You have heard them several times as I play them often,” she confessed.

“Compose?” he said again, his lips turning up. “Your disclosure explains why I did not recognize the pieces. I thought them from a new artist, and, indeed, they were. Are they published with your name?”

“No. I use ‘PK Wadsworth,’ as my pseudonym. A combination of my initials and my mother’s maiden name. I did not think the public would purchase music written by a woman when there are so many great composers, but the publisher has spoken of an excellent response to the works.”

“I am impressed, Miss Keenan,” he said in admiration.

Cilla could not disguise her smile. “Do you think Lord Blackhurst will deny me this pleasure? In truth, I do not think I could give up composing, even if the marquess demanded it of me.”

Mr. Alden smiled easily on her. “From what I know of Blackhurst, he will have a similar reaction to your disclosure, as did I: Surprise, then a sense of pride at knowing you.”

“Do you think his lordship would disapprove if I dedicated a piece to him? I thought doing so might win the marquess’s loyalty,” she explained.

“My dear Miss Keenan, what man would not want a musical composition dedicated to him? Yours will be an incomparable gift.” He paused as if choosing his words carefully. “However, you must consider whether your doing so might draw undue attention to you and Blackhurst. People may begin to guess the composer’s true identity then. Perhaps it might be wiser to, for example, provide the marquess a private performance of the piece before it is published. In that manner, it can be an exclusive memory shared by the two of you.”

“Perhaps you are correct. You offer excellent advice. I shall consider how I wish to proceed with the composition. After all, I have shared it with you, and will not my doing so diminish the gift to Lord Blackhurst?”

“Then I will not be on the receiving end of hearing the last part of the piece. It is a gift you should offer to your husband, not your friend. I will hear it eventually, for I plan to purchase copies of your two previous compositions, as well as this new one.” He studied her in all seriousness. “It is, as you say, important for Blackhurst to be the one who hears the full performance. If the inspiration is there for you today, then you should remain at Kenmore. I would not wish to interfere with your creative spirit. I understand,” he said softly. “I am depending upon, I mean, Blackhurst has been depending upon you so much, you have neglected your obvious duties to your father and to yourself.”

“I assure you, my father is not displeased. Lord Keenan is satisfied that Blackhurst, too, means to honor the agreement between our families,” Cilla persisted. “And, as for me, my work at the abbey has become quite satisfying, something I did not expect when I began.”

They remained silent for several minutes before she asked, “Would you tell me something of your life in India? I feel I could better understand Lord Blackhurst if I viewed him through the eyes of someone who holds a similar point of reference as does he.”

He shifted uncomfortably, and Cilla instantly regretted her request. “I would not know where to begin.”

She shrugged. “Where did you live in India? I know only generalities of the place. When did you two first know a conflict? I have heard many of the locals do not appreciate the efforts of the British East India Company. Is that true? If so, it must have been daunting, attempting to assist those who do not wish your advantage.”

Mr. Alden grimaced at something she said, but he did not reprimand her. “Admittedly, the give-and-take between the two sides sometimes fell out of balance,” he explained in obvious general terms. She would have preferred something more detailed, but she would accept what he was willing to share.

“Then arms are employed?” she asked.

“Aye.” He sighed heavily. “A man would not wish a woman to stand witness to such atrocities as one finds in war, whether on the Continent, the American front, or in India.”

“Yet, the devastation must change a man,” she argued. “Surely, Blackhurst is not the same carefree youth of which Mr. Sterling and many in the village speak. What should I know so I will not be afraid of what, I pray, are his rare bouts of temper or depression?”

He presented her a weak grin. “I can tell you with all certainty that in those early days of conflict in India, Lord Blackhurst began to think seriously upon your eventual marriage. Although you were still very young in ’09 when we in service to the British East India Company were called into that first battle, Blackhurst, then the Earl of Hurst, took solace in knowing he possessed a future.”

Cilla felt tears rushing to her eyes. “Truly?”

He nodded sharply, as if a bit embarrassed at what he had confessed. “Absolutely. Blackhurst wants you to know happiness in your joining.”

“I shall cherish your promise.” Swallowing the emotions rushing to her chest, she asked, “Where was that first conflict?”

“You are a persistent one,” he said with a sad smile and another sigh. She observed how he ordered his thoughts before he spoke. “We were in an important port city on the southwest coast of India,” he recited. “At the time, there was a local objection to the occupation of the city of Quilon by the East India Company. Troops of the Indian kingdom of Travancore attacked a local garrison situated near Cantonment Maiden.”

He paused as if the memory was still very new. “Quilon is very important to trade and shipping,” he explained, “which was the reason for the British being in the area. Vlu Thampi Dalawa, the Travancore Prime Minister, brought more than twenty thousand Nair troops and nearly two dozen pieces of artillery against us. Thankfully, Colonel Chambers had three battalions of native sepoys, Indian infantrymen, available, along with one regiment of British troops. We were outnumbered nearly four to one.” He grimaced as he heard his own words. “With God’s good fortune, we prevailed by destroying fifteen of their eighteen artillery pieces, but the loss of men was many, nearing fifteen hundred when one considers both sides.”

“How long?” Cilla spoke barely above a whisper, as she attempted to comprehend what he described. She knew he had spared her the most horrific details; yet, what little he had shared was enough for her imagination to run wild.

“The battle itself?” She nodded her agreement. “Thankfully, we prevailed in a matter of six hours, but that first taste of hostilities was enough for me. Men should not exact such devastation upon each other.”

“However, that was not the only conflict you knew?” she questioned.

He shook his head sadly. “I spent eleven years walking a narrow line between the interests of The Company and the various factions operating within India. Often we were caught between one empire and another.”

Cilla had dozens of other questions she wished to ask, but she knew there would be other days to ask them. She did not like the idea of bringing Mr. Alden pain.

“Tell me something I should know of Lord Blackhurst’s nature,” she requested.

Mr. Alden studiously avoided looking in Cilla’s direction as he spoke. “Despite what you may think of his lordship’s first letter to you, many consider the marquess equally skilled with both his pen and his weapons. I have known Blackhurst to place himself straight at the head of his troops, calling upon each captain, by name, to order forward the ensigns to win the day, declaring, ‘If you wish a thing to be well done, you must do it yourself; you must not leave it to others!’”

She knew Mr. Alden meant for her to know pride in the man to whom she was betrothed; yet, something in Cilla wondered why a man—a leader upon the battle field—who would never consider leaving the safety of his men to the care of others—would not make, at least, a few gestures to secure her care and to win her affection. Mr. Alden said otherwise, and she was grateful for the man’s thoughtfulness and his reassurances; even so, she knew disappointment in Lord Blackhurst, essentially, ignoring her.

Lost in their individual thoughts, it was several moments before either of them realized it had started to rain. Immediately, they were on their feet and grabbing their belongings. Snatching up the blanket and basket, he caught her by the hand. “It appears, Miss Keenan, we are in for another soaking!”

He hustled her toward the cart, but Cilla had other ideas. “We are likely to know some protection in the denser parts of the woods, than in a slow-moving cart, where we are certain to be drenched.”

The gentleman nodded his agreement, dumped the basket into the back of the cart and took off at a steady pace. Never releasing her hand, they set off together on an exhilarating scamper for dry ground. Cilla caught up her skirt to make it easier to follow along beside him.

Leading the way, he darted around trees and bushes until they stood in a circle of elms, standing so close together, that even sunlight did not penetrate the magical enclosure. It was as if they had stepped into a fairy realm, one she had often dreamed of as a child. There was a thick carpet of leaves at their feet, and everything was turning green with the spring. Branches of the various trees intertwined, as if they were holding hands.

“This is lovely,” she said in awe.

Outside their enclosure the rain pounded against the tree tops, but, within, they remained relatively dry.

“This place is truly amazing,” he said softly. He grinned at her sheepishly. “I imagine you could turn this moment into a melody.”

She knew embarrassment marked her cheeks, but she nodded quickly. “It is rare that some strand of a melody does not circulate in my head, but you are correct, sir. The rain. The occasional bit of thunder. The closeness of the trees. They all mix with the words from Lord Blackhurst’s previous letter. I can hear the notes as they align to form the essence of the tune.”

“You have a gift, Miss Keenan. A unique gift that must be cherished. Would you do me the honor of humming it for me? I would love to hear it,” he encouraged.

Still self-conscious from her admittance, she closed her eyes and permitted the notes to form in her mind. Soon she hummed the tune, seeing the notes as they danced in the air. Her voice had completely filled their little bit of heaven when she felt his arm slip about her waist and the heat of his breath upon her cheek.

“Waltz with me,” he whispered into her ear.

She swayed with him for several seconds, before she allowed him to lead her into the dance form, a dance she had only observed upon a few occasions and had never performed previously, not even with a dance instructor. However, Cilla trusted the gentleman not to permit her to stumble. His hand on her back had just enough pressure to turn her in a tight circle, while edging her closer still to the warmth of his body. As her voice carried the tune, her body hummed also, set in motion by the gentleman holding her so closely.

Suddenly, she realized they no longer moved, and her song had ceased to exist. Cilla opened her eyes to look up into his now familiar features. Her lips were so dry, she licked them, belatedly realizing a fire flickered in his gaze as he looked down upon her. She swallowed hard, her heart flipping over in her chest. Priscilla had never felt such a deep connection to anyone before. Time stood still, and she was afraid to breathe, fearing doing so would destroy the moment they shared.

Instinctively, she leaned into him, irresistibly drawn to him.

Then without preamble, Mr. Alden jerked himself stiffly upright, turning stone-faced in the blink of an eye. Abruptly, he stepped back and offered her a proper bow. “Thank you, Miss Keenan.”

Cilla blinked several times, attempting to make sense of what had just passed between them. Had she imagined the possibility the gentleman had thought to kiss her? Would she have permitted him to do so? Cilla had never been kissed and had wished him to kiss her with all her heart, but she reminded herself, such would never occur, for she was betrothed to the gentleman’s best friend. Mr. Alden held honor at the core of his being, and, even if she wished upon the luckiest of stars to know him better, her wish would not be granted.

GIVEAWAY: I have THREE eBook copies of The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst available to those who comment on the post. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The winners will be announced on Sunday, April 25. 

11 Responses to Priscilla Mullins, Real-Life Inspiration for the Heroine in “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” + a Giveaway

  1. Wonderful excerpt! I love the premise and look forward to reading your newest book. Congratulations!

  2. What a delightful family history. I look forward to reading this. Blessings, stay safe, and healthy.

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