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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Mitchell, Judie

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It is the eighteenth century in a small village of Puritan pilgrim descendants, in northern New England. Religion, Calvinism, rules people’s lives, theoretically, but the truth is somewhat different. The story reveals how deceit and hypocrisy unravel lives.1769. Hannah has had a baby and named Matthew Price (in the throes of childbirth as was the custom and the law) as the father. However they both know that Matthew may not be the father as Hannah was raped at a frolic in Boston.Hannah confesses to Polly (Matthew’s twin sister and her best friend) that she was raped in Boston and that the rapist could be the father of Pamela.Polly herself is worried that she is pregnant.Hannah and Matthew get married and Matthew gains an apprenticeship.The town is divided as to their minister who is a “fire and brimstone” Calvinist preacher and who often alienates and confuses his flock. There is a new minister in town, a Universalist, who is challenging the Calvinist Reverend and doctrine of predestination.Hannah tells Polly all the details of the rape. Hannah confronts Polly about her being pregnant.Polly then confesses to her sister Verity that she is pregnant to Josiah Parsons and that she is taking ‘the trade’ – abortifacient drugs. Dr Foster (the supplier of the ‘trade’) is introduced. The young people agree to keep Polly’s condition a secret, especially from their parents.The Reverend Doctor Milne instigates a law suit for slander against Matthew who has been spreading the (true) news that Milne helped Josiah’s father Henry to cover up Josiah’s prior crimes – he has gotten two young girls pregnant and then allowed his father and Milne pay to make them disappear and cover up for Josiah.Josiah’s father has found out about the slander suit brought by Rev Milne and is furious with Josiah as they both are implicated.Polly is forced to increase the dose of the abortifacient. Thomas Price, Matthew’s father, hears of the libel suit being brought against Matthew by Reverend Milne.When Polly still does not miscarry Dr Foster performs a physical abortion and she miscarries a dead child several days later. Verity and Hannah bury the dead infant, under great stress and emotion.Several weeks later, Polly dies of ‘malignant fever’. After the funeral both sets of parents force the truth out of their children, and both fathers (Polly’s and Josiah’s) decide to continue to conceal the truth about Polly’s death, as reputations would be destroyed.Verity is consumed by grief and guilt and is slowly losing her mind, Matthew and his cousin Jack decide that action must be taken. They instigate a lawsuit against Tom Foster and Josiah Parsons.After an initial hearing Foster is charged with murder and Josiah, Verity and Hannah are indicted as accessories, an unexpected and fearful outcome.Several months pass, during which life must carry on under great duress. The King’s attorney, appointed to defend the accused, decides to drop the charges against the girls, in return for their giving evidence against Parsons and Foster.The jury acquits both men on murder charges for lack of evidence. A second indictment is drawn up against Foster for the crime of high handed misdemeanour (a lesser crime) of causing the death of Polly, but not murder.Foster found is guilty. However he escapes from jail before his punishment can be carried out.Hannah and everyone else are devastated, Hannah especially as opinions are beginning lean towards forgiving Josiah.

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