Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Character by Katherine Pym

When I began researching a good heroine for our Newfoundland story, I didn't think I'd find someone like Sara Andrews, later Lady Sara Kirke.

From the few historical texts that mention her, they confess she was one hell of a lady. Historians say after the arrest and subsequent death of her husband, Sara took the bull by the horns and for a good thirty years ran a very successful plantation (farm) in Ferryland, Newfoundland Labrador.

I haven't found any portraits of Sara Kirke. If there are any, they are locked away somewhere and off the internet grid. A pencil drawing of her husband exists but it's considered a modern rendering of what he may have looked like.

In 1638 David Kirke moved his family to an abandoned plantation named Province of Avalon, Ferryland, NL. (The term plantation was originally known as a colony, a settlement in a new land.) Ferryland is located on the coast southeast of St. John's. It has a natural harbor that kept ships afloat during storms.

The Kirkes settled in a nice stone house previously built for George Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore. He moved to Ferryland thinking he could establish a Roman Catholic utopia, but after one hard winter and trouble with pirates, the myriad of fishermen who showed up on his shore, Baltimore threw up his hands and ran for the exit.

It took a lot of work to sustain a plantation household, that of their servants and fishermen who worked the sea, but Lady Sara Kirke was up to the task. She partnered with her husband and turned their plantation into a fishery. They owned several boats, salted fish and produced cod oil. They traded their products for wine and other sustainable goods with England and the Europe. Once the colonies of New England gained their footing, the Kirkes obtained goods from warmer climes down the Atlantic Coast.

After Sir David Kirke was arrested and returned to England, Lady Sara continued to work the plantation. Based on historical facts, Sara is considered North America's first and foremost entrepreneur, so no mewling babe here. When I built her character, I did not want to start with a shy, weak woman who over trials of life became strong and independent. I made her a force to be reckoned with from the get-go.

She came from a wealthy merchant’s family and married into another. I made her a partner in the Kirke’s wine business, had her outfit ships for sail to the New World, had her stand up to her husband’s gruff and stubborn ways. This made her capable for anything when she single-handed ran the Ferryland plantation, a single mother with three sons (there’s no record of her remarrying), where she had to contend with fishermen from so many nations who felt they could do what they wanted, when they wanted.

I came to like and respect Lady Sara Kirke, and am happy to have been a part of her story.