The cover of “The Involuntary American: A Scottish Prisoner’s Journey to the New World,” by Carol Gardner.
Maine author Carol Gardner’s “The Involuntary American: A Scottish Prisoner’s Journey to the New World” follows the experiences of Thomas Doughty, a Scotsman brought to New England in 1650 as a prisoner of war. This conversation between Carol Gardner and her sister Joann Gardner focuses on why she wrote the book, her personal connection to her subject and the connection it establishes between Thomas and the numerous Doughtys who lived and still live on Harpswell’s islands.
J: How did you come to write about Thomas Doughty?
C: I was researching my roots, and there he was. When I looked closer, I discovered that Doughty was brought to America by force. He had been a Scottish soldier and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Dunbar, force-marched 100 miles by the English and shipped to Boston, where he was sold into servitude. The circumstances of his life were so extreme that I began to see his story as a book. A poor, illiterate guy, born in Scotland, ends up 3,000 miles from home, and when he gets here, he is sold as a servant and ends up moving another seven times. I would have thought that someone like that would have lived his entire life within a dozen miles of his home.
J: Maybe he would have, if he hadn’t been stolen.
C: At the time, people were moving about, crossing the oceans for trade, for economic opportunity, to escape hard times at home. There was a huge need for labor here in New England. So, after Doughty was captured, he was shipped here and sold. After he gained his freedom, he moved several more times because of the Indian Wars and economic concerns.
J: You were drawn into his story because you hadn’t expected such drama?
C: I hadn’t expected any of it. In school, we were taught about the Pilgrims, and that was it. Thomas Doughty’s story turned everything I’d learned on its head. He didn’t come here seeking religious freedom; he came here as a result of losing it. When he got here, he had to adopt Puritan ways. Presbyterianism wasn’t permitted.
J: Did those revelations affect you personally? Did you experience moral outrage with regard to his fate?
C: It has affected my ideas about social justice, both then and now. The rich and powerful often escape justice, while the poor are always punished. In the book, I write about Jane Jackson, the wife of Scottish prisoner Walter Jackson. Jane worked as a servant for Andrew Wiggin. She got pregnant by him and was charged with fornication. Jane’s husband was forced to pay a fine so she could avoid a whipping. Wiggin was given no punishment. He was the son of the governor of New Hampshire and the son-in-law of Massachusetts Bay Gov. Simon Bradstreet. It outraged me. Justice depended on who you were and who you knew.
J: What do you know about the Doughtys after they got to Maine? More specifically, their relationship to Harpswell and the surrounding areas?
C: To be honest, I was really interested in Thomas’ life. But I know that he was the progenitor of most of the Doughtys in Maine, through his son James. James moved to Falmouth (Portland) after the Indian Wars, where he worked as a shoemaker at the corner of Exchange and Middle streets. Our great-grandmother, Emily Doughty, was James’ fourth-great-granddaughter. She lived on Bailey Island. I had wanted to write a multi-generational novel about the family, starting with Thomas and ending with me.
J: Like James Michener or Alex Haley?
C: Yes. But I didn’t do it. I found I preferred reality to making things up.
J: Tell me about the presentations you’ve given. Who comes? What do people want to know?
C: I’ve given presentations all over New England, including Brunswick, Boston, Biddeford, Portland, Pittsfield, Damariscotta … I gave talks twice a day for three days at the Highland Games in New Hampshire. The first talk I gave was in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and two people in the audience said, “We’re Doughtys, and we came down from Gray, Maine, to see you.” I was shocked. The same thing kept happening over and over again, particularly in Maine. I’ve met lots of Doughtys. Several are from Bailey and Orr’s islands. Some are from as far away as Utah.
J: Is their interest mostly genealogical, or do you get some history buffs as well?
C: A lot of people come because they are descendants of Thomas. Others come because they have an ancestor who shared a similar fate. A lot of people see these Scottish prisoners as part of an extended family: McIntires, Ahoons, Grants and Furbishes. Four hundred and twenty-two of them were shipped to New England under similar conditions. Linda Bean attended one of my talks. L.L. Bean’s original ancestor, John Bean, was one of that group.
J: You’ve spent a good deal of your adult life outside of Maine. How has returning here affected your writing and your sense of self?
C: You grow up in Maine, and you’re connected to the sea and the smell of things, the sea gulls crying over the streets, and the tough winters — you’re connected to all of that. Then you realize your ancestors lived here. One ancestor was kidnapped by Native Americans here. Another had a grist mill at the top of that hill. We lost people lobstering off Bailey Island. I find that compelling. It makes me feel a part of something larger. When you watch “Finding Your Roots” and Henry Louis Gates reveals details about celebrities’ ancestors, you’ll see tears streaming down their faces. Our ancestors struggled and suffered so that we could be here. It’s very powerful.
Joann Gardner was an associate professor of English at Florida State University for 39 years. Now a freelance book reviewer and essayist, she divides her time between Bailey Island and Tallahassee, Florida.