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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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How do Matthew Wood, Reverend Gershom, and William Ashby feel about King James in The Witch of Blackbird Pond? What do their views suggest about the Wethersfield community?

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Matthew Wood and Reverend Gershom have polar opposite feelings about King James and his ruling decisions regarding the colony. Chapter 6 has a great scene in which these two men heatedly face off.

"I am mistaken," Matthew Wood challenged him, "because I do not favor knuckling under to this new King's governor?"

"Governor Andros was appointed by King James. Massachusetts has recognized that."

"Well, we here in Connecticut will never recognize it—never! Do you think we have labored and sacrificed all these years to build up a free government only to hand it over now without a murmur?"

Reverend Gershom is a Royalist. He believes in the concept of king and country. He lives in a colony that is technically under British rule; therefore, he should unwaveringly support the king. On the other side of the spectrum is Matthew Wood. He enjoys the distance from Britain's heavy-handed rule, and he has gotten used to a certain amount of independence because of that distance. The Connecticut charter also gives legal support to his attitude. He is frustrated and angered by the idea that a king can just strip that away on a whim. Ashby is a character that begins the story supporting the king, but he somewhat quickly moves to supporting the colony and the people that he interacts with. This is why he steals the charter.

These three men are representative of a larger population of feelings, and Wethersfield is representative of many towns and cities across multiple colonies. Wood and Gershom give readers the stereotypical "us versus them" picture that Americans tend to grow up with regarding the period leading into the Revolutionary war. While it is fun to see those two characters square off, I think Ashby is a much better character teaching tool. He shows readers that the choice was a definite struggle, and the choice wasn't always clear. Choosing to not support the king was a big deal and a difficult decision for many.

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Matthew Wood wants to retain the rights outlined in the charter of Connecticut, but King James wants to revoke the original charter, which allows the colony to govern itself. He also wants to merge Connecticut with Massachusetts to expand his authority. He appoints Governor Andros to get the charters back from the colonies, but many Wethersfield residents will not recognize him as their governor. The majority of the community is in agreement; however, there are characters, such as Reverend Gershom Bulkeley, both a character in the book and a real historical figure, who are royalists, staunch supporters of the king. Matthew Wood even gets into a heated argument with Reverend Gershom in chapter six at a dinner hosted by Wood. Bulkeley warns against going against the king and even asks his student John Holbrook to read a passage from the bible about loyalty to kings.

William Ashby, is loyal to the king at first, but soon begins to agree with Matthew Wood after the taxes on his land increase. The reversal of his political loyalties are so changed that he even goes as far as volunteering to help steal the charter to protect it.

The differing views of these men suggest that the community is also divided, with some men who are loyal to the king and others who refuse to recognize the king's appointed governor and refuse to to hand over the original charter.

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All three of the men felt that King James was being unjust and denying the colonists the rights granted to them under the charter of Connecticut (which King James was trying to dissolve and merge them with Massachusetts). All of the local governing bodies would be stripped of their power, keeping the citizens under the whims of the crown. Within the Wethersfield community, the men are divided in their loyalties, some siding with King James as the king to whom God gave the right to rule, others with the growing sense that they were not being represented fairly with the rights of Englishman. This situation foreshadows the upcoming revolution between the colonies and England.

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