All of the Willick grandchildren stared at the journal in awe. If Francis was trying to hide a treasure, he couldn’t have been more clear about what it was. It said it right there on the journal’s brown leather cover.
The journal was old, no question. So old was it, in fact, that the leather cover was becoming brittle and cracked due to drying out over the centuries. He had to have kept this in his lifetime, which meant the journal dated back to the late 17th century. This thing really belonged in a museum.
“Let’s see what these other items are, first,” Grace suggested. “The journal is probably the most important thing. We should save it for last.”
The other cousins agreed.
Grace took the box in which the journal lay toward the tomb’s entrance, all the way to the sarcophagi of Francis and Philippa. The light was better there, and the smooth corners of the stone containers gave her a place to set the box without placing it on her ancestors’ effigies, while she removed objects from it. Her siblings and cousins followed her.
The first loose object she removed was a gold coin with an impression of England’s King Charles II on it. It was worth hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars today, for both its gold and historic value. What must it have been worth back then? Just one of those coins could feed a family for a year in the colonies, and some parts of England itself.
“If it’s Charles II,” Christine pointed out, “it was almost certainly sent to Francis from family in England. The English Civil War was still going on when Francis and Philippa got married and probably hadn’t finished yet before they came to America. Maybe he was a Royalist.”
“Or,” Adam suggested, “enough of these coins made their way to America after the war to become common in circulation among the wealthy of the colonies.”
“That, too,” Emily agreed.
The next object to come out of the box was an emerald broach, wrought in gold, and fashioned in the shape of a butterfly. All present agreed it likely belonged to Philippa. Francis apparently showered her with expensive gifts after he made his money. It wasn’t exactly the “Puritan” thing to do, but Francis was proving to be a most unconventional Puritan anyway.
A small plank of wood painted a faded green with light silver lines was next, followed by a scrap of textile made out of hemp fiber, with small, multicolored flowers embroidered on it. They hoped the journal would explain what they were, but all of the cousins guessed these were mementos of England, perhaps a piece of the first home Francis and Philippa shared, and a scrap of the cushioning on a piece of furniture there.
The last thing to come out of the box was an extremely faded and delicate cloth square, made of linen, with elaborate embroidered butterflies entwined with green, leafy twigs. A piece of handiwork by Philippa herself, maybe, such as a quilt square or tapestry?
Museum pieces, all of them. However, the most important thing was yet to be examined.
Grace removed the journal from the box and opened it with care. A few pieces of dried leather flaked off the edges as soon as she lifted the cover, floating soundlessly to the tomb floor. The spine of the journal was done up in twine but was still stiff with age. Thankfully, no further damage occurred to it, and the pages inside were made of sturdy and trustworthy vellum. Medieval documents made of vellum were still in excellent condition, and the pages of the journal were no exception.
The ink had not faded with time, so well protected was the journal all this time. And, though the handwriting was archaic and difficult to read in places thanks to unfamiliar abbreviations and odd words, Grace was able to make out most of it. Using her flashlight to give her a better view, she read out loud to her cousins and siblings.
It began in early 1645 when Francis would have been about twenty-five years old, and Philippa sixteen or seventeen. “My name is Francis Wainwright,” the journal began, as Grace read it. “My wife’s name is Philippa. She was a Sewell before our marriage. This is our story.”
While Francis talked a little about his childhood and Philippa’s, providing valuable information on their parents and grandparents, and what their lives in England were like in the early to mid-17th century, most of the story was about his and Philippa’s courtship, wedding, and marriage, including their decision to leave for the colonies, their lives there, and all the way up until Francis lost her.
It was a love story. Francis and Philippa’s love story.
You never found personal histories like this from this time period and place. There were so few as to be able to be counted with only two hands. Most people did not have the time in such a harsh environment to indulge in such things. But, Francis made time. He likely wrote the whole thing, which comprised about fifteen pages, shortly after he lost Philippa, his true love.
The words were so fresh and raw, it couldn’t have been long after he lost her at all. Maybe writing down their story was Francis’s way of dealing with his grief. And, his descriptions of Philippa, her appearance and personality, and their love together, were so intimate, so beautiful, and so deeply personal, it was like Francis was standing in the tomb with them, telling them the story himself. Puritans were anything but sentimental; their religion did not permit such musings. This was something Francis wrote from the heat, and he did it in private, hiding it away where, they imagined, he hoped future generations who were more generous toward matters of the heart would one day find it, appreciate it, and remember he and Philippa and their love.
As if the giant gold statue he had commissioned of her wasn’t enough to prove how much he adored her. It was an incredible statement, bold and unapologetic, but the journal gave the details behind those feelings and showed the things Philippa did and said that indicated she felt just as passionately about Francis.
They were made for each other.
This kind of personal account was unheard of in colonial New England. No one had such a memoir in their family, at least not one that was still in the family. It truly was a treasure.
“What do we do with it?” James asked.
“We can’t put it back in the statue and leave it here,” Emily insisted. “Now that we’ve found it, it belongs to the family. And, the world should hear the story, too.”
“We definitely have to release the journal to the public,” Christine agreed. “And, the other things in the box, as well as the box itself, should go to a museum. The Peabody-Essex, I would suggest. But, the statue stays secret. The journal is the real treasure, no question. It belongs to the world. Philippa’s statue belongs to our family. We owe it to Francis to protect her.”
After all the cousins agreed, Grace asked, “So, where do we say we found the box and its contents? And, what are we going to say to the town clerk? She’s still waiting at the tomb entrance for us, remember?”
Christine smiled. “We need to get possession of the tomb key back into our family, to make sure no one else comes in here. As for where we got the box with the journal, leave that to me.”
Next — Chapter Twenty: Epilogue