For those of you who haven’t met Patience Worth before, perhaps some explanation is necessary. Patience Worth described herself as an English woman living somewhere in the south of England not far from the sea at some time during the late 17th century. She, as many of us may be, was vague about her age and when asked for her birth date she uncertainly gave the year 1649 as the time she lived but when asked on other occasions for a date and place of her birth, she refused to be tied to any one date, place or time . She is often quoted as saying “I be like to the wind, and yea, like to it do blow me ever, yea since time. Do ye to tether me unto today I blow me then tomorrow, and do ye to tether me unto tomorrow I blow me then today.”
Patience appeared in the early 20th century with the help of Pearl Lenore Curran while experimenting with a Ouija board with her friend Emily Grant Hutchings during a hot summer night in St. Louis on July 8, 1913. From then until 1937 when she died, Pearl Curran received from Patience Worth, letter by letter several novels, short stories, plays, several thousand poems, aphorisms, epigrams and much witty conversation. A circle of friends as well as many other curious people participated in the sessions with Patience Worth including Emily Grant Hutchings, Pearl’s husband, John Curran, her mother Mary E. Pollard, newspaper man, Casper Yost, William Marion Reedy, editor of a St. Louis newspaper, and devoted friend and benefactor Herman Behr and his son Max Behr.
According to Dr. Walter Franklin Prince who published a case study of Patience Worth in 1927 titled The Case of Patience Worth, Patience had a “purported earthly life”. He stated that:
Patience Worth could not be brought to place any valuation on giving data about her alleged life on earth. She insisted that the only self of her which is of value to the world is to be found in her utterances. This may be thought a clever dodge, but it is not rare in automatic writings devoid of other evidence of any but subconscious origin to find autobiographical details enough, usually likewise unevidential.
Patience Worth professed that she was born in England in the Seventeenth Century, lived there and worked in the house and on the fields until a woman, migrated to America and, not long after, was killed in a foray by the Indians. The data, taken together, would make the date of her death coincide fairly well with King Philip’s war. [1675-1678] But when asked if the chief of the Indians was Philip, she did not take the bait, but rather contemptuously asked her questioner whether he, were he at the end of a blade, would be asking the names of his slayers.
Patience Worth presented herself as
…a small red-headed peasant girl, toiling at the humblest tasks, often chided by her mother and sometimes by the parish minister, a young woman of voluble and witty propensities, fond of finery and not averse to the other sex, considerably curbed in all these inclinations, because of the ideas of the day and the narrowness of the religion, but with a sense of humor which largely sustained her. She loved her mother, though she was “filled o’ righteousness and emptied o’ mercy.” Sometimes she peeped at the reflection of her “bonnet’s ruff” on the polished brass kettle, and kicked her shoes upon the stones because she must wear her locks “wetted smooth.” Sometimes she hints that even then she possessed a poetic and imaginative nature.
Dr. Prince continues that according to her intimations she was something of a heretic, and much of her reminiscent humor was at the expense of the church and its minister.
Well I remember a certain church, with its wee windows and its prim walls, with its sanctity and meekness, with its aloofness and chilling godliness. Well I remember the Sabbath and its quietude of uneasiness, wherein the creaking of the wood was an infernalism, the droning and scuffing of the menfolk’s shoes and the rustle of the clothes of the dames and maids, the squeaking of the benches and the drowsy heat that foretold the wrath of God, making the good man sweat. Aye, and Heaven seemed far, far.
The good man oft denounced sin and fearsome flauntings, but lawk! he squinted a whit. I had a silver buckle on my boot, and no man knew it save the good man. He looked soberly, with the soberness he turned upon the Word, at the buckle. Aye and thy handmaid sent him a wee upward look. Aye, and he rubbed his chin and coughed mightily and spat. And when the next Sabbath came he raged mightily against buckles. And hark—he looked to find the buckle after the Word. It was there, and lawk! I curtsied that he should see it not.
Herman Behr, a good friend and benefactor of Pearl Curran and admirer of Patience Worth documents in his book Light From Beyond that on July 4, 1921, Mrs. Curran had a vision of where Patience Worth lived.
Mrs. Curran found herself upon an elevation overlooking the sea some distance from the port which was not in sight….Not far above this spot, about a quarter of a mile, the road along the bluff showed an entering road, leading in from the mainland—a green rolling country with gentle slopes, not farmed much, with houses here and there. Two or three miles up this country on the road was a small village—few houses. Mrs. Curran got the sense that this was where Patience lived when she was alive. There were a kirk, a couple of manor houses, a few poorer cottages and a smithy.
The scene then changed and Mrs. Curran was shown:
A landing for boats where was anchored a huge vessel, wood, sailing vessel, three-masted schooner. This disappeared at once and she began to sense that it was shown simply to suggest the voyage. The scene changes: drizzly, cold morning, clammy skin. Mrs. Curran has a desolate feeling in her heart, yet one of unrest, and determination for some action. Then she saw a great gray horse with hairy fetlocks and bushy mane, saddled with heavy leather skirts and high horn. A woman is sitting on the horse, holding a bundle tied in sailcloth, tied with thongs. She wears a coarse cloth cape, brown-gray, with hood like a cowl, peaked. The face is in shadow. She is small and her feet are small—with coarse, square-toed shoes and gray woolen stockings. She is making a tedious journey over a wet road toward inland to get to the river at the place further inland. There is a group of six or seven riders with her, male, except two other women. At the river they all dismount and carry their bundles to a landing on the river. The bundles are various sizes. One has an iron bound and hinged chest. The party embark into a number of small boats and go down the river to a settlement where they transfer to a river boat of good size which took them further down the river to where it meets the sea. There is a larger port and many seagoing vessels. One vessel, high railed, stands out from the rest. It is the one previously shown. Four of the men and Patience board the vessel. Her facial outline shows determination as she gets on the vessel. About twenty people get on at the same time. Her face holds a hurt look, sorrowful, but desperately decided. Among the passengers is one man of Patience’s party better dressed, probably a nobleman; also a woman of youth with a child about five or six years old, dressed in long pants and short jacket, brick red, with black braiding, jacket lapels large. Patience noted the arrival of this pair. There was great confusion of making ready for departure—hoisting sails and anchor of the high-waisted vessel. Patience went down into the small rooms in the ship’s middle. These were unfinished wood, rough, with a side berth, narrow like cells. There was a bench to sit on, but Patience sat down on her bundle, her face on her clenched hand, seemingly striving to shut out the sounds of the departure….There was no chest in the room for her bundles. A blustering, noisy man, evidently the purser, came in calling names from a list. Patience pushed back her hood and fully disclosed her face. She was much younger than Mrs. Curran had thought, being probably about thirty years. Her hair was dark red, mahogany, her eyes brown and large and deep, her mouth firm and set, as though repressing strong feelings. Her hair had been disarranged by her cap and was in big glossy, soft waves. Mrs. Curran heard the creaking of the spars, the flapping of the sails and felt the motion of the ship as it put to sea, but Patience sat, lonely and silent, a part of the twilight inside the ship, a gray, tired, lonely figure, leaving her land to what? It was late afternoon.
After a grueling journey the ship finally arrived at the jagged coast of the new land (sometimes erroneously reported to be Nantucket Island but this was not stated in the record) but no landing place for the ship was to be found. Several flat boats were launched and Patience was seen by Mrs. Curran standing in the prow of her boat, one of the first to reach the shore.