Introducing Mehitabel Braybrooke

Life can begin as a curse. Mehitabel was born in 1652 to Richard Braybrooke and Alice Eliss in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Joan, Richard’s wife likely wasn’t too pleased when she heard the news, but the town officials found out soon enough!  Richard was whipped severely at the village post for the sin of fornication and Alice was to be whipped when “her travail ended.”  As part of the sentence, the courts ordered Richard to raise his child.  Alice disappears from the town records but Richard,

As part of his punishment, the courts ordered Richard to raise his child.  Alice disappeared from the town records, but Richard, Joan, and Mehitabel are found in many more town entries as the years progress.  Mehitabel was Richard and Joan’s only child.

Mehitabel’s life continues to spiral downward when she finds herself in prison on two different occasions for crimes punishable by hanging.

In the Shadow of Salem, scheduled for release in June 2018 by Heritage Beacon, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas, is the first story ever written about this real-life Puritan woman.

3 thoughts on “Introducing Mehitabel Braybrooke

  1. Hi Donna, I am a grand daughter of our beloved Mehitable. I would like to know how you concluded that Mehitable married John Downing, son of Emmanuel and not the John Downing, the Irish youth kidnapped in Ireland and held captive by Capt George Dell on the ship “Goodfellow” as reported in the court case in a sworn deposition, June 24, 1661, before Daniel Denison, Salem Quarterly Court, Essex County, MA. I have no proof, but I can not imagine that Emmanuel Downings family would lower it’s standings in the community to marry so far below themselves.
    Also, It is believed that John Downing, son of Emmanuel died in 1694. If this is so, how did that John Downing and Mehitable deed their son, David Downing, half of the farm formerly known as Richard Braybrook’s farm in 1699? There is much talk and confusion concerning the fact that 2 John Downings lived at the same time in the same area. I think more proof is needed to draw your conclusion. I believe that Mehitable married the Irish lad that defended her in court. I proudly follow down through Samuel Downing, one of the last survivors of the Revolutionary War.
    Sincerely, Cousin Diane Deyoe Shields


    • Hello Diane,

      After a great deal of research, I concluded that John Downing, son of Emanuel and Lucy Downing, was the man who married Mehitabel. Also, it seems there were at least three or four John Downings in the colony before 1700. Perley’s research about Mehitabel’s marriage contract and John Downing’s title of “planter” was what clinched the belief for me. Also, Emanuel and Lucy left the colony for England in 1656 and he died in 1660, nine years before the marriage of John and Mehitabel in 1669. Lucy was chastised by historians for putting the majority of her energies into Sir George Downing and appears to have discarded those children she left behind in the colonies. I have read her letters and it is heartbreaking that little to nothing is mentioned about them.

      Richard Braybrooke, the father of Mehitabel, was a sizeable landowner and freeman who deeded half of his estate to John (a planter) for the marriage. I doubt he would have done that for a poor, formerly indentured servant.

      I think we can totally rule out the John Downing who was buried in Boston in 1694 as Mehitabel’s husband. Common names can be tricky for genealogists! I agree there is a case for John Downing, the Irish captive, but old genealogies and the above seem to favor John as the son of Emanuel. It would be wonderful if more documentation would surface! You will see more detail and explanation in the novel when it is released in June.

      I came across the following several years ago and it might be helpful. Compilation of research:

      Lisa Davis-Smith’s data in “My Family” Entries 258147 of 3,15,2006 is incorrect She is merely repeating information accepted by most older genealogists of the past 150 years, and unquestioningly by most family compilers on the IGI, by joining the birth date of one John Downing with the death date of another John Downing.

      The John Downing of Ipswich, MA,. who married Mehitabel Braybrooke, was born about 1640, and MAY have been, and probably was, the son of Emanuel Downing and Lucy Winthrop. BUT…he did not die in 1694 but was alive in 1714 when his son-in-law Thomas Lufkin posted a bond for the support of his ‘revered father and mother’, according to Ipswich Town Records. (See Thomas Waters. Ipswich in Mass Bay Colony, 1905, Vo 2, 253) John and Mehitabel deeded portions of their 200-acre farm to sons David, John, and son-in-law Thomas Lufkin from 1690-1705 (see LDS microfilms #066021, #866021, #08866088 and #0899618)

      The John Downing who died 4-24,1694 was a merchant from Nevis in the Caribbean,(from Barbados in 1679), who moved to Boston to educate his son, Nathaniel in 1689. After extensive research, it is deemed highly improbable that he is the son of Emanuel Downing and Lucy Winthrop, as there is no evidence whatsoever, of his being in contact with their daughter, Anne Downing Gardiner Bradstreet, wife of Gov Simon Bradstreet who was living in Salem, or Lucy Downing Norton of Hingham.(supposedly his sisters). Contemporary gossip diarist, Judge Samuel Sewall, did not recognize him, although he was intimately acquainted with both Winthrop and Downing families of the West Indies, and in the Bay area. Renowned historian and genealogist Eben Putnam in 1898 tried and failed, to find any relationship with Elizuer Holyoke, who Nevis John claimed to be his kinsman.(Manuscript collection NEGHS)

      Unless there is corroborated data, ie, more than the 73-word deposition of the Irish John Downing (Essex County Court Record 6-117-173), there is no proof either that this was the John Downing who married Mehitabel Brabrooke in 1669.
      Whether Irish John was an indentured servant, was married, was born in 1638 or before, or even an inhabitant of Ipswich must be verified.

      Finally, Sidney Perley, editor of the Essex Antiquarian and the two volume History of Salem, in notes(Essex Antiquarian 11:141) about the deed by Richard Brabrooke giving one half of his farm to John Downing ‘in consideration for a marriage to be performed’ called John Downing ‘planter’, a social standing title indicating possession of more than 150 acres of land (Edward Perley’s doctoral thesis The First Generation of Settlement in Colonial Ipswich 1633-1663 published in 1967) Ipswich farmer John Downing, if indeed son of Emanuel Downing and Lucy Downing, would have been an heir to Emanuel’s 600+ acre farm in nearby Salem which was in the Downing family name until 1702. Perley would not have dignified the Irish John Downing with this title.

      There are other circumstantial but clearly plausible reasons to believe that the Farmer John of Ipswich was the son of Emanuel, but the added proof is sought.

      Thanks for writing about this confusing topic!


    • Hi Diane,
      Did you see that “In the Shadow of Salem” was released this week? Gordon Harris, Ipswich’s town historian posted a great five star review on Amazon for the book- without my requesting it!
      In the Shadow of Salem” by Donna B. Gawell is about the life of Mehitabel Braybrooke of Ipswich, told in the first person. 17th Century court records exist that describe the charges against her, but the author’s comprehensive research gave depth to the portrayal of this unfortunate young woman’s life. The result is a wonderful story of personal failures, faith, betrayal and redemption with an historically accurate cast of characters. The lessons she learns through her difficult life lend meaning to her Old Testament name, “God rejoices.” I highly recommend this wonderful novel


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