Mehitabel’s status of a “bastard child”
Mehitabel’s life began poorly with the distinction of being a “bastard child”. There are a number of legal terms that refer to this situation more delicately: bar sinister, illegitimate, or “nullius filius”, which means “child of no one”, but Mehitabel was one of the more fortunate children born into this slanderous status. Puritan laws in the new American colonies forced men to take more responsibility for the sin of fornication.
Richard Braybooke, Mehitabel’s father and his indentured servant, Alice Ellys were charged in the Essex Courts with the crime of fornication. They obviously both confessed but the details were not recorded.
The Puritans were diligent in their efforts to catch fornicators. The courts required a confession and often relied upon the midwives to
force encourage the mother to disclose the name of the father.
The March, 1652 court record from Ipswich, MA state that Richard Braybrooke was to be severely whipped for fornication, and the woman, Alice Elyss was to be freed from her service. Braybrooke was to bring up the child and to provide for Alice until she recovered from her travail. Alice was to be whipped after her travail and the date would be appointed by Mr. Symonds and Major Denison.
The colonial courts in Massachusetts had established standards for punishment for this crime by 1650. A verdict of adultery or fornication required the guilty party to pay a fine ranging from forty shillings to ten pounds and they were publicly struck with a whip six to fifteen times.
Mehitabel was indeed a fortunate child as it appears that Richard was a dutiful father, but you will need to read The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke for the details and “the real story”. How loving and supportive do you suppose her stepmother Joan was to Mehitabel? Be sure to sign up on the email list to be notified when it is in print.