My Corrupt Political Ancestor: Sir George Downing
In honor of our presidential candidates, I would like to present my 9th great uncle, brother-in-law to Mehitabel Braybrooke Downing
Sir George Downing is high on my list of “ancestors of whom I am not proud to claim.” Downing was a man of considerable political, diplomatic, and financial ability, but his character has often been brought into question by his enemies because of his willingness to make the most of changing political circumstances and to viciously betray former comrades to win favor from those in power.
Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Ministers, was named after him and Downing College in London was named after his grandson, Sir George Downing III. Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet, led an intriguing life and was in the first graduating class at Harvard.
The Tragic Life of Rachel Clinton
The story of Rachel Haffield Clinton’s tragic life lies buried in the early records of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Her family emigrated to New England on the sailing ship named The Planter in the spring of 1635. She grew up in an affluent household when Ipswich was a new village in the colony of Massachusetts, but the Haffield family fortune dwindled shortly after their arrival. The years to come would find Rachel destitute and one of the accused during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
The Inspiration for Mehitabel’s Story
I began my career as a genealogist and family historian several years ago and joined ancestry.com for their two-week free trial period. Surely, if I was diligent, I could uncover everything there was to know about my ancestors in those fourteen days! I can hear all the genealogists chuckling…
Spelling in Colonial times
The writers of court records in Essex County didn’t follow many writing conventions during the early colonial period. So, we have a variety of spellings found for Richard, Mehitabel, and Joan Braybrooke and Alice Ellis.
Here are some of the variants I uncovered:
Mehitabel, Mehitabell, Mehitable
Joan, Joanne, Joanna
Alice Eliss, Ellis, Eyliss
Braybrooke, Braybrook, Brabrook, Brabrooke, Brabruck
I settled on Mehitabel for the correct spelling as that is how Mehitabel spelled it in a very important letter she signed to the governor of Massachusetts in 1692.
Writers agonize over writing conventions such as spelling and punctuation, but we come to a greater appreciation of them when we struggle with these old documents.
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.