A Real Puritan Woman: Joan Braybrooke Penny

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Mehitabel’s Evil Stepmother : Joan Braybrooke Penney

Joan Braybrooke, one of the main characters in “The Shadow of Salem: The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke, had every reason to be angry. Her husband, Richard Braybrooke, and their indentured servant were accused of fornication in 1652 by the courts in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  After being whipped and fined, Richard fulfilled the next part of his sentence: he was to raise his infant daughter Mehitabel in the Braybrooke home.

It was also a historical fact that Joan held Mehitabel in contempt throughout her childhood. The Braybrooke’s neighbors attributed their opinions of sixteen-year-old Mehitabel to their conversations with her stepmother Joan. The actual court records quote them to describe Mehitabel as “unchaste and spiteful,” and as “a liar and a thief.”

How tragic that Mehitabel would be the only child in the Braybrooke household. Joan Braybrooke was a barren woman; a situation considered a sign of God’s disfavor in the Puritan culture.

Joan made it into the Ipswich court records for her own offenses on several occasions. In 1653, she was brought into the quarterly court for “wearing a silk scarf,” a crime in Massachusetts if her husband’s property was valued at less than 200 pounds. The Puritans viewed the wearing of lace or silks as a privilege only for the wealthy. She was proven not guilty on that charge. Joan was also charged four years later with “a breach of the Sabbath” for “carrying a half bushel of corn or pease” on her way to church. The Puritans had rather draconian punishments for those who violated the Sabbath rest!

The most dramatic event in Joan’s life came in the year 1692 with an accusation that would be punishable by death if proven true.  Read about Joan Braybrooke Penney in The Shadow of Salem. 

This article is part of a series telling the history of some of the real Puritan women who were part of Mehitabel’s life in the historical novel In the Shadow of Salem. The book is in print and e-book format through Amazon.   Linked here:  https://amzn.to/2GWUHzO

Q is for Quakers

 

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The Quakers couldn’t have presented a more dramatic contrast to the established church in Essex County. Puritans evidenced no tolerance for other faiths, and the Quakers seemed to incur more than their share of the community’s disdain and intolerance.

The Puritan church held a high and strict version of Calvinist theology. Their narrow interpretation of scripture did not tolerate even the slightest deviation, and sin and crime were synonymous. Their ministers were jealous gatekeepers of God’s Word, and no concept threatened them like the Quaker belief in an ordained ministers’ irrelevance.

Quakers ideas were far less rigid than other faiths, especially in their rejection of many ordinances and rituals. They discarded baptism, the Lord’s Supper and even paid ordained clergy. The Puritans considered these beliefs as heretical, especially the Quaker’s reliance of the “Inner Light” to guide them. Their worship consisted of waiting in silence until moved by the Inner Light which was then shared with the other members.

These early Quakers were not viewed as peaceful or docile but were instead just as zealous in their beliefs as the Puritans. They would burst into church services, bang pots and pans together, and would even strip naked to show they weren’t attached to worldly things. The Quakers patterned their protestations after the prophet Isaiah who went naked for three years as a sign of judgment and their impending doom.

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The Puritans in New England were prepared when the first Quaker preachers arrived in Boston Harbor in 1656. Ann Austin and Mary Fisher who thought they had the gift of prophecy, were arrested as witches before they even set foot onshore. While still on board ship, Austin and Fisher were ordered to be stripped naked and searched for signs of witchcraft (Devil’s Marks). Their literature was burned, and the women were jailed for five weeks before being banished from the colony.

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Although the Quakers were intensely persecuted by Puritans, they continued to arrive in the Massachusetts Colony.  They seemed intent upon disrupting the staunch Puritan Society and would stand in the Meetinghouse to speak after sermons and would shout from their jail cells. The prisons became filled with Quakers, and at least four were executed.  Those who refused to comply with laws prohibiting writing and speaking out were subjected to hideous deterrents such as cutting off an ear or having their tongues bored through with a hot iron.

Despite these persecutions, the Quakers found a number of supporters amongst locals and were repeated imprisoned, fined and physically punished. In 1663, which was a banner year for Quaker protests, a group of women appeared in church naked as the day they were born. They attempted to demonstrate that they were like newborns:  innocent and without shame. Deborah Wilson’s sentence for this crime was wrought with irony. She was stripped to the waist, tied to a cart, and whipped as she was paraded through town.

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A “King’s Missive” from King Charles II halted all Quaker executions, although less severe punishments continued.  After 1675, Quakers were able to freely live, work and worship after the Massachusetts’ Bay Colony experienced an influx of other faith groups.

 

J is for Judges of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

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It is in our human nature to blame others for our own troubles, and the Puritans in New England were no different.  Numerous problems beset the Massachusetts Colony, and the community sought to uncover the cause of their plight. The contemporary thinking was that  God was angry with the Puritans and had sent Satan to test their faith.

God did indeed test the Puritans’ beliefs and convictions. The disastrous wars with the Native populations and the “Papist” French had taken their toll, not only with mounting causalities but also economic decline. Extreme weather, crop failure, increased taxes and inflation combined with an unstable government and uncertainty with a new governor.

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I is for Indentured Servants

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   Ancestry from the Great Migration Period in America is one that many family researchers seek to claim.  This period includes the time between the Pilgrim’s landing in Plymouth to about 1640.  In reality, about 80% of the total immigration from Great Britain and the continent prior to the Revolutionary War were indentured servants.

     Indentured servants could be sold during their indenture and were in about the same situation as a slave except they would be released after the agreed upon time, usually 5-7 years. Even this could be extended if the servant violated a term of their contract.  For example, if a woman became pregnant, extra time would be added to her contract.  Criminal behavior or running away had the same consequence.

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G is for Giles Corey

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   Giles Corey holds the distinction as the only person in the New World executed by pressing or peine forte et dure, the death he met as an accused witch during the Salem witchcraft hysteria. Corey achieved fame by calling out for “more weight” as men placed more stones and rocks on top of a board placed over his body. Pressing was considered one of the most severe forms of execution and had been abolished in the colony. Evidently, most Christian civility and common sense were cast aside during the year of 1692 in Salem and Ipswich.

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D is for Drunkenness

 

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Drunkenness and alcoholism registered quite high on the Puritan’s Wickedness Scale, but that does not mean that they didn’t imbibe. Rums, beer, ale, and cider, were the favorite beverages. Moderate drinking was permitted at ordinaries (taverns) and at home. Other gatherings where alcohol was consumed were suspect and subject to investigation by the assigned church police known as tithingmen.

The original pilgrims brought more beer than water on the Mayflower because water could make you sick. Though the Americas had plenty of fresh, unspoiled water, imprudent Americans sickened and sometimes died by drinking from polluted sources. In some cases, even when it was safe to drink, river water had so much mud that a bucket of it needed to sit long enough to allow suspended material to settle.

Early colonists took a healthful dram for breakfast; whiskey was a regular lunchtime tipple, ale accompanied supper, and the day ended with a nightcap. We might think the Puritans staggered around all day in a drunken state, but most were able to handle their alcohol because it was integrated into daily life. Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister, delivered a sermon describing alcohol as being “a good creature of God” – although the drunkard was “of the devil.”

The Puritans enjoyed their drink at taverns referred to as ordinaries which were regulated as was the brewing of spirits. The ordinary also served food and was the hub for gatherings and conversations in the colonies.

Still, drunkenness was a surprisingly common crime in Puritan Massachusetts and was frequently mentioned in the Essex County Court records. Women’s names came up in the court records almost as often as men. Mehitabel was accused of drunkenness and brought to court on a few occasions. To Puritans, drunkenness was excessiveness and therefore sinful.

Merriment, in general, was seen as excessive; a trivial pleasure that was unnecessary and shunned in Puritan society. In England, there was the prevailing attitude “to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” This hedonistic enjoyment was in diametrical opposition to the deepest-felt Puritan beliefs. Alcohol was a necessity, but it was considered outrageous to partake in drunken behavior.

Many colonists believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and make the world a better place. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, sailors at sea, and soldiers in camp. College students enjoyed a malted beverage, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job when the college did not supply sufficient beer.

Mehitabel was a “nullius filius” (bastard) child

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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. Continue reading