A Real Puritan Woman: Joan Braybrooke Penny

joan-p

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

What’s Your Family’s Immigration Story?

Most Americans have many family immigration stories. Those of us who are second or more generations Americans have ancestors who left their homelands under unimaginable harsh circumstances but passed on few personal records to tell their story. The typical immigrant was far too busy to keep a journal, and their descendants may have discarded the once treasured naturalization or foreign birth records.

My grandfather’s naturalization records found in the National Archives

Today, Americans whose ancestors came more than a hundred years ago might consider them as the privileged ones, but these immigrant stories are just as dramatic as modern-day people who cross America’s borders illegally or wait years until their visas are approved.  The immigrants from long ago didn’t just hop off the boat and get on with their lives. Their situation was often more desperate, and they often sacrificed much more. Continue reading

In the Shadow of Salem

I am excited to announce the release of “In the Shadow of Salem” (The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke.). After five years of research and writing, my historical novel is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a sizeable discount before the official release date of June 18, 2018.

“In the Shadow of Salem” is a historical novel about the life of Mehitabel Braybrooke, a Puritan woman born in 1652 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Mehitabel was accused of crimes−the first for arson and the second for witchcraft. History has not been kind to Mehitabel, but what was the real story behind her scurrilous reputation? Would she ever be redeemed from her lifelong curse? Or was Mehitabel as wicked as her numerous Essex Court Records imply?

This novel is the first time any author has written about Mehitabel’s amazing life from birth to the end of her life. Mehitabel Braybrooke Downing is one of the 200 people accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials, but she found herself in the courts on more than a few other occasions. I’m grateful that she generated so many Essex Country court and town records and that she happens to be my 9th great-grandmother!

Please visit the pages on my website dedicated to Puritan history, articles about the real people who are characters in the novel, and “The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England.

Link for ordering:

https://amzn.to/2GWUHzO

 

The Founding Mother of Harvard: Lucy Winthrop Downing, A Puritan Lady of Influence

Lucy Winthrop was a woman who knew how to get things done in the male-dominated world of the English Puritans. She was born into the aristocratic society of her parents, Sir Adam Winthrop, Lord of the manor of Groton and Anne Browne on January 9, 1601. History remembers her colorful letters and strong, sparkling personality, but Lucy’s most important accomplishment might be her influence in the founding of Harvard.

Lucy married Emanuel Downing, a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1622. She was a pious Puritan, but still enjoyed the life of a lady during her years in London. Lucy’s surviving letters and actions made her priorities clear: her eldest son George was her most important child. His education and career reigned supreme in her life, and she probably rivaled the most determined helicopter mom of the 21st century. Unfortunately, Lucy lived to see her folly and learned that with favoritism came its sister ‘Regret’.

Sir George Downing

The serious and staunch Puritans lamented the tarnished moral state of colleges in England during the 1630’s. The well-educated who wished to follow their families and colleagues to the Massachusetts Bay Colony were presented with a dilemma. New England had no college, but the English universities were rife with “raucous behaviors and frivolities.”

There were no suitable institutes of higher learning for the Puritans on either continent, but Lucy was not about to allow this obstacle prevent her family’s immigration to the Americas. Lucy began a campaign to encourage the founding of a college in New England for her most esteemed son George. Her cherished brother, John Winthrop, was the first governor of the colony and surely had significant influence.

Governor John Winthrop

Winthrop had written many letters to the Downings encouraging them to immigrate. Emanuel represented the Massachusetts Bay Colony before the Privy Council in London on behalf of the colony, and so had knowledge about the opportunities and risks concerning a move to America. Lucy wrote to John about the fearful stories she had heard about life in the colonies: “…many good people here and some that understand New England reasonable well, both by sight and relations of friends, that are able to judge, they do much fear the country cannot afford subsistence for many people, and that if you were not supplied of incomes from hence, you lives would be very miserable…” A skilled negotiator such as Lucy Downing knew she should not appear overly optimistic about such a huge endeavor as a move to the Americas.

In the summer of 1636, John Winthrop increased his efforts for the Downings to join him and his family in New England. Lucy had the keen sense that her influential brother could remove the one barrier that kept them from moving. She wrote a letter to John. “George (her son) and his father comply more cordially for New England; but poor boy, I fear that journey would not be so prosperous for him as I could wish in respect that you have no societies…for the education of youths in learning; It would make me go far nimbler to New England if God should call me to it than otherwise I should, and I believe a college would put no small life into the plantation.” Lucy wanted a college for George!

It cannot be a mere coincidence that in late October 1636 the General Court of Massachusetts agreed to allot £400 to establish a school or college in Newtown, which would later be called Cambridge. The legislature and learned Puritans were fearful “to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” John Winthrop, as the highly esteemed founder and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, must have exerted significant influence on behalf of the Downings who had already invested in land and livestock in the colony.

Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard considered one of the founders of Harvard, bequeathed the infant seminary £780 and 400 scholarly books from his library upon his death in 1638. The grateful legislature named the new school “Harvard.” Since Harvard had already been founded two years prior to this gift, John Harvard was not truly a founder but a generous benefactor. Lucy persistence and pressure on the importance of a college in the new colony had to be more than a matter of chance. No other individual’s names are attached to the impetuous to build the colony’s first institute of higher learning. The decision came from the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which John Winthrop was a member.

With the news of suitable educational opportunities in New England, the Downings set sail on the Thomas and Francis in 1638. As educated Puritans, they were impressed with the learned and pious men already in the Massachusetts Bay Colony but were likely concerned about the deprivations of colonial life. The Downings left behind their stately London home and summer residence filled with maids and the luxuries expected by the elite for the more primitive accommodations and treacheries in the new colony.

harvard downing house

The Downing’s House on Essex Street in New England

The Downing family lived with Lucy’s brother John until they erected a house on three hundred acres of land in what is now Peabody. They called this plantation “Groton” after Lucy’s English manor. In the summer of 1645, the chimney caught fire while the entire family was away, and the entire house was destroyed. The family moved to a house on Essex Street where they lived until the Lucy and Emanuel returned to England in 1656. Emanuel received an appointment as Clerk of Council of State in Scotland, and they remained there until his death in 1660.

George Downing was a member of the first graduating class from Harvard in 1642 and was second in his class. He was offered a position as Harvard’s first tutor, which was then a prestigious honor. In 1645, he went to Barbados as a chaplain to Sir John Okey’s regiment. It appears he forgot most of his spiritual training after that assignment.

Lucy moved to London after her husband’s death, likely assured she would reap the benefits as the mother of Sir George Downing who was enjoying the protection and privileges from the royal court. Sadly, George treated his mother no better than he did many others. Lucy lived out the rest of her years under the alleged neglect of her most esteemed son. Desperate, she wrote letters to relatives to ask their assistance in petitioning George to increase her allowance as she “suffered in her old age for the necessities of life.”

“I am now at £10 a year for my chamber and for my servant’s wages and have to extend the other £10 to accommodate for our meat and drink, and for my clothing and all other necessaries I am much to seek, and more your brother George will not hear of for me, and he says that it is only covetousness that makes me ask more.”

Lucy’s nephew John Winthrop Jr., Governor of Connecticut, heard of her distress and begged George to “help Aunt Lucy in her time of age and infirmity.” George dismissed the letter insisting he could do no more, although he had already become a very wealthy and influential man. He was Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet and known as a statesman, diplomat, turncoat, and spy.  Downing Street in London and New York City are named in his honor.

Two centuries after Lucy’s death, her story came to the attention of Harriet Hanson Robinson, a 19th-century author and suffragette. HHR pitied Lucy’s situation during her old age but commented on this familiar scenario. “Lucy Downing established the unwise precedent of educating one member of her family at the expense of the rest- a precedent followed by too many women of her time.” HHR’s observations were accurate as no other Downing sons were educated at Harvard and her daughters were sent out to service in the colonies. One of these daughters was forced to marry against her wishes, although most of her children married quite well. Lucy died on April 9, 1679, in London.

Lucy’s colorful writing lives on and shows her sense of humor and unique choice of words. The lack of spelling and grammar conventions back then make her letters sometimes difficult to read, but they provide a rare insight into the life and concerns of this educated and well to do Puritan woman who lived on both continents. Although she was a mother to nine children and three stepchildren, her letters to family rarely mention any except George. This omission seems noteworthy considering she left seven of them in the colonies when she moved back to England.

Why didn’t Harvard pay more tribute to any member of the Downing family for its very existence? Lucy, although educated and cunning was still a female and had little authority or observable power. Not only could women not vote, but they were not allowed control over their own money or inheritances. It was a man’s world. Also, Lucy abandoned any influence she may have enjoyed in the colony when she had her husband returned to England.

The most likely reason for Harvard forgetting the Downing’s influence is that Sir George Downing, one of its first graduates and its first tutor, was held in very low esteem by the colonists after he returned to England. First siding with Cromwell, George switched his allegiance back to the king when the crown was restored. This was remarkable since George gave his full allegiance to Cromwell, but showed the skill of currying favor with those in power throughout his political career, even if it meant traitorous behavior.

George blamed his time with Cromwell on his teachers at Harvard and the elite back in the colonies for their ill-conceived ideas and teachings. Word of this traitorous and disloyal behavior reached the colonies and George was forevermore held in disdain. It became a proverbial expression in New England to refer to a false man who betrayed his trust as “an errant George Downing.”  Harvard had little reason or incentive to honor Sir George Downing or his mother, Lucy Winthrop Downing.

Lucy’s father, Sir Adam Winthrop

The historical novel, In the Shadow of Salem, is the story of Mehitabel Braybrooke Downing, Lucy Downing’s daughter-in-law. It is available on Amazon.

 

 

If You Were a Puritan: What Would Be Your Title?

If you lived in the Massachusetts Bay or Plymouth colonies in the 17th century what would your title have been?  Our early colonial ancestors had traditions in assigning honorific titles that were not based on marital status.

The Puritans and Pilgrims used different standards, and the majority of the early colonists would NOT have been referred to as Mr. or Mrs. A review of the Quarterly Court Records, the Mayflower Compact and many records from the Salem Witchcraft Trials reveal various titles of distinction.

The Mayflower Compact, one of our earliest documents signed by the pilgrims or separatists reveals only eleven of the forty-one signers as Mr. The other thirty used only their first and surnames. As recent arrivals from England, they would have followed the English traditions. Mister is a direct variant of master which was further derived from the Old English meagester, meaning “one having control or authority.” Well-educated and elite Englishmen may have carried royal titles, and those not of royal descent, literate tradesmen, and skilled artisans would have been referred to as Mr.  Continue reading

S is for Spectral Evidence

One of the greatest travesties of justice in American history was that spectral evidence was allowed as court testimony during the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692. Spectral evidence is based on the visions, hallucinations, or dreams of the accuser. Today, it is inconceivable that any sane person would consider this type of evidence as valid, and there were some in colonial New England who would have agreed

A specter is a spirit or ghostly apparition that causes torment to its victims. The problem is that others cannot see the specter even though they may observe the alleged victim writhing in pain. Only the “victim” and perhaps a few of her friends were privy to observe the specter. This evidence was considered admissible at the time because the Puritans believed that the Devil and his minions were at work and powerful enough to send their evil spirits to lead pure, religious people astray.

Continue reading

Q is for Quakers

 

quakermeeting-woman-on-tub

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.

quaker

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.

images-1

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.

whip-quakers

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

sewall

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.

Continue reading

I is for Indentured Servants

indenture

   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.

Continue reading

H is for Heresy

burning-pynchons-book

     The use of governmental powers to protect their faith was perhaps the most import   concern for the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The men and women who founded this colony believed that theirs was one true faith, one true way to worship, and that it was possible to determine the path of truth.

     With honorable and holy intentions, the Puritans held that it was the church’s duty to persuade those who held erroneous views and warn them of the spiritual and physical dangers the heretic would suffer if they publicly persisted. As a last resort, the heretic would be expelled from the spiritual society by excommunication.

Continue reading

G is for Giles Corey

 giles-corey

   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.

Continue reading

D is for Drunkenness

 

frowning-puritan-300x226

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.

C is for Cows, Especially the One Stuck in the Chimney

 

images-6

Cows held a prominent place in the criminal records in Essex County.  A charge of witchcraft could made against a despised neighbor if a person’s favorite heifer died in a mysterious manner. Certainly, cows and swine were stolen on a regular basis. These issues were mundane compared to the story of Mark Quilter’ surprise.

“How a Cow Made it Down a Chimney in Ipswich” is a legendary tale in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Two pranksters, Thomas and John Manning, carried a small calf up to the roof of Mark Quilter’s house and dropped it down the chimney. The singled storied home made it easy to climb. Roofs were rather low-hanging in those days, and the chimneys were large and square.

The Manning brothers must have had some unknown reason for choosing Quilter as the recipient of this prank. In the dark of night, the calf must have bawled in protest during its short drop to the hearthstones.  Imagine the startle Mark Quilter and his family had seeing ashes scattered with a disoriented calf leaping around the room!

B is for Branding

brands

Puritan sentences for crimes were harsh indeed! Branding with a hot iron might be considered unthinkable to the modern American, but it certainly presented a visible warning to all the colonists. It was another part of life considered normal for the Puritans.  Everyone knew what each branded letter represented, and the bearer was treated accordingly.

Branding was considered legal in England and all of her colonies and often took place in the courtroom right after the magistrate rendered the verdict. A group of spectators could always be counted on to witness the event.

Continue reading

The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England: A for Adultery

images

My new series of blog posts will go through the alphabet as I describe the interesting crimes and punishments that took place in the early colonial period in Essex County, Massachusetts.  The blogs will also be a permanent page under the title “The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England.

“A for Adultery”

Hester Prynne made the Scarlet Letter of “A for Adultery” well known in  Early American history.  This fictional single woman was forced to sew a scarlet colored “A” on her bodice as punishment for her adulterous affair with a married man.

The Essex County Court Records from the early colonial period contain numerous accusations of fornication.  The records sometimes use euphemisms such as “insinuating or wanton  dalliance”, “unlawful familiarity” and “committing folly.”

Continue reading

Slavery in Puritan Times

For the documentary

Slavery in Puritan Times

      The history of slavery spans nearly every culturenationality, and religion and from ancient times to the present day. We don’t usually relate slavery as part of New England’s history.  Massachusetts was the first state to ban slavery and became a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment in the early 1800’s when abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets sprang into existence.  Despite these noble endeavors, the reality is that slavery in the northern colonies had originated a few hundred years before the abolitionist movement began. Continue reading

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.