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

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

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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.”

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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