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Society Saturday: NYG&B and John and Phebe Sales

Johannes Vingboons - Image of Vinckeboons map at Library of Congress ([1]). Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), "Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier", 1639, via Wikipedia, Public Domain.
Johannes Vingboons – “Manhattan located on the North River.” Image of Vinckeboons map at Library of Congress ([1]). Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), “Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier”, 1639, via Wikipedia, Public Domain.
McMurray Family, Helbling and Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)

“Hopefully, John Sales, a “Black Sheep” in 1633 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and his daughter Phebe, had a better life in New Netherland.”

Those were what I thought were words to finish up the saga of John and Phebe. However, the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYG&B) has some articles in their NYG&B Record that mention John and Phebe, and I was finally able to gain online access to that article. So here are a few more tidbits about the family- some that answer questions in our previous posts, and some that flesh out the story a bit more.

Back in England, the parish registers of Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England, included an entry for a marriage on 11 August 1625 of John Sales and Philip Soales.” Philip was a name used by women named “Philippa,” which is the feminine of Philip in Latin, the language used in the churches in those days.

John may have been older at his marriage than expected, (possibly not born ~1600) since his property was called “Old Jan’s Land” after his death in 1645- even in that time, 45 was not “old.”.

Those parish registers also included baptisms for “Phoebe Sales, daughter of John” on 1 May 1626, and for another daughter of John, “Sarah Seales,” who was christened 27 July 1628. No other mention of this family is made in these registers.

John Sales, his wife, and daughter Phebe did sail with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, as surmised in our first post. The wife is not named, nor was she listed as a member of the First Church of Boston when John was noted as #21. Wives were listed for some members, however, so this may indicate that she died on the voyage or shortly after landing in the colony. Little Sarah may have died while they were waiting to sail and not in their own parish, or even once on board, since she only has the one entry in the parish register.

In 1664, colonist John Greene made a transcript of the Charlestown, Massachusetts town records. He noted that John Sales stayed and became an inhabitant of Charlestown in1629- though it was actually 1630- his was listed as #13 out of the 17 names recorded. The transcript goes on to explain how the colonists were in such dire straits:

“The summer this year [1632] prooving short, and wett, or [our] Crops of Indian Corne (for all this while wee had noe other) was very small and great want threatened us…”

The transcript goes on to describe the crimes of John Sales, and that he was openly punished, all his goods were to be sold to pay restitution, and he would be bound to Mr. Coxeshall until the year 1636.

Phoebe was to be bound out until 1647, and, if the above baptism is indeed the same Phebe, she would have been 21 when she gained her freedom, along with a “cowe cafe” from Mr. Coxeshall. Becoming an apprentice was a way to protect Phebe while her father was bound out, and it would teach her a trade so that she would not follow in the criminal footsteps of her father. This action does lend credence to the idea that she had no mother living, nor siblings.

John Winthrop, the Governor of the Colony, gave some details in his writings concerning John running away to the Indians. Winthrop states that Sales ran away to “… a place twelve miles off, where were seven Indians, whereof four died of the pox while he was there.” John must have been immune to smallpox since he survived, but the Indians did not have immune systems strong enough to fight the new disease brought by colonists to their lands.

John and Phebe Sales were not the only Massachusetts Bay Colonists who wished to remove themselves from the strict communities of the Puritans. Others also left for New Netherland, and John is first found in those records in 1638. As “Jan Celes” he was given a lease or permission to live at a plantation north of a place later called Rutgers Swamp. This area became known as “Old Jan’s Land” and his son-in-law took possession of some of the land, in the midst of Manhattan, after John’s death.

Phoebe is listed with a variety of first names and a variety of spellings of her last name in the Dutch records, but she was married 11 February 1640 to Theunis Nyssen. Thus she would have been only about 14, which was legal in New Netherland at that time. She had at least seven children, and they lived in Gowanus, Flatbush, and Brooklyn. There are no known daughters named Philippa, which would have been the Dutch custom, to name a daughter after the wife’s mother. If Phebe’s mother had died when she was very young, as was earlier hypothesized, she might choose to forego the custom. She did have a daughter named Mary, however- possibly after her step-mother, Mary Roberts?

Of course, we wondered what life was like for John and Phebe in the Dutch Colony, and this excellent article in the NYG&BR gives us more information concerning their daily life. (Our Helbling-Springsteen ancestors lived in Dutch New York possibly in this time period, too, so this information can give us some context to their lives.)

Apparently, Jan Celes made a number of court appearances due to various conflicts with neighbors. The first of those was when Jan was called in for “damage which the defendant’s hogs have caused the plaintiff.” He also still had some legal dealings in Massachusetts, as on 28 December 1639 he gave a power of attorney to a man from New Plymouth, and it was noted that John was living on Manhattan at that time.

“The fiscal vs. old Jan Selis” was a court case recorded on 26 November 1643. Neighbors testified that “old Jan drove many cows and horses into the swamp” and that he had “cut the cow of little Manuel with a chopping knife.” He was required to pay a fine, pay damages to his victims, and court costs for “having chased and wounded cattle.” Jan was also told that if committed such a crime again, he would be banished.

What may often be dismissed as dry genealogy in society journals can really help us learn more about our family. These articles can add much context, as in the case of John and Phebe Sales and the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record (NYG&BR). These articles also give us an idea of how the investigation progressed to learn the facts of a life, something we all might be able to use when researching other ancestors. Some say that societies are dead in this age of the internet, but societies provide valuable information for all who pursue the stories of their family- or even, those crazy people who become entranced by the stories of other families.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. “The True Identity of John Sales Alias Jan Celes of Manhattan” by Gwenn F. Epperson, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 123, No. 2, Pages 65-73, April 1992.
  2. Additions and Corrections to “The True Identity of John Sales Alias Jan Celes of Manhattan,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 124, No. 4, Pages 226-7, October 1993.
  3. “Jan Cornelius Buys (Alias Jan Damen) and Teunis Nyssen (or Denyse) and Roelof Willemszen,” by John Reynolds Totten, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 66, No. 3, Page 284, July 1935.

 

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Original content copyright 2013-2016 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted. 
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Wedding Wednesday: John Sales and his daughter Phebe Sales

Vervaardigd in ca. 1684. This map of the current New England was published by Nicolaes Visscher II (1649-1702). Visscher copied first a map by Jan Janssonius (1588-1664) from 1651 and added a view of New Amsterdam, the current Manhattan. The map is very accurate: each European town which existed at the time has been represented. Public domain via Wikipedia.
Vervaardigd in ca. 1684. This map of the current New England was published by Nicolaes Visscher II (1649-1702). Visscher copied first a map by Jan Janssonius (1588-1664) from 1651 and added a view of New Amsterdam, the current Manhattan. The map is very accurate: each European town which existed at the time has been represented. Public domain via Wikipedia.

 

McMurray Family (Click for Family Tree)

Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been difficult for the “Black Sheep” John Sales and his little daughter, Phebe Sales. They are not related to us, but this is an interesting story that tells us a bit about what life was like in the early colonies, where some of our ancestors lived too.

In our previous posts we left John and Phebe on 6 June 1637, ‘bound out’ and “troublesome,” with an unknown fate to be decided by two men and the court.

Apparently, they were released from their indenture, as John and Phebe went to New Netherland, a Dutch colony that is now New York, New Jersey, Delaware, etc. The Dutch were much more tolerant of religious differences, women had more rights, and John and Phebe could be rid of the Puritans and their bad experiences in Massachusetts Bay Colony. John changed his name to be Dutch-sounding- he went by “Jan Celes,” and lived in Manhattan. (It was a lot less pricey in those days.)

Jan Celes was recorded in New Amsterdam, the capital, on 21 August 1644 when he married  a widow named Maria Sloofs, called “Marritjen [Mary] Roberts” in his will. (The Dutch used a woman’s maiden name for all official records, thus ‘Roberts’ how Mary was recorded.)

Jan’s will was dated just eight months later, on 17 April 1645, and he was “…wounded and lying sick abed”- in fact, he was so ill that he could not write, thus gave his last wishes verbally with at least two witnesses.

Phebe Sales, his daughter, had already married, on 11 February 1640, to Theunis Nyssen, in New Amsterdam. In 1645, her father willed half his estate to Theunis, and half to his wife Marritjen, whose portion was to revert to Theunis upon her death or remarriage. Thus Phebe and any heirs would have the benefit of almost all of his estate eventually. Jan did allow in his will that Marritjen could have, if she did not remarry, 200 guilders to will to whomever she wished. John also listed his name as “John Seals” as well as “Jan Celes”; he combined the English and Dutch names when he wrote his signature as, “Jan Seles.”

John died sometime between when his will was given on 17 April 1645, and 9 August 1645, when John’s widow “Mary Robbertszen” married Thomas Grydy (Greedy) in New York. Interestingly, Thomas was a convicted felon, as had been John Sales. Mary  probably died by 13 October 1658 when Thomas made his will, as no wife was mentioned.

Theunis likely died before Phebe, as her second husband was Jan Cornelison Buys; they married in Middelwout (now Flatbush) on 24 August 1663, and she may have had one child with him. She was died and buried as “Femmetje Jans on 13 December 1666, in the Flatbush Church Cemetery.

Hopefully, John Sales, a “Black Sheep” in 1633 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and his daughter Phebe, had a better life in New Netherland.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles Henry Pope, 1900, via Archive.org.
  2. John Sale is listed on page 2 of “Boston Church Records” The Records of the Churches of Boston. CD-ROM. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. (Online database.  AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008 .)
  3. Entry for John Sales: The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010), (Originally Published as: New England Historic Genealogical Society. Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III, 3 vols., 1995). He is listed on p. 407-8 in a footnote in the profile of John Coggeshall, page 1616-1618 in his own profile as John Sales.
  4. “&c” means “and etc.”
  5. Double or dual dating is often used during this time period because of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. See the article on dual dating at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_dating and http://www.usgenweb.org/research/calendar.shtml.
  6. The followup on the lives of John Sales and Phebe Sales is a lesson in good genealogy. There was another “John Sales” who was found in Providence, Rhode Island, in the late 1630s- many thought these two were one and the same. An excellent article by Gwenn Epperson proved that they were not. See”The True Identity of John Sales alias Jan Celes of Manhattan” was printed in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record (NTGBR 123:65-73), and the story was added to in 1994 by Harry Macy (NYGBR 124:226-27).

 

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We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post (see form below), and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.
 

Original content copyright 2013-2016 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted. 
Descendants and researchers MAY download images and posts to share with their families, and use the information on their family trees or in family history books with a small number of reprints. Please make sure to credit and cite the information properly.
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Madness Monday: The Punishment of John Sales, 1633

John Sale and daughter Phebe 'bound over' for theft by John. Found in Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles henry Pope, 1900. Public domain.
John Sale and daughter Phebe ‘bound over’ for theft by John. Found in Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles Henry Pope, 1900. Public domain.

McMurray Family (Click for Family Tree)

Puritans felt compelled to make sure that others, even non-Puritans, followed the rules/laws of an orderly society. Hence, “Black Sheep” like John Sales were to be made an example, and his punishment was harsh. On the 1st of April 1633, he was “censured by the Court after this manner:”

all his estate was to be forfeited (though it likely was small)

… he had to pay double restitution to all those he had wronged

… he “shall be whipped”

…he will be “bound as servant with any that will retain him for 3 years”

The records continue:

“John Sayle is bound with Mr. Coxeshall for 3 yeares, for which hee is to give him £4 per ann[um]; his daughter is also bound with him for 14 yeares. Mr. Coxeshall is to haue [have] a sow [female pig] with her, & att the end of her time hee is to giue [give] vnto [unto] her a cowe calfe.”

So John’s little daughter, possibly just seven-years old (she was baptized 1 May 1626), was punished too. As her mother is not mentioned in any of the Colony records, we can assume that her father was her sole caregiver until this point. At least they kept the two together.

On 4 March 1633/34, John was whipped for running away from his master.

On 30 January 1634/35, John came back after running away again, and this time it was noted that he ran to the Indians. He was most likely whipped, again. It would be interesting to know his experience during the time he was gone, and whether or not his daughter accompanied him.

Two years later, on 7 April 1635, the court records that two of the colony leaders were to examine “the business” between John Sayles, his daughter, Mr. Coxeall, and a John Levens. There are no details of the problem or how it was solved, but by 6 June 1637, Phebe Seales, who had been ‘put apprentice’ to John Coggeshall (the same ‘Mr. Coxehall,’ Boston merchant), had caused enough problems that a court intervention was required. Unfortunately the girl “proved overburdensome to him… the Court…have thought it just to ease him of it…” Apparently Coggeshall had “put” Phebe (loaned her out) to John Levins, and that was not working out well either. So the court agreed upon two arbitrators, who were to “…end the difference between the said parties & to set down such order for the ease and discharge of the said John Coggeshall, &c disposing of the said Phebe, as they shall think equal.”

Sadly, we do not know how the issues were resolved, but we do know what happened to John Sales and his daughter Phebe Sales. We will finish the story in our next post, on Wednesday.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles Henry Pope, 1900, via Archive.org.
  2. John Sale is listed on page 2 of “Boston Church Records” The Records of the Churches of Boston. CD-ROM. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. (Online database.  AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008 .)
  3. Entry for John Sales: The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010), (Originally Published as: New England Historic Genealogical Society. Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III, 3 vols., 1995). He is listed on p. 407-8 in a footnote in the profile of John Coggeshall, page 1616-1618 in his own profile as John Sales.
  4. “&c” means “and etc.”
  5. Double or dual dating is often used during this time period because of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. See the article on dual dating at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_dating and http://www.usgenweb.org/research/calendar.shtml.

 

 

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We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post (see form below), and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.
 

Original content copyright 2013-2016 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted. 
Descendants and researchers MAY download images and posts to share with their families, and use the information on their family trees or in family history books with a small number of reprints. Please make sure to credit and cite the information properly.
 Please contact us if you have any questions about copyright or use of our blog material.

Black Sheep Sunday: Crime and Punishment circa 1633

John Sale and daughter Phebe 'bound over' for theft by John. Found in Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles henry Pope, 1900. Public domain.
John Sale and daughter Phebe ‘bound over’ for theft committed by John. Found in Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles Henry Pope, 1900. Public domain.

 

McMurray Family (Click for Family Tree)

Our Burnell, Tucker, Bannister, Pomeroy, Parsons, and Kingsley ancestors lived in Puritan Massachusetts in the 1600s, and the early 1700s as the society became more diverse. They may have known John Sales, or known of him- news travelled faster than we realize even though they did not have cell phones in those days. Thankfully, John Sales is not the ‘Black Sheep’ of our family, though he likely is such in some other family. His story, however, will give a bit of context to the time and place that our own ancestors lived.

Charles Henry Pope compiled information from many available sources, such as, in this case, the Records of Massachusetts Bay Colony or the General Court [Col. Rec.], and Gov. John Winthrop’s History of Massachusetts [W.]. Pope’s book Pioneers of Massachusetts was published in 1900.

These records show that John Sales was admitted as an inhabitant of Charlestown, Massachusetts, now known as Cambridge (Boston’s oldest neighborhood), and in 1630 the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. From other sources we learn that John migrated from Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England, in 1630, and his first residence in the colony was Charlestown. John most likely was already a member of the Puritan church- the ONLY religion tolerated in the colony. To become a member of the local church, however, John, like other men and women, had to be examined by local Puritan religious leaders and found to be steadfast and knowledgeable in his faith. In fact, he proved himself- John was one of the members from the very beginning of the First Church in Boston, on 27 August 1630- he was member #21.

Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet, the first female poet to be published in the English colonies- and the most famous poet in the colonies- was also listed in that first accounting of members of the new church. Her most famous lines are:

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.”

John Winthrop, the Governor of the colony, was a member of the Boston First Church, too.

So how did John Sales, who travelled in such prominent circles to some degree, end up being convicted of theft?? ‘Black Sheep’ that he was, he had the distinction of being the first person in the colony to be convicted of that crime, on 1 April 1633.

We know that times were pretty lean in the first years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and we know that John had a daughter named Phebe to support. We do not know John’s status when he immigrated to the colony- was he part of the gentry, a merchant, a skilled craftsman, an apprentice, or indentured servant? His wife was not listed in any records (still existing) once he was in the colony. She may have died in England after the birth of their second daughter in 1628, or she died on board ship or shortly after arrival. My hypothesis is that she would have been on board ship, as it would be unlikely a man would bring a four-year old daughter- Phebe- with him to the colony without a woman to care for her. (Phoebe was baptized in 1626, but may not have been an infant at baptism, thus her actual age is unknown.) If his wife and second daughter, 2 year old Sarah had come on the voyage, they would have been like many other colonists, who travelled as a family. A number of passengers on board perished during the journey, however, and John’s wife and youngest daughter may have been two of them, as they are not mentioned in any of the Colony’s records.

John Sales and family probably sailed from England with the Winthrop Fleet, the 12 ships that landed in Salem, Massachusetts on 12 June 1630. The sick and decimated colonists already in Salem did not have enough food even for themselves, nor housing for the new arrivals. The newest colonists then only had a few months to find a different place to settle and build shelters for the oncoming brutal New England winter. They moved about twenty miles away, and founded Charlestown.

Wattle-and-daub construction, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Wattle-and-daub construction, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The colonists mostly lived in very simple housing such as wigwams, dugout homes, or wattle-and-daub (basically stick and mud) houses with dirt floors. The rich persons in town had clapboard houses, which would have been much warmer in winter than drafty wattle-and-daub. There was a lack of fresh water in Charlestown, and growing and gathering food to sustain them over that first winter would have been a challenge during the few remaining months of summer. Many got sick from poor diet, local conditions, and hard work. In that first year, about 200 of the approximately 1,000 immigrants died; the next spring, in 1631, another 200 returned to England. John Sale and his daughter Phebe somehow survived these tough times, and made it through their first year in the New World.

The year 1632 was harder, though, for John and Phebe. The Charlestown Town Records state:

“heere happened in this Towne, the first knowne thiefe yt [that] was notoriously observed in ye Country, his name was John Sales who having stolne [stolen] Corne from many people in this Scarce time was Convicted thereof before the Court…”

John was accused of

“… fellonyously takeing away corne & fishe from dyvers persons the last yeare & this, as also clapboards, &c.”

Not that stealing is acceptable, especially when others also do not have enough, but perhaps John was just trying to feed his daughter and himself, and either add clapboards to their home to help them stay warm, or use the clapboards for firewood. He may have been too sick to care for his daughter as well as bring home dinner or kindling from the woods. We cannot know his situation or motivation, but we do know what happened next.

We can also tell you that John Sales was not listed as an inhabitant of Charlestown on 9 January 1633/34. Obviously there was a big change in his life.

Tomorrow- The Punishment

 

 

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Pioneers of Massachusetts by Charles Henry Pope, 1900, via Archive.org.
  2. John Sale is listed on page 2 of “Boston Church Records” The Records of the Churches of Boston. CD-ROM. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. (Online database.  AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008 .)
  3. Entry for John Sales: The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010), (Originally Published as: New England Historic Genealogical Society. Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III, 3 vols., 1995). He is listed on p. 407-8 in a footnote in the profile of John Coggeshall, page 1616-1618 in his own profile as John Sales.
  4. “&c” means “and etc.”
  5. Double or dual dating is often used during this time period because of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. See the article on dual dating at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_dating and http://www.usgenweb.org/research/calendar.shtml.

 

 

Please contact us if you would like higher resolution images. Click to enlarge images.

We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post (see form below), and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.
 

Original content copyright 2013-2016 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted. 
Descendants and researchers MAY download images and posts to share with their families, and use the information on their family trees or in family history books with a small number of reprints. Please make sure to credit and cite the information properly.
 Please contact us if you have any questions about copyright or use of our blog material.

Thankful Thursday: Thanksgiving Day has New Meaning This Year

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts. via Wikipedia, public domain.
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts. via Wikipedia, public domain.

McMurray Family, Burnell Family (Click for Family Tree)

Pilgrims and Puritans always seemed so far removed from everything in life except Thanksgiving dinner- that was my thought in years past. The last few months, however, have revealed a much closer relationship than ever imagined. Some of our Burnell ancestors actually travelled on The Mayflower, though it was her third voyage to the colonies, not that first fateful voyage that gave us the holiday we celebrate today and the famous ‘Plymouth Rock.’ Also, we have quite a lot of Puritans in our Burnell ancestors of New England, and it is fascinating to be learning their stories.

Of course, finding this family heritage meant research into the daily lives of the Puritans. They were not the dour people we often envision. They did allow laughter and play, but everything they did was for the glory of God.

The Puritans wished to purify the English church, and rid it of any facets of Catholicism, such as priests, sacraments, ceremonies, etc. They did have much political power in England after the First English Civil War in 1642-6, but then were unhappy with the limited changes of the Reformation, and many left England. While the Mayflower pilgrims could be classified as being “Separatists” who wanted to start their own churches, likely our ancestors were “non-separating Puritans” since they followed John Winthrop and like-minded others. They did not want to leave the Church of England, but wanted to practice their religion in a more pure way. Thus, although we learned in grade school that the Pilgrims and Puritans came to the colonies for freedom of religion, technically it was so that THEY could practice THEIR religion freely; they would not tolerate others to question nor practice in any way other than that proscribed by the bible as interpreted by their ministers. (They persecuted and even executed heretics and Quakers like Anne Hutchinson.)

The Puritans believed in strict interpretation of the bible, and made their laws, which became the plantation/colony laws, accordingly. Their ultimate goal in this life was to glorify God, in the hope of being with God and an everlasting glory in heaven. They did not believe, like the Catholics, that good works would help one get closer to heaven- the chosen were pre-ordained by God, but they must also live their life orderly and properly in order to fulfill that destiny. Man was made to glorify God while on this earth, in thought, deed, worship, raising children, and even in his business pursuits, they affirmed.

The Puritans believed very strongly in the Fifth Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” This law produced the strict hierarchy ordering their lives: God was the father of man, who must honor him; man was the ‘father’ to his wife, children, and any servants, thus they would honor him by being subservient and obedient to him. He, as their ‘father,’ was required to see to their education in both religion and practical matters, and it was his duty to see that his family followed the many rules of their society. Because all persons existing at that time were “descendants of Abraham’s seed,” the bible indicated that every person was thus responsible for every other person’s behavior, because all were related. This led to townspeople going to the courts to turn another in for infractions, neighbor against neighbor, but in the spirit of tending to that neighbor’s soul. (Theoretically, of course- some was done as spite as well.) It also led to the guilt and fear of a society such that when something bad happened, like a drought or massacre by the natives- they believed that if they all had done a better job of following the proscribed laws, the bad would not have happened.

Because of their strict interpretation of the bible, the Puritans (as well as members of other religions of the time) felt that Satan was always nearby, ready to take possession of any who were weak or not cautious, not pious. This fear of demons led to a constant fear of anything unexplained. These events were thus considered as Satan’s doing, or his work through possession, or witchcraft.

The Puritans did not can themselves by that name, but felt they were “Congregationalists.” Their congregational church was made up of individuals who had come together voluntarily to worship. Only those who were “visible saints” could join- they had to experience a “conversion” in which the Holy Spirit would come to them. A person desiring admission to the church would have to explain in detail the visit of the Holy Spirit, and church members would be free to accept or reject the applicant. Children were automatically included while they lived in a parent’s household, and sometimes servants as well.  Young children were not brought to church, however- they had to be old enough, “so, as to be benefitted themselves and the Congregation not disturbed by ’em,” per Joseph Belcher. A child would have to experience their own conversion once an adult and out of the household, and apply for membership. Some references stated that our Joseph Parsons and his children had been admitted as church members, but Mary (Bliss) Parsons never did; others stated that she was a church member though regularly accused as a witch. A Puritan church was really made up of families, not individuals.

Education was very important to the Puritans, so that their children could read the bible for themselves. They were not taught to think for themselves, however- only to have the knowledge and understanding of the bible needed to follow the laws to be pious. New England laws proscribed the education of a child- all children, even if it was only a weekly catechism taught by a parent. The town selectmen would go to each home in the plantation (what they called their towns, rather than ‘colonies’ as we call them), and quiz the children on their catechism plus their understanding of it; a parent would be admonished if his children were not properly learning.

Generally both boys and girls attended schools, with some boys moving on to an apprenticeship after learning to read and write, and girls moving to service in various homes in order to learn the skills of housekeeping. Most children were farmed out to other homes in order that they did not become too close to parents, and so that they would learn respect, which might decrease in the teen years if they had stayed with doting parents. Some boys went on to higher education, including Harvard University, which was originally a Puritan institution that mostly produced new ministers for the faith.

While the Puritans did not allow the arts such as drama, they did allow music for the Psalms, but no musical instruments in the church service. They did love their children, although discipline, even very harsh discipline (which was to be a last resort, though that was not always followed), was the duty of a parent or master in order to help ‘save’ the pious life of a child. They loved each other too, within marriage, and were not prudish about sex in the married state; sex outside marriage, however, was severely punished and could be a capital crime. There still exists a very sweet set of correspondence between John Winthrop and his wife, as he was often away. They did take pains, however, to keep their love for each other within bounds, and couch it in terms of their actions glorifying God.

Love was actually desirable in a Puritan marriage. Puritans often married at a slightly older age than many of the time, often mid-20s. All were required to live in a ‘family’ situation by law- no wild singles living on their own without others to see to their soul. Thus children lived with their parents until married, or until a young male was able to afford a household with servants. Sometimes a couple would ‘fall in love,’ but often a person would determine it was time to marry, and then look around at the pool of eligible spouses. Meetings would occur, and if a person thought they could love a person, negotiations were begun. The father of each would negotiate how much they would contribute o the new household, with the groom’s family providing twice as much as the bride’s, in general. Puritans seldom married across class lines, and if all were in agreement at the settlement, the marriage would proceed. Marriage was not a religious ceremony in Puritan society but more a contract, thus the ceremony was performed by a civil magistrate. Unfortunately the words of wedding ceremonies do not exist today- it would be very interesting to know what each spouse promised. Second marriages were left more to the adults to negotiate. It was common to have large blended families since so many spouses died young- often one spouse was marrying for the second, third, or even fourth time, and the other had been married once or more. Women bore children into their forties sometimes, and may have been having children for over a quarter of a century- Mary (Bliss) Parsons, our family’s accused witch, was one of those.

Surprisingly, one can find divorce in Puritan families. Generally divorce was reserved for egregious wrongs- the lack of performing marital ‘duties’ of any kind, whether for physical or willful reasons; abandonment/disappearance (they travelled more than I realized, and may have not made it back from a trip, or just moved on); and sometimes even for verbal or physical abuse .

Understanding Puritan society helps us to understand their lives in a richer deeper, way.

This Thanksgiving Day, thinking of these ancestors and how hard their lives were in the frontier of the New World, yet how they worked to gain glory in each act, will be a part of my reflection of gratitude. Understanding their lives helps us to understand more of our own society and personalities, as well as religions.

There is much more to come about our Puritan and early New England ancestors!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. The Puritan Family. Religion & Domestic Relations in Seventeenth Century New England by Edmund S. Morgan, the premier Puritan historian. Harper-Perrenial, 1966 edition.
  2. Wikipedia- Puritans – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puritans

 

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