Learning from the past, living in the moment, and leaving footprints for the future. Stories of lov

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Black Sheep Sunday - Quilty of Manslaughter

You can't research your family ancestry without finding a black sheep amongst them. I certainly did find what I call a Black Cloud and Weed. But what I understand is that without this despicable person, Robert Latham my 8th great grandfather, I perhaps would not be here.

In an incident that will shock many, the Plymouth court records show that Robert Latham who married Susanna, the daughter of John Winslow and his wife Mary Chilton, brutally and willfully mistreated his servant boy, John Walker, thus causing his death.  Equally as disturbing,  Susanna was found culpable as well--though not prosecuted.

(Stratton, Eugene Aubrey, FASG. Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691.)

Att a Court of Assistants holden att Plymouth the sixt of Febrewary 1654/5. Before William Bradford, William Collayre, Miles Standish, John Alden and Thomas Willet. The following verdict was ordered to bee recorded:

Marshfield, the last of January 1654

Wee, whose names are vnderwritten, being appointed a jury by Mr. John Alden to view the dead body of John Walker, seruant to Robert Latham, of this towne, and to find the cause how hee came to his vntimely end.

" On 31 January 1654/55 a coroner's jury was called to view the body of Latham's servant boy, John Walker." The jury found:

that the body of John Walker was blackish and blew, and the skine broken in divers places from the middle to the haire of his head, viz, all his backe with stripes given him by his master, Robert Latham, as Robert himselfe did testify; and also wee found a bruise of his left arme, and one of his left hipp, and one great bruise of his brest; and there was the knuckles of one hand and one of his fingers frozen, and alsoe both his heeles frozen, and one of the heeles the flesh was much broken, and alsoe one of his little toes frozen and very much perished, and one of his great toes frozen, and alsoe the side of his foot frozen; and alsoe, upon the reviewing the body, wee found three gaules like holes in the hames, which wee formerly, the body being frozen, thought they had been holes; and alsoe wee find that the said John was forced to carry a logg which was beyond his strength, which hee indeavoring to doe, the logg fell upon him, and hee, being downe, had a stripe or two, as Joseph Beedle doth testify; and wee find that it was some few daies before his death; and wee find, by the testimony of John Howland and John Adams, that heard Robert Latham say that hee gave John Walker som stripes that morning before his death; and alsoe wee find the flesh much broken of the knees of John Walker, and that he did want sufficient food and clothing and lodging, and that the said John did constantly wett his bedd and his cloathes, lying in them, and so suffered by it, his clothes being frozen about him; and that the said John was put forth in the extremity of cold, though thuse unabled by lamenes and sorenes to performe what was required; and therefore in respect of crewelty and hard usage he died.

In the Latham-Walker case, the community view can can be seen in the aftermath, when on 4 March 1654/55 Latham was indicted for felonious cruelty to his servant John Walker, age about fourteen, by unreasonable correction, by withholding necessary food and clothing, and by exposing Walker to extremities of the seasons, whereby he died. The trial jury found him guilty of "manslaughter by chaunce medley," and he was sentenced to be burned in the hand (branded on the hand) and, having no lands, to have all his personal property confiscated. Latham's wife, Susanna, as noted in chapter 9, was presented by the grand jury for being in great measure guilty with her husband in exercising extreme cruelty toward their late servant John Walker. In her case, however, the presentment continued without trial for three years, until the court on 1 June 1658 ordered that she would be held for trial if anyone wished to prosecute her for the offense, but no one came forth, and the court ordered the presentment erased from the records."


  1. How awful for the boy. It's hard to understand how people could be so mean. But great find.

  2. We don't get to choose our ancestors and we hope for good ones. A sad story, but John Walker's life has been remembered here - and perhaps remind us that there are still children who suffer cruelty.


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