Monday, October 29, 2012

Workday Wednesday - Colonial Royal Governor

I was paying more attention to William Brewster my 10th great grandfather who arrived on the Mayflower than I was of his daughter, Patience, from whom I descend. And, even less attention to the man she married, Thomas Prence, until today.

It's always amazing to learn about my ancestors and the contributions they made as this new world of ours was being settled and  laws made. In that vein, I introduce my 9th great grandfather, Thomas Prence, Colonial Royal Governor. 

Thomas was the son of Thomas Prence, a carriage-maker, of Lucedale, Co.Gloucestershire, England. His Puritan family joined the Pilgrim community in Leiden (Holland) in Thomas' youth.  He came to America on the ship "Fortune" in 1621 in the twenty-second year of his age with his family. 

 He went to Plymouth Colony, where he gained prominence and was one of eight colonial "undertakers" who assumed (1627) the colony's debt to the London merchants who had backed the establishment of the colony.

He was chosen Governor, and he served as the fourth Governor of Plymouth Colony from 1634 to 1635, then from 1638 to 1639, and again from 1657 until his death in 1673.  Thomas Prence otherwise recorded as Thomas Prince, married Patience Brewster in 1624, the daughter of William Brewster. 

Thomas held various offices, including the governorship (1634-35, 1638, 1657-73.  As governor, he served with credit through a period of Indian wars and internal religious troubles and was noted for his successful effort to secure public revenues in support of schools.  The duties combined with being governor were, Chief Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Speaker of the General Court and Auditor of the Treasury.

Interestingly, a chair of maple and ash made in Plymouth Colony in the late 17th century that belonged to Thomas Prence survived, and has been passed down by his descendants. It is on display at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth.

After he had served God in the office of Governor sixteen years, he died on March 29, 1673at the age of 73.  "He was a worthy gentleman, very pious, and very able for his office, and faithful in the discharge thereof, studious of peace, a wellwiller to all that feared God, and a terror to the wicked. His death was much lamented, and his body honorably buried at Plymouth. "

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sympathy Saturday - Towne Sisters Hung

I took my grandchildren to visit the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago to learn a little about this terrible time in history.  Little did I know at that time that it would become more than a history story, but one with personal meaning.

Sometimes you find something in your family history that takes you by surprise. This day I discovered Rebecca Towne Nurse and her sister, Mary Towne Estey, were accused of being witches, found guilty and executed in 1692 during the Salem witch trials. Their sister Sarah was acquitted.  These three sisters were my 8th grand aunts.  Their sister Susan was my 8th great grandmother.

Soon after the first of the women had been accused of witchcraft, Rebecca Nurse discovered that her name had also been mentioned as a suspect. She is reported to have said "I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely, what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of that He should lay such an affliction on me in my old age." On March 23 a warrant was issued for her arrest upon the complaint of Edward and John Putnam.

Rebecca Nurse on Trial
 "Rebecca Towne Nurse’s story is among the more poignant of the witchcraft tragedies. This mother of eight was 71 years old when she was hanged on Gallows Hill with four other women, July 19, 1692. She was among Salem's most respected and religious citizens, so much so that the magistrates hesitated in delivering the warrant for her arrest. The Nurse family had been involved in several land disputes that could have caused ill feeling among some of the residents of Salem.

"Nevertheless, most of her contemporaries sympathized with her. The dignity and nobility of her character that she showed throughout the trials undoubtedly helped turn public opinion against the trials. Her story has been written in many historical and fictionalized accounts of the trials, including Arthur Miller's play The Crucible."

On July 3, Rebecca Nurse was excommunicated -- "abandoned to the devil and eternally damned."  On July 19 she was driven in a cart with four other women to Gallows Hill where she was hung. Tradition says that at midnight Francis Nurse, his sons and sons-in-law found Rebecca's body in the common grave where it had been flung and carried it home for a proper burial.

Mary Towne Esty wrote a letter to petition the court.  Here is a segment of that letter.

"To the honorable judge and bench now sitting in Salem, and the Rev. Minister, this petition showeth that your humble, poor petitioner, being condemned to die, doth humbly beg of you to take it into your judicious and pious consideration that your petitioner, knowing my innocence, and blessed be the Lord for it, and seeing the wiles and subtlety of my accuser, by myself cannot but judge charitably of others who are going the same way as myself, if the Lord step not mightily in.  I was confined a whole month on the same account that I am now condemned, and then cleared, as your honors know, and in two days' time I was cried out upon again and have been confined and am now condemned to die.  The Lord above know my innocence then, and likewise does now, as at the great day will be known by men and angels.

"I petition to your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and the appointed time is set, but if it be possible, that no more innocent blood be shed, which doubtedly  cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not but your honors do to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detection of witchcraft and witches and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world, but by my own innocence, I know you are in the wrong way.  The Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work, that innocent blood be not shed."   Mary Esty

Statue of Rebecca and Mary
Mary (Towne) Esty, wife of Isaac Esty  "was executed for witchcraft on Sept. 22, 1692, her petition to the court being the outstanding note of high fortitude and understanding charity which has come down to us from Salem's black days. "

A warrant for the arrest of their sister, Sarah Towne Cloyce, was issued. "You are therefore in their Majesty's names hereby required to apprehend and bring before us Sarah Cloyce the wife of peter Cloyce of Salem Village and Elizabeth Proctor the wife of John Procter of Salem frames; on Monday Morning Next being the Eleventh day of this Instant April about Eleven of the Clock, at the pub like Meeting house in the Towne, in order to their Examination Relating to the premises above said and here of you are. not to fail Dated Salem April 8'th 1692."

Sarah was acquitted, perhaps because a friend was on the jury. She left Salem and for the next ten years worked to prove her sister's innocence. 

PBS produced a show called "Three Sovereigns For Sarah".  It is available on a DVD that I do have plans on purchasing.  The cover
photograph is of Vanessa Redgrave (center), as Sarah Cloyce; Phyllis Thaxter (right), as Rebecca Nurse; and Kim Hunter (left), as Mary Estey. Source: Video Cassette cover. Video recording. Night Owl Productions. Producer, writer Victor Pisano. Director, Philip Leacock. Publication info: Alexandria, Va. : PBS Video, (1990)

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."
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