Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Case of Adultery Unprosecuted

The Capel Family
Sometime before 1681 Abigail Remington was wed to John Richmond of Kingstown, Rhode Island. They had four daughters, John paid his taxes in 1687, but then something went very wrong in the Remington family. On March 20, 1688 Abigail, widow of John Remington, late of Rochester, Rhode Island, presented an inventory of her dead husband’s estate to the court and requested administration.

John Remington’s belongings were valued at a mere 46 pounds, 17 shillings and 6 ½ pence, enough to buy a few cows or a scrap of land. Widowed at the age of 36, with four young daughters to feed, Abigail would have faced hard times if a neighbor hadn’t taken her under his wing.

Henry Gardner was aged about 46 when he appraised John Remington’s estate in 1688. A few years earlier he was Kingstown’s constable, and as heir to one of Rhode Island’s largest land owners, John Porter, Henry was set up for life. However, there was a complication – after nearly two decades of marriage, Henry’s wife Joan was still childless, and Henry Gardner was heirless. Joan was healthy (she survived until about 1715), so if Henry simply waited for her to die, it might be too late for him to sire an heir.

Probably Henry could have had his childless marriage to Joan annulled. After all, his mother, Herodias Long, had obtained separations from two husbands in years past. Her marriage to John Hicks was ended by his spousal abuse. The other separation occurred twenty years later, when Herod admitted that she had never married George Gardner. It’s hard to say whether Herod was feeling guilty, or if she had her eyes on a larger prize. A couple of years later she and John Porter were called to court for cohabitation ‘in way of incontinency,’ but that’s another story.

Henry Gardner made no attempt at annulment or divorce. Instead, he found another way to sire heirs. In 1691 Abigail Remington bore an infant named Henry Gardner. Their second son, Ephraim Gardner, was born in 1693.

Demi Moore as Hester Prynne on the pillory
On March 27, 1694, Henry Gardner was "Bound over to this court [of trials] for being charged by Abigail Remington for getting on her body two bastard children." I find it surprising that Rhode Island waited until two 'fatherless' children had been born to take action agains Henry and Abigail. 

The Puritan colonies certainly would have called a pregnant widow to court as soon as her baby began to show, demanding that she reveal the name of the baby's father.  Just think of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, displayed on the pillory with her baby, Pearl. The Puritans would have proceeded against the father as well, and unless the woman and man were high-born, both faced the stocks, a stiff fine, whippings, and/or jail.

Rhode Island was more lenient, but Abigail should have been fined, then stripped to the waist and displayed in public for 15 minutes for having borne a child out of wedlock. Her second child by Henry Gardner should have resulted in a whipping or 10 pound fine. However, Abigail, as the mistress of an influential and affluent man, escaped the harshest penalty called for by the colony’s adultery and fornication law. 

For her offense, Abigail Remington “being bound to appear at court to answer for the act of fornication committed with Henry Gardner, and being taken sick could not appear." Henry acted as Abigail's attorney, and paid her fine in court, "being 26 shillings and 8 pence and officers fees.”

In nearly all cases, men were more gently handled than women. By law, Henry Gardner did not face the lash or public humiliation, but he would have been fined or jailed if he refused to support the children. 

However, Henry stood by his informal family. As the reputed father of her two children, Henry "is sentenced by this court to keep ye town of Kingstown Indemnified from any charge that may arise from ye maintenance of ye said children." Having agreed to do so, Henry’s crime of adultery was ignored. So were two more illegitimate children born to Henry and Abigail in 1697 and 1701 – all while Joan Gardner was still alive.

Why were the offenses of Abigail Remington and Henry Gardner largely overlooked? I think the main reason is that most Rhode Islanders were cast out from Puritan colonies for their unorthodox beliefs. As a result, they were opposed to sticking their noses in other people’s business. As long the illegitimate children were supported, and the unwed couple lived quietly, so what if they weren’t wed? Henry Gardner now had heirs, and Abigail, along with her four fatherless Remington daughters, lived a secure life.

As for Henry and Abigail, it seems that they married after Joan's death ca. 1715. Abigail Gardner's name is entered on deeds when she gave her consent to Henry's sale of land, and he specifically titled his wife, Abigail Gardner, in his 1744 will.


Jo Ann Butler is the author of Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, and is currently at work on The Golden Shore, the climax of her series about Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, her unruly family, and the equally unruly colony of Rhode Island.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Eventful Life of Sir Kenelm Digby

Sir Kenelm Digby had the kind of life that makes for an interesting story - an English courtier and privateer, he travelled throughout Europe, was multi-lingual, interested in alchemy and natural philosophy, and was a naval administrator. I really admire him for his great curiosity about the world around him, much like other great men of his time. 

Born in 1603 to Mary and Everard Digby - the latter one of the Gunpowder Plotters who was executed by hanging, drawing, and quartering - Kenelm Digby was as Catholic as his family; something that would eventually bring him some trouble! 

Through the ages he has become most well-known (when he is remembered at all) for The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby, which every researcher of the 17th-century knows and loves. This book, much like The English Hus-Wife by Gervase Markham is chock-full of cookery recipes that would have been helpful back then. Who am I kidding? I make food for my family even now with some of his recipes!

For example, here is his recipe for making a plain, English potage:

"Make it of Beef, Mutton and Veal; at last adding a Capon, or Pigeons. Put in at first a quartered Onion or two, some Oat-meal, or French barley, some bottome of a Venison-pasty-crust, twenty whole grains of Pepper: four or five Cloves at last, and a little bundle of sweet-herbs, store of Marigold-flowers. You may put in Parsley or other herbs."

But before he was into domestic preparations, he had a life of adventure - the stuff of Hollywood films. In the 1620s, the young, dashing, handsome Digby went to sea as a privateer, but things weren't always great. According to The Early Stuarts by Godfrey Davies:

"The Earl of Warwick received a commission to attack any Spanish dominions in Europe, Africa, or America, but achieved little, and Sir Kenelm Digby's semi-piratical expedition to the Mediterranean was equally futile."

It seems that Digby's advancement in government was blocked by the Duke of Buckingham. This is pretty likely, as Buckingham had a reputation to support such behaviour.

The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
But not everything was about work. In the late 1620s, Kenelm met the woman who would become his wife. Venetia Stanley was - from every description written and every painting of her - a gorgeous creature. She was very much sought-after and Kenelm was no exception.

Unfortunately, Venetia was seen as a sort of good-time girl, and had openly bestowed her favours on the Earl of Dorset and borne him children. This circumstance was a source of great vexation to Kenelm's mother, who was adamantly opposed the match because of Venetia's known wantonness.

Venetia Lady Digby as Prudence: by Anthony Van Dyck

Also, Venetia was a couple of years older than Kenelm, but that was no impediment for the ardent young man. He was quickly besotted by her, and it appears she quite liked him in return, though there were always many suitors fluttering around her.

But amor vincit omnia, as they say, "love conquers all things" and when Kenelm returned from abroad, he married his Venetia, despite his mother's continued protestations. When people gave him a hard time about her bad reputation, he is said to have responded with: 

"a wise man, and lusty, could make an honest woman out of a brothel house."

Venetia was believed to have fully embraced her role as respectable wife and was very different in her behaviour than when she was a younger woman. She and Kenelm had three sons - Kenelm, George and John.

Sadly, their marital felicity was of short duration. Venetia died suddenly aged thirty-two, and the cause has been a source of mystery ever since. According to John Aubrey's Brief Lives:

"She died in her bed suddenly. Some suspected that she was poisoned. When her head was opened there was found to be little brain, which her husband imputed to her drinking of viper wine; but spiteful women would say it was a viper-husband who was jealous of her, that she would steal a leap."

As mentioned earlier, Kenelm Digby had knowledge of chemistry and probably poisons, too. That being said, however, I think his involvement in her death highly improbable, especially as he had fought hard to win her in the first place, and he displayed overwhelming grief at her death. Some modern historians speculate that drinking viper wine was a bit of a craze, done in order to maintain beauty. Since Venetia was a known beauty and considered rather old already, I don't think it impossible that she tried this potion in order to maintain her famous looks. Here below is the painting of Venetia on her deathbed, as painted by the popular Flemish Baroque artist, Anthony van Dyck.

Image: The Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Haunted by the death of so dear a wife, Sir Kenelm retreated from the public sphere and Aubrey states he lived like a hermit:

"After her death, to avoid envy and scandal, he retired to Gresham College at London, where he diverted himself with his chemistry, and the professors' good conversation. He wore there a long mourning cloak, a high crowned hat, his beard unshorn, looked like a hermit, as signs of sorrow for his beloved wife, to whose memory he erected a sumptuous monument, now quite destroyed by the great conflagration (The Great Fire)."

As Aubrey stated above, Kenelm 'diverted himself with his chemistry' and by the 1650s, others commented upon this. John Evelyn mentions Digby's scientific pursuits in his Diary entry for 7th of November, 1651:

"I visited Sir Kenholm Digby with whom I had much discourse of chymical matters, I shew'd him a particular way of extracting oyle of (symbol) & he gave me a certaine powder with which he affirm'd he had fixed (symbol) before the late King, which he advised me to try and digest a little better, & gave me a Water, which he said was onely raine water of the Autumnal equinox exceedingly rectified, very volatile, it had a tast of a strong vitriolique, and smelt like aqua fortis, he intended it for a disolvant of (symbol). But the truth is, Sir Kenhelme, was an arrant Mountebank."

Evelyn mentions him again on the 20th of November, 1651:

"I went to see Monsieur Feburs course of Chymistrie, where I found Sir K. Digby, and divers Curious Persons of Learning & quality."

Digby never remarried following Venetia's death and had lived through the reigns of James I, Charles I, the English Civil Wars, the Interregnum, and witnessed the Restoration. He had been one of the founding members of the Royal Society and was an important part of the times.

Sir Kenelm Digby died on his birthday 11th June 1665 at the ripe old age of 62 (a month shy of 63). I know, 62 isn't old at all now - it's almost middle-aged! But I remember the words of Lewis Melville, writing in his book "The Windsor Beauties" when he wrote:

"...was thirty five, which in those days was regarded as quite elderly."

If thirty-five was considered elderly, how much more so was sixty-two?!

At any rate, the epitaph upon his tomb reads:

    Under this tomb the matchless Digby lies,Digby the great, the valiant, and the wise:This age's wonder for his noble parts,Skilled in nix tongues, and learned in all the arts:Born on the day he died, the eleventh of June,On which he bravely fought at Scanderoon;'Tis rare that one and the same day should be His day of birth, of death and victory.

Andrea Zuvich is a 17th-century historian and author of two nonfiction history books on the Stuarts: The Stuarts in 100 Facts (2015), and A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain (2016), as well as the biographical fiction novella His Last Mistress: The Duke of Monmouth & Lady Henrietta Wentworth and also the historical horror The Stuart VampireShe is the creator of The Seventeenth Century LadyFollow her on Twitter and Facebook for daily 17th-century factoids, Baroque music and art.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Innocent witches

            March is Women's History Month. Aren't you glad you aren't the one making history? Making history doesn't seem to have gone well for some of our forebears!
Witchcraft accusations in the 17th century were often motivated by economics than religious beliefs or superstition. When a woman was left with a desirable farm or business after the passing of her husband, witchcraft charges from envious neighbors or business competitors sometimes followed. The punitive fines and room and board prison costs were a real moneymaker for the colonial governments, and other costs could be satisfied by selling off farm animals, household goods, or the property, or partially relieved by the accused prisoners working at forced labor.
1647 book by Matthew Hopkins, the
self-titled Witchfinder General.
Today, you’ll meet two women who were caught in the witchcraft hysteria that was never far from the thoughts of English subjects, from the publication of King James’s book Daemonologie in 1597, through the 300 or more women who were tried, tortured, and executed by the Witchfinder General of eastern England in the 1640s, to the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of the 1690s.

Mary Lee
The superstition of witchcraft manifested itself in both England and America in the 1640s and 1650s.
In 1654, the ship Charity left England for Virginia. The First Anglo-Dutch War had concluded with a treaty early in the year, but piracy and privateering (piracy licensed by government) continued on the American coasts and the Caribbean. Part of the cargo on that voyage was a shipment of carbines (short-barrel muskets that didn’t shoot much further than 100 yards), according to the state papers of John Thurloe, the English secretary of state and the spymaster.
The Charity’s voyage that should have taken eight to ten weeks was stormy, and the ship was forced to fight high seas and adverse winds for longer than expected. Two or three weeks before the vessel entered Chesapeake Bay, the sailors whispered that a witch was on board, and it was she who was attracting the wrath of God. Their gaze rested upon a passenger, Mrs. Mary Lee, a petite, aged widow traveling without escort. (“Aged” could mean anyone older than 40.)
England, after civil wars, political upheaval, the Anglo-Dutch conflict, and the resulting economic depressions, was now in Mary Lee’s rear-view mirror, and she planned to start a new life in Virginia. If she had children, they may have died of epidemic disease or war. But in 1654, she was alone in the world.
Searching a woman for witch's marks.
 On this late winter or spring voyage, the sailors demanded that John Bosworth, the Charity’s master, should test Mrs. Lee for witchcraft. The captain at first refused to consent to an interrogation, saying he would put her off the ship at Bermuda, but crosswinds prevented that detour, the ship grew more leaky by the day, and the sailors continued to clamor.
After consulting with passengers Henry Corbin, a 25-year-old emigrant, and Robert Chipson, a merchant, Bosworth yielded to the crew’s demand. (Why did the master of the ship consult with passengers?) The sailors affirmed that Mrs. Lee’s deportment suggested she was a witch. Two seamen, without permission, stripped the elderly woman’s body of all the layers of clothing and modesty that the 17th century afforded, and searched for moles, skin tags—anything that might be a nipple for nursing an imp—and declared they had found witch marks. 
During the cold, stormy night, she was left fastened to the capstan, probably naked, and in the morning light it was reported that the marks "for the most part were shrunk into the body." Henry Corbin, a young man from Warwickshire who was not a minister or magistrate, was pressed to interrogate her, and at last, the terrified woman confessed she was a witch. 
17th-century merchantman cross section.
The capstan is the post between the first and second masts.
The crew begged the captain to execute Mrs. Lee, but he retreated to his cabin in the roundhouse. They pressed him again, and he said to do what they would, and went back to his cabin. The crew then hanged her, and “when life was extinct,” said the record, they tossed her body in the sea. Was Mrs. Lee’s death from strangling? She was petite, and probably not heavy enough to fall in the noose and break her neck. She had no friends to pull on her feet to hasten her end.
One might wonder what became of Mary Lee’s possessions, building supplies, furniture, and a year’s worth of foodstuffs to get started in her Virginia plantation life. John Bosworth obviously had no control over his seamen, and feared mutiny. The Charity’s crew may have divided Mrs. Lee’s goods amongst themselves and sold them at the port, or pitched them overboard with her body.

Ann Hibbins
In 1656, Richard Bellingham, an MP in Lincolnshire before he emigrated to New England, a magistrate in Boston, as well as Massachusetts Bay Colony’s former governor and now deputy governor, was strangely silent regarding the witch trial of his sister, Mrs. Ann Hibbins.  
Ann’s husband, William Hibbins, was a merchant and magistrate, and the Bay Colony’s agent in England for two years. Boston’s First Church of Christ censured Ann in 1641 after a dispute with church members, but it seems that William Hibbins’ position and money were enough to protect her from other charges or punishment. He lost £500 (about £35,000-40,000 in today’s value) in a bad investment in 1654, and died thereafter. Apparently, Mrs. Hibbins, after losing her lifestyle of financial ease and social status, became sarcastic and bitter in her relationships.
But now, aged about 51, because of her “censorious, bitter spirit, always quarreling with her neighbors,” she was brought to the Court of Assistants on a charge of witchcraft. As it was done in England, Mrs. Hibbins’ body was searched for witches’ teats, but none were found. Nor were there any puppets or images in her belongings which might have served as “familiars” for evil spirits. The jury condemned her, but the magistrates set the conviction aside.
But the Bostonians wanted her death, and the General Court tried her for witchcraft. Even the Boston First Church ministers, John Wilson and John Norton, supported Mrs. Hibbins. Rev. Norton was heard to say that she “unhappily guessed that two of her persecutors, whom she saw talking in the street, were talking of her, which cost her her life.” Vocalizing her hunch, which turned out to be true, seemed like paranormal knowledge she’d gained from an evil spirit.
After her conviction, Mrs. Hibbins wrote a will for her three adult sons by her first marriage, who were living in England. The appraisal of her estate was about £320 (£25,000+ in today’s value), so she was not destitute.
Edward Hutchinson, one of her will’s executors, wrote that her will and her speech were quite reasonable and there was no evidence against her. There were several other influential members of the Boston church and courts who supported Hibbins. It seemed that the ministers, the magistrates, and leading men of Boston society were on her side.
Ann Hibbins was hanged not on
a tree, but on a gallows outside
the fortified gate to Boston.
The General Court records for May 14, 1656 show that:
“The magistrates not receiving the verdict of the jury in Mrs. Hibbins her case, having been on trial for witchcraft, it fell… to the General Court [a superior court, in today’s terms]. Mrs. Ann Hibbins was called forth, appeared at the bar; the indictment against her was read, to which she answered not guilty, and was willing to be tried by God and this Court. The evidences against her were read, the parties witnessing being present, her answers considered on; and the whole Court being met together, by their vote determined that Mrs. Ann Hibbins is guilty of witchcraft, according to the bill of indictment found against her by the jury of life and death.” 

Governor John Endecott delivered her sentence, that Ann Hibbins be hanged. She was executed on June 17. There aren’t any records of Deputy Governor Bellingham’s participation or whereabouts in the prosecution and execution of his sister. But he was certainly available to brutally accost the first Quaker missionaries who came to New England a year later.

What did Mary Lee and Ann Hibbins have in common?
1. They were both widows without the protection of a husband, though Hibbins should have had the assistance of her powerful brother.
2. They were accused of being witches by superstitious people. They were both interrogated, and strip-searched for witch marks. Mrs. Lee was subjected to physical agony and sleep deprivation to make her confess. Mrs. Hibbins may have escaped the worst of the physical ordeals—but we don’t know for sure.
3. The leaders of their time (Captain Bosworth of the Charity; ministers and magistrates of Boston) seemed more worried about what people thought of them, than their own integrity and stance for justice, against the false accusations and executions of innocent women.
4. They were both caught up in a culture of Puritan zeal. Mrs. Lee was leaving the wreckage of an England nearly destroyed by civil war and its aftermath. Mrs. Hibbins lived in a fanatical theocracy that was financially and politically unstable. The General Court under Governor Endecott’s rule had a regular habit of accusing and brutally punishing before they invented and passed a law for the “crime.”
For a case of an innocent witch executed for "surfing" on an English river, click HERE

Sources: Virginia Carolorum: the Colony Under the Rule of Charles the First, by Edward Duffield Neill (pub 1886, out of copyright), Massachusetts Archives; History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay  by Thomas Hutchinson

Christy K Robinson is the author of two (five-star-reviewed) historical novels and one nonfiction book centered on the mid-17th-century Great Migration from England to New England, the books spotlighting the Quaker martyr Mary Barrett Dyer. Christy’s books may be found at her Dyer blog,

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Seventeenth-Century Dogs


While writing historical stories, I have researched a lot of topics, including dogs. I fully admit I'm a dog lover, but I'm also not the sort of writer who will place something into a story simply because I like it. I also aspire to be realistic in my animal portrayal. For instance, I'm a bird lover too, and it annoys me to no end to see parrots shown as nothing more than talking machines that conveniently say the right thing to help solve a plot.

The first time I included a dog in one of my stories was my American Civil War ghost story Whispers from the Grave. A dog also fit into my plot for the modern portion of the story. I have Belgian sheepdogs, and a Belgian personality ideally suited what I had in mind. That made writing the story much easier because I didn't need to research the breed. I called my literary Belgian "Saber" to fit the Civil War themed plot. As it turns out, I now have a Belgian with that name. He, of course, was named after the dog in the book.

After finishing the sequel to Whispers from the Grave, I began writing my Dreaming series, where the setting is in the 17th century. In Virginia, the tribal tidewater Natives, commonly referred to as the Powhatan, had hunting dogs that appeared like a cross between a hound and a wolf. As a group of people, they didn't bury animals, nor keep dogs as pets. But in at least one instance, a dog was found buried with an elderly woman. It was placed in a sleeping position on top of the woman's feet. The dog's skeleton showed no sign of trauma, so it's doubtful it was buried as part of a ritual. Instead, the gesture most likely speaks volumes as to how that particular dog was regarded by that individual woman.

The dreaming in my book is a cunning woman's shamanic journey, and the cunning folk had familiar spirits. Common familiar spirits of the time were hares, cats, toads, and of course, dogs. I discovered my cunning woman's familiar spirit after I had read about John Smith giving the paramount chief Powhatan a white greyhound as a gift.

Ironically, I have read on some greyhound sites that the breed didn't arrive in North America until a much later date. While John Smith wasn't always truthful in his writings, I had doubted the subject of a greyhound making the journey to Virginia would be noteworthy enough for him to embellish. To back my belief, I recently discovered the laws of the First General Assembly of Virginia in 1619. Any dog of quality was not supposed to be given to the Indians. Greyhounds were specifically mentioned in this law.

Besides greyhounds, the English commonly had mastiffs, bloodhounds, and generic looking spaniels. Mastiffs weren't the big, friendly dogs that we commonly think of today. They tended to be kept as guard dogs and were fiercely protective. Spiked collars were common--for protection of the dog from predators, like wolves and bears. They were also used in wars as fighting dogs.

Bloodhounds were tracking dogs, much like they have been throughout the centuries. Unlike today, they came in many different colors. Spaniels were hunting dogs and were bred to flush game from dense brush. During the 17th century, with the development of flintlocks, they specifically became gun dogs. There, of course, were other dog breeds during the century, but I have focused on the ones that I've found mentioned in the writings from Virginia.

Kim Murphy