Tuesday, May 14, 2013


As I wrote in an earlier post, my 9x great grandfather John Barnes was known as
a drunk in Plymouth Colony. It was such a problem that the authorities took
stern measures to deal with the problem, which will be the subject of another
post. But whatever the may have thought about his excessive drinking, John
was also a productive member of Plymouth society. I doubt they would have
been as lenient with someone who was a a layabout alcoholic.

This particular incident caught my attention first because it involves another
of my ancestors,  8x great grandfather Samuel Dunham. The case was originally
about an accusation against a John Smith, Sr. that he had received stolen property
from a servant of John Barnes, but Smith may have tried to get some revenge om
Barnes by bringing up one my ancestor's recent escapades where he arrived at
Samuel Dunham's house after a drinking binge at the house of another neighbor.
It was sort of a "he said that he said" story.

Two things should be explained about the meaning of two phrases in Smith's
accusation. The first is that it was common to say "drink a pipe" rather than
"smoke a pipe" in the 17th century.

The second is that I'm not too sure exactly what John meant about "two rodds"
except that a rod is a unit of measurement, and I think he is referring to the
end result of drinking a lot of beer.

The case is in Volume Three of  Records of the colony of New Plymouth in
New England
, page 27.

2May 1653
A neager maide seruant of John Barnes, att this Court accused John
Smith, Senr. of Plym, for receiueing tobacco and other things of her which
were her said masters, att sundry times, in a purloining way. The Court
what could bee said on both sides, and because sufficient testimony could
not be at psent produced for the clearing of the case, it was ordered, that the
said pties should attend the next Court of Assistants for further hearing, and
then produce  what testimony the haue for the clearing thereof.

Upon occation of the difference betwixt the said neager and the said
John Smith, the said Smith accused John Barnes in open Court, and said that
Samuell Dunham said , att the house of Gorge Watson,on Tusday last past,
before the date heerof, that there was soe much liquore drunke att the house
of John Rickard the same day, whereof John Barnes dranke soe much as hee
coming into the house of the said Samuell Dunham, and assaying to drinke a
pipe of tobacco, hee filled his pipe and could not light it, and that he should
in a threatening way  say hee had two rodds in pise for him and Goodwife

Smith was to be disappointed if he'd thought to get John Barnes in trouble
that day. I suspect the Pilgrim version of eye-rolling took place as they heard
another story of my ancestor having too much to drink because there is no mention
of any punishment being handed down to Barnes at that particular court session.

As to the original case of John Smith and the servant, a final judgement was given
later that year, on 2Aug 1653 before Gov. William Bradford:

Wheras a contravercy depending betwixt  John Smyth, Senr, of Plym, and a neager
maide maide servant of John Barnes, was refered, for want of clearer euidence,
unto this Court bee ended ;  and accordingly whatsoeuer could bee said on either
side was heard ; and with admonission, both pties were cleared.

John Smith Sr was cleared of the charge against him. His attempt to cause trouble
for John Barnes hadn't worked but my ancestor was wearing the patience of the
authorities thin, and as I'll show, there would be consequences.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"spare the rod, spoil the child."

perhaps he was threatening some violence due to his drunken state. He had two rods. one for both he and his wife.