Sunday, July 29, 2007


Chris Dunham’s post over on The Genealogue about the
upcoming book “The Naked Quaker” by Diane Rapaport
reminded me of a story about a divorce that might or might
not be among those in the book:

In June 1682, a twenty five year old man named Ralph found
himself being divorced by his young wife Katharine, who stated
words to the effect that she’d rather be dead than live with him.
She sued on grounds of her husband’s insufficiency to consummate
their marriage.

Ralph for his part did what any man in 17th century Salem Ma.
might do when faced with such an embarrassing situation: he
claimed that it had to be witchcraft. Not exactly original, and
highly ineffective in the light of the character witnesses Katherine
called to testify in her behalf.

It must have been the talk of the town. Both husband and wife
were given physical examinations, Katherine by a panel of
“goodwives” and Ralph by two men(one of them a chirurgeon)
appointed by the Court. Based on their reports the Court granted
Katherine her divorce and ordered she be allowed to take
whatever clothes and property that she had brought with her into

All of this might have been lost in the mists of time except that
there was a court record of the proceedings and several centuries
later the case was cited in articles and a book about women in
Puritan society. I’ve not been able to read any of them in their
entirety but what I have read makes no mention of what
happened after. So in the interest of fairness to Ralph, here’s the
rest of it:

Ralph remained single for nearly 9 years but in August of 1691 he
wed Martha Rowlandson. The marriage lasted nearly 20 years
before her death.

They had 7 children

We don’t know what happened to Katherine after her divorce
from Ralph, There is no record of her maiden name. Hopefully
she too remarried and with a man she loved and who gave her
children of her own.

We’ll never know the exact reason why the marriage of my
ancestor Ralph Ellingwood and his first wife Katherine ended so
scandalously. Possibly it was an arranged match between a man
and a deeply unhappy younger bride. Possibly Ralph was not the
perfect husband and possessed bad manners and lousy personal
hygiene. Perhaps there just wasn't any...spark.

Perhaps he could have used a talk with Dr. Phil, but alas, there
was no Dr. Phil on 17th century Salem.

But obviously Ralph felt he had a point to prove to all of Salem,
and judging by the 7 children he fathered, I guess he did it.

He wasn’t “insufficient”!

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