Sunday, February 07, 2010


As much as Mary Gates' outburst at Sunday meeting must have been the subject of
much conversation, I think it must have paled in comparison to the following
incident. It's a classic case of "he said she said" on a subject that might outrage
people even in 21st century America. And there were my ancestors John and
Mary Prescott as witnesses right in the middle of it.

A few notes: Lancaster was known by the Indian name Nashaway originally and
the buttery referred to in Cambridge was a store room for kegs and caskets of
wine and liquor, not dairy products.

And I've boldfaced the statement Goodwife Hall was accused of making:

"1651. Declaration of Elizabeth the wife of John Hall of Nashaway against George Whaley of Cambridge. [MS. torn] Sheweth vnto this honored Court that about foure moneths since
George [Whaley] Steuen Day & Samuell Rayner of Cambridge were at Nashaway and
[MS. torn] the house of John Prescott there fell out a discourse betweene John Prescott & Steuen Day in W* discourse John Prescott did speake against John & his wife Steuen Day
did vindicate the cause of Goodwife Hall in her absence against John Prescott till at length George Whaley bade Steuen Day that he should not goe about to justify the woman for
Whaley [MS. torn] that when Sr Phillips came from Nashaway he came into the buttery at
the College in Cambridge where the said George Whaley demanded of Sr. Phillips how all
their friends at Nashaway did, to wch Sr Phillips answered they were all well. Mr Whaley
further demanded how he liked the place, he answered uery well. It is a desirable place as
any was in the country as he conceaved. Mr Whaley further asked how he liked the people,
he answered he liked them uery well only there were some that held this opinion, that all
things were common & said he came one morninge to goodwife halls house & as soon as he
was come goodwife hall demanded of him whether all things were not common now as in the apostles tyme, & before that Sr. Phillips could give answer she did further say that this is my judgment, that all things are common, mens wiues alsoe, at wch speech Steuen Day was much troubled and grieued & had not one word more to say, & in the morning after, the said Day & Reynor [went] to goodwife halls house & being sad at the report he there expressed his in these words. I feare there is an (word illegible} amongst you, I wish he may be found out, to wch' goodwyfe hall answered if any of them gave any thinge against me if they will tell mee of it I will give them satisfaction, Steuen Day said he was glad to heare it for out of thy owne mouthe they will judge thee, for thus Mr Whaley [says] that Sr. Phillips hath reported of thee as is before expressed goodwife hall denyed that euer she spake any such thinge, nor did she hold any such opinion, herevpon Steuen Day demanded of Samuel
Rayner whether
Mr Whaley did not speake as he had then related, to wch Samuel Rayner answered yt was soe & he would take his oath of it, This relation of Steuen Day in goodwife halls house & Samuell Rayners [relation] of it was in goodwife halls house Richard Smith present. Goodwife hall much greived at it that such a scandall should be raysed against her, knowinge herself free & cleare, desired to speake with Mr Whaley & on the next day after, in the morninge did take Richard Smith and Lawrence Waters with her wch sd Smith & Waters cominge to Mr Whaley desiringe to speake w"' him he bade them take heed how they did
speake anything for the woman, yet promised to speake wth her after breakfast at wch
tyme Steuen Day, Richard Smith & Lawrence Waters & goodwife hall came to Mr Whaley; goodwife hall demanded of Mr Whaley what he had against her Whaley answered that
Sr Phillips in the buttery at the College had spoken as before expressed, only he did then
leaue out _ mens wiues. this testified Richard Smith Lawrence Waters & Steuen Day"

Goodwife Hall apparently was not going to take this lying down and brought George
Whaley to court:

"To Steuen Day & Samuel Reyner of Cambridge. You are hereby required to appeare at the
next Court held at Cambridge the 7"' day of y' eight moneth next to wittnes for the wife of
John Hall of Nashaway in a case in difference betweene her & George Whaley of Cambridge
— & hereof you are not to fayle at your perill."

dated the 12th day of the 7th mo 1651. By the Court
Hugh Griffyn C."

First to testify were my Prescott ancestors:

"The testimony of Goodman Prescot & his wife After that Mr Phillips came from Goodwife
Halls hee told mee and my wife that goodwife Hall did aske him what he thought by y
judgment of those that hold that all things are common. Mr Phillips asked her how shee
[meant] all things common whether as it was in ye' Apostles tyme, her answer was all
things without any exception, and Mr Phillips said it was a damnable opinion; yea indeed
(shee said) I have knowne sad effects come of it, and in further discourse hee said shee
said shee kept one in her house which was of that opinion.

Attested uppon oath by John Prescot in Court
John Prescott
The mark X of Mary Prescott
Th . Danforth Record"

Next came the statements of Smith and Waters:

"The Testimony of Richard Smith & Lawrence Waters concerning the speeches of George
Whaley against hall.

Cominge to Mr Whaley in the next morninge after the relation of Steuen day at goodwife
halls the said Smith & Waters desired to speake with Mr Whaley, he bade them take heed
how they did speake any thing for the woman, yet promised to speake with her after
breakefast at wch time. Steuen day beinge alls'oe present goodwife hall demanded of Mr
Whaley what he had against her, to wch Mr Whaley made this answer that Sr Phillips in the buttery at the College in Cambridge cominge into the buttery answered to him as
followeth . Mr Whaley demanded first how did all freinds at Nashaway. Sr. Phillips answered they are well. Whaley further demanded how he liked the place, he answered very well,
it was a desirable place as any was in the country, as he conceived . Mr Whaley further demanded how he liked the people, he answered he liked them well only there was some
that held this opinion that all thinges were common, Mr Whaley demanded who they were,
he answered John Hall's wife."

Finally Samuel Raner and Stephen Day added their testimony:

"The Testimony of Samuel Raner is that he heard Lieft. George Whaley say yt Sr Phillips
told him yt Goodwife Hall asked whether all things were comon. Attested uppon oath in
Tho Danforth Rec.

The Testimony of Stephen Day is that he heard Lieft George Whaley say y' he received by report of Sr Phillips that Goodwife Hall had proposed a question of this import whether all
things wr common. Attested"

So now would come Goodwife Elizabeth Hall's chance to refute what she claimed were
slanderous statements by George Whaley. Or would it?

"The foregoing documents in the case of Elizabeth, wife of John Hall, vs. Lieut. George Whaley,
for slander, are in the Court files of Middlesex County. Lawrence Waters had sold his first house-lot of about seventeen acres, and the house upon it, to John Hall. Elizabeth Hall was
living there, while her husband at this time was in England. He soon sent for her to come to
him, and the estate was sold to Richard Smith. The suit against Whaley never came to

So Goodwife Hall left Massachusetts under a bit of a cloud of scandal. She never had the
opportunity to question George Whaley or this Mr Phillips who supposedly was Whaley's
source. (And why hadn't his testimony been taken as the others had been?). On the other
hand, the townsfolk of Nashaway had more important things than a minor scandal to
keep their minds busy, such as simply surviving!


Joan said...

Bill, what an interesting piece for me to mull over whilst drinking a cup of tee. And then aain, with another cup of tea. Thanks.

Herstoryan said...

How interesting on so many levels. The most obvious being - I am so not good with, what would you call it?Old English? Puritan English? 17th c early American language that appears to be English? That was really fun to read! I think I got most of it. I bet they never could have ever thought that nearly 360 years later this is what survived them. Very interesting...

Thank you for sharing - that's a lot of difficult transcription! :)