Thursday, May 09, 2013


One of the best sources I've found of family stories since I began working on my genealogy
has been the Google Books editions of the  Essex County Court Records.  I've found a lot
of blogpost material from them, too! I hadn't been able to find equivalent Plymouth
County online records for my ancestors from that area of Massachusetts, But then last week
I found the Plymouth Court Records on Caleb Johnson's website. I
don't know how long they've been there but this was the first time I'd seen them. (If you
have Mayflower or Plymouth Colony ancestry and haven't visited  Caleb's site before I highly
recommend you do so now.)

Of course, if your ancestor is in a court record and he isn't on the jury, he's involved in a
court case. He's either the defendant on criminal charge or he's involved in some civil suit
over a piece of land or  over livestock. My Essex County ancestors were mostly involved
in the civil suit sort of cases and some were part of the witchcraft trials. My Plymouth
ancestors, on the other hand, seem to been a rather rowdy lot, given to getting drunk
and causing scenes. One of the earliest posts here was one about my 9x great grandfather
John Barnes who was a well known drunk and whose bizarre death was cause in part from
drink. I've found court records of other incidents that would make you wonder why Gov.
Bradford  and other officials put up with him. Apparently John Barnes might have been
a drunk but he was a rich drunk, proof that between drinking bouts he was an industrious
member of the community.

I also found cases involving my Dunham ancestors. My immigrant ancestor John Dunham
might have been a sober pious man but he seems to have a hard time keeping his sons Benajah, Joseph, and John Jr. on the straight and narrow. My Mayflower ancestor Stephen
Hopkins was involved in brawls and was the host on some evenings where his guests
drank too much. (Today we'd call him an "enabler").

And then there are the ancestors who were charged with fornication, even after they
were married to each other!

So like many other Pilgrims, my Plymouth Colony ancestors were naughty boys and girls,
and I'll be telling you all about them here.


John D. Tew said...

I discovered Caleb's site about two weeks ago myself and I completely agree that anyone with Mayflower ancestors should check out this site if they did not already know about it!

T said...

I found out my Latham ancestors, him and her, beat a 14 year old servant boy and let him freeze to death. I had some drunkards, too. They passed it down to the family. The google book I was reading pointed out the difference between the Puritans and the Mayflower people.

If I would have been born in that time, I would still be in England scrubbing the castle floor. Taking a boat to the unknown is way beyond my comfort zone.

JamaGenie said...

My bad boy Mass ancestors were the GATCHELLs who were involved in the infamous Great Corwin Robbery. The good news is none of those charged were my direct ancestor. It was an earlier ancestor, John Gatchell, who was fined and whipped for refusing to cut his hair to the "acceptable" length of the time. His wife, "Wibera", was complained against for (basically) yelling at a neighbor.

Fast forward a generation to my 8th gr-gm Elizabeth (Boude) Gatchell of whom Essex court records say: "Church attendance was not entirely serene for Elizabeth, who was accused in 1694/5 of yanking another woman out of her seat while at worship."

To her credit, she was a character witness for a woman accused (but thankfully acquitted) in the Salem Witch Trials.

A descendant of Elizabeth and husband Jeremiah was the pre- and post RevWar activist Herman Husband.

And my parents wonder where I got that rebellious streak!