Tuesday, April 10, 2018


(I've posted about John Barnes in previous years. He's one of my favorite ancestors. This 
is what I first posted about him back in 2007)

I don’t know about other folks tracing their genealogy but I have some favorites on the West
side of the family. It’s a bit unfair, I know, because there’s so much about the Whites and
McFarlands that I’ve yet to discover. The majority of Dad’s ancestors were “salt of the earth”
people, ordinary folks dealing with the daily struggle to survive. But there are a few rare souls
who stand out for one reason or another. Among these are some who did things that made me
(and probably their friends and neighbors) wonder “What WAS he thinking?”

Case in point: John Barnes of 17th century Plymouth, Massachusetts,

I found John while researching backgrounds of Mayflower ancestors a few Thanksgivings
back at The Plymouth Colony Archive Project website. I discovered other later ancestors
listed there and John was among them.

He lived between 1633 and 1671, apparently a prosperous merchant and citizen most of
that time. All that seemed to changed in 1651 when his first wife Mary Plummer died.
By 1653 John had married a woman whose name is recorded only as Joan and began a
long spiral down from respectability, most of which is attributed to drunkenness.

In May 1648 he was granted permission to brew and sell his own beer in Plymouth.
There were a few incidents of fines for public drunkenness during the next few years
but they were much more frequent after he married Joan who was herself quite a
contentious woman). The details can be read at the Plymouth Colony Archive Project,
along with John’s will and other information about his life.

It wasn’t the sad story of John’s trouble with alcohol that struck me when I first read his
story. It was the manner of his death.

John lost his license to brew and serve beer and in 1661the General Court forbade any
one from selling orserving him beer or liquor at all. This seemed to help because he had
only one recorded drunken incident after the Court took that drastic measure. Judging
from the inventory of his estate at his death he was still fairly well off by March of 1671.

This is where the “WHAT was he thinking?” comes into the story. One day in early March,
1671, according to the Plymouth Court Records, John Barnes stood at his barn door and
stroked his bull. The bull took exception to that, turned, and gored John Barnes, giving
him a wound which caused his death approximately a day and a half later.

Among those on the coroner’s jury who ruled on his death was another ancestor of mine,
Samuel Dunham.

My Dad had passed away long before I first read the story of John Barnes’ death but I
had no trouble imagining what a Maine country boy like him would have said about it:

“Damn idiot. That’s what happens when you pet a bull!”

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