As so often happens, my research for the upcoming Love Well, Love War blogs is taking me in unexpected directions. While I find my way, please enjoy meeting one of the colonial women I was reminded of while researching the Location, Location, Location series.
Though traditional histories of colonial Maine focused on the lives of English men, deeds at the York County courthouse reveal that women were here, too. For instance, two colonial women, “Negro slave” Susannah and “servant” Lydia Felt, testified in support of Capt. John Giles when he laid claim to land at Pemaquid and Pleasant Point. (see This Land WAS My Land)
Two other women, Mistress Jone and Merget Stevens, witnessed the 1672 document from Native sagamores, Sagettawon and Robin Hood, indenturing Merriconeag Neck to Nicholas Cole and John Purinton. That deed wasn’t recorded until 1725, more than fifty years after the fact when John’s daughters, Mary (Purinton) Carr and Elisabeth (Purinton) Conner, needed to prove ownership in order to sell their shares of the land.
Mary and Elisabeth Purinton were my 7th great-aunts. Their grandparents, George and Mary (Pooke) Puddington, left Devon, England in 1634, quite possibly to elude creditors after the family’s woolen mill burned down. They landed in Massachusetts but soon set up as innkeepers at Agamenticus, in the Province of Maine. To make their inn welcoming to locals and travelers alike, they installed a brewing furnace to make ale, and herded cows to supply milk for drinking and cream to churn into butter.
Four hundred years ago, Agamenticus was on the edge of nowhere, a place where English immigrants who were uncomfortable or unwelcome in Puritan society might make a living fishing, trapping, and trading. The small community was far away from the resources of the larger settlements in and around Boston; the nearest neighbors were the Native Wabanakis with whom the English alternately traded and fought. By necessity, the settlers depended on one another both for friendship and for protection. As Mary Puddington could attest, the intimacy of the settlement made secrets exceedingly hard to keep.
Mary, it seems, tried to carry on a clandestine affair. She succeeded at the affair part but failed miserably in the clandestine department. Court records detail the scandal:
…often frequenting the House and company of Mr. George Burdett, minister of Agamenticus aforesaid, privately in his bed-chamber and said Mary was often forewarned thereof, by her said Husband, and the Constable of the said Plantation with divers other; and for abusing her said Husband to the great disturbance and scandal of the said plantation, contrary to the peace of our Sovereign Lord King.
Her paramour, Rev. Burdett, was prosecuted and fined ten pounds for two affairs, one with Mary and another with Ruth Gouch. Mary was ordered to kneel before her husband and apologize to him in public. He, in the meantime, came drunk to her trial, leading to his own court appearance not long after.
Mary’s life on the harsh coast of Maine must have been exceedingly dreary and hopeless for her to continue a forbidden relationship that was known to her husband, as well as her neighbors. Perhaps she believed her lover would take her away from a troubled life, maybe even back to England. What she might not have realized was that Burdett was a charismatic con man. The radical preacher of free love, and disgraced former governor of New Hampshire, still had a wife and family in England.
We’ll never know why Mary consorted with Burdett because no one at the trial asked. That may be because there were no women as either judge or jury; only men had the right to pass legal judgment. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1975 that all 50 states recognized a woman’s right to serve on juries.
Mary persevered in the Maine wilderness, raising six children in her husband’s household. Another document, George Puddington’s will, hints that for the rest of his life he reminded his wife of her sin by touting his own faithfulness.
Excerpt: First as concerning my wife with whome I Coupled my Selfe in ye fear of God refuseing all other women I link my Selfe unto her, living with her in ye Blessed State of Honourable Wedlock, by whom alsoe by the Blessing of God I have now two Sons and three daughters, John & Elias Mary Frances and Rebecca.
Puddington’s will omitted any mention of Sarah, the daughter Mary bore after her affair with Burdett. One wonders if he ignored the girl in the household as well, either pretending she didn’t exist or treating her as a servant. Both Mary and Sarah prevailed in the only way available to them. Widowed Mary took a second husband, John Davis, and Sarah married John Penwell (Pennell).
Though American history often ignores their existence, colonial women were documented in deeds, court records, and wills. While men owned the land, made the laws, and seemingly controlled the lives of their wives and children, somehow these women of the New World managed to reveal themselves as vital individuals worthy of remembrance.
Next Blog: Love Well, Love War
- Purinton vs Puddington: The surname is spelled in various documents as Puddington, Purrington, Purington, and Purinton. I chose to use the name as spelled in the two documents cited in this blog.
- Agamenticus: Agamenticus in the District of Maine was renamed Georgeana, then York.
- Ancestry.com, Maine, Wills and Probate Records, 1584-1999 and George Puddington-Facts. Accessed March 14, 2017.
- Maine Genealogical Society (1884-) York County Deeds, Register of Deeds, Vol. 15. Originally published 1642 by the Register of Deeds of York County. Printed by E. C. Bowler, Bethel, Maine, 1907. Online source Archive.org from collection newyorkpubliclibrary; american; New York Public Library, Call number b6870121. archive.org/details/yorkdeeds15main. Accessed March 20, 2017.
- State of Maine York County Deeds, Register of Deeds, Vol. 17. Originally published 1642 by the Register of Deeds of York County. Published for the State by E. C. Bowler, Bethel, Maine, 1909. ibid. archive.org/details/yorkdeeds17main. Accessed March 20, 2017.
- Registry of Deeds, York County, Maine. 45 Kennebunk Rd., Alfred, Maine.
- Taylor v. Louisiana 419 U.S. 522 (1975) re: Louisiana requirement that a woman must register her desire for jury service in order to be selected for same. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/419/522/case.html. Accessed March 20, 2017.
- Thompson, Robert Chandler, 1917-. Gathering in Maine…A Family History, Thompson, Chandler, Freeman, Fields. Sun City, Arizona, 1989.