Friday, April 27, 2012

Portrait of a loser, 1640 New England

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson

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In June 1640, one James Sabire, who had been set in stocks in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, moved to Boston. There, he probably demanded a divorce from his pregnant wife Barbara, of the Boston magistrates. He charged Barbara with being an adulteress, and denying him his rights in the marriage bed. 

Barbara Sabire wrote to the governor and assistants of Rhode Island, asking for a character reference and witness to her husband's abuse and her stellar behavior, probably hoping not to be set in stocks at Boston--or hanged as an adulteress! It appears that she sheltered in the home of William and Anne Hutchinson for nine months, perhaps during her pregnancy and delivery.

The letter below was written by William Hutchinson, to his friend-turned-enemy, John Winthrop, who had just been replaced in the governor's seat by the severe and strict Thomas Dudley.

Not only does the letter describe the horrible behavior of James Sabire, but between the lines, we can read what kind of relationships were expected of godly men toward their wives: honor, protection, providence, love, tenderness, loyalty.

Wine glass, jelly glass, tumbler,
and wine bottles,
all probably made in England,
and a salt-glazed stoneware jug
came from colonial Boston’s
Three Cranes Tavern's privies.
The earliest privy,
dating from 1635 to 1662,
contained two wine glasses
possibly manufactured in 1590.
(Courtesy Norma Jane Langford
via Archaeology magazine)
"To the Worshipful & much respected friend John Winthrop Esquire at his house in Boston 

Right worshipful,
We have lately received a letter from Barbara Sabire, the wife of James Sabire, now resident in Boston, with you, wherein we understand that he hath made complaint of her, if not false accusations laid against her, therefore we thought good to testify, being desired thereunto, what he confessed upon examination, before us whose names are here underwritten.

The ground of his examination was from some false reports he had raised up against his wife. We called them false because they proved so to be when they were inquired into, but not to trouble you with those:  
            1. A word or two of what he did confess, when the question was demanded of him, Did your wife deny unto you due benevolence, according to the rule of god or no?  His answer was she did not, but she did and had given her body to him, this he confessed, & did clear her of that which now he condemns her for and this may evince it and prove it to be so.
            2. He did here likewise report his wife was with child, which we understand he doth also deny unto your worships and that will also prove him to speak falsely if he shall say his wife did deny him marriage fellowship until he did come under your government:
            3. This we must witness that his wife was not the ground or cause of his being set in the stocks, but for his disturbance of the peace of the place at unseasonable hours whereas people were in bed, and withal for his cursing and swearing and the like.

Again a word or two concerning his life when he was with us, It was scandalous and offensive to men, sinful before God; and towards his wife. Instead of putting honour upon her as the weaker vessel, he wanted [lacked] the natural affection of a reasonable creature, we also found him idle and indeed a very drone sucking up the honey of his wife’s labour, he taking no pains to provide for her, but spending one month after another without any labour at all, it may be some found one day in a month he did something being put upon it, being threatened by the government here; and indeed had he not been relieved by his wife and her friends where she did keep, he might have starved. Besides he is given very much to lying, drinking strong waters [whiskey], and towards his wife showing neither pity nor humanity, for indeed he could not keep from boys & servants, secret passages betwixt him and his wife [sexual demands she felt were immoral? rape?] about the marriage bed, and of those things there is more witnesses than us, and concerning her.

She lived with us about 3 quarters of a year, whose wife was unblameable before men for anything we know, being not able to charge her in her life & conversation but, beside her masters testimony, who best knows her is this, that she was a faithful, careful, & painful both servant & wife to his best observation, during the time with him.

Those things we being requested unto, we present unto your wise considerations hoping that by the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses, the innocent will be acquitted, & the guilty rewarded according to his works; thus ceasing further to trouble you we take our leaves & rest.

Your worshipful Loving friends
William Hutchinson [assistant governor]
William Baulston [treasurer]
William Aspinwall [secretary]
John Sanford [constable]

Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the 29th of 4th 1640 [29 June 1640]


No matter how I search the internet with different spellings, word searches, Winthrop’s Journal, Winthrop Papers, Documentary History of Rhode Island, date searches, etc., I cannot find record of James and Barbara Sabire outside this letter. Did Barbara's baby live? Was James whipped, fined, or exiled? Was the court case dropped? Perhaps they emigrated back to England, as many did at this time, and got caught up in the Civil Wars. Maybe they moved to New Hampshire or Long Island. 

But one thing is certain: there was no divorce in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. With the harsh Thomas Dudley in the chief seat of the magistrates' panel, we can  hope that Mr. Sabire was punished according to his many unsavory deeds, beginning with a drying-out period in jail. But Mrs. Sabire was tied to her husband and master unless they were able to obtain a divorce in England (possible, but very unlikely), or Mr. Sabire died in his cups.

Related article: The scarlet letter, D: punishment for drunks in the 1600s

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Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The scarlet letter, D: punishment for drunks in the 1600s

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

1655: An alcoholic is punished in a Drunkard's Cloak,
what amounts to a pillory.
Alcohol addiction is a neurological disease which affects body and mind, and is characterized by an uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. Treatment of alcoholism includes detoxification, counseling, support group participation, education, and sometimes medication. But treatment for addiction is a relatively-recent innovation. More commonly in history, “treatment” was punishment and shame.

In 17th century England, nearly everyone drank alcoholic beverages, because water, especially in towns, was often contaminated and carried disease. Ale, beer, and cider were fermented and brewed at home, and had a relatively small alcohol content, about four percent. Wine was usually imported from warmer climates like France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Everyone drank alcohol, including children and pregnant women, and it may have saved many lives from infectious disease, poisoning, and parasites that they’d have picked up from polluted water.

Whiskey had been distilled in Ireland and Scotland for several hundred years, and the English used it not only as a beverage, but as the base for some medications. They called it variously “strong waters,” or aqua vitae, the water of life. Governor John Winthrop and his eldest son, John Jr., dispensed medication based on aqua vitae.

In the homemaker’s guide, The English Housewife, published in 1615, a remedy for “heartsickness” (heart disease, or a broken heart?) was this: “Take rosemary and sage, of each a handful, and seethe them in white wine or strong ale, and then let the patient drink it lukewarm.”

At the Great Migration beginning in 1630, the English brought their beverages and remedies with them to America. In the ships of the Winthrop fleet were 42 tuns of ale (about 10,000 gallons), an equal amount of wine, and 14 tuns of water (3,332 gallons). Fresh water went bad in the wooden casks on the 8-12 week crossings, so alcoholic drink was necessary for health—and not terrible for a feeling of well-being!

When the fleet arrived and people eventually settled in Boston and Cambridge, they remarked on the sweet water of the New World. 
“For the Countrey it is as well watered as any land under the Sunne, every family, or every two families having a spring of sweet waters betwixt them, which is farre different from the waters of England, being not so sharpe, but of a fatter substance, and of a more jetty colour; it is thought there can be no better water in the world, yet dare I not preferre it before good Beere, as some have done, but any man will choose it before bad Beere, Whey, or Buttermilke. Those that drinke it be as healthfull, fresh, and lustie, as they that drinke beere.” Source: William Wood, New-England’s Prospect
As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, alcohol use was widespread and considered beneficial to peoples’ health. The problems arose when drinking became drunkenness. The offenders were punished with time in stocks, disfellowship from the church, or whipping. Boston was the major port in New England, followed by Newport, Rhode Island, and drunk sailors often appear in court records and histories.
An outdoor tavern, probably in London
(roof tiles instead of thatch).

There were a number of entries in Winthrop’s Journal about alcohol abuse and their various penalties, including instances of ships blowing up, sexual escapades (straight, gay, and bestial) being blamed on excessive drink, and this story of combining Sabbath-breaking with drunkenness (implying Divine justice for the drunkards):
One Cowper of Pascataquack [near modern Portsmouth, New Hampshire], going to an island, upon the Lord's day, to fetch some sack [strong, dry, sweet, light-colored wine of the sherry family] to be drank at the great house, he and a boy, coming back in a canoe, (being both drunk,) were driven to sea and never heard of after.  

Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop, in 1634, noted that Robert Cole (1598-1655), who had come to Massachusetts with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, “having been oft punished for drunkenness, was now ordered to wear a red D about his neck for a year.” Some literature professors suggest that this was the origin of the story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.

“Robert Cole was living in Roxbury, Massachusetts, when he petitioned to be made a "freeman" on 19 Oct 1630, and was granted that status by the General Court on 18 May 1631, along with 113 other men.  He was disfranchised 4 Mar 1634, for a short time on account of his problem with drinking too much wine, when he was also ordered to wear a red letter "D" on his clothing for a year; however, his freeman status was reinstated about two months later on 14 May 1634, and the requirement to wear the letter ‘D’ was also revoked at that time.”   Source::

The Bible instructed churches not to keep company with a member who was “a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one not to eat.” 1 Cor. 5:18 KJV.

Robert Cole was actually treated with mercy, being removed from membership for a short time to clean up his act and be reinstated, compared to what he’d have endured as an alcoholic in his native England. There, he might have been sentenced to time in a torture device known as the drunkard’s cloak (see images), where he’d be driven around town (probably with sticks and stones), kicked, physically abused, spit or urinated on, and have feces flung at him. It's not a stretch to imagine that his tormenters would roll him down an incline in hopes that he'd crash.

In 1655, John Willis claimed that in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, “he hath seen men drove up and down the streets with a great tub or barrel opened in the sides, with a hole in one end to put through their heads, and so cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the newfangled cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishments for drunkards and the like.”

Obviously to us in the 21st century, the drunkard’s cloak was cruel and inhumane. In previous centuries, even as recently as 150 years ago in America, alcoholics were not treated for their disease, but punished in the hope that the persecution would be a deterrent to future antisocial behavior. Alcoholics have also been held up for ridicule in TV shows which depicted chronic drunks as bewildered fools who would sleep it off or be cured by drinking enough coffee. More likely, chronic alcohol abusers are prone to commit domestic violence, sexual abuse, and destroying lives on the road, while plagued with the most serious of health and mental problems of their own. 

Perhaps we should think more about sweet spring water than an excess of alcoholic beverages. Those that drinke it be as healthfull, fresh, and lustie, as they that drinke beere.


Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

Monday, April 9, 2012

What music was on Mary Dyer's iPod?

© Christy K. Robinson

Woman With a Cittern,
by Pieter van Slingeland
William Dyer was born in 1609, near the Lincolnshire fens, and Mary Barrett probably in 1611 in the London area. They would have heard folk music performed at fairs and at special occasions like wedding and holiday dances. Fiddlers played recreational music. William probably heard bawdy songs in taverns and as he went about his apprenticeship in London. Mary, who seems to have been privately educated, may have had access to private parties or even court events, and she would have heard sinfonias, dance suites, chorales, and perhaps a masque (a participatory operetta with a moral to the story). 

The instruments they’d have heard were flutes/recorders, drums, trumpets, the viol family, harps, guitars, lutes, bagpipes from Scotland and Ireland, and virginals (small keyboards similar to a harpsichord).
Woman Seated at a Virginal,
by Jan Vermeer
In English churches, there were organs, choirs, and sometimes string ensembles until the Puritan restrictions on music in religious meetings. When, in May 1644, the Puritan Parliament legalized the demolition of sacred objects (crosses, stained glass, paintings, tapestries, saint images, etc.), they declared that ‘all organs, and the frames or cases wherein they stand in all churches or chapels aforesaid, shall be taken away, and utterly defaced, and none other hereafter set up in their places.’

Church music
In New England, where the Dyers lived after 1635, there were no church organs—organs being related to the hated Catholic mass, and drawing attention away from God and to the skills of the performer. At Sabbath meetings of the Massachusetts Bay churches, they sang psalms without musical accompaniment. Rev. John Cotton disapproved of instruments in worship. In 1640, three ministers published the first book in the American colonies: a psalter that they approved for use in the churches of Massachusetts Bay. It was a text of psalms in rhyme, without notes because almost no one could read musical notation. In a short time, congregations forgot the tunes, and each singer sang in his or her own key, melody, and rhythm. (Perhaps something like a “Happy Birthday” cacophony today.)

Thomas Walter wrote at the end of the 17th century: "The tunes are now miserably tortured and twisted and quavered, in some churches, into a medly of confused and disorderly voices. Our tunes are left to the mercy of every unskillful throat to chop and alter, to twist and change... No two men in the Congregation quaver alike or together, it sounds in the ear of a good judge like five hundred different tunes roared out at the same time with perpetual interferings with one another." Source: Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England, by Bruce C. Daniels, p. 54.

James Franklin (Benjamin Franklin's older brother) wrote in 1720s satire that he was "credibly informed that a certain gentlewoman miscarried at the ungrateful and yelling noise of a deacon" whom Franklin described as a "procurer of abortions."

Viol da gamba, two lutes, and a pocket fiddle
Music as art and recreation
Though church music was in a woeful state, colonial secular music flourished at celebrations of all sorts, including dances and festivals, and urban dwellers spent evenings “consorting” with their instruments, particularly violins and viols. The more highly-educated (ministers, teachers, merchants) had the larger, more expensive instruments like the viol da gamba (six-stringed, but similar in size to the four-stringed cello) or the virginal. Many households who valued music but had less money, used shoulder-held violins or a cittern, a wire-stringed instrument between a banjo and a mandolin. Military men naturally favored the trumpet, fife, or drum.

A Musical Party,
by Jacob van Velsen, 1631
William and Mary Dyer were educated, of the merchant class, and he was both a military man (captain of militia, and later, admiral) and a government official.  They would have attended and hosted parties, harvest festivals, weddings, house raisings and sewing bees, and the militia training days when potluck feasts and dances occurred. It’s reasonable to expect that they at least danced and enjoyed musical performances in homes, if not took part in music-making themselves.


Click the highlight for information on 17th century musical instruments in New France (French territories in North America).

The following links are videos of 17th century English music that might have touched the ears of the Dyers and their associates. Click the highlighted titles to open a new tab in You Tube.

17th century English or Scottish folk tune The Water is Wide

17th century English street song The Crost Couple, or A Good Misfortune.

17th century English song, The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington – recorder and guitar

William Byrd, Earl of Oxford's March Brass quintet

Nicholas Lanier, Mark How the Blushful Morn – soprano voice and lute

Nicholas Lanier, Love’s Constancy – soprano voice and lute

Try this early-17th century tune on your own at home!

Give a woman a lute, and it's Girls Gone Wild, I tell you!

THIS is what comes of popular music!
Every time she hit a certain pitch,
her bodice just dropped. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Silence is golden, but the bridle is ironic

A sketch of the young Quaker, Dorothy Waugh

© 2012 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

A woman with an iron bridle
(called "branks" in Scotland)
on her head.

The 1650s were times of great upheaval in political and religious circles. England had still not recovered from the horrors of its Civil Wars of the previous decade. Tens of thousands of men had died in the battles, from sickness more than wounds; their women and children left at home were starving on the farms and many left for the larger cities—where their fates were not much different in regard to starvation and mortal illnesses. Several Christian sects, the Quakers foremost among them, were heavily persecuted with excessive fines, imprisonment, beatings, brandings, and disfiguring ear removal.

William and Mary Dyer sailed back to England in late 1651 or early 1652, on business for Rhode Island. William went back to Rhode Island; Mary stayed in England. She stayed until early 1657, and during those four years, became convicted of the principles of the Friends, who were "reproachfully" called Quakers. It’s not known if Mary Dyer and Dorothy Waugh ever met in England, but they did meet in Rhode Island and Boston in 1657 and 1658.

The young, unmarried Dorothy Waugh had been a housemaid in Preston Patrick, a village in northwest England between Carlisle and Lancaster, and was a convert to the Quaker movement. There was a Friends group in that out-of-the-way village: George Fox, during his journeys in the northwest, encountered a group of religious dissenters in the area known as the Westmorland Seekers, and they were convicted of the gospel as Fox taught them. Fox allowed women to speak and preach. Most other schools of thought and theology were still blaming Eve for eating the forbidden fruit, and were holding her responsible for all humanity being driven from the Garden of Eden. Women were to keep silent not only in church, but in every public place.

Dorothy had little or no education, as only higher-status women were taught to read and write. But she had enthusiasm and energy, and as some Quakers described it, the "fire and the hammer," and soon she was giving her testimony and preaching the repentance of sinful ways, as she wandered England from London to Cornwall to Yorkshire. Quaker histories say that she was whipped (which would have left her horribly scarred) and jailed numerous times all over England. Did she walk everywhere, travel with a group, or work her way through the countryside for food and wagon rides?

Not much is known of Dorothy’s life outside of a few incidents in England and New England, but she’s famous for her description of what it was like to be “bridled” or “branked.” A bridle was a metal cage that was locked over a woman’s head, with a bit (possibly spiked) pressing down on her tongue so she couldn’t speak. It had been invented in medieval times to punish women who scolded their husbands or otherwise disturbed the social order, and it was meant to reduce a woman’s status to that of a tamed farm animal. The ability to speak distinguishes humans from beasts, but with this apparatus, a woman was forced to be as silent (“dumb”) as an animal.

When a woman was bridled, she was led about the town on a chain and whipped, or secured to the village cross, and was then open to the abuse of refuse or dung thrown at her, or of people urinating on her. The infliction of a bridle may reveal more about the men who did it than about the women who endured it: the men were insecure in their power when women claimed divine revelation, interpreted scripture, or preached. They believed that women who stepped out of their appointed place brought chaos and God’s judgment.

Dorothy had a taste of the bridle in 1655, in Carlisle, near the English border with Scotland.

"Dorothy Waugh, for declaring Truth in the Streets of Carlisle, and testifying against Sin and Wickedness, was, together with Anne Robinson who accompanied her, committed to Prison by the Mayor, who ordered an Iron Instrument of Torture, called a Bridle, to be put upon the said Dorothy’s Head, which they kept on about two Hours: And some time after having the like Iron Instrument put on both their Heads, which prevented their speaking to the People, they were publickly led through the Streets, and exposed to the Scorn and Derision of the Rabble, and then turned out of the City." 
Source: AN ABSTRACT OF THE SUFFERINGS Of the PEOPLE call’d QUAKERS.  FOR THE Testimony of a Good Conscience, From the TIME of Their being first distinguished by that NAME, Taken from Original Records, and other Authentick Accounts. VOLUME  I. From the Year 1650 to the Year 1660.  LONDON: Printed and Sold by the Assigns of J. Sowle, at the Bible in George Yard, Lombard-street, 1733.

A year later, before Dorothy joined other Quakers on the tiny missionary ship, Woodhouse, on its voyage to New England to proselytize, Dorothy gave an account of her experience in a pamphlet anthology called The Lamb's Defence Against Lyes. (1656)

The [Carlisle] Mayor 'was so violent & full of passion that he scarce asked me any more Questions, but called to one of his followers to bring the bridle as he called it to put upon me, and was to be on three houres, and that which they called so was like a steele cap and my hatt being violently pluckt off which was pinned to my head [so her scalp was probably torn when the hat was yanked off] whereby they tare my Clothes to put on their bridle as they called it, which was a stone weight of Iron [about 14 pounds], & three barrs of Iron to come over my face, and a peece of it was put in my mouth, which was so unreasonable big a thing for that place as cannot be well related, which was locked to my head, and so I stood their time with my hands bound behind me with the stone weight of Iron upon my head and the bitt in my mouth to keep me from speaking; And the Mayor said he would make me an Example... Afterwards it was taken off and they kept me in prison for a little season [hours? days? weeks?], and after a while the Mayor came up againe and caused it to be put on againe, and sent me out of the Citty with it on, and gave me very vile and unsavoury words, which were not fit to proceed out of any mans mouth, and charged the Officer to whip me out of the Towne.'

When Dorothy Waugh came to Rhode Island and Massachusetts Bay in 1656, she partnered with another missionary named Sarah Gibbons. They traveled on foot to Salem, Massachusetts, about 60 miles, and slept in the woods along the way, surviving a March blizzard and fierce winds. They were allowed to preach for two weeks without arrest; but deciding it was too tame or too lax there, they went to Boston to “look your Bloody Laws in the Face.” Once there, they were jailed for three days with no food, publicly whipped (wherein they were stripped to the waist), starved for another three days, then banished to Rhode Island.

Dorothy and Sarah traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, were arrested and banished, and in 1658, joined four other Quakers on a ship bound for Barbados, presumably to preach there. But not much is known of Dorothy after the late fall of 1658 in Barbados. She must have sailed home to the north of England. A genealogical site email document says: "She died as Dorothy Lotherington in Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, her husband, William, a fellow Quaker."

Nothing, including a barbarous bridle, could silence her when the cause of God was so precious.


Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)