Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chapter 6: A brief intermission, and then back to our story : And then it got worse

We interrupt this story briefly to bring you another story:

I have a funny story to tell before I continue with the Dustin family saga. Yesterday I while I was out and about, I scooped up some great bargains on my favorite style of shirt, found a dress that will probably be the one I will wear on Easter with the new hat, saw several Easter hats priced between $250 to $500 (whoa!) and polished off the day by treating myself to a pedicure at a shop outside of Kingwood, where the prices are much more reasonable than in my particular zip code.

I thought I'd get a St. Patrick's day pedicure, as I am sure most of my readers have already procured, or will do so in the next day or two.

Being a walk-in appointment, I was told to select my nail polish color and take a seat in the massaging chair.


It took a few minutes for me to select from the several shades of green polish available, but I made my choice, and told the receptionist/head manicurist/best English speaker what I had in mind: Green polish, white four leaf clovers and an emerald gem in the center of each clover. She smiled and I (silly me!) presumed all was well.

May I just say that the concepts of "clover" "St. Patrick" "emerald", "green jewel, not blue jewel", "four, not five", and "leaf points go into the middle,not outward" are difficult to communicate to non-English speakers?

I resorted to drawing a picture of a clover on the back of an envelope to illustrate what I wanted. The poor woman whose sorry lot in life had been to get me for a customer wrinkled her brow at the picture, and gave me a look that communicated clearly that she was feeling very sorry she had ever left Viet Nam all those years ago, and besides which, applying green polish to toenails made her feel ill.

Too bad, so sad. We got through it.

But then it only got worse. Silly SILLY me...as my toes were drying I remembered I also needed a touch of wax to smooth my middle aged hormonally wacky chin and upper lip.


I spoke to the receptionist again, and she nodded and let lose a volley of vowels and consonants towards my non-English speaking pedicurist that I (not having learned my lesson previously) presumed meant : Give her a wax job.

And she did give me a wax job. A very good one I might add, with great and tender attention to details.

But her true feelings had their vent: With each rip of the wax, and my involuntary flinch, she gave way to a burst of laughter.

My deeply embedded Christian heritage lived out in modern times is oft found within the scriptural boundaries of "Vengeance is mine" saith the Lord "I shall repay!"

Had I experienced the teaching of another way?

Hard to say. But I wondered...could it be?

"Vengeance is sweet", perhaps saith the Buddah, "You yourself can repay!"

It probably was sweet. And she got a nice tip to boot.

Now, back to our story in progress...

Elizabeth was certainly a wayward soul, yet in her promiscuousness, she was much like a lot of the people of the day. Colonial records show that nearly a majority of all brides were pregnant on their wedding day, and fornication charges were frequently seen on court dockets.

Unmarried people caught in a "private" moment were fornicators. Married people having a fling apart from their spouses were adulterers. A single woman and a married man? She was engaged in whoredom.

Elizabeth no doubt had in effect lived the "scarlet letter" experience with the birth of Dorothy. Pregnant again, she had many fears. It was against the law to conceal a bastard, perhaps a law designed to assure that such children would at least receive minimal care as opposed to being abandoned.

Perhaps that was Elizabeth's greatest struggle. The children had been born silently. No one knew. I wonder why she didn't just take the tiny bodies out to the woods or drop them into the river, instead of sewing them into a bag, and then burying them where surely someone would notice. Maybe her heart was tender to her children, and she wished to provide them with a decent burial.

On the following Sabbath day Elizabeth stayed home, telling her parents that she felt ill. Likely she used the time to do the digging and burial regardless of how she felt.

That decision probably sealed her fate.

The Puritans had risked everything to come to the New World for religious freedom. They believed that their only hope for survival was the providence of God, and His Favor. Obedience to the Word was critical in their thinking, lest God tire of them and leave them defenseless in a land that they believed was solely inhabited by devils prior to their arrival.

They watched for evidence that the devils, that had fled upon their arrival, might be attempting to reclaim their territory.

The best defence against spiritual lapse was regular fellowship. Sabbath observation was the law, and should someone not be at the regular Sabbath church meeting, a committee would soon be at their door, inquiring as to the reason for the neglect. In a way this was a kindness; should a person or family be taken ill, needs could be identified and care could be given.

Neglecting the sabbath for reasons other than serious illness was rare, as for each instance there were escalating fines levied upon the sinner. Few chose to miss church except under the most difficult of circumstance.

I will quote here below from the researcher at the University at Southern Maine:

'The Sunday following the birth, while her parents were at church, some concerned citizens of Haverhill who suspected that Elizabeth was pregnant went to the Emerson house to find her.

When they arrived at the Emerson home they inquired after Elizabeth's health which she descibed to them as "not well."

She was read a warrant and told that the women who were present were appointed to examine her. Elizabeth submitted to this examination without protest.

Meanwhile, the men went into the backyard and found the bodies of the two infants sewn up in a bag and buried in a shallow grave.

The discovery of the bodies led to statements being taken by Nathaniel Saltonstall. The depositions of the parties involved were similar. They suspected Elizabeth of being with child and therefore sought her out that Sunday morning with the intent of making inquiry.

Elizabeth denied any wrongdoing, stating that she "never murdered any child in my life."
She also said "I never committed a murther that I know of...."
But the evidence against her in the form of the infant bodies and the physical examination by the women present, where they discovered Elizabeth to be post partum, was overwhelming."

Most of the women of the time spent the majority of their childbearing years pregnant. They knew the signs that betrayed a woman's condition. And the woman who later testified in court concerning Elizabeth's condition was the town's midwife.

Mary Neff. The same Mary Neff who would later be with Hannah as she bore her twelfth child Martha.

"The following day, May 11th, Elizabeth, Michael and Hannah Emerson were all questioned and a transcript of that exchange is still extant. Elizabeth was asked her husband's name to which she replied, "I have never [had] one." She confessed that she did give birth to twins.

When asked where they were born she replied, "On the bed at my father's beds feet...."
She stated that she did not call for help during her travail because, "there was nobody near but my Father and Mother and I was afraid to call my mother for fear of killing her." When asked if she told her father or mother afterwards, she replied, "No, not a word; I was afraid." Elizabeth was then questioned as to whether either of her parents knew of her pregnancy to which she replied that they did not know of the pregnancy, birth or burial of them.

How could Elizabeth have given birth to twins in the same room her parents were sleeping and kept it a secret from them? The record indicates that her mother did suspect Elizabeth of being pregnant but was told "no" every time she inquired of Elizabeth. Elizabeth's fear of "killing" her mother denotes a certain amount of love and respect, but what of her statement, "No, not a word; I was afraid"?

Elizabeth had, after all, been in this position before. She already had one illegitimate child which her father had unsuccessfully tried to pin on Timothy Swan. Could it be that the treatment she had received from her father after the incident with Robert Swan, Sr. made her loathe to reveal to him her latest indiscretion?

After all, Michael was known to have beaten her severely at least once; perhaps she was afraid of similar treatment if the truth was made known to him. Whatever her reason, it must have been compelling for her to have given birth to twins in complete silence while her parents slept mere inches away.

Michael was also questioned on May 11th regarding his daughter's crime.

According to the transcript, he did not even suspect that Elizabeth was with child, nor did he know of the birth or burial of them. When asked if he knew who the father was, he stated for the first time on the record, that the father of the children was Samuel Ladd.

Ladd was a resident of Haverhill. He was considerably older than Elizabeth, for he was married to his wife on December 1, 1674 when Elizabeth was 9 years old. At the time of the twins birth... his age as 42 and Elizabeth's as 28. Although Samuel Ladd was named as the father of the children a number of times in the court records, he was even said to be the one person who knew of Elizabeth's pregnancy, he was never questioned about the matter."

And in yet another odd twist of fate, Mrs. Samuel Ladd was likewise delivered of twins at nearly the same time as Elizabeth delivered her twins.

"Hannah was the next to be questioned regarding her daughter's crime. She stated for the record that she suspected her daughter was pregnant but as she was big, she could not tell and Elizabeth would not confess to it.

She was then accused of being the one to sew them up in a bag but again she denied any knowledge of it. She too named Samuel Ladd as the father of the children.

The women who were sent to the house to examine Elizabeth also gave testimony at the same time as the Emersons. They testified that one of the children had its navel string twisted about its neck. There was apparently no sign of violence to either of the children but in their opinion one or both of them died "for want or caer att the time of travell."

With these statements went another intriguing document. In it, Elizabeth confessed that Samuel Ladd was the father of the children and that the "place of his begetting...was at Rob't Clements inn house." Elizabeth also states for the record that Samuel is the only man with whom she had slept, indicating by this that he was not only the father of the dead twins but the father of Dorothy as well, contrary to her father's assertion that Timothy Swan was the father of Dorothy."

Following that bit of detective work in Haverhill, "Elizabeth was remanded to the custody of the Boston prison on May 13, 1691, accompanied by a letter from Nathaniel Saltonstall (a military officer charged with the care of Haverhill. It was he who later gave orders to build the extra garrison houses for the citizen's protection against Indian threat.)

In (the) letter (Saltonstall) writes that he had Elizabeth before him on May 11th and 13th..."upon examination for whore-dom." He then reiterated the facts of the case as they were known and commanded the prison keeper to safely keep her in prison until she "shal be thence delivered by due order of Law."

Elizabeth was kept in prison until September 1691 when she was sentenced to hang for her crime. Previous to this case it was a crime in England to conceal the death of a bastard child. This law, though repealed in England by the time of the Emerson case, was still on the books in the Massachusetts Bay.

Therefore, while it was never sufficiently proven that she intentionally killed her children, such proof was unnecessary as their very concealment was considered to be a crime.

She did maintain her innocence of the charge throughout the proceedings but that was of little consequence, even though by 1691 convictions on the charge of concealment of the death of a bastard were waning.

Nathaniel Saltonstall's comment that she had been examined for "whore-dom" was, perhaps, more to the point.

It could be that the good people of Haverhill had tired of the antics of Elizabeth and had determined that being a whore, she could just as easily be a murderess. The society at large may have wanted to point to her as a warning to their own children. At the time, fewer and fewer of the children of the first settlers were owning the covenant and that was certainly a cause for great concern among the "saints." (And certainly political and military issues were simmering as well.)

And what of Samuel Ladd? No legal actions were brought against him whatsoever. Yet in another twist of fate, perhaps we can conclude that justice was ultimately served. There will more to his story later.

"Although convicted in September 1691 Elizabeth was not hanged until June 8, 1693. In the interim she came under the care and guidance of the Reverend Cotton Mather. How he found time to minister to Elizabeth while at the same time actively pursuing the Salem Witch Trials is unknown."

Yes, that's right. Poor Elizabeth was in prison in Boston at the time that the Salem Witch trials were in full swing.

About the Salem Witch Trials:
"In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 there had been a bitter strife between the minister, Samuel Parris, and his congregation, when the delusion of witchcraft gave him an opportunity to wreak a terrible vengeance. Person after person, disliked by him, was accused by members of his family, and put to death. Other people made it an occasion to get even with enemies, and fear laid hold on the hearts of all.

A group of young girls began having hysterical fits. The girls claimed that witches afflicting them and began to name certain people in the village as witches. Based virtually on the testimony of these girls alone, authorities began to arrest and then to try several astonished Salem citizens.

Nineteen people were hanged; one man was pressed to death with heavy weights; an unknown number died in prison.

Fifty-five were tortured or terrified into making confessions, and the jails were full. One hundred fifty prisoners awaited trial; two hundred more were accused of suspected. If an officer refused to arrest a person accused of being a witch, he was in turn accused and imprisoned. The craze spread to other communities and the country became aroused.

Ironically, only those who maintained their innocence were executed; those who confessed escaped the hangman's noose. Realizing this fact, some confessed in order to save themselves. Others could not do so in good conscience. Mary Easty said to her judges, "I know not the least thing of witch craft, therefore I cannot, I dare not belie my own soul. I beg your honors not to deny this my humble petition from a poor dying Innocent."

She was hanged anyway.

It should be said in Mather's defence that he spoke firmly against the hysteria.

"Several facts are ignored in the blast of accusations hurled at the Puritans. The ministers of Massachusetts, rather than being persecuting fanatics, actually counseled caution and restraint to the more zealous civil authorities. It was the opposition of some of the clergy, in fact, that helped end the witch trials.

Boston pastor Cotton Mather, who is often falsely accused of urging authorities on, said, "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than that one innocent person should be condemned."

Part of the Witch Trials was fueled by the thought that the failed navy offensive against Canada was indicating that God providence was being withdrawn and the devil's were attempting to reclaim their hijacked land. The Native American, untouched by Scripture and Redemption, were viewed as devilish ambassadors.

The majority of the people in prison with Elizabeth Emerson were older women charged with witchcraft. And astonished to be so. A thing called "spectral evidence" was being hotly debated, the idea that if someone was to see your shape in a vision, either indicated that you gave your permission to the devil for your shape in image for to be used, or that you DIDN'T give your permission, and the devil used your shape anyway.

All it took was for a grumpy word to be uttered concerning another, and it was counted a curse, and off to the slammer you went. Likewise, all it took was for someone to report a fantastic dream in which you appeared, riding a dog, or whatever, and again, you were shown to your jail cell.

Elizabeth Emerson must have heard an earful while she was there. The case against the rest of the people around in her rested on theological detail. I imagine the inmates were pretty vexed by the religious leaders visiting the jail, and Elizabeth no doubt was less than thrilled to come to the attention of the pre-emanate Cotton Mather.

Perhaps it was purely convenience for Mather, as Elizabeth was incarcerated in Boston, with the unfortunate victims of the witchcraft hysteria.

He did, however, get her to do something which nobody else could, to "confess."

During his sermon on Job 36:14 he read to the congregation what he claimed was a confession given him by Elizabeth.

He writes that she confessed that "when they were born, I was not unsensible, that at least, One of them was alive; but such a Wretch was I, as to use a Murderous Carriage towards them, in the place where I lay, on purpose to dispatch them out of the World."

What did she mean by "murderous carriage?" Did she lay upon them or did she merely neglected them? Or were they, as per her initial assertion, truly stillborn?

According to Mather, she claimed that she should have listened to her parents, that she was "always of an Haughty and Stubborn Spirit." and that "Bad Company" was what led to her downfall.

Although her confession is very moving and seemingly sincere, Cotton Mather was not moved.

He claimed that she "has more to confess, I fear..." and held little hope for her salvation. According to Mather "there never was Prisoner more Hard-Hearted, and more Unfruitful than you have been..."

It is a little puzzling that Mather was so disappointed with his prisoner. She did, after all, confess her crime and exhort the rising generation not to follow in her footsteps.

Perhaps she did not confess readily enough to suit him. She was in prison for a little over two years and under those circumstances would surely have been broken into a confession at the hands of a less expert confessor than Mather.

She may have continued to protest her innocence until very near the end, disappointing Mather who would have wanted to use her for his own ends.

Elizabeth was executed in Boston on that June day in 1693 and there her story ends. Her confessions were still viewed as "Not good enough."

Dorothy, her daughter, also diseappeared from the record, and one can't help but wonder at her fate. Michael, in his last will dated 1709, left distributions of a few shillings to at least some of his grandchildren, but Dorothy was noticeably absent.

Some say she went to live with her aunt Hannah. We can only hope that whatever happened that she was treated well, and that perhaps her little life was treasured by someone.

Tomorrow: Back to Thomas and Hannah.

3 comments:

Laura said...

Woah. Wow. Hm.... Interesting and may I add "Duhm duhm duhmmmmm!!!!" Love your daughter

Lovella said...

why dosen't your computer like my comments? that what I want to know.

I said . . .breathe Lovella breathe.

I am so thankful I didn't live back then. Here all along I have been envying the dresses and the romance of the past era and then I get this info. I changed my mind. I am quite happy to be alive and well . . here and now.

Rod said...

I am Rod Mather - Cotton, Increase and Richard Mather are my Ancestors - There are lots of interesting articles about these people on the net, including some of their sermons. I can be contaced rod (A T) noteperfect (D O T) net