Monday, March 12, 2007

Chapter 5: Lust and Consequences

It's a rainy thundery day here in Kingwood. The trees are leafing out against the grey sky, and flowers are abounding everywhere.

Except for the flowers and leafing part, it's a perfect backdrop for today's installment in the Dustin Family saga.

There's even a gloomy scripture to go with this segment:

"They died in their youth, And their life ends among the perverted persons."
Job 35:14

Doesn't get much gloomier than that now does it?

But hey, I didn't come up with this. Cotton Mather came up with this verse to use as his sermon text for his Sabbath message sometime in the late spring of 1693, in which he delivered to his congregations what he later unabashedly referred to as his greatest sermon ever.

The subject of his sermon?
The confessions of Elizabeth Emerson.

Elizabeth Emerson, Hannah Emerson Dustin sister.

You may (or more likely may not ) recall that Hannah had sister Elizabeth who was eight years younger than herself, who also had birthed twins, and who lay dead with her twins beside her as Hannah gave birth to baby Martha.

And what did Elizabeth Emerson do that was so dreadful that her confessions warranted a sermon preached by the most significant preacher of the day?

(Pictured above: Cotton Mather b: 1663-d:1728)

Let's back up a moment for those who are not familiar with Cotton Mather.

"Mather was a man of vast learning, prodigious talent, and expansive interests. He owned the largest personal library in the New World--consisting of some 4000 volumes ranging across the whole spectrum of classical learning. He was also the most prolific writer of his day, producing some 450 books on religion, science, history, medicine, philosophy, biography, and poetry.

His greatest work Magnalia Christi Americana, dripping with allusions to classical and modern sources, was published in 1702.He was the pastor of the most prominent church in New England. He was active in politics and civic affairs, serving as an advisor to governors, princes, and kings.

He taught at Harvard and was instrumental in the establishment of Yale. He was the first native-born American to become a member of the scientific elite in the Royal Society.

And he was a pioneer in the universal distribution and inoculation of the small pox vaccine.

His father, Increase Mather, was the president of Harvard. His maternal grandfather was John Cotton who wrote the important Puritan catechism for children, Milk for Babes, as well as drawing up the Charter Template with John Winthrop as a practical guide for the governance of the new Massachusetts Colony. The city of Boston was so named in order to honor him--his former parish work in England was at St. Botolph's Boston.

According to historian George Harper, together these men laid the foundations for a lasting "spiritual dynasty" in America. Even so, according to his life-long admirer, Benjamin Franklin, "Cotton Mater clearly out-shone them all. Though he was spun from a bright constellation, his light was brighter still."

And according to George Washington, “He was undoubtedly the Spiritual Father of America’s Founding Fathers.”"

Clearly, Cotton Mather was formidable, and when he spoke, people listened.

At the time of the sermon delivery, Mather was but 30, and Elizabeth, allegedly seated in the church at the time, was 29 years old.

Contemporaries. Not an elderly man speaking of a wayward young lass, but a peer in terms of age.

Elizabeth was the sixth child of Michael and Hannah Emerson. Her life would have passed without notice except for three events:

Firstly was the beating she received at the hands of her father at age 12, which was sever enough to warrant charges to be brought up in court against her father.

Her father was fined and bound to good behavior, and the fine dropped later when "good behavior" was reported. Corporal punishment of children was recommended at the time, and sever chastisement was not uncommon. What Elizabeth did to spur her father to what was reported as "cruel and excessive beating" was not included in the court documents.

Her older sister Hannah may or may not have been in her father's home at time, as date variation split at that point in time. She may have already married, or would marry Thomas Dustin within a few months.

It is a curious fact that Hannah and Thomas named their second son (my fore bearer) "Nathaniel" rather than "Michael" after her father, as was customary naming pattern of the time.

We'll never know the true feelings of the family towards Michael Emerson. But apparently the beating of young Elizabeth was to later be seen as an unsuccessful endeavour towards the correction of a wayward soul.

Ten years later, about the time that Hannah gave birth to her sixth child John, Elizabeth Emerson gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Dorothy.

An illegitimate child. Historical records point to the child's father as being Samuel Ladd, a wealthy, older, influential, and married man in the community.

Following a brief unsuccessful attempt by Michael Emerson to pin the blame on a younger, less notable, and single member of the community, the fervor died down, and life went on. Elizabeth and Dorothy resided in her parents home.

Apparently it was not a one time indiscretion however.

Five years later Elizabeth was pregnant again. She hid her condition well, telling only Samuel. Her mother suspected Elizabeth was pregnant again, and asked her daughter if she was expecting. Elizabeth denied the possibility.

On May 17, 1691, Elizabeth went into labor during the night, in a trundle bed at the foot of her parent's bed. They never awoke as she silently delivered twin girls, which were either still borne or died shortly afterwards.

For three days Elizabeth concealed her dead babies in a trunk, sewn up in a bag until she could secretly bury them outside in a shallow grave behind the Emerson home.

But it would not be long until Elizabeth's "sins" were discovered.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment entitled: "And then it only got worse."

Note: All this background information is being provided first to ensure the final scenes of the Dustin story is fully understood, and second to fill up the five day space in time between the birth of baby Martha on March 9th, and the continuation of Thomas and Hannah's story which will occurred on March 15th, when the dramatic events of that day in 1697 will be revealed.

Bonus section: As a reward for plowing through all this history, enjoya millinery treat, a visit to a Canadian millinery shop via this link!


Anonymous said...

I am on the edge of my seat!!!!! I love it! Keep up the good work!!! Love, your daughter, descendant of Hannah..

Lovella ♥ said...

Jill, did not my comment take yesterday? I said that I read it out loud yesterday at our house and there was an audible groan when the story was abruptly ended. Can't wait for today's segment.