The writing prompt for this week is “Courting”. Either as in courting in the law or courting as in romance. I could write about the myriad of ancestors that are found in Colonial American court records, including the ancestor I wrote about last week, My Contentious and Quarrelsome (and litigious!) Mayflower Pilgrim Ancestor Edward Doty or The Courtship of my Ancestors William Durkee and Martha Cross – which was detailed quite well in court records. Or I could write about more recent ancestors, their siblings, and kin, that have had brushes with the law. But I chose to write about my Colonial Massachusetts ancestor Mary Wheldon Taylor.
And in doing so, I am writing about her accidental death and the jury of inquest that was formed to investigate it.
But first I want to tell you a bit about her life.
Mary Wheldon was born in 1621 in Arnold, Nottinghamshire, England, to Gabriel Wheldon and his wife Jane. She was baptized in the nearby parish of Basford on 23 December 1621.
The village of Arnold stands near Sherwood Forest. Basford and Arnold in Nottinghamshire, England, are now adjoining suburbs just north of Nottingham, and about 10 miles south of Sherwood Forest. Sherwood Forest is a royal forest in Nottinghamshire, England, famous because of its historic association with the legend of Robin Hood. It was the traditional homeplace to Robin Hood, some 400 hundred years earlier. (3 & 4)
Mary came to New England with her father and siblings. “Gabriel Whelden was one of the first settlers in what is now the Township of Dennis in Barnstable County on Cape Cod. He was given permission on 3 Sep 1638 by Plymouth officials to settle on Cape Cod, which included a land grant. At the time the area was called “Mattacheeset”. It was organized into Yarmouth in 1639. Gabriel appears in the Yarmouth records, 6 Oct 1639, so he settled in Yarmouth between Sep 1638 and Oct 1639.” (3)
Mary Wheldon married Richard Taylor “The Tailor” in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, between 1645-1647. Their first known child was born in December of 1648. Her husband was called Richard Taylor “The Tailor” due to his occupation and also to differentiate him from another man of the same name, Richard Taylor “of the Rock”, who was also living in Yarmouth. This other Richard Taylor was given this nickname “of the Rock” “either because his house was made of stone, or because he lived near the boundary stone between Hockanom and Nobscusset in the northeastern part of town.” (3) This other Richard Taylor “of the Rock” married Mary’s sister, Ruth Wheldon.
The children of Richard “The Tailor” Taylor and Mary Wheldon are listed below.
- Ann Taylor born 2 December 1648 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 1648 in Yarmouth.
- Ruth Taylor born 11 Apr 1649 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 28 Jan 1728 in Barnstable, Massachusetts Colony. She married Joseph Bearse (the son of Augustine Bearse AKA Austin Bearce).
- Martha Taylor born 18 December 1650 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 1 February 1718 in Massachusetts. She married Abishai Marchant (the son of John Marchant of Martha’s Vineyard). – My direct ancestors.
- John Taylor born about 1652 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; Will proved 18 Jan 1722 at Chatham, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Matthews (the daughter of James Matthews of Yarmouth).
- Elizabeth Taylor born about 1655 in Barnstable, Plymouth Colony; died 4 May 1721 in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She married Samuel Cobb (the son of Henry Cobb and Sarah Hinckley).
- Hannah Taylor born 16 September 1661 at Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 14 May 1743 in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She married Deacon Job Crocker (the son of William Crocker and Alice Hoyt).
- Ann Taylor born about 1659 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died after 1679. She married Josiah Davis (the son of Robert Davis and Ann).
- Joseph Taylor born 1660 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 13 September 1727 in Marshfield, Massachusetts. He married Experience Williamson, of Marshfield.
- Sarah Taylor born 1662 in Yarmouth, Plymouth Colony; died 31 July 1695 in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She never married.
On a winter day in early December of 1673, Mary found herself on a small boat, it is assumed she intended to go from Yarmouth to Duxbury or to Plymouth. On this day she was a woman in her early fifties and had been married to her husband Richard “The Tailor’ Taylor for about twenty-eight years. Her children were aged between eleven and twenty-five years old. Only her oldest two children, Ann and Mary, were married.
You can see in the map of the Plymouth Colony above where she was traveling from at Yarmouth and going by water up to either Plymouth or Duxbury. At some point on her journey, most-likely when she was close to Duxbury Bay, her boat cast adrift, and she was found dead in the wrecked boat.
Mary’s death was quite tragic. Her body was found in a small, wrecked boat near Duxbury Bay. A jury of inquest was formed in Duxbury.
Meaning of an inquest: judicial inquiry by a group of persons appointed by a court. The most common type is the inquest set up to investigate a death apparently occasioned by unnatural means. Witnesses are examined, and a special jury returns a verdict on the cause of death. (1)
Coroners’ Inquests in Colonial Massachusetts: “Coroners had many duties. They officiated at inquests — lay jury investigations — not only into deaths but also into shipwrecks, felonies, housebreaks, and fires.” (2)
We do not know how long the jury of inquest lasted; it appears only a matter of days. But on 4th of December 1673, it rendered its verdict.
The following was their verdict: “The jury of inquest appointed to view a corpes found in a boate now racked, and being supposed to be the wife of Richard Taylor, somtimes of Yarmouth, and to make dilligent serch how the said woman came by her death, doe judge, that the boate being cast away, the woman was drowned in the boate.” (5)
Her husband died, grief stricken, within 9 days of hearing the verdict.
This sad tale of the death of Mary Wheldon Taylor was not the only grief engendered by drowning within the Wheldon family. Many years earlier in 1639, Mary’s sister Martha Wheldon also died by drowning at the age of seventeen.
We know about this because of a letter their sister Katherine Wheldon composed back to England reporting the death of her sister Martha. The letter is summarized in Thomas Lechford’s Note-Book as follows:
“A letter by Katherine Weelden to Mr. John Shanvat of Nottingham dated 29.4.1639.
touching the Death &c. of Martha Weelden of Dedham who was Drowned about 12
Dayes before. She was a godly mayde by all probabilites in this letter testified.” (3, 6, & 7)
Side note: The surname Shanvat (or Shamvat) has not been found in English records reviewed. It is possible that the surname was actually Chamlet, and that the recipient of Katherine Wheldon’s letter John “Shanvat” was related to Gabriel Whelden’s aunt by marriage, Christobel (_) (Whelden) Hewitt . . . (7)
Mary Wheldon and Richard “The Tailor” Taylor are my ninth great-grandparents.
Famous Kin of Gabriel Wheldon (and wife Jane), Great Migration Immigrant 1638:
Edwin Grozier, Owner of The Boston Post.
Charles Dawes, 30th U.S. Vice-President.
Merrill C. Meigs, Publisher, Chicago Herald & Examiner.
American Artist Norman Rockwell.
Bill Richardson, 30th Governor of New Mexico.
Tennessee Williams, Author and Playwriter.
Sydney Biddle Barrows, The Mayflower Madam.
Priscilla Presley, Actress, Businesswoman, and wife of Elvis Presley.
Orrin Hatch, U.S. Senator from Utah.
Annie Proulx, Novelist and Short Story Writer.
Sarah Palin, 9th Governor of Alaska & U.S. Vice Presidential Canidate.
Mizuo Peck, TV and Movie Actress.
Don Winslow, Author and Screenwriter.
Kristine Rolofson, Harlequin Novelist.
Lisa Marie Presley, Singer and Songwriter. Daughter of Elvis Presley and Priscilla Presley.
Avril Lavigne, Singer and Songwriter.
Ethan Hawke, Actor, Director, Screenwriter, and Novelist.
- Inquest – Law. Britannica.com
- Mellen, Paul F., Coroner’s Inquests in Colonial Massachusetts. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Volume 40, Issue 4, October 1985, Page 462. https://doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/40.4.462.
- Minor Descent – Gabriel Wheldon (and Family). WordPress.com.
- Sherwood Forest. Wikipedia.org.
- Mary Whelton Taylor – FindAGrave.com
- Edward Everett Hale, Jr., ed., Note-Book Kept by Thomas Lechford, Esq., Lawyer, in Boston, Massachusetts Bay, from June 27, 1638 to July 29, 1641 (Cambridge, Mass., 1885; repr. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1988), p. 102.
- THE ORIGIN OF GABRIEL1 WHELDEN OF YARMOUTH AND MALDEN, MASSACHUSETTS by Jan Porter and Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.
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Wow. This is incredible stuff.
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Oh my, was she really rowing a small boat across the bay? I can’t imagine. Thanks for sharing.
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