Friday, November 6, 2015

William Thompson: Fiance material? Perhaps...

John Alden and Priscilla wedded - McLoughlin Bros, 1903
     We've all been there:  an acquaintance or relative starts seeing someone romantically, and we begin evaluating whether or not they make a good pair.  Whispered conversations take place, and judgments are passed.  
     Most of us, however, don't expect to see our opinions lead to a fine levied against the would-be groom by the court system, which is what happened to an indignant William Thompson, in Colonial Massachusetts.
     On my first trip to the Massachusetts State Archives recently, I was treated to a lovely facility with many indexed records.  While scrolling through a microfilm of volume nine of the Massachusetts Archives Collection, I spotted an intriguing entry.  Volume nine of the collection is described by a title made for browsing:  "Domestic Relations."  The index, besides giving a name and page number, gives the nature of the case.  I think I could have spent the entire day looking up the statements in these cases, so vividly detailed were the pictures they conjured up.  This index appears to have been created at some point much later than the events, but was still very old.  The archives' website describes the collection as a whole:   "...includes original records of the governor, Council, General Court, secretary, and treasurer, is an important source of records for early Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.  The collection is unique in the quantity of seventeenth-century records it contains, and this richness continues throughout the eighteenth century, with voluminous amounts of Revolutionary materials."  

Detail from Volume 9, Massachusetts Archives Collection, photo by the author
     At some point in May of 1653, the following testimony was given:  "Petition of William Thompson to be excused from a fine laid on him, because he proposed marriage to Sarah Cogan, without first consulting her friends."
     Time didn't allow me to pursue the ultimate fate of William's pursuit of Sarah.  Was this a standard approach taken, when protocol was ignored?  Was she embarrassed or offended by his attentions?  Or did they experience a life together?  No matter the cause or the outcome, I had no problem picturing her "friends," the early-day Puritan busy-bodies, whispering behind their hands to each other.  After long days of labor in a harsh environment, followed by long hours spent at religious services, the couple's drama was perhaps a bright spot.  
     When we engage in modern-day gossip, we certainly aren't doing anything new.