J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Growing Up Molineux

Boston merchant William Molineux and merchant’s daughter Ann Guionneau married at the end of 1747, and started having children eight months later. These are the names that appear in the records of Boston’s Trinity Church (shown here, courtesy of Julie L. Sloan), along with the many creative ways Bostonians rendered the family name:

  • Ann, “Daughter of Will. & ____ Mullinux,” baptized 24 Aug 1748
  • William, “Son of William & Ann Mullinex,” baptized 16 Nov 1749, with one sponsor being “Mrs. Guno,” probably his maternal grandmother
  • Richard, “Son of William & Mary Ann Mullenix,” baptized 2 Feb 1751
  • John, baptized 13 Aug 1753
  • Elizabeth, “Wm. & Marian [Molineaux],” baptized 26 Jan 1758
Of these five children, the boys are much better documented than the girls, but I haven’t found any other mention of Richard at all, which probably means he died young.

The Molineux family was then living in William’s house on Orange Street, a stretch of modern Washington Street. In 1753 the couple deeded that house to William Bowdoin, and the Thwing database doesn’t give a clue about where they lived for the rest of the decade. Molineux had bought a lot on Harvard Street in 1749, but apparently that was a real-estate investment; he sold it twenty years later, apparently still as an empty lot.

On 14 July 1760 the family moved into a large house on Beacon Hill, between the homes of wealthy merchants Thomas Hancock (uncle of John) and James Bowdoin. This mansion became known as “Molineux House,” and William Molineux would live there the rest of his life. The site now lies under the Massachusetts State House, about where the statue of Gen. Joseph Hooker stands.

Both William and John Molineux attended the South Writing School across the Common on West Street and learned handwriting skills from Master Samuel Holbrook. Samples of their elaborate work—probably end-of-year demonstration samples—are filed with other Holbrook papers at Harvard’s Houghton Library. The girls Ann and Elizabeth probably had private lessons in various genteel feminine skills, possibly even private writing lessons from the same Master Holbrook, but I know of no record of their education.

As a young man (or an old boy) William, Jr., shows up in the record of two eye-catching legal events of the early 1770s. First, he observed the Boston Massacre from the balcony of Joseph Ingersol’s Bunch of Grapes tavern across King Street. One of his companions, Jeremiah Allen, testified to seeing guns fired from the Customs House behind the soldiers. Even though William’s father pressed hard to prosecute Customs officials in that shooting, William, Jr., was never called to testify.

In 1771 William, Jr., was a witness in court when John Gray sued Lendall Pitts for assault. This trouble started when Gray or another boy had impersonated a girl so well that he attracted Pitts’s amorous attentions. Young Molineux testified:
I saw him dressed in Womens Cloaths. He had the outward Appearance of a Woman, a Gown and Womens Cloaths. I saw a Couple of young Gentleman gallanting him. Pitts was one, I was very sensible they were taken in. Plaisted was the other. They appeared to be very loving—she rather Coy. I called out to Pitts at New Boston [i.e., around Beacon Hill and perhaps Mount Whoredom]. He turnd a deaf Ear. He came back and said he had a very clever Girl, and went to her again.
When Pitts realized he’d been fooled, or later when he heard Gray joking about the incident, he demanded satisfaction. The phrases “chuckle headed son of a Bitch” and “woolly headed Rascall” came up. Pitt smashed Gray on the head with a cane. And Gray sued.

As if that dispute couldn’t get any further from our usual conceptions of colonial Boston, during the Dec 1771 trial James Otis, Jr., apparently took it upon himself to stand up and tell the court how Clodius had cross-dressed in classical Rome. That went over so well that later that day Gov. Thomas Hutchinson reported that Otis had been removed, “bound hand and foot,” to an asylum by his family.

The brief record for this case appears in The Legal Papers of John Adams, and it’s summarized in Brenton Simons’s Witches, Rakes, and Rogues. It only makes sense when we consider how a bunch of young men, a little too rich for their own good, can have fun at each other’s expense.

COMING UP: Miss Molineux’s mysterious marriage.


Robert S. Paul said...

They started having children only 8 months later? Are you saying they may have had premarital intercourse, even though such a thing never happened in history ever (according to my parents)?

Or did you meant they started having children eight months into the year, and may have been married in November?

J. L. Bell said...

Social historians have studied when couples in eighteenth-century rural New England got married versus when their first children arrived. They found that at least 30% of couples had their first child within seven months of marriage.

Given the poor care available for premature infants then, that means almost all the babies were full-term, and couples were having sex before marriage. Some, if not many, of that group made the decision to get married only after they realized they were to be parents.

This was a change from the stricter, Puritan 1600s. While fornication outside of wedlock remained a nominal crime and sin, the authorities didn't prosecute it so harshly in the 1700s. People formally joining churches usually had to make a pro forma confession of their sins, which may often have included fornication, but when one in three of your neighbors has confessed to the same sin it wouldn't seem so difficult.

This posting has more on the period's sexual mores.