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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Monday, August 24, 2009

“I do Acknolege My Misconduct Therein”

By now, with all the feuds, splits, rifts, elopements, affairs, inflated bills, and insulting pamphlets, even I’m losing track of what was going on in Woburn in 1752. The major points are:

  • Some powerful citizens, particularly former town representative Roland Cotton and justice of the peace Jonathan Poole, really didn’t like the Rev. Edward Jackson, junior minister of the town’s first church.
  • In fact, since Jackson had arrived in 1729, that congregation had split into four meetings, with the newest and closest led by Roland Cotton’s brother, the Rev. Josiah Cotton.
  • Jackson, a bachelor, employed Kezia Hincher as a housekeeper. She was a poor unmarried widow who lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Rebecca and Ebenezer Richardson.
  • Hincher gave birth to an illegitimate child early in 1752.
  • The Cotton brothers accused Jackson of being the baby’s father, Roland privately and Josiah publicly.
Jackson, of course, denied the accusation. He challenged the Cottons to produce evidence, which they didn’t have.

On 28 Aug 1752, Roland Cotton sent Jackson (who was, incidentally, his old college classmate) a one-sentence letter of apology:

Some months Past Upon my Seeing a Writeing Purporting a Certificate Under the hand of Mrs. Hannah Poole of Reading a Midwife “That she Diliverd the Widow Keziah Hincher your late housekeeper of a Bastard Child and That ye Said Hincher in the Time of her Travil Charged You with being the Father of it,” I Mentioned To Sundry Persons (Some of Whom were Under your Pastoiral Care) That ye Said Poole had in Writeing Under her hand Certified Those Facts, and That I Believed them to be True, as Indeed for Want of due Examination & Consideration I then did,

But being Now Senseable That I was Mistaken therein, and being also Convinced That the Writeing aforesaid was false & Counterfeit, Malisiousely Contrived Made and Published With an Intent Unjustly to procure your Removal from the Ministerial Office by Induceing your Church & Congregation to believe you were the Father of That Bastard Child a Crime Whereof I believe You are Altogeathere free & clear, I think Myself in Justice bound to make you Sattisfaction as far as it is in my Power for ye Injury done you in Mentioning a thing so Prejudicial to your Carracter & Reputation and declareing My belief thereof before any persons but More Expetially before those under your Pastoral Care

And I do Acknolege My Misconduct Therein and Ask Your Pardon therefor, And as the Injury done you has been Made Publick I am Content this Also Should be Made so if you think Proper
In other words, the minister could show Roland Cotton’s written apology to everyone in town as a way to clear his reputation.

Whereupon the Rev. Mr. Jackson sued for libel.

TOMORROW: Jackson takes the Rev. Josiah Cotton to court.


Robert S. Paul said...

That's quite a sentence!

DAG said...

I thought I was the only person who wrote continuous sentences like that, at least that's what my writing teacher always said.