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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Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Matrimonial Story

On 30 Nov 1762, John Adams recorded an anecdote in his diary:
Last Thurdsday Night, at [Richard] Cranch’s Wedding, Dr. [Cotton] Tufts, in the Room where the Gentlemen were, said We used to have on these Occasions, some good Matrimonial stories, to raise our spirits. The story of B. Bicknal’s Wife is a very clever one. She said, when she was married she was very anxious, she feared, she trembled, she could not go to Bed. But she recollected she had put her Hand to the Plow and could not look back, so she mustered up her Spirits, committed her soul to G[od]. and her Body to B. Bicknal and into Bed she leaped and in the Morning she was amazed, she could not think for her Life what it was that had scared her so.
I’m guessing this tale—if true—involved Mary Bicknell, born Mary Kingman in 1729. She married Benjamin Bicknell, Jr., of Weymouth in 1747, had four children with him, and died in 1766. Unlike about a quarter of New England women marrying for the first time in this century, Mary Bicknell did not have a child within seven months of her marriage, so her wedding night, when she was only seventeen, could well have been her first time lying with a man.

Of course, if the story had circulated long enough, the woman could have been Benjamin’s mother, born Susanna Humphrey in Weymouth in 1695 and married in 1717. She, too, had four children, and outlived her daughter-in-law, dying in 1767. The elder Benjamin Bicknell then remarried the widow Bethiah Hunt, one of John Adams’s paternal aunts, showing how these families were all part of the same circle.

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