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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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Father of Kezia Hincher’s Child Revealed

On 16 Aug 1753, the Rev. Edward Jackson filed an appeal of the decision against him in his libel case, telling the Massachusetts Superior Court that he had new evidence to prove that the rumors he’d fathered Kezia Hincher’s illegitimate child were baseless.

On the very same day—which I don’t think is a coincidence—there was a rift in the household where Hincher was living. Her brother-in-law, farmer Ebenezer Richardson, made out a bill to William, Dorothy, and Phinehas, three children of his late wife, Rebecca. It covered support and clothing from 11 Apr 1736 until each had turned seven, to be paid from their father’s estate.

The Woburn town clerk, James Fowle, attached a note for the probate judge, Samuel Danforth, saying that the children’s father, Phinehas Richardson, had actually died in 1738. (Let’s give Ebenezer Richardson the benefit of the doubt and assume his error—which increased the amount due him—was inadvertent.)

Those children had been between five years and three months old when their father had died, so in 1753 they were all well past seven. They were still below the age of majority, however. I take this bill as a sign that those minor children were severing ties with their stepfather—possibly moving in with biological relatives—and that he replied by demanding money due to him from their inheritances.

What had prompted that split? People in Woburn had just realized that the father of Kezia Hincher’s child was not her employer, the Rev. Mr. Jackson, but her brother-in-law, Ebenezer. The couple had apparently kept quiet about their affair while Rebecca Richardson was alive, and then longer, as the minister’s reputation sank. But in August 1753, the secret was out.

In fact, this whole case remained so notorious that twenty years later that Boston broadside titled “Life, and Humble Confession, of Richardson, the Informer” had Ebenezer saying:

WOOBURN, my native place can tell,
My crimes are blacker far than Hell,
What great disturbance there I made,
Against the people and their Head.

A wretch of wretches prov’d with child,
By me I know, at which I smil’d,
To think the PARSON he must bare
The guilt of me, and I go clear.

And thus this worthy man of GOD
Unjustly felt the scourging rod,
Which broke his heart, it proved his end,
And for whole blood I guilty stand.
In January 1754, seventeen days before the hearing that formally ended Jackson’s libel suit, Ebenezer Richardson and Kezia Hincher announced their intention to marry. And it looks like they were no longer welcome in Woburn.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

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