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, April 27, 2010

Sarah Richardson: “she prefers to live with…”

This is the first of an occasional “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” series, gossiping about couples having difficulties in Revolutionary New England.

As I described yesterday, Sarah Wyman of Woburn married Ichabod Richardson in 1770. Six years later, Ichabod was captured while serving on a privateer and disappeared into the British prisoner-of-war system. In 1782, Josiah Richardson, a survivor of the skirmish at Lexington, proposed marriage to Sarah, then living as a widow with a ten-year-old son. And then her first husband came home.

A document about Americans held in Britain’s Forton Prison indicates that at some point Ichabod Richardson escaped. Woburn authors say he was “pressed into the British service,” serving in the British army or navy. As the war wound down (though it didn’t end until late 1783), Ichabod made his way home. And found his wife newly remarried.

Unfortunately, the historical record is silent on how everyone reacted emotionally to the situation. Ichabod and Josiah Richardson were probably related but not closely; there were a lot of Richardsons (and Wymans) in Woburn.

The whole awkwardly extended family appears to have sat down and come to an agreement about what to do next. Legally, the result was a contract between the men, but it reflects the choice that Sarah made for the sake of her son, young Ichabod. Abram E. Brown published the document in Beneath Old Roof-Trees (1896):

Ichabod Richardson and Josiah Richardson Stipulation

Whereas Ichabod Richardson of Woburn in the County of Middlesex, Commonwealth of Massachusetts shop joiner [i.e., cabinetmaker], about six or seven years since, (during the unhappy Difference between Great Brittian and America), the Colonies Inlisted him on board one of the American Privateers, leaving behind his wife Sarah, by which, he had Issue, one son, in which unlucky voyage he was taken Prisoner by the Brittians and was carried to Great Brittian and from thence to the East Indies, which occasioned him six or seven years absence; without any the least notice to his said wife Sarah, of his being in the land of the living.

During this uncertain interim the said Sarah in a desolate state, Josiah Richardson of said Woburn, blacksmith, being left a widower, married the said Sarah.

But so it happens at this present time, the said Ichabod is now returned and puts in his claim to his said wife Sarah, which by reason of their said son she preferres to live with in the future…and they the said Ichabod and Josiah, for the amicable settlement of the unhappy affair between them, stipulate as follows, namely the said Ichabod on his part, on the penalty of one hundred pounds, lawful money, stipulates with the said Josiah, his heirs and executors to pay discharge, and Indemnify him and them from all demands of what nature so ever against the said Sarah, at and until the time of her intermarriage with the said Josiah, and from all for the future, and that he the said Josiah shall Retain all the goods by him, the said Josiah and the said Sarah, Procured since the time of their intermarriage, during life.

And he the said Josiah, on his part stipulates with the said Ichabod, his heirs and executors, on the penalty of one hundred pounds like money, to discharge the said Sarah from the obligations of such marriage, and to Restore all the goods she brought with her at that time.

In confirmation of all above written, they have hereunto interchangably set their hands and seals, this fifteenth day of February, one thousand seven hundred eighty three.
Josiah agreed to walk away from the marriage, and Ichabod to resume it. Josiah took his stuff and left Sarah with hers, and the men agreed that whoever sued first would have to pay £100. Both Richardson men signed the document, and men named William Fox and Josiah Johnson witnessed it. And that was the end of Josiah and Sarah Richardson’s marriage.

Young Ichabod grew up and married Ruth Baldwin in 1791. His father died the following year, said to be age fifty. I can’t trace his mother.

The gravestone above is that of Deacon Josiah Richardson (1747-1795) of Woburn, husband of Jerusha Brooks. Yes, it’s yet another man named Josiah Richardson! But I don’t know what happened to the blacksmith who was so briefly married to Sarah.


John L. Smith said...

Well...a very legal and non-sensational end to that story. But a truthful one nevertheless. The best part of the legal document was describing the Revolutionary War as, "... the unhappy Difference between Great Brittian and America". Unhappy indeed!

J. L. Bell said...

I wish we had more info about the Richardson family, but they appear to have handled their own “unhappy situation” as privately as possible. (There was no formal divorce through the Massachusetts Council, for instance.)