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, February 17, 2011

“Avowed Themselves to Be Man & Wife”

Yesterday I described how the 1769 marriage of Mary Dill of Bermuda and printer Isaiah Thomas of Boston fell on difficult times in the early 1770s. According to Isaiah, the relationship came to a head on 23 Feb 1775.

On that date, Mary and “Major Thompson set out on a Journey together to Newbury Port.” Isaiah said he tried to

dissuade his Wife from journeying at so unreasonable a time of the Year & without any apparent Necessity; but she persisted in her Intentions & swore she would go “if it was to her eternal Ruin” as she expressed herself.
Isaiah later described for the authorities what had happened on that trip:
3d. In the Course of said Journey at the House of Mr Woart in Charlestown, the said Thompson was seen in the said Mary’s bed Chamber, conversing with her while she was in bed.

4th. At the House of Mr. Newell in Lynn the said Thompson & the said Mary were discovered in bed together. And in their Conversation were constantly uttering such Expressions of Endearment & affection to each other as plainly indicated the wickedness of their Hearts.

5th. At the House of Mr. [Samuel] Greenleaf in Newbury Port they remained in a separate Room together while they continued there, & from thence they proceeded to Portsmouth in a Curricle.

6th. At the House of Mr. [John] Stivers in Portsmouth the said Thompson & the said Mary both insisted on lodging in the same Room but being known they were forbid they however remained shut up in a Room together.

7th. On their Return from Portsmouth they stop’d at the House of Mr. Williams an Innholder in Greenland; where they avowed themselves to be Man & Wife, had a Room to themselves and lodged together all Night
After Mary Thomas returned to Boston, Isaiah “closely questioned” her, and she admitted that she had sexual relations with Maj. Thompson.

The printer then “forbore to cohabit” with his wife, and in May 1777 filed for divorce. The description above comes from that filing. The Massachusetts Council determined that Isaiah Thomas had proved his case, and granted the divorce that month. Isaiah established himself as a printer in Worcester. I don’t know what happened to Mary.

Who was “Major Thompson,” who had whisked Mary Thomas off to scenic Portsmouth? None other than our old friend Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, later titled Count Rumford (portrait shown above). He held the rank of major in the New Hampshire militia.

As a teenager, Benjamin Thompson had worked for a short time in the same building on Union Street where Thomas had his print shop (now the Union Oyster House). But that was before the Thomases settled in Boston, and it’s unclear how Mary Thomas met the young man. Maj. Thompson had a wealthy older wife up in New Hampshire, whom he would abandon before the end of the year—but that’s another marriage.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know how you are certain this Major Thompson was indeed Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. Thompson, after all, is a common enough name.

J. L. Bell said...

True. In Isaiah Thomas’s papers at the American Antiquarian Society are notes for an autobiography that say: “Domestic troubles ^ Count Rumford – Sue for a divorce”.

Sanborn C. Brown first reported that in his 1979 biography of Rumford, and a couple years back I saw the same papers myself.