Richard Bishop was born 5 December 1612 in Dorset, England. He married the Widow Clark on his birthday in 1644. According to Savage’s Genealogical Dictionary (1860), there are numerous Bishops (Job, Edward, Henry, James, etc.) in the Boston-Ipswich-Salem area beginning families near the time our Richard Bishop was settling down with Alice Martin.
Richard Bishop was in Plymouth Colony as early as November 1637 because he hired himself out as a servant to Truelove Brewster (of the Mayflower) for a twelve month period (an unusually brief time). By 1643, Bishop had relocated to the actual town of Plymouth because he is listed in their records as permitted to bear arms (Stratton, 440).
Savage references two Richard Bishops and it is a challenge to keep them separate (see Savage beginning on 183). The Richard Bishop listed on p. 185 who dies 30 September 1674 is not our Bishop. Instead, we are referring to the second Richard Bishop listed: “Richard [Bishop], Plymouth, was unhapp. m. 5 Dec. 1644, Alice wid. of George Clark, and she was hang. Oct. 1648 for murder of Martha Clark, her ch.” It is remarkable that Savage outright categorizes the marriage as “unhappy” since we have no evidence about the Bishop-Martin union. Is Savage making a presumption about the marriage because AMB was a murderer?
A word of caution to Marge Waterfield’s The Sutton Family: Allied Lines Bishop, Bonham, Conger, Dunham, Fuller, Lothrop. She claims Richard Bishop came on the Abigail in 1628 and was a “first settler of Duxbury but was living in Plymouth in 1628” (10). This is certainly not our Richard Bishop despite numerous claims that it is. I find no evidence that Richard came on any of the ships that arrived in 1628 although those passenger lists are incomplete.
Berkin notes that a third of early Puritan passengers were single men (24) but we do not have all of the names to adjust for that figure. Bishop nor George Clark are named in the 1623 Division of Plymouth Land – not surprising but nor does he appear in the 1633 or 1634 Plymouth tax list (again, no mention of Clark). I am left with two unresolved issues: Did Bishop come over as a servant and therefore not recorded on a ship’s passenger list? Two, if Bishop was not yet a freedman in 1634 (when he does not appear on tax list), it may mean he did not arrive to Plymouth Colony until after 1634 but before 1637. Again, relocating servants and transients coming to Plymouth Colony were documented before the 1630’s (Stratton, 180 and 421).
The experience of being a servant and/or apprentice is likely common between Clark, Bishop and Martin. Most males began formal apprenticeships by the age of fourteen and then struck out on their own professionally by twenty-one (Morgan 68). I have yet to find a profession for Clark or Martin. Apprenticeships often required parental support if nothing more to make those arrangements for their children and Clark and Bishop lacked these connections. But servants – a working class not as esteemed as apprentice – were not limited to domestic and agricultural labor. They also worked in small industry, scouting and hunting. Those who had served well were likely sent on in their new lives with tools or other instruments to help with their new vocation (Morgan 118). Many were also promised land by the Plymouth Colony government (Stratton, 183).
A word about indentured servitude which is the probable situation Clark and Bishop found themselves in as young, landless, family-less men: Indenture servitude is a “contract committing one party to make a series of payments to or on behalf of the other — settlement of a transport debt, subsistence over the (negotiable) contractual term, a final payment in kind or, less usually, cash at the conclusion of the term. In exchange, the payee agrees to be completely at the disposal of the payor…for the performance of work, for the term agreed” (Tomlins, 6). For our historical recreation, indentured servitude seems apropos to Bishop and Clark who likely had expensive ocean passages to pay off and new community connections to make. Conversely, apprentices tended to come from families with greater resources to support that child in receiving long-term vocational education.
Unclear as to the causes of George Clark’s death, we know for certain 1644 was an eventful year for Alice. She buried a husband, gave birth to a second daughter (Martha) and remarried. According to Morgan, “a widow in New England inherited a life estate in at least a third of all the land which her husband had possessed at any time during the marriage” (58). This made widows appealing marriage prospects and, because AMB had but two young daughters, we can assume she inherited all of Clark’s land and wealth. That being said, all of Clark’s “wealth” might have been minimal indeed. Second marriages were not uncommon and widows and widowers faced social and economic pressures to remarry quickly. Therefore, Alice’s marriage within the same calendar year of her first husband’s death may not have seemed hasty to the community intent on their divinely-called population plan. If only I could determine when in 1644 and how George Clark died…
Certainly I have many questions about the nature of the Bishop-Martin marriage simply because, less than four years in, Alice is murdering one of her children. First of all, we do not know if there were any other adults in the house although it appears not. Richard and Alice would have had no parents to share a home with and there is no mention of a servant. Therefore, in the first years of their marriage, their small home would have had two adults and three young girls. Some genealogist claim Martha had a son (James) – born closely before or after Damaris Bishop – but I have yet to find conclusive evidence.
Because there is no mention of Richard Bishop serving in some civic capacity and plenty of mention of him breaking the law after his wife’s execution, I do question what sort of person he was. Perhaps, the most damning conclusion we can make about Richard Bishop is that he was poor. His family, like everyone else in the colony, struggled to keep themselves fed. Perhaps he was a Puritan, perhaps he was a ne’er-do-well who trekked his way to Plymouth looking for land, a wife and ensuing stability. We just don’t know.
We can add context to the Martin-Bishop marriage, however. In 1624 Puritan William Whately had this to say about marriage:
It comes to pass, that marriage proveth to many, just as the stocks to the drunkard; into which when his head was warm with wine and ale, he put his foot laughingly and with merriment; but a little after (having slept out his wine and cooled his head with a nap) he longs as much to get it out again. Hence it is that divers’ houses are none other but even very fencing schools, wherein the sex sexes seem to have met together for nothing more but to try masteries.
This conveys that Puritans did not believe marriage, by design, was harmonious even if it was for the greater good. Marriage did not always grow easier with time but rather just settled into a tolerance of one another. That being said, there is ample evidence of happy Plymouth Colony marriages and writers who thought that marriage should contain bonds of tenderness and respect.
Certainly, colonial marriages were patriarchal-centered where husbands made decisions about finances, housing and expectations of all familial relationships. But husbands were not universally dictators and wives were not universally submissive. Berkin (31) writes that “[M]en were expected to reach downward and overlook women’s spiritual, physical, and social inferiority, while women were supposed to reach upward and acknowledge without resentment men’s superiority and power. That some couples sought and sustained loving marriages cannot be doubted. That others did not is equally unsurprising.”
Nonetheless, Plymouth men knew where they stood. From the landing of the Mayflower until the 1650’s, there was but one single (English) woman for every four single men (Berkin, 31). Even if Alice was widowed and fearing for her future as a single mother, she must have known she had more than one prospect to consider – unless there was something about her reputation that made her undesirable to most of the colony’s bachelors. More likely, Richard was available and willing (and, to his credit, to raise two daughters by his former neighbor) and, as such, marriage seemed timely and good sense.
Again, there are no records to indicate the Martin-Bishop marriage was in dire straits. That does not translate to it being a happy home. Physical spousal abuse was considered a criminal act in most cases in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. This is not to say that domestic violence did not occur often and repeatedly in these homes – just that the courts did not automatically excuse domestic violence. If we surmise that Alice was assaulted in her home, then we would have to consider the same for her girls. We do not know that Richard was a wife beater. We know he was, later in life, a repeat thief. It is not fair to assume he was a violent husband and stepfather due to his later criminal activity.
I expect the home was a chaotic one with a mother worn out with cycles of pregnancies and breastfeeding, not enough nutrition and endless housework demands. The towns of Plymouth Colony were not quaint hamlets. They were isolated communities with no stores, little time or place for entertainment and a moral code that must have, at times, put people at odds with their desires and needs. Mix in Indian wars and raids, rattlesnakes, bears and hellish winters. Richard and Alice would rise early each day to build fires, fetch water, mends clothes and structures, scrounge for meals – not leaving much time for romance or even friendship-building. Their marriage was challenging even before we consider the possibilities of domestic abuse and mental illness.
A final note… I presume, by the last name bestowed upon her, that Martha was the legitimate child of the Clark-Martin union. But we do not know if Damaris was conceived before Alice Martin married Richard Bishop – they married in December of 1644 and she was born at some point in 1645. There are numerous court records of women conceiving children (not always willingly) outside of wedlock.