As Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) researchers, we are fortunate to be looking for information in the same time period that the Mayflower passengers landed and settled in Plymouth Colony (followed quickly thereafter by John Winthrop and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony). It’s one of the most-researched eras in U.S. history, and although we can’t place any of our AMB ancestors on that ship, we can benefit from all of the information that has been found by people who are investigating their Mayflower roots.
In the recent issue of American Ancestors (Spring 2015), David Curtis Dearborn advises genealogists looking for Mayflower ancestors to check out the following sources, most of which can be found on AmericanAncestors.org (the name of the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, NEGHS). If you’re a member of the NEGHS, you can access these online sources, including the published Massachusetts vital town records to 1850, all issues of TheRegister, The American Genealogist (TAG), The Mayflower Descendant, Barnstable County probate records, Plymouth County court records (not to be confused with the Plymouth Colony Records, see below), and Plymouth town, vital, and church records. On FamilySearch.org, you can also find digitized copies of Plymouth County probate records and land records for every Massachusetts county. (Eugene Stratton, in Plymouth Colony, also includes a chapter called “Writers and Records” that points genealogists to the written sources for contemporary information on Plymouth Colony, and it’s a good idea to refocus and go back to these primary sources after you’ve been chasing squirrels on Ancestry.)
We haven’t yet exhausted all of these sources, and we welcome our readers to jump in and help. The court records of Martha Clarke’s murder and AMB’s trial can be found in the Plymouth Colony Records (also referred to as Plymouth Court Records, and abbreviated as PCR). It’s no easy feat, but we’ll walk you the process here.
There is no grave marker for Alice Martin Bishop, nor her three daughters. We can’t tell you where George Clarke or Richard Bishop is buried — not the town or cemetery. Matter of fact, given her crime, Alice may be buried in an unmarked grave far from her family and neighbors.
Legible headstones before 1700 are rare. The earliest grave markers were made of wood and have, naturally, not survived. As stone cutters came to the colonies, their work included memorials, but many of these have faded or crumbled thanks to erosion, lichen, vandals, and robbers.
Yes, vandals and robbers. For decades now, some of our oldest cemeteries’ gravestones have been stolen, defaced, and used as lawn chairs and ashtrays. Charming, America.
We mean not to offend. But we’re going to talk about the manner of Martha’s death and the coroners’ investigation. Be warned, there’s going to be some gore.
In the 2011 blog comments and on genealogy sites discussing Alice Martin Bishop (AMB), there are numerous questions about the investigation into Martha’s death. From the outset, two things must be remembered:
Alice confessed immediately in the presence of all five coroners.
The coroners had seventeenth-century investigation skills and tools. None of them were, even by that century’s standards, “men of science.”
AMB researchers have asked why there was no crime scene investigation report. There was one:
Timeline to Martha’s murder: In 1639 Alice marries George Clarke. They have a daughter, Abigail, ca. 1641. In 1644, Martha is born, George Clarke dies, and Alice remarries Richard Bishop in December of that year. In 1645, Damaris Bishop is born. On Wednesday, July 22, 1648, Alice murders her four year-old daughter, Martha Clarke.
At the end of this post are the original Plymouth Colony court records pertaining to the Clarke murder inquest and Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) trial. But, first, it might be helpful to understand the likely layout of the Bishop home. Their land lot was in the vicinity of 50×40 feet based on the number of persons living in the home and typical allotments for this period. The main floor was simply a large room with a hearth on one side. Cooking and dining took place here as well as this being the space in which Alice and Richard would have slept.
Depending on the researcher, PCR can mean two things: Plymouth Court Records or Plymouth Colony Records. The two are not the same document nor interchangeable.
PlymouthCourtRecords, in 12 volumes, was published between 1855 and 1861 (Nathaniel Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds.; Massachusetts General Court may be listed as the author). The actual title of this work is Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England. They are available online at many locations, including MayflowerHistory.com and PlymouthColony.net. These records are the ones from which the entire AMB trial record is taken.
The following Plymouth Court Records citations include mention of Alice Martin Bishop. Make sure you refer to the actual page number printed at the top of the book page versus the pagination provided by the digital reader.