Alice’s Arrival

Erin Taylor & Kristin Luce, August 2014

Aside from the obvious mystery as to why Alice murdered her child, the questions that keep us up at night are who were Alice Martin Bishop’s (AMB) parents and from where and when did she emigrate? Unfortunately, we simply don’t know. Not until 1646 were Plymouth towns ordered to record every birth, death, and marriage (Davis, 83), and so we’re fortunate to have a record of Alice’s marriage to George Clarke in 1639 and to Richard Bishop in 1644. But where was she in the years before her first marriage? Considering the vast scouring done, across multiple centuries, to locate Plymouth records, we must concede we’ll likely never know the parentage, birth date, and birth location for AMB. This is the part of her story where we have to make our best educated guesses. I already issued a mea culpa for positing that AMB was the daughter of Christopher Martin and Marie Prower, who came over on the Mayflower and died that first winter. And while AMB-as-Mayflower-orphan can’t be definitively disproved, there are other, more likely scenarios for AMB’s existence in late 1630s Plymouth Colony.

Before we explore those scenarios, let’s step back and look at some numbers. According to Martin E. Hollick on the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) website, between the years 1620 and 1640, about 20,000 English men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic to settle New England. Of those crossings, we have exactly zero official passenger lists. “What lists we do have were reconstructed by careful analysis of other sources, such as letters, diaries, court records, port books, licenses to travel overseas, admiralty records, and other state papers. However, as a rule, finding the specific ship for any emigrant to New England in the seventeenth century is the exception and not the rule” (

Not satisfied with those odds, we continue to look for anyone named Alice Martin (or even something similar), but as of August 2014, we are still batting .000. We have a couple of potential George Clarkes, although they aren’t perfect fits, and a Salem-residing Richard Bishop who reminds us that, unless your ancestor had a really unique name, you often need more verifiable evidence. That’s why we’re thankful for ancestors named Sally Sixkiller and Dorcas Buckminster — they make our work much easier!

Most emigrants came over as part of a family. We assume AMB didn’t have any family in Plymouth because we haven’t found anything in the Plymouth Court Records or other primary sources that link her (or the orphaned Abigail Clarke) to other Martins. But it is very unlikely that a young, single woman, using her own financial resources, could have set off for the New World on her own. So how DID she get here?

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Lessons from

Kristin Luce, July 2014

Is this a likeness of Alice Martin Bishop? Many of our Martin cousins on think so. And though some of those researchers obviously believe the curls, velvet choker, lace collar, and earrings all scream 1630s Puritan New England, I’m thinking, um, no.


There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Ancestry members who include Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) on their trees, and some of this information is legitimate — for example, many people include scans from the Plymouth Court Records (PCR) that document the investigation into her daughter Martha’s death and AMB’s subsequent conviction. Other documents that appear frequently are relevant pages from The Sutton Family website, the memorial found on, and some of Erin’s earlier posts from this blog. But I’m struggling to figure out which Ancestry sources I can trust — many contradict each other — as I look for clues to Alice Martin Bishop.

One representative tree I looked at included a number of potential eureka items. Besides the photo above, this specific researcher (let’s call him Bradford101) included the photo below, and I wondered how he figured out that Alice Martin’s family came from the town of Billericay. So I looked at his other sources, to see if those offered any clues.

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Death Penalty, Plymouth Style

Erin Taylor, July 2014

The persistent efforts of judges and ministers to obtain and publish confessions and repentances of the guilty as they stood upon the gallows grew in part from the belief that crimes must not be hidden, even by those about to die.

 Peter Hoffer and N.E.H. Hull, 50


Plymouth’s first murder trial was held in 1630 with John Billington accused of murdering John Newcomen. Billington was executed the same year (Philbrick, 157). Similar to Alice Martin Bishop’s (AMB) trial, there was no lengthy investigation-trial-appeal-retrial. Cases were quickly delivered to juries, adjudicated, and if death were called for, there was no need to tarry. However, executions were hardly regular events, for just ten people were executed in the seven decades of Plymouth Colony’s independent existence (Maddox, 252).

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Martha on the Day After Her Murder

Erin Taylor, July 2014

Who tended to Martha’s body? Was seven-year-old Abigail given this traumatic task? Did neighbors step in, moving the tiny corpse from the upper chamber to be washed and shrouded on the Bishops’ only table? Was Alice allowed to do this? Was she forced to?

It is likely that every Plymouth adult woman had participated in at least one burial preparation. People died of the typical causes — old age and illnesses — but accidental and infant deaths were also common. Tending to the dead was a colony task shared by women and men: the former preparing the body and the latter digging the grave, building the coffin, and often, designing a memorial marker.  There were costs and craftsmen associated with burials (Deetz, 168) and we assume, certainly hope, that Richard covered these expenses for his stepdaughter. The standard for a “decent” burial included washing and shrouding the body in cloth, likely linen, and a simple coffin. Grave diggers were often hired, but perhaps Richard did this task himself.

Burial Hill, near Leyden Street, was the colony’s first graveyard and several notable settlers are buried there. Maybe, Martha rests there. However, since seventeenth-century grave markers were made of wood and not stone, none survive for descendants to visit. The same is true for Alice, although she may not have been admitted into this esteemed cemetery after her execution.

It is also possible that Martha’s body traveled back to Barnstable to be buried alongside her father, George Clarke. Again, no gravestones from that period survive and a search of all pre-Independence gravesites for that area did not generate any George or Martha Clarkes.

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CSI: Plymouth Colony

Erin Taylor, July 2014

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:

  1. Alice confessed immediately in the presence of all five coroners.
  2. 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:

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A Difficult Consideration

Erin Taylor, July 2014

My hands may tremble, my heart does not.

Stephen Hopkins, 1776 signer of the Declaration of Independence who had a form of palsy.


Readers of the 2011 blog suggested that Alice Martin Bishop (AMB)Newborn in mother's hands may have killed her daughter Martha because there was something wrong with the child. We’re all participating in questioning AMB’s motives and doing so without any evidence: ergot poisoning made AMB insane, she’s not the real killer, postpartum psychosis, plain evil.  We don’t know why and, as long as we don’t make unfounded possibilities our truths, there’s not a lot of harm done.

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Martha’s Murder: 22 July 1648

Poem excerpt by FP Morris

Erin Taylor, July 2014

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.

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PCR = Plymouth Confusion Resulting

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.

Plymouth Court Records, 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 and 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.

Vol 1: Page 108: Marriage to George Clarke

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Lessons from Eugene Stratton’s Applied Genealogy (1988)

Erin Taylor, May 2014


It doesn’t matter if Stratton’s book was published before the genealogy mother lode: Internet access. Genealogy is a honed craft requiring discipline and standards. Don’t call it genealogical research if you rely solely on and the dream that you’re related to the Duck Dynasty Robertsons (no joke, my Louisiana Robertson family’s aspiration). That’s a  self-esteem-building hobby. Or, quoting Stratton, “I have come to believe that wishful thinking is one of the most deadly enemies of genealogists” (134, in footnotes).


Until the Internet provides free and fully accessible access to all primary source documentation, we must continue to mine genealogical libraries, historical societies, and home town museums. Even the almighty admits that just 5% of all genealogical records are available online. The gasp-worthy story of your ancestor, General Beauregard Duponte, merits you move away from this screen and experience as much of a re-creation of his life as you can. Genealogy should be hard on your feet as well as your eyes.

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 Erin Taylor, July 2014

Quote by Hippocrates" Healing is a matter of time, but it is also a matter of opportunity.


I came to genealogy at peace with familial delusion. My two grandmothers spent a great deal of time trying to convince me we came from esteemed families. Not the wealthiest, but rather the ones who gave to their communities. Not the generals but the soldiers. There are no presidents in our direct ancestry, but there are state representatives, county commissioners, and judges. My family crest should probably read “Progenitor of Civil Servants.”

But the stories I always wanted to hear were about the women. How my paternal grandmother drove the corpse of her newborn baby, tucked into a shoebox, through the night from San Antonio so she could be buried in the home plot in Monroe, Louisiana. How my maternal grandmother married a Cherokee orphan and somehow made a life for herself as a single mother in Enid, Oklahoma, after he abandoned her during World War II.

The men of my ancestry had accomplishments and failures. They uprooted families and left for wars. Some were church leaders and others scoundrels (and some were both). What strikes me about their female partners is that they endured. They made the most of the men’s best-laid as well as ill-conceived plans. Why sure, I’d love to participate in the Cherokee Strip Land Run! But of course — I’m happy to fend off debt collectors while you hide out it in Florida during the Civil War! Sadly, like many interested in women’s history, I found these great grandmothers often relegated solely to the status of wife of, daughter ofmother of. But, just as it was with my tenth great grandmother Alice Martin Bishop (AMB), I knew these women’s lives counted for more — we simply had to be intentional in our research, creating context from what remains.

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