Nobody’s Daughter

Erin Taylor, June 2014

Fear not the things thou suffer most.
-Governor William Bradford

History isn’t brain surgery.
Even when it’s done poorly, it’s not fatal.
-Jill Lepore

In the 2011 edition of this blog, I worked from the presumption that Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) was the daughter of Mayflower passengers Christopher Martin and Marie Prower, and that theory colored all of the contextual sources I brought to telling her story. Notably, I started with the assumption that she was a 4-year-old Mayflower orphan, the only surviving child of the despised Christopher Martin, forgotten in the records but somehow folded into another Plymouth Colony family. I needed to make meaning out of her life beyond the brief, documented months between the murder of her daughter Martha Clarke and the resulting trek to the hanging tree.

Eager, amateur genealogists make mistakes and I made a big one. First, I need to apologize to anyone I led astray. Second, I want to deconstruct how I made that mistake.

There are no Plymouth Colony Martins connected to AMB for the appropriate time frame (1639–1648). Therefore, I looked to other “armchair genealogists” to see whom they considered AMB’s parents to be. There, I found debate brewing: Christopher Martin/Marie Prower versus Francis Martin/Prudence Deacon.

The Martin/Prower story is well known. Christopher Martin was the Mayflower‘s treasurer, tasked with gathering and managing funds and supplies for the voyage and initial settlement — a job he did poorly and in ill-tempered fashion according to Governor William Bradford. Martin, his wife, Marie Prower, and her son, Solomon Prower, all died aboard the Mayflower that first winter. So says the Mayflower Society, and I have zero credentials or basis to question them. There has never been one primary source found that states Martin and Prower had a daughter and that she traveled with them to Plymouth Colony or came alone at a later date, although I’m not the only one to have toyed with that theory, as evidenced by the information posted on AMB’s memorial and copied to many trees.

The argument that Francis Martin and Prudence Deacon produced AMB is easily dismissed. The only Francis Martin I can find on any passenger lists is an 18-year-old who sailed on the 1635 Falcon to Barbados. At that age and date, this Francis Martin would have been too young to have been the father of AMB. Similarly, two 19-year-old Deacons sailed to Virginia colonies in 1635 (Thomas on the Assurance and Avis on the Alice). Again, this makes them too young to have been a parent of AMB. Nor do I find a mention of a Prudence Deacon anywhere.

Granted, Francis Martin and Prudence Deacon could have emigrated in the early 1620s without being recorded on any passenger lists — as well as any children who came with them. But, let’s do the Plymouth math: if the Martin/Deacon union produced a daughter circa 1624, Alice would have been 14 years old — at the oldest — when she married. This age doesn’t meet English or colonial norms where women typically married after their 19th birthday. I’d be happy to see more primary source evidence on Francis Martin and Prudence Deacon, but I have not been able to locate any.

My mistake (the premise that AMB was a forgotten Mayflower daughter of Christopher Martin and Marie Prower) was both indicative of my amateur and wishful research. I assumed she had to be someone’s daughter and that there were surely records about her life. When neither could be found, I picked the parents who worked the best.

More than two years later, I think I am much closer to the truth. I will write more in depth on this in other sections, but for now let me share where the primary source evidence and respected Mayflower-Plymouth Colony historians have taken me. There is ample evidence to indicate that AMB could have come over as someone’s servant, not worthy of being named on a ship passenger list. This omission would also explain why I can’t find any other Martins to connect her to — because she came over alone. The passenger lists of the dozens of ships that came to New England (prior to 1635) are incomplete but tantalizing. One Higginson fleet of 1629 brings to the colony 350 men, women, and children — many of whose names are not recorded. This is much more likely indicative of AMB’s immigration. In this scenario, she would have come to New England, likely in adolescence, as someone’s servant and married George Clarke once her service term ended in 1639.

This storyline makes the lack of evidence about AMB elsewhere much more palatable. If she had been a Mayflower orphan, someone, surely, would have taken note that this murderess was no less than the daughter of Christopher Martin who had so poorly mismanaged their divine voyage. If her eyewitness neighbor, Rachel Eaton Ramsden, was mentioned in the 1627 Cattle List when we know Rachel was but a young child, then would not her peer, Alice Martin, have been included as well?

There is simply zero evidence that Alice Martin lived in Plymouth Colony (or Massachusetts Bay Colony) before 1638. I give her this one year before 1639 simply because we know she married George Clarke in January of 1639. Perhaps she had lived in Plymouth Colony for a full seven years (the typical contract time for an indentured servant) but that still means she would have arrived circa 1631.

But back to the 2011 blog…Much of the research I did then has been incorporated with new resources I’ve since pored over. I did not remove any data that I felt was still relevant to the immediacy of AMB’s life. Most significantly, a collaborator has guided the relaunch of this blog — another 10x AMB great granddaughter and my cousin, unknown degrees apart, Kristin Luce. Kristin read the original blog in early 2014 and her questions and encouragement were the impetus I needed. With her keen research and editing skills, the second iteration of arrived.

AMB is not a Mayflower child. She came to America by passage unknown, was married, became a mother, widowed. Married and mothered again. The three decades of her life before she killed Martha in July 1648 must be reconstructed. I am reminded that the right questions are paramount to finding the right answers. What can we infer, making the best use of primary sources and scholarly history? More importantly, what are the assumptions we cannot make?

For me, alongside all of the questions, there remains something sorrowful — probably because I am a mother and daughter myself. Was Alice loved as a child, as a wife? Often, I have to remind myself, don’t forget she murdered her girl.

2 thoughts on “Nobody’s Daughter

  1. I just discovered a few days ago that I’m a descendant of Alice Martin Clark Bishop, through Damaris Bishop. I do a talk for genealogical groups about dealing with family stories and skeletons, so I now have another example to add to it–more extreme than any other examples I have from my family..

    As an avid fan of criminal forensics shows on TV, I was puzzled by the fact that no one mentions Alice having any blood on her–just the blood on the floor. Cutting someone’s throat would involve a lot of blood, and some of it might be spray. Did she change her clothes and wash up before Rachel came back and found her? Is it possible that someone else killed that child, and she was in such a state of shock that she went along with what was happening? Where was Richard Bishop, and where were the other children/child (at least Damaris might have been in the house) at the time?

    Of course, if Alice didn’t do it, the next candidate is Richard Bishop, so we would all still have a murderer on our line. Oh, well.

    • Christine,

      We’re happy to find another AMB cousin and that you are enjoying the relaunch of our blog. Please know Kristin and I are working hard to upload 20+ more pieces we have on this story so we hope you will visit often. We are intrigued by the same questions you are. One of our new pieces is actually a discussion of blood spatter after I read some books and spoke to a pediatric trauma surgeon. I think what’s at play at this story is that the evidence that was found was not fully recorded because the coroners didn’t need it — after all, Alice immediately confessed. Make sure to read the piece on Martha’s murder that we posted tonight. Thanks and stick with us! Erin

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