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.
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:
- 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:
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) 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.
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.
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 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.
Vol 1: Page 108: Marriage to George Clarke
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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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.
Erin Taylor, July 2014
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 of, mother 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.
Kristin Luce, June 2014
My brother once remarked that I preferred the dead members of the family tree to those still living, and at the time, he was correct. I was happier spending time squinting at barely legible census records than visiting with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even my brother.
But recently it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t want to spend much time with my dead relatives, if they were alive. As much as I’m hoping to find free-thinking foremothers, fun-loving forefathers — or even just a Democrat — most of the relatives I’ve been researching were probably boring. Farmers. Farmers’ wives. A spinster here, a tax collector there. They’re prohibitionists. They work hard, and most of their fun is centered around church socials. They’d make me feel guilty about not seeing them more, not calling them, not writing them, just like the ones I already have.
And then I stumbled upon Alice Martin Bishop. To get to her, I had to climb up a third cousin’s tree, but I think her research and sources are sound, even though I have yet to do the legwork. I did some googling, and landed on this fascinating blog, researched and written by a much more distant cousin, Erin Taylor. I posted one innocent comment and the next thing I knew, I was wheedled into the launch of AliceMartinBishop 2.0, exchanging numerous texts, emails, and phone calls with the person who is now my favorite relative.
But I have a LOT of catching up to do. Like Miranda in The Tempest, who, upon spotting her first colonist (circa 1609) exclaims:
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.
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.