Tuesday, August 30, 2011


[Ancestral Link: Lura Minnie Parker (Stagge), daughter of Minnie May Elmer (Parker), daughter of Mark Alfred Elmer, son of Hannah Polina Child (Elmer), daughter of Polly Barber (Child), daughter of Ichabod Barber, son of Mary Barney (Barber), daugther of Israel Barney, son of Elizabeth Brackett (Barney), daughter of Elizabeth Waldo (Brackett), daughter of Josiah Brackett, son of Alice Blower (Brackett), daughter of Alice Frost (Blower).]

American Women's First Collective Political Action: Boston 1649 - 1650
1996 , http://www.arts.cornell.edu/newsletr/spring96/norton.htm
Arts and Sciences Newsletter Spring 1996 Vol. 17 No. 2 American Women's First Collective Political Action: Boston 1649 - 1650 Mary Beth Norton

If asked when American women first began to organize collectively around reproductive issues, most people today would probably respond, "after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1972," or "when Margaret Sanger began to promote birth control in the early twentieth century." A few students of women"s history might recall the nineteenth"century feminist demand that women be allowed "bodily integrity""that is, that they should be able to refuse sexual intercourse with their husbands. But none of those answers is correct. The first such political action by American women occurred nearly 350 years ago.

Although I have studied colonial women for more than two decades, until recently even I was unaware of the remarkable case described herein. While researching my new book on gender relations in seventeenth"century America, Founding Mothers and Fathers (published by Alfred A. Knopf earlier this spring), I came across a sentence that led me to these important documents. A 1965 monograph on the early history of Boston mentioned that a group of townswomen had petitioned colonial authorities "on behalf of midwife Alice Tilly, accused of the 'miscarrying of many wimen and children under hir hand.'" The footnote implied that there was more than one petition but did not say how many, nor did it give any indication of the date(s).

I accordingly wrote to the Massachusetts State Archives, citing the footnote and asking for photocopies of any relevant documents. The response surprised me. There were six petitions in all, four from Boston and two from Dorchester, along with a deposition. Unfortunately, the archivist reported, the originals were now unreadable, but negative photostats made in the 1920s were available; she enclosed white"on"black copies of those. The astonishing aspect of the petitions was the total number of signatures (294), ranging from a low of eight and twenty"one on the first petitions to a high of 130 on the last.

The petitions were not dated, but the deposition was: March 8, 1648 [1649 by today"s calendar]. That explained why no historian had yet studied the case: the records of the Court of Assistants, before which Alice Tilly would have been tried, are missing for the years 1644 to 1673. Accordingly, most of what we know about the trial of Mistress Tilly (the title revealed her high status) comes from the petitions.

Those documents and a few other scattered records allow us to reconstruct at least a partial picture of the first known collective political action by American women. Although no exact account of the charges against Alice Tilly has survived, on May 2, 1649, the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) adopted a law forbidding either physicians or midwives from "exercis[ing] any force, violence, or cruelty upon or towards the bodies of any, whether yong or ould (no, not in the most difficult & desperate cases)." The law, unique among colonial statutes, implies that Mistress Tilly in the course of her medical practice had taken some action that the authorities thought unwarranted. The deposition (offered by another midwife) suggests the same, for it detailed a variety of situations that might arise during childbirth and contended that certain methods of handling them were common rather than unusual or cruel.

The female petitioners vehemently disagreed with the male authorities" assessment of Mistress Tilly. As the second group of Bostonians declared, they thought her "the ablest midwife in the land." The Dorchester women expressed their confidence in her, writing of how they were "affrayd to putt our selves into the hands of any besides our midwife that wee have had experience of," for she had helped them "even in such tymes as in the eye of sence or reason nothinge but Death was to be expected." Indeed, the Boston women insisted that Mistress Tilly "hath through the goodnes of God bin carried through such difficulties in her calling that none of those who are her accusers could Doe but have either sent for her or left the work undone."

The implication of the petitions, therefore, is that Alice Tilly was the preeminent Boston midwife, the one most likely to be summoned in "desperate" cases. That conclusion is borne out by the circumstances that elicited the six petitions, which fall into three groups. The first set of three, submitted before her trial, asked that she be permitted to leave jail to attend her patients. Evidently that request was rejected, because the fourth petition, written after she had been tried and convicted, renewed the request and alluded to "sad events" that had occurred in the interim, presumably because of her absence. Led by the wife of the chief pastor of the Boston church, twenty-six female Bostonians begged the judges to "heare the cryes of mothers, and of children yet unborn." This time the court acquiesced, allowing Mistress Tilly to leave prison whenever she was needed at childbeds. But her husband eventually threatened to move the family elsewhere "unless her innocencie may be cleared." Consequently, in spring 1650, the women of Boston and Dorchester again submitted two petitions on her behalf, entreating the General Court to free her from custody absolutely.

That angered the officials, who accused her of seeking "nothinge but a compleat victory" and testily asserted that there was "as much need to upphold magistracy in their authority as Mris Tilly in her midwivery." Yet the women pointedly reminded the General Court that they wrote not just for themselves but also on behalf of "the security of your children." That the 130 signatories to the final petition intended that phrase to be taken literally is demonstrated by the fact that included among their number were several relatives of the legislators. Apparently the petitions were successful; at least, the Tillys still resided in Boston fifteen years later.

I have identified all but twenty of the petitioners, and will soon submit the edited documents to a scholarly journal. Research conducted by my assistants A. Paige Shipman '94 and Cathy Simpson '96 proves that most of the signatories - as would be expected - were women in their prime childbearing years or, occasionally, the mothers or mothers-in-law of such women. These remarkable petitions demonstrate the centrality of reproductive issues in women's lives from the earliest years of the English colonies and thus provide a striking backdrop against which to interpret such currently contentious subjects as abortion rights, in vitro fertilization, and research on human embryos. They also reveal that the "gender gap" has a long history in American politics: the petitions leave no doubt that the verdict in the trial of Mistress Alice Tilly would have been quite different had women comprised the Bay Colony"s Court of Assistants in the spring of 1649.
found on ancestry.com

William Tilley, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, pg. 686
Tilley, William, Boston, had w. Alice, ±62 in 1665, a popular mid-wife and a trial to the magistrates, who having put her in jail for some offense, ±1649, were showered by petitions from Boston and Dorchester women in her favor. She, under his p/a, sold their Boston ho. 1649, he prob. at Cape Porpus where he was in 1650 and 1652. Both liv. 1665. Only kn. ch: Sarah, m. 1st Henry Lynn(2), 2d Hugh Gunnison(2), 3d Capt. John Mitchell(5), 4th Dr. Francis Morgan (2).
found on ancestry.com

Alice Frost Blower Tilley
Birth: 1594
Death: unknown

Thomas Blower married at Stanstead, Suffolk, 19 November 1612, Alice Frost; baptized at Stanstead, 1 December 1594, daughter of Edward and Thomasine (Belgrave) Frost.

They had 7-8 children: Hannah, Alice BRACKETT, Joshua, Thomas, Mary, John, Thomas, and (probably) Pyam.

She married (2) probably at Barnstable, soon after 6 July 1640, William Tilley. Alice (Frost) (Blower) Tilley was sister of Thomasine Frost, who married Edmund Rice, immigrant to Sudbury, and also of Elizabeth Frost, who married 1st Henry Rice and then Philemon Whale, the latter also an immigrant to Sudbury.

William Tilley married, soon after 6 July 1640 (probably at Barnstable), Alice (Frost) Blower, daughter of Edward Frost and widow of Thomas Blower (1635, Boston). (On 6 July 1640, John Mayo, minister at Barnstable, certified "that the purpose of marriage betwixt Mr. Tylly of Barnestable and Mrs. Blower of Boston hath been three several times published in the meeting at Barnestable"

Several interconnected topics in the life of William Tilly deserve discussion: the identity of his wife; a fine which he incurred soon after his arrival in New England; and whether he had any children.

On 18 February 1633/4, the Court of High Commission, convened at Lambeth Palace, considered the case of "Henricus [sic] Blower." On 24 January 1632/3, "she was fined in £100 for her notorious contempt of ecclesiastical laws and jurisdiction in her [illegible] carriages and so the [illegible] and the certifying thereof was respited until this day. This day inasmuch as neither the said Alice Blower nor anybody else for her gave in any petition to desire any mitigation of her fine imposed upon her, the said fine of an hundred pounds was [ordered?] to be certified into his highness exchequer and estreated to his highness use." On 26 June 1634, the case was considered again, the commissioners "finding that the said Alice Blower had removed herself long since from Sudbury where the offense was given, and thereby the scandal grown by her taken away, and for that she had in all obedience submitted herself and would continue herself conformable to the order's doctrine, and discipline of the Church of England, she was dismissed from further attendance touching this cause, and all bonds by her or any her sureties entered touching the same are ordered to be cancelled and delivered unto her." On 27 March 1668, "Alice Tilly the wife of William Tilly aged about 66 years testifieth that Martha Haffield late of Ipswich deceased and sometime wife of Richard Haffield of Ipswich also deceased was maidservant to this deponent about the time she was married to the said Richard Haffield and the said Richard had a son and two daughters by a former wife to which children the said Martha the latter wife carried herself very abusive and unreasonable both in want of necessary apparel and other ways as in many hard words and blows in my sight and hearing; further this deponent testifieth that the parents of the said Martha abovenamed were very poor and were not able to give her any portion that was known to their neighbors the which caused this deponent and other of neighbors to wonder at the strange and froward behavior to her said husband his children." (This deposition was part of the contest over the estate of Richard Haffield.)This deposition provides two pieces of information impinging on the identity of the wife of William Tilly. First, Richard Haffield (1635, Ipswich) derived from Sudbury, Suffolk, and married his second wife, Martha, about 1627, which places this deponent in Sudbury at that time, which is consistent with what we know about Alice (Frost) Blower. This also connects with the Court of High Commission record of 26 June 1634, which stated that "Alice Blower had removed herself long since from Sudbury."Second, she gives her age as "about 66 years" in 1668, which places her birth about 1602, whereas Alice (Frost) Blower was baptized in 1594, and so would seem to have been nearly a decade older than this deponent. However, the wife of William Tilly apparently made another deposition, in which she gave her age as about 62 in 1665, which would place her birth in about 1603, in accord with the 1668 deposition. Since these two stated ages are the only evidence inconsistent with the identification of Alice (Frost) Blower as the wife of William Tilly, and since all the other evidence points towards that identification, we suggest that in her seventh decade Alice chose to present herself as a younger woman, given that she was more than a decade older than William Tilly.Alice (Frost) (Blower) Tilly was a prominent midwife, who in 1648 ran afoul of the authorities and was jailed, which stimulated a number of undated petitions in her support, signed by dozens of Boston and Dorchester women. On 17 November 1648, "W[illia]m Tilly of Boston do hereby make and ordain my wellbeloved friend Hugh Gullison of Boston my true and lawful attorney for me and in my name to implead and arrest and prosecute and recover of W[illia]m Phillips of Boston and his wife or either or both of them or any person or persons that hath or shall hereafter defame or slander my wellbeloved wife Alice Tilly in respect of her calling or otherwise … and also in case my said attorney shall at any time be wanting or disabled to prosecute the said parties, then I do also hereby authorize my friend John Sherman to prosecute the said parties." (This document may also have authorized Alice Tilly to sell her husband's Boston land a few months later.)

Soon after his arrival in New England, William Tilly had been fined for not paying excise duties on wine he had imported. On 11 November 1647, "upon Mrs. Tyly her petition, the court doth think fit that the fine of £4, mentioned in her petition, stand charged upon her husband, and be forthwith levided according to law."

On 16 April 1649, "William Tylly," writing from "Cape Porpes," petitioned the General Court that he "was for certain years since by the Court of Assistants holden in the 10 month when Mr. Dudleigh was governor fine[d] £4 for refusing to take an oath and thereon to declare what he had done with a parcel of wine that he had lawfully bought that year before and as honestly paid for and as righteously sold according to an order of the General Court there produced though your petitioner told them he was ready to pay anything they proved against him and also of four butts that he had in all he could procure eleven quarter cask carried out of the province besides smaller rundlets and cases, but for the taking this oath was altogether against his conscience neither could a nice rule be given him from God's word to justify such a practice in him, now sithence the marshal still lieth at me to pay it and thinking that I have such good reasons to move the honored court to pity me herein I have made bold to present my desires that the marshal may cross his book or I may have my quietness considering (1) I have but little if debts paid, (2) the difficulty in getting £4 in my employment, (3) none required to take the oath but myself, (4) the order never published as I was credibly informed, I am sure that I never heard of it for if I had I hope I should have saved the imposing of that oath if all the springs in the country had not been dry, (5) another order on record extant at the same time repealing the order by which I was fined, (6) the great immunity that you have granted in that [once?] laws published to the world's view that no man's estate shall be taken under pretence of law, but by law established and sufficiently published, the request of your poor petitioner is therefore again to entreat to take off this fine from me and I shall ever rest yours as I hope I am in Jesus Christ." On 4 May 1649, Massachusetts Bay General Court "received a petition from W[illia]m Tilley, for the abatement of a fine of four pounds, the answer whereof was, that with the 10s. for fees for the petition, all the fine should be abaed to forty shillings."In this deposition, Tilly claimed that he was fined at a court "in the 10 month when Mr. Dudleigh was governor," which would be in December of 1634. This would imply that this deponent could not have been the 1635 passenger. In this case, however, Tilly's memory has failed him, for the court order under which he was fined was made on 13 December 1636 (when Henry Vane was governor) and was repealed on 12 March 1637/8. The record of the imposition of the fine itself has not survived, nor was the fine referred to in the general amnesty of 1638.William Tilley witnessed documents at Cape Porpus on 8 July 1650 and 1 July 1652 and at York or Kittery on 27 February 1651[/2?]. Note that his removal from Boston to Cape Porpus took place at the time his wife was under attack for her midwifing activitiesNoyes, Libby and Davis stated that the "only known child" of William Tilly was "Sarah, married 1st Henry Lynn, 2d Hugh Gunnison, 3d Capt. John Mitcvhell, 4th Dr. Francis Morgan." Some of this same information was included in the sketches of Henry Lynn (1630, Boston) and of Hugh Gunnison (1635, Boston). This conclusion was based on William Tilly's involvement in a dispute arising out of the estate of Hugh Gunnison, which gave rise to the following document, in which Sarah calls William her father.On 26 May 1660, "Sarah Gunison" wrote to "Captain [Richard] Davenport" that " I have here enclosed Mr. Robert Saltinstoone's bill and my earnest request unto you is that you will be pleased to do me that favorable courtesy as in my name and behalf and for me to draw up a petition and profer it unto the General Court according to law concerning my land due from the country. Sir, I suppose I need not write at large about it yourself being so well informed in the business and willing to help one which is not in a capacity to help herself. I have intimated concerning it unto Mr. Russell, pary also advise with him desiring his assistance. I have not it spoken with [Mr.?] Peter Coffin and therefore cannot fully inform who I desire should be appointed to bound the land." After dating and signing this letter, Sarah added this addendum: "For if you shall lack money for the proferring of the petition ask it of my father Tilly" [MA Arch 15B:58].

However, close attention to chronology shows that Sarah cannot have been William's biological daughter. On 13 April 1660, "William Tilly aged about fifty [altered to fifty-three] years" deposed regarding a bond engaged in by his son-in-law Hugh Gunnison. This would mean that William Tilly was born about 1607, which is in accord with his age given on the 1635 passenger list. On 29 June 1670, "Mrs. Sarah Morgan the wife of Mr. Francis Morgan aged about 51 years" deposed in a civil proceeding, which computes to an approximate year of birth of 1619, consistent with her marriage to Henry Lynn by 1636. Thus, William Tilly was only about twelve years older than Sarah.A possible solution arises when we look at the life of his wife. Alice Frost was baptized in 1594, married Thomas Blower in 1612, and had children born at Sudbury, Suffolk, between 1613 and 1630. Probably because of gaps in the parish registers of Sudbury, however, no baptismal records have been found for this family between 1615 and 1621. We propose that the Sarah who married Henry Lynn and three other men was Sarah Blower, born about 1619, daughter of Thomas and Alice (Frost) Blower. She would, then, have been William Tilly's stepdaughter. This hypothese derives some slight further support from the observation that Henry Lynn and wife Sarah had a daughter Sarah who married William Rogers, and that this latter couple named a daughter Alice.On 11 October 1665, in "answer to the petition of Mr. Willjam Tilley, the court, having heard what he & his wife could say for themselves, judge meet to order and enjoin Mr. Tilley and his wife forthwith to live together as man and wife, that Mr. Tilly provide for her as his wife, and that she submit herself to him as she ought, on the penalty of forty pounds on his part, & imprisonment on hers"
Find A Grave Memorial# 38442871
found on ancestry.com

Women's Action Heroine
Alice Tilly or Tilley, a prominent Boston midwife, was at the center of a huge feminist controversy—indeed, one that historians refer to as American women’s first collective political action. The dispute erupted in spring 1649 when she the 54-year-old Tilly was tried, convicted, and imprisoned on spurious charges in Boston, and hundreds of women rallied to her support—a precursor to future actions around reproductive rights. For more information, see the really excellent scholarly article “The Ablest Midwife That Wee Knowe in the Land: Mistress Alice Tilly and the Women of Boston and Dorchester,” by Mary Beth Norman, 1998. A citation, ordering instructions, and part of the article can be found at http://www.jstor.org/pss/2674325. Another article by Norman, “American Women’s First Collective Political Action: Boston 1649–1650” can be read and printed free at http://www.arts.cornell.edu/newsletr/spring96/norton.htm. (Alice, described as “an active Puritan” and as “a professed servant of Jesus Christ both in old England and new,” originally married Thomas Blower on 19 November 1612 in Stanstead; he died in 1639 in Massachusetts, and she remarried William Tilly, a wine merchant 13 years her junior, at Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1640. William lived in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and the couple had what might now be described as “a commuting marriage.” While Mistress Tilly, as she was known, was being harassed for practicing midwifery, her husband originated a countersuit against Susannah Phillips, one of her detractors, for slander. Because of the impassioned protestations of Boston women that Alice was necessary to their health and survival, she was actually allowed to leave prison to attend to the needs of women in the throes of childbirth. Little is known about her life after 1650.
found on ancestry.com

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