A Murder and a Trial

A descendent of Daniel Cole sketch by Wendy Harty 2020

“Dam up a stream, and when it breaks open the flow becomes noisy and turbulent making more disturbance than when it was allowed to run quietly in its own channel.” Such was the musing of Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony after 30 years of being in the Americas. I think of Plymouth as that first Thanksgiving feast that I still love to celebrate. I also like to think of these pilgrims as resilient and adventuresome, with an unwavering religious faith; they were also human beings facing the same challenges of today – the physical, emotional and the spiritual.

“Come, come with me boys,” said William Collier of London. And so we three Cole brothers, Daniel, John and Job followed our merchant adventurer on board the “Mary and James” and set sail for the new colony. The year was 1633. It was a vast ocean and some died on board and we left family behind, likely never to be seen again. William Collier would become Governor Bradford’s assistant for 28 years from 1634-1665 and in 1643 was one of the plenipotentiaries of the United Colonies. A plenipotentiary is a diplomatic agent, invested with full power or authority to transact business. (Some say it is William Collier’s daughter Ruth who married Daniel. If true he would be my 9th great grandfather.) I finally have a DNA connection to Daniel Cole my 8th great grandfather.)

The Cole family name is an old one found in the annals of the American colonies. Their stories tell of a fair intelligence which made them independent, self-reliant and courageous. They became good soldiers, prominent lawyers, eminent diviners, accomplished physicians and had pioneer accomplishments. They clung to their religious principles and hard working habits of their Puritan ancestry and spread good examples, trying to make the nation great.

Daniel Cole was born December 12, 1614 in England. He was a tailor and married Ruth ?. They started life at Yarmouth where Daniel was a member of the militia. He was listed as a member of the Yarmouth County Train Band in 1643, a revolt against the military. They moved the 15 miles to Eastham where my other great grandfather’s Edward Bangs and John Doane (read the 7 Men of Eastham blog) came to begin this community from Plymouth. Daniel was the town clerk, a selectman (meant he could vote) and was deputy sheriff 10 times. On June 10, 1661, Daniel was licensed to retail wine and strong waters. Daniel is listed as the inspector of shot and lead in 1662 at Eastham, where “every township provided a barrel of powder and lead or bullets to be kept by some trusty man in every town ready for defense in tyme of need and danger.”

Daniel Cole died on a Monday, December 21, 1694, at Eastham, Barnstable, Massachusetts having reached the age of 80. His will lists all 11 children born at Eastham and all reached adulthood: John, Timothy, Israel, James, William, Daniel Jr. Thomas, Hipzibath, Ruth, Mary and Hester/Esther.

Esther would marry Medad Atwood and become the parents to Samuel Atwood who married Hannah Doane parents to my blogged about Keziah Atwood.

It was good to read that all 11 children got along. At probate all mutually agreed “to be contented and satisfied with y divition and settlement of ye Estate”

The Story of a Murder and a Trial

Daniel arose early on October 4th, 1648. When he left the house the sky was a uniform grey. As he rode along a thin mist filled the air from off the Atlantic Ocean. The sky overhead changed to a mix of cream and grey just like the color of a mourning-dove. The day was brightening but not so Daniel’s mood. At 34 years old, Daniel Cole was about to do his further civic duty. He was a young father himself, with his son, John, age 4, the same age as Martha. Daniel was on his way to Plymouth Colony to do jury duty.

What were these pilgrims ancestors of mine experiencing? Did Daniel comfort his Ruth just a little more and try to lighten her load? Ruth as a good Puritan wife would be tasked with running the house and family, while remaining subserviant to her husband and striving for godly perfection. Daniel and Ruth would have been shaken as were their tight knit community.

Back at Plymouth, the community celebrated the marriage of George Clarke to Alice Marten, January 22, 1639. George farmed two miles north of the town on a ten acre plot of land. Alice tended the small wooden house. A typical day would be arising before the dawn, building a fire, hanging kettles over an open hearth, fetching water, making the clothing after spinning the hemp or flax and grinding corn. Alice gave birth in 1643 to their first child, Abigail. The next year another girl was born in 1644, Martha Clarke. George Clarke died. As was colonial custom the widow, Alice quickly wed Richard Bishop, the hired man on December 5, 1644. No records of trouble between them exist and another daughter was born in 1646.

That Saturday morning was Alice more sleep deprived, emotionally fragile and overwhelmed? Tomorrow would be the Sabbath and two meals need to be prepared in advance of the day of rest. The red flags were probably in evidence but there were no medical tests for the fluctuations in hormones, her drop in thyroid levels or a compromised immune system. Alice was experiencing a medical emergency possibly hallucinating, extremely anxious and may not have slept for days. No one would know; she hid her feelings. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Alice had lost one husband, had no grieving time and had three children in four years. Did she lose her joy of living until she gave up out of frustration and mental exhaustion?

Sister Rachel was running errands and stopped at the Bishop home to ask Alice if she needed help for Sabbath. Alice asked Rachel to fetch some buttermilk and handed her the kettle. Rachel would report she saw nothing amiss. Rachel returned to find Alice very sad and dumpish. There was blood at the foot of the ladder leading up to the loft. Rachel did not look but ran home to her parents who called for help and an inquest was started. Eleven men took turns one at a time climbing the ladder to the loft.

Little four old Martha Clarke was lying on her left side, dressed in her shift, a gash across her throat with a blody knife beside her.

Alice confessed to the the murder although she could not remember doing it. A Court of Assistants hearing in New Plymouth was called on August 1, 1648. Governor William Bradford presided with Ruth’s father, William Collier assisting. At this hearing Alice Martin confessed to committing murder saying she was sorry.

Daniel Cole was called to jury duty with seventeen other men when a General Court trial was held that October 4, 1648. This grand jury found Alice Bishop guilty and she was indicted for felonious murder. Alice Bishop was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until her body was dead. Immediately she was taken to he execution where the sentence was carried out.

I cannot judge Alice harshly for what was her mental state or circumstances at the time. Today we may have helped with post-partum depression or with mental illness and prevented the infanticide. If you suffer reach out.

One thought on “A Murder and a Trial

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