Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Crime of Fornication

John Ellis first shows up in Sandwich, Massachusetts in 1643 on a list of those between the ages of 16 and 60 and able to bear arms.

The next time he shows up in the records is on August 20, 1644, when he is charged with fornication with his then wife, Elizabeth (Freeman) Ellis. They are my 9th great-grandparents. It would be great to know what the witnesses said in their testimony. It is interesting that part of the sentence was that his wife had "to stand by" while the whipping was carried out.

"A warrant [was] set forth to bring in the bodies of Jonathan ffish & Mary his wife; Nathaniel ffish; Jane the wife of William Wood; Rose the wife of Joseph Holly; the wife of Richard Kerby; the wife of Michael Turner & Joanna Swyft, widdow, to give evidence in John Ellis and his wife's case..." 

Then on June 4, 1645:
"John Ellis of Sandwich...and his now censured to be whipt at publicke post and Elizabeth his wife to stand by whilst execucon of the sentence is pformed; which was accordingly done. And the said John Ellis for his long and tedious delayes occasioning much trouble and charge to the countrey, for that he would not confess the truth untill the present, is fyned 5 li." 

The first child of Elizabeth Freeman was born around August 20, 1644, and it was about this time that John Ellis married Elizabeth. However, no record has been found that names that child. The first Ellis child recorded would seem to be "Benet Elles " (no parents listed) in 1648-49. So what happened to that first child of Elizabeth? It appears that the first child was Elizabeth, my 8th great-grandmother. She married Samuel Briggs. John and Elizabeth (Freeman) Ellis went on to have nine more children together.

Children of John & Elizabeth (Freeman) Ellis

  1. Elizabeth
  2. Bennett
  3. Mordecai
  4. Deborah
  5. Joel
  6. Matthias
  7. Manoah
  8. Freeman
  9. Gideon
  10. William

John & Elizabeth (Freeman) Ellis
Elizabeth (Ellis) Briggs
Elizabeth (Briggs) Benson
Caleb Benson
Content (Benson) Barrows
Rachel (Barrows) Ellingwood
Asa Freeman Ellingwood - nice tribute with his middle name
Nina K. (Ellingwood) Gibbs
Annie F. (Gibbs) Cotton
Fern Lyndell Cotton - my grandmother

See the New England Historical Genealogical Register Vol. 119 for more information.


  1. Very interesting post! I'm so envious that you can trace your family back so far. I can only get back to their arrival in America around the potato famine timeframe.

    I was struck (no pun intended) by the fact that she had to stand by him while he was whipped. I imagine since they referred to her as his "now wife" and because they were married close to the birth that she wasn't pregnant, but I can' help but think that they hoped a lash or two might also strike her. Even if that wasn't the case it was a way of embarrassing her further and emotionally scarring to boot. Thank goodness for modern times! We are far from perfect today, but we've gotten a little better!

    1. I can't imagine having to watch someone you love being whipped and knowing that you are the reason for it.

  2. Hello cousin (again) - I also descend from John Ellis and Elizabeth Freeman. Thank you for sharing this story of my 9th great-grandparents!

    1. Love making these connections! I found another connection to Heather Rojo today based on her Surname Saturday post.