Pandora’s box

I opened Pandora’s box. Traditionally, Daniel Fisher is credited with marrying Abigail Marrett/Marriot/Marrott, etc., daughter of Great Migration parents Thomas and Susan (Wolfenden) Marrett.[1]

This is supported by the record of marriage in Dedham of Daniell Fisher to Abigal Marriott on 17 November 1641, and by the will of Thomas Marrett dated 15 October 1663 naming his daughter Abigail [no surname given] and grandchildren “Lidea, Amos, John and Jeremiah Fisher.” All well and good, except the Dedham vital and church records include seven children for Daniel and Abigail Fisher: Abigail, 1646; Daniel 1649/50; Lydia, 1652; Amos, 1654; John, 1656; Jeremiah, 1658; and Esther, 1667. Daniel’s wife Abigail became a member of the church in March 164[6/4]7 (although note the gap of five years between the 1641 marriage and the first recorded child in 1646).

This is the point where someone usually says “they were just left out of the will,” but I am a staunch believer that nobody “just gets left out” of a will.

Okay, Esther was born after Marrett’s will, but what about the two older children – Abigail and Daniel? If Daniel married Marrett’s daughter in 1641, they should have been Marrett’s grandchildren, too, right? This is the point where someone usually says “they were just left out of the will,” but I am a staunch believer that nobody “just gets left out” of a will.

I took another look at the marriage record for Daniel and Abigail in the digital version of the existing Dedham records – which is clearly a later copy judging from the handwriting style and neatness of presentation, and thus open to copying errors. Considering that Thomas Marrett lived in Cambridge and was deacon of the Cambridge church – why would his daughter be getting married in Dedham, or why isn’t there a record of the marriage in Cambridge?

After spending a day going in circles, I am presently at the conclusion that the 1641 marriage record is incorrect – if Daniel did marry someone named Abigail in 1641, it wasn’t Marrett’s daughter. Possibly the date should be 1651, which would slip Marrett’s daughter in just before the birth of Lydia, who is named first in the will – although that still begs the question of the marriage in Dedham instead of Cambridge.

The gap between 1641 and the birth of Abigail in 1646, while, of course, possibly the result of children who did not survive, suggests the date is wrong, and Daniel was married to Abigail’s mother closer to 1645. This first wife Abigail would have had to die when young Daniel was born, or shortly after, to allow for a year of mourning before Daniel’s remarriage.

Somebody have another conclusion?


[1] Robert Charles Anderson, George F. Sanborn, Jr., and Melinde Lutz Sanborn, The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, 7 vols. (Boston: 1999–2009), 5: 21–22.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

35 thoughts on “Pandora’s box

  1. Although those first children are named Daniel and Abigail and despite the record in the church, is it possible that Abigail had a previous marriage? Could these first two children be stepchildren and intentionally left out of the Will?

    1. Elizabeth, yes the children Daniel and Abigail are both recorded Fisher children. If Abigail Marret had children by a previous husband, they would still be Thomas Merritt’s grandchildren.

    1. That would be my first question, too. But, it still doesn’t answer the question of the gap between marriage in 1641 and a child born in 1646.

      1. For this period, a gap in the records of five years between a marriage and the first recorded child doesn’t strike me as unusual at all. The first two or three pregnancies may have ended in miscarriage or stillbirth — miscarriages were never recorded, stillbirths often were unrecorded.

        This isn’t the same time or place, but in my own intensive research on the 19th century parish records of the Eastern European village where my grandparents were born (where almost everyone was a poor peasant), I’ve found numerous instances of a first recorded pregnancy being four or five years after a marriage. Perhaps it was miscarriages, perhaps the husband’s search for work or his being drafted for military service made him unavailable to beget children with his wife. In this village stillbirths were not uncommon and apparently always recorded, but early miscarriages were not — still, the recorded stillbirths in the families I’ve reconstructed usually fill gaps between children. Nobody knew about or believed in the morality of contraception back then, after all, so as a rule a wife would get pregnant about every two years or so.

        All this is to say that I see nothing odd about a lack of recorded children in a five year period after a marriage.

        1. Jared, That is certainly true, non-viable pregnancies were common and that could certainly be the answer for the gap, but the question is more about whether there is an error in the 1641 date and the gap adds one more pebble to the puzzle. This was not a period of time when husbands were off in the army or looking for work, so can’t use that excuse here.

  2. I don’t think the gap between the marriage and Daniel’s birth is as big of a chronological issue when you take into account that the gap between Daniel’s birth and Abigail’s is a nearly as long four years.

  3. 1641: the year the English CIvil War began- did Daniel return to fight with the “Roundheads?” Or, was he a mariner and on a long voyage? RE: the exclusion of the older two, yes perhaps died, perhaps also moved away or joined the outcasts in Rhode Island? Can they be located later? What else was happening in 1641-45? Are there other Marrett families in MBC then? If so, could the 1641 bride be a different Abigail Marrett? What fun!

    1. Elizabeth, in this case Daniel Fisher is documented as a stay-at-home famer in Dedham where he had a passle of relatives. There is no other Marrett family that I have come across, either.

  4. Hmmmm…. Possibilities!!! Is the original marriage record available. My solution is that they were m. in 1644. You might find by glassing the original document that 1641 is actually 1644; pen and ink, you know. I would be more on the lookout for the possibility that Esther was actually daughter Abigail’s daughter, adopted by Mom and Dad. More likely than a 9 year “surprise”.

    1. The existing Dedham records are all later copies and you can read Bob Anderson’s opinion of their accuracy in is Great Migration Newsletter (vols. 1-20), pp. 55-56, which isn’t high. What exists clearly puts the marriage in the group with other 1641 marriages, but the opportunity for error exists. One possibility is that if the marriage is correct, perhaps the brides’ surname was missing or illegible but whomever made the later copy knew that Daniel did marry Abigail Marrett and was “helpful” but filling in her name?
      Esther is probably not young Abigail’s child. Abigail was eligible as far as age, but there is no record for fornication or bastardy in the abstracts of Middlesex court records — in a little colonial town, you didn’t cover those things up successfully.

  5. My ancestors must not have been aware of a year of mourning before remarrying. Some happened so soon I wonder if the next spouse was planned before the current spouse had died. These days that would bring a thorough investigation.

    1. Particularly when there were very young children that needed care, a young widower in those days often tended to remarry quite soon, sometimes as quickly as two weeks after his first wife’s death. I have seen this mostly where there was no unmarried sister available to step in and help out. Sometimes the second wife is a sister of the first.

    2. I think it depended on the age of the youngest child left to the widower. In my father’s Scottish family, my 2-gt-grandfather brought in a housekeeper almost immediately, to care for 5 children including a 3-month-old. I believe she may have been hired as a wet-nurse, since she had a child of her own the previous year, and in 1849 there would
      have been no other way to nurse the infant. They apparently maintained the niceties, however, since they did not marry for a full 2 years after the first wife’s death; and their first child was born 10 1/2 months after the marriage.

      1. Nancy, yes, a wet nurse for a baby was essential and accepted, sometimes they were married neighbors who just took the baby over to their house. Anything that worked in the best interest of the children.

    3. Toni, there definitely were emergency situations where the quick remarriage was needed for care of children, but in this case Daniel Fisher had many relatives in Dedham, including his married sister Lydia (Fisher) Morse, who would have taken the children in if needed. I need to do some more research on the subject, but my experience has been in these early colonial times, the period of mourning was respected if possible.

  6. Alicia, I’ll be watching your progress on this puzzle with great interest as I am a direct descendant of Daniel and Abigail through their daughter Lydia. Lydia (Fisher) Chickering, 1652-1737, as I’m sure you know, was the daughter who was serving girl to the Regicides (Goffe and Whalley) according to a statement made by Rev. Mr. Jonathan Townsend in Needham.

    1. Clarence, yes Lydia Chickering was quite a lady. In her case it is not disputed that her mother was Abigail Marrett as she is named in the grandfather’s will. It is just the older two who are presently in limbo.

  7. Without seeing the original record, there is no reason to say it is incorrectly transcribed. Occam’s razor. There is not enough information given to draw any conclusion, and the possibilities are endless, so it is moot to describe the family in another way. Either accept it as is and move on, or get the original record up close. Where are the Dedham records. Lastly, marriages occurred in the husband’s parish, not the wife’s, except when they didn’t.

    1. James, New England marriages traditionally occur in the bride’s church. One of my answers above tells more about the state of the Dedham records, no originals surviving and copies full of other found errors. If I take the marriage at face value, then the will doesn’t fit, if I take the will at face value, the marriage doesn’t fit. So which one to accept?

      1. The WILL.

        You can see the original (I take it) and those 4 are specifically named as TM’s grandchildren in relation to his daughter Abigail. As I assume there were (1) no objections to the will when probated, and Daniel as father of the 2 eldest could have objected on their behalf as heirs also of his wife, then Abigail is NOT their mother.

        Also supporting the will as THE controlling document are (2) the known “secondary” nature of the Dedham VRS as demonstrated by Anderson: copies of copies (later hands being helpful as you note), and (3) the marriage is recorded in Dedham and NOT in Cambridge, where the bride resided and her father was a church deacon; I am not aware that dual recordings ever happened in the early NE records (and more’s the pity for us). Though as Daniel did indeed marry Abigail Marrett, it would seem that he went “wife hunting” in the inner towns by 1651.

        Therefore, I conclude there are 2 wives: (1) Abigail _____, the mother of Abigail and Daniel and others who d.y., she perhaps being from a Dedham family with a “lost” or even unknown Abigail, and (2) Abigail Marrett, the mother of the other children.

        The ONLY reason why TM would have left out the two older children, IF they were indeed his grandchildren, was if he knew at the time he drew the will that Abigail and Daniel were due to receive an inheritance (from someone else?) equal to or greater than whatever share he anticipated would be received by the 4 younger children. But I take it there is no evidence of Abigail or Daniel receiving such a legacy.

        Can this conclusion be absolutely wrong? Oh, sure. All it would take is a deed from Daniel’s son Daniel or even from Daniel’s children, say, in which he states he is selling property inherited from his grandfather Thomas Marrett (and ditto the same thing by Abigail’s husband). If such a deed exists (???), then TM made a separate Deed of Gift for some unknown reason to those two and while the legacy passed to them, it was not recorded. And things not being recorded we know to be a common occurrence.

        But Thomas Marrett left Abigail and Daniel Fisher out of his will for a very specific reason. Their mother NOT being his daughter is the most likely reason.

        We are lucky to have what we have.

        1. Hi Bob, Even if Daniel and Abigail had an inheritance elsewhere, if they were his heirs, he would still have had to include them __ie I leave thing to … because of.

          1. Not necessarily. TM could have been treating them here as many a father did who’s eldest daughter at marriage had already received her “portion” and so is not named in the will, a situation many a genealogical article goes to lengths to prove just so. It just wouldn’t surprise me if this was the case, even though in today’s legal formulation they would be noted so as to exclude from inheritance through mother Abigail of legacies from TM.

            HOWEVER, until that later reference in deed or will is found, the ONLY justifiable conclusion is that Abigail and Daniel are NOT the grandchildren of Thomas Marrett.

            And as the web provides the opportunity for “flexible genealogy”, I’d go with that position and not drive yourself crazy over searching for Missing Abigails.

  8. Could Daniel have had two marriages both to an Abigail?
    Could Esther’s birth be a transcription error and she was born in 1661 and not 1667?

  9. Alicia, I am very interested in the solution to this puzzle, as I am descended from Daniel’s son Daniel, who married Mary Fuller. This is a fascinating mystery.

    1. Jane, yes, though other than stating who Daniel’s mother was probably not, I don’t know if anything can be dug up on who his mother was. When I have some time, I will look at the indexes to given names in the Great Migration books, but there are a whole lot of Abigails and winnowing out eligibles will be a rainy day project.

  10. Re: “I am a staunch believer that nobody ‘just gets left out’ of a will.”

    On the subject of a different family . . . .

    We recently discovered that my late mother-in-law was a descendant of the Wrights of Oyster Bay, N.Y. Her ancestor Nicholas Wright, youngest of the three Wright brothers of Oyster Bay, wrote a will that named only his three sons (including my wife’s ancestor Caleb Wright) and passed over in complete silence his four daughters and their husbands.

    As you might expect, the daughters and their husbands weren’t at all pleased with that, so after their father’s death they and their brothers arranged a new settlement of the estate, one that very helpfully names Nicholas’ daughters — well, three of them. Even the new settlement passed over the eldest daughter Rebecca, who appears in records of her annulment from Eleazer Leverich on grounds of impotence, and who subsequently married William Frost. Apparently she’d already received her portion of the estate, so she and her husband didn’t have to sign onto the new settlement.

    It’s certainly true that nobody “just” gets left out of a will — but it did happen, and when it did, there’s always a reason for it, even if sometimes we can only guess at the reason.

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