Family drama

Families of the seventeenth century expected that their scandals would die out pretty much when the last neighbor who knew about them died. It is fortunate, therefore, that they cannot know how easy it is for us to dig up long-buried skeletons today. An example of this came to light while I was working on two Watertown families.[1]

William Parry [sic] settled in Watertown by 1641, and he and his wife Anna [maiden name unknown] had six children. Richard Hassell arrived in Cambridge about 1643 and he and wife Joan [maiden name unknown] had three children born there.

In 1667 two of William Parry’s children married two of Richard Hassell’s children: Anna Parry married Joseph Hassell, and Obadiah Parry married Esther Hassell. In 1673 Anna and Obadiah’s younger sister, Abiah Parry, was living in Richard Hassell’s household when Richard made a complaint to the Middlesex court against William Bull (Jr.) “for Irregular proceeding in making love or sute in order to marriage unto Abyah Parry Durr unto Goodman Parry of Watertown who {Abiah} liveth in the House of sd Richard & under his charge &c contrary to the mind of Goodman Parry the father.”

“for Irregular proceeding in making love or sute in order to marriage…”

Whatever misgivings everyone had about William Bull’s intentions, he and Abiah Perry were married in Watertown in 1674 and had three children born there: Abiah, 1675; William, 1678; and Andrew, 1684.  All well and good, except that in June 1682, Abiah’s sister Sarah accused William Bull of fathering her child.  “Wm Bull Junr appearing, & being accused by Sarah Perry his wifes sister of being the father of her Bastard child, He is sentenced, to help towards the maintenance of said Bastart, as the Court shall from time to time appoint him & paying fees is discharged.” Bond was given to assure that “Wm Bull shall pay two shill: & six pence each week in money, towards the maintenance of the Bastard child of Sarah Perry, until the Court take further order.”

Sarah Perry “being convicted of committing fornication with her sisters husband, Wm Bull Junr is sentenced to be severely whipt or to pay ten pounds fine.” Her father opted to pay the fine to save his daughter from punishment, but in October 1682 William petitioned the court for an abatement because his estate was “very low, together with my old age and ye age of my poore wife….” He asked the court “to show mercy to their daughter Sarah who has grievously sinned.” The court abated £5 of the fine.

No record of William and Sarah’s child appears in the Watertown records, and we do not know what became of it. We do know that Sarah died unmarried in Concord in January 1692/93 leaving no estate. Her sister Abiah died before September 1693, when William Bull married his second wife.


[1] The citations for these events will be published with the Early New England Families sketches for William Parry and Richard Hassell.

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.

11 thoughts on “Family drama

    1. Always nice. Obadiah died in an Indian attack at Dunstable in 1691 leaving widow Esther/Hester with six kids between 8 and 22. She remarried in 1693 to Martin Townsend who died five years later leaving her with five step-children and one natural child more. Quite amazing when one starts adding things up.

  1. Oh, my, yes! My several times grandmother ran off with the hired man. In 1650. She was 13 years older. She had 9 kids. AND one day her daughter with the hired man married the son of her ex-husband and his new wife. Oh, and grandma never married grandpa because she was at fault for the divorce so legally she couldn’t remarry. So they got whipped for fornication. More than once! But without that story I wouldn’t be here.

  2. This story reminds of an abbreviated form of an old truism: Familiarity breeds…..
    My g grandmother decided to marry the farm hand, 8 years her junior, after her divorce in 1895. Cant find the wedding date to determine if their son may have been a love child

    Regarding the surname Hassell I note in Anderson’s Great Migration the surname Vassal but no Hassell. Perhaps this could be a spelling variation?
    I welcome a reply.
    BTw I have Perry relatives from Rehoboth. Also my Benjamin? Hammond relative was one of the first casualties in the KIng Philip War in Swansea.

    1. I can’t comment on why the Hassell family don’t appear in Anderson’s work. But the name is definitely Hassell. Richard Hassell emigrated from SW England 1643. Perhaps that’s a little too late to be considered part of the Great Migration.
      Judith Vassal married Resolved White, Mayflower passenger. So Vassal is a different family altogether.

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