The Notorious George Barlow – Part 3

The Brute and Bully At Home

George Barlow’s life before 1657 is a void. He brought to Sandwich, two sons, Moses and Aaron, but no wife.  Some researchers conjecture the marriage and births took place in England, and that George may have had other children. Presumably, his first wife died and presumably, of natural causes, but this article is about George’s life with a new wife.

The year 1657 was a milestone for Jane Besse, too, albeit a sad one. Her husband Anthony, one of the town’s original founders, fell ill in February and died in May. In the 18 years before, Anthony and Jane had built a house in the Spring Hill section, improved land, acquired livestock and other necessities which sustained a family of five girls and two boys.

Anthony Besse had a will, a standard instrument to convey property to heirs, but details add color to the legalese. Anthony named Jane his executrix, proof that he trusted in her judgment and abilities (perhaps surprisingly, this action was not uncommon). My attention was drawn to the bequests:

To Jane my wife, three Cowes… blacking Moose and Cherrey…

“To Dorcas my daughter two heifers… Nubbin and Spark and one more now

 which we call young moose;

“To Ann my daughter one heifer which we call pretty

To Nehemiah my son one heifer formerly Disposed to him Called Coll:

“… unto my two sonnes…Nehemiah and David…two steers…Burnett & Raven; 

“To my Daughter Mary one heifer wee call browne; 

“To my Daughter Jane one heifer wee call Daysey.”

While most seventeenth century wills designate livestock like inanimate property (description – cows, steers, horses, etc. and a quantity), the Besse animals were unique individuals with names, – Nubbin, Spark, Pretty, Brownie, Daisy… suggesting the Besses were good-natured and caring folks.  Anthony knew his children’s favorites and assigned parting gifts to make them happy. Yet, how hard it must have been for the Besses to be happy when this thoughtful and loving family man was gone from their lives!

Some months after burying Anthony, Jane gave birth to his last child.  The widow had to cope with the needs of eight fatherless children, a house, farm, animals, – and grief, a burden daunting for the stoutest heart. We don’t know how long the Widow Besse was on her own, and typically, widows remarried.  However, what moved Jane Besse to yoke herself to the cruel and tyrannical George Barlow – is beyond understanding.

The date of their marriage escaped record, but Plymouth County Court records document that it wasn’t going well. On March 4, 1661/62, Jane’s eldest daughters, Dorcas, Ann, and Mary Besse, went before the court for –

“crewell and unnatural practice toward their father-in-law George Barlow.”

Apparently, having failed to earn respect at home, George handled his stepdaughters the way he handled everyone who pissed him off, – he hauled them into court. To be fair, details of the case suggest the girls were not entirely blameless, and punishment was duly ordered.

At the same time, the court recognized the Barlow household was getting out of control. George and Jane –

“were both severely reproved for their most ungodly living in contention with the other, and admonished to live otherwise.”

Conflict was inevitable when George moved in with Jane, – into the house built by, and filled with memories of Anthony Besse. To make that situation work would have required a man of great sensitivity and delicacy, – not a man known from Cape Cod to Boston for his dickishness. George, the evil stepfather, appears in court again on June 3, 1662.

We learned above that Anthony Besse’s will gave his daughter Jane a heifer the little girl herself probably named Daysey (Daisy). Added on to Jane’s natural affection for Daisy, was the cow’s status as remembrance of her departed father. So George took it away. If he gave a reason for doing so, the court ruled it invalid:

“concerning a cow belonging to Jane, daughter of Anthony Bessey, of Sandwich, the Court have ordered G[e]orge Barlow, in whose hands the cow has been for some time, to return her to the overseers of the estate of the said Anthony Bessey, to be disposed of by them for the use and the good of the said Jane Bessey.”

In that same year (1662), two of the Besse girls he took to court, Ann and Mary, got married. This development would have significantly decreased domestic tension. Then in 1664, Nehemiah Besse, Jane’s eldest son, reached the age of majority and took over his father’s property. This prompted George and Jane to move some miles away from Spring Hill to Pocasset, (part of Bourne, Massachusetts today).

A change of scene can mean a fresh start in life, a chance to make things better, – but George got worse. On March 6, 1665/66, he was fined ten shillings for being drunk – a second time. Then in May 1665, he was accused of –

attempting the chastity of Abigaill, the wife of Jonathan Pratt, by aluring words and actes of force.”

It seems surprising that after these public transgressions, Jane bore George two sons, John (about 1669) and Nathan (1670).  Because she was also cited by the court for the couple’s scream fights, it’s doubtful she meekly forgave him. And, though it is awful to contemplate, the possibility that George also used “actes of force” on his wife is consistent with his character. In 1677 he was back in court for being “turbulent, and threatening to drive away the minister, Mr. Smith.” He returned in 1678 for being a “turbulent fellow” and was bound over for the next court session.

Fanatical, delusional, or just plain mean, George Barlow apparently believed he was right about everything. There’s no evidence he ever tried to reform his antisocial behavior, or regretted the terrible suffering he caused. He held grudges to the grave. In his will, to Aaron and Moses, sons of his first marriage, George gave only five shillings each, adding, “that is all I give them,” a verbal twist of the knife his sadistic nature couldn’t resist even as he prepared for death.

A widespread and popular story claims that George Barlow “ended his days alone and in want.” A version in Quaker tradition says he was reduced to begging for food and was fed by the very victims of his religious persecution. This would  be poetic justice, karma, and just deserts for this horrendously horrible human being; if only it were true. For the Quakers especially, it’s morality tale stressing the virtue of forgiveness, even for enemies. In real life, the craven George Barlow got away clean.

As mentioned earlier, George had a will because he had an estate. While it may have amounted to less than his neighbors, – eight acres, a house, farm stock and equipment, and household furnishings, – it refutes the notion that George was destitute and starving on the streets of Sandwich.

He wasn’t alone at the end either. The sons he had with Jane, John and Nathan, managed to stay in his good graces; he named them co-executors. George left his house, land, livestock, and all remaining worldly goods to the boys and their mother. George made his will on August 4, 1684 and it was probated October 31, 1684, so he also had time to make spiritual reckoning and prepare any arguments he might need for a heavenly court.

Despite all that passed between them, there’s little doubt Jane Besse Barlow dutifully nursed her truculent husband to the end. The awful George Barlow most likely died in his own bed, surrounded by family on a lovely fall day. He would have imparted his final words (typically religious admonishments) and had a good death. So the tale of George Barlow illustrates that life is not fair!

Somehow, the Barlow progeny all appear to have been respected members of the community. The sweetest outcome is that some married into Quaker families.  Barlow’s boys, John and Nathan, married and had seven sons between them, – but none of them carried the name George.

I imagine Jane was a happier widow this time around. I picture her pausing between chores to gaze toward the hearth for a moment. The aroma of a meat and vegetable stew emanates from an iron kettle and mingles with the scent of baking bread. Before the children and grandchildren tumble inside for the meal, Jane revels in the unaccustomed peace of her home, – and she whispers her heartfelt thanks to God.

SOURCES:

Plymouth Court Records. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

 The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

Cape Cod, Its People and Their History, Henry C. Kittredge; 1930.

Sandwich Historical Society; http://sandwichhistory.org

The History of The Society of Friends on Cape Cod by James Warren Gould; http://www.capecodquakers.org/smm_history.html

George Barlow of Sandwich Massachusetts – From the research of Edson Barlow; Barlow Genealogy 1998-2004; http://www.barlowgenealogy.com/GeorgeofSandwich/georgemass.html

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“The Notorious George Barlow” – Part 2

The Scourge of the Quakers – A Tyrant’s Rise and Fall

            In 1657, George Barlow, a stranger to town with two sons and no wife, swore the Oath of Fidelity in Sandwich, Massachusetts. George declared he was free of legal bond, a  member of the church (Congregational, of course), that he would defend the colony and vote on local governance issues. Thus, the forty-something single father, George Barlow met the standard for respectability, but his life prior to this moment seems lived off the record.

It happened that the term for the current Sandwich constable, William Bassett, was coming to an end.  On Bassett’s watch, Boston had disturbing reports that Plymouth Colony folks treated strangers with charity and tolerated differing views on Christianity as matters of conscience.

The Puritan masters lived in daily terror of eternal damnation and had documented sightings of Satan. They had reports of Quaker missionaries avoiding Boston for alternative routes into the country, so the government alert level was “code red.” And someone in Boston knew George Barlow was the blunt instrument they needed. On June 1, 1658, the General Court appointed Barlow constable for Sandwich – with a special mandate to harass religious dissenters, – and those who aided them.

The constable was tasked with jailing local offenders, administering punishment, and collecting fines and fees. He was also granted certain powers that included conscripting men to assist him. He could also appraise property and choose what goods to take in forfeiture when people had no money. A perk of the office allowed the constable to pocket ten percent of all monies collected. For a bully like George Barlow, was a dream come true. He could torment Quakers – and anyone else he liked, while making a good living for himself, and earning points with Boston.

A woman addresses an early meeting of Quakers. Few 17th Century minds could deal with the concept of equality.Image

Knowing their faith forbade them taking oaths (for loyalty belonged to god alone) and to harm others, George targeted Quaker men to conscript as deputies. He knew they must refuse, they wouldn’t fight, and they’d be fined. George impoverished several Sandwich families. From those with no money, George took what would hurt the most, –even to the essentials of living,  food, livestock, tools, household goods that included cooking pots. He sent men to prison in Boston, leaving behind women and children to fend off cold, hunger, and likely sexual harassment from…Constable George Barlow.

Image

Prominent Sandwich townspeople sympathized with the persecuted Quakers and helped the affected families. Non-Quakers also refused to serve Barlow as deputies and paid the price. We know of a few men who told George Barlow what they thought of him to his face.

 “At the 1 March 1658/9 Court “George Barlow complained against

William Gifford and Edward Perry in an action of defamation…”

 Thomas Clark told the court in June 1660 that “G[e]orge Barlow is such an one that he is a shame and reproach to all his masters; and that he… stands convicted and recorded of a lie at Newberry.”

Yet, on October 2, 1660, Boston promoted George to Special Marshal for Sandwich,  – and Yarmouth – and Barnstable:

“marshal Gorge Barlow shall have libertie to apprehend ant forraigne Quaker or Quakers in any pte of this Jurisdiction and to be prosecuted according to order provided in that case.”

However, at this point, Barlow’s career had reached its zenith. A few months after his jurisdiction expanded, George himself was fined 20 shillings by the court for cruelty to… wait for it…a Quaker!

            George had seized Benjamin Allen and locked him into the stocks at Sandwich overnight – with no legal provocation. He was also cited “for other wronges done by him unto the said Allin.” At the same court session, George was also ordered to return a shirt and other clothing he had taken from Ralph Allen. Additionally, the William Allen family was one of those impoverished, and not because William was a Quaker (at the time), but because he allowed Quakers to hold meetings in his home.

The political tide was turning. The legislature of Massachusetts Bay hanged four Quakers on Boston Common between 1659 and 1661 that included wife, mother and preacher, Mary Dyer. That year, King Charles II “explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism.” [2]

George Barlow was less and less able to pass himself off as respectable by any standard. He drank, he picked fights, he disturbed the peace, and he hauled family members into court. After his term in law enforcement ended and with it, his authority over others, George Barlow faded away. There is no record of the day he died. Ironically, the memory of George Barlow remains alive because of the people he victimized.

The Society of Friends established the oldest continuous monthly meeting in America at Sandwich, Massachusetts and its historians tell a story that is not a literal account, but one that captures the Quaker essence in a charming way. Scott Corbett in his book, Cape Cod’s Way, put it this way:

 “At a time when William Allen was in prison in Boston, Barlow paid a visit to the Allen home. He took the cow and all the food he could find, including some given to Mrs. Allen by neighbors. Then for good measure he confiscated the only kettle she had, and leered at her triumphantly. “Now, Priscilla, how will thee cook for thy family and friends? Thee has no kettle.

“George,” said Priscilla, “that God who hears the young ravens when they cry will provide for them. I trust in that God, and I verily believe the time will come when thy necessity will be greater than mine.”

Legend has it that Priscilla Allen was right.

***

Dear Readers, I’m surprised myself to announce a Part 3,  George Barlow – The Brute and Bully At Home,  is yet to come.

 ***

[1]  Title quote from The American Genealogist; Vol. XXVI, No. 4; October, 1950; Barclay, Mrs. John E.; Ann (Besse) Hallet, Step-Mother of Abigail (Hallet) Alden.

[2]  Boston Martyrs – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

Sources:

Sandwich Historical Commission; http://sandwichhistory.org/

Mass Moments: Quakers Outlawed in Plymouth; http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=347

Mary Dyer – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Dyer

Boston Martyrs – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

Sandwich Monthly Meeting; http://www.capecodquakers.org/

Title page of book on the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661); http://teachpol.tcnj.edu/amer_pol_hist/thumbnail11.html