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Mary Bachiler, Our ScarletLetter Lady : Her ProbableConnection with Hester Prynne
by Janet A. Panger
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[Source: Panger, Janet A."Mary Bachiler, Our Scarlet Letter Lady : Her Probable Connection with Hester Prynne." In: Panger, Janet A., Staplesand Hulbert Families of Elk River, Minnesota. [Saint Cloud, Minnesota : Janet A. Panger], 2007. Posted here with permission from Janet A. Panger(via her letter to Stephen Robbins, 02 October 2008). With minor editing by Stephen Robbins (foronline formatting, and to indicate sources for each paragraph).]
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When I began researching my family history, othergenealogists warned me about horse thieves, scandals of various kinds, andunsavory characters who might emerge from the crumbling pages of old books andrecords, but I never expected to find Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter lady among my ancestors![Panger]
In 1996 just before we traveled to Maine in search of mycolonial ancestors, Steve Robbins, a researcher in my Gray line who also hasStaples ancestors, sent me a fascinating article about our ancestor, MaryBeadle Bachiler Turner, who lived in Kittery, Mainein the 1600s. Ross P. Staples and Mrs.Burton Murdock have told her story so well in an article written in 1980 forthe Staples Family Association Newsletter. I have made changes and additions for thepurpose of clarification. [Panger]
"Mary Bachiler (1620-1685) ofold Kittery, Maine, created in the community shock waves that still reverberatetwelve generations later. As the thirdwife of the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, 87 years old,Oxford graduate, weary veteran of a lifetime of losing contests with bothChurch of England and Puritan hierarchies, Mary vaulted into the history booksby adultery with next-door neighbor George Rogers and a subsequent sentence bythe Georgeana (York) Court to be flogged and brandedwith the letter A. (Old York :Romance of the Maine Coast, Sylvester, pp. 359-363.) Not so well known is her remarkable recoveryfrom public humiliation to a position of stature and respect in thecommunity. Mary's triumph over adversity,and her growth in character rivaled that of Hawthorne's heroine in TheScarlet Letter, Hester Prynne." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11].
In fact, evidence strongly suggests that our Mary may wellhave been the person who inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. [Panger]
"A DisastrousSecond Marriage and Decade of Recovery. Mary was married three times: first about 1641 to Robert Beadle,fisherman-farmer, by whom she had a son, Christopher and daughter, Elizabeth,who later became the wife of our ancestor, Peter Staple. After her first husband died she married theReverend Stephen Bachiler, sixty years her senior,who was the founder in 1638 of Hampton, New Hampshire, and its CongregationalChurch from which he was ousted after a feud with his assistant minister andthe solicitation of his neighbor's wife while he was still married. Mary's third marriage took place in 1657 toThomas Turner, who sold the Beadle homestead to Peter Staple in 1674. The first and third marriages were quiet, soprosaic that Mary would have died an obscure woman had she been limited totheir experiences." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11].
"Documented events of the decade between 1647 and 1657tell the story of Mary's tempestuous second marriage. In 1646-1647, the Reverend Bachiler, barred from preaching in the Massachusetts BayColony because of repeated dissention in former parishes, moved in with hisgrandson and godchild, Stephen Sanborn, two farmsteads below Mary Beadle on thePiscataqua River in Kittery. Mary soon became his housekeeper, anarrangement that disconcerted the neighbors, as Bachilerlater reported to Governor Winthrop." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11].
"The situation was rectified by the two joining inmarriage, exact date unknown because Bachiler, whoperformed the ceremony himself, failed to publish it, an omission for which hewas fined 10 pounds, reduced later to five." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11].
"On February 13, 1648 the farmstead of her latehusband, Robert Beadle, was confirmed to Mary by the Town of Kittery. On October 15, 1650, at Georgeana(York) Court, widower and next door neighbor, George Rogers, and Mary Bachiler were presented for 'incontinency for living in onehouse together and lying in one room.' " [Staples and Murdock, p. 11].
"A year later on October 15, 1651 in the same courtthey [George Rogers and Mary Bachiler] were presentedfor adultery ... ." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11]
In his book, Old York : Romance of the Maine Coast,p. 362, Herbert Sylvester interprets details from Book B of the York Records asfollows: [Panger]
"Rogers, man-fashion, got off with forty stroakes save one, which he could cover up with his coat,at ye first Towne Meeting held at Kittery, while the girl-wife was adjudged toreceive forty stroakes save one at ye first TowneMeeting held at Kittery six weeks after her delivery, and be branded with theletter A, which was to be 'two inches long and of proportionablebigness, cut out of cloath of a contrary colour to her cloathes, and sewedupon her upper garments on the outside of her arm or on her back in open view'and if found thereafter without her letter, she was to be 'publicklywhipt.' " [Sylvester, p. 362]
In addition, the court ordered the Bachilersto live together as man and wife. Ifeither deserted the other the marshal was to take them both to Boston to bekept until court was in session and divorce could be considered. If Mary Bachilerchose to live outside of Kittery without mutual consent the magistrates atBoston were to be informed. However,instead of staying with Mary, the Reverend Bachilertook refuge with his grandson in Hampton, New Hampshire, apparently withoutinterference from the magistrates. [Panger]
Mary's daughter, also named Mary, was born in 1651. [Panger] She eventually "married WilliamRichards, a currier from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and lived a solidchurchgoing life in that community," [Staples and Murcock,p. 11] according to historians.
Our great-grandmother, Mary, seems to have survived herpublic humiliation with some degree of dignity and respect. Records show that at least on one occasionshe took the side of others who were oppressed. [Panger] "On October 14 [i.e., 15], 1652 Mrs. Bachilerwas presented at the district court for entertaining idle people on the Sabbath(possibly harassed Quakers)." [Staples and Murdock, p. 11]
At this time in history it was not unusual for Puritans topersecute and even torture Quakers. Several accounts tell of Quaker women being dragged through the streets behind wagons in an attempt to shameand discourage them from practicing their religion. [Panger]
Stackpole, in his book, OldKittery and Her Families, p. 140, says that in 1652 William Hawthorne,ancestor of the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and two other men were appointedcommissioners to work with the people of Kittery to persuade them toacknowledge the authority of Massachusetts. When these three men were not successful a second commission wasappointed, and a November meeting was held, which resulted in the signing ofthe submission to Massachusetts. [Panger]
"On November 16, 1652, Mary signed the Certificate ofSubmission, the only woman signer along with 40 leading male citizens. That document . . . . turned Maine over to the jurisdiction of theMassachusetts Bay Colony [from which] Maine was not to regain its independenceuntil 1820." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
With the signing of the submission it was understood that"the stronger Puritan government of Massachusetts . . . [would] use itsmilitia" [Staples and Murdock, p. 11] to enforce compliance if Maine didnot cooperate with directives. [Panger]
As Staples and Murdock go on to say, "that Mary waschosen to inscribe the treaty is some indication of her stature in thecommunity. She [also] penned her ownsignature, an act [which] only half the subscribers could do." [Staplesand Murdock, p. 12]
[* [Janet Panger's] Note tofamily: Three ancestors of ours from other lines also signed the document. They were DennysDowning, Thomas Withers, and John Hord (Heard).]
"Mary, husbandless in fact if not in law, in a frontiersettlement with two children [to support], acquired land by grant in 1653 andby lawsuit in 1654." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
Then in June of 1654 it was discovered that Mary was againhaving an affair. [Panger] "The York court ordered Thomas Hanscom,age 31, 'not to live with' Mary Bachiler."[Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Further investigation reveals Mary's plight. At the October 1651 adultery trial, [whenMary was pregnant with George Rogers' child], both she and the Reverend Bachiler [had] sought divorce but were denied it. By the time [Thomas] Hanscom was living withMary, her legal husband was in England where he remained until his death at age99. Mary had found an attractive manfrom the Hanscom shipbuilding family, but [without a divorce,] was barredlegally from marrying him." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Finally, in 1656 Mary solved her dilemma. In this year she appealed to theMassachusetts General Court to obtain a divorce and remarry. She apparently obtained it . . . [But instead of marrying Thomas Hanscom,]she married Thomas Turner a year later." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"The substance and eloquence of her plea ismoving. She tells the court that shedoes not want to live on the 'common charity of others', that her husband is inEngland married to a fourth wife, [and] that she needs her freedom to remarryfor assistance in rearing two ailing children and preserving herestate." [Staples and Murdock, p.12]
The court granted Mary's divorce, she "gained a husbandmore her age, saw two daughters married well, and conserved her estate whichshe passed on to her son-in-law, [our ancestor,] Peter Staple." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Connection ofMary Bachiler with Hester Prynne. For his services as a Massachusetts BayColony commissioner, Captain William Hathorne(original spelling), immigrant ancestor of distinguished novelist, NathanielHawthorne, was rewarded with 870 acres of prime land on the PiscataquaRiver three farms north of Mary Bachiler's."[Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Years later Nathaniel Hawthorne, noted as an avidscholar of colonial history, soaked up local history during extended visits tothe Kittery area. His journal [from thattime] does not mention the name Bachiler, but it doesnote a young woman doomed to wear the letter A on the breast of hergown, under an old colony law, as punishment for adultery." [Staples andMurdock, p. 12]
"A book [on local history by Cole and Willis] publishedat the time of the Eliot centennial in 1910 states that Mary Beadle Batchelder [sic] was the woman upon whom Hawthornepatterned the heroine of The Scarlet Letter. [Hawthorne's] description of Hester Prynne's cottage closely parallels that of Mary, [hershaving been built] on what was to become the Staple[s] property." [Staplesand Murdock, p. 12]
"The evidence is strong that Hester Prynnewas a character derived from Hawthorne's extensive knowledge of the history ofKittery in colonial times. Hester was avictim of Puritan intolerance in Boston, Mary of cavalier justice at oldYork." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Hester and Mary were both strong, self-reliant, andiron-willed but with different styles. Mary was an outspoken battler, active in community affairs, aggressivein managing her estate and seeking a new husband. Hester was quiet, reserved, accepting herpenance of loneliness gracefully apart from the village in an isolated cottage,graciously defiant with her aristocratic bearing, calmness of speech, and pridein self-support by needlework. Both woncommunity respect but by different means." [Staples and Murdock, p. 12]
"Literary and social critics have assessed Hester'sconduct for almost 130 years. Theorthodox Puritans among them have said the stain of sin persists, its permanenteffect warping. Others, notably Mark VanDoren, have hailed Hawthorne as the Homer of ancientNew England and Hester as its most heroic creature, almost a goddess."[Staples and Murdock, p. 13]
"In between these extremes some have said Hesterexpiated her sin, gained wisdom, self-knowledge, spiritual power, and hencegreatness. Others have said that societysinned more than Hester by overpunishment [sic] ofone who responded to a natural urge. [Still] [o]thers say that sin is relative anddepends on what the sinner thinks is sinful and what it does to the personalityand psychic balance. Virtually allattest to Hester's heroicism [sic; i.e., heroism] inher self-reliance and calm steadfastness. Mary likewise exhibited self-reliance and steadfastness. She, too, was of heroicproportions." [Staples and Murdock,p. 13]
In his book, Old York : Romance of the Maine Coast,pp. 358-360, Herbert Sylvester imagines himself seated by the fire in anancient home in Kittery as ghostly visitors from the 1600s pause to warmthemselves. His description of Mary Bachiler is a vivid picture of shame. Sylvester writes, [Panger]
"My fire is down once more, and the room growsgray. It is the gray of dusk. The rain has swept far to seaward, and myvisitors as well have returned to the uncanny seclusion of the graveyardshereabout, all except this strange woman with the scarlet letter. As the light of the fire dies, and only theblinking embers are left, that letter on the sleeve grows more luminous, as ifit had caught the glow of another, never-dying flame, and Magdalen-like,the weary head of her who bears it has dropped forward upon the palms of a pairof thin hands, and a flood of graying hair that reaches to her knees hides theoutline of the troubled face utterly, of this poor cowering outcast."[Sylvester]
"I stir the ashes anew, and my silent visitor cowerscloser yet to the soot-stained jambs, as if, with the going of the flame, herspirit was being forsaken of its life and warmth. I am moved somewhat to probe the secret ofher life, but as I glance again toward her corner, she has disappeared."[Sylvester]
" 'I wonder who it could be?' you exclaim."[Sylvester]
"Frankly, I never thought to ask. Aunt Polly, of malodorous Brimstone Hill,knew her. She was a Kittery girl; butmore, I do not know, though it occurred to me I would like to know more of herhistory. I felt a bit chary aboutquizzing her, for she might have been sensitive about it; that is, if she hadretained much of womanly feeling after that benumbing hour in the pillory, withthe rough-edged comment and the merciless jeerings ofthose perhaps no better than herself, but who were more fortunate in theconcealment of their intrigues, ringing in her tortured ear. I wonder if she has forgiven her betrayer,and if the stripes on her back redden and burn, as she thinks of the grievouswrongs her sex has always suffered at the hands of her brothers."[Sylvester]
Thus ends the story of Mary Beadle BachilerTurner, our great-grandmother of many generations ago. As we read The Scarlet Letter we can'thelp but ponder several questions: 1)How much of Hester Prynne reflects what NathanielHawthorne may have learned about Mary from older inhabitants of Kittery who hadheard the story from their elders? 2)Would The Scarlet Letter ever have been written if Hawthorne had notheard about our Mary? [Panger]
Cole, Aaron B. and J. L. M. Willis, (eds.) History of the Centennial of theIncorporation of the Town of Eliot, Maine, [No publ.],1910, pp. 25, 31, 35.
Stackpole, Everett S. Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston, Maine : Lewiston Journal Co., 1903,p. 106, 140-145.
Staples, Ross P. and Mrs. Burton Murdock. Staples Family History AssociationNewsletter, January 1980, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 11-13.
Sylvester, Herbert Milton. Old York : Romance of the Maine Coast. Boston, Massachusetts : W. B. Clarke Co.,1909, pp. 358-363.
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Notes by StephenRobbins, 26 October 2008.
1. Not reproduced here are several photocopieswhich Janet Panger added at the end of her article:
(a). A map of "Middle Parish of Kittery (nowEliot) 1632-1700" which shows the location of "Peter Staple1674" and his neighbors, including "Geo Rogers 1641". This map was photocopied from StaplesFamily History Association Newsletter, vol. 3, no. 2 (January 1980), p.4. (This map, in turn, was reproducedfrom: Stackpole,Everett S. Old Kittery and HerFamilies. Lewiston, Maine : LewistonJournal Co., 1903, page 106).
(b). Photocopy of: Stackpole, Everett S. Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston, Maine : Lewiston Journal Co., 1903, pages 140-145. These pages give the history of the 1652certificate of submission which placed Maine under the jurisdiction of theMassachusetts Bay Colony. A transcriptof this document is on pages 141-142, and 145; a facsimile reproduction of thedocument appears on pages 143-144, including the signature of "Mary bachiller" on page 143.
2. James S. Staples, editor of Staples FamilyHistory Association Newsletter, stated: "Permission is granted toquote from this publication provided proper credit is given." (StaplesFamily History Association Newsletter, January 1980, vol. 3, no. 2, page 2). Sources published before 1923 are now in the public domain.
3. Additional relevant and recent research hascome to light:
(a). Rev. Stephen Bachiler. Updated 30 May 2007. LaneMemorial Library, Hampton, New Hampshire. Accessed 11 October 2008. < http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us/HAMPTON/biog/bachilertoc.htm>.
This web page contains links to other web pages with relatedarticles, including:
(b). Newberry, Frederick. A Red-hot 'A' and a Lusting Divine :Sources for The Scarlet Letter. Updated 30 May 2007. Lane Memorial Library, Hampton, NewHampshire. Accessed 11 October2008. < http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/biog/bachilerscarletletter.htm>.
Thisarticle, reprinted with permission, "examines the possibility that Bachiler's fourth wife was the inspiration for Hester Prynne in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter." The article was originally published in: TheNew England Quarterly,1987, pages 256-264.
(c). PDF files of StaplesFamily History Association articles about our Peter and Elizabeth (Beedle) Staples, and Elizabeth's mother Mary ( ) (Beedle)(Bachiler) (Turner). These articles are reproduced online at:
Staples, Arthur Bachelder,Jr. "Staples Family HistoryAssociation (SFHA)." Staples and Staple Family : My Branch. Posted 04 July 2006. Hosted by RootsWeb, an Ancestry.comcommunity. Accessed 11 October2008. <http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~staples/pdf_files/sfhan_peterstaplefamily.pdf>.
Arthur Staples presents a list of the articles hereproduces:
i.)Cover page of the SFHA first newsletter, July 1977.
ii.)Map of the Middle Parish of Kittery 1632-1700, Jan.1980, p. 4. (Map reproducedfrom
OldKittery and her Families, by Everett S. Stackpole p.106).
iii.)Article - The Staples Homestead on the PiscataquaRiver, by Ross P. Staples, Jan.
iv.)Article - Immigrant Peter Staple's Mother-In-Law : Mary ( ) Beadle BachilerTurner,
byRoss P. Staples with Mrs. Burton Murdock, Jan. 1980, p. l1-13.
v.)Article- Who was Peter Staple's Mother-In-Law, by Francis Murdock, Jan.1984,
vi.)Article - Nathaniel Hawthorne Knew Thomas Waite, by Frances Murdock, Jan.1984,
p. l l .
vii.)Added Comment- Nathaniel Hathorne [sic] in Raymondtown, ME, by Arthur B. Staples, July 2006.
4. Maine submitted to the authority ofMassachusetts Bay Colony in 1652. As theDistrict of Maine, it remained under the authority of the Colony's successor,the State of Massachusetts, until achieving statehood in1820.
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