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Martha's mark made on a paper in the estate file of her husband Daniel

In August 1717 Martha and her husband Daniel Bartlet, likely on horseback, went to Concord, Massachusetts, were they answered a charge of "fornication." This wasn't uncommon at the time. "Martha Bartlett appearing in court and voluntarily confessing her self guilty of ffornication with Danl Bartlet her now husband before marriage is fined to ye King £30 and to pay fees & costs and stand comitted till prformed."1 Daniel appeared at the same time and was also fined.
     Martha raised eleven, maybe twelve children to adulthood in their large home along the border of Marlborough and Northborough, Massachusetts. Of that life we know nothing specific, and there's no record of when she died. This is typical for women in Colonial America. Judicial and probate court cases sometimes are the only things that reveal personal information about them. While this is better than nothing other than vital records, they tend to highlight negative things. Martha's adult life is bracketed by them. The fornication case at the beginning and mental illness at the end.
     The first time we hear from Martha herself after her confessing to fornication is when she confirmed with her mark on 13 July 1764 that she was given her share of the "moveables" of Daniel's estate after he died, usually known as the personal estate.
     Less than a year after this, on 29 April 1765, a committee, with the assent of the selectmen of Marlborough, declared that "We the subscribers being well acquainted with Mrs. Martha Bartlet of Marlborough...widow of Mr. Daniel hereby certifyd that in our humble opinion (with submission to your Honr) the said Martha Bartlet is and for more than twelve months last part has been so much decayed & impared in her reason as to be alltogather incapable of takeing care of self or her estate and that it is both necessary and conveniant that some sutable person be appointed for her guardian to take care of her & her estate witness our hands the 29th day of April AD 1765."
     It's probably not a coincidence that Daniel died a year before this nearly to the day. If she was badly impaired at the time, would the probate of Daniel's estate have carried on without Martha having a guardian? Daniel may have been sick before he died. If they were right in saying it was more that twelve months, Martha may have, for instance, suffered a stroke in reaction to Daniel's condition and her decline was more gradual, but this wouldn't necessarily account for lacking reason. Otherwise, it could have been coincidental senility of some kind. She was 78, so the nature of her impairment can only be guessed.
     Hezekiah Maynard was appointed her guardian. A formal division of Daniel's estate hadn't been made, either personal or real estate, and this apparently became a problem. It appears to have been based on Jonas and his mother sharing rights to the house and outbuildings. The other heirs may have objected to what was being used and by whom, or Maynard himself. Impossible to say if Martha was lucid enough to have complained herself.
On 20 March 1766 the court recorded a response to a request to divide the "homestead."

whereas Daniel Bartlett late of said Marlborough gentleman deced. in & by his last will & testament (duly prov'd & approv'd) among other things, give to his wife Martha the improvement of one half part of his homestead where he last dwelt during her remaining his widow; and devised the other half of the said homestead (the back part of his dwelling house only excepted) to his son Jonas, by him to be possessed upon the decease of the said also the half part herein before first mentioned by him to be possessed after the decease of the said Martha, and whereas a division of the premises betwixt the said Martha & Jonas remains to be made & application has been made to me for that purpose: You are therefor hereby appointed & authorized to make partition of the premises into two equal parts or moieties that so each of the parties interested therein as aforesead may hold & improve their respective shares in severally agreeable to the true meaning & intent of the said testator. When you go about your work let all parties concerned have notice that so they or their guardians may be present with you if they think fit.

     In the margin is the note "having taken an inventory & apprized the whole estate of the said Martha." This was followed by an order to make that inventory on 29 October 1766. There seem to have been difficulties or reluctance to do anything with this estate. When Martha signed off on her share of the "moveables," she may have been convinced it was equitable when it wasn't, but with other heirs around aside from Jonas, it may have been a matter of confusion or willful ignorance about who could be where and who could use what, and attempts to settle the issues out of court didn't work. The second reference by the court to making Martha's estate inventory says the committee appointed to do the work should let all parties and gaurdians involved know when they were making the inventory "that they may be present with you whilst about that work if they think fit."
Nothing of record happened until the committee brought in the inventory of her share of Daniel's personal estate eight months later.

An inventory of the moveable estate set off to Martha...for her dower...viz

one third part of the life stock
[£]28.15 [shillings].1 [pence]
moveables within doors
one feather bed & underbed
bedsted & cord one coverled &
blankit one pare of sheets
bolstor & case & pillows & cases
with all the furnituer belong
ing to said bed set at 5.1. 4

east chamber bed underbed
two bolstors one coverled &
two sheets set at 2.19.10

allso one blankit .10.8
drugit sheet .6.8
ditto .4.0
striped coverled .13.4
ditto .13.4
ditto .4.0
two woolin sheets .14.8
two druget sheets .12.0
two lining sheets .12.0
two cotton sheets .13.0
dyaper table cloth .12.0
two fine pillow cases .6.8
seen flowerd napkins .9.4
two pillow cases .4.0
one case of draws .12.0
one box .1.4
one pare of andirons fier .8.8
shovel & tongs
warming pan .5.4
2 suger boxes . .8
brass kittel .14.0
frying pan .2.0
ovel table .12.0
five cider barrils .8.6
a side saddel 1.4.0
a grate coate .13.4
a chest with one draw .8.0
two meel bages .3.4
a small trough & tub .2.0
long trough .3.4
malt tub .1.1
tramil .4.0
puter 1.0.7
pottage pot & hooks .4.8
iron kettel .2.0
spining wheel .2.0
camblet coat for mens ware 1.4.0
a grate chair & three black chairs .9.9
small spining wheel .9.4
large wheel .3.4
jack coat .8.0
leather breeches
blew coat 1.4.0
two large trays .3.4
some old caskes .0.3
three tubs 4/8 three hogs heads 7/4 .12.0
one milk pail 1/4 & water pail .1.4
two glass bottels /8 earthing jugg /5 .1.1
three wooden dishes 1/2 .1.2
looking glass 1/4 wine glass /3
candelbox & tunel .1.0
tin quart & pint 1/ bible 6/8 .7.8
brass candelstick .5.0
two chairs 3/ old sheet 1/6 .4.6
two woolin sheets .8.0
millk bowl 1/ door latch /8 .1.8
box iron & heeters 2/ .2.0
small morter & scraping knife .1.2
& trenchers /6 scals 1/ iron bar .9.6
[prob. least (vs. best)] meet tub .3.6
sword & belt
flax comb .5.4
blew woosted hoes . .9

sum total £58:14:1
full third

Marlboro 16th day of June 1767

A division of the homestead isn't dated, but it's on the same sheet as the inventory. The following was set off to Martha:

About 36 acres of land being part mowing & part plowing, pasture & woodland bounded west partly by the land of Jotham Bartlet and partly by an acre of plow land set off to Jonas, north by land of Deacon Andrew Rice, northeast partly by a public road and partly by an acre of "clay land" belonging to the Proprietors of Marlborough, south partly by the County Road and part by the land of Jonas Bartlett. Also about 4 3/4 acres of mowing land on the south side of the County Road, bounds beginning at a white oak tree on the south side of the road, running southerly with the stone wall about 5 rods to a corner, then southeast 10 rods to a heap of stones near a bend in the rail fence. Then southwesterly with the fence about 23 rods to the corner of the stone wall, then running east or a little to the south of the east about 25 rods to a black oak in the stone wall on the east side of the meadow or mowing land, then northerly with the wall until it comes to the County Road, then by the road to the white oak tree at the beginning.
     Also 17 acres at the west end of the "further" pasture, bounds beginning at a heap of stones on the north side of the pasture, running westerly along the place of a former fence 23 rods to a stone wall, then southerly with the wall to the southwest corner of the pasture, then easterly 23 rods with a fence to a heap of stones, then northerly 65 rods to the first heap of stones."

     Her portion of the "Manshon House" was the west end of the "upright" part with the cellar under it with the right to pass up to the chambers, down to the cellar, out the "fore" door and to the well for water. Also the east end of the barn as divided by the middle of the floor, half the barnyard and a half right to use the cider house and sheep house. This portion was appraised at £396, 6 shillings and 8 pence, being half of the real estate.
     There are three additional items on the inventory/distribution document. The one likely being the first, dated 15 October 1767, says "Objections being made to this destrebution, I decline accepting it at present & put off the consideration of to this day [day not given] month [month not given], that the parties may agree among themselves or agree upon sutable persons to arbitrate & settle their differences. They due for a hearing." The next was on 10 November 1767: "Upon a full hearing had of the parties concern'd I accept of the foregoing apprizement & distribution with the alteration following (agreed to by the guardian of the widow & all other parties interested) namely - that the widow have the benefet of half the wash house & no part of the mill house and that Mr. Jonas Bartlet her son have the other half of said wash house & the whole use of the mill house." (signed J. Danforth J. Prob.) Then he added "the charges incurred by this distribution to be paid by the guardian of the widow & by her son Jonas Bartlett in equal moeties." The crossouts in the inventory (the leather breeches? and sword and belt) may have also been an amendment at this time. Three of Daniel's coats remained in her portion, which seems pointless, while Jonas had his breeches and sword.
     A postscript to the widow's distribution says "all parties have equal priveledge of pass & repass round all the buildings...and Jonas Bartlet is to have free liberty to go across that part that is set to the sd widow...on the North side of the County Road both with cart or drift of catel to that acre of plow land that is above described." It's not clear if this was part of the amendments made after the "hearing." It's hard to imagine why there was such specific haggling over Martha's share in the homestead if she was so mentally impaired that she couldn't take care of her own affairs and only Jonas had the other interest in it. Presumably Jonas was the functional head of the household and needed access to most of the house and all of the farm. Was there unusual and complicated conflict among the family members? It's possible Maynard was being overly zealous, but to what end?
     Jonas didn't bring any account of his administration until 20 June 1769, five years after his father died. This was probably instigated by his mother's death. After asking for reimbursement from the estate for the flurry of activity in 1767, Jonas lists more items under the date 28 March 1769, referring to citations by Maynard to attend probate court. One is the cost of making an inventory (which I haven't found recorded anywhere). This is the one and only account recorded for Daniel's estate. Normally when a widow dies her dowry portion automatically goes to the designated party named when the estate is divided, in this case Jonas, without court involvement, but Daniel's probate was atypical from the start. I can't see a reason to initiate new action on his estate after that long unless there were some loose ends that came up after Martha died. Also, considering her physical and mental condition, a death in 1769 isn't surprising. The new probate activity was in late March, so she probably died in the Winter of 1769.
     The oddity of Daniel's probate has no obvious end. A note made after Jonas' account was presented at court says "The consideration of the allowance of this accnt deferred - it being objected that these charges should not be paid out of the whole estate - but by Jonas in consideration of what was given him more than his share." This makes it even more clear that there was a fly or flies in the ointment all along. The record of the probate, and whatever Martha had of it, ends there. Also, the back part of the house where Mary and Mercy lived wasn't bequeathed to anyone. It was specifically removed from the halves given to Martha and Jonas, and to Mary and Mercy he gave only its improvement while they were single. Mercy married in 1765, but Mary may have lived with Jonas in the back of the house long after her mother died. There's no record of her marrying or dying. It's very unlikely she was one of the five females in Jonas' household in 1790, but it must have been considered legal for Jonas to absorb the entire property after she died.

children of Martha How and Daniel Bartlett:2

i. Jotham b. 5 April 1717
ii. Sarah b. 30 June 1718
iii. Daniel b. 28 September 1719
iv. Joseph b. 24 November 1720
v. Abigail b. 30 October 1721
vi. Abraham b. 21 September 1722, d. 11 February 1722/23
vii. John b. 25 November 1724?
viii. Jonathan b. 26 January 1725(/26?)
ix. Isaac b. 6 March 1726(/27?)
x. Abner b. 12 March 17(27/?)28
xi. Mary b. 12 March 17(27??)28
xii. Jonas b. 31 March 1729
xiii. Mercy b. 31 May 1730

vital records sources: her birth and marriage are in Vital Records of Marlborough, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1908), 103, 219.

1. Worcester Co., MA, Court of General Sessions, vol. 1686-1723, p. 342. This is an abstract of the court proceeding on 27 August 1717. The original writ calling for Martha and Daniel to appear, which would have an earlier date, was indexed when the documents were microfilmed, but it isn't where the index says it is. Other documents supposedly in the same batch are also missing.
1. Vital Records of Marlborough, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1908), 23-24.

all text and photographs © 1998-2020 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted