Richard and Alice Berry
I find ancestors like Richard and Alice Berry quite refreshing after reading the 19th century accounts of the early Plymouth and Cape settlers. Every man seems to have been a serious, upstanding citizen and their wives nearly invisible. The Berry’s were colorful, to say the least!
Richard was at Barnstable and Boston before settling by 1649 in Yarmouth (now West Dennis) near the mouth of the Bass River (west end of what is now Aunt Julia Ann's street off Cove Rd), where his 11 children by wife Alice were born.
|Old Postcard of the Cove, West Dennis|
Some of Richard’s transgressions captured in Plymouth Court Records:
--In 1659 Richard Beere of Marshfield, was disenfranchised for being a grossly scandalous and debauched person and having been formerly convicted of filthy, obscene practices.
--Richard and Teague Jones were caught playing cards on the Sabbath.
--Richard Berry accused Teague Jones of committing sodomy and other unclean practices with Sarah, wife of Hugh Norman. However on 6 March 1649/50 Berry acknowledged before the General Court that he had given false witness under oath and he was sentenced to be whipped at the post. Apparently Teague was a forgiving sort, as the men went on living together.
--On 9 June 1653, the court ordered Teag Jones and Richard Berry (or Beere) and others with them to part their uncivil living together. The court was very family oriented and preferred single men to live with families, not as a group of bachelors. Strangely though, Richard’s oldest child was born in 1652, so perhaps he was hanging out with Teague instead of facing his responsibilities at home.
--On 3 June 1668 Zachariah Ryder was complainant against Richard Berry, charging him with stealing an axe.
--Richard went to meeting on the Sabbath days carrying with him his pipe and tinder-horn. One Sabbath, during the "the time of exercise" he and others, instead of listening to the exhortations of the preacher, seated themselves at the end of Yarmouth Meeting House and indulged in smoking tobacco. Can’t you just see the exasperated and shocked looks of the more respectable citizens? For this offense he and his companions were each given a 5 shilling fine at the March court in 1669.
As luck would have it, I’m a direct descendant of Teague Jones as well!
From the Mayflower Descendant:
An agreement appointed to bee Recorded
Memorand: That Richard Berry of yarmouth with his wifes Concent; and other frinds; hath given unto Gorge Crispe of Eastham and his; wife theire son Samuell Berry; to bee att the ordering and Disposing of the said Gorge and his wife as if hee were theire owne Child; untill hee shall accomplish the age of twenty one yeares; and in the meane time to provide for the said Samuell in all thinges as theire owne Child; and afterwards if hee live to marry or to goe away from them; to Doe for him as if hee were theire owne Child; furthermore the said Gorge Crisp Doth engage that if God should soe Dispose as to take away either himselfe or his wife: or both before the time expressed : that then neither of them is to Dispose of the said Samuell Contrary to the likeing of his father or mother This both Gorg Crispe and Richard Berry acknowlidged to bee theire Joynt agreement before mee Thomas Prence Govr: Eastham this 19th of January 1660
Sad to see Samuel given away like this. It was a fairly common occurrence at the time to put children out to learn a trade, especially for poor families, but this reads more like an actual adoption. As shown in George Crisp/Crispe's will Richard became "stubborn and rebellious and went away” against George’s protest before his lawful time. In consequence Mr. Crisp ordered the executor to pay Richard the small sum of 12 pence and no more.
Amos Otis describes Alice as a "a thievish woman." On one occasion she helped herself to some articles of clothing from the home of William Pierce and got caught. On another she stole bacon and eggs from the home of Samuel Arnold and got caught again. She also stole a woman’s shift and a piece of pork from Benjamin Hammond.
In June 1665 she was again before Court, this time for milking Thomas Phelp's cow without permission. She was fined 10 shillings, but if fine could not be paid she had to sit for one hour in the stocks on the next training day. I would guess she was humiliated by sitting in the stocks as there is no further record of the fine being paid and it seems unlikely she had the money to pay the fine.
|Reproduction of Colonial stocks (source: ehow.com)|
No question that Alice was often in trouble with the law, but she was also a desperate, poor woman with a rogue of a husband and many children to feed. I don’t imagine she was a popular woman with her neighbors.
"This is a sufficient specimen of her character, and it is unnecessary to trace it farther," Otis wrote, after outlining a few of her run-ins with the law.
Swift, in his History of Old Yarmouth, writes that each of the Berry children had an exemplary character and sons John and Samuel were useful and esteemed citizens. (See what I’m talking about?!)
Richard was buried at Yarmouth (now West Dennis) on 10 Sept 1676. I haven't found anything on his age at death or where in England he originated. No dates or maiden name are known for Alice.
Otis writes that in his old age Richard lived a better life, was admitted a townsman of Yarmouth and his wife became respectable. They were very poor and having a large family, it was very difficult for them to provide the necessaries of life. They thought it less criminal to steal than to starve. Necessary may palliate dishonest acts, but it cannot justify them. As soon as their children were able to contribute something by labor for the support of the family, no more is heard of the thievish propensities of the Berry's.
I have three lines of descent from Richard and Alice, two through their son Samuel and one through son John. John served in King Philip’s War. He married Susannah (?Crowell) and had five children at Yarmouth (W. Dennis). Samuel married Elizabeth Bell and had six children. He removed to Harwich.
Eugene Stratton, Plymouth Colony, It's History and People, 1986
Amos Otis, Genealogical Notes of Barnstable Families, 1861
Reid, Nancy Thacher, Dennis, Cape Cod from Firstcomers to Newcomers, 1639 – 1993, 1996
Charles Swift, History of Old Yarmouth, 1884
Plymouth Court Records 1686-1859, on CD, NEHGS
The Berry Family of Yarmouth, Library of Cape Cod History & Genealogy, No. 80, CW Swift publisher, Yarmouthport, MA, 1912