Amorous Peasants by Albrecht Durer

The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross

William Durkee, an indentured Irish Catholic, and Martha Cross, the daughter of Robert Cross of Chebacco parish were servants in the household of Thomas Bishop in Ipswich. When Martha became pregnant by William, they were presented for fornication; the court ruled that they be punished and be married. They found themselves back in court when Martha’s father refused to comply and Durkee had his own misgivings.

Records of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County MA

The Essex Co. MA court records provide a detailed account of the case, where gossip and hearsay from their neighbors was presented as evidence. The court clerk recorded William Durkee’s name with several different spellings in the same document:

William Dirkey, presented for fornication, was ordered to be whipped not exceeding twenty stripes, and to put in security of 20£ to save the town of Ipswich harmless from the charges of keeping the child, or else go to prison….Martha Dirky, for fornication, is ordered to be whipped unless she bring a note from the treasurer, of threes £s paid to him.”

Thomas Bishop provided the surety, but after the birth of the child, Durkee filed a suit against Robert Cross when he refused to allow his daughter to marry Durkee.

Margrit Bishop testified that being asked by Martha whether she should go home to her father, deponent told her that it was best for her to do so. At that, William being discontented, she desired me in the presence of God to bear witness that she would have no other man but he. Furthermore, she said ‘why will not you trust me as well as I have trusted you hitherto?’ And hereupon she went away to her father.

Grace Searl testified that she heard Martha Crosse say, when her friends came for her, that she told William that if she went away she would come again and would not forsake him.

Thomas Bishop testified that Martha Crosse desired him several times to speak to her father, that she and William Durgy might be married …

Mary Bishop testified that Martha said it was her greatest comfort that her father had given his consent to her marriage, which was to take place on the nineteenth of the present month.”

The court ruled for the plaintiff, that Robert Cross must give his daughter in marriage or pay 5£s damages. Cross agreed to the settlement:

“Honored Sirs, you may Easily understand how the Case stands concerning my daughter, and I give them leave to marry, Your servant Robert Crosse.”

Cross also addressed a letter to Thomas Bishop:

“Neighbor Bishop, to you & your wife this is to let you understand our minds, the Case standing as it does: we leave your servants to your disposal…and we shall no ways hinder it. —Your much Respected Friend, Mr. Robert Crosse at Ipswich in New England, the 12 of the 7th month 64.”

But by now, William Durkee was having second thoughts about the marriage, and Robert Cross filed charges against Durkey for “abusing his daughter.” Cross frequently appeared in court, suing John Fuller in 1642; Joseph Fowler in 1649; Cornelius Waldo in 1651; William Durkee in 1664; Thomas Wells in 1668; and in 1670 Nicholar Vauden and Lawrence Clinton, two of his servants who had run away.

Back to court they went:

Goodman Story deposed that Martha Crosse conceived she had been cast out of her father’s favor and family, and was sore horrified and distressed in mind, and that her Sister Goodey Nelson came with tears to hear her: ‘Woe, said I,’ I thought my Sister would have died tonight: but she thought she could not live another day in that Condition: I being much affected with their Condition, said, ‘Why doe you not go to your Father & make your Condition known unto him? To which she answered, ‘Oh, I dare not go to speak a word in her behalf.’ Then I said, ‘will you go if I go down with you?’

“Then Goodey Nelson said, ‘I with all my heart,’ so we went down to Goodman Cross, and there we found them in a sad and sorrowful Condition very much horrified in their spirit, not knowing which way to turn or what to say, & as my apprehension then led me, I did treat with them about suffering them to marry, which he did, & that was the way then what we thought to be the best.”

William Nelson deposed that William Durken said, at the deponent’s house, after Goodman Story had been at his father’s, that he wished he had never spoken as he had, owning the child to be his, but he had eighteen meals a week and would spare six of them to keep the child.

John Bishop deposed that he heard William Durgee say that he had rather keep the child than keep her, but he presently said if he kept one he would keep the other, and they agreed to be married the next day.”

William Durkee married Martha Cross, daughter of Robert Cross, December 20, 1664 and they established their residence in Chebacco Parish. Sources list their children as John Durkee,  Martha (Durkee) Fuller, Thomas Durkee, Elizabeth (Durkee) Martin, William Durkee, Jane (Durkee) Martin, Mary (Durkee) Peck, Ann (Durkee) Palmer, Henry Durkee and Mercy (Durkee) Martin.

Sources and further information

6 thoughts on “The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross”

  1. Do you have any period sources for him being Irish Catholic? This trivia bit appears in on-line family trees all the time, but I have never found any documentation from the period saying that he was, and the only citation these trees use is each other. In fact, being allowed to marry Martha Cross in 1664 Massachusetts would indicate that he was *not* Catholic.

    The trees claiming that he was Irish and that he was Catholic all trace back to each other, never citing what they’re basing either of those things on. I’ve yet to find anything in Ipswich records supporting either assertion, or the idea that him being Irish Catholic is why he didn’t own land.

    The best I can tell, the idea of him being Irish Catholic doesn’t appear until the turn of the 20th Century, during the great boom of “vanity genealogies,” which tended to make the ancestors of the people paying for the genealogies seem a lot more dramatic/notable/exotic than they were. It doesn’t seem to exist in any discussion prior to that — unless you’ve found something definitive from his actual time period, in which case, please share!

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