Drunk Puritans in Plymouth Colony

Drunkards, liars, a hog, a dog, a witch, “disorderly persons” and the innkeeper

As the young boys who arrived with the first settlers of Ipswich approached adulthood in the mid-17th Century, they developed a fondness for hard liquor and rowdiness, which frequently landed them in court. The words of accusers, witnesses and defendants in the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County provide a bizarre but most entertaining narrative.

Mark Quilter: drunkard, temperamental, and a victim of pranks

Mark Quilter and his wife Francis lived in a small single-room house on Bridge Street (modern day Washington Street), and made his living as a cow-keeper in the common land on the north side of town. Quilter was a simple and private fellow but trouble always seemed to find him. In 1647 he was called before the court and reprimanded for “sleeping in the barn” rather than watching the cows during his evening shift. He had a reputation for drinking and losing his temper, and was frequently the butt of jokes and pranks.

One day young swineherds John and Thomas Manning dropped a calf down the chimney of Quilter’s little house, for which the Manning boys were hauled to court, charged with disturbing the peace. Several years later, Quilter was found guilty of striking his wife, and her friend Rebeckah Tuttle for “pratting too much.” He was put under bond to be “of good behavior toward all persons, but especially his wife.”

Maps of early settlers land grants

Defiance of the Church

Despite his young age and propensity for drink, Quilter had the good sense to not associate with the real trouble-makers in town–Joseph Muzzy, Mark Symonds, Thomas Cooke, Thomas Scott, and especially Joseph Fowler. These young men got into trouble for their open defiance of the Church, which in early Ipswich was the seat of absolute power. Thomas Cooke refused to learn Rev. Norton’s catechism, and Thomas Scott landed in court for accusing the Reverend of “teaching what is false,”and saying that if he had children he would not allow anyone to “play them as fools” by baptising them.

Thomas Rowlandson, a promising student attending Harvard College who perhaps fancied himself to be the Martin Luther of his day, anonymously nailed a “scandalous libel” to the door of the meeting house, “turning out all Associates which are able to corrupt justice, be the cause ever so good!” After three months of investigation, the town leaders learned his identity and hauled Rowlandson back to Ipswich to face the county court, where he pleaded that his mind had been weakened by fasting, and by this derivation had been “tempted by the equivocal delusions of Satan.” The court accepted the excuse and let him off with a fine, instead of the more customary whipping.

Joseph Fowler, “a lawless and defiant disturber of the public peace.”

The Joseph Fowler house on High Street was built by Joseph Fowler Jr.
The Joseph Fowler house on High Street was built by Joseph Fowler Jr.

Thomas Franklin Waters in Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony noted that Joseph Fowler was sentenced to pay a considerable fine or sit in the stocks on lecture day, for saying there were seven or eight liars in the church and asking why they were not cast out, and for saying “if one would lye soundly he was fit for the church.”

Joseph Fowler was problematic even in his military training, which was a requirement of all young men in those early days. Waters wrote that “More than once, irrepressible Joseph Fowler was disrespectful to the haughty (General) Denison, and for each offense in 1647 and in 1648, he was summoned to the head of the company, and then and there made humble acknowledgment in such terms as the Major required.”

In 1649 Joseph Fowler was admonished for drinking in the woods with his cousin and the brothers of his wife Martha Kimball. From Essex Court records we read the following: “We present Joseph Fowler, Thomas Cooke, Thomas Scott, and two of ye sons of Richard Kimball, for going into ye woods, shouting and singing, taking fire and liquors with them, all being at unseasonable time in ye night, and occasioning your wives and some others to go out to them.” Joseph Fowler’s father Phillip, having enough of his son, took Joseph’s child Phillip and adopted him in 1651.

Mark Symonds, who lied about a hog


On January 25, 1651, many of these same young men of Ipswich were summoned to court in a case regarding the ownership of a hog and accusations of witchcraft. If there is honor among thieves, there was none among these drunks and liars, who turned on each other, each for himself. The confusing and overlapping testimony indicates that the two cases were tried as one. The main characters in this drama were Mark Symonds, John Bradstreet, Joseph Muzzi and once again, Joseph Fowler, who was acquitted for suspicion of stealing the hog. Entries in the court record are not sequential, so I offer here an unscholarly attempt to unscramble the narrative correctly.

Mark Symonds stood trial for making false claims that the hog at the home of Robert Dutch belonged to Mr. Cheut and Goodman Coburn, and accusing John Bradstreet and Joseph Fowler of being behind the theft, which he claimed he could prove by the mark on the hog’s ear. Witnesses included Richard Bettes, Thomas Whitridge, John Bradstreet, Thomas Scott, Joseph Fowler, Daniel Rofe, Phillip Fowler, Richard Kimball jr., Richard Kimball Sr., John Kimball, Henry Kimball and Edward Coleburne. Joseph Fowler testified that the mark on the pig’s ear was so small that it could hardly be seen and that no man would use a knife to make such a little mark. Mark Symonds countered that the mark could be plainly seen, all the way from Mr. Baker’s parlor to the street gate. Thomas Scott deposed that he believed the mark, which was almost an inch deep, was the bite of a dog or hog.

One of the three John Kimball houses on High Street, closest to the Old North Burial Ground

Richard Kimball Sr. testified that Mark Symonds had affirmed that the mark differed from Mr Cheut’s and Goodman Coburn’s hogs’ marks. His son John Kimball deposed that he heard Mark Symonds say to Joseph Fowler that he was not the accuser and would go forty miles to do him good. Symonds was reminded that he had said Fowler would swear or lie for ten shillings, and that he thought he could prove it. Mark Symonds’ own words were defeating him, and unable to hold his tongue, he was also fined for being reproachful against the magistrate.

Joseph Muzzy, “another lying fellow”

Next on the docket was John Bradstreet, for “familiarity with the devil” and bewitching a dog. This charge had been made by John Cross, who died before the trial. Much of the testimony centered on the credibility of Joseph Muzzy. Joseph Fowler testified against Muzzy, stating that he heard the lately deceased John Cross say that he formerly loved John Bradstreet well until Joseph Muzzy had railed against Bradstreet, which caused him to prosecute the man, and that now, knowing that Muzzy was a lying fellow, he had wronged the said John Bradstreet by charging him with witchcraft.

John Remington deposed that Joseph Mussey “incensed Goodman Cross against said John Bradstreet, and altered his mind towards him.” Daniel Rolfe testified that he heard Joseph Mussey say he never spoke the words, but that Mussey “spoke falsely.” Mussey’s line of defense was that John Bradstreet had been “whipped already,” for defaming “the fellow in the silver buttons “(John Cross had 37 silver buttons) and had said to him that he would “haul him out by the hairs and that he was good for nothing.” Mussey was fined for lying,

John Bradstreet’s “bastards in Rhode Island.”

Plaque honoring Simon and Anne Bradstreet on High Street in Ipswich

John Bradstreet seemed to have an imaginary relationship with his distinguished third cousin Simon Bradstreet, who had lived in Ipswich for 12 years with his wife Anne Bradstreet, who is acknowledged to be America’s first poet.

In 1661 Simon Bradstreet became a principal investor in the colony at Rhode Island, and John Bradstreet boasted in a most unusual way that he had been there. William Smith deposed that he heard Joseph Mussey say that John Bradstreet asked him to lie in wait at Muddy river to knock Goodman Cross off his horse and to knock him on the head, and then John Bradstreet would run away with his horse to visit his bastards at Rhode Island, and he should go there ere long and should know them by their “bangell ears,” just like himself.

Hannah Crosse, daughter of John Crosse, testified that she heard Joseph Mussey say that John Bradstreet was the “leereingest hang dog that was in the world and that he had three or four bastard children in Rhode Island.” Thomas Abbott testified that Joseph Muzzy said that John Bradstreet “had dealings with the maids at Rhode Island, set them on their heads, took them by the gingoes!” Thomas Scott deposed that he also heard Joseph Muzy say that John Bradstreet had three or four bastard children, and Elizabeth Howe testified that she had heard the same.

John Bradstreet: guilty of witchcraft, and a dog is hung

The principal charge against John Bradstreet was “familiarity with the devil” and “bewitching a dog.” Although Mussey had by now lost all credibility, William Bartholomew testified that Bradstreet told him that he had read a book of magic, and that a voice told him to “Go make a bridge of sand over the sea; go make a ladder of sand up to heaven, and go to God and come down no more.” Based on Bartholomew’s thin testimony, Bradstreet was found guilty of witchcraft, but as punishment, he was merely fined twenty schillings “or else be whipped.” The dog was hung as a precaution.

John Andrews: “offended the sensibilities of his neighbors”

The White Horse Inn on High Street, where John Andrews offended his neighbors by keeping late hours and serving alcohol to young men.
The White Horse Inn on High Street, where John Andrews offended his neighbors by keeping late hours and serving alcohol to young men.

Within a few years the townspeople and the courts were forced to deal with the problem of liquor being served to young men (but without inhibiting their own access.) Thomas Franklin Waters recorded that “the White Horse Inn was the occasion of much contention. Corporal John Andrews offended the sensibilities of his neighbors by keeping open doors or open bar until past nine o’clock, encouraging young men in devious ways.”

The Court in Salem in June, 1658 determined that it “thought meet to license Corporal Andrews to keepe an ordinary for the entertainment of strangers only till the next Court at Ipswich, and not longer, provided that the Inhabitants do at the said Court present some meet person to keepe an ordinary that the Court shall approve off.” Deacon Moses Pengry, who had signed the complaint against Andrews, was instructed to prepare himself to open an ordinary.

Andrews was so angry about the verdict that he went on a rage and tore down the door of the home of chief marshall Edward Brown, the gate at Lt. Samuel Appleton’s yard, and Moses Pengry’s sign. He sold the inn and moved back to his house in Chebacco (Essex) where he was continually hauled back into court for running up debts.

Inspecting disorderly persons

A cold and dour Puritan meeting
A cold and dour Puritan meeting

Problems with rebellious young men with no respect for their Puritan upbringing began to spring up throughout the colony. Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that “disorderliness had become general and so offensive that in 1654, the General Court gave liberty to the Selectmen to appoint one or two persons, “to reform all such disordered persons in the congregations, or elsewhere about the meeting houses.” It was not enough.

“Disorderly carriages” increased still to the sorrow of all godly worshippers, and in 1657 they created the new position of “Tithingman, 24 men good and true, whose business extended much beyond the meeting house and the disorder therein.” To each officer was assigned the oversight of ten families, to inspect disorderly persons and present their names, enter ordinaries and inspect them, and “whatever else tends to irreligion.”

“Mehitable Braybrook: Extreme carelessness if not willfully setting the fire”

Apparently the inspectors failed to oversee Mehitable Braybrook, who was the product of an affair between Richard Braybrook and his serving girl Alice Eliss. Mehitable was arrested in 1668 on suspicion of “incendiarism” after burning down Jacob Perkins’ house. She was found guilty of “extreme carelessness if not willfully setting the fire” and was sentenced to be whipped and to pay damages to Perkins.

Naked Quakers


Adding to the frustrated authority of the Puritans was the Quakers, a “cursed set of heretics” who were known to strip off their clothes in front of the meeting houses on the Sabbath as a demonstration of their spiritual purity. A 1656 law forbade any captain to land Quakers, and none were suffered to speak with them. Stiff punishments included having ears cut off, the tongue bored through with a hot iron, being “tied to a cart’s-tayle and whipped through the town,” and a sentence of death, although these extremes are not known to have happened in Ipswich. Roger Derby and his wife lived in a house on High Street near the corner of North Main. The two were warned, fined and dealt with harshly for their absence from the public meeting on the “Lords dayes” and for their frenzied noisy demonstrations outside the meeting house.

The raid on Deerfield, in which
Indian attack at Deerfield, in which Joseph Fowler and Thomas Scott are said to have died


  • John Bradstreet moved to Marblehead in 1657, and died at the age of 29 in 1660. The estate of John Bradstreet is listed in the Probate Records of Essex County.
  • Thomas Abbot married Dorothy Swan, daughter of Richard and Anna Swan in Rowley on in 1655, but died four years later, and is buried there.
  • Joseph Fowler and Thomas Scott died May 19, 1676 in Deerfield, Mass during King Philip’s War, killed by the Indians on their return from the Turner Falls fight.
  • Daniel Rolfe was slain by Indians on December 19, 1675 at the attack on the fort at Narragansett.
  • Joseph Mussey moved to Newburyport, married, had children, and appears to have become a law-abiding citizen.
  • John Kimball put his energy into carpentry, and built three houses on High Street, still standing. In his old age he went insane.
  • In 1667, John Andrews acknowledged his part in digging up the Sagamore Masconomet’s bones and dishonoring his grave. Twenty years later, he joined the famous resistance to the Andros tax, for which Ipswich is now known as the “Birthplace of American Independence.”
  • Mark Quilter stayed in Ipswich, invested in real estate, and became a respected citizen.
  • Moses Pengry obtained a liquor license and opened his ordinary in 1658.

The first Essex County gaol (jail) was erected in Ipswich across from the Meeting House in 1652. The Court paid the keeper five shillings per prisoner and ordered that each prisoner should additionally pay the keeper before they be released for their food and attendance. Those who could not afford to do so were allowed only bread and water.

The fragile Puritan authority over the Colony’s government was thus restored, setting the stage for the tragic Salem witch trials just a few decades later, and the consequent death of Elizabeth Howe who testified in this case.

During the Salem witch trials, a different man named John Bradstreet from Andover, who was the son of former colonial governor Simon Bradstreet and poet Ann Dudley Bradstreet, was accused of being a witch by the “afflicted girls,” Bradstreet fled to New York, but a “bewitched” dog was hung this time as well.)


5 thoughts on “Drunkards, liars, a hog, a dog, a witch, “disorderly persons” and the innkeeper”

  1. I didn’t expect you to examine Joseph Fowler, cousins and friends’ rowdy behaviors. But it is as I expected, the tip of the iceberg. I also descend from kimballs, Tuttles, Scotts, and am still checking on Perkins. I seem to be as knee-deep in the Puritan’s early settlements as I am in the Pilgrim’s early settlements. And there are upstanding citizens, heroes, and ordinary ones, and a group of rowdies, trouble-makers, a swindler and thief with a record from Maine to New Jersey, and the first murderer in Plymouth Colony, John Billington (whom my mother declined to be descended from). I descend from Hopestill Tyler and his wife Mary Lovett, accused as a witch, and Samuel Appleton, who was the Court Justice ruling on the witches. There is nothing like family! Thank you for this article, it made my day!

  2. Speaking of witches, I recently watched an episode of the PBS series “Secrets of the Dead” dealing with the Salem witch trials and related happenings. It explored the possibility that the afflicted girls of Salem and others who were believed to be bewitched were actually suffering from ergot poisoning as a result of consuming food tainted with infected grain. It also talked of a bewitched dog and how that might have happened. It was a new thought for me, and I found it quite interesting.

  3. People back then had to have lived in a constant state of paranoia; afraid to even look “cross-eyed” at anyone! Overall, I don’t think human nature has changed at all in the past few hundred years either. Note mention of “Thomas Cooke;” must be a relation to me! My five times great-grandparents through Lucinda (Hovey) Armstrong were Allerton Cushman and Mary Buck, both born in Plympton-Plymouth, six times great-grandparents Elkanah Cushman and Martha Cooke, seven times great-grandparents Jacob Cooke and Damarius Hopkins and eight times great-grandparents Francis Cooke and Hester Mahieu of the Mayflower.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s