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Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Sinful Pleasures and Vicious Courses" or Those Munro Girls...

According to Robert Gross, author of The Minutemen and Their World, on the eve of the American Revolution one out of three first born children were conceived out of wedlock. In the 1740’s, nineteen percent of all first births were prenuptial conceptions. From the 1740’s onward, births less than nine months after marriage steadily increased. By 1774, forty-one percent of all first born children were conceived out of wedlock.

Lexington youth were no exception to this growing trend and according to period accounts, their promiscuous behavior drew the attention of the Reverend Jonas Clarke. The influential minister was so alarmed by the immoral conduct that he preached a sermon directed towards the town's youth. Entitled A Sermon Preached in the Evening to the Youth, Clarke warned against the "sinful Pleasures and vicious Courses to which there are so many and such strong and alluring Temptation in this Part of Life. . . young People . . . were surrounded by the alluring Snares, Wiles, and Temptations."




Clarke urged his young audience not to be “tempted and allured away from God and their Deity to Sinful Pleasure and vicious Courses to their Shame and Sorrow, and finally to their Destruction" and encouraged them to “choose other courses.”

Of course, Clarke's sermon must have fallen on deaf ears as the promiscuous behavior of several young adults from Lexington eventually played out in the Middlesex County Court. All of these hearings addressed the birth of "bastard" children born outside of wedlock. 

In the 18th Century the birth of illegitimate children were treated as criminal in nature and punished by the imposition of a fine.

For example, "Sarah Mead of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, spinster, being presented for the crime of fornication on file comes into the court and pleads guilty and says she was delivered of a bastard female child born of her body in Lexington aforesaid on the 13th day of January last, which child is still living, and she charges Thomas Nunning of Bedford in the same County, husbandman, with being the father of said child... Sept. 8, 1772."

Likewise, "Lydia Simends of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, spinster, comes into court and confesses she has been guilty of the crime of fornication at said Woburn... whereof she there afterward had a bastard male child born of her body on the 15th day of September last which child is still living. The court having considered her offense ordered that the said Lydia five shillings to be disposed of as the law directs and that she pay fees and costs, standing committed til performed. March 8, 1774."

Curiously, it appears that four girls from two Lexington Munro families appeared before the Court on five occasions. Rachel Munro, daughter of Marrett Munro, was fined for "fornication and says she was delivered of a bastard child at Lexington on the first day of December last (which child still living) and she charges Thomas Godding ofLexington, cordwainer, with being the father of said child.... Date March 12, 1765." Four years later she was back before the Court again. "Rachel Munro, spinster, presented for the crime of fornication, resulted in birth of bastard girl on Nov. 30, 1769. Pleads guilty and charges Benjamin Bodge of Charlestown as father. Case dated April 2, 1770."

Rachel's younger sister Bethia also appeared before the Court in 1775. "Bethia Munro of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, single woman, comes into the court and confesses she has been guilty of the crime of fornication in said Lexington whereof she there afterwards had a bastard male child born of her body on the 24th day of February 1775 which child is still living and she charges Samuel Bowman of said Lexington with being the father of said child. The Court orders that Bethia Munro pay a fine of six shillings to be disposed of as the law directs and that she pay fees and costs, standing committed til performed."

Two of Thomas Munro's daughters were also hauled before the Court. "Sarah Munro [of Lexington], spinster, presented for the crime of fornication, resulted in birth of bastard girl on Dec. 20, 1767. Pleads guilty and charges Wm. Swaney of Charlestown." 

Finally, "Abigail Munro, crime of fornication resulted in the birth of bastard girl on Oct. 27, 1769. Pleads guilty and charges Jonathan Peirce of Lexington. Case dated Nov. 27, 1770."
















3 comments:

  1. What happened to these fathers?

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    Replies
    1. Researching that now. From the records I've been able to locate so far, it appears the prosecutions targeted the mothers.

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