My immigrant grandmother, Alice Ling (Lyng) was born in 1607 in Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, England, an ancient parish. She grew up in a time when the fields in England that were once held in common were being enclosed by private landowners, and there was armed conflict between the landowners and the farmers. With enclosure, some of the residents no longer had the means to provide for themselves. When both of her parents died in 1631, she was quickly married that same year to James Boutwell, a nearby farmer who undoubtedly shared the same upbringing. The following year, they christened their daughter, Sarah, at the ancient parish.
In the years between 1630 and 1640, there were large numbers of people who emigrated from England to the New England Colonies. Most of our history books say that this immigration was for religious freedom, and some did immigrate for that reason. But there were countless others who came for the promise of owning their own land, something that was not possible for them in England. In 1635, James and Alice, together with their infant daughter, took that long and arduous voyage. We don’t know the ship that carried them, but we do know that their records end in Trumpington in 1635, and begin in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Alice lived at Lynn with her family when the Pequot War erupted, but it appears that her husband remained at home. Native Americans had killed the “old planter” John Oldham, and the colony erupted seeking to avenge his death.
At the same time, Anne Hutchinson was creating quite a stir within the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At first, Anne Hutchinson was commended for her community work, and for the meetings she held with the local women, discussing the sermons. But when her popularity grew, and her meetings began including men, the church leaders became highly upset. She was tried and banished from the colony. It did send a chilling message to the other women. Winthrop’s journal comments…”If she had only kept her place”…
By 1638, James was allotted 60 acres of land in Lynn bounded on the east by the town commons and adjacent to the farm of Nicholas Potter. The following year, James took the Oath of a Freeman, making him a voting citizen.
Since James was admitted as a freeman, he must have been a member of the Lynn Church. But the church at Lynn was well known for its nonconformity. The Reverend Samuel Whiting was married to a relative of Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth St. John. Alice and James attended church services there and also were productive on their 60 acres of land, both requirements for keeping the land.
But in 1639, James was among the residents of Lynn who petitioned for an inland grant of land in what became the town of Reading, MA. The magistrates had decided that everyone who lived in Lynn would be engaged in the fishing industry, and it prompted many settlers to leave, forming not only Reading, but also Sandwich, Barnstable, and Yarmouth settlements. Reading became the family home for several generations. In 1640, 30 families, including James and Alice, were exempted from taxation in Lynn because they were living in Reading.
Three women from Reading were admonished for “scolding” in these early years. Angrily shouting at men could put a woman in front of a magistrate and punished, including whipping. But it doesn’t appear that Alice was one of those. She was more obedient, and dutiful, and because of that Alice’s contribution to the colony is not recorded except in her husband’s will. There she is named as sole executrix of his will, to bring up the children and to “dispose of them as she in her wisdom shall have occasion. “
Some sources indicate that Alice’s daughter Sarah married a Scotsman, George Thompson, who worked at the Iron Works developed at Lynn. It may be true, but without documentation it can’t be proved. The early New England clergy broke with the traditional English marriage customs, and said that marriage was a civil contract, not a religious contract, and the clergy did not perform marriage ceremonies. There are instances documented where two people performed their own marriage ceremony. But in within about 30 years, they changed their minds. Weddings, as civil agreements, were celebrated with much drinking, dancing, and liveliness which brought the scorn of the religious leaders. The clergy decided that, for the sake of the souls of the colony, they would return to the customs of the English church. Wedding parties were over, at least for a time.
In Reading, Alice bore two sons, James in 1642, and John in 1645. They also had another daughter, Mary, but her birth date is unknown. Alice’s duties encompassed much more than bearing children.
They typical farmers house in Reading consisted of a wood frame house with a dirt floor. The fireplace was used for cooking as well as heating. Beds were made of straw mats placed on the floor at night and picked up in the morning. People lived in tune with the seasons, rising before dawn to prepare for their days work, and retiring at sundown.
Upon arrival in Reading in 1640, her eldest daughter was eight years old. Alice taught her daughters to accomplish the tasks of the home, not only for help in accomplishing them but also for their lives with their future husbands. Women cooked and cleaned, but also took care of chickens and other livestock, planted and tended the family garden, milked goats and cows, collected wild berries, daily went to the shore to collect mussels and clams, gathered and grew medicinal herbs, spun thread from flax and wool, made candles for light, made soap, sewed clothing for her family, preserved food to last through the winter, and a multitude of other tasks. Her work kept her family alive and well.
Women helped each other through the birthing process. The midwife in Reading was another founding member of Reading, Lydia Dustin. Young girls sometimes found themselves unmarried and pregnant, and sometimes refused to reveal the father’s name. It was believed at that time that if a woman were asked in the throes of labor to name the father, she would be truthful. Lydia testified in court several times as to what was said during labor. Lydia is memorialized not for her skills and contributions to the community, but for dying a widow imprisoned in jail over 50 years later, after being acquitted of witchcraft, but unable to pay the expenses of her imprisonment.
Alice’s husband died in 1651, when her sons were six and nine. Upon his death, William Langley and Nicholas Potter were appointed to “see to the performances hereof according to my will, and to attest my wife in what she may have occasion to make use of them”. The will didn’t specifically state who would inherit his land, but Alice, in her wisdom, evidently divided the land between her two sons when they came of age.
Nicholas Potter was a mason whose farm adjoined the Boutwell farm at Reading. Nicholas would later move to Salem and take, as his third wife, Mary Gedney who was the daughter of John Gedney. William Langley was a settler of Lynn who sued the town of Lynn to obtain the land that he was allotted, but not deeded. He won his case, but was censured by the church for lying in court. William then sued them for slander. William is described by Reverend Whiting as a “disturber all these years”. William left Lynn and went to Groton, but returned to Lynn due to raids there by Native American tribes. William’s son, grandson, and their entire families were massacred in Groton on July 27, 1697 by Native Americans.
There is no record of Alice after her husband’s death. The assumption is that she remarried and finished her life as an unnamed wife of another man. Once married, a woman had no legal individual identity. Her sons assumed the farm, and continued her legacy.
Alice planted and raised her family in the virgin soil of Reading Massachusetts, and her skills and wisdom built a strong foundation for numerous generations to come. From her adult beginnings as an orphan soon married, to the new land across the sea, she bore our first generation of American citizens. Her descendants include George Sewall Boutwell, whose achievements include Governor of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Treasury under President Grant, appointed the first Commissioner of the Internal Revenue by President Lincoln, Senator, and statesman. He was very involved in the construction and passing of the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution.
She certainly earned the title of a founding mother of these United States of America.