Deborah Buffum was born in 1639 in Salem, Massachusetts. Her family was the Quaker Buffum family, headed by her father Robert, who was regularly fined for non-attendance at the Puritan meetings. She married Robert Wilson in Marblehead in 1658, and had at least two children, a Deborah and a Robert.
The records describe Deborah as a Quaker like her parents, and the town History “The Peabody Story” describes her as very young, modest and retiring. One day in June 1662 she walked towards the meeting house stark naked in order to “call attention to the bareness of the religion of the accepted church which all were compelled to attend.”
Deborah was arrested before she got to the meeting house, and the court records say that for “barbarous and unhuman going naked through the town, is sentenced to be tied at a cart tail with her body naked downward to her waist, and whipped…till she come to her own house, not exceeding thirty stripes, and her mother Buffum and her sister Smith, that were abetted to her, etc, to be tied on either side of her at the cart tail naked to their shifts to the waist and accompany her…”
Her husband, Robert Wilson, was not a Quaker, but he obviously loved his wife. He walked beside the cart, putting his hat between the whip and his wife. I imagine it was one of those large brimmed, black Puritan style hats. Perhaps it was a hat like you see in Pilgrim cartoons. One of those hats would have made some sort of cushion from the whip.
According to the “Annals of Salem,” the constable sentenced to execute the punishment was Daniel Rumdel, who had “bowels of compassion” for his victim. He “on purpose” made his whippings miss or land lightly. Some accounts of this story have the constable sparing her with his own hat, and one account I read imagined a love story between the constable and the Quaker wife. However, the town histories state that the husband, Robert Wilson, put his own hand and hat between the whip and his wife. I’m sure that this kind hearted constable allowed the husband to walk there, and looked the other way at the “clapping [of] his hat sometimes between the whip and her back.”
After this Deborah was fined for non-attendance at the meeting house, until the court was informed she was “distempered in the head.” I suppose she was suffering from some sort of mental illness that perhaps began before the whipping incident. There are no more records on Deborah. She died in 1668, at about 30 years old.
Robert Wilson, her husband, remarried to Anna Trask. They had one child, Anna, born in 1674. Only one year later Robert was killed by the Indians at a massacre in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on 18 September 1675. Sixty four men from Essex County died in the attack, and were buried in one mass grave. Robert Wilson was about 45 years old. Cotton Mather wrote “In this black and fatal day… six and twenty children made orphans, all in one little plantation.” The site of the massacre was renamed “Bloody Brook.”
Deborah and Robert Wilson were my 9x great grandparents. For a family tree, please see my posting on September 21, 2009 at http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2009/09/buried-at-mall.html
For more information:
“Annals of Salem, Massachusetts” by Joseph B. Felt, 1827
“The Peabody Story” by John A. Wells, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, 1973, pages 136-7.
Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo