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18 September 2014
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The History Detective: Story of George Burdett

By John Arnold
Finishing the story

Image of a man and woman embracing
Adultery and fornication as portrayed in a pamphlet of 1650 ©
We need to remember that in building our picture, we made choices and interpretations along the way, and some of these may have led us to draw the wrong conclusions. Also that another reason why the pictures created by historians are never really finished is that interpretations can change.

As I reviewed the story we have created, the element with which I was personally least satisfied was Burdett's motive for leaving his family. Is prosecution enough to abandon a family? What of Winthrop's charges of adultery and fornication? So I went in search of a final jigsaw piece, using a different kind of resource - the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. This is a collection of notes and articles by American local historians, which is available on CD-ROM and can be searched extensively by word.

'Burdett promises to pay Ann £112 ... '

Here we find a reference to a deposition given in a 1682 court case by one Edward Johnson, of York, New England. In it he said that:

About 42 or 43 years agone (ie 1639-40] hee remembereth that at that time Mrs Ann Messant, alias Godrey, lived with Mr Geo[rge] Burdett then Minister of Agamenticus [now called York] In the Province of Mayne and at that tyme keept s[aid] Burdett's house. [Burdett then] ... had occasion to borrow of s[ai]d Ann Godrey a certen p[ar]cell of Money amounting to the valew of seaven scoore pounds or y[ere]abouts, which money remained in the sayd Burdetts hands for some years before the s[ai]d Burdett left ye Countrey'.
... the s[ai]d Ann Godfrey began to Consider how shee should have her money w[here]upon shee desired some Assurance for security y[ere]of upon which hee gave Ann Messant alisas Godrey afterwards a writeing pretending to be a deed for his farme'.

This 'writing pretending to be a deed' is recorded in the York County Deeds, and says that Burdett promises to pay Ann £112 at the end of March 1641. The problem with the 'deed' is that it was neither dated nor signed, thus making it legally unenforceable.

Published: 2005-01-28

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