Benanuel and Jerathmeel Bowers (Ben and Jerry)
Warning: this story contains references to fornication, moonshine, corporal punishment and jail. (Good, now that I have your attention – Read on!)
My 7th paternal great-grandfather, Jerathmeel Bowers, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1650 to George and Elizabeth (Worthington) Bowers. When Jerathmeel was six his father died and six months later his mother Elizabeth married Henry Bowtell.
The next mention of Jerathmeel in 1670 states that he “proved an outrageously insolent servant and was convicted of premarital fornication. (with Elizabeth Wilder)” (Sex in Middlesex). Massachusetts law provided,“that if any man commit fornication, with any single woman, they shall be punished, either by enjoining marriage, or fine, or corporal punishment, or all or any of these, as the judge of the Court that hath Cognizance of the case shall appoint”
In 1670, records show that Jerathmeel and Elizabeth were enjoined by the court and in 1671 had their first child, Hannah. Jerathmeel served in King William’s War and later as a captain in Queen Anne’s War.
Jerathmeel operated a still on the corner of his property and may have been the first man in Chelmsford to receive a license to sell liquor (“strong waters”). He was actively engaged in farming and became one of Chelmsford’s most prominent citizens, in addition to being a man of substantial wealth. His greatest distinctions came from serving the Town of Chelmsford as a selectman in 1690-92, state representative in 1697 and 1698. (Groton’s Anonymous Mistress, Carl Flowers)
These documents offer additional information about Jerathmeel and Benanuel.
Benanuel Bowers – George Bowers by a previous marriage had a son who he named Benanuel (1627-1698). According to published accounts, Benanuel and his wife Elizabeth (Dunster), due to being Quakers, both received “cruel whippings and imprisonment and the loss of part of their worldly substance” through “the outrage and violence of fiery zealots of the Presbyterian party.”
In one case, he came to the aid of a well known early Quaker by the name of Elizabeth Wooten. From an account of her travels – “So afterwards I returned to Cambridge, where they were very thirsty for blood because none had been there before that I knew of, and I cried repentance through some part of the town. So they took me and had me early in the morning before Thomas Danforth and Daniel Gookin, two of their magistrates who by their jailer thrust me in a very dark dungeon for the space of two days and two nights without helping me to either bread or water. But a Friend, Benanuel Bower, brought me some milk and they cast him into prison because he entertained a stranger and fined him £5.”
Other offenses of his are also documented – Benanuel Bowers appearing before the court and being convicted of absenting himself the public ordinances of Christ on the Lord’s days, by his own confession, for about a quarter of a year past, and of entertaining Quakers into his family two several times, on his examination he affirmed that the Spirit of God was a Christian’s rule. (Source)
Quakers Benanuel Bowers and Elizabeth Dunster Bowers had twelve children. One daughter, Bathsheba Bowers, become a well-known writer and speaker.
For further information about Colonial America read:
America’s True History of Religious Tolerance – The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record (Smithsonian Magazine, Oct 2010)
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