The Story of Mary Baily
The true story behind the scarlet letter.
A Beautiful Young Widow
Our g-grandmother Mary Baily came from England when she was a child. She met Robert Beadle, a fisherman out of Kittery ME, and fell in love. They got married before she was 20 years old, and they made their home in Kittery. She was a church-going woman and active in her community. They were married for 5 years and had 2 children (Christopher and Elizabeth) when he died, presumably lost at sea. Mary was left alone to raise her young children -- there was no extended family, no social security insurance, and no help from the community. In those days, the options for single mothers was to get a menial low-paying job or get married.
Stephen Batchelder, an older widowed minister, invited Mary to be his housekeeper. In a letter to his friend, Governor John Winthrop, he wrote:
And whereas, by approbation of the whole plantation of Strawberry Bank, they have assigned an honest neighbor, (a widow) to have some eye and care towards my family, for washing, baking, and other such common services, -- it is a world of woes to think what rumors detracting spirits raise up, that I am married to her, or certainly shall be and cast on her such aspersions without ground or proof, that I see not how possibly I shall subsist in the place, to do them that service from which, otherwise they cannot endure to hear I shall depart. The Lord direct and guide us jointly and singularly in all things, to his glory and our rejoicing in the day and at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ!Mary accepted his offer and moved in with her children. This arrangement was congenial and platonic, but Stephen's enemies saw this as a way to get revenge. The court ruled that Stephen and Mary both needed to tow the line. Although their age difference would seem to make their relationship improbable (he was 86 and she was only 25), they were fined 10 pounds for living in the same house while not being married. Stephen was not above bending the rules if he could side-step his enemies. Rather than pay, Stephen announced that he had performed the wedding ceremony himself and had forgotten to record it with the court. On April 9, 1650, the fine was reduced to 5 pounds "for not publishing his marriage according to law," and, in fact, the marriage appears never to have been recorded at all. It was "ordered that Mr. Bachelor and Mary his wife shall live together, as they publicly agreed to do, and if either desert the other, the Marshal to take them to Boston to be kept until next quarter Court of Assistants, to consider a divorce. Bail to be granted if satisfactory security could be obtained. In case Mary Bacheller live out of this jurisdiction without mutual consent for a time, notice of her absence to be given to the Magistrates at Boston." This order was unusally harsh even by Puritan standards, and shows how vindictive Stephen's enemies were.
The Trouble With Mary
Stephen and Mary did not want to be married to each other. Although the court threatened to divorce them, they would not grant it at the couple's request. Meanwhile, Mary fell in love with a neighbor closer to her age, George Rogers. This affair was discovered when Mary became pregnant. In 1651, Mary was sentenced by the Georgiana (York) Court: "We do present George Rogers and Mary Batcheller, the wife of Mr. Stephen Batcheller, minister, for adultery. It is ordered that Mrs. Batcheller, for her adultery, shall receive forty stripes save one, at the first town meeting held at Kittery, 6 weeks after her delivery, and be branded with the letter A." George was also flogged. In the end, their relationship did not survive the social pressure and the couple ended their affair. Mary had a baby girl and gave her Stephen's last name, although Stephen and his family disowned her.
Mary seperated from Stephen and lived on a lot in Kittery, granted her in 1648, adjoining the Piscataqua River, nearly opposite the boundary line between Portsmouth and Newington. Meanwhile, Stephen's enemies had made life impossible for him and he left for England, never to return.
Meanwhile, Mary was stigmatized by the events and her actions were closely watched. She generally rejected the local church-goers as hypocritical, and they were quick to show their disapproval of her. She was accused and fined several times for adultery. Having sex while legally married to someone else was a sin and, therefore, a crime. Mary tried for many years to get a divorce from Stephen, but until it would be granted (even though the marriage was never recorded), any attempt at starting a relationship was illegal. Mary moved to Connecticut and lived with Thomas Hanscom. Once again, the court disapproved and the couple was ordered not to live together.
In a final appeal, Mary went to the court in Boston. Desperately, she claimed Stephen had taken another wife and that her children were "diseased". Stephen's relatives were afraid she was after his property and did their best to further malign her character, pointing out her supposedly loose character. In 1656, Mary's divorce was finally granted, and ironically, Stephen Bachiler was buried just seventeen days later. By this time, Thomas Hanscom had moved on and Mary was once again alone.
Finally, in 1657, at age 34, she married Thomas Turner and lived the rest of her life in quiet respectability.
The Scarlet Letter
Eleanor Campbell Schoen states "A book written in 1910 states that Mary Magdalene Bailey Beedle Bachiler Turner was the woman upon whom Nathaniel Hawthorne patterned Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter". The evidence is strong that Hester Prynne was a character derived from Hawthorne's extensive knowledge of the history of Kittery in colonial times."
Other spellings: Bachiler, Bachelor, Batcheller, Batchiller, Batchilder.
Stephen was a remarkable figure in American History and contributed much to religious tolerance and a culture of acceptance. Although a devout Puritan, he liked to alter the church services and tended to forgive lesser transgressions from his flock. For this he got kicked out of the Puritan churches in England. When King James (inventor of the King James version of the Bible) held the Hampton Court Conference (1604) railing against all Puritans, Stephen left the country.
In the New World, Stephen found the fundamentalist Puritans to be more difficult to deal with than at home in England. He changed his faith to Presbyterian and made several attempts to start his own community, acquiring property in Massachusetts and Maine. He made a lot of enemies, and they in turn set out to make his life difficult. He came seeking religious freedom, but in the end decided he would rather face the persecution in England.
Some excellent and accurate sources on Stephen:
Mary's Divorce Petition
The following was filed October 1656:
To the Honored Governor, Deputy Governor, with the Magistrates and Deputies at the General Court at Boston:
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