There is little evidence to suggest what Elizabeth was like as a mother, since no family reminiscences appear to have survived. It is possible that she was more nurturing and less authoritarian than her husband, as was often the case in early America. Although an idealized view of motherhood gained great force in the nineteenth century, the idea of the “saintly” mother as linked to Christianity developed much earlier, and in the opening decades of the eighteenth century it became a popular theme.
The Reverend Cotton Mather even went so far as to wonder, in a sermon given upon the occasion of his own mother’s death, whether the Holy Spirit might be the maternal member of the Trinity, observing that “since there was a Father and a Son, certainly there should be a mother as well.“ Laurel Thacher Ulrich suggests that the number of pregnancies a woman endured could add to this saintly and self-sacrificing image, arousing “the sympathy and protective instincts” of a husband and convincing religious children of the strength “of their mother’s claims upon them” (Ulrich, 155, 153, 145).
It is interesting to consider how Elizabeth may have reacted to the fact that her daughters Susannah and Elizabeth, as well as her son Christopher, conceived children out of wedlock. One clue might be found in the way she and William subsequently treated Susannah. They evidently supported Susannah’s decision not to marry the father of her child to the extent that they allowed her to raise the child in their home, and they apparently maintained a close enough relationship that William entrusted Susannah to be the co-executor of his estate and the overseer of Elizabeth’s care, in the event he predeceased her.
As mentioned in the initial research report, “fornication” before marriage was not uncommon in colonial America, because many couples perceived their married state as beginning after they had been contracted to each other but before the actual wedding ceremony had been performed. A review of the Bristol County Court extracts for the early 1700s indicates that premarital sex was also an element of life in early Dartmouth. Although neither Susannah nor her brother Christopher were brought before the court on charges of fornication—which, if the couple remained unmarried, usually resulted in the reputed father being ordered to pay child support—but Elizabeth junior apparently was.
The court records for 1734 indicate that Elizabeth accused a man named Peter Shaw of being the father of her baby; Shaw was ordered to pay weekly maintenance of the child, but a year later he returned to court on two occasions to request that the sum be abated. (His requests were denied.) It is not surprising that Peter Shaw sought relief from these payments, as he also had a family of his own to support. In January 1734 he had married Sarah Brown, the sister of John Brown, the husband of Elizabeth junior’s sister Sarah, and the couple had their first child in June 1735! (Wilbour, 75; Little Compton vital records)
It was initially thought that the Elizabeth White who appeared in court in 1734 was a separate individual because she was identified as being of Little Compton, but newevidence suggests that this was very likely Elizabeth junior. Elizabeth was apparently still living in Dartmouth in April 1734 when she was first called into court; because she hadn’t yet delivered, her father appeared to say that she would attend the next session. By July, when she did appear, she had had her baby and was living in Little Compton, since two local representatives, Ichabod Wileston and Jonathan Records, attended as sureties to ensure that the town would remain “free from the Charge of said Child.” A 1736 document Elizabeth signed (with her mark) confirming that she had received her inheritance from George Cadman indicates that she was still living in Little Compton, as it was witnessed by her brother-in-law, John Brown. It is unclear whether Elizabeth’s baby was still living in 1737 when she married Benjamin Slocum; the various genealogies make no mention of the child (Bristol County Court Abstracts, 41, 42, 44, 47).