“From the Lakeman place to the corner of the Road to Jeffries’ Neck, there were two original lots, John Sanders, next to the Lakeman place, and then John Perkins, the elder, but Perkins bought of Sanders, his lot, an acre and three rods, in 1639. John Perkins, “Taller” and Matthew Perkins, weaver, the sons of Jacob Perkins 3rd, agreed to divide the paternal estate. Jacob received the “mansion next to widow Hodgkins” in 1695. Jacob Perkins, in his will probated 1705 bequeathed his sons, John and Jacob, and his daughter, Elizabeth, his houses and lands, and his son Elisha, is also included.” John Perkins’ will survives to this day, and the 1693 Hodgkins-Lakeman house next door still stands as well.
There is an old Ipswich story is that the previous 1640 Perkins home burned in 1668 when their indentured servant Mehitable Braybrook dropped ashes from her pipe on the straw roof. She was arrested on suspicion of “incendiarism”, and testified that she stood upon the oven on the back side of the house to see if there were any hogs in the corn, and while so doing, she knocked the ashes out of her pipe upon the thatch. She was found guilty of “extreme carelessness if not willfully setting the fire” and was sentenced to be whipped and to pay damages to Perkins. She was the same unfortunate Mehitable Braybrook who was arrested in 1692 during the Salem witchcraft hysteria and was imprisoned in the cold Ipswich jail, oft-described as a dank and vermin-ridden pit.
Mehitable was not the daughter of Richard Braybrook’s wife Joan, but was the product of an affair with their serving girl Alice Eliss. On March 30, 1652 Richard Braybrook was sentenced to be severely whipped for fornication, and Alice Eilss, was freed from his service. The court ruled that Richard and Joan should raise the child, Mehitable in his house, and provide for Alice until she recovered from the birth of their child. Alice was to be whipped after the birth of the child at a time that court judges Mr. Symonds and Maj. Denison shall appoint.
After Mehitable ‘burnt down’ Jacob Perkins’ home with her smoking pipe she married John Downing. Records have her as Mehitabel and Mehitable and Braybrooke and Braybrook. Her husband is also listed as Downing and Downeing.”
In 1692 both Joan Braybrook and 40-year-old Mehitable (who Joan despised her entire life) were accused of witchcraft and landed in jail, and are found among the 10 persons petitioning for release. The release was secured the trials having come to an end before the judges heard their cases. Richard Braybrook apparently took good care of Mehitable in his will. Despite an ongoing court battle between Joan Braybrook and Mehitable Downing over the will, 1699 probate records show that John Downing, Sr. and Mehitable deeded 200 acres, half of their farm known formerly as Richard Braybrook’s farm, to their son, David Downing.
- The Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County Mass. Vol 4: page 56 & 57 Ipswich Quarterly Court – Sept 29, 1668. Mehitable was committed to prison, Aug. 15, 1666, but her father bound for Mehitabel’s appearance at the next Ipswich court
A “burning” question: Which Jacob Perkins house did Mehitable Braybrooke burn?
- The Quarterly Court records are not specific on the location of the house, hence the uncertainty, and they do not identify which Jacob Perkins was employing Mehitable Brabrook. It could have been the Jacob who inherited the house at 80 East Street from John Perkins, Sr., or it could have been Jacob the son of John Perkins Jr. who was probably living in a house on his fathers 200 acre farm in Chebacco, near his brother Abraham.
- Part of the testimony against Mehitable was given by the wife of Abraham Perkins who lived within sight of the house that was burned. Therefore, the location of Abraham Perkins’ house is very important to my reasoning. My ancestor William Whitred sold to John Perkins (Jr, also my ancestor) his farm of two hundred acres in Chebacco in 1660. This farm would have been inherited by the Perkins sons Abraham and Jacob.
- In testimony Mehitable said that (prior to the fire) her master (Jacob) and his wife had “gone to the town.” If the house was on East St., I think it was already in the town. If the house was in Chebacco then indeed going “to the town” would have placed Jacob and his wife roughly five miles away at the time of the fire.
- If the burned house was at (now) 80 East Street it would have been in town and near to many villagers who would have helped put out the fire. But Mehitable went to the house of Jacob’s brother Abraham (and Hannah) Perkins (son and daughter-in-law of John Jr. in Chebacco) to seek help according to Mehitable’s very strange testimony.
- If I recall correctly, thatch roofs were outlawed in the village of Ipswich at that time (but perhaps not in the countryside). The house fire began with the thatch roof catching on fire. The fire was not contained for lack of “ladders and help,” something one could get in a village but not in sparsely populated Chebacco.
- The testimony of Timothy Bragg who was nearby on that day. I know that the Bragg’s lived across from the Whittredge/Perkins property on Apple St.
- Important details may exist in the full records which are, unless they have been moved, at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. They were transcribed in the 1930’s during the WPA. The full records can only be viewed in person.
- There is also my personal investigation of the landscape along Apple Street done about 15 years ago. I have walked the old Perkins farm and neighboring properties and spoken with the residents and visited their cellars and wells and boundary walls. I have reviewed maps and determined the extent of the original farms. The result is that I can easily put together the landscape described in the court testimony, from house locations, wells, fields for the corn (and hogs), and the old roads that connected them, which have now all but disappeared.
- Abraham Perkins was definitely living in Chebacco in 1672 and probably in 1669 according to testimony in the Records and Files. Both Abraham and his brother Jacob inherited their fathers farm, 100 acres each. I believe that were both living in houses in different parts of the farm in 1668 at the time of the fire. New houses were built over the old foundations and exist today.
- Richard Braybrook, Mehitable’s father, had a farm in Chebacco where Mehitable would have been raised. In modern terms the location was on the Gloucester side of Eben’s Creek in Essex, on the north side of route 133. The Braybrooks and the Perkins would have been neighbors in Chebacco, although distant.
- Other testimony against Mehitable was given by Timothy Bragg (I need to verify that name) whose parents had the farm on the opposite side of Apple St, opposite the Perkins farm. He would have been the neighborhood “boyfriend” who was with Mehitable on the day of the fire.
“Susanna daughter to John Roberts, born about 1682 in Gloucester was married Nov. 5 1701 in Ipswich to David Downing. He was born about 1677 in Ipswich, son to John and Mehitable Braybrook Downing of that town. On June 12, 1699 soon after David became of age, his father John Downing Sen. and Mehitable, wife of John, both of Ipswich for love & natural affection conveyed to David Downing our Son the full half part of that halfe of ye farm we now live upon in Chebacco in Ipswich, formerly called Richard Braybrooks’ farme from whom we derived our right.
In 1701, Thomas Luskin (Lufkin?) Junior and David Downing both of Ipswich, husbandmen, took measures to establish the bounds between their lands which they had by gift and purchase from their father John Downing Senior of Ipswich.
- Jan 19, 1704-05 David Downing and Susanna, my now wife of Ipswich, sold to Thomas Butler of that town for 18 pounds, sixty acres of the westerly end of Braybrook’s farm (in) Chebacco, adjoining land of John Burnam, Mr Adams Coggswell and the widow Varney’s two acres.”