Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Love Story Too Sad for Valentine’s Day

Deborah Wilson, a Quaker in very Puritan Salem Village

Deborah Buffum was born in 1639 in Salem, Massachusetts. Her family was the Quaker Buffum family, headed by her father Robert, who was regularly fined for non-attendance at the Puritan meetings. She married Robert Wilson in Marblehead in 1658, and had at least two children, a Deborah and a Robert.

The records describe Deborah as a Quaker like her parents, and the town History “The Peabody Story” describes her as very young, modest and retiring. One day in June 1662 she walked towards the meeting house stark naked in order to “call attention to the bareness of the religion of the accepted church which all were compelled to attend.”

Deborah was arrested before she got to the meeting house, and the court records say that for “barbarous and unhuman going naked through the town, is sentenced to be tied at a cart tail with her body naked downward to her waist, and whipped…till she come to her own house, not exceeding thirty stripes, and her mother Buffum and her sister Smith, that were abetted to her, etc, to be tied on either side of her at the cart tail naked to their shifts to the waist and accompany her…”

Her husband, Robert Wilson, was not a Quaker, but he obviously loved his wife. He walked beside the cart, putting his hat between the whip and his wife. I imagine it was one of those large brimmed, black Puritan style hats. Perhaps it was a hat like you see in Pilgrim cartoons. One of those hats would have made some sort of cushion from the whip.

According to the “Annals of Salem,” the constable sentenced to execute the punishment was Daniel Rumdel, who had “bowels of compassion” for his victim. He “on purpose” made his whippings miss or land lightly. Some accounts of this story have the constable sparing her with his own hat, and one account I read imagined a love story between the constable and the Quaker wife. However, the town histories state that the husband, Robert Wilson, put his own hand and hat between the whip and his wife. I’m sure that this kind hearted constable allowed the husband to walk there, and looked the other way at the “clapping [of] his hat sometimes between the whip and her back.”

After this Deborah was fined for non-attendance at the meeting house, until the court was informed she was “distempered in the head.” I suppose she was suffering from some sort of mental illness that perhaps began before the whipping incident. There are no more records on Deborah. She died in 1668, at about 30 years old.

Robert Wilson, her husband, remarried to Anna Trask. They had one child, Anna, born in 1674. Only one year later Robert was killed by the Indians at a massacre in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on 18 September 1675. Sixty four men from Essex County died in the attack, and were buried in one mass grave. Robert Wilson was about 45 years old. Cotton Mather wrote “In this black and fatal day… six and twenty children made orphans, all in one little plantation.” The site of the massacre was renamed “Bloody Brook.”

Deborah and Robert Wilson were my 9x great grandparents. For a family tree, please see my posting on September 21, 2009 at

For more information:

“Annals of Salem, Massachusetts” by Joseph B. Felt, 1827

“The Peabody Story” by John A. Wells, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, 1973, pages 136-7.


To Cite/Link to this blog post: Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "A Love Story Too Sad for Valentine's Day", Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 11, 2010, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. A sad love story indeed, but what a wonderful man. How horrible that the people of Salem did that to Deborah, her mother and sister. Thank you for telling their story.

  2. Wow...what a story. Excellent research and supporting evidence. How sad, but what an example of spirit and love. Amazing that you know so much about your 9x great grandparents. So glad their story lives on...good job.

  3. 9X great grandparents, you must be a veritble child --- and a lucky one to have so much knowledge about your forebearers. Thanks for sharing this story of love and sadness of another time and place.

  4. That is a sad love story, and how well-documented it is! It is always interesting to find the stories beyond the dates and places.

  5. What a great story! Don't we all wish we had such interesting ancestors. Excellent research Heather!

  6. There's so much irony in this story! Going naked was deemed 'barbarous' but the punishment was not?? Well, 350 years later, Your Honor, we know who the real barbarian was.

  7. Well, that story pissed me off so much, Heather, I almost forgot what I was gonna tell you! Your excellent Surnames page is what motivated me to sign up for the GeneaBloggers Games. When I saw your page, I thought I'd really like to do something similar. Then I saw it was one of the Tasks in the Games... so there I am, for better or worse! Thanks for the motivation!

  8. Thanks Amanda, Joan, Wendy, Sheri and Herstoryan for all your comments. T.K, don't get too riled up about the barbarian magistrates in Salem, thirty years later (in 1692) they were a whole lot worse when the witch trials rolled around. But that's another blog posting for another time!

  9. Terrible. Terrible. Good for the husband and the constable.

  10. Very interesting, tragedy and love rolled in one story. Very well written and very captivating. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

  11. I'd be curious to find identification of Bloody Brook. I live just north of Deerfield.

    1. There is a monument on Main Street as you travel north from town in South Deerfield.

  12. I never heard such a disheartening story. Poor woman, evidently not assured of the beliefs of her religion. And what a dear man to walk aside her and protect her from the whip. What a time those people lived through. And after all that the natives took his life. Three children left to suffer.

  13. I have many Wilsons in my family tree. I also lost family in the Battle of Bloody Brook. Human Nature makes no sense sometimes. If God is unconditional love, how can a church condone the whip? Happy Valentine's Day everyone. Thank you,Robert Wilson, for loving and protecting your wife as best you could.

  14. Thanks for the story, Heather. My husband, another Robert Wilson, descends from Deborah's younger brother, Caleb. This means, of course, that his ancestor Tamosin, Deborah and Caleb's mother, was also whipped, even more horrendous for a woman in her mid-50s. Another fascinating bit of Salem history.

  15. Shebis my 9th great grandmother as well. That makes us cousins. Fell free to contact me. Patricia Whitaker