Monday, February 9, 2015

How can that be? Mother and Daughter- Mrs. Margaret Gifford and Mrs. Margaret Gifford

In the following court case from 1674, my 7th great grandfather, John Cogswell (1650 – 1724) sued his future in-laws, John Gifford (1623 – 1693) and Mrs. Margaret (Temple) Gifford in Essex County, Massachusetts for delaying his marriage to their daughter, Mrs. Margaret Gifford (b. 1653).

Wait a minute!  How can the daughter be called Mrs. Margaret Gifford?  Was she a widow?

Read the following case, and then the explanations below:

Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Salem, Mass:  Published by the Essex Institute, 1916,  Volume 5, pages 380 – 382.

“There being a petition present by John Cogswell concerning a difference between him and Mr. John Gifford, in relation to his proceeding in marriage with Mrs. Margaret, daughter of Mr. Gifford, court seriously considering the case, declared that they could see no reason why the said John and Margaret should be hindered or delayed in marriage.*

Capt. Tho. Marshall testified that in discourse with Mr. John Gifford this morning concerning the marriage, he said that if it was his daughter’s mind to go, he would not hinder her, and further said Gifford told deponent and Mr. Purchass the day before that he would leave it to authority.  Sworn in court.

John Floyd testified that the last winter Mrs. Gifford came to his house, and upon asking her about the marriage, she said she should not trouble about it until her husband came home and did not show any unwillingness.  Sworn in court.

Mr. John Cogswell affirmed that while Mr. Gifford was in England and Mrs. Gifford had the disposal of her daughter, they agreed to the marriage, and Margaret owned in court that there was a solemn promise, which she should ever stand to, with said Cogswell.

*John Cogswell’s petition, dated July 21, 1674, that the persons concerned, Mr. and Mrs. Gifford of Lynn and Mistriss Margaret Gifford, might appear before the court for a hearing.
Mrs. Margarett Giffard affirmed that John Cogswell made a solemn promise to marry her daughter while Mr. Gifford was in England.

Special warrant, dated July 22, 1674, for the appearance of Mr. John Gifford, wife and daughter Margarett, “forewith at the sight hearof,” at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, to answer the complaint of John Cogswell, signed by Hilliard Veren+ by special order of the court.

Brief notes of Mr. Coggeswells & Mrs Margaret Gifford’s case, Mr. Gifford himself being at London: “About the middle of february last was 12 monthes hauing bene at mr. Gifford’s hwse 2 or 3 times before, John Cogswell desired her that hee might haue libety to speake with her:  She Answered that she could not except it was her mothers mind or will.  This was in the after no one that day.  Next morning he Came againe.  He asked Mrs. Gifford her leaue that hee might speake with Margarett, her Answer was he might: & then shee went Vp into the Chamber, & left them both below together & they were together aloane an houre or more.  The next time which was within one weeke or fortnight after he went againe, & Mrs. Gifford & her Daughter were then about going to Boston next morning, & Mrs Gifford did inuite him to stay all night.  She said he should be welcome, but she had noe intertainment for his horse, soe he went away & Came againe next morning & he desired to Carry Mrs. Margaret:  she said she would be willing of it, but onely for the discourse of people & she said if the said Coggswell would Carry her selfe shee should be thankfull, & soe he carried her, as farr as capt Marshalles: & then he asked her that he might Carry Margaret & she gaue him leaue.  Soe as they went mrs Gifford haueing occation to speake with a man shee met upon the roade, & young Coggswell & Margarett offered to stay for her, Mrs Gifford bid them goe on; she would follow them, & they tarried upon the roade almost an houre for her.

“The next time (as they remember) John Coggswell Came to the house & Mrs Gifford was at Boston, or not at home, & the said Coggswell went home before Mrs Gifford returned, & in the meane time Margarett tould her mother John had bene there:  The said John Coggswell Came time after time, till about the middle of the summer, & then she hauing some intelligence from Chebacco (as he supposeth) mrs Gifford betweene John Coggswell & her selfe gaue her Consent that hee should haue her daughter, but desired that would not be married till Mr. Gifford Came home, if did Come in some short time.  In the meane time she haueing her mother consent to proceed; the yonge folks did ingage themseues by promise to each other to adioyne together in marriage & this was three or foure monthes before any denyall.  In the beginning of January she gaue him a denyall, which was almost one yeare after his former incouragement was began.  She saith after John Coggswell had bene at mr Giffords twice, some of their neighbors tould her that Coggswell came to be a uter to her & shee tould her mother of it, & she said shee heard soe too.  And about 3 or 4 dayes after he Came to the howse, & she looking out of dores, she tould her mother mr Cogswell was Coeming againe, & she said she did not belieue it was as they heard.  Soe he came in at dores & sat downe a while, & asked which was the way to Reading, & mrs Margaret tould him hee Could not miss the way, but he semed much, that he desired that shee would shew him the way.  But she was pretty unwilling, But mrs Gifford seemed as if she should goe & shew him the way.

“So Margaret standing upon the threshold, John Coggswell desired to speake a word or two with her at a neighbors howse:  She Answered, tould him it did not ley in her power, vnlesse it was with her mothers will, soe John went away & left her.  Soe Margaret went to the dore & tould her mother that she vunderstoode what his business was, but she would not giue him liberty to speake with her without her leaue, for she had left it wholly to her.  And her mother asked her if he was gone.  And Mrs Gifford said she did beleeue he would Come againe the next day & I said Margaret I beleeue soe too.  Soe accordingly he came the next day & Asked her Consent, which she granted, soe shee went up to the stayers, & left them alone below about an houre or more.  After he was gone Margaret tould her mother what had past betweene them, And her mother said, she had nothing against him.  She did not know what might bee, she liked him very well.  Some times John Coggswell Came when my mother was not at home, but allwaies Margaret tould her mother what past betweene them, & when hee Came when Mrs Gifford was at home, she allwaise made him welcome.  Aboute the latter end of August 73, there grew some difference betweene the said John & Margarett & one of their neighbors tould her mother of it.  And her mother Asked Margarett if it was soe.  & she ould her yea, & she asked her what was the reason for it, saying she did beleeue it was because you haue heard your father was Coming ouer with good estate, & that neighbours would be apt to think soe too, & wisht Margaret had bene wiser, you might haue kept him in hand till you father Came home, & let him haue broke it if Margaret had bene soe minded. And afterward the yonge folke were reconciled againe themselues.  And soe haue Continewed to this day.”


The abbreviation “Mrs.” came from the title “Mistress”, which in 1674 New England was a title of honor for anyone who was of a good station in life.  Women of a lesser social class were called “Goodwife” or “Goody”.  It had nothing to do with marital status.

Why did John Cogswell sue Margaret’s parents?  In Puritan Massachusetts a marriage was not a religious rite, but a legal contract.  From the moment a couple declared their intentions, it was a legally binding contract.  In fact, this court record is dated 22 July 1674, and that is the date of the marriage of John Cogswell and Margaret Gifford recorded in the Ipswich vital records.  They were considered already legally married when this case was closed by the court.

Why did the mother, Mrs. Gifford, say she had “No entertainment for the horse”?   How do you entertain a horse? Well, in 1674 the word entertainment was used to describe maintenance or provision.  A house of entertainment was an inn or tavern not because they put on shows, but because they boarded travelers.  You might see on an antique tavern sign “Good entertainment for Man and Horse”.   There were no horses sitting in the audience of the comedy club.  Mrs. Gifford was stating that she had no stable nor food for the horse to stay overnight.

Why would Mrs. Gifford allow her daughter’s suitor to stay overnight?  In colonial times people worked all day, every day, and the only time for courting was in the evening.  Couples were allowed to stay up all night and visit, chaperoned or not.  In the winter, when it was cold, they were even allowed to get into bed (fully clothed) and stay up and visit with each other.  This was called “bundling”.  Usually the chamber was full of other siblings, guests, and family members and there was no expectation of privacy.

Why did John Cogswell want to carry Margaret around the neighborhood?  He wasn’t offering to carry her in his arms.  He was offering to take her for a ride on his horse around the neighborhood. 

Doesn’t the whole story make more sense now that you understand the archaic terms?

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Copyright © 2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Excellent illustration of the (odd to us) speech of the times - and a good story. Thanks.

  2. Hi, Heather,

    I just wanted to let you know that your post was featured on my Friday Finds and Follows post this week on my AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors blog.

  3. Interesting discussion of differences between modern day concepts and yesterday's definitions of the same words. I think of the differences between the names for relationships such as nephew, father -in -law, etc between then and now.