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Thomas Knowlton
Put On Trial
Wife Was Overdressing in Massachusetts, circa 1675


... "Again, in 1651, the General Court... declared its 'utter detestation and dislike that men or women of mean condition, educations and callings should take upon them the garb of gentlemen by the wearing of gold and silver lace, or buttons, or poynts at their knees, to walke in great bootes, or women of the same ranke to wear silke or tiffany hoodes or scarfes, which though allowable to persons of greater estate or more liberal education, yet we cannot but judge intollerable in person of such like condition.'

So, at last, it was ordered that no person whose visible estate did not exceed 200 pounds should wear such buttons or gold or silver lace, or any bone lace above 2s (shillings?) per yard or silk hoods or scarfs, upon penalty of 10s (shillings?) for each offence. Magistrates and their families, military officers, soldiers in time of service, or any whose education or employments were above the ordinary were excepted from the operation of this law.

The judicial powers were in grim earnest, and at the end of the March term of the Quarter Sessions Court, in Ipswich, some of her gentle folk felt the power of the law.

Ruth Haffield, daughter of the widow whose farm was near the bridge, still called "Haffield's" was "presented" as the legal phrase is, for excess in apparel, but upon the affidavit of Richard Coy, that her mother was worth 200 pounds, she was discharged. George Palmer was fined 10s (shillings?) and fees for wearing silver lace...... The wife of John Hutchings was called to account shortly after for wearing a silk hood, but she proved that she had been brought up above the ordinary rank and was discharged.  John Whipple made it evident that he was worth the requisite of 200 pounds and his good wife escaped.

(Several examples later..... ) As late as 1675, ......  THOMAS KNOWLTON and Obadiah Bridges, for their wives' overdress, were called to account before judge and jury."

Mr. Waters does not report if our ancestor was found guilty or not, however, I have seen reference to this incident in other publications, which does indicate he was found guilty and had to fork over his 10 shillings.

Source: Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Thomas Franklin Waters, The Ipswich Historical Society, Ipswich, Mass, 1905, Pgs 41-42:


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Quoted from a source in the public domain. Please cite your sources. Otherwise, Copyright 1998 Norris Taylor