#52 Ancestors Week 10 - "Strong Woman"

Elizabeth Lake Butts may be my 9th great grandmother. I'm not 100% sure that the family lineage is correct, but I read all about the Lake family anyway because the story was so fascinating. I don't have a DNA match to her, but my some of my paternal relatives do. Their DNA tests show several matches to Elizabeth's daughter, Hepzibiah Butts and her husband, William Earle through their son Nathaniel Earle.
Elizabeth lost her mother and was abandoned by her father when she was 10 years old. This was because her mother, Alice Lake, was unjustly hanged as a witch. Her execution was in Dorchester, Massachusetts, circa 1650, over 40 years before the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.
Most of what is known about Alice Lake is from documents produced after she was executed. Many of her descendants have put together timelines from the records that exist. I won't get into the minutiae of referencing every record for the purpose of this post. If you are interested in more details, there are some research notes compiled here . Also here.  Much has been written about her.

At the time of her arrest Alice Lake was around 30 years old and the mother of five children under the age of 10. Alice's youngest child died and she was grief stricken. She made the lethal mistake of telling someone that imagined she saw the baby. (My armchair psychology tells me that she was probably suffering from Post Partum Depression). Word must have got around because the Town of Dorchester arrested, tried, convicted and executed Alice on charges of witchcraft. Written in the language of the time: "Alice LAKE of Dorchester was reportedly enticed into witchcraft 'by the devil...appearing to her in the likeness, and acting the part, of a child of hers then dead, on whom her heart was much set." [Nathaniel Mather's 1684 letter to his brother Increase Mather.] 

Alice was given the opportunity to recant her story, but she never did. She held to her statement that she had seen her dead child. Her belief was that her death sentence was just, but not because she was a witch. She denied that until the very end. She believed she was being sentenced to death because in the eyes of God she was a murderer.  Reverend John Hale wrote about Alice in 1707, 57 years after her death...
"A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft" By John Hale
 "And upon the day of her Execution Mr. Thompson Minister at Brantry, and J.P. her former Master took pains with her to bring her to repentance And she utterly denyed her guilt of Witchcraft; yet justifyed God for bringing her to that punishment: For she had when a single woman played the harlot, and being with Child used means to destroy the fruit of her body to conceal her sin & shame, and although she did not effect it, yet she was a Murderer in the sight of God for her endeavours, and showed great penitency for that sin; but owned nothing of the crime laid to her charge."
My 9th great grandmother, Elizabeth Lake, must have been that child who was conceived out of wedlock. She was the oldest of Alice and Henry Lake's children. How does a child ever process this information in Puritan times?

In the aftermath of Alice Lake's execution, her husband took off abandoning his four remaining children. His name appears regularly in the records of Portsmouth, RI, beginning in April 1651. Meanwhile the four Lake children, all less than ten years old, remained in Dorchester. One, probably the youngest, was 'bound out' by the town meeting to a local family for a 'consideration' of 26 pounds--and was dead within two years. The other three were also placed in separate Dorchester households. At this point their trail becomes obscured. One was living as a servant to an uncle--still in Dorchester--in 1659. Later, having reached adulthood, the same three were found in Rhode Island. It appears, therefore, that the family was eventually reunited, some two decades after the event that had broken it apart.

Elizabeth married Thomas Butts in Rhode Island in 1667. Her marriage to Thomas seemed to be a happy one. They had five children. They were all well cared for. It was heartwarming to see that Thomas declared his affection for Elizabeth in his will...
"Be it known for the true love & tender affection I have & bare to my beloved wife Elizabeth Butt who hath been a tender beloved wife to me, do constitute and appoint her to be my sole executrix of this my last will & testament to see it truly performed with and by the advice, approbation & consent of my two overseers (with her) of this my last will & testament their names inserted in the conclusion of this my will."

 David Lake, one of Alice's surviving sons, married Sarah Earle Cornell in Rhode Island in 1678. She was the widow of Thomas Cornell, Jr. and William Earle's aunt. Thomas was executed for murdering his mother, Rebecca (Rebecka) Briggs Cornell. It is another crazy story. You can read more about it here. It seems to me that the Elizabeth and her family drew strength from the adversity they endured. She somehow survived unbelievable loss, abandonment and public humiliation to go on and have a good life. She died on Sept.10, 1707 at the age of 67💪

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