Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-Century Pelham, Massachusetts: The Jonathan Edwards Clan, Divorce Law, and the Eleanor Gray Case

Roy Carpenter


When Eleanor Gray of Pelham, Massachusetts submitted a petition for divorce to the governor in May 1746, her husband, Samuel Gray, does not appear to have been overly concerned. He made no attempt to deny the fact that he had had an extramarital relationship with a certain Isabel Crawford which had resulted in the birth of a child, even though adultery constituted grounds for divorce. Perhaps, as a recent immigrant from Northern Ireland, he was not familiar with the intricacies of colonial procedure, which required an act of the legislative assembly for a marriage to be annulled and a divorce granted, but even when a summons to appear before the Governor’s Council the following January was delivered to him in person by a deputy sheriff of Hampshire County, he simply ignored it. In fact, it was not until the following April, after the divorce had been officially pronounced and the Council began to address the question of how much financial support he would have to provide, that Samuel began to mount a serious defense. By that time, however, Eleanor had been taken under the wing of the powerful Edwards-Stoddard clan of neighboring Northampton, members of which had secured the assistance of an array of public officials determined to defend her interests. Samuel’s last-minute, desperate attempt at trying to get out of supporting his ex-wife gives the distinct impression of a man who had severely miscalculated the ease with which he could benefit from a legal system that had now unexpectedly turned against him. But had it really?


History; Law, Early American Religious History

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