Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Love, Sex, and Money in Puritan Boston: The Story of Anna Keayne

The year was 1656.  To put that more in perspective, it was only 36 years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.  It was also 36 years before the Salem witch trials. If you’re like me, you’re thinking big boxy hats, buckled shoes, gray weather, and a grim society where stocks are the centerpiece of the town square.  Put those thoughts and Nathaniel Hawthorne aside.  It’s not that kind of story. 

Anna Keayne was sixteen years old in 1656. She did not come from a model family. Her grandfather, a wealthy merchant, gained his riches by being sneaky,conniving and miserly.  Her parents were ne’er-do-wells.  Her father accused her mother of adultery, and when she was found guilty, he moved back to London to take advantage of his new freedom and left Anna to be raised by his parents in Boston.  Anna’s mother became a habitual offender, often in trouble with authorities for ‘Irregular prophecying in mixt Assemblies.’

But Anna was pretty and well liked, despite her family, who were all Puritans and still managed to live badly without any of the usual Puritan repercussions.  Was it because they were wealthy, or was it because the Puritans weren’t really as strict and unbending as we think they were?  In any case, Anna was considered quite a catch in Puritan Boston, and when her wealthy grandfather died that year and left her £900, she became even more desirable. 

Enter Edward Lane.  He was thirty-six, twenty years older than Anna, and worth £1800, which was very convenient because, in those days, a man was expected to be worth at least twice what his wife was worth.  Edward fit the bill exactly.

 The courtship began.  Edward sent a friend,Richard Cooke, to woo the woman he hoped to wed.  It seems that’s how wealthy Puritans did it in those days.  There could be no hanky-panky between the couple before marriage if they never met.  So Richard brought Anna assurances of Edward’s love, as well as some gold, and Anna, and her grandmother, decided Edward was the man for her.

Now that they were betrothed, Edward came to visit. Anna dreamed of the great lady she would become, once married to Edward.  Her grandmother, overwhelmed by the complexity of her husband’s last will and testament—more than 100 pages long—saw Edward as a man who could help a woman in distress.  They were both glad to have him.  Edward and the elderly Mrs. Keayne even worked out an agreement where she would keep a house and some land, and receive a yearly allowance, and Edward could have everything else, as long as he was willing to execute the will and take on all the bequests of her dearly departed husband.  Edward agreed, and on December11, 1657, he and Anna married. 

Fastforward fifteen months to March of 1659. Anna Keayne, now Anna Lane, seventeen or eighteen years old, sued for divorce.  Anna wanted children and Edward, it seemed,was impotent.  Edward appeared in court and admitted it was true and the marriage was annulled.  Anna won her freedom, and Edward, because of his agreement with the elderly Mrs. Keayne, conveniently increased his worth tremendously.  It was a nice little scam.

 Or was it?

As it turned out, all the debts and bequests left by Anna’s grandfather came to more than the estate was worth, and Edward was the man stuck with the bills.  Anna’s grandmother had outscammed the scammer.   

Now, it was Edward’s turn to sue.  He wanted to get out of the agreement made with Anna’s grandmother.  Mrs. Keayne’s defense was that business was business.  Edward had made the agreement and should keep his word.  The court didn’t see it that way and voided the agreement.  They also forced Mrs. Keayne to pay Edward much of the money he would have received from rents for the past two years.

The results of it all were that Anna now had no husband, no children, and a much smaller dowry, and was no longer quite the catch, her grandmother was in debt,and Edward had lost a fortune, and hismanhood had been publicly besmirched.  Nothing had turned out as anyone had planned.    

Luckily,Edward’s friend, Richard Cooke, had not abandoned the couple.  He convinced Edward that Anna was still worth pursuing, he convinced Anna that Edward had been cured of his impotency, (there seems to have been a private showing) and he convinced Mrs. Keayne—by vividly describing the showing—to allow the remarriage. Nine months after the annulment, Anna and Edward sought permission tore-wed.

These magistrates were not the same men who had annulled their wedding, and they told Anna and Edward that they had never been divorced.  Man, after all, could not separate what God had joined together.

OnDecember 12, 1659, the couple renewed their vows.  The next morning, they were called upon by officials, who asked Anna if she was satisfied with Edward’s bedroom performance.  She said yes.  He no longer had a problem.  The marriage was deemed good.  Anna’s grandmother and Edward even consented to return to their old agreement with a few minor changes, and everyone was happy.

For the next four years, the Lanes became wealthier and wealthier, and Anna gave birth to two children.  (Her daughter died in infancy, her son lived to be eighteen.) And then Anna left for England, and Edward was to follow.  Unfortunately, he died. 

 Anna didn’t return for the services.  She stayed in England another two years, and when she returned, it was with a new husband.  The gossip began.  Anna, people whispered, had married Nicholas Paige before Edward had died.  The magistrates investigated and learned it was true.  Anna was indicted for adultery.

Anna,however, was no Hester Prynne.  The scarlet letter was not for her.  She fought the charges—by announcing her two children were really fathered by Paige and, therefore, he was her true husband. (Which seems an admission of guilt to me.)  And then Edward’s friend, Richard Cooke, in an effort to show Anna as an unloyal, scheming  adulteress, showed up in court with a document written and signed by Edward shortly before he died.  It said he had never known Anna carnally,that their marriage had been nullified in 1658, and he did not consider her his wife. (Which, to me, would seem to prove hercase.)

The magistrates were probably just as confused by the evidence as I was.  In the end they couldn’t decide if Anna had ever been legally married to Edward or not, and they sent her home, free as a bird.

But,there was a surprise waiting for her there. His name was Richard Cooke, who now owned all of what should have been Anna’s property.  He had orchestrated it all from the very beginning, introducing the couple and arranging their marriage so Edward would own everything. He knew Edward was sick and would not live long, and he knew Edward would have no heirs.  He made certain that Edward named him as his beneficiary, because they both knew Anna’s children were not Edward’s.  Cooke had played Anna, Edward, and the elderly Mrs. Keayne.

Once more, Anna was before the magistrates, fighting for what she wanted, for what should have been hers.  She had evidence and witnesses to Cooke’s perfidy but, by then, the magistrates were a bit fed up with Anna and her family squabbles. They didn’t even consider her case. Cooke got to keep it all.

Anna didn’t brood over it, but she didn’t forget, either.  Neither did her new husband, Nicholas.  They lived their quiet lives and raised their surviving son, and every so often would broach the subject with the magistrates again.  Sometimes she was heard and lost,sometimes she was rebuffed, but she didn’t stop trying.

 Meanwhile, Nicholas continued to grow his business, and Anna grew her circle of friends.  They entertained and helped out their neighbors when they could.  In time, Nicholas became a well-known merchant in Boston and, as they moved up in society, they began to acquire more influential friends, but neither of them abandoned the friends they had acquired on the way up.  Soon, people forgot about Anna’s sordid past. 

King Phillip’s War broke out and Nicholas served as a Captain and came home a hero.  The Paige’s gained new friends in his war buddies.  He involved himself in Boston politics, and always seemed to pick the right side.  When the Governor was in favor, he shouted the Governor’s praises.  When the Governor was in disfavor, he stood with the common people, prepared to give him the boot.  When the Governor was given the boot, he convinced everyone to let him decide the Governor’s fate. They agreed, and he saved the Governor from total ruin, leaving the Governor owing him a favor.  The Governor, by the way, was Anna’s uncle, and had never done a thing to help her. 

So Anna and Nicholas bided their time and, finally, the government changed in their favor.  They got the court to hear their case, and they won everything back. It was easy, considering the man who tried the case was the Governor Nicholas had rescued from the people’s wrath, and who was living very well in their home, at their expense.  It didn’t hurt any either, that he was Anna’s uncle.  Cooke appealed the case over and over, straight into the eighteenth century, but now it was his turn to either lose or be rebuffed.

Anna had recovered all her grandfather’s property and was now a grande dame.  Nicholas was a Colonel with his own coat of arms.  They were among the wealthiest people of Boston, and well respected.  Everyone—rich, poor, or in between—liked the Paiges.  The couple retired to their country estate with their new riches, where they continued to entertain lavishly and live out the rest of their lives as outstanding people in their community.  When Anna died on June 30,1704, and word reached Boston, it’s said the whole city paused.  The Governor, sitting at the council-table when he heard the news, postponed all business for two weeks.

Anna Keayne didn’t change the face of America or leave any lasting legacies.  But what she did do was to go after what she wanted, and in the end she got it, despite her family, despite her mistakes, and despite her reputation. If she could do it in Puritan Boston, there’s no reason an American woman can’t do it today. Chase your dreams and listen to Nike. Just do it!



Diane Mayr said...

You can't make sh*t like that up! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

I'm Jet . . . said...

What a saga! Thanks for sharing that epic story . . .