I was in Marcy Ballou’s neighborhood on Wednesday. I’ve been writing this post for weeks, avidly searching and analyzing what I have on her life, but walking in the cemetery behind her house, and seeing the two houses on the old farm built by her husband, brought her to life in a way that census records never will. She vacated the neighborhood in 1802, and I imagine her being picked up by her father in an old farm wagon, with her clothes, a few dishes and linens, and her baby. I have always assumed she ended up with her parents a couple of miles down the road. That is probably either true, or a close approximation. But what happened after that? I have no idea.
My ggggg-grandmother Marcy (or Mercy) Ballou divorced her husband, Nathan Aldrich, in 1803, when she was 25. The couple was from Cumberland, Rhode Island, and the divorce happened at the Rhode Island Supreme Court. It’s not unusual to have a female relative whose life we know a part of, but not other parts. The part I don’t know is what happened to her after the divorce. I am related to Marcy in the following way: my grandmother Edna May Darling (1905-1999), her father Russell E. Darling (1883-1959), then Addison Parmenter Darling (1856-1933), Ellis Aldrich Darling (1824-1883), Nancy Aldrich (1800-1879), Marcy Ballou (1778-?).
Years of pursuing likely sources of information like census records, newspapers, vital records, published genealogies, manuscripts, cemeteries and probate records have turned up no theories and few clues about Marcy’s later life. There is every chance she married again. I have never found a record of her original marriage to Nathan Aldrich, so a second marriage could also be real, but not findable at this point. If she did, I wouldn’t know her name, which is, I assume, most of the problem here.
I am quite certain of Marcy’s family, and it was one of my first real research success stories. I have researched Marcy’s parents Richard and Lucy (Arnold) Ballou extensively – see Locating Richard Ballou and The Brick Wall Stories: Lucy Arnold, Part 4. In many ways, I know more about them than I do about Marcy.
The discovery started with finding Marcy in An Elaborate History and Genealogy of the Ballou Family in America by Adin Ballou (1888) is quite a reliable book; Ballou descendants are lucky to have it. It discusses Marcy as follows:
[480.] Mercy Ballou(6), Richard(5), John(4), John(3), John(2), Maturin(1); b. in the northeasterly part of Cumberland, R. I., Apl. 11, 1778 ; m. Nathan Aldrich. We have made persistent efforts to trace the family record and descendants of Mercy Ballou. She is said to have had a dr. who m. Paul Darling, and a son William, who once lived in Milford, Mass. There is no reason to doubt these alleged facts. We suspect the whole family must be extinct. But persons, mge-dates, birth-dates and death-dates have eluded our research. Closed. ( – p. 270)
Since the “daughter who married Paul Darling” was my gggg-grandmother Nancy Aldrich, I had some confidence in this rather vague summary of her life. To prove that I had identified the right person, I was eventually – over a couple of years – able to put together three records:
Document 1 – Marcy’s birth record
On a visit to the Cumberland Town Hall Archives in 2013, I found the town record of births for Richard and Lucy Ballou’s children:
Document 2 – the Bible record
I knew from a transcript in the NEHG Register that Nathan Aldrich had entered his name, his children’s names, and his second wife’s name in his bible. What I didn’t know until I traveled to Boston to see the manuscript was that the name of his first wife, Marcy, was also written there, and then crossed out. Holding the plastic sleeve up to the light, the blacked out area read:
Marcy Aldrich Born
April the 19 1778
Richard and Lucy’s child was born April 19, 1778, so, matching that birth date against what was in the bible provides evidence that the Ballou book was right about Marcy’s marriage.
Document 3 – the divorce record
To find out what happened to Nathan and Marcy’s marriage, a trip to the Rhode Island Judicial Archives finally led me to the record book that recorded their divorce in 1803. No accompanying papers have ever been found.
[p. 220] “M. Aldrich” Be it Remembered that at the present Term of this Court Marcy Aldrich wife of Nathan Aldrich of Cumberland in said County prefered her petition, praying for reasons therein stated, that a decree of divorce may be passed in her [p.221] favor dissolving the bond of matrimony now subsisting between her and her said husband and for alimony – after hearing the same. It is ordered, adjudged and decreed by the Court here, that the prayer thereof be granted.
What else is known
So my question is, what became of Marcy after the 1803 divorce. Let’s review what I do know.
- 1802 – she left her husband. It’s unusual to have something written by the woman that’s been lost to me since 1803, but I do. When Nathan placed a newspaper ad in the Providence Gazette in May, 1802 refusing to pay any debts of his absent wife, Marcy, Marcy hit back with her own ad (or, perhaps someone wrote it on her behalf):
My unworthy Husband NATHAN ALDRICH, having thought proper to stigmatize my Character in a public Paper, a brief Reply seems necessary. I was reduced to the hard Necessity of making my Escape from the most brutal Treatment; he had threatened my Life, and actually kicked me, and bruised me with his fist. Add to this, that he left my Bed one Year previous to my quitting his Cottage, and neglected to provide for me the common Necessities of Life. MARCY BALLOU. Cumberland, May 14, 1802. (–Providence Gazette, May 15, 1802, p. 2., from Google News Archive).
This ad tells me that she had already returned to using her maiden name, even before the divorce, and that when she first left Nathan, she remained in Cumberland. Apparently he left her bed one year prior to her departure from his house.
- She had two children, possibly. Following up on the clues from the Ballou book:
- “daughter who married Paul Darling” is my gggg-grandmother Nancy. Nancy’s father, Nathan Aldrich, wrote another newspaper ad disowning Nancy in June, 1817, when Nancy was about 17 saying she “has behaved herself in an unbecoming manner.” It would not be unusual for a husband in that era to have custody of his child, so perhaps she lived with him – meaning, perhaps Nancy was not a part of Marcy’s household for some period while she was growing up. Does it necessarily mean that Marcy had died, remarried, become incompetent? I don’t know what to make of this.
- “a son William, who once lived in Milford, Mass.” I am quite sure this is NOT Nathan’s child. Nathan and his second wife Chloe had a son, William, born in 1815. The author, Adin Ballou, could be mixing those Williams up. But it’s also possible that Marcy remarried and had a son after her divorce, or perhaps just had a son at some later point. If the son’s name is William Ballou, I am not finding him in Milford. I can’t make anything of this clue, except it seems to suggest a subsequent marriage.
- These particular Ballou and Aldrich families, along with some of my Darling ancestors, and the families of Nathan Aldrich’s second and third wives (cousins to each other from the Grant and Crowninshield families) all lived in close proximity in northern Cumberland, R.I and western Wrentham, Mass. How did this effect Marcy’s choices after the divorce?
Finding Marcy in 1810
I first tried the idea that Marcy might be with her parents in 1810. As I reviewed the 1810 census record from Cumberland, Rhode Island, I realized that I have been accessing an inaccurate version of it for years. Ancestry.com has eight pages of the 1810 Cumberland census record. Richard Ballou seems to appear on page 8, with his name and household details covered over with a piece of blackened tape. As I searched for a different digital version of the file, I found something surprising.
By clicking on “Source” from the Ancestry.com image, I saw the following citation:
Year: 1810; Census Place: Cumberland, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: 58; Page: 30; Image: 61; Family History Library Film: 0281232
Using that info, I searched on Internet Archive for “Providence Rhode Island census 1810” (meaning Providence County) and then Roll 58 came up in the results. This is the Internet Archives version of the same page:
Note that most of the top of the page was missing on Ancestry.com. I have to wonder, if I didn’t have the black tape problem, would I ever have realized that the top of the page was missing on Ancestry.com? It’s important to me to find everyone in this neighborhood; I would have been missing many names. As I reviewed the two versions for Cumberland page by page, I realized Ancestry had, as page 8, a partial duplicate of page 4. There were, in fact, only 7 pages. Odd.
In either case, the record is hard to read. Some repair tape seems to have completely discolored over the years. Actually, the Ancestry copy shows more under the tape. Here is what I think it says:
- Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1
- Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1
- Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1
- Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 1
- Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over : 1
Since Marcy was the oldest child, these could likely be some of the younger children of Richard and Lucy. For sure, Marcy seems not to be there.
Next, I tried to see if Marcy was with a sibling. I have done some research on each of the siblings over the years. At this point I tried to pin down each of their households in the 1810 census.
These are Marcy’s siblings with birth years taken from the Cumberland record, above, and their status in 1810:
- Arnold Ballou, b. 1780 — He married Abigail Trask in 1806. He was just below his father Richard in the 1810 census, and the black mark prevents viewing his household. He stayed in that area until his death, 5 June 1838. No children, according to Mrs. Sprague’s manuscript.
- Lydia Ballou, b. 1782 — died 9 Nov 1789.
- Augustus Ballou, b. 1784 — married Lucy Tower in 1814, who filed for divorce in 1820 (I am basing this on a newspaper ad directed at him, “whereabouts unknown”), and he married, second, Isabella Foster in 1825. Miraculously, I DO know what Augustus was doing in 1810 – he had enrolled in the 4th U.S. Infantry on 1 Dec 1809. He was paid for all five years of his enlistment, although he was wounded and disabled on 9 Aug 1812, at the Battle of Brownstown. A musket ball remained permanently lodged in his leg until his death in 1833. He was also, at some point, a prisoner of war at Dartmoor in England. Thanks to the War of 1812 pensions being online at Fold3, I found proof of his second marriage in Isabella’s Widow’s Pension application in 1870.
- Thomas Ballou, b. 1786 — married Lydia Gould, year unknown, and I can’t find him in 1810 or 1820.
- Richard Ballou, b. 1788 — apparently never married. Location unknown in 1810.
- Lucy Ballou, b. 1790 — married Orrin Aldrich Grant in 1814 and may have had several children.
- Willard Ballou, b. 1795 — married Sally Clark in 1822, according to the Ballou book. There were several Willard Ballous around so he would need careful study. In 1810, this Willard was one of the males in his father’s household. Mrs. Sprague’s manuscript at the Rhode Island Historical Society states that he died at age 90 at the Cumberland Asylum.
- Polly Arnold Ballou, b. 1799 — married Simon Whipple Sheldon by 1817. Still a child in 1810.
This is a tough bunch to track down. I’m not seeing a lot of children from this group of siblings, and many died young. More research ideas would be needed to pin down this poorly-documented group more. My sources for the above information are the Ballou book and Mrs. Abigail Sprague’s unpublished notes about the history of Cumberland at the Rhode Island Historical Society (MSS 1023), as well as various census, military, and vital records.
- The only two prospects I see for staying with family in 1810 would be her father (and she is not in his household), and her brother Arnold Ballou, who was at least married and seemed to have a household of his own, possibly on his father’s property. Arnold’s 1810 census is unreadable. Or, could Marcy have remarried and so been living elsewhere. So few of the Ballou marriage records remain that I just can’t draw any conclusions from not finding a record of that.
- Knowing that daughter Nancy went back to living with her father, Nathan Aldrich, by 1817 when he placed the ad disowning her (and possibly much earlier), I keep wondering if that was because Marcy’s life fell apart, Marcy was working, or Marcy died, or did he simply (especially after his marriage to Chloe before 1810, when Nathan and Chloe signed a deed in Cumberland) claim his right to have custody of his child.
- Marcy had been given alimony in the 1803 divorce. She could have had a home of her own, perhaps, and never returned to her family.
- Since she is not in her father’s household, I think the most likely answer is that she remarried.
- I have made several efforts to use 1805-1870 death records for any “Marcy” in Providence County to see if the person could potentially be this Marcy. I have researched some of these people. No luck. I need to figure out what to try next along these lines.
- I wonder if NARA has a better copy of Arnold Ballou’s 1810 census entry on microfilm. It’s on my list for a future visit.
- Perhaps explore some Wrentham, Mass. records more thoroughly for Marcy. I keep assuming she headed south in Cumberland, but she could have wandered north into Wrentham.
- Her father’s will in 1824 could potentially have been very revealing, but it does not mention any heirs by name. Am I missing some other document related to that? Lucy had the use of a 60 acre property, which must have been disposed of after her death. I have found no records for that, yet.
- Did Marcy ever end up in the Poor records of Cumberland or any nearby town?
- I have never found graves for Marcy’s parents, Richard and Lucy Ballou. I suspect they may be in the slightly older cemetery in Wrentham. I have some contacts among the graveyard hoppers there. I should ask them. There could possibly be a nearby grave for Marcy.
- Look at the northwest corner of the 1838 Cumberland map (provided by John Tew, of Filiopietism Prism. John is not blogging just at present, so if you want a pdf copy of this map, email me at the email address in the side column and I will email it to you). Any of those names could potentially be Marcy’s second husband. Might be worth some investigation.
- Perhaps I need to know more about the Cumberland Asylum where Willard Ballou died.
- Mrs. Sprague’s manuscript states that Richard and Lucy Ballou were members of the West Wrentham Baptist Church. I know more about Rhode Island church records than I do Massachusetts. Perhaps I could find some information. Also, I should explore records of the West Wrentham Cemetery.
This is a hard one but I may, someday, find something.
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