Thomas Narramore, a Boston fisherman, married Hannah Smith Snell in about 1670. There is no record of their marriage (there are few records of any Boston marriages for the period from 1663 to 1679), but the date may reasonably be inferred from the fact that Hannah’s first husband, the shipwright John Snell, had died in November 1668, while Boston Vital Records show the birth of a daughter, Hannah, to Thomas and Hannah Narramore, in September of 1671.
The couple lived in the North End of Boston, at what is now the southeast corner of Hanover and Prince Streets, with the house fronting on the former and the latter then just a nameless little alley-way that ran along the right side of the property before opening onto Clark’s (now North) Square. At the head of this square, close by where the alley opened out onto it, stood the Old North meetinghouse, which congregation Hannah joined in 1681, and whose pulpit was manned for nearly eighty years by three successive generations of the redoubtable Mather family: Increase, Cotton and Samuel. The Narramores’ neighbors in back were the innkeeper Arthur Kind and his wife Jane, while next door, to their left, were the home and shop of the silversmith William Rouse. Although quite unknown to the general public today, Rouse appears to have been a skilled craftsman whose work is esteemed by and still sought after among collectors. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art currently has on display a silver tankard that he produced in the early 1690s, and which can be viewed online.
By the time that Boston street names were first officially recorded in 1708, the narrow passageway to the right of the Narramore property had become known as Bell Alley, the name possibly preserving a memory from Boston’s Great Fire of 1676. That conflagration, which burned a large swath of the North End between Clark’s Square and the waterfront, took with it the meetinghouse, as well as the nearby parsonage where Increase Mather and his family lived. The story goes that the meetinghouse bell was saved from the fire and set up in a temporary bell tower near the entrance to the lane, from whence it took its name. Bell Alley was itself widened and absorbed as an extension of Prince Street in 1833.
While the Narramore home seems to have escaped the fire’s destruction, it must have been a near run. The meetinghouse was quite literally “just down the lane” from them and the parsonage “just ‘round the corner”; in those days it would almost certainly have been visible from the Narramores’ back yard. After the fire, the Mathers were forced to seek new lodgings and the property then remained vacant for a few years, until well-to-do merchant Robert Howard built himself a fine new townhome on the lot in 1680. Some ninety years later, it was acquired by a rather more well-known Boston silversmith by the name of Paul Revere. Today, restored to its 17th-century glory, it is a popular stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Numerous records testify to the Narramores’ presence in Boston throughout the sixteen-seventies and eighties, until in 1690 the trail suddenly stops short. At a town meeting in March of that year, Thomas was one of several men chosen “corders of wood”, as he had been for several years preceding, but this is the last we hear of him. He is not on the Boston Tax List of 1691; nor, for that matter, is there any mention of the “Widow Narramore”, as might be expected if Hannah had survived him. There are no Narramores listed on a 1695 census of Boston heads of household.
Nevertheless, the family clearly remained in Boston. In 1697, we find a John Narramore, then aged about twenty-one, working as a shipwright in Master Obadiah Gill’s North End shipyard (in a story well worth telling at another time, he was nearly kidnapped by a crew from the British man-of-war Arundel). In 1702, just a little over twenty years after Hannah had joined the congregation of the Old North meetinghouse on Clark’s Square, Samuel Narramore was likewise admitted into membership there. In the following decade, two of the Narramore daughters, Sarah and Ruth, had their marriage ceremonies performed by Cotton Mather.
Taken together, the weight of the evidence suggests that Thomas died in 1690 and Hannah at about the same time, or shortly before; mortality in childbirth being what it was in those days, it is perhaps not coincidental that the last record we have of her is that of the birth of daughter Sarah in 1686, when Hannah would have been in her late forties. In 1690, Thomas would himself have been about fifty, debatably not old in our “fifty is the new forty” times but undeniably so then, and the life of a fisherman in those days could not have been an easy one – it remains high on the list of hazardous professions today. Then, too, 1690 was a plague year in Boston, when a smallpox epidemic took several hundred lives. The first (and only) edition of the newspaper “Publick Occurrences”, published in Boston in September of that year, described it thus:
"The Small-pox which has been raging in Boston, after a manner very Extraordinary, is now very much abated. It is thought that far more have been sick of it than were visited with it, when it raged so much twelve years ago, nevertheless it has not been so Mortal, The number of them that have died in Boston by this last Visitation is about three hundred and twenty, which is not perhaps half so many as fell by the former. The Time of its being most General, was in the Months June, July, and August, then 'twas that sometimes in some one Congregation on a Lord’s-day there would be Bills desiring prayers for above an hundred Sick: It seized upon all sorts of people that came in the way of it, it infected even Children in the bellies of Mothers that had themselves undergone the Disease many years ago; for some such were now born full of the Distemper. 'Tis not easy to relate the Trouble and Sorrow that poor Boston has felt by this Epidemical Contagion."
Assuming that both parents were dead by late 1690, this would have left the young family in a precarious situation. None of the children could have been older than nineteen, with the youngest only four. The likely outcome, as had already happened with the children of Hannah’s earlier marriage on the death of her first husband John Snell in 1668, would have been the breaking up of the family, with the children parceled out among relatives and friends, where possible, taken in as servants in more fortunate households, or perhaps, if old enough, apprenticed to a trade. The house and land would probably have been sold, to pay off any debts due from the estate, as well as to provide for the upbringing of the children.
There is no known record of such a sale, but that it must have taken place is evidenced by a deed of August 11, 1697 in which John Goodwin, mason, and Martha his wife sold property in the North End of Boston (the boundary descriptions of which make it clear that it was the former Narramore property) to Joseph Wadsworth, mariner. In itself, there is nothing remarkable in this transaction, but as to the personages involved – well, that is another story.
John Goodwin was a prosperous Boston mason who likely would have gone completely unremarked by history had it not happened that in 1688 four of his children began suffering from terrible and agonizing fits, “beyond those that attend an Epilepsy, or a Catalepsy”. With the doctors unable to discover a physical cause, the sensibilities of the time demanded that a spiritual one be found instead – and, in due course, one was. It was remembered that the eldest Goodwin daughter, Martha, had questioned their Irish laundress over the matter of some missing linen that it was thought might have been stolen, and had in consequence been given a tongue-lashing by the laundress’s mother, Goody Glover. When young Martha’s fits began shortly thereafter, the opinion rapidly developed that Goody Glover was a witch. The unfortunate old woman (“the Hag”, in Cotton Mather’s delicate phrasing) was soon taken into custody, accused of witchcraft, tried, found guilty and hanged on November 16, 1688 to the jeers of a Boston crowd. Her death did not immediately bring an end to the children’s fits, but in time the situation returned substantially to normal.
All of Boston’s ministers had been called in to do battle with these manifestations of Satan at the afflicted Goodwin household, but it was Cotton Mather who took an especial interest, at one point even bringing young Martha Goodwin to live in his household for a time, during which he made a careful study of her condition. The Goodwin case figured prominently in a book he published the following year, entitled "Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions", and to which John Goodwin was allowed, through Mather’s dripping condescension, to add his own account (“'Tis in his own Style; but I suppose a Pen hath not commonly been managed with more cleanly Discourse by an Hand used only to the Trowel ; and his Condition hath been such, that he may fairly have Leave to speak”). In any event, the Goodwins clearly gave substantial credit to Mather for the deliverance of their children. They became members of his church in 1690, as did their children after them. Their son Nathaniel was later an administrator of Mather’s estate. There is no indication that the Goodwins ever lived at the former Narramore property, but the connection remains an interesting one.
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