Diverse Gashes: Governor William Bradford, Alice Bishop, and the Murder of Martha Clarke Plymouth Colony 1648
American History Press, 2020 - Children - 370 pages
Based on an astonishing true story, and backed by years of meticulous research, Diverse Gashes leads us back in time to July 22, 1648, when the murder of a four-year-old girl took place under suspicious circumstances in Playne Dealing, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Plymouth Colony. William Bradford, the governor at the time, made little mention of this incident and its aftermath in his detailed journal, which has triggered both suspicion among historians and varying theories about the event ever since.
The brutal murder of Martha Bishop, daughter of Alice Martin Clarke Bishop and her husband Richard, was an act of severe violence. Investigators arrived upon the scene to find Martha and her surroundings covered in blood, with a trail leading up a ladder to Martha's body, hacked with "diverse gashes" across the neck with a large knife. Alice openly confessed to the crime and was tried, sentenced, and executed within three months-the first and only woman in Plymouth Colony to be hanged.
How could something so dreadful take place in the supposedly idyllic world of the Pilgrims? The possibilities are seemingly endless, but Donna Watkins attempts to narrow them down by delving into the origins and history of the Separatist movement, following the Pilgrims across England to their temporary home in Holland, and finally to their settlement in America. She provides details of daily activity in the colony in order to help us gain an understanding of the residents' lifestyle and beliefs, and the pressures of survival in Pilgrim society that may have played a role in Martha's sad fate.
While not all questions surrounding the incident have been definitely answered, reflecting on what happened that morning in 1648 in Playne Dealing and the reaction of both Governor Bradford and the Pilgrim community provides a rare opportunity to shed new light on Plymouth and its residents. There are many hypotheses regarding Alice's motives, but it is the author's hope that this reflection on her experience within the Pilgrim colony may lead to a fuller understanding of both our nation's early history and the rigors of life during the time period.
You may be wondering- Why this story? Why now? The year 2020 is the 400th anniversary of the founding of Plymouth Colony, a time for introspection and reflection on our national character. Alice is the author's ninth great-grandmother through her daughter Damaris. That Alice and Martha are family members has given her a sense of compassion for them both. While there can be little doubt that Alice committed the crime and, at least within the Pilgrims' set of values and beliefs, deserved her harsh punishment, the author feels she merits a defense and an attempt at explanation. The result is Diverse Gashes.