Sarah Morse Stickney - Her Second Family

This was researched and written by Larry Kline, someone I briefly corresponded with some 20+ years ago. If you are interested in the folks nmed in this article and have corrections, please contact me using the form above. Use the information as a guide for further research. I haven't heard from the author since he sent it to me nor have I checked it for authenticity.

Update - The Newbury History blog by distant cousin Bethany Groff Dorau, Executive Director of the Museum of Old Newbury, published this story that contains the information below. Her title for the blog post is "The Good, The Baud and The Ugly: John Atkinson and the Merry Widow Stickney." Bethany is most likely a cousin because the earliest male named Atkinson I have confirmed is John Jr. So it's not difficult to believe that, being that they lived in the same area and he's mentioned in John's Will, that Junior is John's son. My cousin connection is through John Jr. to Miriam Atkinson, wife of Colonel Ralph Cross, Commander of the Essex County, MA, regiment at the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, also known as Burgoyne's Surrender. The blog explains the rest of how Bethany is related.

From Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Ma. , Vol. VIII, 1680-1683 and vol XI, Sept 25, 1683 to Apr 20, 1686.

After the death of her husband Amos, in 1678, Sarah (Morse) STICKNEY had one more child: Mary, born on Jan. 10, 1680. She married Daniel PETTENGILL on Nov 13, 1699, had four children, died on Mar 7, 1706/7.

Most of the genealogies of the STICKNEY and MORSE families ingnore Mary. Those that do include her provide her with a date of birth early enough to have been conceived prior to Amos STICKNEY's death. However, it would appear incontrovertible that Mary was not the daughter of Amos STICKNEY, but the identity of her actual father will probably never be known. The controversy surrounding her identity makes a most interesting story.

In early 1681, the court records of Essex County disclose that Sarah STICKNEY, widow, was ordered to be whipped for fornication, unless she pay a fine. Elizabeth Brown and Sarah Hayes testified that she had a child born in January of the preceding year. Sarah Haynes and her husband Jonathan (who would be frequent witnesses against Sarah) testified in a subsequent hearing that after Sarah STICKNEY came from court at Salem where she was fined she said that court did not regard the sin so long as they could get the money.

The foregoing court hearing was just the beginning, however. In the first quarter of 1682, Sarah, now age 40, sued John ATKINSON for slander and won. Shortly thereafter, however, John ATKINSON sued Sarah, also for slander, and he won!. The record of this latter case contains extracts of a great deal of testimony, both relevant and irrelevant to the issue.

The following is a summary of the relevant testimony:

  • Sarah testified that John ATKINSON was the father of her child, and that she had previously concealed this because of his promise to maintain the child, which he failed to do.
  • A witness placed John at Sarah's home in October of 1681. The witness testified that he, Samuel LOWELL and John ATKINSON Jr. were riding by Sarah's house in the autumn of 1681 when she said to Samuel LOWELL....."you rogue, yonder is your child under the tree, go take it up and see it." Samuel LOWELL replied that it was none of his.
  • Sarah's oldest son John testified that John ATKINSON came to his mother's house and asked her to let John get some wine for him. ATKINSON gave John some money and he went to Mrs. Ann White's and brough back a quart. They both drank freely, after which ATKINSON sent [John] to bed.
  • A witness testified that Jonathan HAYNES (a frequent witness against Sarah in these cases) said that the widow STICKNEY told him the child was not Samuel LOWELL's but another man's child in the town.
  • Two witnesses testified that Sarah came into Jonathan HAYNES house when John ATKINSON and his wife were there and asked said John if he was going to deny his child, whereupon John's wife called her an impudent baud. Then Sarah used such opprobrious, reproachful and reviling speeches that HAYNES told her to go out of the house but she would not depart. Then Goody ATKINSON stepped to Goody STICKNEY and clapt her hand in her face and said she would spit in the face of any such that would call her a baud: and spit at her.
  • Sarah said in a sworn statement that John ATKINSON called her out of her house, told her that the court was near and he was going to Boston. He gave her 30s in money and asked her to be true to him. Her son John confirmed that conversation and further testified that when ATKINSON came to their house, he asked John to put his horse out of sight. John also testified that after his mother's child was born ATKINSON came to see her, took the child in his arms and kiss it. A witness testified that John ATKINSON's hired man plowed Sarah's fields and sowed her rye.
  • A witness testified that she was with Sarah at the birth of her child and that [Sarah] told her that Samuel LOWELL was the father, and when he went away he said he would bring her whittles and clouts.
  • A witness testified that John ATKINSON paid him the money he owed him because he was afraid he would witness against him and as he said (it would) disgrace him and his family.

Note: The John Atkinson named above is probably an ancestor, likely the father of John Atkinson Jr., a 7th great grandfather who lived in Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts at the same time. I have several dozen ancestors that lived in Essex County in that time period. How odd! Link to a Newbury History article: John Atkinson and the merry widow Stickney

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court apparently found Sarah guilty of slander, after having previously found against John ATKINSON. But the two slander cases were not the end of the litigation concerning Sarah and John. In still another action in the first quarter of 1682, Sarah brought a paternity and maintenance suit against John. Whether there were fewer witness or if the court record does not repeat previous testimony and written statements is unclear.

New relevant testimony in this case was:

  • A witness testified that Sarah told her that the child was Samuel LOWELL's and she would have had him marry her and carry her to the Providence, but he said he had no money. [Sarah] said she had money enough. He told her that he would be back from sea by the next Christmas and would then marry her. Jonathan and Sarah Haynes deposed that Sarah never mentioned the name of John ATKINSON in connection with the child.
  • In this case, John ATKINSON asked to be tried by a jury. The jury found him guilty of fathering the child, and ordered him to pay 12 shillings for the jury, 8 pounds for the past maintenance of the child, and 2 shillings, 6 pence per week until further order of court.

However, the litigious pair were far from finished. A little later in 1682, Sarah brought charges against John that he had struck her with his staff so that her child almost fell into the fire. William MORSE, age 67 (Sarah;'s uncle) and Joshua MORSE, age 27 (Sarah's youngest brother) testified that John ATKINSON had said he had struck Sarah. John was ordered to pay 26 shillings.

  • In May of 1682, the following entry appears in the court's records: John ATKINSON of Newbury, being the reputed father of Sarah STICKNEY's last child, complained that he was hard put to it to pay all charges, and court ordered that half of his payments should be in money and the other half provisions or clothing for the said child at money price.
  • In September of 1682, John ATKINSON again petitioned the court for relief. John's petition argued that two shillings, six pence per week was too much for him to pay. "According to ye common valluation of yvissions in this time of ye great scarcity of money, we in ye Country account eight pounds in money, at sixteene in other pay, or at ye least twelve pounds. And ye 2s 6d at 5s in common pay, I cannot thinke it is ye mind of ye Court y ye whole maintenance of such such a child should bee put uppon a reputed father (it is evident it is hers, and therefore hath Just reason to bear halfe) whereby ye mainteance of such a child should arise to bee double w others pay.
  • John's petition further argued that Sarah had been in the same condition once before in widowhood and [she had] endeavored to accuse an innocent person, and that such an allowance might be a precedent to induce such persons to commit lewdness when by their accusation they can force on wealthy persons and get increased income, for such persons have little conscience; that he was innocent of the crime, and if he were obliged to pay the full amount he would have to go to prison, for he had a wife and nine children, and asked to be allowed to take the child away and not be kept a continual slave to her who hath injured me, and Impudently and scoffingly insulteth ouer me.
  • At this hearing, John was also allowed to present new testimony: James Myrick, aged about thirty years, testified that he was in a neightor's house next to Goody STICKNEY's when she invited hm into her house. When he started to go away he said it was a dark lowry night and he asked if he might stay all night. She said he might and then went to bed. On account of some discourse she had with him then, he left the house. She also told him that Samuel LOWELL frewuently stayed there and LOWELL said that their improper relations were no more a sin than to smoke a pipe of Tobacco in the street, for that was a breach of the law.
  • Jonathan and Sarah Haynes testified that the widow STICKNEY told them that she had make Jams Myrick believe that she would lay her child to him, but he asked to be cleared and that afterward at Frances Thurley's she talked with James and several men's names were mentioned. They agreed to draw lots and James was the first to name his broth ATKINSON, whose name was drawn.
  • The court ordered that for the future John ATKINSON be freed from the weekly allowance provided he find some meet place for the child at his own cost, approved by one or more of the magistrates of the court, but in no case was he to keep the child at his own house. Should Sarah not deliver the child to the place he provided, he was to be discharged of one-half of the former allowance and she was to maintain the child at her own cost. John ATKINSON chose John Mihele of Newbury to raise the child, and the choice was approved by Robert Pike.
  • Also in the records of this hearing appears the statement that the child was born on January 10, 1680, and that her name was Mary. She had been entered into the town records as Mary ATKINSON. Later that year, however: Court being informed that the clerk of the writs of Newbery had entered the bastard child of Sarah STICKNEY of Newbery in the records of births as the child of John ATKENSON, upon whom she charged it, although he did not own it, it was declared to be a high irregularity, and the clerk was ordered to appear at the next Ipswich court unless he give satisfaction to said ATKENSON before that time. The clerk was ordered to erase the entry from the book of records and cause it, if it be returned to the county records, to be altered or erased from those records.

In the fourth quarter of 1683, John was back before the court, again seeking relief from the two shilling, six pence weekly stipend. During this hearing a petition from John's wife Sarah was presented:

  • [Sarah ATKINSON had] "...bin sorely troubled and perplexed by reason of the troubles falne upon my husband John ATKINSON wch have bin very chargeable & vexatious by reason of the imperious dealings of Sarah STICKNEY, who having gotten an advantage because of the unjust course of Law uses it with a great deale of rigor, threatening & scoffing, that mine & my childrens lives are wearisome to us, who cannot goe up and downe quietly, but meet with that wch is grievous to us."
  • A witness testified that on October 10, 1782, John demanded the child of Sarah, as per a writing under Major Pike's hand [presumably to be placed with John Mihele] but she refused.
  • The court ruled that John was to pay by 15 pence per week from October 10, 1682 to April 10, 1683, and was to be wholly cleared from any further allowance toward the child's maintenance. This case seems to have finally ended the court battles between John and Sarah.
  • Sarah married Stephen ACKERMAN on December 17, 1684. As Mary would name her first born son Ackerman, it is presumed that she was close to her step-father, who would also have acquired as many as eight other minor step-children as the result of his marriage to Sarah. There is also an indication that Sarah may have married a third time to Enoch Pierce.
  • Sarah died December 7, 1711, in Newbury.
  • Since it is not known beyond a doubt who the father of Mary was, she is listed as the last child of Sarah MORSE and Amos STICKNEY.


  1. Goody is a contraction of [goodwife]. The pilgrims used goodman and goodwife much as we would use Mr. or Mrs.
  2. A whittle was a large knife: a clout was a household cloth or rag.
  3. Baud, now spelled Bawd, means a prostitute or one who keeps a house of prostitution.
  4. Regarding the spitting incident. It was unclear in the testimony as to who called whom a baud and who spit at whom.
  5. A pound or pound sterling consisted of 20 shillings and a shilling consisted of twelve pence or pennies.


My Stickney page.