When John Herbert heard that Mary Haines was about to marry Ralph Dayton, he inquired what she would do for her children. Remember, common practice was to dispose the widow’s children when the widow married. As overseer, John Herbert knew that James had left nearly his entire estate to his wife and ownership of the estate would transfer to Ralph upon marriage. According to Charles Hoadly,
[Herbert] went to her and desired her to giue something to the children before, she said no, not till she dyed.
Upon reflection, it appears that this conversation between Mary and Herbert was not cordial, and the record is a “one-sided” story. This idea of a poor relationship between John and Mary is supported by later record. Mary finally agreed to give each child twenty pounds, but the agreement wouldn’t be final until Ralph approved. “Goodman Dayton” was not quick to agree to the terms, but finally yielded.
The exact terms Ralph finally agreed to are not specified, but when it came time to confirm the terms by signature, Mary changed her mind again.
being now asked the reason thereof, she said her husband gaue it her and she would keepe it while she liued,
The court admonished Mary,
she was wished to consider if her husband had giuen all away to the children and nothing to her.would not she haue considered and releiued, men may not make wills as they will themselues, but must attend the minde of God in doeing the same, who doth pvide that children, (vnless weightie reason be to the contrary,) shall haue portions, and the eldest a double portion, therfore the rest must have a part, and the Apostle saith it is the duty of parents to lay vp for their children, therfore if they will consider and agree among themselues, it will well satisfye the court, but if not then the court must issue it.
I realize now, after reconsidering what may have been her reasoning, that my past judgement of Mary was a bit premature and harsh. Clearly, £20 per child, with a double portion to the eldest, was excessive and couldn’t be supported by the size of the estate. The £180 would have not only consumed the estate, but would require her new husband to make up the substantial difference. That is just not the way things happened back then.
Actually, it appears that Mary may have been overly generous, perhaps resulting from difficulty coming to terms with impending separation from her children, as was the normal expectation upon a second marriage. (Perhaps that would also explain why she chose to be without a husband for three years–discouraging suitors by the degree of devotion to her children).
The court, recognizing the unrealistic terms, agreed to a more customary division of the estate, based on appraised value. The record says that after Ralph and Mary debated “amonge themselues,” they confirmed the equitable divisions.
But, the story isn’t over yet…