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1638: The melancholy Dorothy Talby

December 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1638, Dorothy Talby was hanged in Boston for breaking the neck of her baby daughter (aptly named “Difficulty”) “in order to save the child from future misery.”

Though not the first execution of a woman in the territory of the future United States, it is the first that is reasonably well-documented … and for a disturbed, possibly insane, woman striking out against her troubled family life, a case that resonated for later Americans like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

For those of us, post-Andrea Yates, for whom “post-partum depression” has become a sadly familiar term of criminology, it is likely to resonate as well.

Mrs. Talby was esteemed for godliness, etc., but after the birth of the child she became melancholy and possessed of delusions. She sometimes tried to kill herself and her husband by refusing to eat “meat” and not permitting them to eat it, saying it had been so revealed to her. (Source)

Take a break from the Headsman’s noodlings and instead enjoy the thoughtful treatment given Talby’s case by crime blogger extraordinaire Laura James.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,USA,Women

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10 thoughts on “1638: The melancholy Dorothy Talby”

  1. William w. Taulbee says:

    My name is Bill Taulbee, my father also Bill Taulbee. Direct descendant of Dorthy and John talby. The issue of mental health for the Taulbee descendents starts here. I, my father and other Taulbees I know, are and have suffered from depression/bipolor for genersations. To help the cause I’m willing to share what I can for educational purposes.

  2. GINA says:

    I’m a great I granddaughter of Dorothy, as well. Where can I find your work?

  3. Just a quick correction of what appears to be a trivial typo in the opening of the text: “On this date in 1683…” should be “On this date in 1638…” which agrees with the rest of the article and also my check of a version of Watt Espy’s list of executions.

  4. Marion Ellis says:

    I am a local historian and resident of the village in Lincolnshire, England where Dorothy Rawlinson/Talby was born. I am just writing a short piece about her for the book I have almost completed on Braceby at that time. Braceby is only 24 miles from Boston, LIncolnshire where puritanism was very strong and where some of the original Pilgrim Fathers gathered before leaving for America.

    1. Roger Herson says:

      I am very curious to correspond with you in your towns history. I am a historian and historic guide in Salem, MA, and I always point out to people the history of puritans in England. Do you have any good resources you could share for me to research more.

  5. Linda Fenton says:

    I am also a direct descendant of the Talby family. My grandmother was a Taulbee (same family). Found the story of Dorothy quite interesting.

  6. Linda Clubb says:

    I’m a direct descendant of this Talby family.I found the story while doing family history research. Love to share info.

  7. Glenn Cline says:

    I am the first born son of Paul Cline and have been pursuing a career as a licensed Clinical Social Worker as is my 2nd daughter Sarah. My specialty has been the treatment of Depression. Currently I am working with veterans through the VA. We have always known that our family had a few special people it it, Another family secret is a great aunt, who was an ordained minister, apparently committed suicide by jumping down a well. i’ve always had a special interest in the family history,particularly the colonial ancestors, My daughter Christine, who is an RN, is doing family history, I’m sure this will interest her and the rest.

  8. Rob Cline says:

    I am also I directly related to the Taulbee family. My mother just came across the relation yesterday on Ancestry.com. My Grandfather Paul Cline is the direct relation. It was very suprising and a little ironic because my girlfriend just wrote a paper on Andrea Yates and the whole family was talking about the history of post-partum depression. We didn’t think it would have hit so close to home.

  9. Maggie Taulbee says:

    I am a direct descendent of Dorothy, who came with her husband, John, and children from Lincolnshire, England to Salem around 1630. My daughter has had vivid “memories” of this event all her life, even before I told her of the incident and our ancestry. DNA?

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