Note: I've been working on this draft for a number of years after being pointed in this direction by Richard Gifford and then collecting everything I could find. It's certainly not definitive and contains speculation, but I've tried to be as objective as possible. Would love to hear from others with opinions, and especially if anyone has any more information that would shed light on this topic so interesting to us all (please include Sources if you do!).
The Story of Ann Hill Tallman and Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, R.I.
Both Reed and Torrey place a question mark for Thomas Durfee’s presumed first wife and mother of his first six children. The story is not clear, but there is substantial evidence as to who this woman may have been, and at least part of this story was certainly readily available to Reed (some evidence was published at least as early as 1857). Of course, it could have been overlooked, but it’s also possible that it offended late Victorian sensibilities and was deliberately omitted.
Thomas Durfee when about 21 had an affair with Ann Hill (about 33), who was married to Peter Tallman, (about 42.) After Tallman divorced Ann in 1665, she and Tom continued their relationship. While she was very likely the mother of his eldest son Robert Durfee, born around the time of the divorce trial, she may or may not have been the mother of his subsequent five children. They very likely never married.
Durfee possibly came to Portsmouth in 1660 as an indentured servant of a resident named Peter Tallman. It would certainly make sense that he was part of someone’s household upon arrival, for it’s unlikely that a 17 year old boy arriving in the colony apparently by himself would have had many other options. Indenture would be a possible way that he financed his emigration. The indirect evidence for this is that Tallman used him as a witness in 1661 for a land deed transaction. Why would an established, apparently prosperous resident use a very young man for this? Durfee’s being conveniently in the same household could be the answer.
Additionally, his later troubles with Tallman detailed below refer to some kind of bond with Tallman that was broken, for which Tallman sued and apparently settled for a lesser amount. This bond could have been an indenture. And, what more likely reason for Tallman to want to break the bond than Tom having an affair with his wife? Also, what more likely opportunity for Tom to have the affair than being in the same household?
Tallman had emigrated from Hamburg, Germany to Barbados in 1647, where he met and married Ann Hill in Christ Church Parish in January 1649. She was the daughter of Philip and Ann Hill. Tallman had been to New England at least once, for he had contracted to be taken there in June 1648 on the Golden Dolphin. With his wife, and her mother (apparently widowed, later remarried as Ann Elton) and her brother Robert Hill, they settled in Newport by March 1650 where he set up as an apothecary. In 1655 he was made a freeman in Portsmouth. He was a man of varied businesses and traveled a great deal, undoubtedly leaving his wife alone for periods of time.
We don’t know when the affair started, but by 1664 it was public when Tallman brought suit against Durfee. Some relevant court records:
• 12 June 1664: “Thomas Durfee being bound in a bond of Twentye pound bearing Date June the twelfe 1664 and being Called in Court is accused by peter Tollman for the breace of his bond The sayd Durfee plead not guiltye and puts himselfe upon Triall.” He was found guilty by the jury
• 24 October 1664 Upon the consideration of Thomas Durfees petitions that have been presented to this Court for remitting the fine that was layd upon him by the late Court of Trialles, for breach of his bond in October last: this Court doe not see cause to remitt any part of his fine.
Upon the consideration of Peter Tallmans petition, wherein hee complaines that by reason of the insoelent carriadge of Thomas Durfee with the sayd Tallmans wife, and the danger therein he expresseth hee stands in by reason therof, &c.: the Court doe order that the sayd Durfee be sent for, and admonished for his unsuitable carriadge before the Court.
• October 1664 (unspecified date) “peter Tollman Doth Recognice himselfe unto his mejestye Charles the second king of England &c; in the sume of Ten pouonds to procicutt [prosecute] a bill of Indictment that hee hath Drawne up aganst Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth ond to the full and true performance hearrof hee ownes himselfe fully Content”
In additional court records of 3 May 1665 Tallman petitioned “to be released from his wife”, and the court asked the governor to issue a warrant to bring her in the next day by 8 a.m.
Whereas, Peter Tollman presented a petition to this Assembly, wherein hee desires this Court to grant him a divorse vpon grownds in his said petition alleaged; vpon which the Court called for Ann Tollman before them, and the aforesaid petition being read before her, and the question being asked what she did say to that which was said concearning her in the said petition; her answer was, part therof I owne, and part thereof I disowne. Being farther asked whether she did owne herselfe to be an adulteress she said she had given it under her hand that the child was none of his, and the writing vnder her hand to that purpose being read, and she being asked whether she did now owne what she had owned in that writtng she did in open Court confesse, that it was the truth that the child was none of his begetting, and that it was begotten by another man.
She requested mercy, and the Court asked whether she were willing to reconcile with her husband, “to which her answer was, that she would rather cast herselfe on the mercy of God if he take away her life, than to returne”. The Court declared her an adulteress and sentenced her to be whipped twice, first with 15 stripes in Portsmouth on 22 May, and a second time on 29 May in Newport. They also fined her £10, and granted the divorce to Peter Tallman. She was to remain in prison until punishment was rendered.
Records of the Court of Trials of 8 May 1665 stated that a Richard Pearse of Portsmouth was bound for £40 for the appearance of Thomas Durfee, and was freed from his bond when Durfee appeared.
Whereas Thomas Durffe Stood Indicted for felony in taking good from peter Tollman and having put himselfe upon the Triall of a Jury is by them found guiltye.
He was sentenced to pay fines and receive 15 lashes, and curiously, to also to whip a Benjamin Wild with 15 lashes, he having been convicted of stealing knives.
However, Ann Tallman fled the colony. While some state she went to her brother in Virginia, other evidence indicates she went to nearby Plymouth Colony. Plymouth Colony records of 1 August 1665 indicate a “John Arther” appeared, summoned “to answare for abusiue speeches and for entertaining the wife of one Talmon and the wife of William Tubbs.” In any case, she remained away from Aquidmeck for two years. If she had remained in nearby Plymouth this whole time, certainly Durfee could have visited her.
Court records of 1 May 1667 stated that because Ann Tallman, late wife (i.e. “ex-wife”) of Peter Tallman, escaped her punishment in 1665 and was now come again into the colony, a warrant for her apprehension was issued to Constable Anthony Emery. Emery was awarded 15s. for his pains in apprehending her and bringing her to court. Because she had petitioned the Court for mercy (apparently knowing she had to face apprehension on return to Rhode Island), the punishment was halved to 15 stripes in Newport only, and the fine was remitted.
A year later, Ann and Thomas were brought to court again. Court of Trials records of 11 May 1668 stated:
Upon and Indictment against Thomas Dorfie for Fornication, he being mandamassed [i.e. served with a writ of mandamus] and in Court called, did not apeere yet after apeering and under his hand owneinge Guilty the Court doe sentence him to be whipt with 15 stripes in the Town of Portsm or pay a fine of forty shills to the Genrl Treasury, and pay court fees”.
The very next entry reads:
Ann late wife of peter Talman being Indicted for Fornication and beinge in Court Cald did not apeere the Court doe juge her Guilty of the Charge. The Court doe sentence her this beinge her second offence to be twice whipt according to law or pay a fine of Fower pounds and pay Court fees.
Some observations can be made:
• Court records imply that when the divorce was granted on 3 May 1665 the illegitimate child had already been born. This could be consistent with the reported birth on 10 March 1665 of Thomas Durfee’s eldest child, Robert Durfee. The last documented child of Peter and Ann Tallman was Sarah, born “about” 1664.
• With no known records (that I can find) noting his presence in the colony in 1666 and 1667, it is possible that Thomas Durfee left with Ann and then returned with her. Or, he may have remained in Portsmouth and possibly visited her during the time she was in nearby Plymouth. Or, they may have been apart for this whole period. The birth of his second child, Thomas Jr. in 1669 leaves all these possibilities open.
• Thomas Durfee’s last child by his presumed first relationship, Benjamin, was born in 1679. Ann would have been perhaps 46 in 1679 (if, say, she had married at an early age of 16). A little old to be Benjamin’s mother, but not impossible. Another possibility is that she mothered only his first child, or some of his early children, and someone else could have born the other children.
• Thomas Durfee was not made a freeman of Portsmouth until 1673. Doubt as to his moral fitness may possibly have accounted for this delay. He later held many public offices, so those doubts would have been erased at some point, either as memory of his offence faded, or possibly when Ann died. This might imply, however, that either Ann died considerably before 1673, or that their relationship ceased before that date, in which case we have an open question of who did mother his children from this period.
• In 1683 Durfee bought 8 acres at Common Fence in Portsmouth from Peter Tallman. Would Tallman have had dealings with him after all that may have happened? Tallman was ambitious and probably unscrupulous, always litigating against others, and a business transaction may not have bothered him.
• Peter Tallman’s son Benjamin (by his second wife) married Patience Durfee, Tom Durfee's daughter by his later wife Deliverance, on 23 Sept 1708. Would Tallman have permitted the marriage of his son to the daughter of a man who seduced his first wife? This does not seem likely, but Tallman did die on 1 April 1708, so the timing of the marriage could explain that.
• Thomas Durfee’s only daughter was named Ann, and naming a daughter after her mother was common. Although three of his granddaughters were also named Ann, of their three mothers, two were daughters-in-law also named Ann. So, this “evidence is relevant, but not convincing.
• Were Thomas and Ann ever married? I think not. See Source below with persuasive opinion from Mary Beth Norton. Plus - if they could have married, then why didn't they marry as soon as possible after the divorce, and why would they have remained unmarried only to receive further punishment in 1667/1668?
The Descendants Of Thomas Durfee Of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. By William F. Reed. Gibson Brothers Press, Washington, D.C. 1902 (Vol. I) and 1905 (Vol. II).
Rhode Island General Court of Trials 1671-1704. Transcribed by Jane Fletcher Fiske.
Peter Tallman: A Footnote in History by Ruth Alice Anderson, her Master’s Thesis, taken from Website: http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~richard/tallman/peter.htm As her sources for this section, Anderson gives:
Austin, John Osborne. Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, 1887, pg. 196-7
Bartlett, John Russell (ed.) Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England: 1636-1663, Providence, A. Crawford Greene and Brother, 1856, p. 123-4, 187-8
Rhode Island Court Records, v. 2 pp. 65-66
Rhode Island Colonial Records, v. 2 p. 85, p. 122, p. 187
Website: Genforum.com. Larry Head in posting “Tallman”, #131 gives the birth year of Sarah Tallman, and marriage and death dates in 1708. For his sources his gives: NEHGR v. 85 No. 1, RI Genealogical Dictionary, Vital Records of RI.
The Mysterious First Wife. Was Ann Hill Tallman the First Wife of Thomas Durfee?”. By Marian Wright DeMars, PO Box 115, Wofford Heights CA 93285. Everton’s Genealogical Helper, Jan-Feb 2001. DeMars lists as additional sources:
• Lane: The Scothorn Family
• Beers: Representative Men & Old Families of Rhode Island
• Freeman:Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth
• Klyberg: Rhode Island Land Evidences
• Torrey: New England Marriages prior to 1700
• LDS Records
• Directory of Ancestral Heads of New England Families
The Tallman Family. NEHGR Vol 85 pg. 69
From Mary Beth Norton, Chair of History Dept. at Cornell, and expert on 17th century role of women, and also a descendant of Ann Hill and Peter Tallman, in an email to me in 2005:
And I underscore that as the guilty party in a divorce on grounds of adultery she would not have been allowed to remarry legally, so she was never Durfee's "wife." On the other hand, she would not have been alone in 17th c. NE in such a relationship. I discuss other examples of people living together for years and having children without being legally married (tho for reasons other than this one) in my 1996 book, Founding Mothers & Fathers. Early NE had lots of rules about who could marry, and not everyone who wanted to marry fulfilled them. . .so the rules were sometimes ignored. But no wonder she is mysterious as a wife of Durfee, since she wasn't one by law at the time.
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