The ancestors of Wells Waite Miller (Thomas and Isabel Miller) came to the American Colonies as part of the Great Puritan Migration. For more than 25 years, they appeared to serve as important members of the community, first in Massachusetts and then in Connecticut. That is, until 1666.
Sin, Tragedy, Trial, and Excommunication
That year, on May 6, Thomas and Isabel Miller’s 22-year-old maid, Sarah Nettleton, gave birth to a son named Thomas—and the father was in fact Thomas Miller. He was 56 years old with Sarah more than a decade younger than the Miller’s daughter, Ann.
To make matters worse, Isabel—who may have been living with Ann and her family—died right around that time. It’s possible to speculate that she committed suicide although that isn’t known. What is known: just three days after Sarah gave birth, the court noted that it considered Thomas’s estate as one being inventoried and that Isabel was “lately deceased.”
Thomas quickly tried to minimize the damage of his obvious fornication—the term that Puritans used for married men who had sexual relations with a single woman—by marrying Sarah on June 6, 1666. This may have been especially painful to his daughter, Ann, since she had just given birth to her seventh (out of ten) children just two days earlier: a son named Andrew.
Setting Satan Loose
Thomas was nevertheless placed on trial at the Rowley church where he still had his membership even though the sexual crime occurred in Middletown. Not surprisingly, given the public nature of this relationship, the church determined that Thomas was guilty. On October 6, 1667, a statement publicly excommunicating him was read.
To get a sense of how seriously Puritans took this punishment, the Rowley church records notes that “Afterward prayer was made that God would ratify the sentence & let loose Satan on him.” This meant, too, that Thomas could no longer participate in civic matters of the town and none of the couple’s children could be baptized.
“Girl Prob. Not Older Than His D. Ann”
His sexual relationship with Sarah had already been acknowledged before she gave birth to their son, with Hartford County court minutes saying the following:
“This Court doth adiuge Thomas Miller for his notorious wickedness in committing uncleanes with Sarah Nettleton his servant who saith (to which he ascenteth) she is with child with him. To be kept in safe Custody in the Goale until the next Lecture day at Hartford and then to be brought forth and to suffer Corporall punishment by whipping upon his naked body to yet number of twenty stripes at least. And further the said Miller is either to pay five pounds as a fine to ye Publ. Treasury or to suffer corporall punishment by whipping on the naked body three months hence. And he is disenfranchised according to law. Sarah Nettleton for he actual vncleanses with Thomas Miller is sentenced by this Court to suffer corporal punishment by whipping on her naked body after she is deliuered of her Child or she is to pay a fine of 10 pounds to ye publ. Treasury.”
The same court minutes stated that “Upon ye requrest of some of ye inhabitants of MiddleTown to ye end that ye wife of Thomas Miller and Sarah Nettleton may be provided for This Court doth order the Constable and Nathl Bacon of MiddleTown to secure Millers estate until further order be taken by this court.”
Nathaniel Bacon, it should be noted, had married Millers’ daughter, Ann, in 1653.
Settling the Estate
Isabel had apparently requested the court to give some of her unfaithful husband’s belongings to their daughter. In fact, it seems that she wanted “some considerable part” given to Ann’s household. This included linen and woolen apparel, along with “those other small things mentioned in the Inuentory amounting to 5 pounds, five shillings,” a cow and calf that were already in the Bacons’ possession, a warming pan, and a “great Bible.”
Ann was also to receive an “old trunk.” Nathaniel, meanwhile, was to receive thirty pounds, which apparently could be paid in corn beef or pork, or in some other way satisfactory to Nathaniel. Thomas was also required to meet Nathaniel’s demands for Isabel’s burial and “Any Account for things past.” Until this was settled, Thomas Miller’s land was to be held as security.
Welcomed Back Into the Fold
Thomas and Sarah continued to have children, including Samuel on April 1, 1668 and Joseph on August 21, 1670. In 1671, the town “released him from paying taxes so long as he owned and ran the mill,” so this appears to indicate that he was finding his way back into community life although he couldn’t play a full role while excommunicated.
Sarah then gave birth to their fourth son, Benjamin, on July 10, 1672. As an adult, Benjamin became one of the first three settlers of Middlefield, a town located about five miles from Middletown. He was nicknamed “Governor” because of his powerful physique and influence with Native Americans in the area. He got involved in his own, albeit smaller, scandal when he shot a bear on a Sunday for stealing his pigs. He was arrested for desecrating the Sabbath.
Repentance For Fornication
After the birth of Benjamin, Thomas and Sarah had one more son—John, born on March 10, 1674. This is about when Thomas Miller returned to Massachusetts for the first time since his trial. There, he repented for his fornication and was accepted back into the church, able to take full communion again as of December 6, 1674. His five sons were then baptized.
At this point, the Millers switched to birthing daughters, including Margaret on September 1, 1676; Sarah, on January 7, 1678; and Mehitable on March 28, 1681. Thomas, however, died shortly after the last daughter must have been conceived, on August 14, 1680.
Sarah Carries On
Sarah was therefore left with eight children, ranging in age from 14-year-old Thomas to two-year-old Sarah and not-yet-born Mehitable. Thomas had drafted a will just three days before his death, one that stated how he wanted his belongings—worth 376 British pounds and ten shillings—to be equally divided among his sons once his wife was deceased with the sons paying the daughters half of what they themselves received. One hundred and fifteen pounds of his estate, about one third, was in land.
Thomas specifically left Ann, the daughter he’d had with Isabel, out of his will, saying that “I have already paid her her full portion before her death, & therefore do not see Cause to do anything now to my son-in-law Nathaniel Bacon, & making my loving wife Sarah Miller sole Executrix.”
Two years later, on August 14, 1682, Sarah married a man named John Harris and she lived until March 20, 1727. As for Ann Miller Bacon, she lived until July 6, 1670.
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