Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell
Early Women’s History 251.01
1 October 2010
1. The Cornell family didn’t resemble the family ideals propounded in contemporary sermons, literature and the law. “Documents reveal the distance between the New England family of historical imagination and the realities of seventeenth-century domestic life. Instead of the harmony and respect that sermon literature laws and hierarchical/patriarchal society attempted to impose evidence illustrates filial insolence, generational conflict, disrespect toward the elderly, power plays between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, adult dependence on aging parents who clung to purse strings, sibling rivalry over inherited property and discord between stepmother and stepchildren” (Crane 2). In other words just because the laws in this century state that children must respect their elders and parents and in the patriarchal society men dominate the household (father or husband). In the Cornell household Rebecca was the head of the household because her husband had died and he left her with everything, rather than just leaving her with her Widow’s 1/3 and splitting the rest among his children. Thomas was a poor man with a large family, once divorced and now remarried. His mother took him in and gave him most of the house for his family to live, but she still owned everything inside. Thomas was not very respectable of his mother who helped him out but giving him a place to live. Records show that he was mean to his mother and sometimes didn’t offer her dinner or help her out with some of her household chores. He also made her cut and gather her own wood for her fireplace. Thomas did not follow what the Puritan lifestyle was back then, which was ORDER in the family. Puritan children would normally respect their parents or in this case their mother, but he did not do this. Rebecca being a Quaker knew that if Thomas was a bad child it was because she herself was a bad mother, so in turn she tried to fix this. She allowed Thomas to live with her under the conditions that he would pay her $6 rent a year, and when she passed he would have to pay $100 to his siblings over the course of 4 years; Thomas found this to be unfair. Rebecca also didn’t want Thomas off running telling people that she was a bad mother because being a Quaker; she would have been failing as a mother, if people thought this. “The family had not acted toward Thomas’s mother as seventeenth-century New England Guidelines prescribed. They were not respectful of Rebecca’s advanced age, she felt “disregarded” and even worse, and this troubling situation had surfaced three or four years earlier. Rebecca’s Cornell had been unhappy enough to contemplate suicide. Initially. She had resisted hat impulse. But did the Devil ultimately prevail?”(Crane 40). Thomas’s father left the whole estate, land and all, to his wife Rebecca. Usually during the seventeenth-century, siblings were very competitive towards each other to later in life acquire their parent’s fortunes and estates. However Rebecca did allow Thomas to move into her house with his family, but she kept the most expensive and valuable thing in the house to herself. “Her possession of the great bed suggests that she keenly aware of her place in this household, although what she claimed by right would have been perceived as self-indulgence by her son and daughter-in-law. Such rivalry only fueled the antagonism between mother and son, as furniture became a symbolic weapon in the contest for control over people and space (Cream 14-15). Clearly Rebecca knew that she was at the head of this household, unlike what usually was known at this time, for the man of the house to be at the head. Thomas probably didn’t feel a sense of manhood living in this house. People around town also knew this and he didn’t like the fact that his mother was the one that had all the power over the family, which in...
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