At first glance, it’s hard to imagine William Read running afoul of Puritan justice. Read came to New England in 1635 as part of a group of colonists led by Rev. Joseph Hull. He first lived in Weymouth and later Boston. He and his wife Susannah already had two children when they departed England. He was 28 and she was 29.
The son of a knight and a tailor by trade, Read was prosperous enough to bring a servant with him, and in America he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court. He also served as a constable and selectman in Weymouth, though he and Susannah moved to Boston in 1644.
In Boston, William established his tailor’s shop and the couple steadily continued having children until Susannah died in 1653 in Boston. Scarcely six months later, William remarried.
William’s second wife was Ruth Crooke, a widow who was some 20 years younger than he. Ruth and William had eleven more children through 1669, when she returned to England ostensibly to visit family.
When Ruth returned in 1673, she had a surprise for William: A two-year-old baby. The baby, she told William, was John Rogers, whom she had adopted from his father, also John Rogers. But the story soon began unraveling as witnesses came forward with a different story to tell.
In England, Ruth had been known as Rebekah Rogers, married to a John Rogers (also sometimes known as Timothy). The two married and presented young John as their son.
What’s more, not only was Rebekah actually Ruth, but John/Timothy wasn’t actually John. He was Augustin Lyndon, a Boston shipwright. The case was a sensation as witnesses came forward.
Job Laine testified that Ruth had confessed to him that she had lived with Lyndon as his wife, and that they had a child together. Roger Judson testified that he had witnessed Ruth and Augustin engaged in inappropriate behavior. And Jeremiah Cushing testified that Augustin Lyndon was, in fact, the same man as John Rogers.
To make matters worse, letters between Ruth and Augustin revealed the true nature of their relationship.
The court in Massachusetts issued its finding in March of 1673: Ruth and Augustin had married, despite the fact that both were already married. Ruth received a harsh sentence.
Ruth Read being committed to prison brought to the bar to Answer for that having been about four years in England absent from her husband and bringing with her a child of about two years old affirming that she received at Branford England that Augustin Lyndon who changed his name to John Rogers and herself by the name of Rebekah Rogers as she also affirmed between whom several letters (as if man and wife) had passed between them which are on file, and that John Rogers told her the child’s name was John Rogers, and most impudently returning to these parts imposing said child on her husband William Read.
The court banished Ruth from Massachusetts, giving her given two months to leave. Should she return, she would receive further punishment:
The Court sentences the said Ruth Read that named herself Rebekah Rogers if found in this colony two months after this date that she stands in the market place on a stool for one hour with a paper on her breast with the inscription THIS I STAND FOR MY ADULTEROUS AND WHORISH CARRIAGE and that on lecture day next after she be severely whipped with thirty stripes.
There is no record of Lyndon being charged for his part in the masquerade. Lyndon’s wife Mary did seek and receive a divorce from him in 1679 on the grounds that he had deserted her, changed his name to John Rogers and married another woman.
As for Ruth/Rebekah, she left Massachusetts and moved to Connecticut. William went with her. In September of 1674 William petitioned the court asking that she be allowed to return, but the petition was rejected. Both apparently never returned to Massachusetts. William died in 1679 in New London, Conn.
In Connecticut, Ruth married again, this time to Robert Percy. She died there in 1681.