By Field, Corinne T.; Syrett, Nicholas L
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Additional resources for Age in America : the colonial era to the present
The biographies of Esther Wheelwright and Eunice Williams, two Anglo-American girls taken from opposite ends of New England in the early raids of Queen Anne’s War, furnish still more evidence about seven-year-olds taken into captivity. They both forgot how to speak English, and were very skilled adopted daughters of Catholic Indians and the French. Unlike Sylvanus Johnson, both of these women as adolescents took sacramental vows before their English families found them, so they remained with new families, new languages, and a new confession.
Therefore the age at which children were considered morally culpable for their crimes moved haltingly from eight, to twelve, to fourteen by the early nineteenth century. 36 It is striking how often the ages of twelve and fourteen appear and reappear in English and Euro-American civil, criminal, and canon law, suggesting once again a broad consensus among Europeans and colonial Americans about the importance of early adolescence. The correspondence between the governor of New France and the king that explains the agreement with New England and New York for the repatriation of war captives in the fall of 1698 and the spring of 1699 states that “it was only children under twelve years who had no liberty to stay, notwithstanding the desire they had.
I have never seen a surviving document from the seventeenth century recording Esther’s birth as March 31, 1696, as the nineteenth-century family genealogies have it, but presumably the information was recorded at some point in Esther’s brief life with her English family. All of her brothers and sisters listed in the Maine Historical Magazine genealogy have specific birthdates listed, so perhaps the information was recorded in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century family papers that have since been lost.
Age in America : the colonial era to the present by Field, Corinne T.; Syrett, Nicholas L