Crimes are a common occurrence in society, whether it’s the 18th or the 21st century. However, women were less likely to commit crimes that were punished with death, and men were often reluctant to charge them in the first place. In the circumstances of this case concerning the three participants Mary Hendron, Margaret Pendergrass, and John Wheeler punishment for their crime was severe, as it should be. They were accused of aiding and abetting Mr. Richard Russel, in forcibly marrying the heiress Mrs. Sibble Morris.
According to the first person account of Sibbel Morris’ servant, Anne Holliday watched while Mary Hendron, Margaret Pendergrass, and a few others forcibly married Sibbel Morris to a Mr. Richard Russel. The heiress Ms. Sibbel Morris first met Richard Russel at a gathering held by Mrs. Hendron at her home, where he was introduced to her as a rich merchant. On the 5th of March, 1728, Ms.Holliday was asked to take her mistress to visit Hendron again at her home, but upon their arrival no one was home and they were encouraged to meet Hendron at a house in New Round Court, in the Strand by Pendergrass’ daughter Kitty Pendergrass. Morris and her maid were reluctant, but were pulled along by Kitty Pendergrass and her friend Peggy Johnson. Upon the arrival to this house, they were pulled inside the house by Hendron, the door was bared, and when Morris threatened to scream she was told not to bother because no one would hear her. Richard Russel then approached Morris and demanded what her Christian name was, and upon her refusal to answer, Hendron and the clergy man’s scribe held Morris up, as she was becoming faint, and the clergy man preformed the marriage ceremony between Morris and Russel. The clergyman hesitated at times unsure of Morris’ consent to the marriage, as Morris repeatedly stated she did not want to marry, but upon urging from Hendron and the other parties that she was willing, he continued. After the marriage ceremony Morris was taken upstairs, with Pendergrass telling her that it was to her advantage to be married to Russel, and she had her clothing forcibly removed by the women Mary Hendron, Margaret Pendergrass, Kitty Pendegrass and Peggy Johnson. However, it was Hendron who held her down upon the bed until Russel entered the chamber partially unclothed. The rest of the women left, bringing Morris’s maid with them and celebrated the couple’s marriage with a supper downstairs. This is where Mr. John Wheeler was in attendance, and in the testimony of the clergyman’s clerk Mr. Allen, Wheeler believed that it was a marriage between a Gentleman and a servant and was not aware of it as a forced marriage, and took part in the merriment. A half hour later, Russel and Morris emerged from the bedroom and were offered supper, which Morris refused and then promptly asked to be allowed to return home. Morris agreed with the main points of Holliday’s deposition, claiming Hendron to be the biggest instigator, and Pendergrass had been in attendance during all these acts. The sole male on trial John Wheeler however was not at the forced marriage, or during the removal of clothes, but solely at the celebration. Morris also stated that Richard Russel had carnal knowledge of her body, and even though she had not consented, and used all her bodily strength to resist she was not successful in fighting off Russel. Her father later told the court that she was in possession of an estate worth £20 a year, having received it from a deceased uncle. This most likely being the influence behind forcing Morris into this marriage, so Russel could gain access to the funds of this estate. It was found after hearing all testimonies, including that of the defendants pleading not guilty, the court charged Mary Hendron and Margaret Pendergrass to be guilty of this crime and were sentenced to death. John Wheeler was acquitted, as he had only been hired by Pendergrass to find a Parson, and was not in attendance at the marriage.
In this trial we have societal issues concerning gender and social conduct. Women are used by men to enact a crime, or have a crime acted upon them. There are also correlations between the shame and fear felt after such a crime, connecting the 18th and 21st century society.
In this case, we have two women who are charged as guilty in aiding and abetting a man for a kidnapping and forced marriage. These women as stated in the Newgate Ordinary Accounts deny that they had forced the defendant into marriage but that she was willing, even more so then Russel. However, their stories did not match up to the satisfaction of the court, so their testimonies were in question. It is not mentioned what the motivation for these women was to perform such a crime, but I assume it to be for money though it is not mentioned anywhere about the payment of money, except that of Pendergrass hiring and paying Wheeler to find a parson. If belief is to be in favor of the charged women, they speak of having meant no ill against her, but only doing the right thing. They may have been under the assumption that she was not unwilling (even though she said she was not willing) and that Russel had used them just as much as he had used Mr. Morris. If that viewpoint is taken then all three of these women are victims in a man’s crime, and he allowed them all to suffer for him. We will never really know if they were guilty or not. Upon my search for Richard Russel’s case, I found nothing, for it is mentioned very briefly in the trial testimonies that he had absconded. He ran away as fast as he could, and was never caught or tried for the kidnapping, forcible marriage, or rape of Ms. Morris. While Sibbel Morris may have gotten some justice by seeing the main conspirators of the crime hang, she did not receive the proper justice of seeing Russel be prosecuted for the crime that he committed.
It is stated in the trial, that upon the discovery of this marriage by Mr. Morris, the defendant’s father, after a man hired by Hendron masquerading as Russel’s friend came to tell him, that Ms. Morris had not informed him of the act because she had felt fear and shame. This was a frequent occurrence for women of the 18th century, as they were often reluctant to prosecute a case in a male dominated environment, and also having to relive the experience of the event itself. This still happens today concerning cases where women are raped, and do not press charges against their attacker because they are scared or ashamed to speak about their experience.
Social conduct was very important in the 18th century, as any wrong move could bring shame upon you and ruin your life, or your chances of making a good marriage for yourself. One of 18th century women’s biggest virtues was their chastity and this was taken away from Sibbel Morris, both by Russel and the women who helped him do it. To lose one’s virtue outside marriage was considered a sin by society, so it was no wonder that Morris felt shame for what had happened to her, even if she herself had not been at fault. Morris had visited someone she believed to be her friend, and was properly chaperoned by her maid to do so, but upon entering the house in New Round Court, she had already brought shame upon herself just by becoming exposed to the situation at hand. If someone had heard her screams, she still would have been looked at as being shameful, for women had to be conscious and careful of protecting their virtue at all times, especially before, but even after marriage. While in today’s society chastity is not as an important virtue as it once was; humans are still self-conscious of the judgmental views of society. We still fear that those around us are judging every move we make, and after a traumatic experience such as a rape, I believe that awareness is magnified, especially at the young age of 16 as Ms. Morris was. This leads to a feeling of shame and fear in the victim and they are reluctant to testify against the criminal, for fear of society’s judgment and having to relive the experience.
This was an interesting trial for me, because of the concept of kidnapping, forced marriage, and rape seems to be a crime that would not happened often, but in fact it did. There were different forms of this act, such as this trial with a kidnapped bride, bride stealing or even the shotgun wedding, where usually the parents or father would force the man to marry his ‘ruined’ daughter by holding a gun to his back the entire ceremony. There are still places in the world where the act of forced marriage still occurs, and is not a crime, which is shocking to me, but of course not everyone has equal rights. So this trial is just as relevant today as it was in the 18th century. Were these women punished justly for stealing a part of this woman’s life from her? I believe so, but Sibbel Morris did not deserve what happened to her, and Richard Russel certainly did not deserve to get away with it.