On October 4,
1648 - 32 year old Alice Martin
Clarke Bishop was hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts for stabbing
to death her 4 year old daughter, Martha, an event of which she said
she had no recollection of.
had the distinction of being the first woman in the colonies who was
hanged. The charge was that she murdered her own 4 year old daughter.
There were witnesses who observed the dead child shortly after the
murder took place. The little girl had been stabbed to death and the
murder scene, on the second floor of the family home, was a bloody
mess. Alice admitted that she killed her daughter.
She was tried, found guilty and
sentenced to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. The sentence
was carried out and Alice was executed in 1648. Nowhere in the record,
however, is the why. Why did Alice brutally murder her daughter?
Perhaps the reasons for such acts were not considered important during
the early colonial years.
Alice Martin Bishop
Mayflower Passenger, Wife of Richard Bishop,
Parents of Damaris Bishop. In 1648, Alice Bishop was hanged for
slashing the neck of her 4-year old daughter Martha with a knife,
while Martha was sleeping in her bed. Executed by Hanging. Probably
the first women hung in the new colonies. Location of death & Burial
Sadly the Mayflower Society does not recognise Alice Martin as the
daughter of Christopher Martin.
Here is an interesting article on the Murder trial of Alice Martin
[she was hung for stabbing to death her daughter Martha Clark in 1648]
in the book "PLYMOUTH COLONY and its PEOPLE " by Stratton.
Today this crime would probably be attributed to
Post Partum depression.
1. ALICE MARTIN was born c. 1620 in ENGLAND/MA?,
and died c. 04 Oct 1648 in SCITUATE, PLYMOUTH CO, MA1. She married (1)
GEORGE CLARK 22 Jan 1639 in PLYMOUTH CO, MA2. She married (2) RICHARD
BISHOP 05 Dec 1644 in SCITUATE, PLYMOUTH CO, MA3.
Notes for ALICE MARTIN:
ALICE (MARTIN) CLARK BISHOP WAS HUNG FOR THE MURDER
OF HER INFANT DAUGHTER MARTHA CLARK, CHILD OF HER FIRST HUSBAND GEORGE
CLARK B1620 M1639 D 1644. THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT OF THE MURDER WAS
WRITTEN ABOUT IN THE BOOK 'PLYMOUTH COLONY AND ITS PEOPLE 1620 -1691'
by E.A. STRATTON.
"In July 1648 a coroners jury reported that "coming into the house of
the said Richard Bishope, we saw at the foot of a ladder which leadeth
into an upper chamber, much blood; and going up all of us into the
chamber, wee found a woman child, of about foure yeares of age, lying
in her shifte uppon her left cheeke, with her throut cut with divers
gashed crose wayes, the wind pipe cut and stuke into the throat
downward, and a bloody knife lying by the side of the child, with
which knife all of us judge, and the said Allis hath confessed to five
of us at one time, that shee murdered the child with the said knife"
Rachel Ramsden testified that when she went to Richard Bishops's house
on an errand, "the wife of the said Richard Bishope requested her to
goe fetch her some buttermilke at Goodwife Winslows, and gave her a
ketle for that purpose, and shee went and did it; and before shee
went, shee saw the child lyinge abed asleepe ..., but when shee came
shee found [Alice Bishop] sad and dumpish; shee asked her what blood
was that shee saw at the ladders foot; shee pointed unto the chamber,
and bid her looke, but shee perseived shee had killed her child, and
being afraid, shee refused, and ran and tould her father and
mother. Moreover, shee saith the reason that moved her to think shee
had killed her child was that when shee saw the blood shee looked on
the bedd, and the child was not there". The child was Alice (Martin)
Clarke Bishop's daughter, Martha Clark, by Alice's first husband,
George Clark. On 1 August, 1648, Alice Bishop confessed she had
murdered her daughter and said she was sorry for it. And on 4 October
1648 she was sentenced to be hanged, which accordingly was executed".
In the fall of 1648 - 32 year old Alice Martin
Clarke Bishop was hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts for stabbing to
death her 4 year old daughter, Martha, an event of which she said she
had no recollection of.
Its History & People, 1620-1691.
Ancestry Pub., 1986. Print. pp. 159/60.
On October 4, 1648, 32-year-old Alice Bishop was
hanged on the gallows in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts for the murder
of her young daughter — an apparently motiveless crime which must have
shocked her fellow settlers.
Almost nothing is known about Alice’s early life.
She probably, although not definitely, came over on the Mayflower. The
prevailing theory is that her parents were Mayflower passengers
Christopher Martin and Marie Prower. They died within a week of each
other in January 1621, before the actual settlement of Plymouth even
If that’s the case, Alice had been an orphan for
the better part of a year by the time the first Thanksgiving rolled
around. She was presumably raised by one of the other families. She
would marry twice and have three daughters: Abigail, Martha and
By 1648, Alice was living with her second husband,
the Plymouth newcomer Richard Bishop, who was Damaris’s father. The
family seems to have been unexceptional, just another household trying
to eke out a living in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
Somewhere along the line, something went very
On July 22, 1648, while Richard Bishop was away
from home, family friend Rachel Ramsden dropped by the Bishops’
residence and spent some time with Alice. Alice’s four-year-old middle
child, Martha Clark, was asleep in bed in the loft, which was
accessible by ladder. (Where the other two children were has not been
At some point, Alice gave Rachel a kettle and asked
her to go fetch some buttermilk from a neighbor’s house.
When Rachel returned, she noticed blood on the
floor beneath the ladder. Alice was “sad and dumpish,” and when Rachel
asked her what was going on, she wordlessly pointed up at the loft.
Rachel climbed up to have a look: there was blood
everywhere; Martha’s mattress was drenched in it.
Rachel fled the house in a panic, found her parents
and told them she thought Alice had murdered her daughter. Her father
rushed to find the colonial governor. A posse of twelve armed men
assembled and went to the Bishop house. By the time the men arrived,
Alice was in hysterics.
Ascending to the loft, they found Martha’s body.
The child was lying on her left side, “with her throat cut with divers
gashes crose wayes, the wind pipe cut and stuke into the throat
downward, and the bloody knife lying by the side.” Nothing could be
done for her.
Alice freely admitted she had murdered her daughter
and said she was sorry for it, but she claimed she had no recollection
of the crime. When they asked her why she’d done it, she had no answer
She was the fifth person hanged in the Plymouth
Colony, and the first woman.
We will never know why Alice Bishop killed her
daughter Martha, and why she did it in such a ferocious manner. One of
her descendants has a website about her that attempts to answer that
Severe mental illness, perhaps post-partum
psychosis, is an obvious answer, but not the only one. The site notes
another potentially significant fact: both of Alice’s parents died
when she was four years old, and she killed her daughter at the same
Richard Bishop survived his wife by nearly a
quarter-century. As for the children: youngest child Damaris Bishop
grew up, married and had three sons, but Abigail Clark, Alice’s oldest
child, vanishes from history after her mother’s execution.