How many examples do you need to prove that something in the 17th century was possible? was commonplace? One of the all-my-ancestors books I indexed was by Joan Guilford, Ph.D. It came out in two volumes, the first in 1990, which was reviewed in The American Genealogist in 1993 (Vol. 68), p. 58-60, by the editor David Greene, also a Ph.D. Guilford renewed the claim that John Rugg of Lancaster married successively two daughters of John Prescott. Donald Lines Jacobus, in his treatment of the Prescott family years ago, refuted this by noting that there was a ban on such marriages since they were considered incest in the Old Testament reading of Exodus sense. When the second volume of Guilford's work came out in 2003, she shot back with six examples of such marriages. Greene reviewed volume two in 2004 (TAG 79:320) and renewed his objections. In any case, I thought I would explore this problem. Five of these couple have not been researched in the last 25 years by anyone but Guilford. The sixth was researched and disproves her theory.
The six examples given by Guilford are split over three colonies: Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Massachusetts examples are the aforementioned John Rugg and then William Cleaves. These two are easily refuted. Greene in his second review notes that Williams Cleaves first wife was recently proven to be Martha Edwards not Martha Corey, something Guilford had missed (NEHGR 155:225-226). The Rugg/Prescott fails (IMHO) because John Prescott leaves a will which doesn't name a daughter Hannah (the supposed second sister to marry John Rugg). I'm inclined to believe that in Massachusetts it was indeed illegal to marry successive siblings.
Meanwhile in Rhode Island, it seemed to be legal, albeit not encouraged. The two examples given by Guilford were Jane Burlingame who married successively John Potter and his brother Edward, and Amos Westcott who married Sarah and then Deborah Stafford. Rhode Island started over theological disagreements within Massachusetts, so I'm not surprised they may not have upheld this Old Testament statute. I have not yet pursued further research into these two examples.
The last two Guilford-supplied examples are from Connecticut: Samuel Beebe of New London married Agnes then Mary Keeney, and Joseph Wright of Weathersfield married Mary then Mercy Stoddard. I will be exploring and researching these last two examples more fully in the upcoming weeks.
Preliminary research shows that there is no primary evidence for either of these two claims. Wethersfield Vital Records (p. 310) show Joseph Wright m. Mary [blank] on 10 December 1663. Mary, wife of Joseph, d. 23 August 1683, age 37. Then Joseph Wright m. Mercy [blank] on 10 March 1685. The children of John and Mary (Foote) Stoddard are known from his probate papers. [Mainwaring, Early Connecticut Probate Records 1635-1700, p. 241-42]. On 20 December 1664, the children of John Stoddard were Mary, age 21, John, 19, Josiah, 16, Mercy, 12, Elizabeth, 8, and Nathaniel, 4. This agrees with Weathersfield VRs, p. 253, Mary, d. John and Mary Stoddard b. 12 March 1643. Mercy's birth is not recorded.
So, despite the fact that Joseph was married to Mary a year before the probate of John Stoddard, Mary is not listed with her married name. Moving past that, the marriage records for Joseph Wright give no maiden names to his wives. Mary (Foote) Stoddard, remarried twice thereafter to William Goodrich then Thomas Tracey. She left no probate. I will need to go to Hartford to research Weathersfield Land Records to see if an answer lies therein.
The Beebe/Keeney question also needs intensive land research since there are no Beebe-Keeney marriages in the New London Vital Records, nor did William Keeney leave any probate papers. I'm intrigued to see what can be really learned of these two examples. By the way, these are now only 4 possible examples out of the 37,000 marriages in Torrey's. I'm with Jacobus that this was not customary in the least.