The Official Story
Chapter 10

Rebecca Foster accuses Judge North and two others of rape

The indictment includes the barest hint of what might have happened. Rebecca Foster charged Joseph North with the "intent to ravish" her on August 9. Other court records reveal that she also accused Elijah Davis with attempting to ravish her on August 3, and Joshua Burgess on August 6.

How did Martha hear about Rebecca's charges?

Note the wording of the indictment. It charges North with the " ravish and carnally know" Rebecca Foster. Since by law the punishment for rape was death, justices and grand juries frequently reduced the charge from rape to attempted rape in order to get a conviction.

Only ten men were tried for rape in Massachusetts (Maine was then a district of Massachusetts) in the entire eighteenth century, and none after 1780. Between 1780 and 1797, in all of Massachusetts (including Maine) there were only sixteen indictments and ten convictions for attempted rape.

We don't know much about Elijah Davis and Joshua Burgess, but the official records tell us quite a bit about Joseph North. The official town history, written in the 19th century, includes a summary of his life culled from various records in the archives. We learn about his military career in the American Revolution, his marriage to the cultivated daughter of a Boston man who owned extensive property in Maine, his "remarkable floral taste" (he introduced "almost every flower which would bloom in our climate" into his garden), and his appointment to the Court of Common Pleas in 1788.

What happened to Foster's wife while he was away?
In 1789, Rebecca Foster was accusing this same man, Judge North, of a capital crime.

Table of Contents

The Perpetual Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts General Court
May 1789
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 Title page     Page 187 


Page 187


Criminal Matters.
PART IV. Sodomy.--Rape.--Bastard Children. 187

victed, he shall be punished by fine, not exceeding one thousand pounds, imprisonment, setting in the pillory, whipping, setting on the gallows with a rope about his neck, and the other end thereof thrown over the gallows, confinement to hard labour, not exceeding three years, or either of these punishments, according to the degree and aggravation of the offence.  
[This act passed March 9, 1785.]


An Act against Sodomy.  

BE it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, That if any man shall lay with mankind as he layeth with a woman, or any man or woman shall have carnal copulation with any beast or brute creature, and be thereof duly convicted, the offender, in either of those cases, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, shall be sentenced to suffer the pains of death, and the beast shall be slain, and every part thereof burned.

Persons convicted, to suffer death.



And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That such order and form of process shall be had and used, in trial of such offenders, and such judgment given, and execution done, upon the offender, as in cases of Murder.
Such process &c, used as in cases of murder.
[This act passed March 3, 1785.]


An Act for the Punishment of Rape.  

BE it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, That if any man shall ravish and carnally know any woman, committing carnal copulation with her by force against her will, or if any man shall unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any woman child under the age of ten years, every person offending in either of those cases before mentioned, being thereof convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall be sentenced to suffer the pains of death.

[This act passed March 16, 1785.]
An Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children.  
WHEREAS many lewd and dissolute women, being pregnant with bastard children, who regardless of natural affection, and to avoid shame and escape punishment, do conceal their pregnancy, and the birth and death of such children, by means whereof many of them perish for want of necessary and usual assistance, and it cannot be known that they were not murdered:  Preamble