NOTE: To read the legend of Penelope, see Penelope Stout, Wonder Woman. And don’t miss Part I of my search for Penelope’s truth.
Where Was Penelope Born?
A biograph of my great-uncle, John Franklin Stout states that his father’s line descends from a Dutch woman. So my ancestors believed in the Dutch descent of Penelope.
As I mentioned above, other sources say either that she was born in England, or that her father, a clergyman, fled to Holland and she was born in Holland, but not a Dutch citizen. Whichever country of origin proves to be true, Penelope and Richard developed strong ties to the Dutch, but lived among English in Dutch territory (New Netherlands) in America.
Gravesend where Penelope met Richard Stout, married and lived for a time, was an English pocket inside New Netherlands, populated mostly by English people who spoke their own language. English families from Gravesend settled Middletown New Jersey, where the Stouts were considered founders.
None of this proves anything about Penelope. Sold as a servant by the Indians she could have been Dutch or English. If she used her maiden name in court, she could have used Dutch customs, but raised in Holland from birth, she could have felt more Dutch than English. Richard Stout presumably spoke both languages, so communication between them would not be a problem.
The Stout Children
The birth dates of the Stout children should help sort things out. It might tell us when Richard and Penelope married, and give us a general idea of her age. But we do not have primary records and must consider that Richard might have wed before and his older children might have been from that union, we are once more left to speculate.
Richard lists ten children in his will written in 1705. (One of those mentioned, Peter. had died the year before Richard, so the will refers to Peter’s wife and children.) In my list of his children, I follow the order in the will, although Nathan Stout reverses the order of David and Benjamin.
A division of land in Monmouth County in 1665 lists the two oldest, John and Richard, Jr. as “of age”. “Of Age” for these purpose would have been 21 according to English Common Law.
Items for his sons and daughters yt are come voyge since the year 1667, namely James, Peter, Mary, Alice and Sarah, each 60 acres: total 300 acres.
from 1675 “Rights of Lands due, according to the Concessions” under Richard Stout.
I had been assuming that the five others listed in the division of land as “sons and daughters of age since 1667″ meant that those five would have turned 21 by 1667. All the sources I had read gave the language of the document that way. Then I read the document reproduced in Historic and Genealogical Miscellany by John Stillwell. He says that the original document uses the word “voyge” which should be transcribed as voyage rather than of age. Grammatically it makes more sense.
Logically, Richard, Penelope and the two oldest sons might have settled in Monmouth first (1665 or earlier) and left their five younger children in Gravesend to come over the bay when the Stouts had built a house to accommodate everyone. (Three more would be born in Middletown.)
Three things worry me. I have not seen the actual document, so cannot judge whether Stillwell’s transcription is correct. And second, Stillwell assumes that the language of the document spelling out amounts of land to each settler includes children in his definition of servants. That seems a stretch to me, but the amounts of land listed equal those designated for servants.
The thing I find puzzling: Why the ten year gap between the birth of Sarah and the birth of Jonathan?
Lacking original documents, generally accepted birth and death dates of the offspring come from Nathan Stout’s The History of the Stout Family (1823) ; Thomas Hale Streets, who corrected some of Nathan’s errors, Stout Family of Delaware(1915); and Herold Stout’s Stouts and Allied Families (1951). See research notes at end for each of these. Other clues comes from the division of land in Monmouth, when the children married, and their birth order in Richard’s will.
- John Stout About 1645-1724 (DOB from an indexed marriage record; Before 1646 per land records) Married by April 1665
- Richard Stout, Jr. 1646-1717 (DOB from indexed marriage records; Before 1646 per land records. Married at time of land division in 1665.)
- James Stout 1655-58 (DOB unproven, but per land records after 1646)
- Mary Penelope Stout About 1650-1675 (After 1646 per land records; Herold Stout says 1650. She married by April 1665)
- Alice Stout 1652-1709 (DOB: After 1646 per land records; 1652-indexed marriage record, Find a Grave and Stillwell’s Historical and Genealogical Miscellany. Married by April 1665.)
- Peter Stout 1654-1704 (After 1646 per land records, 1654 per indexed marriage records)
- Sarah Elizabeth Stout 1656-1714 (After 1646 per land records, 1654 per one marriage record.)
- Johnathan Stout About 1665-1722 (1660 in Harold Stout’s Stout and Allied Families and index of marriage records. Not sure where the 1665 used in some books came from.) Johnathan, David and Benjamin were not mentioned in Land Claim of 1675 with children who came [of age or voyage] since 1667, so presumably born after 1665.
- David Stout Abt.1667-1732 (My ancestor) (Marriage index and Find a Grave give 1667 as birth year, with no original source. Born “it is said” in 1669, according to Historical and Genealogical Miscellany, presumably based on Nathan Stout’s history which says the same thing. However, Richard’s will lists Benjamin after David, meaning he would be younger.)
- Benjamin Stout Sr. 1669-1734 Thomas Hale Streets, who is a descendant of Benjamin, in The Stout Family of Delaware says “probably about 1671” Nathan Stout says “I have no knowledge of any of his family” and gives no details on Benjamin. However, he reverses the birth order of Nathan and Benjamin. One of Benjamin’s two marriage records (indexed) indicates a birth date of 1650 (probably a transcription error) and the other 1669. Find a Grave says 1669 with no proof.
When Did She Marry Richard Stout?
Again conjecture reigns, with various sources pegging the marriage at 1644 or 1648, using the birth dates of the children as their main source of calculation. However, if Penelope wrecked on the ship Kath, as I believe is most likely, she had not yet arrived in 1644.
Unlike the other conjectures of dates in this story, however, there is a kind-or sort-of official record. This secondary source, printed as “New York City Marriages 1600s-1800s” in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society journal, Volume 63, page 220, as referenced at Ancestry.com, says Richard Stout married Penelope Van Princess, widow, in 1663.
Things get very interesting should we consider this marriage index correct. IF Penelope was 20 when she married Richard, we now calculate her birth year as 1643. IF Richard was 40 when he married Penelope, he was born in 1623. IF they married in 1663, Richard had a first wife for which we have no record, and not even a peep in the stories passed down about him. That wife would have been the mother of his first seven children.
Penelope could not very well have arrived on a ship in 1647 with a husband. And is it likely she would have remained single for 16 years? However, the one thing this marriage date does–it solves the mystery of why the ten year gap between the first group of children and the final three.
Because I do not have access to the original of that journal article with the marriage index, or its source, I cannot guarantee the marriage took place in 1663. In fact, I currently assume the date is incorrect.
My Conclusion on Penelope’s Story
The shipwreck and attack by Indians in the legend probably are basically true. The earliest writers on the subject, according to Stillwell, were Samuel Smith’s History of the Colony of Nova Caesaria or New Jersey and Morgan Edwards’ Materials Towards A History of the Baptists in Jersey. Smith’s book was first printed in 1765, thirty-three years after Penelope’s assumed date of death in 1732. That means he could have been talking to people who knew Penelope during her lifetime. Later versions of the story became laden with vivid and sometimes gruesome details compared to Smith’s version. It is easy to see which writers of the many who told Penelope’s legend, copied from Smith or Edwards. (See Notes on Sources for the Stillwell reference where you can read what these two wrote.)
The part of the legend that says she had around 500 descendants when she died is quite possible. As for whether she lived to 110, that seems doubtful. Since there is no concrete record of either her birth or death, everyone is free to speculate. Perhaps she lived to 100 or 101, which would be remarkable, and could grow to 110 during the retelling of the tale. If the New York City marriage license is correct, she would have been about 90 if she died at the usually accepted 1732.
She might have not known her own birth year. In researching older ancestors, I frequently find one who seems to be putting down random numbers in census reports, etc. And since we do not even have census reports for Penelope, who knows how old she was?
I have to agree with Nick Sheedy who says: “Well, these various traditions may help to narrow the possibilities but offer no definite facts.” Given that their youngest son, David, was supposedly born in 1669, we can safely assume that Penelope was not born before 1620; and it seems near certain that she was born no later than 1629.” [NOTE: Back to that pesky marriage record from New York City–if she was born in 1643, she would have only reached 26 when David was born. ]
Life in Middletown
As for her life in Middletown, we know the couple still had six children at home when she and Richard settled in New Jersey. Four had married.
Her name appears in a couple of the legal records of land transactions, although mostly the reference reads “Richard Stout and wife.”
We know that her son Jonathan was key to founding the Baptist church, and most of the family apparently worshipped there. One humanizing story survives from a great-great grand daughter who recalls that Penelope told the woman’s father to put his hand on the wound in her abdomen, so that the story would not be forgotten.
Salute to a Woman of Mystery
Penelope remains, enticingly, a woman of mystery. A woman we can shape in our own imagination, accepting whatever crumbs of truth we choose to believe. Given the time and place in which she lived, I see her as hard-working, devout, brave and bold. Surely no one would earn such a long-lasting legend without deserving the praise she received with the title of Mother of Middleton.
My Connection to Penelope Stout
- Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
- Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
- Vera Anderson Stout, the daughter of
- William Cochran Stout, the son of
- Isaiah Stout, the son of
- Isaac Stout, the son of
- Isaiah Stout, the son of
- Isaac Stout, the son of
- Freegift Stout, the son of
- David Stout, the son of
- Penelope ____ wife of Richard Stout
Note: For Notes on Sources, See previous post.