A Real Humdinger: I’ve Got a Live One, Folks!

Wow, have I got a humdinger of a story for you guys. Recently I was having fun digging a bit into my Greene family branches (which, when you get back towards the 1500s really starts looking thin and shaky with lots of unknowns) and stumbled upon a previously unknown sister of the original Greene immigrant, Richard “the Surgeon” Greene. He came to America in the early 1600s and founded a dynasty of Greenes in Rhode Island (“Rhode island: Neither a road nor an island. Discuss!”). Rachel Greene, his sister, came to America as well, which is probably why she is remembered by us colonials, so I had some fun going down her line and seeing what happened to those very distant cousins of mine.

Engraving of Rebecca Rawson

Soon I hit upon her granddaughter, a lovely girl named Rebecca Rawson. Lovely Rebecca was a Bostonian that was born to a large and prominent Puritan family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her daddy was the Secretary of the Colony, so I get the feeling they were a Big Deal. She was described as being “one of the most beautiful, polite and agreeable young ladies then in Boston” and some of the biographies went on and on about how perfect and wonderful she was until I really found them really suspect (aka, I wanted to throw up). Granted, she did seem very lovely to look at, in that general English-miss type.

Anyways, so when Beautiful Rebecca was about 23, a man named Sir Thomas Hale began calling on her. He was from England, and was the nephew of the chief justice or some such there, and after wooing her for a while, they married in July of 1679. Now she was Lady Hale (please, there had to have been some jealous Puritan bitches in Boston that day) and he whisked her and her wedding gifts off to England in all their glory.

They get to England and arrive at her relative’s home late at night. The next morning good ol’ Tommy goes back to the ship to retrieve her trunks containing all of her clothing and other belongings. The trunks arrive, but he hasn’t returned yet with the keys to open them, so impatient, Rebecca breaks into one of her trunks so she can get some new clothes (well who wouldn’t by two in the afternoon?). To her horror, she found that all of her belongings were gone and the trunks were filled with trash, rubbish, wood shavings and other combustible manner.

So her family is outraged and her husband is nowhere to be seen. However, apparently they’d made a stop the night before for a “business meeting” on their way to the relative’s house, so everyone decides to go back to that place and inquire as to where Sir Thomas Hale might be.

When Lady Rebecca arrives, she asks for Sir Thomas Hale, Jr., stating she was there the night before with him. She is told that while no Thomas Hale stopped by, one Thomas Rumsey was there the night before, with a young lady, and that he had gone home to his wife and family at Canterbury. Thud. Oh yeah, and apparently Sir Thomas Hale, Sr. is childless, so Thomas Rumsey isn’t his son. Double thud.

Yes, exactly, my friends. The prettiest girl in Boston was duped by a bigamist thief and horrible con-man. Wanna know the best part? Remember, this is the 1600s. It takes forever to get across the Atlantic and it’s exceptionally boring as well. So Rebecca is, not surprisingly, pregnant!

She did a decent job making lemonade with some big-ass lemons. She had a married sister in England who’d never had the yen to immigrate with the rest of her family, and so she and her baby settled in with her. She needed some money, so she started painting miniatures on glass, to support herself with “ingenuity, industry and pride in procuring herself a genteel living” (blech, another one of those awful glowing biographies). And, apparently her childless sister did such a good job raising Thomas Rumsey’s kid for her, she decided to leave the baby with her. Ouch.

After 13 years living it up in London as an “artiste” (aka, generally a half-starving person who calls themselves an artist in an attempt to actually earn a real living), Genteel Rebecca, now 36 years old, decided to go back to Boston. Her uncle accompanied her, and the trip, for whatever reason, was taking the slow boat to New England through, of all places, Jamaica. My God, way to make a long trip longer! Well, it was the Caribbean, after all; maybe they thought it’d be a nice vacation.

So their ship lands in Port Royal, Jamaica in June of 1692. I’m not sure when they dock, but I do know the day that her uncle steps off the boat to “complete the settlement of his accounts of his voyage.” I think that’s fancy talk for “pay port fees” and such, though for all we know it could have been him drinking and whoring his ass off since he was away from prying eyes in a city known for ancient forms of money laundering and loads of Sodom and Gomorrah activities. But I shouldn’t judge. Maybe he was a really nice guy and was kind to the prostitutes.

Engraving of Port Royal during earthquake

Anyways, the day Rebecca’s uncle was on shore was June 7, and if that day doesn’t live in infamy for any of you it should, because that was the day an earthquake hit Port Royal and basically destroyed it. Well, destroyed is really too kind of a word. Two-thirds of the town sank into the sea immediately after the main shock, including all of the wharves, which sunk at once, and the ships, which capsized. The sand liquified during the shaking so the buildings just appeared to flow into the sea, and in two minutes the town was covered with water up to the top rooms of the buildings left standing. Then a tsunami came through immediately after all that, and fissures opened and closed, crushing people, and then the sand solidified and trapped more people in that. Oh yes, and there were landslides. Lots of landslides. To the people who survived, it must have seemed like the Hand of God had picked up the snow globe that was Jamaica and shaken the hell out of it. Ok, maybe not a snow globe, since snow globes hadn’t been invented yet, but the Hand of God was totally involved. Anyways, about 3,000 people died, which was half the population in Port Royal at the time, and a couple thousand more died in the weeks following due to having their bodies put through the wringer without any penicillin or potable drinking water.

In case you are wondering about Perfect Rebecca, well, she didn’t make it. The reports of her death were very dramatic – “she was swallowed up, together with the whole ship’s company” – and I suspect she drowned instantly. Well, as fast as people drowning can die. Her uncle was the only one who survived to report back to Boston that the darling of Boston had not survived.

It really made my day, because it’s not so often you run into such a ridiculously dramatic story, and find yourself distantly related to the individuals in it! For the record, Rebecca was my 2nd cousin 9x removed. Whew.

If you found my version of the story a bit too straightforward for your taste, I really enjoyed this woman’s rendition on her blog, complete with lovely mocking Disney pictures.