The Widow Judith

When I wrote in the previous post about Edward Durant II’s “will,” I misspoke — Edward Durant II died intestate, but the distribution of real estate was apparently agreed-upon by his administrators (his widow Judith Waldo Durant and his son Edward Durant III). But the settlement of his estate also required the establishment of guardianship for his three minor children — 12-year-old Elizabeth, 10-year-old Thomas, and 8-year-old Cornelius Durant. That guardianship was awarded to their mother, Judith Waldo Durant, with Cornelius Waldo (her brother) listed as “surety.”

In other words, Judith was granted guardianship of her children with the financial backing of her brother. That her brother Cornelius Waldo, writing his will a decade (or less) later, didn’t think it necessary to provide for his sister (or her children) suggests that Judith’s situation was sufficiently comfortable that, relieved of a need to care for her children (Cornelius Durant v.1732 would turn 18 in 1750 and had entered the Waldo family business), she did not require her brother’s financial backing. [Interestingly, the 1741 order naming Judith guardian of the three youngest children is issued out of Cambridge — not Newton or Boston. It’s not clear to me yet what that would mean.]

It was unusual for a widow with small children not to remarry, but it wasn’t unheard of. As a widow, Judith Waldo Durant was out from under coverture, the principle by which she, as a married woman, had her identity (including property ownership) “covered” by her husband. And she had a presumably significant payout from her husband’s estate (and a brick house of her own in the city) to sustain her, though I have not pinned down details and exact amounts and may not be able to. So if she felt like she had sufficient support to finish raising her minor children, she would not have needed to remarry unless she wanted to. And with her father and uncles dead and only one living brother, pressure from her immediate family to remarry may have been minimal.

She also came from a family that had its fair share of independent-minded and independently operating women. Her mother was Faith Peck Waldo — Judith’s father Cornelius Waldo died young, when Judith was 4 or 5 years old, but Faith Peck Waldo lived almost another 40 years without remarrying. That Faith made a will on her death shows she had sufficient personal estate and sufficient foresight to do so — she could not have known her youngest daughter would face a similar situation less than a decade after she passed, but her example would have been a useful blueprint for Judith to follow.

A relevant question, then, is what did the rest of that blueprint look like? Particularly, what did these women do with their days?

More on that in my next post. 🙂



One thought on “The Widow Judith

  1., Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook). Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Massachusetts County, District and Probate Courts.

    Erickson, Amy Louise, “Coverture and Capitalism,” History Workshop Journal, Issue 59, Spring 2005, 1-16, Oxford University Press.

    Ullrich, Laurel Thatcher, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750, Knopf: New York, 1980.


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