Wednesday, July 15, 2015

William Guest (Part 2) -- Owner of Cuckoldstown

Did you know what it meant?
Here is the promised second of Walt Chiquoine's two appropriately-titled Guest Posts. Whereas the first dealt with the continuing effort to sort out the early history of the Stanton Mill, MCH's oldest business enterprise, this one deals with another of the area's mysteries -- the origin of Stanton's original name. I think he's come up with a fascinating and very plausible idea. What do you think?

Researched and Written by Walt Chiquoine --

In my prior post, I introduced you to William Guest, an affluent and educated guy who settled in MCH in 1682.  We know he was an attorney, judge, and representative, and he finally settled on a large tract that includes today’s Stanton.  After years of litigation, he gained full control of the first mill seat at Stanton from Cornelius Empson.  The mill property was sold by Guest’s estate in 1720.  So for a number of years, William Guest lived in Stanton and managed the mills and tenants on his property.  He must have been a very public figure to his peers at court and to his humble neighbors.   

William Guest may have left another legacy for early Stanton.  We know there are 18th century references to the area as Cuckoldstown, and I’ve agreed with Scott Palmer and others that this could have originated as Cocclestown for the shellfish that were plentiful in the creeks and estuaries.  Other historians suggested the name may have come from an Inn that hosted adulterous trysts, but that of itself seems an inappropriate use of the term cuckold.  And it just doesn’t seem that noteworthy since it was probably true of many taverns, and I struggled with that explanation.

A cuckold is a husband that suffers or tolerates (or even encourages) his wife’s promiscuity in a way that is publicly known.  Then and now, I imagine it happens pretty regularly, but to name a village for it?  It’s a derisive and condescending label.  I assume it would require the cuckold and the cuckolding to be a well-known person that involved well-known events, something that really stood out in people’s minds like a bad joke, something to gossip about.  Could the cuckold be William Guest, in the sense that it was his Cuckold’s Town?  Not the plural, but the possessive…

The plight of the cuckold was a hot topic of the Renaissance when women had no legal escape from marriage.  It continued through Elizabethan times and deep into the 18th century.  It’s at the center of several Shakespearean plays.  Remember as a kid, it was funny to hold two fingers behind someone’s head?  The symbol of the cuckold was two horns, the two fingers held mockingly above the cuckold’s head as depicted in a French painting from the 1580’s.  (I’m not gonna do the finger thing again.)  Did the social fascination with the cuckold carry over into Mill Creek Hundred?

There is no record of William Guest having an early wife or family.  I couldn’t find any genealogical research that wants to claim him as a possible forbear.  I have to conclude, for now, that he didn’t marry – for a very long time.  That is unusual, he certainly was a very eligible bachelor.  Perhaps William just didn’t have much interest in the ladies.

As noted, William Guest died in 1717, and he was most likely in his 60’s.  (Recall, he arrived a successful gent about 35 years before.)   But lo and behold, Guest married Jane Wainsford in October 1716.  Jane was the sister of neighbor Nathaniel Wainsford, and she was much younger than William.  I haven’t been able to establish her exact age, but she lived for 30 years after him.  Rather than the traditional widow’s third, she had a marriage agreement from William that gave her a seven acre plot, a tract that has been identified as the (later) William Sutton house (shown on the image below).

So the elderly William Guest, Esq., owner and public scion of the Stanton area, well-known representative and jurist, finally married a much younger woman.  They had a pre-nuptial agreement, but he only survived the marriage for about a year.  It is an interesting and again an unusual arrangement.  If William was disinterested, then why did he marry?  Was Jane Wainsford a promiscuous woman, or what we might call a gold digger?  Was she known to appear at the local tavern for questionable meetings?  Her will was probated in 1747 under the name Jane Guest, so she never remarried or had children.   

Could William Guest be the cuckold that led to the name Cuckoldstown?  As Scott remarked to me, it seems more like an inside joke than a source of embarrassment.  I’m not sure the proof is there, but it is a fascinating theory.  At worst, it’s an exercise in circular logic – does the man’s history define the town’s name, or does the town’s name define the man?  I doubt we’ll ever know for sure, but if the village was really named after a cuckold, then it had to be someone well-known to everyone in the area.  Its early owner William Guest would be at the top of my list.  And I’m not surprised they changed the town’s name to Stanton.

Despite leaving quite a mark in the records, I haven’t seen any historian really focus on William Guest and his legacy.  Seems like it is true that he had no offspring, no one to carry his name and keep his memory alive.  But I think Guest should get his fifteen minutes of fame, cuckold or not, as he was a significant presence in the formative years of MCH and the Court at New Castle for over three decades. 

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that personally, I love this theory. I'm proud of coming up with the Cocclestown idea, but I hope to hell that someday we find out that Walt's Cuckold's Town story is correct.

    As Walt noted in the post, most histories repeat some version of the "Notorious Inn" story. I don't see any factual basis for it -- I think it's just an easy explanation to put forth and it fills the historical vacuum. It never made sense to me. For Cuckoldstown to become the "official" town name (for whatever that was worth at the time), the residents would have to have agreed upon it or at least willingly gone along with it to some extent. I don't see why they would have done that with an embarrassing and demeaning name.

    What this new theory does, in my mind at least, is turn the moniker from an embarrassment into a sort of inside joke among the townsfolk. Now they're not living in a village of shamed men and shameful and immoral women, they're living in the town of one cuckold whom they can all snicker at behind his back (or over his corpse, as the name may have only come about after Guest's passing). Makes a big difference to me, and makes the use of the name much more believable.

    Anyone else agree? Disagree? Between the mill's story and this, I think you could set a period drama there.