Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wood - Kelley, Bastardy Case 1812


Complaint of Mary Wood against John Kelley in a case of bastardy. Click on document for enlarged view.

On the 7th day of September 1812, Mary Wood, single woman, appeared before Arthur H. Davis, a Justice of the Peace, and stated she was delivered of a “Mail Bastard Child in Caldwell County on the 9th of December 1811 and Sayeth on hir said oath that John Kelley labourer of said County is the father of hir child and said child is likely to become Chargeable to the County.” Kelley was ordered to support the child by paying five pounds annually for several years.

This was the normal procedure when a woman gave birth to an illegitimate child in early Kentucky. In some cases, however, the woman’s family might guarantee to provide maintenance and support of the infant and publicly naming the child’s father was unnecessary.

Once the woman had filed her statement, a summons was delivered to the alleged father, who had to post bond to guarantee his appearance to answer the charges. If determined he was the father, support payments were established.

These bastardy records are often found among loose county court papers in the county clerk’s office. Occasionally, they are also recorded in the county court order book (court minutes).

Just as today, some women appeared more than once to name a man as the father of her illegitimate child. On the 7th of February 1821, Abigail Johnson swore that she was “delivered of a male child at her own place of residence 30 July 1819” and charged James M. Hall with being the child’s father. On the 2nd of May 1822, Abigail, “a free woman,” appeared before a justice of the peace and stated she was delivered of a female child on the 29th of January 1822 at the home of Benjamin Johnson. Again, she charged James M. Hall with being the father. It is unknown if these children carried the name of the mother or the father.

Whatever your personal opinion about children born out of wedlock may be, these bastardy records do provide information that may not be found elsewhere.


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