Sarah Cornell Butts Cole

Sarah Cornell Butts Cole

1671 – 1749

Sarah Cornell married a scoundrel, and even his parents knew it. Her father-in-law protected Sarah by giving her a separate inheritance his son could not sell. In 1707, after mortgaging his own inheritance, Zacheus Butts abandoned Sarah and their five children. Worse, he took their seven year-old daughter Mary and sold her to Joseph Palmer of Tiverton as an indentured servant. Sarah pleaded with the court to remove Mary from the Palmers, but instead of returning the child to her mother, the court put Mary in the care of her maternal grandmother, Sarah Earle Cornell Lake.

Divorce was almost impossible at the time, so Sarah lived separately from Zacheus until he died in his 40s. Then Sarah married a second time, just as her father and her mother had done before her. In the 1700s it was extremely difficult for a single person to manage a farm and a family by themselves. Blended families were common, as they are today, but it was death, not divorce, that brought them into being. Sarah’s 1712 marriage to John Cole of Swansea lasted 37 years.

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Outdoor exhibit panel from the 2020 special exhibition, The Little Compton Women’s History Project.