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Deborah Buffum Wilson
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Birth: 1639
Death: 1668

First wife of Robert Wilson and mother of two of his children, Deborah and Robert. She was a member of a persecuted minority in Salem. The Quakers, also called Friends, were fined, whipped, exiled, and imprisoned for refusing to worship in the Congregational meeting as required by the laws of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

By the 1660s, the authorities allowed more religious freedom in the colonies, but change came too slowly for some. In December 1661, Deborah Buffum Wilson was convicted of failing to attend Congregational services as required by law. (Essex Quarterly Courts)

In 1662, Deborah protested memorably against the treatment of Friends. She walked through Salem "without any clothes on, as a sign of spiritual nakedness in town and colony." (Annals of Salem)

Although Deborah's sanity has been questioned, a few Quakers in the old country also sometimes protested through nude public appearances. This type of protest might be linked to the tradition of the "fool for Christ," who points out the limits of human wisdom by doing the unexpected. Fools for Christ are inspired by Paul's words, "We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute." (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Whatever her theological motives, Deborah Buffum Wilson was taken to court and "sentenced to be tied to a cart's tail, uncovered to her waist, and be whipped from Mr. Gedney's gate to her own house, not exceeding 30 stripes. Her mother Buffum and sister Smith, being abettors of her conduct, were sentenced to be tied on each side of her, with nothing on to their waists but an under garb, and to accompany her the distance mentioned." (Felt)

Some local Friends disapproved of Deborah's actions, which made them and their struggling religion look bad. Her actions nevertheless inspired others. A few months after Deborah's action, a Friend named Lidia Wardell protested the requirement to attend Congregational worship too. She walked "part naked" into church. A small trend had begun. (Rapaport)

After her 1662 conviction, Deborah Buffum Wilson continued to refuse to attend Congregational services as required by law. She was repeatedly fined and whipped for failing to appear at official worship; so were other Friends.

Robert Wilson was not a Quaker; theirs was a mixed marriage, in which the wife repeatedly broke the law by worshiping as she chose.

Deborah Buffum Wilson died in 1668, leaving behind a husband, two children, and a tender legacy of protest.


Records and files of the quarterly courts of Essex County, v II, pp 341-342

The annals of Salem, from its first settlement, Joseph B. Felt, 1827, p 217.

"The case of the naked Quaker," Diane Rapaport, New England Ancestors Magazine, v 5, no 4, pp 49-50

"A love story too sad for Valentine's Day," 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo, 2010
Family links: 
  Robert Buffum (1590 - 1669)
  Thomasine Ward Buffum (____ - 1688)
  Robert Wilson (____ - 1675)
  Deborah Wilson*
  Robert Wilson (1663 - 1717)*
  Margaret Buffum Smith*
  Deborah Buffum Wilson (1639 - 1668)
  Lydia Buffum (1644 - ____)*
*Calculated relationship
Created by: Mrs. Bee
Record added: Feb 16, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 65745373

In memory of my 8th great-grandaunt.
- Helen Rineer
 Added: Feb. 6, 2013
May God's peace be with you.
- Mrs. Bee
 Added: Feb. 18, 2011

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