........ Conjecture, noun, the formation of judgments or opinions on the basis of incomplete or inconclusive information. Source: Encarta Dictionary

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Conjecture # 6: The different stories of Penelope all derive from a common source.

Technorati claim code # UF6CS44PUDMR

The story of Penelope had to have been shared among the family for generations or else it would never have been printed so often. The Stout family was large and dispersed in many directions. Among the different branches of the family, and over the centuries, some of the details were lost or "improved." But there should be a solid core of truth that all these legends developed from. By comparing the versions, perhaps we can derive the core or at least separate the plausible from the inplausible.

First let me enumerate the various threads. There are 7 historical: Burlington, Hopewell, Amwell, Sangamon, Seabrook, Ocean Grove, and Monmouth and three fictional threads: Crawford, Phillips and McFarlane. If anyone else has another original source, please let me know. I don’t have time now but I would like to compare the similarities and differences between these versions.
1. Burlington: Samuel Smith (author of The History of the Colony of Nova Caesaria or New Jersey to Year 1721, pub. 1765) was born in Burlington (near Trenton), was a merchant in Philadelphia, returned to Burlington where he served as mayor, treasurer of the colony of West Jersey from 1750 to 1775 and on the New Jersey Council. Even though he was from the western part of the state and Middleton is in the eastern part, he was a Quaker (as were many of the Stouts) and likely knew people from everywhere. Therefore, we don’t know where Smith heard the story of Penelope that he used to illustrate the relative absence of Indian wars in New Jersey, compared to New York and New England.

2. Hopewell: Morgan Edwards (author of Materials Toward A History of the Baptists in New Jersey, pub 1792 and expanded by Benedict, David. A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World. London: Lincoln & Edmands, 1813) was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia from 1761 to 1771, then moved to Delaware, and was the first Baptist historian. His information about Penelope came from Rev. Oliver Hart, Baptist pastor at Charleston, SC (1751 to 1780) and Hopewell, NJ from Dec 1780 to 1795. [Note: Hart’s papers reside in the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, SC (only 100 miles from me; I’ll have to research that. What if Edwards only published a summary of Hart’s report?)]

3. Amwell: Nathan Stout of Amwell, NJ wrote The History of the Stout Family,1823. His great grandson, Simpson Stout, erected a monument with a long, detailed genealogy. This is the first published account by a direct descendant of Penelope.

4. Sangamon: Stout descendants of Sangamon County, Illinois, related the family history to a local historian, John Carroll Power, who wrote Early Settlers of Sangamon County [IL] – 1876. Springfield, IL: Edwin Wilson & Co., 1876, pp 690-2. No offense to my Illinois cousins, but this sounds like a poorly remembered and slightly garbled account of the New Jersey versions with a unique twist, namely, the earliest mention of Penelope being scalped.

5. Seabrook: In his 1916 analysis [Historical and Genealogical Miscellany, Early Settlers of New Jersey and their Descendants] of the Penelope saga, John Stillwell, M.D., recounts an incident that was passed down through the generations to Mrs. T. W. Seabrook: “My grandmother, Helena Huff, told me how her grandfather, John Stout, had felt the wounds of Penelope Stout, and that he blushed like a school boy. She wished the knowledge of the Indian assault transmitted to her posterity and it has been done, for there are but two hands between Penelope and me.”

6. Ocean Grove. William Montgomery Clemens (1860-1931), a genealogist, newspaperman and author, published American Marriages Before 1699 in the year 1926. This book is mostly New England data plus a few mid-Atlantic entries.  In 1931, he died in Ocean Grove, NJ, which is in Monmouth County. Therefore, I conjectured that he discussed genealogy with Stout descendants in the area.

7. Monmouth County: Both the Monmouth County Historical Association Library in Freehold and the Spy House Museum Complex in Port Monmouth have local newspaper articles, which are most likely based upon local family legend. I haven’t seen them but many people refer to them on the Internet.


8. Crawford: The young adult book Four Women in a Violent Time (Crawford, 1970) purports to be historical yet her only listed source that links to Penelope is Samuel Smith’s 1765 account. However, most of the details in Crawford’s book are found in no source. Therefore, I conclude the portion of Crawford’s book about Penelope is 99% fictional, basically a novel. But it’s important to point out her fictions, such as a maiden name of Thompson.

9. Schott: In the narrative poem Penelope: The Story of the Half-Scalped Woman, the author writes in the forward, "Where little is known, much is invented." Penelope marries vanPrincis, miscarries on the beach after the Indian attack, is rescued by an Indian named Machk, marries John Richard Stout, is Applegate's niece, and dies in 1712.

10. Phillips: The novel As Good As Dead: The Penelope Stout Story is also an interesting work of fiction. Her fictional genealogy is that Rev. Thomson forces his daughter Penelope to marry Baron Kent Van Princis.

11. McFarlane: In my novel Penelope: A Novel of New Amsterdam the fictional genealogy is that Penelope Kent, born 13 Aug 1626, marries Matthew Prince in order to search for her missing father, John Kent, an English merchant. The novel includes the documented history of the ship Kath and conjectures that Penelope was a passenger when it wrecked.

If anyone knows of other original sources that draw on different family memories, please let me know.


  1. I dislike the phrase No Comments. It can be misintrepreted as Don't Comment instead of Zero Comments.

  2. Here is another analysis of the "Penelope Problem" - from 1915.


  3. The story was passed down orally for many years before it was ever written down. Knowing all the details is unlikely as a result. I don't think Penelope's ship was recorded because it was probably not property of the Dutch West India Company, and therefore of little concern for company records. Wrecks off of the Hook were very common and numerous over the years. It is a treacherous area especially before charts were available and even after charting. Every storm changes the Hook greatly. I think any really new information may come from someone looking into records that may exist in England or Holland.