The case of Elias Ellis
The case brought to court in 1709 by Elias Ellis of Polterra in Cornwall, an engineer in a tin mine, sheds light on the relationship between a husband and his wife.
Elias had married Susannah Peck, the daughter of Elisha Pecke, an apothecary in Taunton, and his wife Johanna. After the death of Elisha in about 1680, Susannah’s mother Johanna said that she could not possibly run the apothecary shop without the assistance of Susannah, so Susannah remained in Taunton for 15 years and Elias returned to Cornwall.
In 1695, Johanna died, and in her will appointed various Taunton merchants as her executors who took possession of all her goods, the defendants in this case. Susannah died in 1705 and Elias returned from Cornwall with hopes of inheriting her estate. Elias also claimed that he deserved £20 for each year of Susannah’s service with her mother in the apothecary shop.
So far so good, but when we read the other side of the story we learn that Susannah actually was “a weak infirm sickly and decrepit woman” not capable of performing any servile business, that her husband Elias was very unkind to her and was in such “poor and mean circumstances” that he could not maintain her. Hence, Susannah remained in Taunton with her mother while Elias returned to Cornwall.
Although it could be argued that Elias deserved to inherit his wife’s estate, it is perhaps easier to sympathise with poor Susannah, whether or not she was capable of running her family’s apothecary shop.
The Bill of Complaint from Elias’s case