In early 1730 two prominent townsmen of Deerfield, Massachusetts, petitioned John Stoddard, judge of probate in Hampshire County, to provide for the care and maintenance of Hannah Beamon, a widow of Deerfield who had become non compos mentis, since there was no one legally qualified to take charge of her. Judge Stoddard then instituted a procedure under the Massachusetts law first enacted in 1726 concerning “idiots, persons non compos or distracted,” which augmented an earlier law of 1684 and then was periodically reenacted. This law specified the procedure for determining “non compos mentis,” provided for the institution of guardians, and regulated their activities. Hannah Beamon lived under such guardianship until early 1739, when she died at the age of ninety-three. The numerous documents generated by her guardianship under the law were submitted to the Probate Court during that time and were included in the file when her will of 1723 was proved. All the original documents are now preserved at the Probate Court in Northampton, and digital images can be viewed at the American Ancestors website. These documents enable us both to follow the implementation of the law and to estimate the quality of care provided to her as well as the quality of the guardians’ management of her estate. These documents indicate that the law was followed scrupulously, that large amounts were expended on her care, and that her property was soundly managed and carefully preserved so that her testamentary bequest to the local school of Deerfield could be funded.


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