09 May 2010

Who was Mother Goose?

Mary Goose, Granary Burying Ground, Boston
photo by Robin Mason
If you visit Granary Burying Ground on Tremont street in Boston, to the right of the Franklin obelisk you’ll find a much visited stone. Mary Goose, wife of Isaac, died in 1690 at age 42 after having 10 children. Although Mary’s headstone is frequently photographed, the name “Mother Goose” is usually given to Isaac’s second wife, Elizabeth Foster (1665-1758), who had six children but no grave marker. Both women deserve the moniker, but neither of them was known for nursery rhymes.

In the 1850s, a descendant rewrote history, claiming that her ancestor was the real Mother Goose of literary fame. Elizabeth Foster did marry the widower Isaac “Virgoose” on 5 July 1692 and her daughter Elizabeth “Goose” married Boston printer Thomas Fleet on June 8, 1715. But the term “Mother Goose tales” predates the birth of Elizabeth (Foster) "Vergoose"—as the family is usually called in Boston records.
In fact, the Mother Goose Society states: “Mother Goose rhymes are from many sources, passed down in folklore fashion (some even written by famous authors) and perpetuated by publishers, frequently without author attribution.”

Linguistically, we know the term existed by the 1650s in France because popular folk stories were known as “contes de ma mere l’Oye.” In 1697, Charles Perrault published a book of fairy tales—including “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Cinderella”—with the imaginary Ma Mere l’Oye drawn on the frontispiece. The first known English translations were published in London in the 1720s.
In 1899, the New York Times published Mother Goose; Longevity of the Boston Myth—The Facts of History in this Matter.” But the family legend lives on, in current biographies, histories, and Freedom Trail tours. 

The moral of the story? Check your facts. Make sure your genealogy is not a fairy tale!

1 comment:

  1. Rubbing of this stone is for sale: