Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Trio of Tragedies in the Life of Martha (Reay) Doyle

Martha Reay was born on November 7, 1809, in Walls End, Northumberland, England.  She married William Doyle, a pitman, on May 3, 1825, when she was just under 15½ years old.  Her first child, Jane, was born in 1826, and subsequent children were born in 1828, 1830, 1833, 1836, and 1839.

Tragedy One
Martha's husband, William, died on September 1, 1838, after being run over by a cart wheel.  He was about 36 years old.

Tragedy Two
Martha, suddenly a widow at the age of 29, was three months pregnant with her sixth child.

Tragedy Three
Martha's fourth child, Martha, died of whooping cough on September 19, 1938, just eighteen days after her father died.  Little Martha was just five years old.

When events like these happen today people often have life insurance policies with death benefits to the survivors and sometimes receive public assistance and support.  Martha was probably not the recipient of any of these.  If she and her husband had lived in colliery housing, she would certainly have been required to move.  What income or source of maintenance might she have had?  Would she have received help or aid from any organization?  One can only hope family and friends helped her through the challenges she faced as a widow. 


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Without insurance, that just might be Tragedy #4. Every time I see widows in my family, they usually have children who could work and help out. One young widow placed her children with their grandparents and she did laundry for others.

  2. You're absolutely right, Wendy, and who had insurance in 1838? I doubt it was even conceived yet. I feel so sorry for my widowed ancestors (both males and females). I have read that in the 1800s in the U.S. the two ways a widow could earn money was doing laundry and taking in borders. I don't know about in England, though. I'll have to do some research.


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