Ruth Pierce and the Devizes Incident

on Friday, 12 April 2019. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Tales

The unfortunate sudden death of widow , Ruth Pierce of Potterne, in Devizes Market Place on 26th January 1753.

529/208 Inquisition & Seal, Devizes

This is the original inquisition document as carried out by John Clare, coroner in Devizes on 26th January 1753. It details the circumstances leading to Ruth Pierces’ death and his conclusion to the cause.

‘..a Great Quarrel arose between four women in the Market place in the Bourrough of Devizes. Aforsaid whose names was Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade, Mary Parker and the aforesaid Ruth Pierce who joined together and bought one sack of wheat of one ffarmer Nathanial Alexander of the price of seventeen shillings......

After the collection of the money by one of the women gathered, it was noted that Ruth Pierce had not handed over her share of the payment which was four shillings. She was openly accused of withholding the money and the following account of what happened was documented in the inquisition, Ruth Pierce then;

‘called upon the Almighty for witness and wished she might drop down dead that minute if she had not paid it the Rash wish was repeated a second time and immediately from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God was struck down upon the lane and as no marks of Violence appeared upon View of the Body the aforesaid jurors do propose that the aforesaid Ruth Peirce died asforsaid and not otherwise...’

A1/710/Bundle 1 1753

‘Taken at the Burrough of Devizes on Fryday the 26th day of January Upon View of the Body of Ruth Peirce late of potterne Verdict from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God in a Great Quarrell was struck dead with a lye in her mouth’

Salisbury Journal- Monday 29th January 1753 (no original, on microfiche)

An account of the incident followed by these comments;

‘It would be uncharitable and presumptuous to judge harshly in this case: God only knows the Heart! But ‘tis so remarkable and melancholy an Event, that it ought to have weight in deterring persons from using Execrations on any Occasion, which too many are apt to do even in trifling matters.’

Burial record

PR/1172/2 Potterne Parish Church burials 1753

‘Ruth Perce January ye 27’

The tale of Ruth’s misdemeanour and sad demise continued to interest many people over the intervening years. In the early 20th century postcards were made showing the house that she lived in in Potterne.

P2757 postcard of a man with horse and cart outside Ruth Pierce's House, Potterne, Wiltshire, early 20 cen

The tale still has the power to intrigue us today.

Anna Ervine, Community History Advisor


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