The Persistent Myth of Mother Goose

The entrance to the Granary Burial Grounds in Boston, Massachusetts

Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.

Jack rode to his mother,
The news for to tell;
She called him a good boy
And said it was well.

Then Jack went a-courting
A lady so gay,
As fair as the lily,
And sweet as the May.

But then the old Squire
Came behind his back,
And began to belabor
The sides of poor Jack.

Then old Mother Goose,
That instant came in,
And turned her son Jack
Into famed Harlequin.

So then with her wand,
Touched the lady so fine,
And turned her at once
Into Sweet Columbine.

The old egg in the sea
Was thrown away then–
When Jack jumped in,
And got it back again.

Jack’s mother came by,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Flew up to the moon.

Most of us grew up with Mother Goose and her familiar nursery rhymes being read to us by our parents.  In fact, most of us can probably recite from memory such nursery rhymes as, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep; Hickory Dickory Dock; Jack and Jill, and Old Woman in the Shoe, among so many others. However, we don’t really know who the mysterious Mother Goose really was who supposedly collected the rhymes into one comprehensive volume to be shared with generations of children.

The truth: there was no Mother Goose—she is a mythical character.  But the myth of her as a real-life person persists.

There was a Mother Goose, but not one who collected stories, poems, and nursery rhymes—and she was a real, flesh and blood, woman.  This Mrs. Goose was a real mother—having birthed 10 children.  That certainly qualifies her to be called MOTHER GOOSE.  Her name was Mary Balston Goose (ca. 1648-1690) and she was married to Isaac Goose, also known as Isaac Vergoose, who made a living by moving things for people and picking up odds and ends.   They lived in Boston.  Mary died and was buried in the Granary, an ancient burial grounds in downtown Boston.

Isaac remarried to a southern woman named Elizabeth Foster, another Mother Goose, if you will.  Together they added five more to Isaac’s broad, one of whom was also named Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, the daughter, married Thomas Fleet, the publisher of the Boston Evening Post.

Erroneously, a story spread that got told as truth that Thomas Fleet’s mother-in-law (or the first of the two wives of Isaac Goose) had been the person who had collected the rhymes which Fleet then published.  Except for one small detail—no evidence of that has EVER been found that Fleet published such a volume.

And yet, many people flock to the Granary to see Mother Goose’s grave, which they can see—just not the Mother Goose they are looking for.

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