Friday, 29 May 2015

Henry Christian Vought (1760-1842) - Ancestor Found by DNA (52 Ancestors Week 22) Theme: "Commencement"

This month a brick wall in my family history research has been shattered as a result of my mother having had her autosomal DNA tested. Although previous matches to my own autosomal DNA had confirmed some of my ancestry, it hadn't yet added any new ancestors. This match with my mother did provide new information and feels like a "commencement", allowing me to head down a whole new branch of my tree.

The recent email that I received from Liane Fenimore, one of my mother's DNA matches, indicated that she and my mother are 4th cousins. (My DNA did not show up as a match to Liane, showing how autosomal DNA can disappear in a generation and why it is important to have the oldest family members tested.) Nevertheless, she and I would be 4th cousins 1X removed. Liane's 2X great grandmother Sarah Ann Barton was a sister to my 3X great grandmother Katharine Barton. Katharine had been a brick wall in my research until I heard from Liane. She has researched the family for years and was able to send me significant amounts of family history, including a will and an estate inventory.

Sarah and Katharine's parents were Isaac Barton and his wife Margaret Vought (my 4X great grandparents). The Vought line could be taken back a couple more generations: Margaret's parents were Henry Christian Vought and Rebecca Nelson (my 5X great grandparents). Henry Christian's parents were Joseph Christian Vought and Christina Rheinhardt (my 6X great grandparents).

Naturally my reaction was to commence some online research of my own to see what else I could find.

Census records could be found for Henry Christian Vought in New York State for 1790, 1820, 1830 and 1840. His location during this time is Orange County and Westchester County, New York. Westchester Country is located just to the north of Long Island, New York City. Peekskill and Courtlandt where Henry spent his life are located where Westchester meets Orange County, so these different county references most likely do not mean that Henry was moving around at all.

 Cortlandt, NY on the East Back of the Hudson River Looking North-Northwest from Peekskill, NY
Wikimedia Commons Image Attributed to Beyond My Ken

Henry is listed in US Pensioners 1818-1872. There is reference to the family in an online copy of the "Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey", Volume 2 which indicates that Henry was the eldest son of Joseph and Christina who immigrated from Holland in about 1750. (Really, Holland? I didn't know I had any Dutch ancestry! Or were these folks actually German as their names sound? What about the New Jersey source? Does that mean that Henry's parents lived in New Jersey before moving to New York? So many questions to investigate!) The same record said that Henry had married Rebecca Nelson and by her had 12 children.

But far and away the most fascinating find was the American Revolutionary War pension application of my 5X great grandfather Henry Christian Vought who is the centre of this story. Apparently Henry and two of his brothers (Peter and Godfrey) were all part of the Third Regiment of Westchester County Militia. (Henry is the second ancestor I've discovered who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War, the other being John Bullen, who was the subject of another of these "52 Ancestors" stories. Sorry, British and Canadian family and friends who would probably have preferred to see Loyalist leanings, but my family seemed to be American Patriots.) Henry's lengthy pension application form contains the following account of his service in the War:

  • Private for 2 years in Company of Captain Slows which was commanded by Colonel Van Duyck
  • His pension application was made when he was nearly 72 years old, shortly after such pensions were made available
  • In his affidavit made 24 August 1832 in Courtland, NY Henry says:
"I first entered the service of the United States by enlisting in the service for the period of one year under Capt Slow in Col Hughes Regiment in the regular line of the State troops of New York and served out the period of my enlistment at Kings Ferry in the County of West Chester and Rockland being constantly employed in ferrying across back and forth, the Army Cattle and Provisions for the army and such like services. This enlistment was in the year 1778. I again enlisted in the year 1780 in the same service for 12 months (twelve months) in the Company of Capt Bond in the same Regiment and served out the time at Kings Ferry aforesaid in the same services as before detailed. 
My next enlistment was in the same year Cornwallis was taken into a Company of Rangers commanded by Capt Sacket in the Regiment of Col Van Duyck in the State troops of New York for the period of nine months during this enlistment some part of my time I was stationed with the standing Army at Pines Bridge in the County of West Chester; at other times we ranged from the North to the East River in different parts of the County of West Chester.
During this enlistment I was in the skirmish at Mile Square near the town of Bedford in the County of West Chester where Col Holmes with a Party of Tories surrounded us and we cut out way thro' killing one man and wounding fourteen.
I served my time out and was regularly discharged with the rest of my company. Besides these services while regularly enlisted I was frequently called out in the Militia in Alarms and Scouting Parties.
I was born in the year 1760 according to the best information I have on the subject, in the village of Peeks Kill Town of Courtlandt County of West Chester and State of New York. My age is recorded in the Church Books of the Dutch Reformed Church in the town of Courtland to which Church my parents belonged. I lived when I first entered the service in the town of Courtlandt in the County of West Chester. I have lived ever since the Revolutionary War in said town of Courtlandt and now live in said town."
  • He signed his affidavit with an "X" indicating he probably could not write. 
  • His application was granted and he received a pension of $80 per year commencing 4 March 1831.
So, Henry enlisted in the American cause at the age of 18. Kings Ferry, where he was stationed for much of his time in service, was a strategic transport site between Stony Point and Verplanck, NY, just south of Peekskill. It was the route that George Washington's army took to cross the Hudson River on its march to Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.  (A more detailed description of the significance of this area in the War can be found at this Westchester County site.)

After war's end, he went on to marry Rebecca Nelson and have a large family with her, including my 4X great grandmother Martha Vought.
Role in War of 1812

It seems that Henry was also a Corporal in the New York Militia in the War of 1812. (Update 2017-07-07: most likely this is NOT the same Henry but perhaps his son b. 1790.)

He stayed in the Peekskill, Westchester County, NY area for the rest of his life and died there 7 October 1842. His obituary appeared later in October of 1842 in the "Highland Democrat" and says in part:
"DIED At Annsville, Cortlandt Town, on the morning of Friday the 7th inst., Mr. Henry Christian Vought, aged about 84 years. Mr. Vought belonged to a Revolutionary - Whig family! He was himself a soldier in the Revolution, throughout the war; and lived long and respectably for better than half a century in the full possession and enjoyment of the peace and prosperity won by his valour and that of his companions in arms, and died at last full of years and full of honour.
 Mr. Vought bore a most conspicuous part in one of the remarkable skirmishes, that tried American skill and bravery in the whole war."
Henry's obituary in the Peekskill Highland Democrat

The obituary goes on to describe the skirmish in some detail but as the paper is old and many segments are faded and illegible, a paraphrase might more clearly describe the affair.  It seems that at the beginning of the war, 5 regiments had been called into service, one of which was under the command of Colonel James Holmes with Lieutenant Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt under him. After about a year, Holmes deserted to the British and this regiment was thereafter led by Colonel Van Cortlandt. In this regiment, Henry Vought belonged to a corps of men who had been sent out on a scouting party under the command of Lieutenant Mosher. While Mosher and his men were having breakfast one day in the vicinity of White Plains, New York, they heard the alarm of a British Squadron of dragoons approaching. In haste, Mosher formed his little band of about 20 men into a hollow square, had them drop to one knee and elevate their pieces with fixed bayonets at an angle of 45 degrees. As fate would have it, the British Squadron was under the command of its former leader, the deserter Holmes. Holmes had his men on horseback surround the Americans. Unfortunately, this is where the newspaper becomes the most illegible and all that can be read with certainty is that the Americans prevailed, the British were "at last drawn back in disgrace" and the Lieutenant brought all of his 20 or so men out safely and in triumph. (From Henry's pension application, we learned that one British soldier was killed and 14 wounded - if true, surely an amazing feat for a small party of just 20 Americans who had found themselves surrounded by British dragoons on horseback!)

General Washington gave an account of this affair and issued a voice of thanks to the distinguished corps for their valourous achievement. The obituary then goes on to describe his funeral service:

"A military escort . . .  preceded the hearse and general procession by Captain _ and his Jefferson Guards of this Village, to the Old Episcopal Church of St. Peter's where divine service was performed and an interesting discourse was delivered by Rev. M. Griswold, of the Protestant Methodist Church. After this service, the remains of this venerated patriot were received at the grave by the military escort, who after an appropriate address by Dr. Westbrook, fired several volleys, and paid their last sad respects to the honored dead.
Among those who took an active and laudable part in the arrangements of the funeral were seen the venerable Gen. Van Cortlandt, bathed in tears, and his only son Col. Pierre Van Cortlandt, Junr., no less excited and interested than was his aged father." 
Photo Courtesy Gene Baumwoll CSW on
Plaque indicates that 44 known Soldiers of the American Revolution are buried here - Henry is in good company
Episcopal Church of St. Peter's
Photo provided courtesy Dan Silva on

Why the Episcopal and Methodist Church involvement? What happened to the Dutch Reformed Church connection that his parents had had?

Yes, so many questions have been raised by my commencement down this path. Thanks to DNA, there is so much more to learn. This is just the beginning.


  • Lee, Francis Bazley, "Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey", Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1910 accessed online 22 May 2015 at Google Books
  • U.S. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900 for Henry C. Vought accessed at 16 May 2015
  • "Highland Democrat" Peekskill, New York for October 1842 accessed at 16 May 2015
  • War of 1812 image accessed at 28 May 2015 shared on "My Vought Family Tree" by "sharon624george"
  • Fenimore, Liane, email correspondence May 2015 resulting from DNA match through FamilytreeDNA

Friday, 22 May 2015

James Cudworth, Plymouth Colony's Reluctant Soldier (c.1605-1681) (52 Ancestors Week 21) Theme: "Military"

For the past three weeks in the "52 Ancestors" project, my stories have touched on religious intolerance in England and New England in the 16th and 17th centuries. This week I am happy to be able to write about one man who was a voice for tolerance in these times: James Cudworth, my 8X great grandfather. Yes, he was also a military man, and, yes, he was involved in warring against the natives whose lands the English immigrants had settled, but one gets the sense that he was only trying to do his duty as a member of his community and that he was actually a reluctant (and not particularly effective!) soldier and commander.

Cudworth Family Background

James Cudworth was born in Aller, Somerset, England sometime between 1604 and 1612 to Reverend Ralph Cudworth, the rector of Aller, and his wife Mary Machell. Ralph was a very well-educated man, having received four degrees from Emmanuel College, Cambridge University: BA in 1592, MA in 1596, BD in 1603 and finally a DD in 1619. Ralph was a fellow of Emmanuel College and taught there as well as being a lecturer at St Andrews College, Cambridge. He became chaplain to King James I in 1603 when James succeeded Queen Elizabeth I; it was at court that he met his future wife Mary Machell who was a nurse to Prince Henry, the heir to the throne. When Ralph and Mary's first child was a boy, they named him James in honour of the King.

Church at Aller, Somerset where James's father Ralph was rector and where James was baptised in 1612

That James came from a very learned family is also evidenced by the career of his brother Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688). Like his father, son Ralph was also educated and taught at Cambridge where he became founder of the Cambridge Platonist school of philosophers. His many treatises include "Intellectual System of the Universe" and "A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality". Many are still available but make rather tough slogging for those of us not trained in philosophy. Carrying on into the next generation, Ralph educated his daughter Damaris Cudworth (niece to the James of this story) at home and she herself became a philosopher though, being female, she wrote her treatises anonymously. Damaris became the lifelong friend and correspondent of the philosopher John Locke who said in a letter to Phillipp von Limborch that she was so well versed in theological and philosophical studies and had such an original mind that she was superior to most men in that field. Damaris also carried on an extensive correspondence about philosophical subjects with Leibniz. It must have been terribly frustrating for Damaris to be denied a university education and the ability to participate fully in the intellectual world in which she so obviously belonged.

Ralph Cudworth of Cambridge College,
Brother of James Cudworth

This is the exceptional family from which James Cudworth came. There has been no explanation for why he chose not to attend university when education seemed such an integral part of this family's life. Destiny had other plans for James.

Move To America 1632

James came to New England from Barnstable, Devon, aboard the ship "Charles" in 1632, settling in Scituate in what is now Massachusetts. The population of Scituate at the time was fewer than 60 people but by 1643 it would grow to be the second largest town in Plymouth Colony (after Plymouth itself).

In December of 1634 James wrote a letter to his step-father Dr. John Stoughton in England describing the situation of three churches in the area: there were no pastors nor teachers at Duxbury nor at Hingham. But (as he is quoted in Stratton's book), "Oures, Cittewate [Scituate], to whome the Lord has bine verey gracious, & his p'vidence has bine Admorabley sene oure beyenge to bringe to us oure Pastor whome wee so longe expected -- Mr. Lathrope, who the Lord has brought to us in safety, whome wee find to bee a holy Reverat & hevenly minded man." (No, this writing is not indicative of lack of education but was the accepted spelling at the time.)  James had belonged to Reverend Lathrope's non-conforming parish in England at Southwark, just out of London, prior to emigrating. Lathrope had been tossed into jail for failing to conform to English Protestant beliefs and was only released on condition that he leave the country and go to New England.

James also encouraged his step-father to send any of his friends and acquaintances who would be fit to be received into church fellowship at Scituate.  James said that, as his house was the largest, it was being used as the meeting house in Scituate until a proper meeting house could be built. (A map from 1633 showing the location of Cudworth's property can be found on the Scituate Historical Society website.)

Marker for site of First Meeting House in Scituate MA

On 3 March 1639/40, he was successfully sued by Timothy Hatherly for payment of a 12 pound debt. At about this same time, a group from Scituate moved to form the new town of Barnstable under the leadership of Lothrop. James Cudworth was among the breakaway group. He had a saltworks on Rendezvous Creek, known then as Saltern Point. The family soon moved back to Scituate where he was presented to the grand jury for selling wine without a licence. The man issuing the complaint was his old friend (and sometimes enemy) Timothy Hatherly. Timothy had probably come to New England on the same ship as James and their paths continued to cross time and again.

Sign for Cudworth House, Scituate MA

Taking a Stand for Religious Tolerance

When James Cudworth arrived in Plymouth Colony, all of the settlers were Puritans (who believed that the Reformation in England had not gone far enough and that religion should be further purified or simplified) or even the more extreme Separatists (Puritans wanting to separate from the established English Protestant church). But within a decade, some Baptists were to be found among the colonists. Denounced and forced to leave Plymouth Colony, Roger Williams and his followers (including my ancestor Stukely Westcott) left Plymouth to start the first Baptist Church in America at Providence in the new colony of Rhode Island.

By the 1650's, Quakers were also beginning to appear in Plymouth Colony. They were at the extreme edge of the Protestant church reformation movement and went much further than the Plymouth colony Pilgrims in rejecting all formal church ritual. Quakers even allowed women to speak at church meetings! They were vehemently denounced by the Pilgrims and ruthlessly driven into the wilderness. At the same time, Plymouth Colony sent a letter to the more liberal Rhode Island authorities insisting that Quakers not be allowed to settle there either. The strongest voice against this treatment was that of James Cudworth; he refused to sign the letter. (The only other man in the community who was known to disapprove of the persecution of these new religious groups was his old friend and enemy Timothy Hatherly!)

James had been Assistant Governor in 1656-57 and Commissioner to the New England Confederacy (against the Indians) from 1655 but was deprived of all his position in 1657 for his stand against Quaker and Baptist persecutions. He was also relieved of his captainship of the local militia. The year after being denied the right to take his seat as the Scituate representative to the General Court, he himself was hauled before that court for having written letters to  England deploring the colony's persecution of Quakers. Stratton on page 92 of his book quotes from Cudworth's intercepted letter to England: "He that will not Whip and Lash, Persecute and Punish Men that Differ in Matters of Religion, must not sit on the Bench nor sustain any Office in the Commonwealth. Last Election, Mr. Hatherly, and my Self, left off the Bench, and my Self Discharged of my Captainship because I  had Entertained some of the Quakers at my House. . . . But the Quakers and myself cannot close in divers things; and so I signified to the Court, I was no Quaker. . . . But withal, I told them, That as I was no Quaker, so I would be no Prosecutor."

Cudworth House, Scituate, MA

It would not be until 1673 under the Governorship of Josiah Winslow that Cudworth would have his rights restored and once again take part in civic life.

Even during his time of disfavour, it is obvious that Cudworth was much-admired as a thoughtful and fair man of intelligence and ability. For example, on 3 May 1659, John Coggan, minor son of deceased Henry Coggan, selected James Cudworth to be one of his guardians. (John, incidentally, is my 1st cousin 9X removed and his deceased father Henry my 8X great granduncle.) Also, the Scituate militia company re-elected him Captain in 1666, but the Court informed the militiamen that their choice was "unadvised"; this court order angered the militiamen and it was probably only a calming speech given by Cudworth that prevented the outbreak of violence over the matter.

Although James himself never adopted Quaker or Baptist beliefs, his daughter Mary was married by a preacher in Rhode Island to Robert Whitcomb, a member of a Quaker family. The marriage not being recognized as valid in Plymouth Colony, Robert was arrested and fined 10 pounds for living with a woman to whom he wasn't married. Robert and Mary (who are my 7X great grandparents)were then married again on 9 March 1660 by an accredited magistrate and had half the fine remitted.

Later Involvement in Civic Life and Military Affairs

Upon his return to civic life in 1673, James Cudworth was asked by his community to serve in an expedition against the Dutch. Quoted from Willison's Saints and Strangers, page 479, Cudworth's letter declining the position indicated that his refusal was not "out of any discontent in my spirit arising from any former difference, neither out of an effeminate or dastardly spirit; but am as freely willing to serve my king and country as any man whatsoever in what I am capable and fitted for; but do not understand that a man is so called to serve his country with the inevitable ruin and destruction of his own family."  He commented that the inexperience of a captain had been the ruin of armies and the destruction of commonwealths, apparently feeling that he himself lacked such experience and would not be a good choice. He went on to describe the ill health of his wife and the necessity to gather the hay and wood for winter. Interestingly, he adds that his only help is a small thirteen year-old Indian boy. Was he a paid servant, I wonder?

Notwithstanding his advancing age, two years later he became a leader in the early skirmishes in King Philip's War. Relations between the English settlers and the Wampanoag Indians, which had started out on friendly terms, had deteriorated and reached a boiling point by the mid-1670's. Increased immigration from England had resulted in greater and greater demand for lands to settle and infringement on the Indians' traditional hunting grounds. The Wampanoag leader Metacom had adopted the English name Philip and, under the name of "King Philip", assembled an alliance that included most of the Indians in New England. Attempts to resolve matters peacefully failed. War seemed inevitable.

When the Pilgrims sent a militia force of about 80 men to Swansea after some Indian hostilities in 1675, it was under the leadership of Captain James Cudworth. There is no evidence that he was a particularly able military man, nor that he had any particular training or expertise in military matters. Being well into his 60's and unaccustomed to life in the field, he was probably not the best choice for the position, but he tried to do what was required of him. It is clear that he was far more suited to be a voice of reason than to lead a military campaign.

Even though Plymouth Governor Winslow offered the command of the joint forces to any Massachusetts officer whom Governor Leverett and Council should select, they insisted that Cudworth retain command of all the troops. Cudworth continued to hold all the men in garrison until more forces arrived, but waited an extra day after their arrival (probably to allow them to rest). When they swept down the hill of Mount Hope Peninsula, they found they were too late: they encountered burned houses and eight English heads impaled on posts. The Indians were long gone. Rather than pursuing them, Cudworth built a fort on the Indian lands, something that has been considered as ineffective busy-work. Eventually, having achieved little, Cudworth led the men back to Plymouth, but an angry Governor Winslow allowed them just one night's rest before sending them in pursuit of the Indians. They didn't find them and were finally permitted to return home to harvest crops and prepare for winter. When King Philip saw the English settlers marching away, he took the opportunity to move his people to central Massachusetts. War then spread throughout New England resulting in hundreds of deaths, including that of other of my ancestors such as Ephraim Bullen. Although he held the titles of Captain, Major and perhaps General, it cannot be said that Cudworth had a stellar military career.

Final Days

In 1680, James Cudworth became Deputy Governor. Plymouth Colony wished to obtain a proper charter from England. James Cudworth was sent to England in the summer of 1681 to present Plymouth's case to the crown. During the following months, the colony waited for news from him but no news came. After many months of silence, news came that Cudworth had died of smallpox in England. He is probably buried in England, but there is a memorial for him at Scituate, Massachusetts.

General James Cudworth Memorial, Scituate, MA

His will was dated 15 September 1681 and the inventory taken 20 June 1682. His possessions included a pocket compass and 8 pounds worth of books. His will names sons James, Israel and Jonathan; daughter Mary Whitcomb's four children, Israel, Robert, James and Mary and his daughter Joanna Jones. He left half his estate to his eldest son James and one quarter to each of his other two sons.

Men of Kent Burying Ground at Scituate, MA. James Cudworth memorial on left.


  • Philbrick, Nathan, "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War", 2006
  • Willison, George F, "Saints and Strangers", Scranton, PA: The Haddon Craftsmen, 1945
  • Cudworth, Frank Ezekiel, "Genealogy (Partial) of the Cudworth Family" presented to the Scituate Historical Society August 1963
  • Whitcomb, Charlotte, "The Whitcomb Family in America - Biographical Genealogy" Vol 1, Minneapolis 1904, p 50
  • US and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500's-1900s; Place: New England; Year: 1634: page number 120
  • "Search for the Passengers of the Mary and John 1630", Volume 14, page 16
  • Deane, "History of Scituate"
  • Stratton, "Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691"
  • Coldham, Peter William, "The Complete Book of Emigrants 1607-1660", 1987
  • Langdon, George Jr., "Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth 1620-1691"

Saturday, 16 May 2015

John Alden: Mayflower "Self-conceited Fool" (c. 1599-1687) (52 Ancestors #20) Theme: "Black Sheep"

No, I don't think for an instant that my 10X great grandfather John Alden is really a "black sheep". (I don't think of any of my ancestors as black sheep!) Certainly some of them had attributes or behaviours that got them into all sorts of hot water with the authorities of their times. Some were certainly outspoken, opinionated, eccentric and no doubt the subject of gossip and rebuke. Those tend to be the ones whose stories are so interesting! Maybe, when it comes right down to it, most of us are really various shades of  "grey sheep" with admirable characteristics along with a few that might from time to time land us in some sort of trouble or disrepute. John Alden was such a man.

Mayflower II replica ship in Plymouth Harbor 1999
Far from being a black sheep, John Alden is generally respected as one of the earliest American immigrants, having arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. He was not one of those coming to America because or religious persecution but was part of the ship's crew who chose to remain in Plymouth, New England. I like the fact that he was the ship's cooper, charged with the crucial task of tending and repairing the wooden barrels holding beer, strong water (distilled spirits) and water for the trip. Beer was a safer drink than water in those days and apparently everyone, including children, drank it as a regular source of hydration.

Kate Caffrey on page 86 of her book "The Mayflower" says that "One new member of the company came aboard at the last minute, a young cooper named John Alden, tall and fair-haired and powerfully built."

William Bradford, another Mayflower passenger, wrote the definitive source book about the journey and passengers - "Of Plymouth Plantation". On page 441 he lists John as one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and adds: "John Alden was hired for a cooper at Southampton where the ship was victualled, and being a hopeful young man was much desired but left to his own liking whether to stay when he came here; but he stayed and married here."

Mayflower Compact 1620
John Alden 7th name down in left-hand column
(Other of my ancestors who also signed: William Mullins, John Howland, John Tilley, Peter Brown)
In May of 1622 John married Priscilla Mullins at Plymouth Colony.  She was in her late teens and he in his early 20's. This is thought to be just the second marriage to occur in Plymouth Colony. Priscilla had been left alone when her parents William and Alice and brother Joseph Mullins had all died during that treacherous first winter in New England. Priscilla would have been left well off: her father had been a businessman and had brought along 40 pounds worth of shoes and boots to sell. She also would have been left a large amount of money, a number of shares in the Plymouth Colony's joint stock company and all of her family's household goods. John and Priscilla's courtship (and the supposed love triangle with Miles Standish) is recounted in a romantic but probably historically inaccurate poem by Alden descendant William Longworth Longfellow. (The families were, however, to be united in the next generation when John and Priscilla's daughter Sarah married Miles Standish's son Alexander.)

Children started to arrive in 1624 with daughter Elizabeth, then sons John in 1626 and my 9X great grandfather Joseph in 1627. Seven more children were to follow.

John quickly rose within the ranks of Plymouth society. This was probably a combination of his relative wealth and status from his marriage to Priscilla along with his physical stature, honesty and ability. Records show that he was a respected man who was very involved in community affairs and was:

  • Among those who undertook to pay the debts of the colony to the London Adventurers who had funded the migration from England to Plymouth;
  • One of the first prominent settlers of Duxbury, MA, by about 1632;
  • Assistant Governor of the colony 1633-39, 1651-86 and probably also 1631-32;
  • Master carpenter and, along with my other ancestor Kenelm Winslow, made the better pieces of furniture (serrated cabinets, chests and cupboards) for the more prosperous families;
  • Treasurer of the colony (as successor to his old friend Miles Standish) 1656-1658;
  • Member of many juries.
John Alden House 1653, Duxbury MA with the writer and her mother, 
two Alden descendants, 1999

He certainly sounds like a solid family and community man. Where does the "grey sheep" come in?

John Alden was a man of his time and, even though he found himself in some difficult situations, he can probably be forgiven for some matters like these:
  • One of the juries on which he served was a witch trial. (But this jury could actually be commended for taking the unusual decision of finding the accused witch innocent and finding the accuser guilty of libel and ordering him to pay a fine and be whipped.)
  • He found himself in jail for an affair in 1634  that could be called "The Murder on the Kennebec". (This affair was also touched on in connection with my story about John Howland, another ancestor who was very involved in the matter. A thorough description of the incident can be found on this Howland family society website in which it can be seen that John Alden had no direct part in the murders and was eventually freed.) 
Where John Alden's reputation is really tarnished (at least by most modern standards) is with respect to his religious intolerance. Living in a community whose very existence resulted from an escape from religious intolerance in England, it always disappoints me to learn how they treated other religious groups within Plymouth Colony. John Alden persecuted those of other religions mercilessly:
  • When six Quaker Friends were banished from the colony on pain of death in 1659, John Alden as Assistant Governor was seen to nod in agreement when Governor Prence stated that all Quakers deserved to be destroyed along with their wives and children, without pity or mercy. 
  • He was a leader in the persecutions of Baptists in 1657. 
  • Another ancestor, James Cudworth (who will be the subject of next week's story on this blog), lost his powers as commissioner to the United Colonies as a result of some Quaker leanings within his family. John Alden was apparently responsible for this based on a letter written to him by Cudworth (found on pages 317- 318 in Volume 10 of "The Baptist Quarterly")  in which Cudworth said: "Our Civil Powers are so exercised in matters of religion and conscience that we have not time to effect anything that tends to the promotion of the civil weal; but must have a State religion, and a State ministry, and a State way of maintenance." Cudworth had apparently thought better of Alden for he said that Alden "had deceived the expectations of many, and indeed lost the affection of such as I judge were his cordial Christian friends."
  • One Quaker summed up his opinion of John Alden in a letter to him (found on page 378 of Willison's "Saints and Strangers") in which he said: "John Alden, I have weighed thy ways, and thou art like one fallen from thy first love; a tenderness once I did see in thee, and moderation to act like a sober man, which through evil counsel and self-love thou art drawn aside from . . .  like a self-conceited fool puffed up with the pride of his heart because he has gotten the name of a magistrate." 
John Alden died at the age of 88 in 1687, outliving many of his children. He is buried beside Priscilla at Duxbury. John Alden's inventory included chairs, bedstead, chests and boxes (probably all made by him), as well as tongs, kettle, saw, augurs and chisel, carpenter joiners, dripping pan, pewter wear, two old guns, table linen, horse bridle and saddle, library, clothing and old lumber.

Old Burying Ground, Duxbury, MA
Burial location of John and Priscilla

It is said that until the last he was a bold and hardy man, stern, austere and unyielding. Such qualities can have a positive bearing on family and community but, unfortunately, can also lead to bad treatment of others who have different views. 


*Willison, G.F., "Saints and Strangers", New York: Reynal and Hitchcock 1945

*Anderson, Robert Charles, "The Great Migration Begins - Immigrants to New England 1620-1633" NEHGS 1995, Vol. 1

*Johnson, Caleb H., "The Mayflower and Her Passengers",, 2006

*Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History Web Pages

*"Families of the Pilgrims: John Alden and William Mullins", Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1982

*Roser, Susan E., "Mayflower Increasings" 2nd Ed., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1997

*Bradford, William, "Of Plimoth Plantation 1620-1647", a digital copy of which can be found with this link

*Caffrey, Kate, "The Mayflower", Stein and Day, 1974

Friday, 8 May 2015

Thomas Morse (c 1550-1597) 52 Ancestors #19 Theme: "There's a Way"

Although he died 400 years before I ever heard of  him, my 10X great grandfather Thomas Morse is largely responsible for my obsession with genealogy. In the spring of 1997, we had 3 significant deaths in our family just weeks apart. When my husband went to Suffolk, England to attend a funeral, I stayed home and tried some early internet searches, inputting names from the family tree compiled by my uncle Bob Anderson in the 1970's. The earliest information I had at that time on my mother's line was Samuel Bullen marrying Mary Morse in Massachusetts in 1641. To my amazement, dozens of results showed up on the computer! I learned that Mary Morse had come to New England with her parents Samuel Morse and Elizabeth Jasper and that Samuel's father was named Thomas Morse and had come from the Hinderclay area of Suffolk, England. When I checked a map of England and discovered that my husband was just a few miles from Hinderclay, I asked him to go there and take photographs to bring home.

He called back the next day to tell me about his discoveries: not only had he gone to visit the church at Hinderclay, but he had found my ancestor Thomas Morse listed in the names of the rectors there.

Rectors of Hinderclay - See Thomas Morse left hand column, third from the bottom:
"1583 Thomas Morse (deprived 1595)"

"Deprived 1595?" Apparently Thomas had lost his job. But under what circumstances? What had happened to him and how did he find a way out of this dilemma?

It didn't take long to realize that this time frame would have been during the religious upheavals following King Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church. After Henry's death in 1547, there were the short but bloody reigns of Edward VI and then Catholic Queen Mary I, followed by the long reign of Elizabeth I from 1558-1603 during which the Protestant Church of England was struggling to define itself. It would have been during Elizabeth's reign that Thomas was deprived of his benefice in 1595. During this time, it must have been very difficult to keep ahead of the tide of religious change, especially for clergymen. Although Elizabeth I was a Protestant supporter, she apparently believed that, next to the Roman Catholics, Puritans were her greatest religious challenge. Protestants in the Church of England at the time continued to wear vestments and retained other "popish" aspects of the Catholic Church. The Puritans wanted to simplify or purify the church even further. Had Thomas found himself on the wrong side of some church issue in 1595?

To begin at the beginning: Thomas Morse was born in about 1550 in Stoke By Nayland, Suffolk, England to Thomas and Agnes Morse. The Morses go back in Stoke By Nayland until around 1492 when Thomas's great grandfather Robert Morse was baptised there. Robert's parents and grandparents are associated with the nearby village of Stratford St Mary so the Morse name was found in this area near the Suffolk/Essex border for many generations.

Stoke By Nayland Church
In 1573 he was presented to the nearby vicarage of Boxted, Suffolk of which the Bishop of London was patron. Thomas married Margaret King there that same year.

However, things did not go smoothly for Thomas in this parish. He had become a part of a secret conference of nonconformist clergymen who met on a monthly basis in and around Dedham, Essex, to discuss matters of local and national interest. He was "called into consistory" by the church on 8 November 1576 and ordered to wear the surplice; he refused on grounds that it would offend his parishioners and hinder his ministry among them. It turned out that Thomas was suspended at Boxted too! Oh, Thomas! On condition that he conform, he was restored on 8 February 1577 by special mandate from the Bishop of London. But later that year, he was again summoned for a personal interview during the primary visitation of John Aylmer and was again suspended. He resigned his position at Boxted on 26 May 1579. Not listed at all in the London diocese in 1580, he was quite possibly preaching privately to fellow non-conformists. It appears that he continued to live at Boxted until 1583 since all four of his and Margaret's children (including my 9X great grandfather Samuel) were baptised there.

Church at Boxted, Suffolk

On 5 March 1583, he was the speaker at the clandestine Dedham conference meeting at Boxted, but nevertheless became rector at Hinderclay, Suffolk on 14 July 1583. The very next year found him among the Suffolk clergy suspended for refusing to comply with Church of England requirements. After the death of wife Margaret, he returned to Boxted where he was described as "mynyster of Hinderclaye" when he married Margery Boggass on 24 November 1585 (and went on to father 5 more children). 

Hinderclay Church

Interior of Hinderclay Church, Hinderclay, Suffolk, England

In the 1880's more than 50 Suffolk ministers were suspended for refusing to conform to the official Protestant Church of England teachings. Many refused to wear the surplice, which was a simplification of the Catholic vestments but still not simple enough for these Puritans who wanted more extreme reform.

In later years, Thomas's eldest son John trained at Cambridge Emmanuel College to follow in his father's footsteps as a clergyman. This college was well-known at the time for being a hotbed of Puritan sentiment. Thomas's son Samuel and other family members moved to Massachusetts as acknowledged Puritans. It isn't hard to determine the religious predilection of the family.
 Entrance at Hinderclay church

His non-conforming ways finally led to his deprivation of his post at Hinderclay in 1595. Deprived of his ability to make a living and with a wife and children to support. What to do?

By the 1590's Puritanism was so prevalent that about 1/3 of the Suffolk clergy had been reported for refusing to wear the surplice. When they lost their positions, they were often fortunate enough to find a Puritan patron for a livelihood at a different church. At first, I thought perhaps this was how Thomas had found a way out of his dilemma since in the same year that he was deprived at Hinderclay, he took up a post as rector of Foxearth, Essex on 28 August 1595.

There was, however, to be no easy way out for Thomas. The same day that he became rector at Foxearth, he appeared before Edward Stanhope "in consistory" and was ordered specifically to subscribe to the 39 Articles. There was to be a follow-up meeting in Braintree on 20 September where Thomas was to show letters of orders and letters dismissory. He was further ordered always to use the prayer book at Foxearth, to wear the surplice, to administer the sacraments to himself kneeling and not to administer the sacraments to anyone who did not kneel, to use the sign of the cross in baptism, to use the ring in marriage and to observe all church requirements strictly. He was required to bring in church wardens' certificates that he had followed all of this and he was required to state under oath that he had adhered to all required church policies. After satisfying all of these requirements, Thomas was finally granted a preaching license. He had found a way but, unfortunately, did not live happily ever after. He was rector there only a few short months until March 1596/7.

List of Rectors Posted Inside Foxearth Church
"Thomas Morse 1595" 3rd from bottom

He wrote his will 10 November 1596 and died 28 October 1597 at Foxearth at the age of only 47. There is no indication of the cause of death - perhaps the religious turmoil of the 16th century had taken its toll.

Church at Foxearth Essex
In his will, he left 20 pounds to each of his 9 living children, his books to his oldest son and "Bybles" to the eight youngest children. The residue of the estate was left to his wife "and she is to bring up my children in learning".


  • Roberts, Gary Boyd,  "English Origins of New England Families" from New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1st series, 1984
  • Collinson, Craig and Usher, "Conferences and Combination Lectures in the Elizabethan Church: Dedham and Bury St Edmunds 1582-1590", pages 231-232 accessed online 3 May 2015
  • New England Historical and Genealogical Register, volume 19, p 264 (Will of Thomas Morse of Foxearth, County of Essex, England, copied by Horatio G Sombersby) accessed online at Google Books on 3 May 2015

Friday, 1 May 2015

Obadiah Holmes (c1610-1682) 52 Ancestors #18 Theme: "Where There's a Will"

Living in a time when it has been estimated that fewer than 1/3 of men made a will, my 10X great grandfather Obadiah Holmes left not only a will with respect to the disposition of his property, but also testaments of his faith, a farewell letter to his wife, testimonies to his children, the church and the world. The will itself is unusual in that he clearly intended its impact to be felt for years into the future. Obadiah would leave his mark on posterity!

Early Life

  • Born between 1607 and 1610 to Robert Holmes and his wife Katherine Johnson, Obadiah was baptized 18 March 1610 in Didsbury, Lancashire, England. 
  • Although 3 of his brothers attended Oxford University, there is no evidence that Obadiah did so; in fact, he later commented that he had been rebellious and  felt he had caused his mother's death by his evil ways. Given the amount of writing he left behind, he was obviously a literate man, at least when he was older.
  • He married Catherine Hyde in the Collegiate Church in Manchester, Lancashire on 20 November 1630. 
  • His mother had died just two months earlier in September 1630 and that year Obadiah is also said to have had a spiritual awakening that was to become his life's mission. 
  • Obadiah and Catherine had an infant son who died in England in June of 1633.
  • Daughter Mary (my 9X great grandmother) was born in England in 1638.

New Life in America

Obadiah and Catherine with infant daughter Mary arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1638. He was a glassworker and in December of 1638 was granted one acre of land for a house close to the Salem glass house plus another 10 acres to be granted by the town of Salem. (There were glassworks in the area of Lancashire where Obadiah originated so probably he had been a glassworker in England too.) 

Children continued to arrive, beginning with daughter Martha in 1640 and also Samuel, Obadiah, Lydia, Jonathan, Hopestill and John.

Religious Dissent

But all was not going well. Obadiah's developing Baptist religious beliefs started to land him in hot water. Living in Puritan Massachusetts meant one religion and one religion only; dissent was not permitted.  The Baptists disagreed with infant baptism and believed very strongly that only adults could make the meaningful choice to be baptised. (Even so, several of Obadiah and Catherine's babies were in fact baptised.) By October of 1643 he had taken an option in Rehoboth, some 40 miles south of Boston and moved there in about 1645 after selling his Salem property. He attempted to found a new Baptist church there, but he had not moved far enough to escape the watchful eye of the Puritans. 

By 1651, the family had moved to Newport, Rhode Island. Rhode Island was much more tolerant of religious diversity. However, when he visited Lynn, Massachusetts in July of that year to visit a sick friend (and, admittedly also to preach his beliefs and do some adult re-baptising), he was arrested, quickly tried and sentenced to a heavy fine or whipping. (In addition to being accused of re-baptising, he was also accused of baptising Goodwife Bowditch in the nude, an accusation that he vehemently denied.) One might say that Obadiah was a man of high principle or one might say he was just very stubborn. Some have even called him pugnacious. He flatly refused to allow anyone to help pay his fine and in early September of 1651, the sentence was carried out.

Holmes being defiant prior to being publicly whipped in Boston 1651
From an 1881 engraving by Charles Reinhart
Edwin Gaustad on page 29 of "Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testament of Obadiah Holmes" describes the whipping:
As the strokes began to fall, Holmes prayed once more and in truth, he later wrote, I never "had such a spiritual manifestation of God's presence." And though the executioner spat upon his hands, and laid the three-corded whip "with all his strength" thirty times across the prisoner's bare back, yet "in a manner [I] felt it not." When the whipping was finished and Holmes was untied from the post, he turned to the magistrates and said, "You have struck me as with roses."
In  truth, he had been whipped so harshly that for weeks he could only sleep on his elbows and knees.

In 1652 he assumed leadership of the Newport church for the 12 year absence of its minister John Clarke in England. These Baptists did not believe in having paid clergy, so he continued to make his living as a farmer and weaver. As a freeman of Newport, he participated in civic duties such as serving on juries and acting as commissioner for the town. He wrote spirited articles on the subject of religion, explaining why his views were theologically correct.

Obadiah's dissenting ways continued. By about 1667, he found himself disagreeing with his own Newport church. He played a large role in the Baptist schism that saw some of their number insisting on marking the Lord's Day on Saturday rather than Sunday. In August of 1672, he likely attended Roger Williams' public dispute with the Quakers. By 1676 he became the sole spokesman for the Newport church and that same year was appointed to advise the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Reflecting on his life in the Testimony that he wrote in about 1675 (quoted from pages 73-82 of "Baptist Piety"), he characterized himself from his childhood through old age thus:
But I, the most rebellious of all, did hearken neither to counsel nor to any instruction. For, from a child, I minded nothing but folly and vanity. And, as the years did grow on, wisdom should have taken place; but the wisdom I had was wise to do evil, but to do well I had no knowledge. 
As days and strength increased, even so did my transgressions. I became hardened to sin, not only to be drawn into it by others, but was so forward as to draw others into evil as my fellows. Being come to the height of wickedness, I did think it best that I could do the most wickedness.
He judged himself harshly, admitting that he had followed Satan for many years. One wonders how bad he had really been or if it was just a case of youthful high jinx and a young man having fun in a family that was much more serious and pious. For a time he thought he had been able to change for the better, but even after coming to New England he says that his spirit "was like a wave tossed up and down." Notwithstanding his years as a staunch church member and minister, he says near the end of his Testimony that "I am come to see plainly that I am nothing and can do nothing, for in me dwells no good thing." He concludes that although his mind served the law of God, his flesh served the law of sin.

The 1675 testimonial writings include 50 full pages with sections devoted to his declaration of faith and messages to his friends, his wife, his children, church brethren and to the world at large. He had a lot to say.

On 9 April 1681, in preparation for his end, he deeded his entire farm to his son Jonathan for the sum of 105 pounds and 10 shillings. (One assumes that Jonathan paid Obadiah this sum although it would have been fairer had father paid son!) As shall be seen, the deed of sale to Jonathan was intended to place Jonathan in position to fulfil Obadiah's final wishes set forth in the will of the same date. Obadiah died 15 October 1682 leaving an estate of about 28 pounds. His grave is in the Holmes Lot in Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island.

The Will

The will made it clear that Jonathan, as executor, was expected to pay out all the legacies from the takings from the farm over a period of years. In that the legacies amounted to about 5 times the value of the land conveyed to him, Jonathan was clearly taking on a major responsibility for years into the future.

THESE ARE TO SIGNIFY THAT I, OBADIAH HOLMES OF Newport on Rhode Island, being at present through the goodness and mercy of my God of sound memory; and being by daily intimations put in mind of the frailty and uncertainty of this present life, do therefore - for settling my estate in this world which it has pleased the Lord to bestow upon me - make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament in manner following, committing my spirit unto the Lord that gave it to me and my body to the earth from whence it was taken, in hope and expectation that it shall thence be raised at the resurrection of the just.
He left the following bequests to be paid immediately in money:
  • 5 pounds to daughter Mary Brown (my 9th great grandmother)
  • 10 pounds to daughter Martha Odlin
  • 10 pounds to daughter Lydia Bowne
  • 5 pounds to each of two grandchildren, children of his daughter Hopestill Taylor
  • 10 pounds to son John Holmes
  • 10 pounds to son Obadiah Holmes
  • 10 pounds to each of two grandchildren, children of his son Samuel Holmes
Obadiah went on to make additional bequests:
  • 10 pounds to all his grandchildren now living; and 10 shillings in the "like pay to be laid out to each of them - a Bible". (He had 41 grandchildren though how many were living at the time of his death is unclear.)
  • 10 pounds to grandchild Martha Brown. (It's a bit puzzling that he lists this grandchild separately although the amount is the same as for the other grandchildren. Also note above that his daughter Mary received only half of what her siblings received. Mary had married John, the son of the very respectable Chad Brown, minister of the Baptist Church at Provident, RI, so it is difficult to see any particular issues that Obadiah could have had in this regard.)
  • 20 pounds to his wife Catherine for her own use
Jonathan was expected to pay out 20 pounds each year until all of these bequests were completed. There is no record of how many years it took for Jonathan to satisfy all these bequests that his father had so generously made in his will.

Notwithstanding Obadiah's intentional attempts at leaving a legacy, perhaps his greatest posterity was actually through his and Catherine's children and their many thousands of descendants (including Abraham Lincoln and the Brown family associated with the founding of Brown University in Rhode Island).


  • Gaustad, Edwin S., ed., "Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testimony of Obadiah Holmes", New York: Arno Press 1980
  • Roberts, Gary Boyd, "English Origins of New England Families Volume 1", Baltimore: Genealogy Publishing Co. Inc. 1984
  • "New England Marriages Prior to 1700",Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2012
  • "Genealogies of Rhode Island Families", Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983
  • "U.S. and Canada Passenger and Immigration Lists Index", 1500's-1900's, Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc. 2010, Place: Salem, Massachusetts: Year: 1639; Page 148
  • website for Obadiah Holmes accessed 20 April 2015