Friday, 20 November 2015

Joseph Wilkinson (1683-1740) and Martha Pray (c1693-1784) (Week 47) Theme: "Sporting"

Not remembering a single ancestor who was much involved in sport, I did recall one male ancestor who was known to have used a hunting lodge near Providence, R.I. Another story I recalled was about a female ancestor who had saved the family's apple harvest by shooting a bear. Whether or not hunting to provide food for the family qualifies as "sport" or was simply a question of survival, I went looking for these ancestors in my family tree. Imagine my delight at finding that the two were husband and wife! This is their story.

Joseph and Martha, my 7th great grandparents, both came from solid Rhode Island stock. He was born there 22 January 1683 to Samuel Wilkinson and Plain Wickenden. She was born there about a decade later to John Pray and Sarah Brown. Both families had been well settled in the Providence area since at least the mid 1650's. Both of their mothers were granddaughters of some of the earliest Baptist settlers who founded Providence - William Wickenden and Chad Brown.

Earliest Providence settlers include Joseph's great grandfather William Wickenden
 and Martha's great grandfather Chad Brown
Joseph and Martha were married in Providence in 1713 and would go on to have a large family of 15 children. (I descend from daughter Susannah born between 1720-1725; she would marry Oliver Westcott, great grandson of Stukely Westcott whose lot is also shown on the map above).

As the population of Providence increased over the generations, new settlements were set off from the old. Joseph had already moved to the northwest part of the nearby town of Scituate, R.I. by 1703 before it was officially set off and when it was known by the name of Chapumiscook. He had been granted 137 acres of land there in 1700. There was just a crooked trail leading to his property from Providence at the time and travel would have been done on horseback.

Joseph was a prominent man in the early years of Scituate, often elected to town council and chosen deputy. He erected the first barn there, brought the first cow to town, and was a surveyor who was kept very busy in town activities. His home was on the most northern turnpike and was considered to be a very good farm. When the barn was erected, a barn-raising bee had been held and a fermented honey beverage called metheglin (mead with herbs or spices added) was consumed by the happy barn-raisers. One relative named Hopkins who attended the barn-raising could still recall his enjoyment of the event several decades later when he was a very old man!

Locations of Scituate and Providence, R.I.
Google Earth

Joseph was known to have used the hunting lodge that was built at Scituate for the convenience of hunters from nearby Providence. The lodge was situated near a brook and in an area with  tender grass and berries that attracted deer and other game, plentiful in the region at that time.

Early in their married years, Joseph and Martha often had to keep guard over their sheep at night to protect them from bears and wolves. The sheep were kept in log enclosures near their house and one night Joseph and Martha were awakened by the sound of logs being rolled away. The couple had to get up to rescue their sheep. (The sheep would have been vital to provide the wool for Martha to spin and weave into cloth for the family's clothing needs.)

Another time, a bear came to visit when Martha was home alone. She had just one much-valued apple tree full of ripe fruit that the bear was shaking from the tree. As this was their only source of apples (probably for pies and, even more importantly, for the cider that was a mainstay beverage among these early settlers), Martha knew she had to act. She took her husband's loaded shotgun (kept handy for just such an eventuality), aimed and took one shot to frighten away the bear. This so frightened Martha herself that she dropped the gun and raced back into the house and shut the door. When her husband returned home, he found the bear dead under the apple tree. Not only had she saved her fruit, but she provided the family with a good supply of meat. As far as we know, however, this one shot was Martha's one and only attempt at hunting.

Joseph must have been away working his land quite often for another story is also told about Martha's adventures when she was home alone. A large party of Native Americans arrived at her doorstep. Although she didn't understand their language, she understood that they wanted food, so she obliged. They returned in a few days with some nice fresh venison for her. After this, they were frequent welcome visitors at the Wilkinson household where there would be friendly bartering of moccasins and other leather goods for food.

Joseph died 24 April 1740 in Scituate, leaving Martha with several children still at home. She would outlive him by 44 years, dying 22 May 1784. The site of Martha's grave is unknown, but Joseph is buried in the Westcott-Wilkinson Lot also known as Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Scituate #14 on the Hartford Pike. Only 14 burials were made here including Joseph and Martha's grandson Reverend John Westcott and his wife Amey Clarke Westcott, my 5th great grandparents.

Westcott-Wilkinson Lot
Photo courtesy Gene Kuechmann from

Much of the town of Scituate as Joseph and Martha would have known it is now submerged under the Scituate Reservoir, built in the early years of the 20th century to provide water for Providence. Driving through the area leaves one with an uneasy sense of quiet foreboding, perhaps a reflection of the tragic consequences for many displaced residents. Although some were happy to resettle, many left unwillingly. Some were said to have committed suicide as a result of their homes, farms, barns, schools, churches and numerous cotton mills being destroyed for the project. Many cemeteries were also flooded. Although no Wilkinsons could be found in the list of displaced landowners, the unfortunate consequence for descendants of these early Scituate settlers is that it is challenging to find surviving subject matter for photographs of ancestral locations.

Scituate Reservoir, RI
Google Earth Image

Sources and Further Reading:

  • "The History of Scituate, RI" accessed online on 13 November 2015 at this link
  • Beaman, C.C., "An Historical Sketch of the Town of Scituate, RI" published by order of the town council and delivered at Scituate, RI on 4 July 1876 accessed online here
  • Wikipedia article for "Scituate Reservoir"
  •, Rhode Island Births 1636-1930; Rhode Island Vital Extracts 1636-1899; Rhode Island: Find a Grave Index 1663-2013
  • Yates Publishing, U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900
  • Find A Grave website: Westcott-Wilkinson Lot on
  • Roberts, Gary Boyd, "Genealogies of Rhode Island Families volume 1", New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1989
  • Scituate Reservoir Condemnation Map Index accessed online 19 November 2015 at this North Scituate Public Library website.

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