Thursday, 30 March 2017

Humphrey Turner (1594-1672): The Well-ordered Life of an Early American Immigrant

Humphrey Turner was a tanner who emigrated to Plymouth Colony in its early days from somewhere in England. Some claim he was from Essex; his tombstone lists him among the men from Kent. Nothing is really known of his life in England except that he would have been married there (once if not twice) and had the first four of his children there. He married Lydia (possibly Gamer) in about 1618. Like so many other of my New England ancestors, they were undoubtedly religious dissidents who migrated to obtain religious freedom.

Cemetery in Scituate MA

Humphrey and Lydia were my 8th great grandparents. Their daughter Mary Turner (my 7th great grandmother) was born at Scituate, Massachusetts on 25 January 1634/5, the first of their children to be born in America. They probably arrived in 1633 but no record of them can be found in any of the ships' lists. In any event, he was listed as one of the freemen of Plymouth in 1633.

Humphrey certainly shows up in numerous records thereafter. It can be seen that he is a family man trying to make a living for himself and his family, that he is a staunch church member, that he was very active in community affairs and that he was a family man. He didn't seem to get into any trouble that landed him in the records for any misdeeds except for being fined 3s. two times by the court for non-appearance. 

Probably first landing at Plymouth, the family had moved some 20 miles to the new town of Scituate by early 1633. Humphrey was a founding member of the Scituate church on 8 January 1634/5, just a couple of weeks before daughter Mary was born. He built a log house on his lot on Kent Street and also one at his farm on the east side of Colman's Hills at  Scituate.  Thatch for the roofs would have come from the sedges of the nearby salt marshes. His farm was next to that of John Lothrop, the minister. Beyond the minister's property was the lot assigned to another of my ancestors, James Cudworth.

Memorial to Original Settlers of Scituate including Humphrey Turner
Photo courtesy Scrib & Barb Kelly of Find a Grave

On 1 January 1637/8 Humphrey was just one of many freemen of Scituate who complained that their land allocations were too small for them to subsist on. As a result, the court of assistants granted some extra land on condition that they inhabit those lands. Over the years, Humphrey bought and sold many parcels of land, including many properties deeded to his sons as they came of age.

Map of Settlement of Scituate 1633
Humphrey Turner's land highlighted in yellow

He did his part for his community:
  • Deputy for Scituate to Plymouth General Court (1640-1653)
  • Constable for Duxbury (1635-1639)
  • Plymouth jury and Grand jury (1638, 1642-1643)
  • Committee to divide lands in Scituate (1640)
  • Supervisor of highways (1647-1648)
  • Coroner's jury (1666)
Wife Lydia predeceased him by just a couple of years. Humphrey died sometime between 1 November 1672 and 29 May 1673. In his will he left his farm to son John Turner, his livestock to son Nathaniel Turner, clothing, bed and bedding to son Thomas Turner and money to other children and grandchildren. It isn't clear whether Lydia and Humphrey are buried in Scituate or in nearby Norwell since both cemeteries have memorial stones for them installed at a later time.

Memorial to Humphrey Turner, Scituate MA
Photo courtesy Scrib & Barb Kelly of Find a Grave
Generations later, many well-known Americans can claim descent from Humphrey Turner, including the following distant "cousins" of mine:
  • Ernest Hemingway (author)
  • Pete Seeger (folk singer)
  • Chevy Chase (comedian, actor)
  • Ellen De Generis (entertainer)
  • Allen Dulles (longest serving Director of the CIA)
  • John Foster Dulles (US Secretary of State)
  • Humphrey Bogart (actor).


  • Anderson, Robert Charles, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, Volumes 1-3; The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635, Volumes 1-6. Boston: New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1996-2011 accessed at 22 June 2015.
  • Deane, Samuel, History of Scituate Massachusetts From its First Settlement to 1831, Boston: James Loring, 1831.
  • Famous Kin website accessed 30 March 2107 at