Saturday, 4 July 2015

Jonas Fairbanks (1625-1676) Wearing Great Boots Contrary to the Law (52 Ancestors Week 27) Theme: "Independence"

Having already written about two ancestors who fought for American independence (see John Bullen and Henry Vought stories), this week's suggested theme of "Independence" will be largely ignored as I strike off on my own independent path. My 8X great grandfather Jonas Fairbanks also showed an independent streak.

Jonas was the third son of immigrants Jonathan Fairbanks and his wife Grace Smith. He was born early in 1625 and baptised at Halifax, Yorkshire, England on 06 March 1625. His early years were probably comfortable ones with his father a reasonably well-off wool merchant. Most likely his parents were religious dissidents and that may well have been the cause of their move to New England when Jonas was still a boy.

Growing up in the Fairbanks House at Dedham, Massachusetts, must have been quite a happy time for Jonas and his 7 siblings. This was a new town and there would have been many other children with whom to play. No doubt the education that he had started to receive in England would have been continued in the new land and he would have received as good an education as was available in Dedham at the time. A church and a school were always established along with the settlement of all these New England towns.

Jonas's boyhood home in Dedham, Massachusetts

One of the stories that I cherish about Jonas involves his running afoul of the sumptuary laws when he was about 22 years old. Although he was making his way as both a carpenter and a farmer, he was fined a few shillings for wearing great boots before his estate amounted to more than 200 pounds. I love the image of young Jonas strutting about Dedham in his great boots! Apparently he got off without paying the fine because the law wasn't actually in effect at the time he was seen wearing the boots. (Presumably he hid them away in Fairbanks House until his estate was large enough to permit him to legally wear them again.)

By the time Jonas entered manhood and planned to start his own life with his own family, most of the lands around Dedham had been claimed and there was a push for expansion farther into the wilderness. Jonas moved to western Massachusetts as one of the original settlers of Lancaster in 1657. It has been said that he was a strong man, both in his mental and physical abilities.

He subscribed to the Lancaster town laws and orders on the 7th day of the 2nd month of 1658/59. Shortly after arriving in Lancaster, Jonas married Lydia Prescott who had moved there with her parents John Prescott and Mary Platts. Lydia had been born in Watertown, MA on 15 August 1641 and would have been just under 17 years of age when she married Jonas on 28 May 1658. Jonas would have been 23. This was the first marriage to occur in Lancaster. The young couple would go on to have numerous children including Mary, Joshua, Grace (my 7X great grandmother, born 15 November 1663 in Dedham), Jonathan, Hazadiah, Jabez and Jonas Jr.

The westward migration of settlers had not gone unnoticed by the native population. At first friendly and welcoming, they must have become concerned when it became apparent that the newcomers were expanding their communities farther into traditional Wampanoag territory. In 1675, when three American Indians were hanged in Plymouth Colony for the murder of a Christian member of his Wampanoag tribe, Chief Metacom (more commonly known by his English name King Philip) launched assaults on more than half the towns in New England. This went on until 1678 and is generally called "King Philip's War". Considering the population at the time, it could well be considered the deadliest war during the European settlement of North America. The colonial population was decimated with about 10% of the men killed, a dozen towns destroyed, crops ruined, the economy left in tatters.

Jonas Fairbanks was a victim of the Indian massacre at Lancaster of 10 February 1676 along with his 15 year-old son Joshua. It is not known where they are buried, but many of the Fairbanks and Prescott family members are buried in the beautifully mysterious Old Burying Ground at Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Old Burying Ground at Lancaster; memorial to Jonas's father-in-law John Prescott on far left

Another Jonas Fairbanks buried at Lancaster


  • Clemens, William Montgomery, "Marriage Records Before 1699", Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1967
  • Fairbanks, Jonathan Leo, "An Old Family Burial Site" accessed 21 June 2015 at
  • Fairbanks, Lorenzo Sayles, "Genealogy of the Fairbanks Family in America 1633-1897", Fairbanks Family in America, Incorporated, 1991 based on an edition printed for the author by the American Printing and Engraving Company, 1897
  • Nourse, Henry, "Birth, Marriage and Death Register, Church Records and Epitaphs of Lancaster, Massachusetts 1643-1850", Lancaster 1890
  • Nourse, Henry, "Early Records of Lancaster 1643-1725", Lancaster 1884 


  1. Hi Victoria Jo,

    We share the same family and much of the same interests. I am also blogging about Jonathan Fairbanks and John Prescott. I enjoyed your blog about John Prescott's armor and Jonas Fairbanks's fine for wearing great boots. The original Fairbanks and Prescott families in America are both my 11th great grandparents. Jonas and Lydia (Prescott) Fairbanks were my descendant line. I have a blog at Please come to visit. On the blog, I haven't gotten to two points I'd like to share with you. John's matchlock gun, now change to a flintlock can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum. I just found it last year. Also, Jonas was working at the Saugus Iron Works when he was fined for wearing the great boots. He was working about the forge at Saugus, one of the best paid areas, so he probably was making quite a bit of money. Many people of the Iron Works, even the whole area, were called to court due to dress inappropriate according to the sumptuary laws. He went to court up in that area and was acquitted because he wore them before the ruling was published. I have more details on both of these that I will be sharing later on my blog, but as a co-blogger, I thought you would enjoy it and may not find my blog to learn more about them. Or perhaps you already knew and didn't have room in your blog. thanks for helping share our fas
    cinating history.

  2. How delightful to hear from you, Cousin! I will definitely go to your blog as you have already added to my knowledge of the family and I'm sure I'll learn more interesting details. The one thing I wonder about is whether you've come upon any more information about the origins of our John Prescott? There seems some difficulty connecting him back across the pond with any degree of certainty.