One of my great-grandfathers was Henry Herbert Eldridge, a descendant of a family that first settled in Cape Cod in 1635. H.H., as he was known, was born in Prospect, Maine, and my mother, who has a clear memory of him, said that he was known as a "whole-hearted, generous man," characteristics that, with luck, may still linger in our DNA.
H.H. was born in 1853, the son on Christopher A. Eldridge and Margaret Ann Ray, both of whom died in 1860 when he was seven years old. Margaret Ann died first, after five years of fighting consumption, and Christopher moved Henry and his younger brother Charles into his father’s home in Surry. By the end of that year Christopher was gone too, reportedly lost at sea.
The boys’ grandfather, Knowles Godfrey Eldridge and his wife, the former Christiana Pope, raised his two grandsons on Newbury Neck in Surry, Maine. In the 1870 census, 16-year-old Henry and his 14-year-old brother were reported to be mariners. Knowles Godfrey, who was 73 that year, is described as working in a carding mill. Twenty years earlier, in 1850, he had been a clothier and in 1840 in manufacture.
When he was 25, in 1878, H.H. married Laura Adams Phillips, a descendant of another family that had settled Orrington around the same time Knowles Godfrey’s father settled there in the 1790s. Two years later, H.H. appears to have followed his grandfather into the manufacture of cloth. The 1880 census lists him as a woolcarder and his name appears on an 1881 map of Surry that shows “H.H. Eldridge Carding Mill.”
Between 1879 and 1890, H.H. and Laura had five children, including twin girls, my grandmother, Mattie Belle, and her sister, Minnie. During this period, H.H. and his brother went into the painting business that had been started by another of Knowles Godfrey’s sons. By 1895, the Eldridges won the contract to paint Togus Veterans Home outside Augusta and the family moved to nearby Gardiner. For the next thirty years they ran the Eldridge Brothers Company with an office first at 9 Bridge Street then at 360 Water Avenue.
After moving to Gardiner, fate struck the Eldridge family when H.H.’s wife Laura died in 1902. He married again, to Emily Sampson, in 1903, but she died of breast cancer seven years later.
H.H. married again and his third wife, Clara, whom he married in 1914, was the only real grandmother my mother ever knew. Clara is pictured below in 1919 with my mother, age 2, and her two older sisters, Marjorie and Betty.
Henry Herbert’s obituary in 1930 described his contributions to local Gardiner society.
The Eldridges in Cape Cod
In the 1960s, my mother and her sisters began to piece together the family tree, documenting that Knowles Godfrey Eldridge was born in Chatham, Massachusetts in 1797, just when his father, Captain Hezekiah Eldridge was settling in the newly-established town of Orrington, Maine. Knowles Godfrey’s mother was Mercy Godfrey, the daughter of another prominent Cape Cod family, and she passed her maiden name down to her son.
Captain Hezekiah’s father was also named Hezekiah and there is little trace of him in the records other than a note that he had to tear down his house and barn, valued at 17 pounds, to stop the spread of smallpox in Chatham in 1765-6. Hezekiah, Sr. had married Mary Doane, a daughter in the well-established family that descended from Deacon John Doane of Plymouth.
Hezekiah was the son of William Eldredge (1702-1753) and the grandson of Sgt. Joseph Elredge (1662-1735), who himself was the son of Robert and Elizabeth Nickerson, some of the original settlers of Chatham along with four Eldredge brothers.: Nicholas, Robert, Samuel and Joseph.
Robert Eldredge first came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as an indentured servant in 1635 in Plymouth. He was listed to bear arms in 1643 in Plymouth then went to Yarmouth about 1645 where he married Elizabeth. He was constable in Yarmouth in 1657 and the family later moved and lived on a farm north of Oyster Pond in what is now West Chatham on part of the property deeded to Elizabeth by her father, William Nickerson, Chatham’s largest landowner.
You can learn more about the early history of Chatham and the Nickerson family at the Nickerson Family website http://cnh.nickersonassoc.com/
References: Genealogies : Eldred, Eldredge by Hawes, James W. (James William), 1844.
A History of Chatham, Massachusetts: formerly the Constablewick or Village of Monomoit ; with maps and llustrations and numerous genealogical notes"Part 3 By William Christopher Smith ,1909
I’ve had great success researching my ancestors who arrived in New England 400 years ago but I keep running into stonewalls when I try to learn more about my Irish great-grandfather who came to New England about 150 years ago. Thomas Donnellan was a 20-year-old from Ireland when he sailed on the Ocean Wave from Ireland in 1865. I believe he married Margaret Cowan shortly thereafter and eventually fathered my grandmother, Mary Jane, in Manchester, Connecticut, in 1877.
I am hedging here because the birth, marriage and death records for the family are nowhere to be found online. Thousands of Irish immigrants flooded America back in those years but the record of their family milestones are hard to unearth. I know Thomas died in 1891 because I’ve seen his grave marker at St. Bridget Cemetery in Manchester but it tells me little about the man.
Manchester was a mill town back in the 19th-century, dominated the world-famous Cheney Silk Mill. Both my grandmother and her sister, Margaret, worked there but there is no trace of how their father was employed.
There is more information about Mrs. Donnellan, born Margaret Cowan in Ireland in 1849. She came to America with her parents and six siblings before 1860. The photos below show Margaret Cowan, 1830-1884 (left), and her daughter Margaret Cowan Donnellan, 1849-1921.
Margaret Cowan’s oldest brother, Francis, was listed as a weaver in the 1860 census but soon he was raising his sword high above his head in full uniform to pose for a photo before going off to fight with the Yankees in the Civil War, a fate common to many Irish immigrants.
Frank Cowan served for three years in the Connecticut Fifth Infantry, marching from Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to the battlefields of Manassas and Gettysburg. He survived, presumably unscathed, and died in Manchester in 1886.
I have few clues about how my great-grandparents met and married, where they worked or lived. I know they lost three infants early and two sons died young. Frank Donnellan got sick in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and died at age 23 in 1898. Here’s a photo he sent back home of him and his fellow soldiers in Cuba.
Another son, Johnny, died young and only my grandmother and her sister, along with their mother, saw the dawn of the 20th century.
Frustrated that there was hardly any trace of the parents of a man who died while serving his country, I decided to branch out to the Donnellan family in Springfield, Massachusetts who I understood were related to the Manchester clan.
John and Anna Donnellan were brother and sister who lived in Springfield, Massachusetts all of their lives. They died there in the 1960s, both childless and unmarried. I know they stayed close to my grandmother Mary Jane Donnellan Peckenham because when I was born in 1955, they became my godparents and may be watching over me still.
John was born in 1895, the son of Thomas Francis Donnellan. After graduating high school he joined the Army, where he joined the Chemical Warfare Service in World War One.
After the war, he became an accountant, then spent 30 years as a postal clerk in Springfield. His sister, Anna, was born in 1899, and was a teacher, then a social worker in the department of public welfare. They had two other brothers, Edward, who became a prosecutor in Boulder, Colorado, and Thomas F. Jr. who started to join the priesthood then joined the welfare department as an interviewer in the 1930s.
Their father, Thomas F. Sr., was born in Thompsonville, Connecticut, in 1865, the son of John and Bridget Donnellan, who worked as a laborer in the carpet mill in town. Before John and Bridget moved to Thompsonville,in 1860, they had been living in East Hartford, Connecticut, just down the road from Manchester.
By 1870, John had moved his wife and three sons to Springfield, where the census takers noted that the 38-year-old had no occupation. His ten-year-old son Matthew worked in a “picture store,” while the younger ones were at school. John died by 1885 and his sons worked a series of jobs.
In 1893 Thomas F. Sr. went into the grocery and meat business with his brother Matthew, parting ways in 1899. By then, Thomas had married Bridget Teresa Burke and started a family. Thomas worked for the next ten or fifteen years as a bartender, starting at the Russell Hotel in 1902. In 1930, at the age of 65, he lived in a house valued at $9,000 and his occupation was listed as vulcanizer in a tire factory. His wife died that year.
Thomas F. Sr., would have been cousins to my grandmother, Mary Jane, but despite hours of combing through online genealogy records, I cannot prove how they were related, or even better, what part of Ireland they called home. Neither his daughter, Anna, or his son, John, or their two brothers, ever had children and there are no cousins or aunts for me to contact to pick their brains.
I remember the Donnellans because they were family and I knew them when they were alive. History has been less kind to the family, and after a century, their time on this earth is fading from memory.
It was a woman baselessly accused of being a witch who first caught my eye. I was tracing the Puritan ancestors of my great-great grandmother Sarah Sikes when I read about Mercy Marshfield. Mercy lived in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1640s and 50s and her legal fight to clear her name marked her as a strong woman.
At the time of the trial against her accuser in 1649, Marshfield was a 45-year-old widow with three adult children and a son-in-law. The witchcraft accusation against her came from Mary Parsons, a Welsh immigrant woman in an unhappy marriage. The court of Thomas Pynchon, a gentleman who first settled Springfield, heard testimony about how Mary Parsons had slandered Marshfield, charging that she was known to be a witch when living in Windsor, Connecticut and that the devil had surely followed her to Springfield.
Springfield residents, like faithful Puritans throughout New England, believed that witches displayed their powers in obvious ways. No one stepped forward to accuse Marshfield of any acts of witchcraft and Pynchon found Parson guilty of slander, then offered her a choice of punishments: either lashes or the payment of three pounds or 20 bushels of corn. Mary Parsons chose to pay the fine.
It was not the last that Pynchon’s court heard of Parsons, who three years later accused her husband of witchcraft then was accused of witchcraft herself. Several neighbors testified against the Parsons, citing strange lights that jumped from clothing and a cow whose milk inexplicably dried up. Mercy Marshfield testifed that Hugh Parsons had cursed her and shortly after her daughter suffered from fits. Mary Parsonss was found innocent of witchcraft but confessed to having killed a child. She was sentenced to death for murder but died before the order could be carried out. Hugh was found guilty of witchcraft, then released after appeal.
Mercy Marshfield in Windsor
My ancestor, Mercy Marshfield, survived this drama but the stories led me to trace her roots in Windsor. There, it turned out, the entire Marshfield family had been abandoned by her husband and left to face the humiliation of the court seizing all of their property to pay off his sizeable debts. (Read more about Thomas Marshfield’s failed effort to enter the transatlantic shipping trade.)
When the Marshfield family left Windsor, the settlement was at least ten-years-old. The Marshfields were among the original settlers who walked from Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1636 to settle on the Connecticut River. Hardships and deprivations, along with grueling months of farming, clearing land and trying to survive with few manufactured goods, took their toll. Mercy had only been in the colony for a year, having sailed from England to reunite with her husband in 1635.
The fact that the Marshfields, without Thomas, managed to migrate to Springfield and start over, is a testament to their tenacity. Mercy’s son Samuel Marshfield and her son-in-law, John Dumbleton, became propertied members of Springfield society, serving as selectmen more than a dozen years each.
The postcard has been a prized possession of my mother for decades, its date revealing that it is more than a hundred years old. The country lane depicted on the card entices, pulling you in to the lush foliage that lines the way. Along the bottom margin, my grandfather’s elaborate handwriting reveals his skill.
The photo on the card reminds me of Vigue Road in North Whitefield, Maine, where my grandfather Maurice Reilly lived as a young man. You can see his name in the faded red letters stamped onto the front of the card. The other letters are inscrutable though the handwritten note clearly expresses Maurice's belief in self-betterment, which he strived for throughout his life. It reads:
“Of course it is all in the way anyone is brought up, but howe’er good that might be what would you expect for results in a subject like your humble and penitent servant MLR 1-9-06“
Maurice wrote the note on the card and dated it January 9, 1906, when he was just 21 years old. The postmark reveals it was mailed from Bangor, around the time when Maurice was first hired as a mail clerk on the railroad run from Bangor to Boston.
Interestingly, the card was mailed to Gertrude C. Skehan, a 25-year-old clerk in Augusta who would eventually marry Maurice’s older brother, Ambrose, in 1910. Skehan was also from Whitefield and a member of St. Denis’s Church, where the Reillys also worshipped. At age 22 she was listed as a teacher, and later records indicate she studied through the first year of high school.
Of all the places my ancestors supposedly came from, no one in my family ever talked about Windsor, CT., recognized as the first settled town in the state.
My mother traced her Maine ancestry lines back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, largely to Cape Cod. My aunts had done some genealogy research back in the 1960s but they had traced back through the paternal lines only.
Exploring the maternal lines of kinship in our family back more than ten generations I found hundreds of people who now populate my tree. Among them was Sarah Ann Sykes, a wizened little old lady in this photograph taken of her around the turn of the century.
Sarah Sykes, it turned out, had been overlooked in the search for Yankee ancestors because, in 1843, she married John Hickey, an Irish Catholic immigrant, and dropped her Protestant faith to assume that of her husband. Her line, traced back from Bristol, Maine to the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts and to Windsor, Connecticut, revealed dozens of 17th-century ancestors. Their stories revealed a constant migration that took them from Dorchestor, Massachusetts to Windsor, Connecticut then onto Springfield, Northhampton, Belchertown and beyond, fulfilling God’s command to “Go forth and multiply.”
Our Ancestors in Windsor
The first Sykes ancestor l encountered in my research was Mercy Marshfield, the widow of one of Windsor's founders, Thomas Marshfield. Goody Marshfield left Windsor around 1649, along with her three children and son-in-law John Dumbleton. The Marshfield family settled in Springfield where Goody Marshfield went to court to successfully defend her reputation against witchcraft rumors. A bit of digging revealed that her husband left Windsor under mysterious circumstances in 1640 and all of the family's wealth and property were distributed to his creditors. (Read Marshfield’s story here.)
When the Marshfield family first came to settle a new plantation on the banks of the Connecticut River, they were part of a group of several hundred settlers under the leadership of Reverend John Warham, a well-known Puritan preacher . In the spring of 1636, the settlers.walked from Dorchester, Massachusetts and local Podunk Indians allowed them to take over their former planting grounds on the banks of the river. These men, and others who arrived by 1641, are celebrated as the Founders of Windsor and include nine of my ancestors: John Dumbleton, Captain Aaron Cooke, Reverend Ephraim Huit, Thomas Ford, Benedictus Alford, John Tilley, Thomas Marshfield, Richard Oldage and John Osborne.
John Dumbleton married into the Marshfield family, but only after Thomas had disappeared. Dumbleton came to the Connecticut colony as an indentured servant to William Whiting of Hartford, one of the richest and most powerful men in the area, in 1638. For much of his seven-year indenture, Dumbleton worked a piece of Whiting’s land in Windsor that he later testified about:
“There was little improvement on the land when I came upon it, but I plowed and brake up considerable quantity of it."
When his indenture ended in 1645, Dumbleton leased the land for farming.
Around 1649, Dumbleton migrated to Springfield along with the remaining members of the Marshfield family, a group that included daughter Mercy whom he married either just before or after their relocation to Springfield.
Thomas Ford and Aaron Cooke
Thomas Ford was a well-endowed 45-year-old when he came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Mary and John ship in 1630, inspired by the Puritan teachings of Reverend White of , Dorchester, England. . His 14-year-old stepson, Aaron Cooke was with him, along with his second wife, Elizabeth Charde, and nine more children. One year after he arrived, Thomas became a freeman in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and Aaron Cooke followed in 1635. Like virtually all settlers in the Dorcestor plantation, the Fords were farmers and in 1636 they headed out with Reverend Warham's congregation to settle in Connecticut.
In the new plantation, Cooke married his half-sister, Mary Ford. Her father, Thomas, filled many leadership roles, including on the jury of the General Court of Connecticut. Aaron became a captain in the local militia, in charge of training, and he was appointed commander-in-chief of a company formed to go against the Dutch who were still defending their claims on the Connecticut river. He also served several times on the jury of the General Court. Mary died in 1645 while giving birth to her fourth child. Her second son, Aaron, Jr., born in 1641, is my direct ancestor.
Aaron, Sr., remarried three more times before his death. He worked some of his Thomas Ford’s 50 acres in Simsbury, Ct. (Massacoe), then received his own land grant in Northhampton, Massachusetts and moved there in 1660. Aaron Cooke, Jr. went to the same area and in May 1661 he married Sarah Westwood in Hadley, Ma.
He lived only six years in Windsor but Reverend Efraim Huit was a well-known Puritan in England, where he was stripped of his position because of views that were heretical to the Church of England. You can read more about Huit’s life in England in this excellent piece by genealogy blogger Janice Harshbarger here.
Huit led a group of half a dozen families to join Reverend Warham in Windsor in 1638-9 and he became the congregation’s teacher. Remnants of some of his sermons have been preserved, including twenty-two based on the teachings of Timothy. His treatise on the Prophecies of Daniel was published shortly before his death.
In Windsor, Huit undertook the task of building a new meeting house. He designed the structure and raised 200 pounds for its construction, borrowing most of the funds from wealthy Hartford resident George Wyllys. The loan was repaid with proceeds from a corn mill that had been donated to Huit and Warham by the congregation. The meeting house was completed in 1641 and Huit died three years later. Twelve years after his death.his daughter, Lydia, married a 19-year-old, Joseph Smith, who would be included in this story if he had lived in Windsor instead of nearby Hartford.
John Tilley came to live in Windsor for economic opportunity, no doubt. Tilley was a sea captain and a fisherman who arrived in New England in 1624, before the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been founded and shortly after the Pilgrims landed in Plimouth. He was part of a group led by Robert Gorges to Cape Ann, where Tilley oversaw a failed effort to start a fishing venture. He followed Roger Conant to a new settlement that was renamed Salem in 1628. Sometime after the arrival of Governor Winthrop and the establishment of the Bay colony in 1630, Tilley removed to the new plantation of Dorchester. Tilley was captaining the ship Thunder to Bermuda in 1633 when he was sued for debt by his partners.
It is recorded that just before he died in October 1636, Tilley was delivering letters from Governor Winthrop to Old Saybrook, sailing in the mouth of the Connecticut River. The Governor later described what happened:
About the middle of this month, John Tilley, master of a bark coming down the Ct. River, went on shore in a canoe three miles above the fort (Saybrook) to kill fowl and having shot off his piece, many Indians arose out of the covert and took him and killed one other who was in the canoe. This Tilley was a very stout man and of great understanding. They cut off his hands and sent them before and after cut off his feet. He lived three days after his hands were cut off and themselves confessed that he was a stout man, because he cried not in his torture.”
Tilley’s widow, Edith, lived in Windsor, where the couple had moved with the others who moved from Dorchester earlier that year. Their daughter, Elizabeth, who was four years old, grew up to marry Thomas Merrick, another Sikes ancestor.
Most of my Windsor ancestors were well-known but Richard Oldage and John Osborn left little in the historical record. Richard Oldage was about 40 years old when he came to Windsor from England in 1639, part of the group led by Reverend Ephraim Huit whose non-conformists beliefs led him to seek the Puritan plantation.
By 1640 Oldage owned land that stretched for three miles on the east side of the river, as well as land on the west side, the heart of the plantation. The only official record I found stated that in 1656 Oldage was appointed by the Connecticut General Court to be a “leather sealer,” an office that required him to give his stamp of approval on leather goods that he inspected, tested and certified. When Oldage died, his daughter Ann, my direct ancestor and his only child, inherited that land. By then, she had been married for about fifteen years to John Osborne.
Little can be found in the record about John Osborne, who was born in either England or Wales in 1621. His father’s name has not been verified, but in his will he signed his name John, Senior, indicating that he was not named after his father.
John Osborne’s name is listed as a founder of Windsor, Connecticut, a status given to any male settler who arrived by 1641. John would have been 20 that year and it is unlikely that he would have been given any land grant at that age. He may have come to Windsor as a tradesman, but the historical record has not turned up any evidence of his occupation outside farming, which all settlers practiced by necessity. The historical record is contradictory about his wedding date. They agree that the marriage occurred on May 19 in Windsor, but it is recorded as 1643, ‘44 and ‘45. His wife, Ann Oldage, inherited her father’s extensive land holdings, about 1,000 acres, after his death in January 1659/60.
John Osborne became a freeman of the church in 1669, a year after my direct ancestor, Sarah Osborne married Lt. Abel Wright and removed to Springfield, Massachusetts, leaving her Windsor family behind.
Benedictus and Joanne Alvord
Benedictus Alvord is remembered as a founder of Windsor, having arrived their shortly after he sailed from England at age 11 with his brother and sister, Alexander and Joanne.
Joanne is my direct ancestor but Benedictus’ role in history cannot be overlooked. He was a sergeant at age 18 in the 1637 war against the Pequots, when hundreds of natives, mostly women and children, were massacred when the soldiers set their homes on fire and sealed the exits.
Benedictus Alvord returned to England the next year and married. His bride was a passenger on the ill-fated ship charted by Thomas Marshfield in 1640 and Alvord sued Marshfield for ten pounds. In Windsor, Benedictus prospered, serving as a juror, then as constable in 1666. He passed away April 23, 1683 in Windsor, Hartford, Connecticut.
Joanna (Jane) Alvord, his sister, married Ambrose Fowler, who did not appear in Windsor until 1640, when he was 14. By age 19, he and Joanna were parents. The family stayed in Windsor at least another 18 years, then removed to Westfield, Massachusetts, where their eldest daughter married Increase Sikes, great-great-great-grandfather of Sarah Sykes.
I had hundreds of people in my family tree already, enough to keep me busy tracking down ancestral profiles for years to come. I did not need to find Richard Waldron in my bloodline, but when I did, all the angst of responsibility for the actions of my ancestors flooded back. Must my life create a thousand acts of contrition to erase the legacy of such a man?
Richard Waldron came from the group of Puritans who put their family fortunes to profit in the Massachusetts colony. He came first to Boston in 1635 and for two years surveyed and purchased land. He returned to England, married, and returned to settle in Cocheco, now Dover, New Hampshire, where he built a sawmill and a gristmill on the river, along with a trading post, where Native American traders suspected him of cheating them.
Within 15 years of settling in Dover, Waldron had three children and his prominence in the Massachusetts Bay Colony kept rising. Elected to the General Court of Boston in 1654, he served for nearly 25 years, some as speaker of the house.
Punishing the Quakers
Waldron also earned a reputation for harshness when, in 1662, he ordered constables in eleven towns from Dover to Boston to tie three Quaker women to a cart and whip their bare backs publically. In the depth of winter, through snow, the women were marched to Hampton where they were whipped. In Salisbury, the local constable, Sgt. Major Robert Pike, balked at Waldron’s order then sent a team to intervene and bring the women to safety on the other side of the Piscataqua River.
The poet John Greenleaf Whittier portrayed the Quaker persecution, depicting how the Quaker women might have cursed him:
"And thou, O Richard Waldron, for whom
In 1672 Waldron was commissioned a military captain, then major-general in the province of New Hampshire. He led the failed campaign against the French and Indian raids on English settlers on the coast of Maine and in Acadia in 1676 and had frequent dealings with the local Pennacook Indians, who remained neutral during the King Phillip War. Yet, with hostilities all around them, the people of Dover lived in homes that were barricaded like garrisons.
After the King Phillip war ended, dozens of the warriors who fought the British took refuge with the Pennacook Indians. Waldron was ordered to seize all the outside warriors but he had instead proposed inviting the men to a military game event in Dover where he tricked them out their weapons. Once captive, the wanted men were separated from the Pennacooks and taken prisoner., two hundred men in all. Eight of them were executed and the rest sold into slavery, an offense that the Pennacooks would not forget.
Thirteen years later, the Pennacooks, now under a new leader, took their revenge. In an well-planned move in June of 1689, they sent Penacook women to ask for overnight shelter at the five garrisoned houses in town. It was a rainy night and all but one of the women were allowed in. After midnight, the women slipped the bolts and opened the door to the revengeful Pennacooks.
The slow torture and death of Richard Waldron is not one for the weak of heart. Reports say he tried to defend his household with his sword but was quickly overcome. His head was split open and his bleeding body tied to a chair in the main room. Pennacook men took their time with him, each cutting an X into his chest to signify their trade accounts with him were closed. Still alive, his ears and nose were chopped off and stuffed in his mouth. When he had little life left, his tormentors rigged his sword so he would fall on it and deliver the final death blow.
Other members of his family were killed and his house burned to the ground. His six-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Gerrish, was taken prisoner. Waldron’s daughter Elizabeth Gerrish was safely at home with her husband and her other children, including nine-year-old Nathaniel Gerrish, my direct ancestor.
In all, 23 people were killed and 29 captured that day in Dover.
Waldron’s son and grandsons rose to great prominence in the state of New Hampshire and are now part of the legacy of the Granite State.
Richard Waldron's grandson, also named Richard, was a prominent political leader of colonial New Hampshire in the 1730s and 40s. He is not directly related to me. Here's his portrait
I had been poking around the Witherell branch of our family tree for days, hoping to unearth some clue that would link my ancestor James Witherell back to the Witherell family in Scituate, Massachusetts. James Witherell first appears in the public record in 1723, with no record of who his parents were. If he had descended from the Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins whose great-granddaughter married a Witherell in 1696, then my ancestral line would be tied to an important historical figure.
I could not find any reliable record of who James' parents were but as I combed through the details I found that James had served on a military expedition to Lake Winnipesauke in 1723. That expedition, it turns out, was part of one of most violent periods of colonial history, marked by violent attacks by French priests and local Abenaki Indians on the English settlers, who fought back aggressively from their heavily fortified homes near the Maine coast and along the Merrimack River.
Indian raids of settlers came in waves beginning in the 1690s on settlements from York, Maine to Dover, New Hampshire and Haverhill, Massachusetts, You can find many bone-chilling stories of men, women and children murdered or kidnapped, then forced to walk to Canada where they were sold by their captors in French Quebec.
James Witherell appeared in Dover, New Hampshire in 1723, when tensions in the region were high. He would have been 18 that year, old enough to volunteer with the militia being formed by noted Indian hunter, Captain John Lovewell.
Lovewell, of Dunstable, New Hampshire, had lived all his life in a garrison under threat of attack. As a youth, he developed expert hunting and tracking skills and used them to fight the Native Americans who threatened their settlement. Once the Massachusetts General Assembly offered to one hundred pounds for each Indian scalp, the promise financial gain led to more aggressive attacks.
Lovewell and a few men attacked and killed seven Native Americans as they slept by their campfire. Several months later, in September 1724, two men who worked in his saw mill were kidnapped in a raid by French officers and Caughnawaga Indians and a posse of eleven men went after them. Ambushed at the Merrimack River, ten of the militia lost their lives.
"Of worthy Captain Lovewell, I propose now to sing,
Lovewell petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to allow him to assemble a militia to go after the raiders who had killed so many of his men. The court agreed to pay each man two shillings and six pence, along with the one hundred pound bounty per scalp.
James Witherell would have been one of 30 men handpicked by Lovegood to join the first expedition to Lake Winnipesaukee in December 1724. Lovegood recruited fighters from throughout Massachusetts, with volunteers from towns north and west of Boston, from Groton, Lancaster, Billerica and Haverhill, as well as some men from Dunstable. James Witherell, whom history has not yet connected to his parentage, could have hailed from any of these towns.
The men trekked north on snowshoes over deep snow from Dunstable to Lake Winnipesaukee, then another forty miles northwest. With supplies dwindling, they came across two Native Americans sleeping, killed the man and scalped him, then took a boy captive, to be sold as a slave.
With money for the scalp and slave, Lovewell embarked a month later on a second mission to Lake Winnipesauke, this time with 87 men. Thirty men had to be sent home once provisions were depleted and, after three weeks of hunting, the militia encountered an encampment where Lovewell led them in a nighttime attack. An early account says the strike was preemptive as the Native Americans had marched from Canada carrying new weapons supplied by the French to launch an attack on the English settlers.
In the incursion, Lovewell and his men took 10 scalps that they stretched on hoops and mounted on poles, marching triumphantly through Dover, New Hampshire and on to Boston, where they received one thousand pounds.
James Witherell’s name does not appear in any of the accounts of this raid, or a battle two months later in Pigwacket, when Lovewell lost his life.
James Witherell apparently settled in Dover, where he married by 1729. He was granted common land in 1733 and practiced the trade of cordswainer, making boots, and later sold seven acres of land in the Concheco Falls to a leather tanner he likely knew. In 1740 he was served again in a training militia, the 2nd Foot Company of Dover.
He had three children and his grandson, John, ended up in Lebanon, Maine, from where he served in American Revolution as a sergeant in Captain John Goodwin’s Co., under the command of Major David Littlefield, in the disastrous Penobscot Expedition. John’s daughter, Martha, married Thomas Cowing, and the two of them moved to Dedham, Maine, where their eternal graves now sit on this hill.
Martha’s mother, Mary Morrill Gerrish, has her own interesting line to pursue, taking us back to Dover, New Hampshire in the late 1600s. Stay tuned.
The original account of Capt. John Lovewell's "great fight" with the Indians at Pequawket, May 8, 1725 by Symmes, Thomas, 1678-1725; Bouton, Nathaniel, 1799-1878.
The Scalp Hunters: Abenaki Ambush at Lovewell Pond, 1725, by Alfred E. Kayworth and Raymond G. Potvin.
History of Nashua, New Hampshire, Part II, from the First Settlement to 1702.
Notable Events in the History of Dover, New Hampshire: From the First Settlers in 1623 to 1865, by George Wadleigh.
Colonial Wars of North America, 1512-1763 (Routledge Revivals): An EncyclopediaBy Alan Gallay
History and genealogy of the Witherell/Wetherell/Witherill family of New England : some descendants of Rev. William Witherell (ca. 1600-1684) of Scituate, Plymouth Colony, and William Witherell (ca. 1627-1691) of Taunton, Plymouth Colony by Witherell, Peter Charles, 1943-; Witherell, Edwin Ralph, 1943- joint author
History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, Volume 1
A gravestone carver in the family tree? Who knew! I discovered the legacy of Joseph Sikes while researching my Marshfield ancestors in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Joseph Sikes and his son Elijah not only carved headstones in Massachusetts and Maine in the late 18th century but their work is now celebrated as colonial art.
Joseph is also my 4th great-grandfather, the grandfather of Sarah Sikes who around 1840 married John Hickey, an Irish immigrant to Maine. (You can read more about the Hickeys here.)
He also managed to serve in the Revolutionary War from December 15, 1776 until March 18, 1777, marching 220 miles to take part in the battle of Princeton. He served again for two days in June 1782, in nearby Northampton to “suppress a mob.”
Curious about these headstones, I began seeking them out in Chesterfield and Belchertown, Massachusetts and in Scarborough, Walpole and Pemaquid, Maine.
Joseph Sikes was born in Belchertown, Ma. in 1743. It is believed he learned to carve from other members of the Sikes family in Connecticut. But his work is distinct and his images haunting. He often carved schist, which unfortunately does not stand up well to the ravages of time.
Sikes almost always featured the face of the deceased on the headstone, encircled with ivy vines, rosettes, hearts, stars or moons. Occasionally he would include a winged cherub, a popular symbol at the time.
Benjamin Ludden's stone in Chesterfield, Ma. shows Sikes' classic features of ivy and a spoon-shaped face.
After arriving in Maine around 1790 his style evolved more. Some of the faces he carved had hair that surround the face like a lion’s mane.
Other stones show men and women with shoulder hair that flipped up at the neck.
Virtually all of the faces feature closed eyes that are carved as half circles.
Elijah Sikes' headstones in Massachusetts are perhaps the most creative of all.
Despite his prolific career creating memorial headstones throughout New England, the whereabouts of Joseph Sikes gravesite remains a mystery. He was reported to have died in 1802. His last known residence was Bristol, Maine. If you have any clues to where he is buried, please contact us!
His son Elijah moved to Vermont, where he ran a granite business before relocating to Ohio.
David Diaz, an armchair academic, visited some cemeteries in Connecticut and Massachusetts where he found more headstones by the Sikes.
Here’s more from Brooklyn, Ct.
Joseph Sikes' mother, Hannah Wright, was a descendant of Mercy Marshfield of Springfield, who you can read about here.
Passing near Philipsburg, Montana during my cross-country travels, I stopped to explore the area where my great-great-uncle John Hickey migrated to in 1867 to work in the silver mine. His sister, Elizabeth and her husband, Matthew Reilly, were my great-grandparents who migrated to California before returning to Maine.
I had with me an old photo of a log cabin with members of Hickey family standing outside that was taken somewhere near Phillipsburg. Seeking clues, I drove up a dirt road to two ghost town, Kirkville and Granite, that had once been thriving mining towns.
I also had a photograph of John Hickey and his two brothers who kept going west to settle in California,
John doesn't look like a strong man in this photo, but his obituary described him as an “esteemed citizen” with the nickname “Rock Derrick.” He was the strongest man at Pioneer, a camp of 800 miners, and was capable of lifting and carrying a boulder so large that it required two ordinary men to even turn it over. He reportedly said that any man who wanted to challenge him would have to put up $100 first. No one ever moved the boulder as far as he could and the $100 always ended up at the saloon next door with drinks on the house.
“He was a true type of that sturdy manhood that proved such a factor in the development of the west. His doctrine was a square deal for every man and he lived up to it strictly.” Philipsburg Mail, February 17, 1911
-At the Granite County Museum, I discovered that Hickey’s wife, Jane O’Neil, was the daughter of another strong Irishman. Hugh O’Neil was a folk hero who survived 168 rounds in a bare-knuckle boxing match that was covered blow-by-blow by a local newspaper reporter. In her book, “Mettle of Granite County," historian Loraine M. Bentz Domine says Hugh O’Neil was a heavy drinker who would light his cigar with a ten-dollar bill while his children went hungry at home.
His eldest child, Jane, had to take charge at a young age. She was reportedly a better muleskinner than any man on the freight line and her language would put any of them to shame.
John Hickey entered Jane O’Neil’s life shortly after his arrival to Montana territory in 1867. He was 20 years old, a farm boy from North Whitefield, Maine. According to an interview with his granddaughter in Domine’s book, Hickey first saw Jane when she was a seven-year-old girl playing in Missoula.
“He was a real cowboy too – big hat, chaps, even a six-gun on his hip! He picked Mama up and asked her name and age. She told him and he said, ‘Well, Jane, when you are sixteen, I’m going to marry you.’ When she was sixteen her parents had a marriage all arranged for he but before the marriage took place the cowboy showed up again, only now he was a miner.”
When Jane and John got married in 1877, they lived in the Georgetown Flats mining camp. John was often gone in the hills prospecting and one time Jane had a premonition of trouble and went to find him sick, without food for days and too weak to get out of bed.
In 1884, they built the first family home in Granite at the foot of Whiskey Hills where most of the saloons and “bawdy houses” were located. A year later, the couple lost three of their four daughters to diphtheria within days of each other. When the Catholic priest came to say the girls’ funeral mass, he told Jane that she and her husband must have sinned greatly to have God punish them so severely. At that, Jane left the Church, though John Hickey remained a Catholic.
The family moved from Granite to a small cabin in Frost Gulch, a section of Kirkville, in 1888. By the end of the century, Jane had given birth to six more children: Minnie, Kate, John, Ruth, Nora, and Neil.
Historian Domine writes that John Hickey worked as foreman at the East Pacific Mine near Winston in 1899, and at the Gallatin mine in Butte. At the time of his death in 1911, he was working a lease at Granite.
Hickey’s obituary recounts how every miner in the camp ceased work for the day to attend his funeral and pay a last tribute of respect to a comrade whom all loved and esteemed. The last part of the eulogy was a tribute to the Miner’s Union.
“To know him intimately was to be his friend and admirer. There was in the man a nobility of soul that soared among men and the generous heart that beat for justice and humanity… He was always strong, always self-reliant, always sincere. His vision was cosmic and his heart full of love for all mankind.” Philipsburgh Mail, December 29, 1911.
Unfortunately, none of John Hickey’s descendants live in the Philipsburg area any longer. But thanks to historian Loraine M. Bentz Domine and her three-volume history Mettle of Granite County, the Hickey’s memory survives.
Jane O’Neil Hickey died in 1947.
My Marshfield ancestors did not fit the Puritan mold. Thomas Marshfield was not wealthy or educated, but had the wits to engage with those in the social class above him and win their support. Within a year of arriving in Dorchester, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he publicly confessed his sins and was embraced by the Puritans. Church membership gave him the right to a land grant and a vote on matters of state. Penniless on arrival, he exploited his new connections and profited – for a while.
The Governor of the Colony, John Winthrop, had little good to say about him:
"There came in this ship one Marshfield, a poor godly man of Exeter, being very desirous to come to us, but not able to transport his family. There was in the city a rich merchant, one Marshall, who being troubled in his dreams about the said poor man, could not be quiet till he had sent for him and given him £50, and lent him £100, willing him withal, that, if he wanted, he should send to him for more. This Marshfield grew suddenly rich, and then lost his godliness, and his wealth soon after." Gov. John Winthrop's Journal
Governor Winthrop took the time to write about my great-grandfather to the 9th removed. That impressed me. Marshfield's public fall from grace must have turned heads back then. The stately Governor uses it to offer a stern warning of the perils that await anyone who strayed from God.
The first scrap of clue I found, in a 19th-century history of Dorchester, reported that Thomas Marshfield was a founder of that plantation in 1634, along with other Puritan followers of Reverend John Warham, who hailed from the west of England. Two years later, after banging heads with theologians and political leaders from Boston, members of the same flock picked up stakes and walked east to Connecticut. Thomas’ wife, Mercy, and his three young children now were at his side as they followed Reverend Warham to Connecticut, traveling overland.
Walking one hundred miles through the chilly woods in the early spring of 1636, the group would have passed winter teepees circled round the smoldering fires of native camps. The natives did them no harm, watching silently as the newcomers scraped across their ancient paths, yet the unknown must have led the settlers to pray to keep the devil and his savage followers far away.
When they arrived at what would become Windsor, the squalid huts of a handful of settlers who had survived the previous winter must have been a sorry sight.
Thomas Marshfield received his land grant on a hill above the Connecticut river, a strategic lot that bordered those of the plantation’s most powerful men, the preachers and the merchants.
Their first task was to start planting, at least two acres of corn for each member of the household. The Marshfield family was small, only five people, but everyone had to work in the fields. Only a few families – the Wolcotts, the Whitings, the Ludlows – could afford to send servants plant their crops. .
Long days planting, weeding and harvesting left Thomas and Mercy Marshfield with little time to build a decent house. Some of the wealthy Puritans shipped pre-cut timbers down from Boston and contracted with carpenters to build sturdy houses for them. The non-endowed settlers lived in rough shelters, some of them scratched out of the river bank. George Francis Dow described the primitive shelters in early Windsor in his book, Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony :
“The bank itself composed three walls of the shelter and the front was a framing of boards with a door and a window. The roof was thatched with river sedge.”
I have no idea what type of housing the Marshfields lived in, tottering as they were on the edge of prosperity, but my guess is that Thomas was too busy trying to establish himself as a merchant to spend much time building a house. He presumably had to donate labor to construct fortifications to protect the Puritans from outside attacks in fulfillment of an obligation that was paramount.
It is unclear how Thomas Marshfield managed to build his reputation as a merchant given that the beaver trade and any trade with the Indians was granted to only one person in each plantation. For the next four years Thomas sought out investors to finance the procurement of two ships in England to start a trans-Atlantic trade. He found a willing partner in Henry Wolcott, a wealthy landowner and Puritan who backed many ventures in the new plantation, and with Samuel Wakeman, who was already involved in the trade.
Thomas left Windsor in 1640 and sailed to Bristol, England, where he chartered the ships Charles and Hopewell. More than a dozen merchants had signed up to ship good with him back to Boston. Then, plans started to go awry. The ships sailed behind schedule and with insufficient food, water and spirits onboard. The crew of the Hopewell was said to be rowdy heathens, tormenting the Puritan passengers onboard. After the ships docked in Boston, many charged that Marshfield had deceived them all.
By 1642, more than one dozen claims had been filed against Marshfield in the General Court of Connecticut. Henry Wolcott switched from partner to plaintiff, charging that Marshfield owed him 40 pounds. Wolcott also represented other claimants from Boston while Wakeman, the third partner, was shot and killed in the Caribbean, outside the Puritan settlement on Providence Island.
Amid the turmoil, Thomas Marshfield vanished, with no record that he ever returned from England. The court case went on without him and when it was concluded in 1643 with the seizure of all of the Marshfield family property, including their house, land and household goods. Mercy and their three children, Samuel, Mercy and Sarah, were left penniless.
Despite his tarnished reputation, Thomas' named was not erased from Windsor history, where he is honored as one of the founders of the town.
The Marshfield story does not end here and the next chapter has a few surprises, too! Stay tuned.
How is Thomas Marshfield related to me?
His daughter, Mercy, married John Dumbleton in 1650 and their daughter married Thomas Merrick. Chasing the line of their descendants from central Massachusetts to Maine, you find Sara Sykes, a Protestant who married Irish Catholic John Hickey in 1842. Sarah's grandfather was the renown gravestone carver, Joseph Sykes.
Names of My Ancestors
Puritans & Servants