Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chapter 30 - The Pirate Adam Baldridge

Almost all the family trees on that list Jemina Collins (1736-1770) and her sisters and brother, show that their mother was the daughter of the notorious pirate Adam Baldridge. There is a question as to whether or not the mother’s name was Sarah or Elizabeth but no one seems to question that their father’s name was Abraham Collins and their maternal grandfather was the pirate Adam Baldridge. Jemina Collins was my 5th great grandmother and the great, great grandmother of my great grandmother Helen Rappleye Baker. Jemina Collins married Nathaniel Seeley (1732-1770) in 1752. This chapter will discuss two subjects. The first subject will consist of a simple and brief description of the life of Adam Baldridge. The second subject will be an analysis of the evidence as to whether or not we are descendants of the pirate Adam Baldridge.
It is actually impossible to write a story of the complete life of Adam Baldridge since nothing is known of his life before the 1690s or after the early 1700s. Of his early life and his later life we can only guess as to his activities. Adam Baldridge was probably born in England around 1660 although some have suggested that he may have been born in New York or on the island of Jamaica. Both of these locations seem unlikely however as the majority of the English speaking privateers and pirates operating during this period of history in the late 1600s were born in either England or Scotland. In an historical record of New Castle, New Jersey dated 1706 we find that a man named Adam Baldridge was listed as a donor for the construction of a Presbyterian church. Assuming that this is the same Adam Baldridge which appears to be the case, his affiliation with a Presbyterian church suggests that Adam Baldridge was of Scottish descent or possibly even born in Scotland as was his contemporary, Captain William Kidd. It is impossible to know the nature of his upbringing in England although the fact that he could apparently read and write suggests that he was intelligent and that he might have had some schooling. Furthermore, his personality was not that of an uncouth, swashbuckling individual who we might visualize as the typical pirate. In fact, after his “retirement” in New York in the late 1690s, he was described by the governor of the colony as a “sober and responsible man.” This again suggests that he was not the product of the London slums and he may very well have grown up as the second or third son of a hardworking English family who felt that it was in their son’s best interest to “go off to sea.” It is possible if not likely, that as a teenager young Adam Baldridge joined the crew of a merchant ship or possibly a privateer. Whatever the case, the fact that by 1685 Adam Baldridge was in Jamaica strongly suggests that at some point, his career had turned to that of a privateer, pirate, or slave trader.
We know that Captain Henry Morgan, one of England’s most famous privateers, began his career around 1662. A privateer differences from a pirate only in that the privateer is authorized by the government to be a pirate. In other words, the English government authorized Henry Morgan to prey on the ships of other countries such as France during wartime and in return the privateer agreed to share some of its pirated bounty with the government. In effect the privateer acted as a “private” naval force and in Morgan’s case, for England. The only thing wrong with this program was that the fine line between being an authorized privateer and being an outright pirate was often crossed. Henry Morgan was back in England for three years from 1672 to 1675 before he shipped out again and by 1680 he was in Jamaica acting as the defacto governor of the island which by that point had become the base of operations of most of the privateers and pirates operating in the Caribbean. Jamaica and its capital city, Port Royal, was also the main distribution point for most of the African slaves entering the Americas. Whether or not Adam Baldridge ever served on a ship or in a fleet under the command of Captain Henry Morgan is not known although the proximity and the historical timing of the two men might suggest that possibility.
On 25 August 1698, in a deposition taken of one Samuel Perkins in the matter of the possible piracy charges again a Henry Every, Perkins stated when describing Adam Baldridge that “. . He was informed [that Adam Baldridge] had formerly killed a man in Jamaica, and thereupon turned pirate about 13 years ago [in 1685].” As far as I know this hearsay evidence is the only mention of Adam Baldridge being in Jamaica as of 1685 and being forced to leave the island as a result of the killing of another man. Presumably Adam Baldridge served on a privateer, pirate, or on a slave trading ship between the year 1685 when he departed Jamaica and 17 July 1690, the date he arrived on the ship Fortune at St Mary’s Island located off the northeast coast of the Island of Madagascar. There is no evidence however, that he was anything other than a member of the crew on that ship or other ships during this period and there is no evidence other than the hearsay evidence presented by Samuel Perkins, that Adam Baldridge was a pirate either before or after his time in Jamaica. Furthermore, I could find nothing about Richard Conyers, Commander of the ship Fortune upon which Adam Baldridge sailed into St Mary’s other than he was the commander of a ship that traded in slaves. If he was also a pirate, he did so without achieving any lasting historical notoriety. There is no evidence to support the writings of historians that Baldridge was a pirate before he began his career on St Mary’s Island.
The Fortune’s mooring in July of 1690 in the calm inlet bay located at the southwest end of St Mary’s Island located off the northeast coast of Madagascar was probably a necessity since after months at sea they must have needed to replenish their food supplies and make repairs to their ship after its long 2,500 mile sail from the Americas. The plan for the Fortune and its crew after completing the repairs was to sail to nearby Fort Dauphin on the southeastern end of Madagascar where they would load their ship with slaves for transport back to the Americas. Apparently, despite its greater distance from the Americas, it was less expensive to purchase slaves from the Island of Madagascar than it was to purchase slaves on the west coast of Africa. In both cases, slave trading in the late 1600s and the 1700s was immensely profitable. Adam Baldridge and two other members of the crew of the Fortune elected to stay behind on St. Mary’s Island. As an historical aside, slave trading was banned by Spain in 1542, by France in 1789, by Britain in 1807, and by the United States in 1808. On the other hand, slavery itself was not outlawed by Britain until 1833, by France until 1848, and by the United States, home of Democracy and freedom, until 1865. In the 1690s slave trading was a perfectly legal if not respected profession.
We learn from the transcript of the deposition submitted by Adam Baldridge on May 5, 1699 to Lord Bellomont, Governor of the Colony of New York, and subsequently presented to the Lords of Trade in New York, of Adam Baldridge’s activities on St. Mary’s Island from 1691 until he left the island in July of 1697. The governor and the Lords of Trade beginning in 1699 were investigating on behalf of the British government piracy and illegal trade as well the possible role played by the previous colonial governor. The previous governor, Benjamin Fletcher, was accused of illegally accepting bribes for allowing privateers to sell their goods in the New York Colony without first paying the required British tariff on imported goods that were not shipped from England on British ships. Whether or not Adam Baldridge had a master plan when he decided to remain on St Mary’s Island is not known. A master plan was also not likely nor was it likely that he had been sent to the island by New York merchants to set up a trading center. We do know however, that in the short period of time of only six and a half years, he managed to build a major trading enterprise that took him from being penniless to being wealthy and from being obscure to being notorious. We also cannot help but note that he got into the business of trading with privateers, pirates, slave traders and wealthy New York merchants at precisely the right time and he got out of the business at an equally opportune time. Furthermore, despite the questionable nature of his business, he retired a wealthy man and he was never incarcerated nor hanged for the crime of piracy as were so many of his contemporaries including Captain William Kidd.
Why Adam Baldridge elected to remain on St Mary’s Island seems obvious in hindsight. The island was a tropical paradise endowed with the natural bounty of the land and sea. It was surrounded by long sloping coconut rimmed sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs, and a sea with an abundance of rich marine life. The land was covered with lush tropical growth including an ample supply of fruits trees such as banana, pineapple and citrus trees loaded with oranges and limes that were highly prized by the mariners to prevent scurvy. The island also had plenty of fresh water and edible wild animals. The inhabitants of St Mary’s and Madagascar were called the Malagasy and they were for the most part peaceful farmers who raised chickens and cattle and grew rice. It is interesting that despite the proximity of the island to the African coast most of the native inhabitants were of Indonesian descent whose ancestors had migrated westward by sea to the island centuries earlier. Baldridge selected as a place to set up shop, the large inlet bay at the southwest end of St Mary’s Island where he had spent time over the previous few months with the crew of the Fortune. The inlet bay was calm and deep enough for the mooring of ships yet shallow in some areas allowing the wooden vessels to be hauled up onto the sandy beaches for careening and resealing the ship bottoms. The bay was virtually landlocked as it was surrounded by land on three sides some of which was elevated that allowed for good visibility of incoming ships and later for the placement of guns for the defense of the settlement. At the mouth of the bay was a sandy island and further offshore were coral reefs both of which added to the difficulty of accessing the bay by unwanted intruders (such as England’s Royal Navy who attempted and failed to take the settlement in 1699). Perhaps Adam Baldridge immediately recognized the island’s potential as a natural stop over point for merchants and pirates when he elected to remain on the island in January of 1690.
Adam must have known from the start that to survive on the island he needed to make friends with the native inhabitants. What he discovered after making contact with the natives of St Mary’s was that they were constantly subjected to raids by other Malagasy natives from mainland Madagascar. Baldridge in his May 5, 1699 deposition reported that he endeared himself to the St Mary’s natives by leading them in a “War” against the Malagasy natives from the mainland. The word war in this case is a little misleading since the purpose of the raids or attacks was not to capture land and kill enemies. The mainland Malagasy were more intent on stealing livestock and capturing woman and children for use as wives and slaves. Again Baldridge reports in his deposition that by May 1691 he “returned from war”. . . “after helping them redeem their wives and children.” Obviously his superior modern weaponry, his willingness to use the weapons, and his leadership and knowledge of the ways of battle were major factors in his and the natives of St Mary’s success. Clearly he had made friends with the local people on the island and in gratitude for his help they gave him cattle (70 head per his deposition), several “wives”, and slaves to help him build his home. He went on later with the help of native labor to build a stockade, additional living quarters, warehouses, and eventually on the top of one of the overlooks, a fortress complete with guns purchased from passing pirates. The fortress overlooked and protected his private pirate bay and compound.
In late 1691, after the construction of his new settlement was well underway, Adam Baldridge sent a letter probably by way of a passing ship on its way back to America, to a wealthy merchant and slave trader named Frederick Philipse who operated out of the New York City area. Some historians believe that it was Philipse who had actually sent Baldridge to St Mary’s in the first place to set up the pirate trading post, although I could find no evidence to support that belief and since Baldridge had been previously in the slave trading business or at least with the crew of a slave trader, it does seem likely that he would have had prior knowledge of the unscrupulous merchant Frederick Philipse. In Baldridge’s letter to Philipse he offered to sell him slaves for 30 shillings each, a cost well below the average 3 or 4 pound price paid for slaves in Africa, and a fraction of the 30 pound selling price for a slave back in America or in the Caribbean. Adam Baldridge eventually turned his island fortress into a major trading center for pirates but it was the slave trading business that was the glue that held the business together. In Philipse’ own words, slave trading was the key, “For negroes in these times will fetch thirty pounds and upward in the head . . . It is by negroes that I find my “cheivest Proffitt”. All other trade I look upon as by the by.”
According to Adam Baldridge’s deposition his first major trade with a passing ship took place in October of 1691. The ship, a slave trader named Bachelors Delight, stayed in the bay where the crew careened their ship for about a month before departing for Madagascar to collect slaves for transport back to the Carolinas. During this period, Baldridge traded some of his cattle for five guns for his fortification, and for flour and bars of iron. Thus began Adam Baldridge’s brief career as an entrepreneur and a major trader. In August of 1693 in answer to Baldridge’s letter, the ship Charles owned by Frederick Philipse arrived from New York laden with items that Baldridge could trade to the pirates, items such as gunpowder and ammunition, clothing and boots, various types of tools, sail cloth and rigging supplies, rum, wine, and beer, tar for sealing the ship bottoms, and even books. In the ensuing four years, Adam Baldridge would grow rich trading the items sent by Philipse as well as meat, fruit, and salt produced on his island to the pirates in exchange for their plundered goods, items such as looted gold, silver, diamonds, and jewels, silks, ivory, and exotic textiles, dyes, spices, drugs, and slaves taken from Moorish ships and ships owned by the East India Company. The pirates captured the ships on their trade routes between India and the Arab ports along the Red Sea. Baldridge benefited in the transactions by offering goods and supplies needed by the pirates and the pirates benefitted by finding a buyer for their looted goods plus a safe place to relax, careen their ships, and obtain the supplies needed before they returned to the sea. Frederick Philipse, the New York merchant benefited because he obtained at a low cost the valuable goods plundered by the pirates as well as a cheap supply of Madagascar slaves for trading once his ships return to America. Unfortunately, piracy was illegal per English law and ironically in the end it was the pirates who were the only big losers. Not only was their occupation risky, but many of them were captured, prosecuted and hung. On the other hand the unscrupulous Frederick Philipse lived out his life in America as a wealthy man although he was eventually removed from the Lords of Trade. Our great grandfather Adam Baldridge returned to America also a wealthy man to live out the remainder of his life.
The busiest years at the Baldridge’s “Pirates Paradise” were 1694 through 1697 where sometimes as many as one-half dozen ships were moored in the inlet harbor or resting on the sanding beaches being careened by their crews. Some historians write that as many as 1,500 pirates lived full time on the island at one point although this figure is probably greatly exaggerated. To the benefit of the pirate colony on St Mary’s, a major earthquake on the Island of Jamaica in 1693 destroyed the city of Port Royal. Previously to that point, Port Royal had been the main rendezvous location for pirates in the Atlantic Ocean and its destruction as well as the general demise of the piracy business in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans encouraged pirates to look to the Indian Ocean for more lucrative targets. Madagascar and the Island of St Mary’s off its west coast were ideally suited to capture the new business. Whether or not Adam Baldridge recognized the new opportunity is unknown although it is more likely he was just lucky and in the right place at the right time. The real and more interesting question is whether he anticipated the slowdown of his trading empire that was approaching. In 1697, England and France signed a treaty of peace ending years of war. With the war ended, England was no longer in need of privateers that had been commissioned to attack the enemy’s ships. As we mentioned earlier, the British Governor of the Colony of New York had been handing out commissions to privateers who he must have known were using their ships to attack all vessels regardless of the nationality of the ship. This was piracy. The governor, Benjamin Fletcher, was paid for issuing the commissions and he grew wealthy simply looking the other way and ignoring the illegal trading. With the ending of the war however, the British government turned their attention to stopping piracy and the illegal trading of goods with the Americas in violation of the Navigation Acts. Governor Fletcher was recalled to England and a new governor was sent to replace him. Shortly after the arrival of the new governor, Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont, a major investigation of piracy began. At the same time, the wealthy merchant and slave trader, Frederick Philipse, was removed from the Board of Trade. This all began shortly after Baldridge’s departure from St Mary’s Island.
While some historians believe that Adam Baldridge left St Mary’s Island and his trading empire because “He blew it,” and “He got to greedy” which resulted in his making a colossal mistake that forced him to leave the island and return to New York. This may very well have been case and the fact that upon returning to New York he tried to convince the new governor to establish St Mary’s Island as a new colony thereby effectively circumventing the Navigation Act, strongly suggests that he did not intentionally leave his island paradise. Nevertheless, his decisions in July of 1697 also suggest a man prepared to depart. His first action was to purchase a major interest in the brigantine ship Swift that had stopped at St Mary’s for trading and careening. His second action was the most controversial as he then tricked many of the local natives on the island, men, women, and children, by inviting them to come out to the Swift which was moored in the harbor and join him in a celebration party. His crew then proceeded once the natives were on board, to haul the natives below deck, slip shackles on their wrists and chain them to the walls. They were being sold into slavery. Baldridge and the crew of the Swift immediately departed from the island. According to Baldridge in his 1699 deposition, he learned later that the island natives in retaliation for his trickery (not his words for he never acknowledged what he had done) killed 30 of the white men who remained on the island and burned the settlement to the ground. Here is where I have trouble believing that Baldridge did not intentionally leave St Mary’s. Could he have been so incredibly stupid as to believe that his actions would not destroy the important symbiotic relationship between himself and the island’s native population? Might it be a more likely scenario that he knew that the immense and immediate profit that he stood to gain by selling the natives into slavery was in his best long term interest especially if he foresaw the possibility that the pirate trade might be in its decline. We will never know whether Adam Baldridge’s departure from St Mary’s was intentional or not. We only know that per his deposition, he left the Madagascar area in October 1697 eventually arriving in New York where his name first appears in the colonial records in November of 1698.
In other colonial records we learn that his ship the Swift was reported to have run aground in March of 1698 off the coast of North Carolina near the village of Currituck. When the ship was finally located by the colonial authorities it was found abandoned but undamaged and “all provisions and stores robbed”. It is far more likely that the ship had not been robbed but following the grounding of the ship, the pirate crew had scattered taking with them everything on board. Whether or not Adam Baldridge was onboard when the Swift made its unintentional landing is unknown although it would seem likely. The ship once recovered was seized by the authorities, hauled back into the sea, and sailed back to the port of New York. Adam Baldridge sometime in the middle of 1698 learned that his ship had been seized. His name is mentioned several times in the Colonial records including in one dated 26 November 1699 wherein he appealed to the Court for the return of the Swift. Unfortunately I was unable to learn whether Baldridge ever recovered the Swift although it appears unlikely. There was ample evidence that the vessel had been engaged in the act of piracy. What is strange however is that the colonial authorities maintained the right to hold the ship, but they were never able to arrest and convict Adam Baldridge of piracy. In March of 1699, “The Council of Trade and Plantations” ordered the Colonial Governor, Lord Bellomont, to prosecute Adam Baldridge for piracy. It was after all a well known fact that he had operated the pirate trading post at St Mary’s in Madagascar. Almost comically however, Lord Bellomont reported back to the Council two months later that he was unable to prosecute Baldridge for want of a “good judge.” Apparently all of the good judges had been or could easily be bribed and Baldridge obviously had the means to do so. In return for not being prosecuted Adam Baldridge agreed to give his 15 May 1699 deposition and in doing so he implicated others as being guilty of piracy.
There is some evidence that once Adam Baldridge returned to America and discharged his problems with the New York authorities, that he did not entirely give up his career as a privateer or pirate. In the Colonial Records of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia dated 12 November 1703/4, there is recorded a discussion as to whether or not to return to New Jersey the five French prisoners captured by “Ball and Baldridge Privateer” who had landed and discharged their prisoners in Egg Harbour, New Jersey. The Council decided to return the prisoners. Nothing was mentioned about the other items pirated from the French ship by “Ball and Baldridge Privateers” that were not returned. Another interesting observation that might suggest that Adam Baldridge, merchant, continued as a privateer/pirate was his purchase on 27 July 1699 of a 500 acre island, then named “Melcum Island,” located in the middle of the Delaware River off the western border of New Jersey near the village of Salem. Was Adam Baldridge trying to recreate another St Mary’s Island for the purpose of trading his captured goods? We can only guess as to his motives. There is no documentation that he ever occupied the island or used it to store trading goods. What we do know is that on 28 April 1702 he sold the island which at that point had been renamed “Adams Forest Island”. Perhaps he had realized that his business plan was flawed. There is also a record of an Adam Baldridge purchasing a house and land in Salem, New Jersey on 3 October 1701 and in this record Adam is referred to as a “Salem Merchant”.
There are obviously a lot of things about Adam Baldridge’s behavior that are disgusting. Two issues that have been discussed were his trickery of the St Mary’s island natives when he lured them to a party on board his ship the Swift and then bound them in chains and sold them into slavery and then several years later he implicated (ratted out) his compatriots in his deposition to save himself from his own prosecution.
Adam Baldridge’s first and only known marriage was to Elizabeth Buckmaster, the wife of Edward Buckmaster. Their marriage ceremony was held at the Fort of New York sometime between 7 September 1699 and 8 October 1699. Edward Buckmaster like Adam Baldridge was a pirate and he was arrested as such in New York City in June of 1699. Colonial records indicate that on 25 August 1699, Buckmaster escaped from prison and to the best of my knowledge, he was not heard from again. Apparently his wife Elizabeth thought that with her husband now out of the picture it was reasonable for her to remarry even if she was not officially divorced or widowed. Prior to this marriage there is another record showing that on 2 December 1684 an Edward Buckmaster married a Margaret Mathews. Assuming that this is the same Edward Buckmaster, it suggests that Margaret must have died and Edward remarried his second wife Elizabeth. We know from other records that Edward Buckmaster had a least three children born between the years 1685 and 1687. We know this because after Edward’s departure (escape), his wife Elizabeth placed all three of Edward’s children into indentureship. The first child was indentured on 7 September 1699 and she signed the papers under her name Elizabeth Buckmaster. When the other two children were indentured on 9 October 1699, she signed her name as Elizabeth Baldridge and in one case, Adam Baldridge signed as a witness. Clearly the newlywed Elizabeth Baldridge wanted to begin her marriage without the burden of taking care of the children of her former husband. If we are to believe that the marriage of Elizabeth and Adam Baldridge produced at least two children as will be discussed, then I think we must assume that Elizabeth was probably younger than both her first and second husbands who were both near 40 years of age in 1699. Placing young children into indentureship was not particularly common in early America. Many of the early immigrants to America arrived from England as indentured servants and their indentureship was the manner in which they paid for their passage. I suspect that parents in America who placed their children into indentureship were poor and could not afford to pay for their care. In the case of Adam and Elizabeth Baldridge however, they were not poor, quite the opposite, and Elizabeth probably a flighty girl in her late twenties, just did not want to care for Richard, Hannah, and Mary Buckmaster, who were all under the age of 14. Adam Baldridge, not a man of high character as we have seen, either went alone with his new wife or encouraged her decision to give up the children. If Adam and Elizabeth are my great grandparents I am ashamed of their behavior in this regard.
There are two other mentions of Adam Baldridge in the Colonial records worth noting one of which is actually a positive suggesting that perhaps as Adam got older he had mellowed. The first is a mention of Adam and Elizabeth in the will of Griffith Jones of Kent County, Delaware dated 2 May 1703. It lists in the will that his beneficiaries were “Wife: Elizabeth. Sons: Griffith and Thomas. Daughter: Elizabeth. To: Elizabeth, daughter of Adam Baldridge . . .”. It goes on to list Adam Baldridge as one of the executors of the will. Griffith Jones’ will provides us with two pieces of information. First, Adam Baldridge’s wife appears to be the daughter of Griffith and Elizabeth Jones and secondly, Adam and Elizabeth had a daughter who they named Elizabeth who was born sometime between October of 1699 and May of 1793. Another intriguing but unsolved mystery is who was John Jones, the man who purchased from Adam Baldridge the 500 acre island in the Delaware River. It is too much of a coincidence not to believe that he was a relative of Elizabeth Jones Baldridge. John Jones is listed as being from New Castle, Delaware. The latest historical document that I could locate naming Adam Baldridge was dated 1706 and it lists him in New Castle, Delaware as one of the donors to a fund for the construction of a new Presbyterian Church. Hopefully by this point in his life Adam Baldridge had settled down with his wife and children and mostly abandoned his unsavory life.
History records the names of only two of the possible children of Adam and Elizabeth Jones Baldridge. That Elizabeth Baldridge was their daughter is pretty well documented per the will of Griffith Jones previously mentioned. Their other child was probably a son who they named Adam Baldridge. Unfortunately the son’s name appears only once in the Colonial records and that is in a copy of his will that was prepared on 1 October 1777 in New Utrecht, Kings County, Long Island. There are no known documents that support the belief that these two men were father and son although obviously the commonality of their names and the fact that Adam Baldridge Jr. was born in the early 1700s about the time Adam and Elizabeth Baldridge were having children suggests a relationship. The will of Adam Baldridge, the possible son, that was probated after his death in 1780 does provide us with the intriguing suggestion that one of Adam Jr’s sisters, possibly Elizabeth Baldridge, married a man named Abraham Collins. It appears that both men, Baldridge and Collins, lived in the western end of Long Island at some point in their lives and they must have known one another. They were also about the same age as Abraham Collins was born around 1698 and Adam Baldridge was born about 1704. What is really intriguing however was that Adam Baldridge Jr left the bulk of his estate to the three daughters of Abraham Collins, an action that strongly suggested that there was a family relationship and not just a friendship that bound the two men together. Furthermore, the relationship between Adam Baldridge and the Collins family was long lasting since Abraham Collins had moved to Blooming Grove in Orange County, New York by the 1730s and he died there in 1756. Additional, the will of Adam Baldridge lists each of the Collins daughters by their married names, “I leave to Sarah Coleman, Jemina Seata [Seeley], and Elizabeth, formerly the wife of David Cameron. . all of my estate “ which indicates he obviously had stayed in touch with the girls after their father’s death again suggesting that they were his nieces. There is one more circumstantial but compelling piece of evidence that supports the belief that Abraham Collins married a daughter of Adam (the pirate) and Elizabeth Baldridge. It has to be more than a coincidence that Abraham Collins and his wife named their first son Adam and their second daughter Elizabeth, after their grandparents? Incidentally, Adam Collins was not mentioned in Adam Baldridge’s will because he had died in 1770, seven years prior to the preparation of the will. It was a very common practice in this period of history to name children after their grandparents.
There is unfortunately one unsolved mystery before we can announce unequivocally that Adam Baldridge, the pirate, is the grandfather of the children of Abraham Collins including Jemina Collins, my 5th great grandmother. On 11 August 1728 the marriage of Abraham Collins to Ann Major was written into the records of the Grace Church in Jamaica, Queens County, Long Island. If this Abraham Collins is the father of Sarah, Elizabeth, and Jemina Collins all of whom are mentioned in the 1777 will of Adam Baldridge Jr, then we have to question the Abraham Collins’ supposed marriage to the daughter of Adam Baldridge. Since the first daughter of Abraham Collins, Sarah Collins, is believed to have been born around 1728 close to the date of Abraham’s marriage to Ann Major, it hard to imagine that Ann Major died and Abraham Collins’ remarried all in the span of a year or less. Nevertheless, historians and genealogists in order to justify their belief that the Collins’ girls were descended from Adam Baldridge have assumed that Ann Major must have died young and Abraham remarried before any of his children were born. Unfortunately, I could not find any records containing either a death date for an Ann Major Collins or a marriage date for an Abraham Collins marrying a woman named Baldridge. All of this clouds the issue of whether the Collins girls were descended from the pirate Baldridge which in turns spoils my ability to brag that I am the 7th great grandson of a 17th century Pirate. On the other hand, no one can prove that I am not descended from a pirate so we will just leave it at that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chapter 29 - Thomas Welles (1590-1660)

My 10th great grandfather Thomas Welles was born near the small farming village of Stourton in County Warwickshire, England around the year 1590. Stourton is located on the edge of what today in England is called the Cotswolds, an area in southwest England consisting of rolling green pastured hills (“wolds”) dotted with small sleepy “typical English” towns where the houses, stores, churches, and fences are constructed of the local honey-colored limestone rocks. At the time of Thomas’ birth, the area where he spent his early life was the sheep raising capital of the European world. It is probably safe to assume that his family and the four generations of Welles that preceded him and were known to live in Stourton, were all sheep farmers, a prosperous industry that undoubtedly enabled the family to live a rather comfortable lifestyle. There is no evidence that suggests that the Welles family were titled or bore a coat of arms although clearly Thomas Welles should be classified as a Yeoman, an English term that describes a respected class of English common man, a freeholder; a man born free. The activities of Thomas Welles in his later life in Connecticut and the quantity of both English and Latin books listed as part of his estate at the time of his death, clearly indicates that he was highly educated and while no evidence exists as to his actual educational experiences, it is entirely possible that he attended university, possibly at Oxford located only 28 miles southeast of his home in Warwickshire.
Fifteen miles north of Stourton is the City of Stratford-upon-Avon, home of William Shakespeare and the site of the original Globe Theater. Shakespeare was around twenty-six years old at the time of Thomas Welle’s birth in 1590 and he was just beginning his career as England’s greatest playwright. As most of Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed between the years 1589 and 1613, it would seem that Thomas would have been very much aware of the existence of the playwright and the Globe Theater and despite the fact Thomas was twenty-six years old when Shakespeare died in 1616, it is very unlikely that he ever traveled the fifteen miles to Sratford to attend a performance. Thomas Welles married my 10th great grandmother, AliceTomes, a year earlier in July of 1615 and he no doubt had his hands full managing the farm. I suspect however, that the real reason that he did not attend a performance was that his conversion to Puritanism had already begun and entertainment such as attending Shakespearian plays at the Globe Theater were activities that were shunned by the Puritans. In fact, shortly following the beginning of the First English Civil War, the Puritans in 1644 demolished the Globe Theater no doubt to show their displeasure of this ungodly enterprise.
Unlike most of my ancestors who immigrated to American in the 1600s, we know considerable about the family backgrounds of both Thomas Welles and his wife Alice Tomes. Alice Tomes was born in Long Marston, in County Gloucestershire (now part of County Warwickshire) around the year the 1593. Historians have discovered members of the Tomes (or Tommes, Toms, or Tommys) family living in the Gloucestershire area as far back as the early 1400s beginning with a William Tomes (possibly Alice’s great grandfather) who was recorded as a contributor to the Guild of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1442 and executed a lease (an indenture) for a manor on Marston from the Abbey of Winchcombe in 1479. The history of the area “of the convent in Gloucestershire” which includes the Manor of Marston goes back to the year 798 with the beginning of the construction of a great monastery which was to become The Abbey of Winchcombe for Benedictine monks. For the next 700 plus years, the monastery remained in existence although changing and growing in size substantially over the many centuries. Its major source of income over the period was derived from the “rents” it received from the leasing of the land surrounding the monastery which included not only all of the great manors in Gloucestershire but also all of the towns, the buildings, basically everything was owned by the “Church”, meaning the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning in 1535, this all began to change when King Henry VIII declared the Church of England separated from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. His declaration in effect dissolved the great monasteries in England beginning in 1536 including the Abbey of Winchcombe, wherein all of its land holdings and leases became the property of the English crown including no doubt the land occupied by the Tomes family.t and the Globe Theater and despite the fact that Thomas was twenty-six years old when Shakespeare died in 1616, it is very unlikely that he ever traveled the fifteen miles to Stratford to attend a performance. Thomas Welles married my 10th great grandmother, Alice Tomes, a year earlier in July of 1615 and he no doubt had his hands full managing the farm. I suspect however, that the real reason that he did not attend a performance was that his conversion to Puritanism had already begun and entertainment such as attending Shakespearian plays at the Globe Theater were activities that were shunned by the Puritans. In fact, shortly following the beginning of the First English Civil War, the Puritans in 1644 demolished the Globe Theater no doubt to show their displeasure of this ungodly enterprise.
The Tomes family had probably been leasing land from the Abbey for many generations perhaps even before William Tomes’ lease of 1479. We also have learned that Alice’s grandfather, John Tomes (ca1510-1548) spent his entire life in Long Marston and his name is recorded on an “indenture” (lease) granting lands in 1536. In 1566, Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1558 and 1603, granted lordship of the Manor of Marston Sicca to Robert Dudley, Lord of Leicester with all its rights to the “late Monastery of Winchcombe Abbey” thereby making Lord Dudley the owner of the land on which sat the Tomes’ Manor home thereby granting him the right to collect rent from the Tomes family as well as others.
Robert Dudley is an interesting character in British history. He was not only a nobleman, a favorite and a close friend of Queen Elizabeth, but he was also known to be a “suitor of the Queen’s hand” and some historians believe also a secret lover (in bed that is) of Elizabeth I, the “Virgin” queen. The fact that she granted him in 1566 the valuable lands surrounding the Manor of Marston that the Crown had earlier stolen from the church, proves that even in merry old England it pays to know people in high places. Anyway, in 1677, Lord Robert Dudley leased a portion of theManor of Marston to Alice Tomes’ father, John Tomes, my 11th great grandfather, for the princely sum of 1,180 pounds, 58 shillings and 4 pence. It was here on the Manor of Marston that Alice Tomes was born in 1593.
Unlike Alice’s husband, Thomas Welles, whose conversion to Puritanism caused him to get in trouble with the English crown (principally King Charles I who reigned from 1625 to 1645) and his cohorts at the Church of England, the Tomes family remained firm loyalists. In fact Alice’s half-brother John Tomes by her father’s second wife became somewhat famous in British history when he harbored Charles II for one night in 1651 at his home on the Manor of Marston when the dethroned King was fleeing from the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans intent on killing him at the close of the English Civil War. King Charles II eventually managed to flee England for France but he later returned to regain his throne in 1660.
Fortunately there has been much written about the ancestry of Thomas Welles although some of the earliest histories, notably the “Brief History of the Welles, or Wells, Family” written by Albert Welles and published in 1848, incorrectly or at least without any evidence, relates that Thomas Welles was descended from one of the knights of William the Conqueror, one Lord Richardus de Welles who was granted the “Manor of Welles” by King William I and charged with the responsibility of supplying bread to the King. The author then goes on over the next 16 pages of the 27 page document describing all of the Welles’ nobility who were descended from this first Lord Welles. Other than the commonality of the Welles’ name, there is no historical evidence that connects Thomas Welles and his descendants including myself to British nobility.
Almost all that we know about the ancestry and the early life of Thomas Welles in England comes from one unusual source. In 1648, a nephew of Thomas Welles, a John Welles, filed a lawsuit in the English courts claiming that the land that Thomas Welles sold just before he emigrated to America with his family in 1635 actually belong to him, John Welles, by his right of inheritance from his late father, Robert Welles, brother of our Thomas Welles. The pleadings and the lengthy depositions that followed in 1650, provides us with a fairly detailed description of Thomas Welles, his ancestors beginning with his great grandfather, and his immediate family. Anyone interested in reading a English translation of the original legal proceedings written in Latin can read “The English Ancestry of Gov. Thomas Welles of Connecticut” written by Lemuel A. Welles and reprinted by the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1926.
We learn from the legal proceedings that Thomas Welles was the son of Robert Welles who is believed to have been born in 1540 in Stourton in Whichford Parish in County Warwickshire, England. Only three children are known to have been borne to Robert and his wife Alice: Robert Jr (whose son John brought the legal proceedings mentioned above), Alice (or Mary), and Thomas. Thomas outlived his older brother Robert who died in 1627 and Thomas was named as a joint executor in his brother’s will. The father Robert Welles died in 1617 and he is buried in the churchyard at St. Michael’s Church in Strouton. A photo of the church as it appears today is shown below. One of the statements that I read about Robert Welles reported that he was a wealthy ship owner and a staunch Puritan. I found no reliable source that supported this statement and based on the fact that he was buried at St Michael’s Church and despite that fact that his son Thomas became a Puritan, it seems unlikely that Robert, the father, was a Puritan at the time of his death.of his death.

We also learn from the court proceedings and the depositions taken in 1650 that Thomas Welles (then spelled as Wells), was Robert’s father and our Thomas Welles’ grandfather. Thomas’ first wife’s name was Elizabeth and together they had at least two children, Robert born in 1540, and a sister Ann. This Thomas Welles died in Strouton in 1658. Thomas Welles’ father is believed to be Robert Welles who is known to be taxed In Whichford in 1523. If this Robert Welles is our Thomas Welles’ great grandfather who was also probably born in Whichford Parish around 1500 and is known to have died there in 1577, then at least four known generations of Welles spanning over a 100 year period lived in the area of Strouton, in Whichford Parish in County Warwickshire, England prior to Thomas Welles’ departure to America in 1635. Confused? It goes like this: great-grandfather believed to be Robert Welles (ca 1500-1577), grandfather Thomas Welles (ca1520-1558), father Robert Welles (1540-1617) to Thomas Welles, born around 1590).
Thomas Welles, a future governor of colonial Connecticut and my 10th great grandfather, clearly had a comfortable upbringing at least by late 17th century standards in England. His father was a prosperous farmer and a member of the rapidly rising middle class in England, a country whose population hitherto for centuries had been composed of a relatively few wealthy aristocrats and churchmen who oversaw a large population of mostly struggling poor men, women and children. Despite the fact that Robert Welles, Thomas’ father, was not a member of England’s upper class, he was in a position to afford the cost of educating his second son. We know from Thomas’ activities in his later life that he could read and write both in English as well as in Latin. These and other skills learned by Thomas in England were later recognized by his compatriots in Connecticut resulting in his election to positions of clerk of the general court, Treasurer of the Colony, Secretary of the Colony, and ultimately to Governor of Connecticut.
We can only speculate as to how Thomas Welles met his future wife Alice Tomes. Alice Tomes is believed to have been born in Long Marston whereas Thomas Welles was born in Stourton. Both of these villages are located within the present day County of Warwickshire, England and are located only 14 miles apart. However, in the late 1500s, 14 miles was a relatively long distance and the Tomes family and the Welles family would not have considered themselves neighbors nor would they have been members of the same parish church. Furthermore, Alice and Thomas did not meet one another in school and in fact there is evidence that Alice Tomes was not even educated or at least she signed her name with a mark rather than a signature. The most likely explanation as to how they met was that their fathers who were both prosperous farmers in the area, knew one another, and arranged for their son and daughter to meet and a marriage eventually followed. Alice no doubt brought a dowry to the marriage and Thomas was presented by his father as a marriage gift, a large farm in nearby Burmington. His father, Robert Welles, had inherited the farm that he gave to Thomas from his uncle Walter Welles who had both outlived his wife and his only brother and had died childless in 1577. Since Thomas was the second son of Robert Welles Sr. his older brother Robert Jr. would normally have inherited Uncle Walter’s property when his father and mother died. That being the case, Robert Jr as well as Robert’s mother Alice were also signators on the deed granting the farm to the younger brother Thomas. To their benefit, the newlyweds Thomas and Alice Tomes Welles began their married life that commenced shortly after the deed was signed on 5 July 1615 with a modestly large sum of money and a fully operating farm. Historically when we think of our ancestors leaving England and Europe for the New World during the 17th century, we imagine them as poor immigrants who were escaping poverty and sometimes persecution and that despite the terrible unknowns that they faced, they maintained the hope that they would find better living conditions in America. Twenty years after their marriage, Thomas, Alice, and their six children departed for the New World leaving behind what for the most part was a good life. They did not fit this stereotype image that we have of our typical early American immigrant nor did most of the other immigrants who migrated to New England from England during the period of 1630 to around 1637.
Thomas and Alice Welles were to have six children born at their home in Burmington who survived birth. The exact dates of the births of each of their children is not known although it is believed that their first child and daughter Mary Welles was born in either 1617 or 1618, their second child Ann Welles, my 9th great grandmother, was born in 1619, and their last child Sarah Welles was born around 1631. When the Welles family boarded the ship for America in the late summer of 1635 the parents were in their 40s and the children ranged in ages from 4 to 17 years old. The family had a nice home in an area surrounded by friends and relatives. They had a comfortable income and their children were young and in excellent positions to expect to have a good future life in mid-17th century England. It therefore begs the question as to why Thomas Welles would leave his home in England with his family to settle in the wildernesses of the New England colony in America. Obviously he did not leave England for economic reasons.
In the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This “establishment” clause in our Constitution is interpreted to mean that our government is prohibited from establishing a national religion or prohibited from favoring one religion over another. It is no accident that this clause was included in the first amendment. Our founding fathers when they authored this document written about 150 years after the first immigrants arrived in New England, were fully cognizant as to the reasons that families like the Welles family left England. Historically in England and in other European counties for that matter, there was only one recognized national religion. In the case of England, it was the Church of England with the King at the head of the church. While other forms of worship were sometimes tolerated depending on who sat on the throne, some kings being more tolerant than others, under the reign of King Charles I which began in 1629 the intolerance of Puritanism gradually increased culminating with King Charles enthroning William Laud as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud as head of the Church immediately set out to get rid of all ministers within the Church of England who he considered to be a threat to the orthodoxy of the church. The rising population of Puritans in England believed that individuals could read and interpret the scriptures for themselves and they opposed the pompous trappings of the church, the huge cathedrals, and the gold and silver and wealth of the church believing that all were unnecessary. It followed that many of the ministers and congregation within the Church of England were trying to adapt to these “radical” changes in approach away from the current church orthodoxy whose foundations were based on the strict structures of the Roman Catholic Church. Laud believed that only the ministers of the Church were capable of interpreting the scriptures and he vigorously set out to eliminate what he considered to be the religious distinctiveness and excesses of the Puritans. The Puritans believed that William Laud along with King Charles I and his Catholic queen were attempting to push the Episcopal Church of England back towards Roman Catholicism. Persecutions and arrests of puritans by the forces of Laud rapidly increased after 1632 and it was not surprising that Thomas Welles, a devote Puritan, found it necessary to follow the other Puritans who had left England to seek religious freedom in America beginning in 1630.
William Laud and King Charles did not understand the unpopular positions that they had taken. Both individuals were caught up in their belief that they had absolute authority. William Laud believed that the Church of England was the absolute and sole religious authority in England and that he as the head of the Church made all of the religious decisions and no other forms of worship were to be tolerated. King Charles I believed in absolute monarchy. He believed that he had the ultimate governmental authority and he was not limited by any constitutions or rules of law. History ultimately proved that they were on the wrong side of public opinion. William Laud was arrested in 1641 and ultimately beheaded in 1645. King Charles 1 was beheaded in 1649. Another interesting historical irony was to follow. At the end of the English Civil War that began in 1642, the Puritans gained control of the English government. Their own intolerances displayed during their term of power which ended in 1659 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy and the crowning of King Charles II in 1660. Also ironic and worth noting was that the Puritans in America beginning in 1630 also displayed their own intolerances towards others of differing faith and political beliefs. Their harsh treatment of Native Americans during this early period of American history is particularly appalling.
Thomas Welles and his family set sail for America in the late summer of 1635 sometime after August 20th when he signed the deed transferring the ownership of his English property. The family no doubt arrived in the Boston area by mid-fall of the same year. No known ship’s manifest survives that records their passage, however based on Welles’ financial position it is likely that his family, some of their servants (most of whom were likely indentured servants), and a large quantity of their household furnishings as well as food for the trip occupied a large portion of the ship. It is also likely that Thomas Welles made arrangements before he left England for someone to meet him when they arrived and take the family and their possessions and servants to temporary housing. The first colonial record of Thomas Welles in America was a listing that included his name as the head of a household in Newton (or “Newe Towne” and now Cambridge) Massachusetts dated February 1636. Thomas Welles probably joined the congregation of the First Parish Church in Newton then under the leadership of the Rev. Thomas Hooker almost immediately upon his arrival in America. It is not clear whether Welles had meet Thomas Hooker in England prior to Hooker’s departure to America in 1633 although he must have been aware of the notorious Thomas Hooker, who was a prominent spokesman for Puritanism in England and a target of William Laud’s. Hooker had escaped to Holland to avoid being arrested by the Anglican authorities prior to his leaving for America. Thomas Welles, himself a prominent Puritan back in England, was probably among old friends in Hooker’s Newton congregation.
The Rev. Thomas Hooker was not happy with conditions in Newton, an opinion probably shared by many if not by most of the members of his congregation including Thomas Welles. The soil in the area was not good for farming nor were there large plots available for purchase in the rapidly growing community. Furthermore and more importantly, he found himself incompatible with the thinking of the other religious leaders in Massachusetts particularly over the issue of their rigid requirements for joining the Church such that one had to be a “freeman” to be eligible for membership. The Reverent Hooker believed in universal suffrage meaning that membership in the church should not be limited to the select few in the community who were acceptable to the church leadership. By 1635, Thomas Hooker had determined that he must lead his congregation out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the new lands being settled along the great river in Connecticut.
Before the arrival of the first white settlers in Connecticut in the first half of the 17th century, the land was a place of gently sloping hills and valleys that were largely covered by forests and inhabited by abundant species of animals including numerous tribes of Native American Indians. With few exceptions especially when compared with the wars and pestilence that were to follow the arrival of the white man, these Native Americans lived in relative peace and harmony with their surroundings. The Indians of Connecticut were a resourceful people living largely off the land as hunters, fishermen, and agriculturists. These Native Americans gave the state its name as Connecticut comes from an Indian word “Quinatucquet” which means “Beside the Long Tidal River.” The long tidal river referred to by these Native Americans is the Connecticut River which runs through the center of the state. It was the fertile lands along the Connecticut River that first attracted the white man.
The first European of record to explore the Connecticut River was Adriaen Block, a Dutch explorer who sailed along the Connecticut coast and up the Connecticut River in 1614 and claimed the area for the Dutch. By the 1620s, the Dutch who already had settlements in New York had pressed their claims to the land and established trading posts along the Connecticut coastline and along the Connecticut River for a few miles inland. In 1633, they purchased a parcel of land from the Indians and build a fort and trading post on the east bank of the Connecticut River in what is now the present site of the City of Hartford. Unfortunately for the Dutch their interests in Connecticut were primarily in the commerce of fur trading and when the land hungry Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony migrated westward into Connecticut in search of new farmland, the Dutch claims to the area were quickly dissipated. In fact, in early 1633 the Dutch governor in New Amsterdam was presumptuously notified by letter that the King of England had granted his loyal subjects the river and the country of Connecticut. It is no wonder that the Dutch referred to the English settlers of New England as “Jankes” which in the Dutch language means robbers or pirates. The term Jankes quickly became anglicized to become “Yankees”.
In the year 1632 the Indian tribes living along the Connecticut River invited the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to send settlers to their area. Ostensibly they hoped that the white settlers would bring peace to the area as their superior weapons would dissipate the constant threats from their warrior neighbors, the Pequot Indians to their east and the Iroquois and Mohawk Indians to their west. The governor of the Plymouth Colony, Edward Winslow, made a personal overland exploratory trip to Connecticut to the area that was later to be named Windsor located about fifty miles north of the mouth of the Connecticut River at Long Island Sound. Governor Winslow liked what he saw in Connecticut and the following year in 1633, he sent a team of men under the leadership of William Holmes to set up a fort and trading post at Windsor (then called Matianuck by the Indians) located only seven miles north of the Dutch trading post that had been built only a few months earlier. Needless to say, the Dutch were not happy about the competition for the fur trade and so they sent men north of the new English fort to try and win the friendship of the Indians. Unfortunately, one of their men carried smallpox which quickly infected the Indians and by the time the plague had run its course by early 1634, three-quarters of the River Indian population were dead. Obviously this situation did serious harm to the relationship of the white men and the Indians not to mention the harm done to the fur trading business. The town of Windsor was to remain populated by Puritans from Plymouth Colony until 1635 at which time a group of settlers from Dorchester, Massachusetts arrived under the leadership of the Reverent John Warham.

In the summer of 1634, a group of “Ten Adventurers” led by a Captain John Oldham, a merchant and Indian trader from Watertown, Massachusetts, travelled through the wilderness of western Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut along an old Indian trail referred to by historians as the Old Connecticut Path. The 100 mile trek of these Adventurers and their families along the old Indian trail from Watertown to their new home on the banks of the Connecticut River, took them at least two weeks of hard travelling. Their new settlement that they were later to name Wethersfield was located in a deep bend of the Connecticut River where the rich alluvial soil along the river was perfect for farming and the surrounding forests would provide the needed lumber for building houses.
The town of Hartford (initially named Newtown) was the third of the original major settlements along the Connecticut River founded by Puritans from Massachusetts. The new settlement of Hartford was located about midway between the Windsor settlement to the north and the Wethersfield settlement to the south. It was to this site of the future town of Hartford that some 25 men, some with families and their supplies travelling under the direction or at least under the inspiration of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, set forth from Newton, Massachusetts in October of 1635. Their goal was to lay claim to the land on the west side of the Connecticut River directly across the river from where the Dutch had established a fort a few years earlier. Their trek along the old Indian trail took about ten days, however by the time they arrived into this wilderness area very cold weather had set in and they struggled to build shelters consisting of not much more than “dug-outs” or caves dug in the sides of the hills. Despite the lack of food and the hard conditions they managed to survive the winter. Of the original 25 settlers of Hartford, now known as the “Adventurers”, five of them were my great grandfathers: William Goodwin, William Kelsey, Thomas Scott, Timothy Stanley, and Edward Stebbins.

It was Thomas Hooker’s plan to send out this vanguard group of men in late 1635 to establish their claim to the land (which actually was dubious since the land had not been clearly purchased from the local Indians), layout the lots, and then once he received formal approval of the new settlement from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he would follow in early 1636 with the remainder and the majority of the members of his Newton congregation. Within this later group were Thomas Welles and his family. The second wagon train set out on the trail in late May of 1636. The group consisted of one hundred members of the congregation with their families, their servants, farm animals, wagons, and so forth all as necessary to begin a new life. The scene of such a large group of the Newton citizens moving west must have amazing sight for the residents of the area. Thomas Welles was around 45 years old when he began his new life in Hartford, Connecticut.
There are two old maps available that show the division of the lands in Hartford and the names of the lot owners. The map above shows the ownership of the land in Harford as it appeared in 1640. The individuals whose names appear on this map are considered to be the original “Founders” of Hartford. There is also an earlier map showing the layout of the lots as they appeared in 1636 after the arrival of the first two groups from Newton. Both maps are very revealing for they show that the original settlers were not only well organized but they appeared to have cooperated with one another with respect to the land distribution. There are no records that I could find that describe disputes between the members of the congregation over the land selections. This is probably due in large part to the efforts of the Rev. Thomas Hooker. Most of the lots are of similar size, the town is organized around a meeting house (which also served as their “church”), and while it is not obvious from the maps, the history of Hartford tells us that the land around the town identified as “meadow(s)” and “pasture” were set aside areas for all members of the community to use for grazing their farm animals and growing their crops.
However, in the earlier 1636 map, the “South Meadows” is identified with the following notation: “Large upland, meadow and swamp lots of Andrew Warner, George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, John Webster, William Whiting, and John Haynes.” This notation on the map suggests that some of the wealthier citizens in early Harford were able to set aside (they purchased) some of the surrounding meadow land area for their own exclusive use. The Thomas Welles family was one of these wealthier families. It is also significant to note that the home lots immediately west (above on the map) of the South Meadow is where four of the six families listed above had built their homes. The road facing their home lots was later named “Governor Street” for a reason that will be obvious. The first governor of the Colony of Connecticut took office in 1639 and per the “Fundamental Orders”, the colony’s constitution that was written and adopted in 1639, governors were to be elected for 12 month terms but expressly prohibited from serving consecutive terms. In the first twenty years of the colony, George Wyllys served one term, Edward Hopkins served seven terms, our Thomas Welles served two terms (one in 1655 and one in 1658), and John Webster served one term. In total, in the first twenty terms of the office of governor, a resident of Governor Street filled the seat on 11 occasions. It is not apparent from looking at the lots on Governor Street what made them more valuable although apparently this must have been the case. The greater value was perhaps due to a richer soil, heavily wooded lands (trees for building houses) or the property was sited at higher elevations above the flood plain of the Connecticut River, or simply the properties’ proximity to the South Meadow, but whatever the reasons many of the top leaders in colonial Harford chose to live on this street including my great grandfather, Thomas Welles.
There is one other very fascinating observation to be made about Thomas Welles and his neighbors on Governor Street. Thomas Welles is an ancestor of mine on my mother’s side of my family. John Marsh and his family who lived immediately next door to the Welles family are ancestors of mine on my father’s side of the family. John Marsh is the great grandfather of my 7th great grandfather, Timothy Baker. There is more. Across the street from the Welles family lived the James Cole family. James Cole is my 10th great grandfather also on my mother’s side of the family. Of the names of the original proprietors listed on the “Founders Monument” in downtown Hartford, 24 of the men and one woman listed are my direct ancestors from multiple branches of my family tree. This was a remarkable coincidence and to think that I have never been to Hartford.
In January 1639, the leaders of the three Connecticut towns of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield met, drafted and approved a document known as the Fundamental Orders which basically outlined the individual rights of the citizens in the Colony of Connecticut. This document is considered by many historians to be the first constitution writing in the Americas and it was to serve as a guideline during the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Its importance is emphasized by the State of Connecticut who proudly call itself the “Constitution State.” Thomas Welles’ importance as a public servant in the government of the Colony of Connecticut cannot be understated. As Secretary of the Colony from 1640 to 1649, it was he who transcribed the Fundamental Orders into the official colonial records (in his own handwriting). His other offices include the following and it is worth noting that he is the only man in Connecticut’s history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer and secretary.
Member, Court of Magistrates 1637-1654
Deputy Governor of the Colony of Connecticut 1654, 1656, 1657, 1659
Treasure of the Colony of Connecticut 1639
Secretary of the Colony of Connecticut 1640-1649
Commissioner of the United Colonies 1649
Governor of the Colony of Connecticut 1666, 1658

What we learn here is that Thomas Welles’ upbringing and schooling in England was of the highest quality. Not only did he come from an apparently wealthy family but he was also highly educated and could read and write. Obviously he would not have been appointed Secretary of the Colony if his writing ability was poor. We also see in Thomas Welles a talent to lead. He was elected to the office of Deputy Governor or Governor on six different occasions and he served on the Court of Magistrates for eighteen years. Many of our elected legislators in the United States today serve for multiple years in public service but in their case they are paid for their services and somehow manage to earn major dollars beyond just their government salary. On the other hand, Thomas Welles served continuously without pay in various governmental positions from 1637 to 1658, only two years before his death on January 14, 1660. His name appears on almost every page of the Connecticut Colony Records during this entire period. One of the more interesting positions that he was asked to perform as a member of the Court of Magistrates was to serve as one of the judges in the witchcraft trials of Mary Johnson, Joan and John Carrington, and Lydia Gilbert in the years 1648, 1651, 1654. Thomas Welles may have been highly educated and devote but apparently he had no qualms about the verdict when the jurors found each of these individuals guilty of witchcraft and ordered their executions. Obviously we must be willing to judge historical individuals like Thomas Welles and slave owner George Washington based on the morals in place during their period of history rather than on our own morals of today.
Thomas Welles’ wife Alice Tomes Welles died of unknown causes sometime on or before 1646. It is an unfortunate truth that women in earlier history are often ignored in the colonial records and the actual year of Alice’s death and the location of her burial are unknown. What is known is that in 1646 Thomas Welles married for the second time the 56 year old Elizabeth Deming Foote, widow of Nathaniel Foote of Wethersfield who had died two years earlier in 1644. While both Thomas Welles and his new wife were in their 50s and both still had young children living at home, Thomas Welles made the unusual decision especially in the 1600s to leave his home in Hartford and move into Elizabeth’s home in Wethersfield. Thomas Welles remained in public service after his marriage to Elizabeth and his move to Wethersfield and both of his terms of office as Government of the Colony of Connecticut occurred after his move to Wethersfield. The remarkable coincidence about the marriage of Thomas Welles to Elizabeth Deming Foote is that both individuals are my 10th great grandparents. I am descended from Elizabeth Foote, the daughter of Nathaniel Foote and Elizabeth Deming and the wife of Josiah Churchill, and I am descended on a separate family branch, from Ann Welles, the daughter of Thomas Welles and Ann Tomes and the husband of Thomas Thompson. Nathaniel Foote and his wife are among the original settlers of Wethersfield and Nathaniel’s name is included in the list of the “Ten Adventurers” who settled Wethersfield in 1635.
The burial location of Thomas Welles is unknown but in all likelihood it is in Wethersfield. The site of Thomas Welles home on Governor Street in Hartford, later renamed Popieluszko Court, is now a rather rundown industrial area of Harford. Some of the original land owned by Nathaniel Foote in the 1600s in Wethersfield is now the site of a Connecticut State prison. Despite these dismal changes to our landscape, Thomas Welles remains one of the important historical figures in American history.