Monday, October 13, 2014
Chapter 36 Our Starkweather Ancestors and our "Improbable Tradition"
What we read about the origins of our 8th great grandfather Robert Starkweather is that he was born in either Scotland, Wales, or possibly on the Isle of Man off the coast of England, and he immigrated to America in 1640. We suspect that this belief of Robert's origins began with the writings of our cousin Carlton Lee Starkweather in 1904 and as far as we can determine nothing has been uncovered either to support or reject his statement on Robert's birth location. Unfortunately, or at least statistically, it seems doubtful that our Starkweather progenitor came from either Scotland or Wales. Between the years 1630 and 1640 it is estimated that approximately 20,000 individuals from the British Isles emigrated to America and New England. It is further estimated that the vast majority of these individuals came from either the eastern counties of England or the coastal counties in southwest England. We could find nothing in any writings suggesting that any Puritans from Wales or Scotland emigrated to America during this time period. We further believe that asserting that Robert Starkweather arrived in 1640 is just a guess and it is based solely on the fact that his name was not recorded in any colonial records until the baptism of his first daughter in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1643.
So what do we actually know about our ancestor Robert Starkweather. Since Robert Starkweather and his wife Jennet Roberts did not marry until sometime before 1643, it is probably safe to assume that he was a late immigrant into New England since the Puritans in America during this period strongly encouraged marriage and tended to ostracize single men in their communities. Had he arrived much earlier than 1640, he undoubtedly would have already been married or at the very least been forced out of the community. It is also a probability that he was an unmarried man when he arrived since there is no evidence of other Starkweather children in any records other than those who were born following his marriage to Ms Roberts. Since we know that immigration of Puritans to America came pretty much to a standstill by mid-1640, then we can safely assume that Robert arrived in 1639 or 1640. Furthermore since the average age that Puritan men married is estimated to be around 26 years old (23 for women), we can conclude that Robert Starkweather was around 20 to 24 years old when he arrived in America in the year 1639/40. We also know that he was a Puritan based on the church records regarding the baptism of his children. It should also be noted that Robert Starkweather was not a typical early immigrant. For one thing he was single whereas most of the early Puritans arrived in family groups. Furthermore, the majority of the Puritans were from the middle class and about two thirds of the adult males were educated at least to the extent that they could sign their own names. There is no evidence that Robert Starkweather had any substantial net worth during his lifetime and since we know that he signed his name with a mark, we have to assume that he was uneducated. We also discovered as we further researched our great grandfather, that he never made much of himself, at least financially, during his lifetime. We can only hope that he was a great husband and a great father to his children and that he was well liked in his community. But then, we digress in our story.
Other than the baptismal records of the four children born to Robert and Jennet Starkweather while they lived in Roxbury, there are no other documents that are known to exist up until 1651 that provide us with any clues about the Starkweather family during this period. In December of 1651 there is a record of the sale of a house and land in Roxbury by Robert Starkweather. Apparently when Robert's father-in-law, John Roberts, died earlier in the year he had granted property to his son-in-law and of course his daughter. What we might deduce from this is that Robert and Jennet Starkweather and their children probably had been living in the Roberts' owned house since their marriage and it was natural that when John Roberts was near death that he would gave them the property. What does seem extraordinary however, is that almost immediately after receiving ownership of the house and land, John Starkweather turned around and sold the property and moved his family to Ipswich, Massachusetts located about 35 miles north of Roxbury and Boston. Perhaps he had concluded that with a little cash in his pocket and a fresh start in a new community, that was all that he needed to get his life back in order. Why they elected to move to Ipswich is unclear although we know that Jennet's older sister Elizabeth and her husband Edward Bragg had moved to Ipswich shortly after their marriage in the 1640s and they may very well have influenced the move. We need to point out however, that many family historians believe that Edward Bragg's first wife was Elizabeth Whittridge and not Elizabeth Roberts. This may very well be true although the very strong and unique relationship between the Bragg and Starkweather families suggests that their bond may have been stronger then just friendship. Carlton Lee Starweather in his book about Robert Starkweather and his descendents suggests that Robert Starkweather in 1673 was "of extreme poverty" and that Edward Bragg was "entertaining of Robert Starkweather and his family." Entertaining meaning that they were allowing the Starkweather family to stay at their home for longer than the allowed period of time. Puritans in most of New England controlled who lived within their community and how long they visited and apparently Edward Bragg was breaking the rules with respect to his Starkweather guests. Edward apparently satisfied the town officials by posting a bond in the amount of 50 pounds.
What is interesting of course, is the suggestion that Robert Starkweather was in a poor financial position and therefore not a worthy citizen of Ipswich. We do not really know much about the activities of Robert Starkweather from the time he moved to Ispwich in 1651 until his apparent financial problems in 1673. His name appears in the Ipswich Town records only twice, once in 1654 and once in 1655. On one occasion he was given permission to install a fence and in the other he was given permission to graze cattle on common land as long as took the responsibility for caring for the "common heard of young Cattle for this Towns use . . " The suggestion here seems to be that Robert Starkweather's occupation was to be the caretaker for farm animals that were owned by others and in return he was allowed to live on the common land and presumably graze his own animals. Obviously at some point he was no longer in the town's favor as Robert and his family ended up living with the Bragg family.
An inventory of Robert Starkweather's "goods" following his death taken in November of 1674 gave a total value for everything he owned at only 59 English pounds. This included only 12 pounds for the house (not the land) on Little Neck and the rest was for the value of a few animals, the furniture, some miscellaneous tools, and even 1 pound for the value of a "sword and beelt." Unfortunately, Robert's debts totaled almost as much as the value of his goods with his largest debt of 28 pound owed to his brother-in-law, Edward Bragg. Jennet Starkweather was for the most part left with nothing including no place to live. It is therefore not surprising that 52-year old Jennet remarried shortly after her husband's death. It is known that she outlived her second husband who died in 1684. We know the names of only four of Robert and Jennet's children although it is possible that there were more. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was around 31 years old when her father died and the youngest, Deborah, was around 26. We assume although could not confirm, that all three daughters were married at the time of their father's death. Their only known son, John Starkweather, our 7th great grandfather, was married at age 30, two years following his father's death. This chapter continues below with the story of John Starkweather and the controversial story of his Indian wife Ann.
The ancestry of Ann Starkweather is unknown but there are at least two contentious or perhaps "improbable traditions." that attempt to answer this question. The first theory is that she was the daughter of parents with the surname of Woodbury. The origins of this theory are unknown, however we did find a copy of a letter written by someone who signed their name only as F.B., published under a column titled "Genealogical" in a November 11, 1896 edition of the "Boston Evening Transcript" that attempted to answer the question. F.B.'s theory was that since John and Ann Starkweather both had a grandson and a great grandson named Woodbury, then the name Woodbury must be a family name, and it was assumed as likely by this writer that Ann Starkweather's maiden name was Woodbury. This was really a stretch but the name Ann Woodbury now appears firmly fixed as John Starkweather's wife in dozens of family trees on Ancestry.com and elsewhere.
On the other hand an equally "improbable tradition" is that Ann Starkweather was the daughter of Metacomet, also known as King Philip, a well known and hated Indian leader in Colonial New England. At least in this theory there is a possibility of truth and the family tradition that Ann Starkweather was an Indian has existed for many, many generations within the Starkweather family. We probably should begin with a brief description of the life of our possible 8th great grandfather, Metacomet, or as he was called by the English, Philip, the sachem of the Wampanoag Indians.
The Wampanoag Indian tribe was located during the 1600s in southeastern Massachusetts and along the very southeastern edge of Rhode Island. It was these Indians whom the Pilgrims first encountered when they landed at Plymouth in 1620 and it was the Wampanoag Indians and their leader Massasoit who befriended the Pilgrims and who were largely responsible for the Pilgrims surviving their first winter. It also would have been these Indians who shared with the Pilgrims our first Thanksgiving feast. Massasoit was the father of Metacomet and if we are related to Metacomet, then Massasoit would be our 9th great grandfather. Metacomet was the second son of Massasoit. Very little is known about him in his early years although it is thought that he was born around 1638 near what is now the City of Warren, Rhode Island located not far from what is identified as Mount Hope on the above map.
The seriousness of this war cannot be understated although the war itself is largely forgotten except by historians. Considering the relatively small numbers of both Indians and English people living in New England at the time, the loss of 3,000 American Indians and around 600 English colonists was enormous and represents a larger percentage loss of the population than caused by any of the subsequent wars fought since that period including the loss of lives during the Civil War. The hatred of the Indians following the war can best be personified by looking at what they did to the body of King Philip. He was beheaded and quartered and his head was displayed on a pole at Plymouth for the next 25 years. What we find ironic in hindsight is how many numerous places in the years following his death have been named after him including the names of roads, mountains, trails, schools, parks, lakes, and even a battleship. And even if Metacomet, King Philip, is not my great grandfather, we have to respect his restraint in trying for so many years to accommodate the English settlers and finally his reluctant willingness to fight and give up his life for what he believed were his peoples' rights.
At the end of the war many of the Indians who were captured were sold into slavery mostly in the Caribbean including Metacomet's wife and his nine-year old son. We do not know the number of children born to Metacomet and his wife Wootonakanuska. Metacomet's father was in his early 80s when he died in 1661 which would suggest that Metacomet as his second son was probably somewhere in his mid to late-30s at the time of his father's death or he was born somewhere between the years of 1620 to 1625, far early than the birth year often quoted of 1638. If Metacomet was in his early 40s when his youngest child was born it should not be surprising that he may have had many other other children some of whom might very well have been in their 20s at the time of their father's death. What happened to these children who surely must have existed is unknown although some of them, particularly the older girls, may very well have been absorbed into the Puritan population as wives. Puritan men were known to marry Indian girls although it was not encouraged and it was only accepted under the condition that the girls accept the Puritan way of life and the religion. Could John Starkweather's wife have been an Indian? Absolutely. Could she have been a daughter of Metacomet? Possibly. Now me must examine how this "improbable tradition" might have come about.
At the time of the King Philip's War, John Starkweather was living in Ipswich, Massachusetts and if his future wife Ann (an improbable picture to the left) was the daughter of Metacomet, then she was probably living somewhere near Mount Hope in southeastern Rhode Island around 100 miles south of Ipswich. In 1676 it was unlikely under normal circumstances that they would have met and married. This assumes of course, that John Starkweather was not part of the Massachusetts Militia during the King Philip's War. As it turns out the Massachusetts Militia was commanded by a Col. Samuel Appleton who just happened to live in John Starkweather's hometown of Ipswich. We have also learned from the book by Carlton Lee Starkweather that we previously referenced, that John Starkweather was a tenant on land owned by John Appleton, whom we believe was Samuel Appleton's brother. Both Appleton brothers were very prominent citizens of Ipswich and as it turns out Samuel Appleton was my 9th great grandfather as well as the son-in-law of previously mentioned William Paine. While we found no evidence that John Starkweather was a soldier in the Massachusetts militia commanded by Samuel Appleton during the King Philip's War, we nevertheless believe that there was a high probability that he did serve as did a large percentage of the male population. If we accept that John Starkweather was engaged in the war then that would certainly increase the possibility that the young and single John Starkweather encountered his future Indian wife in or around Mount Hope or at least somewhere in Rhode Island or southern Massachusetts, and that he returned with her to his home in Ipswich where they were married in 1676. The fact that the year of their marriage coincides with the end of the King Philip's War suggests that this "improbable tradition" of the marriage may indeed have a hint of accuracy. We must also not discount the "long family tradition" that Ann Starkweather was a daughter of Metacomet as being purely without merit. Such traditions do not just spring up from nothing. Furthermore, we must note that Ann's age fits well within the time period when Metacomet had likely fathered children. While it is true that the Puritan soldiers in many cases indiscriminately killed Indians during the war including elderly as well as women and children, this does not mean that everyone in the community condoned that behavior. We believe that there is very real possibly that many of the innocent Indians particularly the women and children might very well have been hidden and then absorbed into the community. Finally, Ann Starkweather did not receive her "full communion" into the Puritan Church until after her husband's death in 1703 and even then her time with the church was somewhat contentious as she was disciplined in 1709 for lying and being obstinate. She apparently "confesses" and was forgiven by the church in 1711 although her delay in becoming an active member of the church and her somewhat belligerent behavior later towards the church is suggestive that she may not have received a strict Puritan upbringing. The reason of course, may simply have been because her earlier years were spent living with her parents in an Indian community. While all of this is not proof of anything, it does seem a little strange that despite all that we know about John and his parents, siblings, and his children, we know absolutely nothing about the background and parents of our 7th great grandmother, Ann Starkweather. No information in this regard has been uncovered in any of the Ipswich public records nor in the abundant church records.
John and Ann Starkweather lived together in Ipswich from the time of their marriage until around 1694 when they relocated with their family to Preston, Connecticut around 125 miles south of Ipswich. We have pointed out a number of times in this Blog about how our colonial ancestors seem to up and move all the time thinking that each time they moved they were just seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. While this is undoubtedly true, it occurred to us recently that even our generation is constantly on the move. My father was born in Elmira, New York but he ended up spending most of his life with my mother in Niagara Falls, New York. My parents had three children all of us born near or in Niagara Falls but all three of us moved: one of us to Florida, one to Boston, MA, and one to Corvalis, Oregon. This habit of relocating seems to be an inherited trait perhaps in all of us.
John and Ann Starkweather had seven children born in Ipswich between the years of 1677 and 1693 including my 6th great grandfather Richard Starkweather, their 5th child, who was born in the year 1686. We do not know much about the life of John during these years other than it appears he may have continued in his father's trade of raising and grazing farm animals as well as growing crops for food for his family. He was described in one of the historical documents in Preston as a "husbandman" which was old medieval term meaning a free tenant farmer or a small landowner. This expression confirms what is mentioned elsewhere that John Starkweather was a tenant on land owned in Ipswich by John Appleton. John Starkweather was around 46-years old when he moved his family to Preston. Apparently the lure of free land that he was granted in Preston on 26 August 1694 was too much to ignore. The "plantation" of Preston had been established only a few years earlier in 1686 and clearly the city leaders wanted to encourage new settlers. This move and change in John Starkweather's life seems to have encouraged him, especially now that he was a landowner for the first time, to participate in the management of his community. In 1698 John was appointed a "List Gatherer, in 1700 he was appointed a "Fence Viewer," and then on 5 January 1698, at age 50, and again on 30 December 1702, he became a "Selectman" in the city of Preston. The selectmen, there was more than one, were literally selected by the adult males in the community and as a small group they were responsible for running the day to day operations of the city. This honor for John Starkweather was further extended when he want on to represent Preston in the Legislature of Connecticut. During the years of 1698 until his death on 21 August 1703 he was involved in a number of other civic activities within the community many of which are noted in the town records including mention of him in the documents as "M' Starkweather", Mister as opposed to the lessor title of Goodman. His rise from the poverty of his parents to becoming a small tenant farmer in Ipswich, to marrying an Indian princess, and then becoming a landowner and town leader in Preston, Connecticut makes for a truly incredible story. The value of his estate at his death was around 200 English pounds which definitely would have placed him in the well-off category. Ann Starkweather survived her husband by 23 years finally passing away in 1727. Our 6th great grandfather, Richard Starkweather, was around 18-years old when his father died. His parents are buried side by side in the old Preston City Cemetery.
So ends the story of our Starkweather ancestors.