Monday, December 19, 2016

Chapter 45 - My Howell Ancestors

My reason for choosing my Howell ancestors as the subject of this chapter is somewhat silly, at least initially. My 9th great grandfather, Edward Howell, married my 9th great grandmother, Frances Paxson, (which is sometimes spelled "Paxton") in England in the year 1616. Her Paxson/Paxton surname immediately got me wondering if perhaps Frances was a distant ancestor of my neighbor, friend, and golfing-buddy, Robert (Bob) Paxton. After many hours of research I finally concluded with an almost 100% certainty that Frances and Bob were from a common Paxton line which would then mean that my friend Bob and I are distant cousins. As family therefore, it should not be unreasonable for me to expect that on ocassion Bob should allow me to win a round or two of golf. This makes sense, but now to the story.

Westbury Manor (recent photograph)
The general consensus seems to be that the earliest of our Howell ancestors originated in Wales in the first century and that some of them may have even been early Kings of Wales. While this may be true, I am somewhat skeptical as to the accuracy of the few Howell family trees that I found that trace the line that far back. In the case of our Howell family tree, I would like to begin our story with William Howell, my 11th great grandfather, who was born in Buckinghamshire, England sometime around 1515. It is unclear but it is believed that William Howell was the first Howell proprietor of a large estate in the Village of Marsh Gibbon in County Buckinghamshire that has long been called the Westbury Manor. The estate is believed to have been originally constructed back in the eleventh century and it was purchased by William in 1536 during the reign of King Henry VIII. The size of the home and the land on which it sat reflected the wealth of my 11th great grandfather. Considering William's young age in 1636 it is clear that he inherited his wealth and he undoubtedly came from a long line of English nobility. Shall we refer to him as "Lord" William Howell?

County Buckinghamshire, England
The year of William's birth is unknown but the consensus seems to be that he was born around 1515 in the Village of Weedon in County Buckinghamshire, England located about 15 miles southwest of his later home in Marsh Gibbon and about 50 miles west of the City of London. Around the early 1530s, William married the widow Maude Duncombe whose husband, William Duncombe, had recently died and left her with young children. While there are no actual records of the marriage of William and Maude, one has to suspect that it was an arranged marriage which would not have been that unusual during this period of history. Maude was at least five years older than William and from what we can deduce, she inherited considerable wealth from her husband. Sometime before her early death around 1550, her daughter Agnes (Duncombe) Page and Agnes's husband Thomas Page sued William and Maude Howell probably because they believed that Agnes had been cheated out of her expected inheritance after her father's death. The results of their lawsuit are unknown. As far as we can determine, William and Maude had only one son who survived to adulthood, a boy whom they named John Howell who was born in the late 1540s. It is possible that Maude died as a result of the childbirth although we could find no documentation as to the cause or the actual date of her death.

What is known is that William Howell married his second wife, Anne Eyre, my 11th great grandmother, shortly following the death of his late wife sometime in early 1549 or 1550. It is recorded that Anne Eyre was born in 1527 which would have made her somewhat younger than her husband and thus capably of given birth to upwards of nine children prior to William's death in 1558. These births would include the birth of their oldest son and my 10th great grandfather, Henry Howell who was born in 1552. Poor Grandma Anne must have been continuously exhausted considering that she was pregnant most of her married life. Fortunately considering her husband's wealth, it is likely that their household was filled 24 hour a day with servants to care for the children, clean the house, and prepare the food.

Church where it is believed that William is buried 
William Howell's last Will and Testament written on 30 November 1557 tells us a lot about my 11th great grandfather and in particular it shows us that he was deeply religious as well as very generous with his wealth. He not only gave money to multiply church parishes in his area when he died (and probably during his life as well) but he donated money to help the poor in at least six different parishes including Marsh Gibbon. He also left money to all of his family members but surprising he also left a "legacy" to his first wife's daughter, Agnes Page, the very one who had sued he and his first wife, her mother, a decade or so earlier. William's will clearly revealed that he owned multiple properties for he left his oldest son John his home and land in Marsh Gibbon and to his wife Anne he gave the use of the property in Marsh Gibbon until the children were grown as well as the use of additional property, a home, and a farm in another area of Buckinghamshire. My 10th great grandfather, Henry, William's second son, was to inherit the land held by his mother upon her death and he was to receive the home and land in Marsh Gibbon in the event that his older brother died without issue, that is without a son. William was only in his mid-40s when he died and considering that he wrote his will at least eight months before his actual death, it would seem that he knew that he was dying. In his will he requested that his body be buried in the chancel before the high alter of his church which according to his will was located in the Village of Wingrave in County Buckinghamshire. My great grandmother Anne died sometime after the year 1566, probably still in her early 40s.
Marsh Gibbon showing Westbury Manor and St Mary the Virgin Church
Henry Howell, their son and my 10th great grandfather, was around seven years old when his father died and he was probably in his late teens or early 20s when his mother died. While it is believed that he was born in Wingrave, he undoubtedly spent most of his early life living with his parents at Westbury Manor in the small Village of Marsh Gibbon. With his mother's death, Henry now a young adult may have left Marsh Gibbon, for at this point Westbury Manor was now the legal home of his step-brother John Howell per the terms of their father's will. It is possible however, that he may have continued to live in Marsh Gibbon. In either case, step-brother John Howell died without a male heir in 1575 when Henry was 23 and again, per the terms of their father's will, Henry suddenly became the owner of Westbury Manor. Unfortunately a lawsuit occurred that challenged Henry's ownership of Westbury Manor with the claim that Henry's father William had not legally acquired the title to the property in 1536. The lawsuit was ultimately settled in Henry's favor in 1587.
Interior of St Mary the Virgin Church

The next we hear of Henry Howell in the historical records, is when he married  22-year old Margaret Hawten, my 10th great grandmother, in May of 1583. Their marriage took place near Margaret's home in Swalcliffe, in County Oxfordshire, located about 22 miles northwest of Marsh Gibbon. Apparently Henry and his new bride Margaret moved back to Marsh Gibbon for in July of 1584 their first child, a son named Edward Howell, my 9th great grandfather, was baptized probably at the St Mary the Virgin Church in Marsh Gibbon. The location of both the church and their Westbury Manor home are shown on the map above.(Clicking on the map will enlarge it.)  Marsh Gibbon would be a wonderful place to visit with so many very old buildings including the home of three generations of my family ancestors.

There is no evidence during the long life of Henry and Margaret Howell that they converted to Protestantism or Puritanism and away from the authority of the Church of England. During most of their lives, Elizabeth I was Queen of England and it was during her reign that England saw the emergence of Puritanism and its demand that the Church of England reform and move away from the original Roman Catholic manners of the church. As far as we can determine all seven of the Howell's children were baptized in the local St Mary the Virgin Church in Marsh Gibbon between the years 1584 when Edward was baptized and 1598 when their last child was baptized. It would seem that conversion to Puritanism and the rebellion against the Church of England first appeared among the children of Henry and Margaret and we know that at least two of their children, their oldest son Edward, my 9th great grandfather, and his brother Henry, moved to America. Their hope was undoubtedly to escape from the persecution of the Puritans in England or at the very least, to find a place outside of England to worship in a manner that was not forced upon them. As far as we can determine however, Edward Howell was not a radical Puritan nor a leader of the Puritans, nor did he place his family in a position where they might face foreclosure of their home and lands.  Edward's father, Henry Howell, lived a long life finally dying at the age of 75 in the year 1625. His wife Margaret, my great grandmother, outlived her husband by over a decade finally dying in Marsh Gibbon before or around 1638. Their home Westbury Manor in Marsh Gibbon was left to their oldest son Edward who was finally granted the full ownership of the house and land on his mother's death.

St James Church in Barton Hartshorn
where Frances Paxson was likely baptized
Edward Howell married Frances Paxson in April of 1616 in a parish church in Odell in County Bedfordshire, England located around 38 miles from the Howell home in Marsh Gibbon. It is not clear why they married so far from Edward's home nor is it clear where Frances' actually lived or even the names of her parents. What is well know is that Paxson families lived in and near Marsh Gibbon for a number of generations during this time period and at the time of Edward's and Frances' actual marriage there was a Paxson family living in Barton Hartshorn located only eight miles from the Howell's home in Marsh Gibbon. Some of the family trees online show Frances as having been born in Barton Hartshorn and being the daughter of a Francis Paxson (1566-1630) and the grand-daughter of Edmund Paxson (1502-1597). We were unable to determine the accuracy of this family line and the fact that her father, Francis Paxson, was not listed in his alleged father's will, might suggest that the line is false. What is highly likely however, is that Frances Paxson Howell was a granddaughter of one of John Paxson's four sons one of whom was Edmund Paxson. John Paxson (abt 1480-1558) was likely the progenitor of all of the Paxson families who lived in the Marsh Gibbon area during this period of history and he was the likely great grandfather of our Frances Paxson. John Paxson is, besides being my 12th great grandfather, also the 12th great grandfather of my friend, neighbor and golfing-buddy, Robert Paxton, who we now have determined is my 13th cousin.

Edward and Frances Paxson Howell were to have seven children before Frances' untimely death in June of 1630. Her age at her death is not really known although we suspect she was younger than her husband and possibly still in her 30s. She was buried on July 2nd in the graveyard of St Mary's Church. The burial service was undoubtedly attended by her large family and friends including her mother-in-law, Margaret Howell, who was still living with her son and his family at Westbury Manor. Edward not surprisingly as was the custom at the time, remarried a woman named Eleanor Maier shortly after his wife's death and together he and Eleanor had three more children the last being born in 1633. Edward was now in his late 40s.

King Charles 1 of England
It is no wonder based on the actions of King Charles 1 of England that as many as 80,000 emigrants left England between the years 1629 and 1640 including Edward Howell and his entire family. Around 20,000 of these departing English made there way to America and New England. In 1629, King Charles 1 dissolved the British Parliament which at the time was composed of numerous Puritans. He then proceeded to increased his efforts to neutralize his enemies, the Puritans, by making changes to the church next to impossible, and then since Parliament had been dissolved, he was able to dramatically increase the taxes on the wealthy landowners many of whom including Edward Howell, were Puritans. There were other issues as well, all of which combined resulted in many educated and financially well-off individuals like our Edward willing to risk losing everything by leaving England and emigrating to America.

New England Settlements as of 1639
When Edward's mother died sometime in the mid-1630s, Edward gained full control over Westbury Manor in Marsh Gibbon per the terms of his father's 1625 will. Historical records are absent that tell us exactly when Edward, his wife, and his seven surviving children actually set sail for America. What is known however, is that in June of 1638 he sold his home and land holdings in England and therefore it is likely that shortly thereafter they set sail for America. By the time that the Howell family arrived in Boston, large tracts of good land near Boston were no longer available. With the large influx of immigrants into the New England area beginning back in 1630, families had already made settlements beyond the Boston area and into Connecticut beginning in Hartford in 1636 and into the Rhode Island area also in 1636. Edward was able to obtain a large grant of land up near Lynn, Massachusetts (Saugus Territory) north of Boston and south of Salem but the land was not what he had hoped for as the soil was poor and rocky, and the land hilly and densely covered by forests. He also quickly discovered that many of the existing residents and their church leaders both in Boston and Lynn were strict and inflexible Puritans and not to his liking. While Edward took the oath of a freeman in Boston in March of 1639, we suspect that he may have already been considering possible options to find land for settlement outside of the greater Boston area. My great grandfather Edward was at this point 55 years old, wealthy, probably very opinionated and used to getting what he wanted, plus some of his children were nearing adulthood, and he was just not ready to settle into new land that did not meet his expectations.

Edward Howell lived near Water Mill located by
Mecox Bay in Southeastern Long Island
Fortunately for Edward he was not alone in his thinking and he was soon able to gather a group of men and their families together who like his family wanted to find a better place to settle. This group (often referred to as the "Undertakers") consisting of eight men all currently living with their families in the Lynn area, purchased a tract of land at the southeastern end of Long Island near what is is now called the Mecox Bay just east of what is now the City of Southampton. We were surprised to discover during our research that of these eight men, four of them including Edward Howell were my great grandfathers (one on my mother's side and three on my father's side) although two of the men were father and son (See Chapter 13, The Sayre Family in this Baker Family Blog). Anyway, these man invested in a small sailing sloop and in July of 1640, they and their families sailed to the southeast coastline of Long Island. They were soon joined by other families making the original group of settlers around twenty families. Edward Howell is typically listed in historical accounts of this new settlement as their leader and their largest investor which somehow we do not find surprising.

For the next fifteen years until his death at the age of 71 in 1655, Edward Howell played a major role in the early development of Long Island. In 1644, he constructed a water-powered mill on a small stream that flowed into the Mecox Bay that was used by all of the local residents to grind their grain, rye, and wheat. Portions of his original grist mill still exist today in the Village of Water Mill. (See map above and the photograph). Edward is further credited with being on the Governor's Council for Colonial Connecticut from 1647 until 1653 and a member of the Connecticut Legislature from 1647 until his death in 1655. During this period of history, Long Island was considered a part of Connecticut.  Edward Howell was also a local magistrate for his community then called Mecox, and he helped compile many of the local rules and regulations for their colony, some of which still exist today on paper in his own handwriting.

It was obviously a very sad day when Edward Howell died shortly before the 6th of October in 1655.  Where he is buried is unknown but a memorial gravestone marks his life and death and sits in the Old Southampton Burial Ground in Southampton. After the death of Edward, his second wife Eleanor Maier Howell is believed to have married again in 1656 to a man named Thomas Sayre who was also one of the original eight men along with Edward who had emigrated from Lynn to Long Island in 1640. Thomas Sayre just happens to be my 8th great grandfather on another family tree but that is another story. Sadly however, Eleanor died a year later in 1657.

It was truly remarkable when we discovered that possibly three of the children of Edward and Frances Paxson Howell were our great grandparents although admittedly there is some controversy as to the accuracy of these family trees. Their oldest daughter, Dorothy Howell (1620-1670) is believed to have married a man named Richard Woodhull (1620-1691) in 1644 and together they had around ten children. Their son Richard Woodhull Jr. (1649-1699) was the beginning of this branch of our family line to my grandmother on my father's side, Helen Mary Spaulding (1887-1937). My great grandfather Richard Woodhull was a prominent citizen on Long Island during his lifetime.

Dorothy's younger sister, Margaret Howell (1622-1707) was also one of our great grandmothers. Sometime in the early 1640s she married a man named John Moore (1620-1657) and together they had at least five children including their son Joseph Moore (1651-1724) who was my 7th great grandfather. This branch of my family tree carries down to my great grandfather, Charles Spaulding Baker, husband of Helen Mary Spaulding. Little is known about John Moore although like his in-laws he was a very early resident in the Southampton area of Long Island and an active member of their early governing body. He is referred to in most of the historical documents as the Rev. John Moore as apparently he and his family later moved and help found what is now the city of Newtown in Queens County (near New York City) where he became the leader of the local church. After his death in 1657, Margaret married a man named Francis Doughty and they moved into New Amsterdam where she and her 2nd husband eventually died. Incidentally, one of the descendants of my great grandparents Margaret Howell and John Moore is a man named Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863), who is my 3rd cousin 6x removed and the author of the forever lasting poem "The Night Before Christmas."

Dorothy's and Margaret's younger brother, John Howell (1624-1693) was also one of my great grandfathers. John married my great grandmother, Susannah Mitchell (1627-1711) around 1647 and together they had over ten children including my 8th great grandfather, John Howell Jr. (1648-1692). My great grandfather Charles Schenck Baker is also a direct descendant of John Howell. John Howell Sr. spent most of his life in the Southampton area where he filled many important positions both in the military as well as the government. The story of his life would definitely fill another interesting chapter in our family history blog.

There is one final relationship that probably should be mentioned although it is not a direct line in our family tree. The son of Edward Howell and his 2nd wife, Eleanor (not our great grandmother), a man named Edmund Howell (1632-1706) married a girl named Hannah Sayre. Hannah's father who it turns out was Thomas Sayre (1597-1670), and our 8th great grandfather and one of the original founders along with Edward Howell of our first English colony on Long Island. We mentioned him earlier. There is a great deal that we could write about all of these closely related ancestors who were early residents on Long Island, but, our story is now long enough and we must wait for another day.

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