Transatlantic letters: from Boston to Romford

This letter from Robert C Anderson, a researcher looking at the social connections between the earliest settlers in New England, tells of an exciting discovery in the archives at Essex Record Office.

At the end of September I was following in the footsteps of an earlier historian in his work on Rev Stephen Marshall of Wethersfield and Finchingfield.  One of the citations he gave was D/DMs C2.

When I submitted my order for this item it brought forth a bundle of about a dozen letters written to various members of the Mildmay family.  Once I had studied the letter relating to Marshall I looked through the remaining items in the bundle.

To my surprise two of the letters [D/DMs C4/5 and D/DMs C4/7] were written by Michael Powell of Boston, Massachusetts to Carew Mildmay of Romford, Essex, one in 1649 and one in 1651.  To the best of my knowledge these letters have never been published nor even mentioned in the literature.  This was an exciting discovery and one which I am keen to bring to a wider audience in America through my ongoing work on the migration from England to New England in the 1620s and 1630s and the associated website of my project, www.greatmigration.org.

Michael Powell to Carew Mildmay

One of the letters from Michael Powell in Boston to Carew Mildmay in Romford (D/DMs C4/7)

Michael Powell was born in England about 1605 and married Abigail Bedle of Wolverston, Suffolk.  They emigrated to New England in 1639 and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, possibly following Rev Timothy Dalton who had been minister at Wolverston until leaving for the New World in 1636.  Powell and his family initially lived in Dedham but in 1648 they moved to Boston where Powell was a lay preacher in the Second (Old North) Church.  He was ruling elder there until his death in 1673.  His widow Abigail died in 1677 and left bequests to their 4 daughters, Abigail, Elizabeth, Dorothy and Margaret.

Michael Powell signature

Michael Powell’s signature on one of the letters (D/DMs C4/7)

In both of these letters, Michael Powell reminded Carew Mildmay of their past close associations and commiserated with Mildmay regarding the difficulties he was experiencing in the Civil War. In the 1649 letter Powell noted that he had had a report that “the lord hath preserved you & yours in these dangers when Essex was visited with the Cavileirs [sic],” referring apparently to an assault on Mildmay’s residence at Romford.

Powell to Mildmay

Powell writes to Mildmay as ‘an old freind of oures’ [sic] Michael Powell signature

Powell also informed Mildmay of events in New England, including the recent death of Governor John Winthrop, Mildmay’s cousin. Powell stated that “I live now at Boston & follow my trade. We have 2 sons & 6 daughters.” Although the identity of Powell’s wife has long been known, the residence of the family in England just prior to migrating to New England was not. Based on the obvious prior friendship between Powell and Mildmay, a search of the Romford parish register revealed baptisms for two Powell children there, a son John in 1637 and a daughter Abigail in early 1639, only a few months before the family sailed to New England.

It was a real thrill to find two previously unknown pieces of correspondence from Michael Powell which will add another piece of the jigsaw to the details of his life and connections to the early settlers in New England.

_________________________________________________________________________

The Great Migration Directory, by Robert Charles Anderson, lists all those families and unattached individuals, about 5600, who came to New England between 1620 and 1640 as part of the Great Migration. Each entry provides data on English origin (if known), year of migration, residences in New England, and the best treatment of that immigrant in the published secondary literature. The book may be ordered through the New England Historic Genealogical Society here. A copy is also available in the ERO Library.

Essex-American connections: Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)

In the run up to ERO’s trip to Boston, we take a look at the life of Thomas Hooker, Chelmsford’s town lecturer who went on to become one of America’s founding fathers.

Thomas Hooker (1586-1647) spent the years c.1625-1631 in Chelmsford as the town’s lecturer, drawing large crowds to his sermons. In 1633, along with his wife and children, he made the perilous voyage from England to New England. He went on to become one of the most important men in the new world and is well known in America today, as a co-founder of the state of Connecticut, and the ‘Father of American democracy’, yet he is little known in the country of his birth.

Hooker was born in Leicestershire and studied at Cambridge, as part of a circle including several future Puritans. Puritans were extreme Protestants who were unhappy with what they saw as Catholic elements in the structure and style of worship in the Church of England.

Chelmsford

In about 1625 Hooker and his wife Susannah moved with their young family (at least one daughter, Joanna, and possibly their second daughter Mary) to Chelmsford, where Hooker had been appointed as town lecturer. The couple had four more children while living in Chelmsford, two of whom died in infancy and whose baptisms and burials are recorded in the local parish registers. The family lived at Cuckoos in Little Baddow just outside Chelmsford, a farmhouse which is still standing today.

Ann Hooker baptism Great Baddow 1626

‘Ann the daughter of Thomas Hooker and Susan his wyff was baptised’, January 1626, Great Baddow (D/P 65/1/1, image 28)

Ann Hooker burial Chelmsford 1626

Burial record for ‘Ann the daughter of Mr Thomas Hooker of Baddow Minister and of Susan his wife’ from the Chelmsford parish register, 23 May 1626 (D/P 94/1/2, image 90). She would have been about 5 months old.

Sarah Hooker baptism Chelmsford 1628

Baptism of Sarah Hooker, 9 April 1628, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 95)

Burial of Sarah Hooker, 26 August 1629, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 99). She would have been about 16 months old.

Burial of Sarah Hooker, 26 August 1629, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 99). She would have been about 16 months old.

Cuckoos Farm Little Baddow home of Thomas Hooker

Cuckoos farm house, Little Baddow, home to the Hooker family during their time in Chelmsford (Photo: Peter Kirk)

Hooker’s duties in Chelmsford included two lectures a week, which people came from miles around to hear, including from the great families of Essex such as the Earl of Warwick who had a house in Great Waltham, near Chelmsford. Many of the people who came to listen to Hooker also made the journey to New England themselves, meeting him there again, becoming known as ‘Mr Hooker’s Company’.

Hooker spoke against some of the doctrines of the Church of England and the way it was organised, believing it was too close to Roman Catholicism.

Puritans did not seek just reform within the church, but also moral reform within society. The Chelmsford in which Hooker lived had a population of about 1,000, and more than its fair share of ale houses. Drunkenness was a particular focus of the Puritans. According to Magnalia Christi Americana: or, the Ecclesiastical History of New England (published in 1820 in Hartford, Connecticut):

‘there was more profaneness than devotion in the town and the multitude of inns and shops… produced one particular disorder, of people filling the streets with unseasonable behaviour after the public services of the Lord’s Day were over. But by the power of his [Hooker’s] ministry in public, and by the prudence of his carriage in private, he quickly cleared the streets of this disorder, and the Sabbath came to be very visibly sanctified among the people.’

Since this was written some 200 years later in the state where Hooker became a hero this needs to be treated with some caution, but gives an insight into views on Hooker over the centuries.

Bishop Laud and Hooker’s flight to Holland

William Laud

William Laud, Bishop of London from 1628 and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633

During Hooker’s time in Chelmsford, in July 1628 William Laud was appointed Bishop of London (he would go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633). Essex was still part of the Diocese of London, and Laud set about weeding out Puritan clergy.

Hooker’s reputation was spread and he was widely known to attract large crowds to his Puritan sermons. Hooker was called before the Court of High Commission in London and dismissed from his Chelmsford job. Withdrew to Little Baddow and set up a school in his house, but did still preach at St Mary’s in Chelmsford, despite the ban.

He was called before the Court of High Commission again, but fled to Holland in spring 1631. Susannah and the children were taken in by the Earl of Warwick in Great Waltham.

Before he left he preached a farewell sermon to the congregation at Chelmsford, which was printed in 1641 as The Danger of Desertion: Or A Farewell Sermon of Mr Thomas Hooker, Sometimes Minister of Gods Word at Chainsford in Essex; but now of New England. Preached immediately before his departure out of Old England. He had a warning for his listeners: “Shall I tell you what God told me? Nay, I must tell you on pain of my life. God has told me this night that he will destroy England.”

New England

After two years of separation, Thomas Susannah and their four surviving children set sail for New England on 10 July 1633 on the Griffin.

About 200 passengers were on board, including other influential men who would play their part in shaping the new world. The voyage was part of what became known as the Great Migration of 1629-40, during which about 20,000 people left England for America, mostly to seek freedom to practice their religion.

The Hookers first went to Newtown (now Cambridge) just outside Boston, where they were joined by several people described as ‘Mr Hooker’s Company’, whom they had known in Essex. Hooker was ordained as the pastor of the congregation on 11 October 1633. In 1636 the decision was made to move again and establish another Newtown (which was to become Hartford) in the Connecticut river valley.

As the English colonies proliferated (despite the presence of Native Americans and Dutch and French settlers) questions of government were under constant discussion, and Thomas Hooker played an active part.

A sermon by Hooker in which he declared that “The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people” is widely credited as the inspiration behind the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut of January 1639, which in turn is seen as an important precursor to the current US Constitution.

Thomas Hooker died on 7 July 1647, 14 years after his arrival in New England. John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts and leader of the Winthrop Fleet which had sailed over in 1630, wrote after Hooker’s death that:

‘Mr Hooker who for piety, prudence, wisdom, zeal, learning, and what else might make him serviceable – might be compared with men of the greatest note – and he shall need no other praise.’

Thomas Hooker plaque Chelmsford

Plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker’s life in Chelmsford, on entrance alleyway to Chelmsford Cathedral

If you would like to know more about Thomas Hooker, Deryck Collingwood’s very detailed study Father of American Democracy: Thomas Hooker, 1586-1647 is available in the ERO library. You could also see Hubert Ray Pellman’s thesis Thomas Hooker: A Study in Puritan Ideals, which is catalogued as T/Z 561/35/1.

For an introduction to the Essex contribution to the early days of America, try John Smith’s Pilgrims and Adventurers: Essex (England) and the making of the United States of America, which is available in the ERO library, and also available to purchase from the Searchroom or by calling 033301 32500.

ERO goes to Boston!

We have a very exciting announcement today – two ERO staff members will be crossing the pond in the summer for a flying visit to Boston, to introduce the delights of the ERO to an American audience.

Allyson and Neil

Allyson Lewis, Archivist, and Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager, have over 25 years of ERO experience between them, and have a packed schedule of talks and events for their 5 day trip. You can find out more about this ERO dream team below.

This is where they will be – if you are in the area do pop in to see them! Drop in to hear them speak on how to access and use ERO records through our online service Essex Ancestors, and for the opportunity to ask them questions about researching your Essex ancestors.

Monday 3 August, 9.30-4.30 Tracing Your English Ancestors from Essex – event with the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 99-101 Newbury Street, Boston, MA.All the details can be found hereNEHGS was established in 1845 and is a leading resource for genealogists. Its library and archive houses over 28 million items dating back over hundreds of years.
Tuesday 4 August Neil and Allyson will be speaking at the National Archives in Boston at 1.00pm, and running a family history helpdesk from 2.00pm-.004pm 380 Trapelo Road, Waltham, MA 02452Toll Free: 866-406-2379www.archives.gov/northeastThe National Archives at Boston is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which has several locations across the USA. The NARA facility in Boston stores approximately 30,000 cubic feet of original records, which date back to 1789.
Wednesday 5 August Neil and Allyson will be at Boston Public Library with a presentation at 2.00pm and helpdesk until 4.00pmBoston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA, 02116617-859-2261
Thursday 6 August Neil and Allyson will be at Boston City Archives to introduce the staff to Essex AncestorsArchives and Records Management Division, 201 Rivermoor Street, West Roxbury,  MA 02132, 617-635-1195; FAX: 617-635-1194

You can explore images and documents from the Boston City Archives collections here: http://cityofbostonarchives.tumblr.com

Friday 7 August Neil and Allyson will be at the Joseph P. Healey Library at The University of Massachusetts at Boston from 10.00am-12.00noon – more details here

For further information including booking please get in touch with the individual venues. Neil and Allyson look forward to meeting you!

A bit more about Allyson and Neil…

Allyson Lewis is an archivist with 30 years’ experience.  She is a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford where she read Modern History.  She then took a Masters in Archive Administration at University College London.  She has worked at Essex Record Office for 12 years and has responsibility for providing Access Points around the county to bring the Record Office closer to the public. She has focussed on researching First World War ancestry as part of the commemorations of the First World War in 2014.  Allyson was born in Liverpool but her family come from all parts of the UK and mainly lead back to the Shetland Islands.

Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager of the Essex Record Office, was born in and educated in Chelmsford before undertaking his first degree at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. He started working at the ERO in 2000 when the new building was opened. At the University of Essex he completed an MA in Local and Regional History and has a strong interest in the history of the county of Essex sparked off mainly by his Dad telling him tales of watching American bombers taking off from the nearby Boreham Aerodrome. His Wiffen ancestors can be traced back to the Halstead area of Essex to at least 1800 but he is waiting to retire before undertaking his family history proper.