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.

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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.

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