On a wintry March day in 1638, twenty-three followers of Anne Hutchinson gathered in the Boston living room of William Coddingdon, MD, - the richest man in Boston - and put their signature to the Portsmouth Compact, declaring their intent to organize a settlement with a secular government. The document severed political and religious ties with England, in contrast to loyalty the Puritans maintained with the mother country. These guys, followers of Anne Hutchinson - “banned from Boston” - were Puritans themselves, just with doctrinal differences with the orthodox colonists.
We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given us in His Holy Word of Truth, to be guided and judged thereby.
Anne Hutchinson had challenged the authority and interpretation of the Puritan ministers running the Massachusetts Bay Colony and in turn she was tried and found guilty of heresy, banned not just from Boston but the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mother of 15, she walked six days on foot in the winter from Boston to Aquidneck, the “island” of Rhode Island, and with her followers established a government granting religious freedom - a precursor to the the First Amendment of the Constitution. Ironically, Anne was not a signer even though this was her movement and the signers her followers - because she was a woman. Coddingdon, with the help of Roger Williams who had just settled Providence Plantation, purchased the island from the Indians and in 1638 the group settled what is now Portsmouth. A splinter group set up house at the south end of the island the following year at what is now the beautiful town of Newport.
Our Alice and her Stephen
Our grandmother, Alice Packard Borden, and grandfather, Raymond Nute, were the first of our line of ancestors to move out of New England in three hundred years of generations. Alice’s grandfather, Stephen Bailey Borden (1838-1901), was born and died in Fall River, Mass, as did her mother. Stephen’s ancestors, both maternal and paternal, were born and made their way through life in that area of southeastern Massachusetts over a span of centuries going back to the 1600’s. They came on the Mayflower, the ships that followed in the 1620’s and during the Great Migration of the 1630’s-1640’s. To a person, they all came from England.
Only about 1,800 immigrants arrived in New England during the 1620’s. From 1630 to 1640 over 21,000 left their homes in England and made the voyage to New England. As nearly all of Raymond and Alice’s ancestor lines immigrated during the 1600’s, we have nearly 500 New England ancestor lines.
Twelve families in Stephen’s paternal ancestry settled the Rhode Island in those early years of the Great Migration, and this is the story of those intrepid colonists and the great experiment of the Colony of Rhode Island.
The Original “Rhode Island”
Aquidneck is an island 15 miles long, 5 miles at its widest, set in the middle of Narragansett Bay, the original “Rhode Island.” The island still has just three towns, Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport. Three bridges connect the mainland today, but back in the day travel was by boat.
The banned from Boston group thought to move to the New Amsterdam area, but Roger Williams suggested they buy the Aquidneck Island from the Indians, a friendly group at that time. Roger escaped Boston a few years earlier when he was about to be arrested and lived with Indians for a time until they gave him Providence Plantation. In 1644, Providence and “Rhode Island” came together for common governance.
Land around Portsmouth was parceled out to original settlers and grants given to later arrivals. With families having 10-15 children and following the practice of primogeniture, younger sons left the sea locked island to settle the areas of Fall River, Freetown, Little Compton, and Tiverton.
|Click for larger map view|
Two of our grandfather ancestors, Philip Shearman and John Walker, an uncle, John Briggs, and step-grandfather, John Porter, were among the 23 signers of the Compact exiled from Boston along with Anne. Other grandparent colonists were exiled, but non-signers. The colonists arrived over the next few months in 1638 to settle the colony, including Ralph Earle and Richard Borden, followed by the Briggs, Cornells, Cookes, Pearces and others. To a person, they had substantial resources and/or skills. At the first town meeting in May 1638, the first rule made was “no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise [ways] molested, punished, disquieted or called into question on matters of religion - so long as he keeps the peace.”
The Walker family
Twenty nine year old John Walker (1604-1647) immigrated from Cowfold, West Sussex, England in 1633 with his wife Katharine (1605-1676) and 5 year old daughter Sarah, settling first in Roxbury, MA, where he became a freeman in 1634. A second daughter, Mary, was born in 1636 in Roxbury. Likely drawn by the teachings of Anne Hutchinson, he moved to Boston by 1637 where he was disarmed and exiled as one of her adherents. He was one of the living room signers of the Portsmouth Compact in Boston and went with the group to establish the new Colony of Rhode Island. Admitted as a freeman* to Portsmouth in 1638, he received a 100 acre grant, served on the town council in 1639 and a Portsmouth jury in 1640.
Based on the date of his will, John died around 1647, only 43 years old. Illiterate, he signed with his mark. He had no sons so his land eventually went to the two daughters, naturally to be property of their husbands. Wife Katharine maintained control of 60 acres until her death in 1676. Sarah was already married when her father died. John and Katharine’s burial site is unknown.
Mary Walker (1636-1718) only about eleven at her father’s death, married William Earle in 1654, becoming our Earle grandparent ancestors.
* Being a freeman in colonial times meant the person had the right to vote. He was not a slave, had filled his obligation as an indentured servant, was free of debt, and in some areas it gave the right to own land. There was usually a waiting period of two years while a colony sized you up before giving the right to vote.
The Shearman Family
Another signer of the Portsmouth Compact, disarmed and banned from Boston, Philip Shearman (1611-1687), and his wife Sarah Odding (1609-1681), immigrated to Roxbury, MA, in 1633, the same pattern as our John Walker. Walker, though, originated from Sussex and Shearman from Dedham in Essex, England. Shearman means “cloth-cutter” and he may have been one of the well-to-do fabric merchants of the area and times.
Roxbury church records show Philip and Sarah married in Roxbury in 1633, both about 23 years old, and started their family in Roxbury in 1634, having thirteen children in all. Two children died in early childhood and 4 adult offspring died in 1717-1718, the year of an influenza epidemic in New England. Philip returned to England briefly in 1635 to encourage others to come to the New World.
Philip’s wife, Sarah Odding (1609-1681) was born in Cornwall England to unknown Oddyn and Margaret, maiden name unknown. Widow Margaret, her second husband, John Porter (1605-1674), Sarah and her half sister, Hannah, immigrated to Roxbury in 1630 in Winthrop’s fleet. John was a signer of the Portsmouth Compact and prominent settler in Portsmouth. Margaret’s second husband appears to be about the same age as her daughter Sarah. John acquired a large tract of land on the west side of Narragansett Bay, later South Kingstown, Rhode Island, and left his aging wife behind in Portsmouth. She sued for support and the Portsmouth government granted her suit, forcing John to sell part of his South Kingstown land. Among Margaret and John’s descendants were Commodore Perry, hero on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812, and Stephen Douglas, famous debater of Abraham Lincoln.
Back to our story, Sarah had two young children and would have been about 7 months pregnant when she and Philip made their winter journey from Boston to Portsmouth. He was given 200 acres along the Portsmouth Path (now East Main Road) extending east to the Sakonnet River. Literate, he became the first secretary/recorder of the colony and held a number of other offices, including town council for a number of years.
|Philip Shearman's house, Newport, Rhode Island|
Sherman - as the name spelling was now changed - built a fine house in 1670 which still stands, though moved from its original location. When King Philip’s war arose in 1676, he was asked to be counsel for the General Assembly of Rhode Island as one of their “judicious inhabitants.” Sarah lived to the ripe age of 72 and Phillip to 77 years. Philip died immensely wealthy, landowner of hundreds of acres.
In 1657, six Quaker missionaries landed in Portsmouth that had been colonized by Puritan dissidents and found a warm welcome as they had not in any other part of New England. Among those who joined with them were the Shearmans and Bordens.
Philip and Sarah’s youngest child, Philippa (1652-1731) married Benjamin Chase about 1672 and and moved to Freetown, MA. Her firstborn, Philippa Ruth Chase (1679-1754), married Jacob Hathaway of the Freetown Hathaways and became our Hathaway ancestor line.
The Earle Family
Captain Ralph Earle (1606-1678) and Joan Savage (1609-1780) married in Hertford, England, in 1631 and had four children before immigrating through Exeter to Boston in 1634 and a fifth child after arrival. Ralph’s baptism is recorded at St. Michael’s church in Bishops Stortford, Hertford in 1606, making him 25 years old at the time of crossing the pond to Boston. Joan, also from Hertfordshire, was baptized in 1609 in Bishops Stortford. They were among the early group who came to Portsmouth; Ralph was one of 59 inhabitants admitted in October 1638. Joan may have been related to Thomas Savage, another Portsmouth colonist married to Anne Hutchinson’s sister, Faith.
In early 1639, Ralph was among 31 men who split off from the Portsmouth Hutchinsonians and drafted a new oath of loyalty, this one proclaiming they were legal subjects of King Charles. They moved themselves to the southern end of the island and established Newport, RI, with economics more than religious reasons in mind. They wanted to make money, establish a maritime trade and it wasn’t happening in the farming community of Portsmouth.
Ralph was a person of some consequence in the colony. He was a large landholder, holder of numerous offices, and chosen by town council to run an inn in 1647. He joined a troop of horse in 1667 and became their Captain. His will left his land to oldest son Ralph and grandson born to son William. Substantial land had already been given to son, William.
Four of the five Ralph Earle-Joan Savage children are our grandparent ancestors:
- William Earle (abt 1634-1715), born in Roxbury, married Mary Walker (1636-1718) in 1654. By age 20, he was already buying and selling property. He was accepted as a freeman in Portsmouth in 1658 and moved the family to Dartmouth in 1670 where they had substantial land holdings. His will indicated he had slaves, one of whom he passed on to a daughter. The couple had six children in all. William and Mary are buried in the Portsmouth Friends Churchyard. William and Mary’s 2nd daughter, Mary Walker Earle (1654-1734), married John Borden in 1670 and became our grandparent ancestors for the Borden line.
- Mary Earle (1631-1717) married William Corey (1634-1682) in 1657 in Portsmouth and settled in Tiverton in about 1665; 10 children; died age 86. Daughter Mary Corey (1662-1743) married Thomas Cooke (1667-1726) about 1696 and became grandparent ancestors for the Cooke line.
- Martha Earle (1633-1696) married William Wood (1634-1696) in 1667 in Portsmouth and relocated to Dartmouth in 1686; 10 children, died age 63. They were grandparent ancestors for the Wood family line.
- Sarah Earle (1640-1690), born in Portsmouth, married Thomas Cornell (1627-1673) in 1668 in Portsmouth and they lived with his mother, Rebecca Briggs Cornell who owned the home. Sarah was pregnant with her third child in 1673 when Thomas was accused of murdering his elderly mother and hanged within 5 days. The child, Innocent (1673-1720), was so named because Sarah, present in the home at the time of the incident, believed her husband to be innocent. The murder was the subject of a modern book, Killed Strangely. Sarah remarried 4 years later to David Lake and settled into his 100 acre farm in Tiverton. She was 44 years old when she gave birth to the last child and died around the same time, likely from childbirth. Innocent married Richard Borden, another tie in to our Borden line, and they were grandparent ancestors to Lizzie Borden.
Altogether, the four Earle siblings who were our grandparent ancestors gave Ralph and Joan 33 grandchildren. It’s no wonder the families were expanding to the mainland.
Next post: The Bordens, Cooks, and Cornells. Stay tuned.
Next post: The Bordens, Cooks, and Cornells. Stay tuned.