Robert and His Times By Daniel Madden
Neighbor to Puritans, 1637-1693
The train of events that brought Robert Smith, Verniceís first American ancestor, to Ipswich, Massachusetts, embarks on February 4, 1555, near Warwick in Nottinghamshire, England. That was the day and the place where Reverend John Rogers was burned at the stake for heresy while his entire family, including 17 year old John and 4 year old Richard, were compelled to watch. Imagine their emotions as they watched their Puritan father writhe in agony and burst into flames as he refused to recant his beliefs. All this because Queen Mary I of England, "Bloody Mary", chose to exert her authority and that of her church.
In the past, English Kings and Queens had used such public punishments effectively, and this produced the expected result: terror and submission. But Mary had to execute 300 "heretics" and the Protestant Movement seemed to grow with each execution. John Rogers had been well-known. He had assisted William Tyndale in writing the Anglican translation of the Bible, and he was a leader of the Anglican Reformation Movement. To future generations, he would be "John-the Martyr-Rogers".
His descendants would be heard from again. They would be the spiritual leaders for churches in Puritan Ipswich, Rowley, Boxford and Leominster, Massachusetts. They would influence Robert Smith and his children, and eventually become part of the bloodline of Vernice Smith.
2. The Great Puritan Migration (1630-40):
Over the next eighty years after Rogerís death, Puritan sentiment flourished in England. Puritans wanted to "purify" the Anglican Church beyond the simple separation from the papacy that satisfied Henry the Eighth (1509-1547). They agitated for abolishing bishops, liturgy, and images of saints. They demanded more emphasis on congregational self-governance, the Bible, and simplicity of meetinghouse interiors.
Puritans did not seek mere toleration of their views. Religious tolerance was a concept unfamiliar to the 17th century mind. As one writer reported, this was an era when tolerance "was not only unknown in England, but when the word itself could not be found in the dictionary". Accordingly, Puritans wanted the English King to make the changes they advocated and to impose them on the rest of the British Isles.
These hopes peaked at the time of the accession of King James I (1603-1625). James Stuart had been raised a Protestant, and many of his teachers were Calvinist. Within a few short years, though, these dreams collapsed. James I recognized that weakening Anglican bishops would weaken the King. He was not going to make the changes they desired. Further, the early years of the reign of his son, Charles I (1625-45), showed many Puritans that things might get much worse. Then, in 1633, the dark dreams began unfolding. King Charles I appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, and together they began a fresh campaign to persecute Puritans and other religious Non-Conformists.
Meantime, the Americas offered optimism! In 1620, a small colony of Puritans had successfully established a community in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Then, in 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company, led by Puritan John Winthrop, obtained a charter to establish similar colonies along the New England Coast from the Charles River in present Boston to the Penobscot River in Maine. Over the next ten years, thousands of Puritan families, 21,000 persons, made the decision to leave their homeland and, with Godís help, establish new communities that accorded with Puritan values.
3. Nathaniel (Ipswich: 1638-1655):
Reverend Nathaniel Rogers, second son of the John Rogers compelled to watch his fatherís heroic incineration in 1555, was among those who made up the Great Puritan Migration. He was born in 1598 in Haverhill, England. At age 14, he entered Emmanuel College, determined to follow his fatherís footsteps and become a minister. He served for a time as a Chaplain and, for five years, preached in the church at Sussex. By that time, Archbishop Laud was increasing the pressure on Puritan pastors. Nathaniel would not accept the "Articles of Visitation" or "bow down at the name of Jesus". Seeing a "storm of persecution coming" and a grim future for those who stood up for their religious beliefs, he sailed for New England.
He arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in November 1636. This timing was fortuitous! John Winthrop, Jr., had just finished leading the settlement of a colony in Agawam, now called Ipswich. This site, 30 miles north of Boston, was a fishermanís paradise with lobsters over 18 pounds and it offered soil that produced an amazing variety of vegetables from turnips to corn. Further, Ipswich needed a new pastor! Its current minister, his cousin, Nathaniel Ward, was in poor health. Accordingly, the Ipswich community ordained Rogers on February 20, 1638. He served them for 17 years, until his death from influenza in 1655.
Being a minister in New Englandís Congregational Church system differed from Nathanielís experience in England. First, his church was now the "established" church so all residents were taxed to support his ministry. Second, only freeman, full members of his church, could vote or hold office in the town or the church. Town meetings and church services took place in the same building: the meetinghouse. All residents, freeman or otherwise, had to honor the Sabbath and attend services.
Under Nathaniel, the congregation flourished and experienced little contention. When he died, he left a "princely fortune" of 1497£ for his heirs. His son, Rev. John Rogers, also preached for many years in Ipswich. In 1683, this John became President of Harvard College. He served there just short of two years, but long enough (barely) to see his own son, also named John, graduate from Harvard.
4. Other Ipswich Settlers (1635-1655):
As important as the Preacher was to any New England settlement, three other persons, both wealthy and lowly, played significant roles in the life of Robert Smith and his descendants.
Thomas French: Thomas was a very early settler, arriving in Ipswich in 1635. He was middling wealthy, leaving an estate of only 217 £ plus a pewter bowl he left to his daughter, Mary. He had great prestige, though, as a commoner, a voter, and as an Ensign in the Ipswich Militia. He lived in a house of moderate means on Bridge Street in Ipswich where he died on August 8th, 1680. His son Thomas inherited some Ipswich real estate and served his community as Constable for many years. Another son, John, a tailor in Topsfield, asked for, and received as his share, a cow valued at 30 £.
William Averill (Avery): William came from Broadway in Worcestershire, England, and lived in Ipswich as soon as March 2, 1637, when "he was granted six acres on the Muddy River". In 1641, he was made a commoner and lived near the Courthouse. He was probably a carpenter. A local historian described his wealth as representative of the community: William had seven children, lived in a one bedroom home, and left an estate of 50£. He left 50 shillings to each child and his remaining estate, including a house, six acres of meadow and 10 acres of "upland ground" to his wife, Abigail. She died a year later. His oldest son, William, and his sister, Sarah, both moved to Topsfield in 1663.
John Whittingham: Mr. John Whittingham was among the most wealthy and influential persons in Ipswich. Its records establish his arrival as 1637. He came from Lincolnshire, England, with his mother "when he had land assigned to him". Whittingham also brought his wife, six children, and at least 2 servants. One Ipswich historian writes that John was "very likely, brother to Thomas Whittingham, Lieutenant of the Ipswich Company". His will records his ownership of "trading stock in the Ipswich Company".
John Whittingham was rich by local standards. His "sumptuously furnished" home on High Street was "one of the largest and finest of that early day". When he died in 1648, his estate included a barn, a cow house, 44 acres of land in Ipswich, and a large tract of land in Southerton, England, near Boston. His home was admired for its furnishings, including such cabinetry as "a joyne cabinet, dresser, and cupboard". He was a leading merchant and trader in the community while also owning over 800 acres, much of it in the Topsfield-Rowley area. As early as 1638, he was a member of the "Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company" and he was an Ensign of the militia in 1646.
He died in 1648, about 11 years after his arrival.
5 Robert Smith: from Lincolnshire to Ipswich (1626-1655):
Robert Smith was also one of these early settlers. He is sometimes seen as an important figure because he was the first American ancestor of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Mormon Faith. His story, though, deserves attention in its own right. His is the saga of a person of "very humble origin" who became successful and respected in Puritan America.
Robert was born in 1626 in Kirton, Lincolnshire, a town near Boston, England, and was christened on April 30th of that same year. His parents were Robert and Margaret Smith. In 1637 or 1638, when he was about 12, he left his family and arrived in the New World. A Salem Court record from March, 1655, reports that:
Robert Smith of Ipswich testified that he came to New England in the same ship as Mr.Whittingham in 1638, as testified by another servant of Mr. Whittingham, they coming from Boston in Lincolnshire, sailing in May 1638 from London.
This remarkable text tells us that Robert, now age 29, came to the area in 1638 as a servant (probably indentured); it implies that by 1655 he no longer was one; and that he resided in Ipswich. No reason is given for this testimony; there were few others like it in the Salem records for the area. Remember, though, that to qualify for a share of land when it came up for distribution, Robert might need to verify his residency.
Questions arise! Why did Whittingham wish to take this 12 year old with him to America? Was Robert a devout Puritan? Was there a particular affinity between them? Did Robert have some special skill that Whittingham knew he would need in New England? From Robertís perspective, why was he willing to go? He would be leaving his home and family forever. Did he have a skill, or expect to learn one, that would give him more opportunity in life? Often we cherish and admire the bravery of our Puritan forefathers. Yes, they were driven from their homeland, but they did have the companionship of their families. Robert was alone! He had amazing bravery and pluck!
So it appears that Robert resided in Ipswich from 1638 until at least 1655 and, for part of that time, lived in the home of one of the wealthiest persons in the community. He likely slept in either that home or in the nearby "cow house". The nature of his service may have been carpentry, cow-herding, or shop-keeping. Perhaps, all of them! By 1656, though, Robert had certainly moved on, married Mary French, and was pasturing his own herd in the Topsfield/Boxford region.
How did Robert meet Mary? Most likely, the military connection between Thomas French and John Whittingham opened this door. Perhaps, though, it was simply because Ipswich was a very small community, and the two residences were nearby. In any event, Thomas must have approved the marriage even though Robert Smith had been a servant and was not a freeman. The record of their marriage is evidently lost, but likely took place in 1656. In a letter, Joseph Smith Jr., descendant of "the prophet", gives no date or place for the birth of the coupleís first child, Thomas, who died. The second, Mary, arrived on October 28th, 1658. As to Robertís occupation, we do know that he pastured his own cattle in Boxford as early as 1656. In a court record, Kimball v. Smith (1656), relating to "damage done by cattle"; Robert is identified as being from Ipswich, but two of those testifying about this damage, Robert Andrews and his wife, lived in Rowley Village (Boxford) as early as 1652. It is unclear on whose behalf the Andrews were testifying, but their property was very near the tract Robert would eventually purchase in 1661.
6. Ezekiel (Rowley Town), 1638-1660):
The Reverend Ezekiel Rogers was born in Wethersfield in Essex County, England, in 1588, the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. He was the son of the four year old Richard Rogers who had witnessed the burning of his father in Warwick. In 1620, Ezekiel, age 32, was the pastor of a non-conforming Puritan congregation in Rowley, England, and over time became its charismatic, spiritual leader.
Ezekiel was outspoken and Archbishop Laudís persecutions after 1633 clearly effected n him. By early1638, he was forbidden to lead any congregations in England because he refused "to read the Accursed Book [The Book of Common Prayer] which allowed sports on Godís Holy Sabbath". Following the example of his cousin, Nathaniel Rogers, Ezekiel fled to New England.
So it was that Ezekiel, his family, and 19 other families from his congregation, boarded the ship John in the summer of 1638 and headed for Salem Harbor. When they arrived, another twenty families were waiting. Knowing that the General Court of Massachusetts thought 50 families to be the number needed for a successful settlement and for supporting a minister, Ezekiel asked them on behalf of his congregation for a tract of land between Ipswich and Newbury (on the Merrimac River). While waiting for their response, another nineteen families joined his group. Finally, in early 1639, the Massachusetts General Court responded with the requested land grant, initially called "New Plantation", but subsequently renamed "Rowley". The area involved included present day Rowley, Topsfield, Boxford, Georgetown, and Middleton. Ezekielís group purchased this extensive tract from the towns of Ipswich and Newbury for 800£.
They established their community and its cluster of residences at the present site of Rowley and the Town was incorporated on September 4, 1639. Three months later, Rowley formally installed Reverend Ezekiel Rogers as pastor of its First Congregational Church. Under Rowleyís settlement procedure, congregation members held their land in common for five years, after which each family received a lot. The colony was a fine success. As one historian reported, the community thrived and "became a prominent colonial town. Their harvests were mostly abundant, and their log-cabins warm, and every thing appeared as cheerful and pleasant as could be expected." The Reverend Ezekiel Rogers, their leader, served them until his death in1660. He had no children.
7. Robert Smith: The Rowley Village Years (1656-1673):
In the southwest corner of Rowley Town were the 17,000 acres, or 26 square miles, that eventually became Boxford, the second Massachusetts home of Robert Smith. This area included the future towns of Topsfield, Georgetown, and Middleton. It was completely unoccupied until 1645 when Abraham Reddington built a house there. Abraham was a wealthy and influential person. In 1652, the Massachusetts General Court approved construction of a road from Andover to Ipswich that passed by the Reddington home. After that, more settlers trickled in. But by 1665, there were still only eight families. Mostly, they clustered along the road near the Reddington property in an area that was called Rowley Village (as distinct from Rowley Town) until 1685 when its name changed to Boxford.
In1661, Joseph Jewett, one of those who arrived with Ezekiel on the John, purchased 3,000 acres from Rowley Town, and he, in turn, sold off 1,200 of it to 6 individuals with whom he had made previous arrangements. These 1,200 acres were on the flat arable land near the border with Topsfield. Robert Smith was not among the six listed sub-purchasers, but Town of Rowley records from 1668 report that the 120 acres of Lieutenant John Remington, located near the Topsfield line were "now in the possession of Robert Smith". Remington left the Rowley area in 1661 or 1662. By the time of his death, Robert acquired another 88 acres for a total estate of 208 acres.
Robert and Mary lived out their remaining years on this quiet Boxford farm, located near the Topsfield line. Despite meeting the property qualifications, Robert was an "inhabitant" rather than a "freeman", meaning he could not vote or hold office in either the town or his church. He may have chosen not to be "in full communion" or been disallowed because his religious beliefs did not meet local standards. Even so, his neighbors respected him, and the available records support the following comments from Joseph Smith Jr.:
He was a quiet and unassuming man, devoted to the welfare of the settlement, and ever ready to lend a helping hand to the needy.
According to the same source, the couple had 10 children: five sons and five daughters. Their oldest surviving son, Ephraim (Verniceís ancestor), was born on October 29, 1663, in Boxford. The second son, Samuel, was born on January 26th, 1667, and he became the ancestor of "the Prophet" Joseph Smith Jr. None of these birth records, though, were of church baptisms despite the availability, beginning in 1663, of a pastor nearby at Topsfield. Was this due to the ministerís (or Robertís) views on infant baptism or that Robert did not "own the covenant"?
Robert and Mary likely supported their family with the produce of their farm. While cabinet-making and coopering (barrel making) were important skills of his children, pasturing livestock was the likely basis if their subsistence. Most area farms grew their own vegetables and made their own milk, cheese, shoes, barrels, and cabinets. In 1685, the chief product of Boxford farmers was corn grown for feeding cattle or sheep. This did not change much over the next century though population grew from 40 families to 142. A 1768 economic census of Boxford reports 1200 sheep, 609 cattle, and 113 swine. There were only 626 acres under tillage; 2836 for pasturage. If the Smith farm was typical of the area, their 200 acres would have devoted 36 acres to raising corn and 164 to pasturing 70 sheep and 36 cattle.
8. The Topsfield Church (1660-1697):
Robert Smith was very familiar with both Reverends Rogers! While living in Ipswich from 1637 to 1655, Nathaniel Rogers preached in Ipswich. Then, upon Robertís move to Rowley Village, Ezekiel was the pastor! In Puritan society, church attendance was mandatory as was the payment of "ministerís rate" as part of oneís taxes.
The little settlement at Rowley Village, at the edge of the Town boundary, was an anomaly. The Town itself had more than the 40 settlers needed to support Reverend Ezekiel even without the village residents, but the small Village, in 1663, had only 8 families. Until it could support its own minister, it was unable to incorporate and was obliged to pay the ministerís rate for the preacher at Rowley Town. The Village, though, was 9 miles from the Town, well beyond comfortable winter traveling distance to the Town each Sabbath. Accordingly, the Villagers negotiated a deal with the adjacent new Town of Topsfield: if Topsfield would move their meetinghouse closer to Rowley Village, the villagers would join the Topsfield Church. All this depended upon the consent of the Town of Rowley; otherwise, they would be paying the required ministerís rate to the Town of Rowley and a similar figure for their Topsfield pastor. For a while, village residents did just that! Finally, in May of 1667, the Town agreed that half their ministerís rate could go to the Topsfield pastor with the other half for the Rowley church. In February of 1672, the Town allowed 75% of the ministerís rate to be retained for Topsfield.
While the settlers of Rowley Village enjoyed a positive connection with their Topsfield neighbors, the pastors of this church suffered tumultuous times with this congregation. Their first minister was Reverend Thomas Gilbert who came in 1663. His pastorate was "far from being an easy one" as his people "sometimes arraigned him before courts of law". He was once charged with sedition for his intemperate language when he begged God to "convert the King and the royal family from their superstition and idolatry". When Gilbert died in 1673, a Pastor Hobart replaced him. He too had difficulties. Topsfield sued him and lost, but fired him anyway in 1680. He was followed by Reverend Joseph Capen, a graduate of Harvard, who stayed on over 30 years. By far, he had the best rapport with this congregation! But, further challenges lay ahead!
Even as early as 1672, some Boxford residents who lived far from the Topsfield church were unhappy with this Topsfield connection. They appealed to the Massachusetts General Court and asked it to terminate this relationship. This was an issue that Robert cared about! He and four others wrote and signed a petition asking the Court to oppose this request on the grounds that theyĖand three of those who wanted to terminate the agreement -had given their word to the Topsfield community. Robert is the first name on the petition. Traditionally, the first signature is that of the most prestigious of the signatories. But, it could also indicate that Robert was the author. Accordingly, you can find the entire document in Appendix A, Document #1.
The General Court chose not to act. In effect, they accepted Robertís position. Still, the Village population blossomed! While, in 1663, there were only 8 families and, in 1673, there were 16; by 1685, Boxford had 40 (200 persons). This was enough to incorporate-which they did. That was the year Rowley Village became Boxford. The community no longer had to go to Rowley Town for government decisions, but the next issue was the sensitive one of where Boxford would go to church.
Robert and those residing near Topsfield opposed building a new church in the center of Boxford. Consequently, no Boxford church was built until January 1701 when the town constructed the East Parish Church near the Topsfield line. Not until 1736 did the town build its second meetinghouse for the West precinct of Topsfield. Even in 2006, there are only two Congregational churches in Boxford: the East and West parishes.
9. Neighbors (1670-1693):
The Topsfield church community of Robert and Mary Smith provided most of the spouses for two of the ancestors of Vernice Smith; Salem provided the third.
John French was the brother of Mary French, Robertís wife. He was a carpenter and lived in Topsfield as early as 1664 when a daughter was born. Reverend Capen reports in 1684 that both John and his wife Phoebe were already members "in full communion". Robert Smithís second daughter was named Phoebe. In 1693, John served as surety, protecting the interests of his sister, for Robert Smithís estate.Tragically, in 1701, his wife, Phoebe, drowned herself.
William Averill, the oldest son of William Avery of Ipswich, was a carpenter. Born on June 16 in 1625, in Chipping Norton, England, he moved with his father, at age12, to Ipswich. In 1661, at age 36, he served as the Ipswich Surveyor of Highways. Then, in 1663, he purchased 100 acres in Topsfield and moved there. Four years later, as that community grew, William built a saw mill and began operating it. He was a freeman, active in the Topsfield church. He died in 1691.
His youngest sister, Sarah, born in 1632, also moved to Topsfield in 1663 when she married John Wilde. Twenty nine years later, Salem tried her as a witch. Other accused witches avoided execution by admitting their crime, repenting, and naming their accomplices. Sara, though, persisted in her denial that she had ever met and covenanted with Satan. Due, perhaps, to the sheer number of her young frenzied accusers, she was found guilty and hanged on Gallows Hill, Salem, on July 19, 1692.
John Ramsdell was born in England in 1602. Like Robert Smith, he came to New England as a servant. In 1657, he attested that he had been indentured to Captain Turner some 25 years ago "or thereabouts" (in 1632). Ramsdell came to Boxford from Lynn and was familiar with iron forging.
The Leonard brothers, Henry and James, had developed an iron forge business in Plymouth in 1640. They moved to Lynn where they met John. Together, the three men moved to Rowley Village in 1669. The Leonard brothers relied upon Ramsdell to "assistÖin carrying on the works". On May 31, 1671, John married Elizabeth Perkins, daughter of an early Rowley area preacher. Their daughter, Mary, was born on January 27th, 1674. She married Ephraim Smith on September 6, 1694.
John was among the five signatories of the Robert Smith petition of 1673. This suggests that, like Robert, he had assumed the land of one of the original six 1661 land purchasers. The iron works failed in 1680!
Jeremiah Rogers was a great-great grandson of the John Rogers who died so gruesomely in England in1555. All Jeremiahís lineal ancestors to the Martyr were named John. Some were parsons. One of them possessed the "partly burned" Bible that the Martyr carried at the time of his death.
Jeremiahís father was born in 1632 in Dorchester, near Boston, Massachusetts. In 1666, Jeremiah was also born there. By 1684, though, Jeremiah had moved to Salem, Massachusetts, where, at that time, his son John was born. A local historian reports that Jeremiah lived on the Salem Commons and operated a wheelwright shop as late as 1700. John was christened at Salemís First Church in 1703 and graduated from Harvard, seeking to become a minister, in 1705. Salem was only about 7 miles from Boxford.
10. Robert Smith and his Times: 1626-1693
Robert Smith lived in exciting times! His life experience shows that social advancement occurred in Puritan New England. He himself rose from indentured servant to landowner and respected community member. This is particularly impressive because Robert had no family connection to help him. Also, Pastor Capenís 1684 listing of church members shows Mary Smith as "in full communion", but Robertís name does not appear on that list (or on the subsequent register of new full members)! Robert, then, was not a freeman. He could neither vote nor hold office in either his church or community!
His story is so bucolic and uneventful that it is easy to forget all that was going on around him. First, Colonial Massachusetts was a very dangerous place! As John Winthropís Journal points out; people got lost in the woods, drowned in storms, and fell through the ice. Sometimes, wolves ate their cattle and fires destroyed their barns and homes. Robert seems to have escaped all this, but Boxford settlers knew they lived in a menacing natural environment!
Second, after King Phillips War broke out in 1675, conflict with the French and area Indians was the norm rather than the exception for the next 80 years. The period of amicable relations with Indians was over. While Boxford was distant from the most threatened parts of Massachusetts, its citizens realized that this could change. These wars affected Boxford families as their men were often called to help out their western neighbors. During King Phillips War, for example, Indians ambushed and massacred two companies of colonial militia in 1676 near Sudbury, Massachusetts. Seventy six men were killed including four from nearby Rowley. Eight Boxford men returned to tell the horrific story.
Finally, Robert Smith and his neighbors were making history! Their governor, John Winthrop, had quietly converted the Massachusetts Bay joint stock company into a Republic. He did this by giving voting rights in the company to all freemen (church members) instead of limiting voting to investors. Kings and emperors ruled nearly all the remaining known world; only the Dutch and the Swiss also had republics. Through Winthropís action, Massachusetts had effectively substituted "annually elected rulers for a hereditary monarchy and independent self-starting churches for the whole hierarchical structure of the Church of England".
In 1685, the King of England, finally realizing what had occurred, repealed the Massachusetts Bay Charter. For fifty years, though, the people of Boxford, Topsfield and other places in Massachusetts had been electing their own government leaders, starting churches, and hiring and firing their ministers. Despite the charterís repeal, they would never really give this up!
11. Exploring your Past:
Currently, there are available resources for you to "feel" what Robert and some of our other ancestors experienced in Ipswich, Topsfield and Boxford. The readings below are important sources. There are also some historical sites and activities. You can reach this area by driving north of Boston on I-95 to the Topsfield exit:
Readings: (1) Thomas Waters, History of Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1908. (2) Blodgett, Early Settlers of Rowley Massachusetts, 1933. (3) Dow, History of Topsfield, 1940. (4) Sidney Perley, History of Boxford, 1880.
(1) Ipswich: (a) Look for the sites of the Whittingham, Averill, and French homes in Ipswich. (b) Tour the Whipple House, 53 S. Main Street, to get a feel for living conditions in colonial Ipswich.
(2) Topsfield: Visit the Capen House near the village Green and Hwy 97. It was the home of Robert and Mary Smithís pastor from 1680-1710.
(3) Boxford: (a) Check Essex County (Salem) and Boxford records for the land that Robert Smith purchased. Where is it? Who did he purchase it from? Was it some of the Whittingham purchase? (b) Review the Topsfield and Boxford Vital Records for relevant births and records. (c) Find the monument in Pine Grove Cemetery that memorializes Robert Smith, ancestor of Joseph Smith, Jr.