Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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tive assemblage, which included officials of the city of New York and a
delegation of 100 members of the City Club, Mayor Joseph H. Gainer and
other officials of Providence, members of the Town Council of the town of
East Providence, delegates from the Boston, Plymouth and Flhode Island
Historical Associations and hundreds of the townspeople.

The stone itself, is a large, rough field boulder, bearing this simple
inscription on its west face:

THOMAS WILLETT

1610—1674

FIRST MAYOR

of

NEW YORK

Served 1665 and 1667

Erected by the

CITY CLUB OF NEW YORK



WILLETT

The exercises attending the dedication were witnessed by an assem-
blage of some five hundred persons, and were marked by their dignity and
simplicity.



New York's First Mayor

A Movement for a Monument to Capt. Willett
Points in His Career

The first Mayor of New York is buried in an ancient ground at the
head of Bullock's Cove, in the town of East Providence, where a rough



Personal Sketches 195

stone is erected to his memory, containing the rudely carved and brief
inscription:

1674

Here lyes ye Body

of ye worll Thomas

Willett Esq who died

Avgvst ye 4th in ye 64th

Year of his age anno

The inscription on the footstone reads:

Who Was the

First Mayor
oF New York

& Twice did
Systain yt Place

According to Mrs. George St. SheflBeld's recent history of Attleboro
and that part of Bristol County, Mass., Capt. Thomas Willett stood at the
head of the Attleboro proprietors. His history does not belong exclusively
to Attleboro, as he took an active part in the original Rehoboth North
Purchase. Not much is known of him previous to his emigration to
America. He was a merchant in his native country, and in his travels
became acquainted with Pilgrims in Leyden, and then in Holland, residing
with them prior to their exile to America. In Leyden he learned Dutch,
which came useful in after years. He was one of the last of the Leyden
Company.

He came to America about 1630, when he was twenty-one years old.
One authority says he came in 1629. Others say he was twenty-four years
old when he arrived in Plymouth, where he first resided. He became very
useful in the colony, and on July 1, 1633, he was admitted a freeman of the
colony and granted six acres of land. He was prominent in surveys and in
the purchase of land from the Indians. He was a friend of the red men, and
in deeds now preserved the Indians called him "our loving friend, Capt.
Thomas Willett. " He was made Superintendent of the Plymouth Colony
trading-post at Kennebeck, and while there the Indians planned to slay all
the whites. Willett was reading a Bible when the Indians surrounded his
cabin, and when they entered to take his scalp they thought their plan had
been discovered in the book. So they did not carry it out.

In 1647 Willett became successor to Miles Standish, the Pilgrim
warrior. He was made assistant to the Governor in 1651, and held that
office until 1665. He was selected at this time by the Plymouth Court,
agreeably to his Majesty's Commissioners, to attend them at New York
(which had just been surrendered by the Dutch), for the purpose of
assisting them in organizing the new government. It is mentioned by
Davis in a note to his edition of "Morton's Memorial," that" Col. Nichols,
one of the Commissioners, in a letter to Gov. Prince, written from New
York in the spring following the reduction of the Dutch settlements,
requests that Capt. Willett may have such a dispensation from his official
engagements in Plymouth colony as to be at liberty to assist in modeUing
and reducing the affairs in the settlement into good English. " Col. Nichols
remarked that "Willett was more acquainted with the customs and manners
of the Dutch than any man in this country, and that this conversation was
very acceptable to them."



196 History of Swansea

Capt. Willett executed his duties there to the entire satisfaction of all con-
cerned. His services rendered him so popular with the people that, after the
organization of the government, he was chosen the first English Mayor of
New York; and he was re-elected. Mr. Baylies, in his "History of Ply-
mouth Colony," says: "But even this first of city distinctions conferred by
that proud metropolis did not impart more real honor to his character than
the address and good feeling manifested by him in effecting the practical
settlement of the humble town of Swansea. "

The Dutch had so much confidence in Capt. Willett that he was
selected as umpire to determine the controverted boundary between New
York and New Haven colonies. He was a Commissioner of Delegates of
the United Colonies several years.

After the settlement of Rehoboth Capt. Willett removed to Wanna-
moisett, now Swansea. He owned a quarter of a township, and there asso-
ciated with him was Mr. Myles, the first Baptist minister in Massachusetts.
He married Mary Brown, daughter of John Brown 1., on July 6, 1636. They
had several children. One son was killed in King Philip's war, and one of
his descendants, Col. Willett, a distinguished officer in the Revolutionary
war, was also Mayor of New York. After a residence of a few years in
New York, Capt. Willett returned to Swansea, and there died, August 4,
1674, aged sixty-three years. Mrs. WiUett died in 1669, and is buried
beside her husband.



Thomas Willett

1671, June 15.

From the Journal of William Jefferay, Gentleman.

"Set off for Mr. Willett's today, upon my horse, as far as the north
shore of Portsmouth, which reaclung by noon, after pledging in Mr.
Baulstone's claret, and leaving my horse to be returned, went on in a
shallop, which, unlaiding at Mr. Willett's will, in a few days, return me to
Newport.

"Arrived this evening at Mr. Willett's, and was made most welcome,
by himself and youngest daughter, who keepeth his house, his wife having
died these two years since.

"We had at our supper some exceeding fine oysters, both roasted in
the shell, and stewed out of it, they abounding here in a mixture of fresh
and salt water, which they recpiire. After supper we had much discourse,
such as old men like, he calling himseff aged, though I his elder by near a
score of years. He hath had employment in weighty affairs of State, and
wide venturing in trade on his own behalf, having had valuable leases to
trade upon the Kenebec, by which he hath advantaged so that his estate
is ample and sufficient for his later years. We talked of his early days at
Leyden in HoUand, where he learned his Dutch, so valued later at Man-
hattan.

"June 17. Mr. Willett setteth forth his table with more silver than
I have mostly seen, in these parts, having, as he telleth one, over fourteen
pounds weight thereof. There is a large fruit dish, tankard, wine bowl,
mustard pot, porringer, spoons, snuffers, tobacco box, etc. —

"He hath shown me his books, by which he setteth much store: more
especially, 'Smith's Voyages,' 'Pilgrimage in Holland,' 'Holy War,*
'Heber's Episcopal Policy,' 'Calvin's Harmony,' and, for use upon
occasion, 'General Practice of Physick,' being not near to any other
Physician.

"He hath cattle, sheep, and horses in plenty, and large amount of
land here, at Rehoboth, and at Narragansett, with dwelling houses, ware-



Personal Sketches 197

house and vessels for the sea, in one of which I came, and shall soon return.

"He hath much interest in the church at Plymouth, Rehoboth, and
Swanzey, and liketh the minister here, Mr. Myles, who, calling while I was
there, we advantaged by his talk. Mr. James Brown also called: brother-
in-law to Mr. Willett, and son of Mr. John Brown, late deceased, of
Rehoboth, a leading man there.

"Mr. Willett hath shown me the graves of his wife Mary, and her
parents, at the head of the cove near his house, where also he shall lie, he
saith.

"June 18, Sunday. Went to hear Mr. Myles preach, in the Baptist
way. A good sermon, well set forth. He had a church in Wales, before
settling here. "

John Myles

"This learned preacher of the Church of England, while at Swansea,
Wales, during Cromwell's tolerant rule, changed his church into a strong
Baptist body. Ejected under Charles II in 1662, he came to the Massa-
chusetts Dorchester with several of his flock, and thence went to Rehoboth.
He was somewhat employed there as an assistant preacher, until in 1667
he and his friends of the Wanamoiset district set up a separate worship,
presumably Baptist. The Colony was earnest in securing a learned min-
istry, and the subdivison of parishes had ever been discountenanced lest
they become too weak for this purpose. Even the King's Commissioners
had received no encouragement as to the formation of Episcopal parishes,
unless an "able preaching ministry" could be insured in a place able to
maintain two churches. Myles was in the Rehoboth parish, which could
barely support one learned preacher.

On complaint to the Court, Myles and James Brown were each fined
£5, and Nicholas Tanner £1; but their associates, Joseph Carpenter, John
Butterworth, Eldad Kingsley, and Benjamin AJby, seem to have been dis-
charged. There was in this no persecution because of religious belief, for
the penalty was only that which would have been laid on the most orthodox
of Congregationalists who had in like manner estabhshed a new and poor
church in an existing parish. The absence of sectarian prejudice was clearly
shown by the Court, for after prohibiting the new meeting for only a month,
it advised the defendants, not unkindly, to transfer their church to some
place "not already in parish relations."

Acting on the Court's suggestions, Myles and his friends moved into
the unoccupied region south of Rehoboth. They first settled on the shore
in the present Barrington, but soon fell back to Warren River, where now
is Myles' Bridge (Barneyville). The Court then transferred Wanamoiset
to this territory, and incorporated the whole as a town, named Swansea
(1667), from Myles' former home. Thus did the Congregational Old
Colony create a town as the seat of the first legahzed Baptist Church in
America outside of Rhode Island.

Captain Willet and James Brown, the magistrate, still lived in Wana-
moiset, and the latter had become a Baptist; they, with Nathaniel Payne,
John Allen, and John Butterworth, were appointed by the Court to reg-
ulate admission to the town and divide the land. WiUet, as representing
Congregationalism, proposed the exclusion of all erroneous, evil-living, and
contentious persons; Myles and Butterworth, in behalf of the Baptists,
asked that these terms be so defined that 'erroneous' mean only the hold-
ers of such 'damnable heresies' as Unitarianism, transubstantiation,
merit in good works, denial of Christ's ascension and second coming, or the
divinity of all parts of Scripture, and belief in 'any other antichristian



198 History of Swansea

doctrine;' that the 'contentious' be those alone who dispute the magis-
trate's authority, the gi\nng of honor where due, 'the laudable custom of
our nation, each to other, as bowing the knee or body,' or the clergy's
authority and right to support, or who reproach any of the churches of the
Colony. Error should not include anything ' yet in controversy among the
godly learned, ' especially infant baptism, but parents be free to present
or withhold their children, and pastors free to baptize infants and adults,
or not. These definitions were approved by the committee, and submitted
to the town-meeting. All the fifty-five freemen signed the document, and
not one made his mark.

Willet and his few Congregational neighbors seem to have lived in
entire harmony with Myles and his Baptist flock, and to have found open
communion in the church. A classical school was opened, and the town
was becoming prosperous, when in 1675 Phihp's War burst upon it, destroy-
ing thirty-five of her forty houses and a larger proportion of her property.
Still the town preserved its identity, and the voters of the Colony annually
elected to the magistrates' bench James Brown, one of her leading Baptist
citizens.

From 1675 to 1680 Myles was at Boston establishing a Baptist Church;
but after the rebuilt Swansea had for three years called to him. he returned
to it, and there in 1683 died. His wife Anne outlived him; his son John
(a Harvard scholar) was Swansea's first town-clerk; and curious to relate,
Samuel, the preacher's son or grandson, became the second Episcopal
rector of King's Chapel, Boston. The descendants of this stock (who often
spelled the name Miles) are to be found in many honorable positions."

(Note. It has come to light (1914), that Anne Myles, the second wife
of John Myles, was the daughter of John Humphrey, the early Massachu-
setts Magistrate, and that her mother, Mrs. John Humphrey, was Lady
Susan Clinton, daughter of Thomas Clinton, third Earl of Lincoln, and
a sister of Theophilus Chnton, fourth Earl of Lincoln, This I have from
the Commissioner of Public Records of Massachusetts, Henry E. Woods.
Ed.)

John Brown

John Brown the magistrate was not of kin to John Brown the Dux-
bury weaver, who was brother to Peter of the "Mayflower." The John
first-named was an English shipbuilder, who knew the Pilgrims at Leyden,
but did not join them there. In 1633-4, when aged about fifty, he, with his
wife Dorothy and at least three children, came to Plymouth, bringing a
fair property; in 1635 Brown became a citizen, and the next year began an
eighteen years' service in the board of assistants. In 1637 he was one of
the original purchasers of the site of Taunton, and in 1643 was in the
militia there with his sons John and James; in 1645 they removed to
Rehoboth, settling at Wanamoisct, now in Swansea, on land scrupulously
bought from Pvlassasoit.

For twelve successive years, from 1645, Brown was one of the
Colonial Commissioners, entering that board in the second year of its
existence. He was also often employed in settling questions between the
whites and the Indians, — the latter having great confidence in him. The
first Commissioners from Plymouth — Winslow and Colher — had assented
to the act of Massachusetts in extending her rule over Gorton's company at
Shawomet (now Warwick, R, I.), but the outrageous and cruel conduct of
the Bay toward the Gortonians enlisted Brown's chivalrous spirit in their
defence. In 1645 Massachusetts authorized twenty famihes of Braintree
to go down and take possession of the Gorton plantations; but Brown



Personal Sketches 199

warned off their prospectors and claimed the territory as Plymouth's.
This counter-claim was in the interest of the persecuted Gortonians, with
whom Brown was "very familiar." The matter came more than once
before the Commissioners, who, with sapient vagueness, decided as to the
tract, that "the right owners ought to have it. "

In 1651 Massachusetts renewed her claim, and prepared fresh warrants
for seizing Gorton and his men. Brown, supported by his colleague, Hath-
erly, boldly resisted the claim before the Commissioners, and condemned
the officers of Massachusetts. The latter pleaded a waiver in their behalf
by the Plymouth Government. Brown stoutly re-affirmed Plymouth's
right to Shawomet, and declared any waiver of that right wholly valueless,
though made by the governor and magistrates of Plymouth; for not an
inch of her soil could be alienated except by vote of the whole Ijody of
freemen in General Court assembled. So vigorous and fearless were
Brown and Hatherly in pushing their rival claim that the efforts of Mass-
achusetts were neutralized, and the Gortonians no more persecuted. When
at length the demand of the Bay was dropped (1658), so was that of
Plymouth, its chief object having been accomplished.

Probably an ill-feeling growing out of this sharp contest of 1651 led
to an occurrence at the next session (1652). The meeting was to be at
Plymouth; but on the day set, only five members appeared, — a quorum
being six. Late the second day Astwood, of New Haven, arrived, having
been hindered by bad roads. John Brown also came in. That Httle con-
gress had no lack of ceremony, — the Massachusetts members being
especially given to it, and it was in order for Brown to render his excuse.
He gravely announced that he had been plagued with a toothache, and
might not have come sooner if he could have had all Plymouth. This, or
something else on Brown's part, gave great offence to the ceremonious
Boston members, — Speaker Hathorne and Bradstreet; and, contrary to
Bradford's appeals, the unparfiamentary decision was forced through, that
when no quorum should appear at the opening hour on the first day no
session could be held that year, even though a quorum should come in
later.

The members dispersed with unpleasantness. The General Court of
Massachusetts was so unwise as to mix in the affair; for it formally in-
dorsed the course of its two members, and insolently voted that it should
expect an apology from one of the Plymouth members for incivility to one
of hers from the Bay. Plymouth evidently took this as a threat that Brown
must apologize or be refused his seat, for she manfully re-elected both him
and Bradford, and voted not only that a Commissioner arriving late was
entitled to act, but if both her members should be in attendance, and for
any reason one should not take part, neither should the other. This was
a bolder action than at first appears. It was quite intelligible notice to the
Bay men that their position was untenable, and that any interference with
Brown would be followed by a dissolution of the congress through the
non-representation of one of the Colonies. The matters involved do not
seem to have been again mentioned.

In 1652 the independent ways of the old shipwright called down some
high-handed censure from his stern and sturdy pastor, Newman. Brown
sued the minister for slander, and the General Court gave him a verdict of
£100 damages, and 23s. costs. Brown at once arose in court and, like
Holmes, remitted the £100; vindication was all he wanted.

In 1655, while Brown sat in the court, certain men of Rehoboth, com-
plaining of the backwardness of their people in contributing for public
worship, asked that all the people be compelled by tax to pay their part,
as in "the other Colonies." Bradford had favored this plan, but Brown
opposed it. The petition came from his town, he said, but he had not before



200 History of Swansea

heard of the matter; and to "take off the odium'* of a forced support of
rehgion, he would make this offer; These petitioners favor a tax; let them
be taxed their proportion, and he would engage that the remaining people
of Rehoboth should voluntarily raise the remainder of the sum; he would
secure this by binding his estate to make good all deficiency for the next
seven years. The Court assented, and sent Standish and Hatherly to
assess the tax on the petitioners. The latter, however, did not take kindly
to the plan, for two years later the Court had to coerce them : and for years
after, this tax was a source of trouble with those meddlers who had pro-
posed it.

At the time of this last legislation the grand old man had passed the
goal of threescore years and ten. He soon left the pubhc service, and his
remaining days were spent on his estate at Wanamoiset. There he died
in 1662, aged about seventy-eight. His son John had died before him, but
his wife lived until 1674, her ninetieth year.

John Brown's second son James was his father's successor in pubhc
life. In 1653, when Rehoboth formed a train-band, he became ensign, and
the town voted that Lieutenant Hunt and Ensign Brown have leave " to
stand by the honorable bench at Plymouth Court. " In 1665 he succeeded
his famous brother-in-law, Thomas Willet, as assistant, and although a
leading Baptist of Swansea, was re-chosen to the bench some thirteen years.
He was employed by the Colony in an attempt to avert Philip's War, — the
Indians having for him as high regard as formerly for his father, and
Massasoit having enjoined a continuance of it on his people. James closed
his honored life at Swansea in 1710, aged eighty-seven. His wife was Lydia,
daughter of John Howland the Pilgrim, and with the Browns Mrs. Howland
spent her widowhood. The senior Brown had a grandson John, who in 1685
was one of the associate judges of Bristol County, and was again appointed
in 1699 at the reorganization under the Earl of BeUamont. In all its
generations, the posterity of the great pioneer has done credit to its
ancestry.

— Pilgrim Republic.

Marcus A. Brown

Marcus Aurehus Brown, son of WiUiam and Freelove (Wood) Brown,
was bom in Swansea, Mass., Dec. 19, 1819, near what is now Touisset.
He comes from an old New England family of consequence in the days of
the first settlements. From old records and historical documents we ascer-
tain that John Brown, the first of this Hne of Browns, had acquaintance
with the Pilgrims in Leyden, Holland, before the sailing of the " Mayflower"
in 1620, in which vessel he probably was financially interested. He was
originally from England, where he was born in 1574, but we cannot defi-
nitely trace the family in that country. The exact year of his coming to
America is unknown, but in 1636 he was Hving in Duxbury, and in 1643 in
Taunton. He was a man of importance in public affeiirs, and one of the
leading men of Plymouth Colony. He was assistant for seventeen years
from 1636, served as commissioner of the United Colonies for twelve years
from 1644, and died in Swansea, near Rehoboth, where he had large estates.
Savage gives the date of his death as April 10, 1662, and says that his will,
made three days before his death, provides for the children left to his care
bv his son John, and names his wife Dorothy and son James executors.
This is doubtless the correct date of his death, as his wife Dorothy died
Jan. 27, 1673, or 1674, aged ninety. John Brown 2, born 1636, died in
Rehoboth, in 1660. He married a daughter of WiUiam Buckland, and had
five children, — ^John 3, Joseph, Nathaniel, Lydia, and Hannah, — whom he



Personal Sketches 201

left, as above mentioned, to the care of his father, He was a strict Puritan
and a devout man, standing high in community and colony affairs. John
Brown 3 was born about 1657 in Rehoboth, married Ann Dennis, of
Norwich, Conn., and had two children, — John 4 and Samuel. He died in
1724. He was a man of positive nature, unflinching in the discharge of
everything he deemed a duty. It is said of him that he was so enraged at
his son (John) when he joined the Baptist Church that, supposing the
latter's residence to be partially on his land, he was going to pull the part to
which he laid claim away from the other, thus aiming to destroy the house,
but a survey made to ascerteiin the fact showed that no portion of the house
touched his land. Whether the tradition be true or false, it tells the char-
acter of the men of that perilous pioneer period. Athletic, strongminded,
and positive in character, they were well fitted to develop civilization from
the unpromising and savage surroundings, and to contend ably with its
foes. Amiong these settlers the Browns were leaders, and their different
generations were prominent in church and local matters. From 1672 to
1692 the deputy for several years was a Brown. John Brown 4 was born
April 23, 1675, in Swansea, married Abigail, daughter of James Cole, July
2, 1696, and died April 23, 1752, leaving at least one son, John 5. The
lands bequeathed to Mrs. Brown by her father were transmitted from their
purchase from the Indians to generation after generation for more than
two centuries, and never were conveyed by deed until their purchase by
H. A. Gardner, 1874. John 5 was also prominent, held a captain's commission »
and was an earnest and consistent man. We extract from church records in
Swansea: "The Church of Christ in Swansea, soon after December, 1719,
built a new meeting-house on land given said church by Capt. John Brown
and William Wood for that purpose. " Lieut. John Brown 5, was born in
Swansea in 1700, married, in 1722, Lydia, daughter of Joseph Mason. She
was born in Swansea in 1704. They had five children, one of whom was
WiUiam.

John Brown 5 was a large farmer, owning slaves. He was well to do,
and was honored with various offices. He is recorded as Lieut. John Brown.
We extract again from the church records: "June 14, 1753, James Brown
was on a committee to receive in behalf of the church a deed of some land
which our beloved brother, John Brown, proposes to give to said church
for its use and benefit forever. " He died May 18, 1754. His wife died Feb.
17, 1747.


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