In Which My Family Founds New England #2: The Puritans


This is the second post in our series on our distinguished New England ancestors. (The first, on the Pilgrims of Plymouth, is here. )

Plymouth struggled along for years, with just a few hundred inhabitants by 1630. But to the north, starting in 1628, the Massachusetts Bay colony was founded, and it was to have a different fate. It was to be colonized mainly by Puritans, whom unlike the Pilgrims of Plymouth, advocated for the reform of the Church of England rather than total Separation. And they came en masse. In 1630 Governor John Winthrop came over with a fleet of ships bearing nearly a thousand colonists, many of my ancestors among them. Throughout the 1630s, an onslaught — some 20,000 people arrived during that decade. Hundreds of these were my ancestors. (Indeed, the great majority of my mom’s ancestors arrived during the 1630s. I’ve only come across a tiny few who came before or after.

It was thus very difficult for me to figure out who to include in this post and where the cut-off should be. There are hundreds I didn’t write about here, almost all of them, by definition, among the founders and leaders of their towns. Originally I planned to include several more dozen in this post, but I had to cut them out; it grew too unwieldy, just a list of names. But they were among the founders of Massachusetts towns like Lynn, Salem, Ipswich, Dedham, Braintree and Roxbury.

Here are some of my more notable Massachusetts direct ancestors (not including the Plymouth folks from the last post or those who would go on to Rhode Island and Connecticut, which we’ll talk about in future posts). Click on the links below to learn more.


John Cotton — One of the chief Puritan ministers of his time, one of the planners of the journey of Winthrop’s Fleet to America and the man who blessed it before its departure, one of the primary spiritual leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as minister of the Boston Church, and one of the founders of Congregationalism. He was also the grandfather of Cotton Mather (see below). He was the brother of my (10th) great grandmother, in addition to the more convoluted relation suggested below.


Henry Adams the ancestor of President John Adams and all his illustrious progeny. He settled in Braintree in 1633. He is my (9th) great grandfather. (We are also descended from Boylstons, whom John Adams also counted among his ancestors)


William Pynchon (11th great grandfather)– Arrived in 1630 or before and founded the town of Roxbury. He didn’t like the rocky soil there (for which the town is named) and so headed an expedition west and founded the town of Springfield in 1635. Pynchon’s son John founded the towns of Northampton, Westfield, and Hadley. His daughter Mary married Elizur Holyoke, for whom Mount Holyoke and the town of Holyoke are named. I am descended from his daughter Ann. And you’ve already guessed the name of another Pynchon descendant, novelist Thomas Pynchon.  (The naming of the protagonists in Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables is a coincidence). 

Rev. John Eliot

Rev. John Eliot

James Penniman (9th great grandfather)– One of the first settlers of Braintree in 1631. He came with his wife Linda Eliot and her brother John Eliot, the “Apostle to the Indians” (who would come to found my mother’s hometown, Woodstock Connecticut). He is my (9th) great uncle.


Cotton Mather: Relation

(9th) great grandparents Henry Woodward and Elizabeth Mather arrived in 1635 on the same ship with Elizabeth’s brother, Reverend Richard Mather, father of Increase Mather and grandfather of Cotton Mather (if you don’t know these names you really ought to).  They originally settled at Dorchester; at Mather’s prompting, the Woodwards were to be among the first settlers  of the western Mass. town of Northampton.

Edmund Ingalls–(10th) great grandfather. Believed to have arrived in Salem in 1628 as one John Endicott’s company. He was one of the founders of Lynn, Mass, and probably not a Puritan. He is also the ancestor Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Captain Isaac Johnson was my (8th) great grandfather. He arrived in Massachusetts with his father and family with John Winthrop’s fleet in 1630. He was to become a military leader in the colony and a major leader in King Philip’s War. 

Captain Joseph Weld — moved to Massachusetts with his two brothers by the mid 1630s.  Joseph served in the Pequot War of 1637 and amassed a great deal of land that now makes up the area called Jamaica Plain. His son John served as an officer in King Philip’s War; I am descended from Joseph’s daughter Elizabeth. Among the descendants of this illustrious family are Massachusetts Governor William Weld, and the actress Tuesday Weld. 

Robert Williams — arrived in Boston in 1637 and was a prominent citizen in Roxbury for over 50 years. He is more notable perhaps for his descendants: great-grandson Col. Ephraim Williams, founder of Williams College and hero of the French and Indian War;  great-grandson Rev. Elisha Williams, Rector of Yale; and great-great-grandson William Williams a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Major-General Humphrey Atherton — undoubtedly the most heinous individual on this page. Holder of the highest military rank in New England, his job description according to Wikipedia is quite hilarious: “taking part in the acquisition of Native American lands, the persecution of Quakers, and the apprehension and convictions of heretics.” He arrived in America in 1637 and became one of the first citizens of Dorchester. In addition to his military rank he also held a number of political positions. More detail here. 

Francis Johnson — Johnson was a Presbyterian separatist leader, a minister, theologian and author who led a community of exiles in the Netherlands.  Like John Robinson (see our Plymouth post) he never made the journey to America. But his daughter Perseverance Johnson and her husband Deacon John Greene (my 9th great grandparents) came to the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1632.

Michael Metcalf was a prosperous manufacturer in England who was persecuted for his religious beliefs and had to flee for his life. He escaped with his wife, nine children and one servant to Boston in 1637. He subsequently became one of the founders and town leaders of Dedham. You can read his story here. 

Daniel Ladd — My (8th) great grandfather, arrived circa 1634, settling first in Ispwich, and became one of the first settlers and founders of both Haverhill and Salisbury. You will encounter his notable descendants frequently throughout these annals!

Robert Abell — arrived 1630. Read all about him and his illustrious family here. 

Deacon Samuel Edson — arrived in Salem in the 1630s and after 1650 became one of the original proprietors of Bridgewater in the Plymouth colony, where he was a church deacon and community leader for over 30 years.

Captain John Johnson — arrived in 1630 and became one of the founders and most substantial citizens of Roxbury, serving as the quartermaster of that town’s militia. His son-law Roger Mowry, who arrived around the same time, owned and operated the legendary Roger Mowry Tavern in Providence. 

Capt. Richard Brackett, — Arrived in 1630 and became one the leading citizens of Braintree, one of the founding members of the First Church of Boston, a deacon of the church, the town jailer, town clerk, and an officer in the local militia.

Benjamin Crispe, arrived in 1629 as a servant to Major General Edward Gibbons (a leader in the Pequod War, and voyages of exploration up the Connecticut River) and and was one of the founders of Watertown, Mass.

Israel Stoughton, the brother of my (9th) great grandmother Judith Stoughton Denman, arrived in 1632. He was one of the leaders of the colony. he led Massachusetts forces in the Pequot War, and helped negotiate a border dispute with Plymouth Colony. He returned to England in 1644 to serve in the Parliamentary wars and was killed in action. His son William Stoughton was Magistrate in the Salem Witch Trials and later Acting Governor of Massachusetts.


Reverend William Thompson — Oxford educated churchman who arrived in 1637 and became the first pastor in Braintree, serving there for nearly 30 years, with the exception of one year he spent as a missionary in Virginia.

Parson Joseph Capen — graduate of the Harvard Class of 1677, was my (9th) great uncle. Today he is best known in connection with his Dorchester house, which is still standing! 

Daniel Gookin — I am distantly related to Gookin by marriage. He is an interesting figure in that he went to the Virginia Colony first. He was initially an indentured servant then inherited some land, which he then rapidly expanded into a large plantation, becoming a substantial citizen and a member of the House of Burgesses. He was converted to Puritanism by William Thompson (see directly above) and moved first to Maryland (where there was greater freedom of religion) and finally to Roxbury in 1644, where he was a neighbor of John Eliot (above). He was to become one of the colony’s leading citizens, founding a school, served as Captain of the Trained Band for 40 years, served on the General Council, and was Superintendent of the Praying Indians (he was to write two books about the Indians). During the period of the Commonwealth he returned to London for a time (his cousin was a member of the Parliament under Cromwell) and had a Customs position, but was forced to flee when Charles II returned.

* * * * * *

As you can see — these were very religious people, and it’s instructive to learn that so many of my ancestors had preaching as their calling. But we will treat of some of the more interesting and noble of them in our next post, as they were so contrary and principled that were unable to stay in Massachusetts or Plymouth. They had to leave and start Rhode Island (see next post).

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