Monday, November 28, 2011

William Dyer, landed gentleman

© 2011 Christy K Robinson 

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
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William Dyer was the son of a prosperous farmer in Lincolnshire. Unlike most farmers of his time, his father was a "yeoman farmer," meaning that instead of leasing land, he owned it. At age 14, William apprenticed to a master milliner in London, an international trader in fashion and leather accessories for men. His master emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1633. William married Mary Barrett, and followed his master and several prosperous friends in 1635. In 1637, he was one of many signers on a Remonstrance that was deemed seditious, and along with many Boston families, was ejected from the colony in early 1638. William was a co-founder of Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.

In this article, you’ll see how a farmer’s second son became “William Dyre, Gent.,” a landed gentleman.

London, England

1633-35: William Dyer leased his former guild-master’s home on Greene’s Lane near River Thames in Westminster; leased space in the New Exchange market on the Strand, for The Globe, a millinery shop.

Boston, Massachusetts

Modern Boston, with labels of where Hutchinsons, Winthrops, and Dyers lived in mid-1630s.

1635-36: Owns land and home on Shawmut Peninsula (now central Boston) at Milne (now Summer Street) and Cornhill Rd. (now Washington Street), near Fort Hill; and owns 1/14th (seven percent) of Boston’s town dock.

The shoreline of Boston in 1630, overlaid by a modern street plan
that shows where shallow bays were land-filled in the 19th century.
The Dyers lived on Milne Street (now called Summer Street),
from 1635 when they arrived, to March 1638 when they left to
co-found Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.
Click HERE to see larger, detailed map in another tab. 

Rumney Marsh, Massachusetts
Jan. 1637: William Dyer granted 42 acres at Rumney Marsh, Saugus, Massachusetts, “bounded on the North with Mr. Glover, on the East with the Beach, on the South with Mr. Cole, and on the West with the highway.” Click HERE for more on Rumney Marsh.

From New England’s Prospect, by William Wood, is this description of Rumney Marsh:
Rumny Marsh, which is 4 miles long and 2 miles broad; halfe of it being Marsh ground and halfe upland grasse, without tree or bush: this Marsh is crossed with divers creekes, wherein lye great store of Geese, and Duckes. There be convenient ponds for the planting of Duckcoyes. Here is likewise belonging to this place divers fresh meddowes, which afford good grasse and foure spacious ponds like little lakes, wherein is store of fresh fish: within a mile of the towne, out of which runnes a curious fresh brooke that is seldome frozen by reason of the warmenesse of the water; upon this streame is built a water Milne, and up this river comes Smelts and frost fish much bigger than a Gudgion. For wood there is no want, there being store of good Oakes, Wallnut, C├Ždar, Aspe, Elme; The ground is very good, in many places without trees, fit for the plough. In this plantation is more English tillage, than in all new England, and Virginia besides; which proved as well as could bee expected, the come being very good especially the Barly, Rye, and Oates.

Winter/spring 1638: William sells land—probably all his land—in Massachusetts Bay area before they move to RI, being banished as of the end of March.

Dyer Island in Narragansett Bay

Dyer Island
March 24, 1638: As the purchasers of Rhode Island (including William Dyer) sailed past a small wooded island in Narragansett Bay, William asked to be granted that island; it was named Dyer Island after him. Some small islands were used to contain goats or hogs; as this island has a lagoon, perhaps William used it for bird hunting or fishing. See the depositions below, made in 1669, when he deeded the island to his second son.

Aerial view,
Dyer Island

Source: NOAA
Dyer Island is a low-lying 28-acre island situated approximately halfway between Aquidneck Island and the south end of Prudence Island. Despite its small size, Dyer Island's ecological value is significant. It supports one of the last remaining salt marshes without mosquito ditches in Rhode Island and is a nesting area for coastal shorebirds including the locally rare American oystercatcher.
This uninhabited island also provides foraging habitat for a variety of shorebirds and was found to support 47 species of seaweed – a diversity second only to Rose Island in the bay. In September 2001, Dyer Island was acquired for preservation and incorporation into the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve using state and NOAA funds. It will be used in perpetuity for research, monitoring, education, and passive recreation. (Source:,_Rhode_Island )

Mar 25, 1639: William’s share of ownership of Boston dock conveyed to merchant (speculation: Walter Blackborne, his former master?).

Portsmouth, Rhode Island 
Founders Brook Park memorials to
Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson,
Portsmouth, Rhode Island


1638: The purchasers of Aquidneck Island (later called Rhode Island) bought the island and some of the Narragansett Bay islands from Indian sachems (chiefs) Miantonomo and Canonicus for "the full payment of forty fathom of white beads, to be equally divided betweene us." (This was a legitimate purchase. Wampum shell beads were currency that could be traded for furs, foodstuffs, clothing and textiles, etc. Even the English colonists used wampum on occasion, when coin was short.)

Click this link to a copyrighted photo of the lane leading to the Founders Brook where the first settlement was made on Aquidneck Island, on the northernmost tip. The Indians called it Pocasset, and in 1640 its name was changed to Portsmouth. During the year the Dyers lived in Pocasset/Portsmouth, William was a surveyor. With two other men, he measured and laid out land allotments to the freemen of the town.

Land granted [Itt To Mr] Wm Dyre At the Cove by the marsh 6 Acres being [10] pole in bredth by 50 in Length y bounded round by the marsh. 

Newport, Rhode Island

March 10, 1640, William had 87 acres of land recorded to him at Newport. Again, he was on a commission to apportion land and to survey hundreds of acres across the southern half of the island. One payment he received for professional services was 10 acres of land and £19 (a healthy amount of money that would buy three cows or two horses in their economy). 

No one knows the exact dimensions of the Dyer farm, but I've
drawn this from the river mouth by Coaster's Harbor, to Dyer
Point (Ft. Greene), to reflect the size of 140 acres. It might have
been longer and thinner, or had an irregular shape
because of the addition of the 30 acres in 1644.

William Dyre having exhibited his bill under the Treasurer's hand unto the sessions held on the 10th of March, 1640, wherein appears full satisfaction to be given for seventy-five acres of land, lying within the precincts of such bounds, as by the committee, by order appointed, did bound it withal, viz.: To begin at the river's mouth, over against Coaster's Harbour, and so by the sea, to run up to a marked stake, at Mr. Coddington's corner, and so down, upon an easterly line to a marked tree over against the Great Swamp, and so two rods within the swamp, at the two deepest corners of the clear land, the one at the southeast corner, and the other upon a straight line in the northeast, marked by stakes, and so down to a marked tree by the river side; the river being his bounds to the mouth thereof. with a home lot and a parcel of meadow and upland lying between Mr. Jeremy Clarke's meadow, and Mr. Jeoffrey's at the north end of the harbour, and north upon the highway, with ten acres allowed by the town order for his travelling about the island, lying within the former bounds, which is his proportion.
“This, therefore, doth evidence and testify, that all those parcels of land before specified, amounting to the number of eighty-seven acres, more or less, is fully impropriated to said William Dyre and his heirs for ever.”
1650 map. Perhaps William Dyer
was one of the surveyors who
reported to the cartographer.

1644: In May, William buys 30 acres adjacent to Dyer farm, and 15 acres in south Newport. Sells 10 acres of land to George Gardner in October, and four acres more in December; the land was in south Newport between the ponds and right on the ocean front. William recorded this about himself:
“Wm Dyers farm [June or January] 20th 1644: Memorandum that the farm of William Dyre of Newport in the Isle of Rhodes consisting of all well the lands that was granted unto him by the said town as also of several purchases that he, said William, made of divers lands that adjoined hereunto amounteth to the number of one hundred forty acres more or less.”

1661: Land in Narragansett, called Misquamokuck (now Westerly), was taken by William Dyer, Sr., Samuel Dyer, and Mahershalalhashbaz Dyre, and articles of agreement between an Indian captain and others were signed by them. William Dyer was appointed to transcribe the deeds, testimonies, ratifications, etc. At a general meeting, February 17th, 1661-2, William Dyer was chosen surveyor of Misquamokuck. At the court held at Aquidneck, near Wickford, May 20th, 1671, the persons inhabiting here being called to give their encasement and desiring; to know whether or no the court, on behalf of the colony, do lay any claim to their possessions which they now inhabit, which persons were Mr. Samuel Dyer and others. To which demand this present court do return unanimously this answer: That on behalf of the colony this court do not lay any claims to their possessions which they now inhabit. (Source: )

1668-69: William Dyer surveys New Hampshire and Maine for geology and natural resources before writing proposal to King Charles II. The proposal was printed in London in 1670.

1669: William Dyer may have become ill and put his estate in order, in the event he wouldn’t recover (he lived another seven years). Depositions were made that William owned Dyer Island.
Dyer Island, off Portsmouth:

The affidavits in regard to this gift follow:
“To whome these shall Concern I Testefy that the little Island lying in the bay on the North Side of the wading River was given Mr Dyre by the Purchassers. 31 October 1650 Jno. Sanford.

I Attest that the above written Premisses were by my fathers Order and Comand by me written my father then being very sick and ill witness my hand the 4th of October 1669 John Sanford.

I do afirm also that as wee past along by the afore-said Island the Purchassers gave the said Island to Mr William Dyre. Nov. 1, 1650 John Porter.

This is to Testefy that I Roger Williams being acquainted (by the good Providence of God) with the first Conception Birth and growth of Rhode Island (alias Aquednick) doe Asert and affirme as in the holy Presence of God, that by the  Consent of the first Purchassers of Rhode Island (Dead and liveing) the litle Island Comonly Called Dyres Island was from the first and allways (sometimes in Meriment) but always in Earnest granted to be not only in Name but also in truth and reality the Proper Right and Inheritance of Mr William Dyre of Newport On Rhode Island. Roger Williams Assista:” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 376.)

“Captn Randall Houldon of Warwick in the Province of Rhode Island iff Providence Plantation aged 57 years or thereabouts being Ingaged according to law Testefieth as followith That the Purchassers gave that litle Island Called Dyres Island to Mr William Dyre senior that was then one of us and further saith not. Taken the 24th day of June 1669.”

“I Doe affirm that wee the Purchassers of Rhode Island (my selfe being the chief) William Dyre desireing a spot of land of us as we passed by it, after we had Purchassed the said Island, did grant him Our Right in the said Island and named it Dyres Island. Witness my hand. October 18th 1669 William Coddington.”

“I Richard Carder being a Purchassere doe own the above said writeinge: November: 7th 1669 by me Richard Carder”

“William Cooley aged 66 years or thereabouts being Ingaged Testefieth that in the first year of the setling of this Plantation of Newport he being Master of a boat and Jeffery Champlin and Richard Series being of his company, and stoping at the Island Called Dyres Island mr William Dyre in Presence of them took posession of the said Dyres Island and further saith not. Taken before me this 6th of December 1669. John Green Assistant” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 346.)

1777 map of Newport, RI. The Dyer farm probably extended
from Dyer's Point (now the Battery Park), north to the
land opposite Coaster's Island.
1669: William Dyer sold 12 acres of land to Peleg Sandford.

1670: William deeds northern part of Newport Dyer farm to son Henry in Henry’s 21st year. William directs properties to sons and money to daughters. July 25: Samuel and Henry Dyer bind themselves to their father William Dyer to pay to their sister Mary Dyer Ward, eldest daughter of William, £100 within three years after the death of their father and to Elizabeth Dyer, second daughter of William by his second wife Katherine, the sum of £40 when eighteen years of age [1679].

William Dyre of Newport, ,Gent : granted to my sonn Henry Dyre into that part of my farme lyinge at the northerly and thereof: to witt, from the Stone Ditch. as alsoe from the tree where my sonn Mahers Tobacco house stood, from the Cave to and by that tree upon an Equidistante line from the said Stone Ditch downe unto and through the swamp unto mr. Coddingtons line by the brooke. (the fence is equally devided) percell of Land so bounded with a free Egress ingress and regress to and through the land of my sonn Samuels but in case my sonn Henry should have Issue only Femailes then my sonn Samuell after the death of the said Henry shall Give one hundred and fifty pounds starllinge the eldest to have a double portion the rest an equall dividend of the Residue, but if only one all to her &c besides the Valluation of the houssinge  thereon built the Land to return to Samuell
7th day of July 1670. William Dyre.
Wit The X marke off.
Robert Spinke
John Furnell

August 5, 1670:William Dyre of Newport, gent.,” deeded to “my son William island called Dyre's Island lying and being situated in Narrogansett Bay upon the northern side of Rhode Island over against Prudence Island.

1677: William Dyer dies at age 67-68, and farm is inherited by his sons; his two daughters received financial bequests by 1679-80, as did his second wife Katherine.
·         Samuel Dyer b. 1635 d. 1678, resided Kingston, RI with wife Anne Hutchinson Dyer and seven children, on lands granted by her father, Edward Hutchinson. Odd that Samuel, as eldest son, wasn’t deeded the Dyer properties at the same time as his younger brothers. Yet, in 1687, his son Samuel sold his portion of the Dyer farm to his uncle Charles Dyer. Probably Samuel Sr. automatically inherited whatever land his father hadn’t deeded to other sons, when William Sr. died. Samuel Sr. died only a year or two after his father.
·         William Dyer Jr. b. 1640 d. 1688 (Customs official and Mayor of New York), resided Delaware. William bequeaths Dyer Island and large estates in Delaware and Pennsylvania to his son William Dyer and five other children.
·         Maher Dyer, b. 1643 d. before 1670, resided Portsmouth and Newport. He was married for about five years, but his wife had no living children.  
·         Henry Dyer, b. 1647 d. 1689/90, resided Newport. Had two children.
·         Charles Dyer, b. 1650 d. 1709, resided Newport and Little Compton, RI. Charles Dyer moved from his farm in Little Compton to Newport to raise his children. Charles’ will leaves the Newport farm to his son Samuel and the house and its contents to his second wife Martha (who raised his five children after his first wife Mary died); after her death it reverted to Samuel or his heirs. In addition, Charles said, “My earnest will and desire is (that) piece of ground that is now called the Burying Ground, shall be continued for the same use unto all my after generations that shall see cause to make use of it, and I order that it shall be well kept fenced in by my son Samuel Dyre and his heirs forever.”

1679: At the May 12, 1679 court, “upon indictment by the General Solicitor against Katherine Dyre of Newport for misbehavior [apparently she sued Samuel Dyer’s widow, Anne Hutchinson Dyer], she being in court called, appeared: pleads not guilty and refers for trial to God & the country. The Court upon serious consideration of the matter see cause to quash the bill.” Katherine then sued her stepson Charles Dyer in 1682, in a £30 complaint of trespass, in which the jury found for Charles. 

1687: Charles Dyre of Newport, Husbandman, bought of [oldest brother Samuel’s son] Samuel Dyre of Boston, carpenter, land in Newport, Bounded on the East, partly by certain lands in possession Mr. Francis Brinley & Left Collo of Peleg Sanford on the South, by land of Late Mr. Nicholas Easton and Mr. Johnson the West, by the sea on North by land of Henry Dyre.—with house, orchards, Gardens, meadows, woods, swamp--layed out unto mistress Katharine Dyre [his stepmother] by town of Newport 1681 as her Right of Dower. 5 Oct1687. 
Witt. Weat Clarke, 
Robert Little, 
Daniel Vernon.   
(Source: Rhode Island Land Evidence 1648-1696 -Abstracts Vol 1 page 206)

 Click HERE for a view of what used to be the Dyer property of Newport, Rhode Island.


Like this article? Read my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times,
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s.  Chapters on John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Endecott, and many others. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!


Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Christian Gives Thanks That America is Not a Christian Nation

This article appeared on Huffington Post religion page on 11/24/11. 
A Christian Gives Thanks That America Is Not a Christian Nation
Parker J. Palmer

  Founder, Center for Courage & Renewal 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--The Declaration of Independence
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
--First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

These foundation stones of American democracy were laid a century too late to save Mary Dyer's life. Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six, was hanged in 1660 for defying a Puritan law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Christians who cruelly deprived this woman of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness were dead certain (so to speak) that they were on a mission from God, protecting their "divinely ordained" civic order against Mary Dyer's seditious belief in the Inner Light.

As a spiritual descendant of Mary Dyer, I'm profoundly grateful that America is not a Christian nation. If it were, my Quaker convictions might get me into very deep oatmeal. And as a Christian who does his best to take reason as seriously as I take faith, I find impossible to understand America as a "Christian nation" -- and I believe that there are vibrant possibilities in the fact that it is not.

Whatever America's founders believed about Christianity -- and they believed a wide range of things -- they clearly rejected the idea of an established church. That's strike one against the curious conceit that we're a Christian nation. If being a Christian nation means asking ourselves every day, "What would Jesus do?" about a political issue, then doing it, that's strike two. To take but one example (without forgetting things like slavery, justice for those who can afford it and peace through war):
"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it." --Stephen Colbert
If a Christian nation is one whose popular culture is dominated by Christian convictions about what's good and true and beautiful, I'm afraid that's strike three. Just look at the fact that our nation-wide Christmas festivities begin on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that celebrates consumerism, our true civil religion. And if anyone wants a fourth swing of the bat in hopes of getting on base, let me pitch this brief theological reflection. If, as Christians believe, God is the Creator and Redeemer of All, then there's no way God favors Americans above people of other nationalities. Strike four.

As a Christian, I'm passionately opposed to American pretensions that we have special standing with God; to political office-seekers who play on our religious differences; and to the religious arrogance that says, "Our truth is the only truth." But I'm equally passionate about the urgency of creating a culture of meaning that responds to the deepest needs of the human soul. This is a task we have been neglecting at great peril, a task that demands the best of all our wisdom traditions, a task on which people of diverse beliefs can and must make common cause.

Viewed from this angle, the fact that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation is very good news. America's freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, offers every wisdom tradition an opportunity to address our soul-deep needs: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, secular humanism, agnosticism and atheism among others. These traditions are like facets of a prism, each of which refracts a different wave length of the Light that overcomes darkness, including the darkness created from time to time by every nation and every tradition.

The philosopher Jacob Needleman has said that "one of the great purposes of the American nation is to shelter and guard the rights of all men and women to seek the conditions and the companions necessary for the inner search." In this society, where religious and philosophical diversity is one of our most precious assets, we can take a big step toward opening our culture to the "inner search" by shaking off the mistaken notion that this is code language for the search for God. Inner-life questions are the kind everyone asks, with or without benefit of God-talk: Does my life have meaning and purpose? Do I have gifts that the world wants and needs? Whom and what shall I serve? Whom and what can I trust? How can I rise above my fears? How do I deal with suffering: my own, that of my family and friends, and that of the larger world? How can I maintain hope? What does any of this mean in the face of the fact that I'm going to die?

These are not questions that yield to conventional answers. They are the big questions that must be "lived" so that we might "gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers" (Rainer Maria Rilke).

Do our schools give young people a chance to wrap their lives around questions of that sort? Do our religious communities listen for the questions that are alive among us instead of answering questions that few are asking? Do we offer spaces of public life that are safe for vulnerable explorations of meaning, spaces that are not Roman arenas where demagoguery slays reflective, rational and factually grounded discourse?

American democracy gives us a chance to do all of that and more, free of ideological restraints. That's why I'm grateful that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation. Of course, we can continue to have pseudo-theological food fights over questions like, "How can we save our nation by making all Americans into God-fearing souls?," or "How can anyone be so ignorant as to believe in God or the soul?" Or we can take advantage of the fact that American democracy offers us an open space in which to pursue questions of personal, communal and political meaning, illumined by multiple sources of light. Which will it be? That's a question worth wrapping our lives around, with gratitude for our political inheritance.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The tragedy of John Winthrop’s widow

John Winthrop’s fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

John Winthrop, 1588-1649
 Why would I steal time from writing my historical novel on Mary and William Dyer, to write an article about the fourth wife of Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts? She had no connection to the Dyers that I’ve ever seen. But in clearing up a (gasp!) mistake I found in a biography of Winthrop, I found a window into New England in 1650s Boston that sheds some light on the environment and culture in which Mary Dyer moved, her last three years of life.

John Winthrop was married four times and had a tribe of children, though more died as infants than lived to procreate. His first wife, Mary Forth, produced most of the surviving Winthrops, but she died in childbirth. His second wife, Thomasine Clopton, died from childbirth complications one year after he married her. His third wife, Margaret Tyndall, was the love of John Winthrop’s life, and though she had a number of pregnancies, only one or two grew to adulthood. John emigrated to Massachusetts in 1630, and Margaret followed about 18 months later. Her last pregnancy miscarried in October 1637 on the eve of Anne Hutchinson’s heresy trial—and Anne, a midwife, attended her! In fact, when Anne collapsed in exhaustion after standing all day at her trial, it was probably because she’d been up the night before, attending Margaret. Margaret was very much loved by her step-children, who were young when she took over their care.

In 1643, John Winthrop’s and Margaret Tyndall’s son, Stephen Winthrop, married Englishwoman Judith Rainsborough (remember that surname) and moved from Boston back to England to eventually attain the rank of colonel in the Parliamentary forces in their Civil War.

Martha Rainsborough (seven years older than her sister Judith) and her husband, Captain Thomas Coytmore, had married in 1635 in England, and emigrated to Boston in 1636. They settled in Charlestown, where Thomas was both a miller—and apparently a sea captain for his father, who was part of the East India Trading Company. In case of his death, Thomas made a trust for his son, which was arranged by Rev. Increase Nowell. In 1644, Captain Coytmore was lost at sea off Cadiz, Spain, in his 200-ton ship, the Trial. The trust, then, provided an inheritance for the Coytmore boy: lands in Charlestown/Marden area, as far as I could determine.

[Winthrop’s biography author had identified Winthop’s widow as Martha Nowell Cotymore, the “sister of Increase Nowell.” I could only find a couple of references tying those names together, and that from highly-suspect, amateur genealogy pages. Besides, I thought, why would her parents and many siblings be surnamed Rainsborough, but she would be surnamed Nowell? That's not logical. So I looked up the scant info on Coytmore and learned from a nineteenth-century Google Books volume that Thomas’s mother had had two children from a first marriage, and his half-sister Parnell married the moderately-famous Rev. Increase Nowell, who was treasurer of Massachusetts Bay Colony. This made Mr. Nowell the half-brother-in-law of Thomas Coytmore, and no blood relation at all to Martha Rainsborough Coytmore, so give her back her true name! Also: the author spelled it Cotymore, which is incorrect.] 
An unknown 17th-century
widow of high status.

Back to Martha. After she was widowed, she moved to Boston, to a house on Cornhill Road. (From 1635-1638, William and Mary Dyer lived on the east of Cornhill Road.) Because the Rainsboroughs were well-known puritans in England, her younger sister had married John Winthrop’s son, and because Cornhill was a major thoroughfare in the small town of Boston, the Winthrops and Martha probably were acquainted.

Margaret Tyndall Winthrop fell victim to the yellow fever epidemic in New England (carried by African slaves via Barbados), and died June 14, 1647. She and John had been married for 29 years, and she was tenderly, devotedly loved.

Six months after Margaret Winthrop’s death, after December 20, 1647, John married, as his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough Coytmore, a widow with a young son. John was 59, she was 30. At this time, and in their cultural beliefs, Martha became the mother-in-law of her own sister Judith! (Seems creepy today, doesn’t it?!) The Winthrop honeymoon must have lasted at least three months: Martha became pregnant in March.

John Winthrop apparently had several bouts of an unexplained illness in 1648, and he was weak for more than a month in the autumn. His and Martha’s baby son Joshua was christened in Boston’s First Church in December. John succumbed to illness on March 26, 1649, leaving 31-year-old Martha a widow again. John’s properties had already been deeded to his adult sons, but as widow of the high-status Winthrop, and mother of his baby, she would have been treated with respect, and had some sort of settlement.
Col. Thomas Rainsborough,
Martha's eldest brother

Martha’s oldest brother, Col. Thomas Rainsborough, was killed at Pontefract Castle in October 1648; she would not have heard of it until at least February 1649, if a ship braved the winter storms with the news. More likely, the news would have come at about the time of Winthrop’s death in late March.

At some point, Martha’s Coytmore son died, and the Coytmore trust became her property. In 1651, Joshua Winthrop died at about two and a half years old. On March 10, 1652, Martha married John Coggan of Boston, a miller who had known her first husband, and they moved to Malden, Massachusetts. Governor John Endecott presided at the Coggan wedding.

“Among Mr. Coggan's donations to Harvard College was 175 acres of land in Chelsea. He was very wealthy for the times he lived in. Among his property was one farm in Chelsea, valued at £450, beside other parcels in that locality. He had mills in Charlestown and in Maiden, also 500 acres of land in Woburn, and two stores in Boston, with other property beside his residence. All in all, he was one of Boston's chief pillars, both in Church and State. He died in Boston, April 27, 1658.”  --The Story of the Irish in Boston
Coggan left Martha a widow for the third time with no children, at age 41. (Being married and having children was a core belief of puritans, and now Martha was bereaved and alone, and her siblings were home in England.)

The next record I found of Martha was an account from Rev. John Davenport. The woman who had been the sister of military officers, and the widow of two prosperous millers and a famous governor,
was “discontented that she had no suitors, and that she encouraged her farmer [either her farm manager, or a tenant on her lands], a mean man, to make a motion to her for marriage, which accordingly he propounded, prosecuted, and proceeded in it so far that afterwards, when she reflected upon what she had done, and what a change of her outward condition she was bringing herself into, she was discontented, despaired, and took a great quantity of rats bane, and so died. Fides sit penes auctorem (Faith is the responsibility of the author)" [author meaning the sinner].
Rats bane, native to New England

On October 24, 1660, aged 43, Martha Rainsborough Coytmore Winthrop Coggan committed suicide. Rats bane is arsenic trioxide, and its use in homicide or suicide was primarily a woman’s preferred, nonconfrontational method. It might have been available to Martha through patent medicines (which John Winthrop and his son John Winthrop Jr. were known to concoct and sell), or as a common treatment for syphilis. Or, most obviously, as a rat poison, to keep the vermin out of their stored food supplies.

An article on The Chirugeon's Apprentice site describes the agonizing death from ingesting arsenic.

One author called poisoning “the mark of lethal and treacherous intimacy, the most extreme violation of domestic order.” Poor Martha. She couldn’t stand living alone, but she wouldn’t suffer such a fall as to be the childless, aging wife of a lowly farmer of poor regard, who only wanted her for her property.

Lastly, we hear another word about Martha, a mere footnote in 8-point type in the Massachusetts Archives.
"Petition of Margaret Sheaffe to the General Court, in 1662, for a title to the house and land of Martha, widow of John Coggan (we suppose the Albion lot, on the corner of Tremont and Beacon streets), for which Mrs. Sheaffe had paid the purchase money to Mrs. Coggan before the latter, having been left by the Lord to Sathan’s temptations, which was too strong for her, made away with herself.”

That’s the final judgment of the General Court under Governor John Endecott, then: Martha Rainsborough Coytmore Winthrop Coggan was unworthy to be called the widow of the great Governor John Winthrop; and she was not of the Elect who would be saved in the kingdom of God, it being obvious to the Church members that the Lord had left her to Satan.

I don't know the disposition of Martha's fortune, which was certainly considerable. She died intestate, by the looks of the petition above. The Massachusetts Bay Colony's general court was probably the executor, and they were known to distribute properties amongst themselves as rewards for service.

 Like this article? Check out my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times, The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!

Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oooh, hate when that happens...

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

William Dyer and Mary Barrett lived in London/Westminster before they married in 1633. This is a London epidemiological table from 1632. This list was compiled by John Graunt, but his data came from "ancient matrons" who examined the bodies and interviewed the families of the dead. 

Most of the ancient matrons were respected midwives licensed by the Church of England, who had much more knowledge of the human body than did physicians. Midwives were allowed to deliver babies in the normal, vaginal method, but were forbidden by law to insert their hands into the woman to reposition a baby or to determine if it was a breech birth, because only a physician could do that. Some midwives, like Anne Marbury Hutchinson, were skilled herbalists whose knowledge was gained by generations of mother-to-daughter tuition. On the other hand, physicians used remedies that contained toxic substances like quicksilver/mercury. 

Medical doctors had university theological training about the body, but no medical school. If their patients were lucky, they had some observation and hands-on training from chirurgeons (surgeons). During witch hunts, both male and female healers were accused, imprisoned, and executed for their profession, because successful treatments may have been aided by the devil's intervention.

In this table (which you can enlarge by clicking on it), notice that 470 people died because of "teeth." One explanation might be infants who died before they teethed for the first time. But a PubMed medical abstract says,  
Deaths from dental abscesses today are so rare, that it is difficult to fathom that only 200 years ago, this was a leading cause of death. When the London (England) Bills of Mortality began listing the causes of death in the early 1600's, "teeth" were continually listed as the fifth or sixth leading cause of death. (This does not include the category of "teething" which was probably erroneously blamed for many children's deaths. As we examine several historic factors of this period, it is apparent that the number of deaths attributed to "teeth" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was probably fairly accurate, and it was not antibiotics, nor the discovery of asepsis, that brought about the dramatic reduction in these dental mortalities, but two much earlier dental innovations.) says of Graunt's tables, 'A malady described as “teeth and worms” took another significant toll, carrying off 14,236 inhabitants over a 20-year period.' 
Also, see The Chirurgeon's Apprentice article, "The Battle of the Tooth Worm."

"Crisome" is an infant dying within its first month. The Dyers' first son William, born in October 1634, lived long enough to be christened, but was buried on the third day after birth.

"Consumption" may include tuberculosis, asthma, emphysema, black lung, etc.

"Rising of the Lights" means lung disease, probably due to coal-smoke air pollution.

"French Pox" and doubtless some of the other mortality would be considered sexually-transmitted disease.

King’s evil” were scrofula/tuberculosis sores (from the belief that the king's touch would heal the lesions).

Death by "Planet" is explained (sort of) in a 1900 book, Scottish Notes and Queries, by John Malcolm Bulloch:
In this return, "Planet" is given as the cause of the death of thirteen persons. This term, or "Planet-strucken," from a former quotation we have made, appears to have been approved by Graunt. It must be understood, we believe, more in an astrological sense than as bearing any relationship to sunstroke.
It formed the subject of a query, addressed to The British Apollo about 1708.
"Query. — Reading the last weekly Bill of Mortality, I saw one among the casualties planet-struck. I desire you would tell me the cause of this accident, and after what manner it affects the sufferers."
"Answer.—There is really no such thing; but the searchers, those ignorant old women, give it in so when they fancy the cause of death ariseth from a blast: which, were it so, that is -not from any planet, but a malignant air, and rarely, if ever, does that terminate in death. The truth is when those women know not what to make of a distemper, they give it in by some mysterious name, never known to the physicians."

Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Heart-stopping meals of colonial New England

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

What did 17th-century colonists eat? Pretty much anything! All of New England was in a building boom for years as immigrants arrived in the thousands. They often participated in house and building raisings, enjoyed the fellowship and feats of strength and skill, and what you'd call a "potluck." Some years, because of the Little Ice Age, bird or insect plagues, and poor farming practices (like growing tobacco instead of food), there were periods of scarce rations followed by disease epidemics.

If you were to try cooking the dishes suggested in cookbooks of the time, you'd find no precise measurements, but the ingredients are very generous to feed large families and the servants or slaves (yes, New England had Indian and African slaves very early on). By today's standards, many dishes would be considered heart-stoppers. The recipe for roast turkey or capon, particularly, calls for three major applications of butter! Many people never lived to see 50 years of age, even with active lives of outdoor work and traveling on foot.

 At home, when it was just the family and servants, most colonists had porridge, bread, and a little meat when the family could afford it. But for feasts and social occasions, they ate well. Their festival foods were served at Sabbath meals, thanksgiving feasts throughout the year, or house raisings.

Meats: They made roasts and pies of venison, a variety of fish and shellfish, mutton, turkey, capon, swine, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, squirrel, raccoon (as delicious as a lamb, said one author), porcupine, bear, duck, geese, moose, and other game. They loved to eat beef, being English after all, but in the first years, cattle were expensive to import and precious for breeding. At the November slaughters, there was very little waste left, since homemakers used fat, bone marrow, intestines, and boiled the meat off bones. The less-desirable meat parts were minced and mixed for sausages, which were smoked and could last for months in winter. Many of the by-products were used for soap, candles, buttons, combs, tools, and other household items. Turkey, goose, duck, and other native birds were hunted relentlessly in the first few decades of colonial settlement.

Squash roasted in butter
Fruits, vegetables, grains: corn, oats, rye, wheat, numerous kinds of berries, cherries, plums, walnuts, squash and pumpkin, beans and peas, onion, carrots, turnips, potatoes, purslane, leafy greens (some of which you’d call weeds) and many others. 

Beverages: everyone drank beer or ale, even children, as they deemed it more healthful than water. They also had wines, soft and hard cider, and after about 1660, tea. Drunkenness was a crime and a sin, so they were moderate in their drinking.

Dairy products: Cheese would have been a regular feature of their diet, especially for lunches out in the fields, when traveling, or hunting. See below for the best way to make cheesecake (mmm!). Eggs were used in many recipes for sweet and savory dishes. Butter was used in marinating, frying, cooking, baking, basting the roast, spread on bread or patties... Children drank buttermilk and goats-milk. Cream made many vegetable stews a rich mortar to our ancestors' arterial walls.

Recipes below are from the 1615 New Book of Cookerie, a popular book in England, and almost certainly used in New England. In addition to these English favorites, they would have learned to prepare corn meal mush patties, dry venison, and pemmican (meat and berries or grains processed together and dried). The recipes are copied out of the recipe books as they were written, so you won't find exact proportions. The recipe writers probably assumed that there were several experienced cooks in the kitchen, who shared experience.

A Cambridge Pudding
Force grated Bread through a Cullinder, mince it with Flower, minst Dates, Currins, Nutmeg, Sinamon, and Pepper, minst Suit [suet], new Milke warme, fine Sugar, and Egges: take away some of their whites, worke all together. Take halfe the Pudding on the one side, and the other on the other side, and make it round like a loafe. Then take Butter, and put it in the middest of the Pudding, and the other halfe aloft. Let your liquour boyle, and throw your Pudding in, being tyed in a faire cloth: when it is boyled enough cut it in the middest, and so serve it in.

To sowce [pickle, souse] a Pigge
Scald a large Pigge, cut off his head and slit him in the middest, and take out his bones, and wash him in two or three warme waters. Then collar him up like Brawne [boar], and sowe the collars in a fayre cloth. Then boyle them very tender in faire water, then take them up and throw them in fayre water and Salt untill they be colde, for that will make the skinne white. Then take a pottle of the same water, that the Pigge was boyled in, and a pottle of white Wine, a race of Ginger sliced, a couple of Nutmegs quartered, a spoonefull of whole Pepper, five or sixe Bay leaves: seeth all this together, when it is colde put your Pigge into the sowce-drincke, so you may keepe it halfe a yeere, but spend the head.

A made Dish of Sheepes tongues
Boyle them tender, and slice them in thinne slices: then season them with Sinamon, Ginger, and a little Pepper, and put them into a Coffin of fine Paste, with sweet Butter, and a few sweet Hearbes, chopt fine. Bake them in an Oven. Then take a little Nutmeg, Vinegar, Butter, Sugar, the yolke of a new laid Egge, one spoonfull of Sacke, and the juyce of a Lemon: Boyle all these together on a chafing-dish of Coales, and put it into your Pye: shog it well together, and serve it to the Table.

To bake a Turkey, or a Capon 
Bone the Turkey, but not the Capon: parboyle them, & sticke cloves in their breasts: Lard them and season them well with Pepper and Salt, and put them in a deepe Coffin with the breast downeward, and store of Butter. When it is bakte poure in more butter, and when it is colde stop the venthole with more Butter.

To boyle yong Peason or Beanes: First shale them and seethe them in faire water, then take them out of the water and put them into boyling milk, then take the yolks of Egs with crums of bread, and ginger, and straine them thorow a strainer with the said milk, then take chopped parcely, Saffron and Salt, and serve it for Pottage. 

Spinach Pottage
Take nothing but the Heart, or Soundest Part of the Spinage; mince it fine, and stew it in a Pipkin with Pease-soop, an onion stuck with Cloves, and other Seasoning Ingredients. Set your Crusts a soaking, scrape in some Parmesan, and dress your Pottage. Garnish it with Sticks of Cinnamon roundabout, and lay one in the middle, o’er fry'd Bread or an Onion. (The Queen's Closet Opened, by W. M, the Cook to Queen Henrietta Maria, 1655.)
Kitchen of Bolling Hall, Yorkshire,
as it would have been in the 1640s.

A Fridayes Pye, without eyther Flesh or Fish
Wash greene Beetes cleane, picke out the middle string, and chop them small with two or three well relisht ripe Apples. Season it with Pepper, Salt, and Ginger: then take a good handfull of Razins of the Sunne, and put all in a Coffin of fine Paste, with a piece of sweet Butter, and so bake it: but before you serve it in, cut it up, and wring in the juyce of an Orenge, and Sugar.  

To make Cheese-Cakes, the best way
Take two Gallons of New Milk, put into them two spoonfuls and a half of Runnet, heat the Milk little less than Blood-warm, cover it close with a Cloath, till you see the Cheese be gathered, then with a scumming-dish gently take out the whey, when you have dreyn'd the Curd as clean as you can, put it into a Siev, and let it drain very well there; then to two quarts of Curds, take a quart of thick Cream, a pound of Sweet Butter, twelve Eggs, a pound and half of Currans, a penny-worth of Cloves, Nutmeg and Mace beaten, half a pound of good Sugar, a quarter of a pint of Rose-water; mingle it well together, and put it into Puff-paste.

Christy K Robinson is author of the books:
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)