Friday, 18 September 2015

Stukely Westcott (1592-1678) (Week 38) Theme: "Favorite Place"

There can be no one favourite place for me when it comes to my ancestors. Wherever I find them, that is my favourite place of the moment. I've chosen to write about my 9th great grandfather Stukely Westcott this week, not only because he was one of the founders of Rhode Island (which is indeed a lovely place), but also because I continue to find him cropping up in various places in my life.


First Baptist Church in Providence, RI
Congregation first established by Roger Williams and others including Stukely Westcott

I appreciate his memorable first name - no ubiquitous John or William for this Stukely. Perhaps because the name is so recognizable, it has enabled me to discover fellow descendants in unexpected places. I spoke briefly about my discoveries about Stukely at a meeting of the Alberta Family Histories Society in Calgary, Alberta, only to discover that the woman seated beside me was another descendant, as was one other member of that audience. After moving to Victoria, British Columbia, I discovered to my delight that a new friend also has Stukely in her family tree.

It seems that Stukely was his mother's maiden name - she was Mary Stukely (sometimes spelled Stucley). Mary and her husband Stephen Guy Westcott were living in Ilchester, Somerset, England when Stukely was born in 1592.

Location of Ilchester and Yeovil, Somerset, England
Google Earth image
Little is known of Stukely's childhood in Somerset. There is one report of Stukely Westcott being listed in a tithe book for adolescents in 1607 and of his name appearing in 1619 in the Court book list of tenants.

When Stukely was 27 he married Julianna Marchante in Yeovil on 5 October 1619. Their family started to grow with the birth of Damaris in about 1620, followed by Samuel in 1622 and other children including Robert, Mercy, Amos and Jeremiah (my 8th great grandfather) in 1633.

This was a time when religious differences continued to pervade England. Although many years had passed since King Henry VIII had broken from the Catholic Church, there were many Protestant factions that did not feel that the resulting English church satisfied their belief systems. Stukely and Julianna were among those who chose to leave England for religious freedom in America. Stukely sailed from Dartmouth, Devon on 1 May 1635 with wife Julianna, and children Robert, Damaris, Mercy, Samuel (13), Amos (4) and Jeremiah (2). They arrived in Salem, Massachusetts on 24 June 1635. Stukely was named a Freeman of Salem the following year.

By 1638 he was applying for a license to remove his family from the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. To understand the reason for this, it is necessary to step back a few years.

A man named Roger Williams had come to Plymouth in about 1631 to be their religious leader. Williams, a Baptist, was a man of very definite views and a man of conviction. He believed in separation of Church and State. He also felt that the settlers didn't own the land but that it belonged to the Native Americans. This was not a popular view among the other settlers and there was some talk of shipping him back to England. To escape this fate, Williams fled into the wilderness where he was eventually welcomed by the Native Americans. He made a deal with two of the sachems (chiefs) to acquire tracts of land in the area. Soon he was joined by some of his supporters. On 8 August 1638 Williams admitted 12 loving friends and neighbours into equal ownership with him in Rhode Island at a place they called "Providence" in recognition of its having provided their refuge from persecution. Stukely was in that group. The following year he was excommunicated from his former church in Salem.

Stukely was one of the largest landowners in Rhode Island, owning up to 20,000 acres. He co-founded the First Baptist Church of Providence, was several times chosen "assistant" and was frequently elected deputy to the Colonial Assembly.

First Baptist Church in Providence, RI 1999
Having escaped the religious intolerance of England and then of Plymouth/Massachusetts Bay, the Baptists in Rhode Island were a remarkably democratic people. There was a minimum of government, a maximum of civil liberties and religious freedom for all. One man's faith was considered to be as good as any other's. The town radiated a friendly and cooperative spirit with settlers often addressing one another as "Neighbour". One interesting anecdote shows that although one man's faith was considered to be as good as another's, it had yet to be decided whether this extended to women as well or whether this would go against God's word that women be subject to their husbands. A man named Joshua Verin had forbidden his wife to attend Roger Williams' church meeting as she wished to do. (The families were next door neighbours as can be seen near the top of the map below.) In the end, after much debate, the wife won the right to attend and Verin dejectedly left the community by himself.

Layout of lots in early Providence, Rhode Island
(Stukely's lot highlighted in yellow; other ancestors
were Chad Brown and William Wickenden)

All was not sunshine and prosperity for the new colony despite all the freedom and good will. They had very few resources after fleeing Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay and were struggling to feed and house themselves. The other colonies tried to claim their lands for themselves and the local native tribes were waging war in an attempt to rid New England of the unwanted settlers. Roger Williams was able to broker an alliance with the Narragansett tribe but war against other tribes wiped out the Pequots and peace remained elusive.

In 1642, Williams returned to England and obtained a patent from Parliament for the lands covering essentially all of what is now Rhode Island. However, with Civil War raging in England, it was uncertain whether the land grant made by Parliament would be respected should King Charles prevail. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were still eyeing the Rhode Island lands for their own expansion.

Amidst all the turmoil, the settlers did make some progress. Homes were built on long narrow lots (as shown on the map above) giving each family access to water and ample land to plant an orchard, build a house and out buildings as well as provide each with space for their own family burial ground. A visit to this area will show that these lots essentially ran along what is now Benefit Street with each family's lot running sharply uphill.

Benefit Street area of Providence originally settled by Roger Williams
 and his followers including Stukely Westcott
Google Earth Image

In 1647 Stukely moved his family to Warwick, a few miles south of Providence. The Society of Stukely Westcott Descendants of America put up a marker in his honour on his original lot in 1935. When we visited the area in 1999, we tried to locate this marker, but were not having any success. As so often happens in these matters, serendipity was about to lend a hand. When we stopped to ask a local in a residential area of Warwick if he might know where we could find it, he said he certainly did.  He turned out to be the president of the local historical society and gave us a bit of a tour before setting us on the correct path to Stukely's memorial. (He also asked us if by any chance we shared a common ancestor with him - Chad Brown of Providence. I have subsequently regretted not getting his name and contact information after learning some years later that I do in fact also descend from Chad Brown.)

Memorial to Stukely Westcott in Warwick, RI

Julianna predeceased Stukely and is no doubt buried at Warwick, RI. Stukely lived to the grand old age of 84. Unfortunately, notwithstanding many instances of cooperation and good will with the Native American tribes, Stukely was driven from his home by them during King Philip's War. It was said that he was 84, wifeless and infirm when carried to the house of his grandson Dr. Caleb Arnold in Portsmouth where he died 12 January 1677/78.

Sources:

  • "Genealogy of Rhode Island Families", 2 volume set, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore 1983 
  • Ancestry.com, "U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index 1500s-1900s"; Place: Salem, Massachusetts; Year: 1636; Page 72
  • Eleanor Wescott Trismen talk of 8 August 1964 quoted from the website at http://www.ctol.net/~billw/s
  • Whitman, Roscoe L., "History and Genealogy of the Ancestors and Some Descendants of Stukely Westcott", 1932, pages 411-412
  • Greene, W.A., "The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years", 1886

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