William Ham of Cornwall

Consensus on from where William Ham and his wife Honor Stephens originated (that is, where and when they were born), where and when William Ham emigrated to in New England, and where and when William settled his family appears to be lacking.

The answers to many of these questions come from geography.

It is generally agreed upon that William Ham’s wife, Honor Stephens, was the daughter of William Stephens and Mary Woode, who were married April 21, 1600, at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth, Devon. Honor, also found as Honour, was baptized February 4, 1601, at the same church.

At first blush it appears that this disproves all claims that Honor was born in Cornwall — until you understand that Plymouth in Devonshire is only a quick boat ride down the Tamar River from Cornwall and that that part of Devonshire and Cornwall share a border.

In fact, William Ham’s parents, Richard and Matilda (surname unknown) Hame were married in Landulph, Cornwall. Richard was baptized in Landulph and his parents were quite likely married there, as well.

Landulph, or Landilip, is in the East Hundred of Cornwall. It is bound on the north, east, and south by the river Tamar. Landulph is both a village and a parish on the Devon border, only a few miles north of Plymouth. To Landulph’s west is Botus-Fleming, the town where William Ham and his sister Johane were baptized.

It appears that William’s mother Matilda was the wife of a second, possibly third, marriage for his father Richard Hame. Six children (born between 1571 and 1581) were born to Richard and Cicilia (surname unknown), all of whom baptized in Landulph. The two children, Johane in 1592 and William in 1594, born to Richard and Matilda were the only ones baptized in Botus-Fleming. It is possible that this was the home town of William’s mother.

William Ham and Honor Stephens married November 20, 1622, at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth.

However, when William and Honor’s children Matthew and Elizabeth were born, the family was residing in Landulph, Cornwall. Here is where the children were baptized in 1624 and 1629 respectively.

This would indicate that, following their marriage in late November 1622 in nearby Plymouth, Devon, there was a period of separation until about 1628, when Elizabeth, their second known child was conceived. Matthew was likely conceived soon after the marriage, born sometime in 1624. There do not appear to have been any more children who were baptized or survived.

It should now be obvious that travel in this unique area of Cornwall-Devon was quite fluid.

FH Map Cornwall East Hundred

New England Bound

There are varying reports about how and when William Ham came to New England.

He came to Maine in 1635 aboard the Speedwell with the Trelawny Expedition. The ship arrived April 26, 1635, at the Richmond Island fishing colony off Cape Elizabeth (now Falmouth), situated in today’s Cumberland County, Maine.

In the Trelawny Papers, in 1635, we find a report by Narias Hawkins to Robert Trelawny that “Lannder, Ham, Billin & Clarke, William Freythye & Symons”, who were there with him at Richmond Island, had left the “service” of John Winter. Hawkins said he did not know if they would return. This is a polite way of saying that they had deserted from their employment.

These six men were John Lannder, John Bellin, Oliver Clarke, William Frethy, John Symonds, and William Ham.

Hawkins assured Trelawny he would not send for them, as they had collectively been a problem for him and Winter. Hawkins also said he would issue an order along the coast that “no man shall entertaine them.”

One possible explanation for the men’s desertion is that the ships being used to transport fish from the colony were not seaworthy. In June 1635, John Winter wrote that the Speedwell would be loaded and ready to depart in another six or seven days. The fish would be shipped to ports in Spain and France, and “exchanged for wines, salt, and other commodities; the refuse fish … going to Barbadoes and other slave-holding countries to feed the slaves.” The James had recently been lost on its voyage to Virginia and Winter wrote that he had “nother Intent as yt but to Com away in the Speedwell, for I thinke the Company will not Com home in her otherwise: the[y] tell me so plainely, the ship an old leake vessel still, that our men ar[e] very unwilling to Com home in her.”

By the “Company” Winter meant the fishermen hired to come over to the fishing colony at Richmond Island. Clearly these men were well aware of the Speedwell’s deficiencies and even Winter’s presence on board was not enough to entice them to voyage aboard her again. Their choice was to travel southward along the coast and reach a safe harbor before winter set in and the fishing colony had to hunker down for the duration.

Winter admonished Trelawny for his choice of vessel to send to the colony but did soften his words by placing his future fate into God’s hands: “You made Choyce of a bad ship to Com this way, but I do assure my selfe, that God of his mercy can bringe us as safly home in this weake ship as he Can in a stronger, yf yt please him.”

Although William Ham and his cohort had only been at Richmond Island a short while they were well aware of how harsh the previous winter had been. John Winter mentioned to Trelawny that of the recent shipment of “Cattell & gootes” that arrived aboard the Speedwell, three ewe goats and three kids had been lost “overwards” on the journey and only one ram goat and most of the ewe goats were alive but not one kid. Winter remarked that, fortunately, “I prayse God we have a good stocke of swine, old & younge; but the last winter was hard winter for swine, that was many lost in divers places.” The “many lost” included 50 or 60 pigs of all ages, although about 90 survived the winter. At least 50 would be needed for the upcoming winter, still several months away.

According to a footnote in the Trelawny Papers, after leaving the service of John Winter, the deserters “probably all went to Piscataqua (Portsmouth) with John Symonds, who was one of John Mason’s servants, and after the latter’s death, in 1635, had found employment with Winter.” Once in Portsmouth, it states, William Ham became a landowner, with his “name being in the list of persons to whom lands were granted in 1660.” This statement, however, as you will see, is not quite accurate.


We do have a clear indication that William Ham had at least begun to settle in or around Portsmouth by 1646. His whereabouts between the time he left Trelawny’s Richmond Island fishing colony and 1646 is unknown.

The Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire says that William Ham was sued in 1646 by Henry Taylor in New Hampshire. Neither the nature of the suit or its outcome are explained.

New Hampshire court records include the August 26, 1646, session: “Henry Tayler Plainfiff William Ham Defendt upon an accon of accompt for 30 [shillings].” However, the suit was Taylor’s loss as the court found for William Ham. Taylor had to pay him “Thirteene shillings damages & Costs of Court.”

Henry Taylor is believed to have been in Portsmouth by 1640. However, his name is not found in early Portsmouth records between 1645 and 1656; nor is it found in Stackpole’s history of Durham, New Hampshire, which encompasses many families of Portsmouth, Greenland, and Dover. Henry Taylor died before July 5, 1649, when administration of his estate was granted to John Webster.

Taylor seems to have been a man capable of causing—and getting himself into—trouble. The court held October 3, 1648, at Dover ordered that Henry Taylor be “safely kepte & sente to Boston Goale forthwith, there to remain until the next course of assistance at Boston.” Also on October 3, 1648, a grand jury presented Taylor for “beinge Drunke” and “find for it x [shillings].”

Further, at the same session, the grand jury presented John Crowther for calling his wife a whore because his “girle” (most likely a daughter) told him that Henry Taylor “hath bine severall times with his wiefe with manye other bad matters which wilbe further witnessed by moste of the Inhabitants of strawberry bank also that the saide henrye Taylor with the wiefe of John Crowther, the said John Crowther hath publikelie related that himself.” Witnesses were summoned but the disposition of Taylor’s case is unreported.

It is quite possible that Henry Taylor—fond of drink and other excesses—died before any further action could be taken. The nature of this matter, however, indicates why Taylor’s case against William Ham not only failed but resulted in a punishment.

The GDMNH also reports that William Ham and John Lander were fishing off Cape Neddick (York, York, Maine) before William moved to Portsmouth. No record of this is found, keeping in mind that these early fishermen often used the Isles of Shoals as an occasional unfixed base.

John Farmer, in his Genealogical Register of the First Settlers of New-England, writes that William Ham was in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1646. Early Exeter histories make no mention of him. By January 13, 1652, William had settled in Portsmouth; he had a land grant and built his home there at what was once Ham’s Point, later Freeman’s Point.

Also, the GDMNH informs that, after having served on a Grand Jury in 1653 and 1655, and as Selectman in Portsmouth in 1656, William “Old Ham” Ham was named in 1656 as one of three “men witches” in town. No details have been found.

Ham or Hame?

Early Portsmouth records show that the surname for William and his son, Matthew, were recorded as both Hame and Ham. The surname “Hame”, which prevails in Cornwall records, appears several times.

At the January 13, 1652, town meeting, the allotment for “each Inhabitant” was recorded. “William. Hame” received 50 “acers.” It was decided at the December 5, 1653, town meeting that the “plains shall be laied out at the first opertunitie” under the guidance of Mr. Richard Cutt, Renald Fernald, Thomas Walford, and William Cotton. The plains next to Goodman Pudington’s property should also be laid out. The second name in the “first squadron by lott” was “William. Hame”, who received 16 2/3 “acers”. At a public town meeting held June 5, 1654, a lot next to his father’s was granted to “Mathew Hame”.

However, at a public town meeting March 27, 1656, the selectmen were chosen for the following year. William “Ham” and his son Matthew “Ham” made their marks in witness of the event. At a general town meeting February 14, 1658, the amounts of funding contributed by father and son “Ham” to maintain a minister are reported as £1 for William and 10 shillings for his son, Matthew.

Next Generation

William’s wife, Honor, the GDMNH reports, is only mentioned November 11, 1667, when William sold his dwelling and fishing plant on “Malligoe Island”. The fishing operation was then in the hands of William Oliver.

This supports the possibility that William Ham, after leaving Richmond Island, had made his way to the Isles of Shoals. Malaga Island is a tiny island due west of Smuttynose Island, since 1820 connected to it by a breakwater.

It is unknown when he acquired either the property itself or the rights to set up a dwelling and a fishing plant there.

It is also unknown when Honor Ham joined her husband in New England. Robert Charles Anderson’s Great Migration directory reports William Ham arriving in 1638. There exists the possibility that William returned to Cornwall at some point, possibly after he left Richmond Island, and returned with his family around 1638 or later. The GDMNH reports that Matthew Ham did not arrive until after his father but does not say whether that would have been after 1635 or at a much later date. The records are silent as to when his mother Honor came and possibly brought him and his sister Elizabeth with her. There are no extant ship records to help us.

Regarding William Ham’s estate, the GDMNH says his will December 21, 1672-June 27, 1673, names the children of his daughter Elizabeth Cotton and three of his Ham grandsons.

The presumed omission of his son Matthew as heir to his father’s estate is explained by the fact that Matthew predeceased his father by eight years.

This entry was posted in Cornwall, Ham, John Winter, Maine, New Hampshire, Stephens, Trelawny and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to William Ham of Cornwall

  1. Stephen Ham says:


    Thank you for a truly outstanding investigation into my paternal ancestor. This is the best bit of research I’ve seen on my line. It also confirms my work, as I’ve traveled several times from my Minnesota home to Cargreen, Botus Fleming, and Landulph, Cornwall for research. Naturally, I’ve also been to St. Andrew’s Church in Plymouth, Devon.

    Naturally I’d value any further investigations into my Ham family lineage.

    All the very best,
    -Stephen Ham-


  2. Tracy says:

    Thanks for the info. William Ham is my 10th Great Grandfather. Very interesting.


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