Wheeler Power in Old Concord

The stories of two, three, four, and even five brothers who left the Old World and came together to settle in the New World are legend.

But have you heard about the Wheeler clan of Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England? The adult children of Thomas Wheeler and his second wife, Rebecca [Sayre] — six sons and two daughters — Timothy, George, Susannah, Joseph, Elizabeth, Richard, Ephraim, and Thomas — some with spouses, some with children, left their homes in Cranfield between 1635 and 1640. The majority of them settled in Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts.

That’s a lot of Wheelers! In fact, that’s a very powerful community of Wheelers — which multiplied more abundantly than any other immigrant family that settled in Concord.

. Richard Wheeler emigrated in 1635, a passenger on the Thomas as “Ricr Wheeler.” He was baptized June 13, 1614, in Cranfield, and died February 10, 1676, in Lancaster, Worcester, Massachusetts. He reportedly was the “victim of a massacre.” Richard married first, May 4, 1644, in Dedham, Norfolk, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Turner, and second, August 2, 1658, in Lancaster, Sarah Presscott.

. Capt. Thomas Wheeler emigrated in 1635 as a passenger of the James of London. He was baptized April 9, 1620, in Cranfield, and died March 4, 1686, in Concord. Thomas married October 10, 1657, in Concord, Hannah Harrod (Harwood). Thomas came as a servant to August Clement. He was first at Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, and moved next to Lynn.

FH Map Mass Bay 1630-1642. Sgt. Ephraim Wheeler emigrated in 1638. He was baptized March 16, 1619, in Cranfield, and died November 11, 1670, in Concord. He married Ann Turner in 1641 in Concord.

. Elizabeth Wheeler emigrated in 1638 with her husband and two children. She was baptized July 18, 1602, in Cranfield, and died before 1656 in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts. Elizabeth married Allen Breed of Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire, on November 14, 1622.

. Capt. Timothy Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized December 28, 1604, in Cranfield, and died July 30, 1687, aged 86, in Concord. Timothy married three times. He married his first and second wives in Cranfield: Susan Knight, April 30, 1632, and Jane (___) in 1633. Following Jane’s death February, 12, 1642, in Concord, he married third Mary Brooks, daughter of Thomas and Grace Brooks, founders of Concord.

. George Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized March 25, 1606, in Cranfield, and died about June 2, 1687, in Concord. He married Katherine Penn/Pin on June 8, 1630, in Cranfield. Katherine’s parents, Henry Penn/Pin and Katherine Hull, both emigrated and died in Concord. At least three of George’s eight children were born in England and emigrated with their parents.

. Lt. Joseph Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized February 18, 1610, in Cranfield, and died about 1681 in Concord. His wife was Sarah.

. Susannah Wheeler emigrated in 1640. She was baptized May 31, 1607, in Cranfield, and died March 24, 1649, in Concord. She married Obadiah Wheeler, son of John Wheeler and Elizabeth Breed. It is most likely Susannah and Obadiah married in England. He died October 27, 1671, in Concord.

. . . .


. Great Migration Directory for dates of emigration, if known.
. A History of the Town of Concord, Massachusetts.

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Anomaly or Something Else?

Sometimes family records reveal more than the expected birth, death, and marriage information.

Sometimes you come across something that makes you go hmmmm.

While updating my husband’s Nurse family history I came across one of those odd things.

Francis Nurse, son of accused and executed “witch” Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, died February 5, 1715/6 in Reading, Middlesex, Massachusetts. He was fairly young, only 55 years old. The horrific experience of the arrests, trials, and executions–including that of his mother–in 1692 may well have contributed to a shortened life.

But, then, how do we explain the deaths in Reading of three out of nine of his adult children within a nine-month period?

. Joshua Nurse, age 22, died June 8, 1717.
. Jonathan Nurse, age 26, died November 26, 1717.
. Josiah Nurse, age 24, died April 4, 1718.

One possible explanation is a severe illness.

In his annual proclamation made in November 1717, Governor Samuel Shute “urged the people of Massachusetts to thank God for ‘continuing a great Measure of Health and remarkably keeping off Contagious Diseases when threatening to break in upon us’ …”

It is unclear what the governor was thinking as, by the time his proclamation had been published and was in circulation (November 25, 1717), “it was ‘a very sickly time in Boston'” and word of the illness had reached Martha’s Vineyard and New London, Connecticut.

It was later observed that the level of sickness in Boston paled in comparison to the outbreak of smallpox in 1721. However, the number of fatalities due to the illness in 1717 “was about 100 over the previous twelve months.”

Rev. Mather reported that there had been “many more than twenty” deaths within a two-month period among his congregation alone.

Had brothers Joshua, Jonathan, and Josiah succumbed to the illness that plagued Boston?

Curiously, though, the number of deaths in 1717 in Reading — based on the vital records for that village — were not many and mostly among older people. There is no other example of such events in another Reading family.

Also, the brothers Nurse were in their prime, a time when they should have been strong and healthy. Jonathan and Josiah had only been married about four years and two years respectively and left behind two young wives.

The records are silent on causes of death. There are no reports of Indian massacres — which would have taken all their lives at the same time — or that the brothers had been part of a Reading militia and had somehow lost their lives that way.

Unfortunately, we may never know whether this is an anomaly or something else.

. . . .


1 Ernest Caulfield, “The Pursuit of a Pestilence” in The American Antiquarian.

2 Find A Grave Memorials for the Nurse family buried in the Burying Point Cemetery in Salem, Essex, Massachusetts.

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Why “luck” ended my #52Ancestors pursuits

After ten weeks of following Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts I decided it was time to move on.

I was finding myself diverted from my own blogging to only focusing on how to come up with a post that aligned with the #52Ancestors weekly theme.

The prompt “luck” did me in. I just couldn’t come up with a post that fit the prompt.

Was it “luck” that allowed a New England pioneer immigrant settlement to only lose 80% of its families to an Indian massacre? Was it “luck”, then, that the men were out hunting when disaster struck and women and children were either brutally killed — or tortured and killed — or carried off by the raiders as booty from settlements in New Hampshire and Maine to Canada? Was it “luck” that some of those captured managed to escape and make their way back home? Was it “luck” that the raiders only burned the village to the ground but left the cattle standing in the fields?

We associate “luck” with something positive that happens to or for us. My primary focus on this blog is my New England ancestors, those brave and, perhaps foolhardy in some minds, early generations of pioneers who carved out a home and a future in the New England wilderness.

I do not consider it “luck” that I am here. For example, I look upon those ancestors who survived the Salem witchcraft madness as fortunate, not “lucky”.

I do not consider it “luck” that so many survived times of severe weather — like the Great Hurricane of 1635 or the Great Snow of 1717 — or pestilence and illness or other misfortunes.

I do not find a single “lucky” one among hundreds of them. What I do find is determination, perseverance, diligence, steadfastness, and devotion to family, friends, community, and, at one time, king and country.

Those who overcame adversity were not “lucky” by any definition.

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#52Ancestors: Pilgrim Women: Strength and Courage

The tenth of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts is Strong Woman Women.

It is impossible for me to single out a strong woman in my ancestry. There are far too many of them to count.

1 Amsterdam Harbor

Amsterdam Harbor circa 1599 by Pieter Bast

However, were I pressed to pick one “strong woman”, she would be found among the eight Separatist families — Isaac Allerton, John Allerton, William Bradford, William Brewster, John Carver, Samuel Fuller, Thomas Rogers, and William White — who first fled their enclave in Scrooby, England, to escape religious persecution, to spend a year in Amsterdam around 1608, before moving on to live more than a decade in Leiden, in the Netherlands. She would be found among the Pilgrims who departed in July 1620, cramped with other passengers and necessary provisions aboard the former merchant ship, the Mayflower, and who helped to carve out a new home in the wilderness of the New World. These few strong women left behind family and friends and everything they knew and held dear.

1 Plimouth Harbor Map

Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 Map of Plymouth Harbor

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#52Ancestors: Where There’s a Will There are Valuable Clues

The ninth of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts is Where There’s a Will.

A will, like any other public record, can be flawed and filled with misinformation or unfortunate misdirects. However, a will can be the source of valuable clues which, when followed, lead to incredible family history finds.

William Godfrey, my tenth great grandfather, was born about 1605 in Norfolk, England. After “several years” in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he was made freeman in 1640, he settled in Hampton, New Hampshire. He purchased land in Hampton in May 1648 and in May 1649, when he is said to still have been of Watertown. In 1654 he was selectman in Hampton, one of the few public offices he held there, and became a deacon of the Hampton church by 1660. William died in Hampton March 25, 1671.

The 1988 article, “Early Settlers of Hampton, New Hampshire” (NEHGR 142:267), states that William’s wife, a widow, brought her son, Thomas Webster, with them when they emigrated in 1638 to New England.

In his history of the town of Hampton, Joseph Dow speculates that William had probably married, about 1635, Margery (Margaret), the widow of Thomas Webster, who was buried April 30, 1634, in Ormesby, Norfolk, England.

An earlier article (NEHGR 9:159) on the Webster family reports that “from records at Salem [Massachusetts], it appear[s] that he [Thomas Webster] was a son-in-law of the said William Godfrey.”

The record to which the article refers is most likely the October 2, 1667, will of William Godfrey in which he refers to “my sone in law webester.” It is not infrequent at this time that the term son-in-law might refer to a stepson or even a brother.

With these clues at hand, the search for Margaret (or Margery), widow of a Thomas Webster Sr., who was buried in April 1634 in Ormesby, Norfolk, and mother of Thomas Webster Jr., who was most likely born in Ormesby, begins, especially in hopes of identifying Margaret/Margery’s surname.

1 nick

St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England c1848

First of all, however, we have the baptismal date for William Godfrey — March 31, 1605, in Great Yarmouth, at St Nicholas with St Peter, St John, St Andrew, St James, St Paul & St Luke — son of William and Cicelye/Cicily/Cysseley ___ Godfrie. The date of William’s first marriage about 1632 to his first wife, said to have been Sarah, was not found. Also, baptismal information for their son, John, who came to New England with his father, has not been located.

Thomas Webster and Margaret Massy were married November 29, 1629, in Holt Parish, Norwich, Norfolk, England. Thomas Webster, baptized November 11, 1582, in Filby, Norfolk, was buried April 30, 1634, at Ormesby. He was the son of Bartram Webster (buried July 11, 1608, in Filby) and Agnes (___) Webster (buried May 17, 1608, in Filby).

Thomas and Margaret Webster had three children born to them and baptized in Ormesby: Thomas, baptized November 20, 1631; John, baptized September 22, 1633, buried November 1, 1633; and Thomas, baptized August 1, 1634, buried August 3, 1634. There is no question that these children were all sons of Thomas Webster the elder, as each burial says son of Thomas. The burial for Thomas the father, April 30, 1634, has no such identification. (See “Webster Family” in NEHGR.)

Although it appears unusual for a son to be named after a father while there is yet a living son bearing the same name, the “Webster Family” article suggests it was an homage by Margaret to her late husband.

William Godfrey and Margaret (Massy) Webster did not marry until after Thomas Webster’s burial in April 1634. There is no indication that they had any children prior to their arrival in New England around 1638.

This leaves us with some known knowns and some known unknowns.

. We have about a four-year gap following Thomas Webster’s burial and Margaret (Massy) Webster’s remarriage. As we do not know when William Godfrey’s first wife, Sarah, died, it is, therefore, quite possible that they did not marry until sometime just before departing England in 1638 — with two small children in tow.

. In fact, as there is no English marriage record available — and no ship’s manifest to show when exactly they came to New England — there is no proof when William Godfrey and Margaret (Massy) Webster married.

. The first child born in New England to William and Margaret was Isaac. His birth, April 15, 1639, is recorded in early Boston records. The birth of his sister, Sarah, May 15, 1642, in Boston, is likewise recorded. The third and youngest Godfrey child, Deborah, was most likely born in Hampton, as her name does not appear in Boston records.

. Margaret, widow of Thomas Webster and second wife of William Godfrey, was Margaret Massy. No further information prior to her appearing as the mother of three children born in New England, and of record as the wife of William Godfrey, is known.

. Following the passing of William Godfrey, Margaret (Massy)(Webster) Godfrey married for a third time, on September 14, 1671, very soon after the passing of William on March 25th.

Margaret’s third husband, John Marrian/Marion, and his first wife, Sarah, are my husband’s ninth great grandparents.

. There were two John Marrians found in Watertown and Boston. The first remained in Massachusetts and died in Boston; the second removed to Hampton by 1645, where he married the widow Godfrey.

. Isaac Godfrey, William and Margaret’s son, married Hannah Marrian/Marion, daughter of John Marrian/Marion and his first wife Sarah.

. Without the invaluable databases of English parish records found at FamilySearch, FindMyPast, and TheGenealogist, and research published in the NEHGR, piecing together the documentation for the Webster-Massy-Godfrey families would be nearly impossible. It is only in Norfolk Marriages at FindMyPast that the identify of Thomas Webster’s wife, Margaret Massy, is found.

. . .


. Henry Dow’s History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire, pp. 727-8.
. “Early Records of Boston” in NEHGR 7:161.

FH Map Hampton

. The top left-hand corner of the map of Hampton shows first Thomas King, followed by Anthony Taylor, Walter Roper, and then, fourth, William Godfrey.

Deborah Godfrey, youngest daughter of William and Margaret (Massy)(Webster) Godfrey, married as his first wife, December 6, 1677, in Hampton, John Taylor, son of Anthony and Philippa (Mingay) Taylor.

Deborah and John Taylor are my ninth great grandparents; Anthony and Philippa Taylor are my tenth.

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#52Ancestors: Heirlooms Lost to Fire

The eighth of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts is Heirloom.

Sadly, not everyone has heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. The reasons for that are many. In one case the primary culprit is fire. To be exact, that should read fires.

According to federal censuses, my paternal great grandparents, Everett F. and Emma (Nichols) Merryfield, lived in Center Sandwich, Carroll, New Hampshire, between 1910 and 1940. Everett and Emma owned a combination hotel, general store, and ice cream parlor there.

The 1910 census lists Everett’s occupation as mail carrier and stage coach driver and Emma’s as hotel keeper. In 1920, Everett was the “driver of a public car”; after leaving Sandwich, he operated the Ashmont Taxi company in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The 1930 census shows Everett as a mail carrier, “star route” (i.e. rural delivery), and Emma as the proprietor of an ice cream store.

1 Sandwich fire3On the afternoon of February 27, 1934, tragedy struck when a fire broke out. The Portsmouth Herald reported the following day:

“The worst fire in the history of this little town swept through the heart of the business section yesterday afternoon, leveling five mercantile establishments and two dwelling houses and causing damage estimated at $150,000. Three families were made homeless.

“Practically the whole town, men, women, and children, left their homes to join the firemen from the local, Moultonboro and Center Harbor departments in battling the blaze. They formed bucket brigades from the nearby mill pond and huge quantities of water were poured on the flames.

“After raging from 1:30 yesterday afternoon until after 6 o’clock last night the conflagration was declared under control although firemen and volunteers continued to guard burning embers and fight sporadic outburst in cord wood piled in the rear of the postoffice building and [piles] of lumber piled near the rear of the Thompson garage. …

“Buildings which were completely wiped out included:

“Everett Merryfield’s general store, two and one-half story structure in the basement of which the blaze originated. …

“At the Merryfield store practically all the contents were destroyed, including all the town records for the past 70 years. Mr. Merryfield, the owner, is town clerk of Center Sandwich.

“The origin of the blaze was not determined. It broke out in the basement of the Merryfield store shortly after Fred Mudgett, local mechanic, had left the building, where he had been at work repairing a tractor snowplow.”

1 Sandwich1However, should this fire not have been enough to destroy any family heirlooms on the property, a second fire in Center Sandwich again devastated the Merryfield family.

On May 30, 1939, the 100-year-old Merryfield farm was “destroyed by fire of unknown origin” with a “loss estimated at close to $3,000.”

The farm, owned by Everett and Emma, now of Roxbury, had just recently been occupied by my grandfather, Harold Merryfield of Dover, and his family.

Apparently, the house was being used as a summer home, as it had not been occupied since the previous summer.

The Portsmouth Herald reported:

While eating the noon meal Mr. Merryfield detected smoke and going to the barn found a pile of hay ablaze. Although he hurried to the nearest telephone to summon the Center Sandwich volunteer fire department, the fire had spread to every part of the farmhouse and outbuildings by the time help arrived and the structure was a total loss.

“Mrs. Merryfield and the couple’s four children managed to save a few pieces of furniture before being obliged to leave the building.”

Fortunately, no one was injured or died in these fires. These are not uncommon events. Fire fighting as it was in those days was by bucket brigade and personal possessions stood little chance of survival.

1 Sandwich 1892Center Sandwich, New Hampshire c1892

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#52Ancestors: Evening in Paris

The seventh of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts is Valentine.

My mother’s mother, Cassie Lavina (Tuttle) Holmes (1896-1988), was the only grandmother I knew. ‘Gram’, as I called her, was my true Valentine. The first of the many things I associate with her is Evening in Paris cologne, or Soir de Paris as it is called in France:

Evening in Paris came from the daring decade of the 1920s — think glittering nightlife, flapper fashion, the heady perfume of luxury. By the 1950s, Evening in Paris was touted as ‘the fragrance more women wear than any other in the world,’ yet by 1969 it had disappeared.

SCAN0134I say without any proof whatsoever that I seriously doubt my grandmother engaged in much of a nightlife in rural New Hampshire in the 1920s or cavorted about as a flapper. In 1917 she married my grandfather, Elmer Hilton Holmes (1895-1967), and late that year had her first child.

Evening in Paris is described as “a rich floral eau de parfum blended with a slightly woody base.” This may explain why I am drawn first to any chypre scent.*

Most likely Gram’s distinctive little cobalt blue glass bottle of Evening in Paris with its silvery label was a gift.

It’s chypre scent was a gift to me as well. I do not think I ever wore more than the occasional dab she placed behind my ear when I was young. That fragrance lingers and evokes memories with me even until today.

Gram was what you would call an unsophisticated clean-cut country girl. I do not believe she ever went to a hairdresser. She always cut and trimmed her own hair in the same neck-length style — brown-haired when I was young, snow white by her 80s — wound up in pin curls, combed out with a casually-crafted ringlet in front of each ear, each expertly turned inward towards her face.

1c.3When she was headed for an outing like church, the Ladies Aid, the Woman’s Club or a card party or, later in life, her beloved Bingo, she “set” her hair in the early or late morning or early afternoon. It was a tip-off that an outing was at hand.

She always wore a dress and hose with garters above the knee for more formal occasions or white cotton ankle socks with the cuff always turned down and white canvas sneakers in her later years.

Gram wore screw-back earrings. Having her ears pierced would never have occurred to her. She had several costume jewelry dress pins, necklaces, and the often-present string of “pearls”. I never did find out where her pale sapphire-blue ring ended up. It was only worn for those dress-up occasions.

And, of course, she always wore her gold wedding band.

Right before leaving the house, she rubbed a touch of rosy-hued rouge onto each cheek and carefully applied bright red lipstick. I don’t think she ever wore anything but the brightest cherry red.

Gram was no follower of Vogue or any other fashion magazine. Changes in color from one season to the next gained no interest. The only other facial adornment might be a pat or two of skin-toned face powder from her compact.

I can imagine that her cosmetics all came from one of several local Five and Dime stores like Woolworths, W.T. Grant or J.J. Newberrys. However, she was a great fan of the visiting Avon lady. I think it was more an opportunity to entertain and swap gossip than an interest in the most recent product catalog.

Next in the getting-ready scheme came the dabbing on of the Evening in Paris. This was followed by the ritual checking in her purse to make sure she was equipped with a roll or two of butter rum-flavored Life Savers — always smelling a bit like Evening in Paris! — a few dollar bills in her wallet, and a crochet or lace-edged handkerchief or two. It was a long long while before a Kleenex found its way into her bag.

Gram did not smoke, so no need for cigarettes, matches or a lighter. She did not drive and the only keys she carried were house keys.

Last but not least, if she was headed for Bingo, she tucked her necessary repurposed margarine container of clear red Bingo chips into the purse.

The frequent occasions of Gram readying for any social event are fixed in my mind. Her routine was simple, predictable, and nearly always the same, forever in my memory by the scent of Evening in Paris.

. . . .

* My favorites are Euphoria by Calvin Klein and Chypre d’Orient by Molinard. Classic chypres, for example, are the original Chanel No. 5 and Miss Dior. My guilty pleasure, sparingly used, is Jean Marc’s Sinan Lune.

. Tip: Use a test strip before purchasing a chypre as it is a very strong scent, an acquired taste, and a strongly offensive smell to some people.)

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