The Cilley pursuit has been, in a word, silly. It has been filled with twists and knots, rumors of two, three, four or maybe six immigrant brothers, poor spelling, poor logic, horrible penmanship, meanwhile being short on facts and reliable documentation. Take your pick.
Cilley family histories are fraught with all of these. There are no definitive answers. What there are, blessedly, are sufficient clues to piece together something coherent.
Richard Cilley, the immigrant ancestor, is also known as Richard Sealey, Richard Seeley, and Richard Sealy. His parentage is unknown although there is speculation that he was the son of John, about which nothing more is known, not even his origin. Richard is also said to have been the son of Andrew Sealey of Stoke-in-Teignhead, Devonshire, who allegedly had no less than six sons who came to New England: Thomas, John, Richard, George, Robert, and William.
However, the search in UK records for Richard’s name and a birth year of about 1620 has proven fruitless.
Richard Sealy appears in 1653 as a magistrate at the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. It is suggested he was there as early as 1651; in Saco, Maine in 1666; in Salem, Massachusetts in 1675; and living in Boston in 1679. It is also claimed that he was one of “four brothers in Maine.”
Here is where the helpfulness runs out and conflicting information begins.
It is impossible to pinpoint when Richard was at the Isles of Shoals. To a certain degree, Richard’s first residence at the Isle of Shoals was during a time of very-little-to-very-poor, at best, record keeping. Early 20th-century chroniclers have done us no favors by attempting to logically construct a lineage for Richard and his brothers.
The same source that reports that Richard Sealy was a magistrate at the Isles of Shoals in 1653 also attributes the children of Richard’s son Benoni to Richard himself.
There are bright spots. In April 2001, a Cilley family researcher, Richard Cilley, posed the following helpful entry on a now inactive ancestry.com forum:
Several anecdotal letters and oral representations indicate that later generations believed when my first ancestor in this country, Thomas Ceeley, came over to New Hampshire permanently to escape the Roundheads in the English Civil War in the early 1640s, he believed that the name derive[d] from the Scilly Islands off Land’s End west of his home in Teignmouth, Devon. He and his brothers had been over to America fishing regularly since the late 1620’s, smoking and curing fish, and bringing back the catch to the west of England to sell. It became politically expedient to remain in America at the Isles of Shoals off New Hampshire rather than risk being hung for a Royalist at home.
It makes perfect sense that Richard Cilley was one of these itinerant fishermen brothers who frequented the Isles of Shoals. It also renders it believable that his parents never came to New England. Attempts to link him to Capt. Robert Cilley of Boston fail.
In his monumental Genealogical History of the First Settlers of New England [Vol. 4:50], James Savage doesn’t mention a Richard Cilley, Seeley or Sealy. He does, however, report: “William, Isle of Shoals, perhaps br. of John of the same, was of gr. jury 1656, d. at Saco, 1672.”
Savage also reports that William’s daughter, Emma, married John Ruel; and that, in 1668, his daughter Dorcas married James Gibbins, Jr.
This is obviously based on the “Sealy” brothers of the Isles of Shoals’ story. A brief family history about them by Walter Goodwin Davis was published in the NEHGR. Goodwin reports here that it was Richard Sealy’s children who were Emma and Dorcas, with the new addition of a son John.
The Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire [p 617] reports:
Thomas (Sealy), Kennebec, wit. a Parker-Webber deed with Edmund Pattishall 26 Dec. 1664. O. A. to King 8 Sept. 1665. … He may have been the youngest br. of the Shoals Sealys, who was bap. at Stoke-in-Teignhead 28 July 1638 and was liv. in 1664. The Kennebec man was a refugee at Braintree, where he sued Richard Thayer in 1678 and took O. A. 21 Apr. 1679.
First of all, the piece of information that Thomas was probably born earlier and baptized in 1638 when he was about to set sail for the Isles of Shoals indicates he was covering his bases with the Almighty.
This account also makes no mention of a wife or children. It also appears to be a possible source for the claim that Richard Cilley was living in Boston in 1679—except that the claim is made here that it was Thomas Cilley who was taking refuge there in the 1660s and residing there in 1679.
A furtherance of the claim that Richard was one of several brothers—Thomas, George, Richard, and William—comes from a biographical publication on Massachusetts and Maine families (searchable at ancestry.com) co-authored by Walter Goodwin Davis, one of the authors of the Genealogical Dictionary. Regarding the “Blaisdell, of Salisbury” family Davis claims:
Martha Blaisdel’s second husband was probably a member of the sea-faring family of Sealy from Stoke-in-Teignhead, co. Devon, of whom three brothers, George, Richard and William, were active at the Isles of Shoals in the seventeenth century. By a process of elimination it seems probable that he was Thomas Sealy, possibly the fourth brother baptized at Stoke-in-Teignhead on July 28, 1638. This Thomas was in the Kennebec region in the 1660’s and when King Philip’s war broke out [in 1676] he took refuge in Braintree, a likely place for him to have met the young widow Bowden of Boston. The last record of him found is in 1679 when he took the Oath of Allegiance on April 21.
Here Davis links Martha Blaisdell with Thomas Cilley—which suggests that this claim passed from Davis to the Seeley Society. (More on this below.)
Another source provides a little clarity: “There were several immigrants of the name, most of them fishermen living in same locality. Richard Cilley, or Sealy, born about 1620-5 in England probably, was Magistrate at the Isle of Shoals in 1653. He removed to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. Richard died sometime before 1686, as in that year his widow married, as second wife, John Clough, born 1615-20. She outlived him, and died after 1692.”
The same source claims that the known children of Richard and Martha were: A son born about 1650, and Elizabeth, born about 1660, who married about 1683, John Davis of Amesbury, and died before 1702. Her parents deeded land to them in 1684.
The daughter Elizabeth was progeny from Martha’s first marriage with Richard Bowden/Boaden. (More to come.)
This is also not credible if you accept that Martha Blaisdell, born about 1642, could have been the mother of a son born to Richard in 1650.
The Seeley Genealogical Society also attributes the wife and three children of Richard Cilley to his brother Thomas.
There are several things wrong with their report, as there is no support for the claim that Thomas married Martha Blaisdell or that he had any children with her.
Once again we get a patchwork of names and dates.
Further confusion was added by John Scales in his memorial to Gen. Joseph Cilley. Scales manages to turn the Cilley/Seely family history into a pretzel by conflating the Robert Seeley who came to New England in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet, and settled first at Watertown and owned land in Connecticut, with the fishermen of the Seely, Seeley, Cilley name who were at the Isles of Shoals. This Robert Seeley did not have three sons named John, William, and Richard who came with him from England. The descendants of Robert Seeley involved with the Seeley Society have disproved these claims.
Wives and Children: The timeline for the births of the children claimed to have been born to this Richard Cilley makes no sense at all. Absent actual birth records, we are left to sort through various reports.
Richard is alleged to have had a daughter known as Elizabeth Bowden Cilley, who was born about 1658 in the Isles of Shoals who married about 1666 in Amesbury, Massachusetts, a John Davis. This would make her 8 at the time of marriage. This is a matter of incorrect dates.
Early marriage records show a John Davis who married in 1683 in Amesbury, an Elizabeth “Boaden” or Cilley. This indicates that Elizabeth was Richard’s stepdaughter and that the Cilley added to the entry was to identify the family from which she actually came, or, alternatively, that she was a widow and her maiden name was either Boaden or Cilley.
Also, the inclusion of “Bowden” with her name elsewhere in the records—Elizabeth Bowden Cilley—indicates that Martha was first married to Richard Bowden and had Elizabeth by him and she was subsequently known by her stepfather’s surname.
As mentioned above, Richard and Martha’s daughter, Martha, born about 1666, was the Martha Cilley who married John Clough. Additionally, the compilers of the history of Andover in Merrimack County, New Hampshire, agree that it was Martha, daughter of Richard, who married John Clough on January 15, 1686/7.
Richard and Martha’s son, Capt. Thomas Cilley, was born about two years later, in 1668. He died in 1718 in Nottingham, New Hampshire, and married July 2, 1697, in Hampton, New Hampshire, Ann Stanyon.
Richard and Martha’s third child was Benoni Cilley, born about 1680, in Salisbury, Massachusetts. He married twice: first August 28, 1703, in Salisbury, to Eleanor Getchell, and second, October 9, 1739, also in Salisbury, to Rachel Tappan.
It is quite possible that Martha Blaisdell was not Richard’s first or only wife. Early New England marriage records are missing the name of the wife for a Richard “Seeley” or “Sealy” born in 1621 with a suggested year of marriage of 1642 either at the Isles of Shoals or Hampton, New Hampshire.
Another entry, for “Sealy/Cilley?” shows a Richard and Martha ____ with a possible marriage year of 1650 in the Isles of Shoals, Hampton or Salisbury. It is possible that Richard’s first wife was also a Martha. This entry also suggests that Richard’s widow married second, about 1667, John Clough.
Clearly, this is a lot of guesswork based on poor quality original documents or lots of speculation.
It is fairly certain, however, that Martha Blaisdell was born about 1642 and died April 1, 1707, in Salisbury. She married first, about 1660, most likely in Boston, Richard Bowden (also found Boaden, Boden). They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah. Elizabeth married about 1683 in Amesbury John Davis, son of Ensign John Davis and Jane Peasley. Sarah married November 7, 1693, in Amesbury, Benjamin Towle, son of Philip Towle and Isabella Austin (who was accused of witchcraft in 1680).
Like Richard Cilley, Richard Bowden is found in the Isles of Shoals sometime around 1650. It is believed that although he earned his living in the fishing industry, he kept his family in Boston. Richard died sometime around 1665 by causes unknown.
Martha married second Richard Cilley. There is no marriage record; it is assumed they were married in the Isles of Shoals. They had three children: Martha, Thomas, and Benoni. Richard died sometime prior to January 1679/80, when Martha married third, John Clough, in Hampton.