Many of Our Ancestors Were Mariners

It endlessly amazes — and amuses — me as to how little we know about our colonial ancestors.

Were any of your ancestors merchant adventurers? mariners? seamen? ship masters? crewmen? dock or warehouse workers?

These were very knowledgeable and worldly people. Foreign shores and trade goods were not foreign to them — nor their friends and families back home in England, Scotland or Ireland — nor had they been for centuries.

1 map Atl coast of Eur and N Afr 1331

Map of the Atlantic Coast of Europe and North Africa c1331.

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Americae 1570

How much do we really know about the world our early colonial ancestors left behind?

Do we see them only as primitive uninformed pioneers carving out the New England landscape and building new homes, creating pastures, orchards, and gardens, and eventually villages?

Or do we see them as a bit more sophisticated? A bit more worldly?

After all, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian explorers had poked and probed the North Atlantic coast for well over a hundred years before the earliest colonists stepped foot on sandy soil. Even longer than that, fishermen were well-versed in the sea bounty to be found off the coast of Newfoundland and as far south as Nova Scotia.

The notion that our ancestors had no idea about what the New World held for them is pure nonsense.

One prime example comes from the Library of Congress, the Theatrum orbis terrarum, a map book of the charted world published in 1570 by noted Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius.

FH Map Theatrum orbis terrarum. Typvs orbis terrarvm 1570

Typvs orbis terrarvm. Theatrum orbis terrarvm. 1570. Library of Congress.

The first map section, which shows New France, including what are now known as the Atlantic Provinces, and the one that follows, which shows a more detailed view of the north east, especially Canada and New France, come from a global view of the world.

Note the French missions north of the St. Lawrence River in Canada and further south, scattered east-to-west across North America, north of Florida.

The second map prominently depicts the land of Norumbega, the Northern New England Frontier.

It is identified as “Americae”, North and South, as it was known in 1570, long before many of our immigrant ancestors were born.

FH Map Theatrum orbis terrarum. Americae sive novi orbis 1570

Americae sive novi orbis. Theatrvm orbis terrarvm. 1570. Library of Congress.

. . . . .


. The Library of Congress call number for the map book is G1006.T5 1570, and it is located in the Library’s Geography and Map Division in Washington, D.C.

. Emerson W. Baker, et al., eds., American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega (1994).

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The English origin of Edward Babbitt, the immigrant ancestor, has long been uncertain.

Not even The Babbitt Family History, published in 1875, offers any meaningful guidance.

Edward Bobet-Bobbett-Babbitt, according to the history, first appears in Plymouth court records in 1643, where his name is found among fifty-four men aged sixteen-to-sixty able to bear arms.

Edward would have been a minimum of sixteen years of age, and is further described as having been “a mere boy” at Taunton. If Edward met the minimum age of sixteen in 1643, this would give the earliest possible birth year as 1627.

Edward’s next appearance in Plymouth court records comes from 1649, when he reportedly received payment for “stollen wampon”. Again, using 1627 as a birth year, he would now have been twenty-three.

In November 1652, Edward, yeoman, aged approximately twenty-five, purchased his first land in Taunton. Two years later, on September 7, 1654, in Boston, he married Sarah Tarne, daughter of Miles Tarne.

Beyond an approximate year of birth, 1627, there are few clues to follow to find Edward’s home town in England.

Once again, I am ever so grateful to those online sources —,, and especially — for helping me to not only locate his home town but also identify his parents and grandparents.

Edward’s fairly unique surname and the estimated year of his birth were key. He was baptized April 9, 1626, in Docking, Norfolk, England. His parents are Thomas Bobbet and Elizabeth Unknown.

It was correctly suggested in a few online sites that Edward’s father was Thomas.

However, pure confusion comes from another claim that Thomas and his siblings were all born in St Clement Danes, Middlesex, England — and that Thomas’s children were all born in Docking, Norfolk. Also, Thomas’s purported father, Roger Bobbet, had married in Norfolk County.

Although this scenario was not impossible it did seem unlikely.

The reality is that Thomas Bobbet was baptized July 30, 1598, in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick Parish, Norfolk, as were his siblings.

1plague.jpgThomas and wife Elizabeth both died in July 1636 in Garboldisham, Norfolk. It is possible that they both died from the plague, as the pestilence continued to ravage London 1636 to 1648 “without interruption” and was carried into the countryside as the urban population sought to escape it.

Four children, including Edward, apparently grew up in Garboldisham. However, as Thomas and Elizabeth Bobbet both died in 1636 when their oldest child, Edward, was under ten years of age, and their youngest child, Clementius, was less than three years of age, it is unknown who raised these orphaned children.

We can be fairly certain that it was not the Bobbet grandparents.

Thomas’s father was Robert Bobbet, born sometime around 1550. He died and was buried in March 1598/9 in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick, Norfolk.

Robert’s first wife, Jonne Feunt, whom he married January 18, 1572/3, in St Peter, was buried there March 20, 1586/7. Robert and Jonne had a son, William, who was baptized October 13, 1575, and a daughter, Catherine, baptized September 16, 1579, in St Peter. Catherine was buried there March 1598/9 before she reached her tenth birthday.

Robert married second, Dyanes/Dianes Unknown, September 20, 1587, in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick, Norfolk. They were the parents of Thomas and a second son, John, who was baptized July 13, 1588.

It is possible that the children’s uncle, William Bobbet, raised them. He would have been slightly over sixty in 1636. Their younger uncle, John, would have been forty-eight. And, of course, the children’s maternal family may have taken them in to raise.

In any case, an under-aged Edward Bobet-Bobbett-Babbitt made his way to New England by 1643, purchased land in 1652, and was married in 1654.

Sadly, Edward did not reach age fifty. Various sources repeat much the same story. On June 15, 1675, two days after King Philip’s War broke out in Swansea, Massachusetts, Edward was struck down by a party of Indians while traveling an old footpath with his family headed for the safety of Taunton.

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Canterbury Connections

Do you have ancestors who were born, baptized, married, or buried in Canterbury, Kent, England? After coming across this magnificent map of the ancient city it only seemed appropriate to post it and a bit of information here as a teaser post.

FH Map Canterbury 1588, Wm Smith's Particular Description of Eng, BritLib

1588 Map of Canterbury from Wm. Smith’s Particular Description of England in the British Library

One brief sample of immigrants known to have come from Canterbury or surrounds comes from the passenger list of the Hercules of Sandwich, which sailed to New England in 1635:

. John Best, tailor, of Sandwich, settled in Salem.

. Thomas Boney (Bonney), shoemaker, of Sandwich, settled in Charlestown and Duxbury.

. Isaac Cole, carpenter, of Sandwich, and his family: wife Joan, children Isaac, Jane or Anne. He settled his family in Charlestown and Woburn.

. William Hatch, merchant, of Sandwich, and his wife Jane. He settled in Scituate.

. William Holmes, of Sandwich, servant of William Hatch. He settled in Scituate and Marshfield.

. Robert Jennings, of Sandwich, servant of William Hatch. He only appears on the passenger list. Nothing more is known of him.

. Margaret Johnes, of Sandwich, wife of William Johnes, painter. Her name appears on the passenger list only.

. Joseph and Simon Ketchell (Ketcherell), of Sandwich, servants to William Hatch. Their names appear only on the passenger list.

The few passenger lists available, of course, only provide a snapshot of the number of immigrants who came in the Great Migration, 1620-1640.

Sources for Further Research for Canterbury

. Canterbury, Kent at
. The Canterbury Connection at
. The Great Migration Directory.
. Canterbury, U.K. at
. The Canterbury Trail: exploring the city’s medieval streets on foot.

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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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