In April of 1638 the good ship, The Confidence of London, set sail from Southampton, England,
under the command of Mr. John Johnson. On board were 100 souls "intended for New England", including John Rolfe, age 50, husbandman, of Melchitt Park, Wiltshire. Accompanying John were his wife Ann, daughters Hester and Joane, and servant Thomas Whittier. The other passengers were similar family units, mostly from Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. The men were tailors, tanners, merchants, linen weavers, yeoman and husbandman like John Rolfe. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the future husbands of Hester and Joane were also sailing on the Confidence. ( Hester married John Sanders and Joane married Richard Ring, both fellow passengers.) Whether John Rolfe and the others left for religious or economic reasons, or a combination of both, most of them would never seen England or the families they left behind again.
The Rolfe and Whittier families had lived in Wiltshire for seemingly hundreds of years. Their names are found in the parish registers of Whiteparish, Downton and Lanford. These villages are on the edges of the New Forest, a royal hunting ground created in 1079 by William the Conqueror. They are also within 15 miles of Salisbury and close to the port of Southampton.
On 23 January 1608/9 Mary Rolfe of Whiteparish married Richard Whittier of Sarum. It is possible that they were married in the Church of All Saints in Whiteparish. That church was built in 1190 and is in use today. Mary Rolfe was the sister of John Rolfe who sailed on the Confidence in 1638 and Thomas Whittier was her son.
Mary was the daughter of John and Honor Rolfe of Whiteparish. John was born c. 1550, he and Honor had at least four children who lived to adulthood. The eldest was daughter Joane b. 1579, followed by Mary b. 1582, Henry b. 1585 and last John b. 1589. Honor died in 1619, her July 8th burial is recorded in the Whiteparish parish records. Her husband John wrote his will in January 1624/5 and added a codicil in May 1625. The inventory of his estate was done in October of 1625. It is clear from the will that he did not own any land, rather he leased various parcels for long periods of time. These leases he passed on to his sons. If you look closely at a map of the area around Whiteparish you can still find place names mentioned in his will, like Rumsey Lane, Bushy Copse and Mort (Moor Farm). John left his grandson Thomas Whittier a "stall of bees".
Richard Whittier,Thomas' father, was probably born in Landford, a short distance from Whiteparish. He and Mary had at least three children, sons Richard, John and Thomas. There is a burial for a Richard Whittier in 1634, it is possible that this was Thomas' father. Not much else is known about the family, neither of Thomas' brothers emigrated. Although he was listed as a servant, it is impossible to know exactly what Thomas' status was in the John Rolfe household. It is likely that John paid for Thomas' passage, John had only two daughters and he would need help establishing a homestead in Massachusetts, but thats all speculation.
Henry Rolfe, older brother of John was the first of the family to emigrate. It is not known exactly when he and his wife Honor left England, but his son Benjamin was born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1638. Henry did not live long in his new home, he wrote his will in December of 1642 and died by January 28th. He left his kinsman Thomas Whittier a swarm of bees. What is it with Thomas and bees? In the book The History of Newbury, the author write that Thomas Whittier arrived with his swarm of bees, causing a lot of excitement.
John Rolfe and family arrived in Boston and by 1640 he received land in the first division of the new town of Salisbury, Massachusetts. His son in law, John Sanders, was one of the original twelve grantees in September of 1638. It also seems he married Hester Rolfe that same year. John stayed in Salisbury for some years before moving to Newbury.
Thomas almost certainly lived with his Uncle John until he married, as single men were not allowed to live on their own, they were required to live with a family. His marriage to Ruth Green was not recorded so it is not certain when they married. Their first child, Mary, was born in October of 1647 in Salisbury, so it was some time prior to that date, probably in 1646. His next child was born in December 1649 in Haverhill, there is some researchers who also have him living in Newbury, but he was given a license to make tar by Salisbury in early 1649. Between that date and the Haverhill birth it seems hard to squeeze in any time in Newbury. His Uncle John did move to Newbury, and spent the rest of his life there. Interestingly, John Sanders returned to Downton, England permanently.
By the time Thomas moved to Haverhill, he was about 30 years old. Married with two children he began to participate in the civic duties of the town and colony. The town of Haverhill was then about 10 years old. In a list of townsmen in 1650, Thomas was said to have 80 pounds worth of land. In 1650 the town appointed a committee to work with the town of Salisbury in laying out the bounds between the two. This committee failed to get the job done and a new committee was appointed by the General Court in 1651, Thomas was a member that committee. They presented their report to the General Court in May but the two towns continued to dispute the boundaries until 1667 when the General Court made a final ruling.
In 1653 Thomas Whittier signed a petition in defense of Lt Robert Pike who had been very outspoken about a new act passed by the General Court. The following exert from Joseph Dow's History of Hampton does a good job of explaining the situation:
In the year 1653, the General Court passed an act, to restrain unfit persons from preaching the gospel. This law was occasioned by gross irregularities, as they were then regarded, in the conduct of two men, living in that part of Salisbury, which is now the town of Amesbury, who were accustomed to exhort the people on the Sabbath, in the absence of a minister. Many of the people disliked this law, regarding it as arbitrary and far too severe in its positions. Among those was Lieut. Robert Pike, of Salisbury, who did not conceal his views, but spoke with some severity of the magistrates and deputies, by whom it had been made. The language used by him was regarded as a slander upon the court, and Lieutenant Pike was not only heavily fined, but also disfranchised, and put under bonds for good behavior. Petitions, numerously signed, were sent to the General Court, not only from Salisbury, but also from Newbury, Haverhill, Andover and Hampton, praying that the fine and punishment might be remitted.
The General Court was very displeased with the petitioners and they were forced to meet with a committee to explain their actions. Only a handful of men, none from Haverhill, stood with Robert Pike, most of the 100 or so petitioners admitted their "offense" against the Court. Robert Pike was eventually forgiven, several years later.
The next decade saw big changes in the way land was handled in Haverhill, and other towns. Men were beginning to seek true ownership of their land, buying selling and accruing land, not just satisfied with what was allotted them. Thomas continued to accrue land and 1688 he built a new home on his lot of 148 acres near Fernside Creek.
In 1664 Thomas' Uncle John Rolfe died in Newbury, he left money to Thomas for his children and he also left money for Thomas's brother Richard and his son John. Obviously the families in the two countries kept in touch. 1666 Thomas took the Freedmans Oath. In 1675 Thomas was chosen to be on a committee to decide which houses should be made into garrisons. These fortified house were used as a refuge in times of hostilities with Indians. Thomas and his family were never involved in any Indian attack but other in Haverhill were not so lucky. It has been suggest by other authors that this was because he always dealt fairly with the Indians, but I'm not sure that that is something that can be proved. It is also suggested by some that he was a Quaker, however he was on a committee to repair the meetinghouse in 1681 and that would surely not have happened if he was a Quaker, at least at that time.
Thomas died 28 November 1696 and Ruth on 7 July 1710. They had 10 children.
Mary born 10/9/1647 married 9/21/1666 Benjamin Page;
John born 12/23/1649 married 1/14/1685 Mary Hoyt;
Ruth born 11/6/1651 married 4/20/1675 Joseph True;
Thomas born 1/12/1653-4 died 10/17/1728 no children;
Susannah born 3/27/1656 married 7/15/1674 Jacob Morrill;
Nathaniel born 8/11/1658 married Mrs. Mary Osgood & Mrs. Mary Ring ;
Hannah born 9/10/1660 married 5/30/1683 Edward Young;
Richard 6/27/1663 died 3/5/1724 no children;
Elizabeth born 11/21/1666 married 6/22/1699 James Sanders Jr;
Joseph born 5/8/1669 married 5/24/1694 Mary Peasley
While I was researching this article I came across a great family website by Mr. Jonathan Smith. He is also descended from the Rolfe family. In 1999 he traveled to Downton and Whiteparish are researched many of the places named in John Rolfe's will. It is always cool to see photos of those places, wish I could go and see them myself, but his is the next best thing. check it out: Whiteparish and Downton
Great Migration Ships and Passengers
George Wingate Chase, History of Haverhill, Massachusetts
Joseph Dow, The History of Hampton
David Hackett, Albions Seed