As seems to be the case lately, I started this article with the intent to write about my ancestor William Sanderson of Watertown and now I find myself writing about a man, Robert Sanderson, who may or may not be his father. The genealogy search is like following the proverbial “white rabbit” and eventually it leads me down the rabbit hole. I think I am headed in one direction and find myself after awhile somewhere I don’t recognize. That’s what I think I love about doing this research, it’s like an addictive game. Most of the time I want to pull my hair out, but when the pieces all fall together I feel like I’ve won a battle. My opponents in this game are varied, time and distance from my ancestors of course, but more frequently it is other genealogy fans who, like me, post “stuff” on the internet. The tough part it trying to figure out if their “stuff” is legit or not. So here is some of the “stuff” I have found either in books, vital records, or on the internet, about Robert Sanderson of England, Hampton NH, Watertown and Boston.
Robert Sanderson left very little in the way of information about his origins. He was born in about 1607 based on the age given in a deposition taken later in life. In the older histories and genealogies, such as Currier and Bond, he is said the be from Norfolk, England. The following entry, dated October 17, 1623, is found in the London register of the Goldsmith’s Guild:
"That I Robert Sanderson the sonne of Saundersonne of Higham doe put myselfe apprentize until William Rawlins Citizen & Goldsmith of London for the terme of nyne yeares."
Unfortunately there are several small towns in England called Higham. Many ancestry trees and other internet sites claim that Robert is the son of Edward Saunderson and Isabella Shiercliffe of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. This is not correct.
Isabella Shiercliffe of Holehouse, buried at Sheffield Jan. 2, 1613; married at Sheffield Aug. 7, 1598, Edward Saunderson of Sheffield and Grimesthorpe, bapt. at Sheffield Jan. 15, 1576/7, will dated Apr. 21, 1617, buried at Sheffield Apr. 24, 1617, only son of Nicholas Saunderson and Margaret (Rawson).
— Nicholas Saunderson of Sheffield, gent., eldest son and heir, bapt. at Sheffield Aug. 3, 1600, married a daughter of Norton of Sandal-Magna, gent.
— Edward Saunderson of Sheffield, gent., second son, bapt. at Sheffield Aug. 17, 1602, will dated May 2, 1670, buried at Sheffield Feb. 19, 1673, married Anne, daughter of Francis Barlow of Sheffield.
I have seen genealogies where they have blithely ignored the fact that Edward the son was born, married and died in England and made him into the Edward Sanderson who immigrated to the Bay Colony. Then they stuck Robert on as a third son and voila family complete. As far as I can tell, the parents of Robert are unknown.
Robert apprenticed himself to William Rawlins, a London Goldsmith from 1623 until 1632. He continued to work in London, when his apprenticeship was complete, until his departure for America in 1639. There are three known pieces of his work in existence from that time period. The following information is from a website for a consortium of American Colleges and Museums which have a piece of his work:
"three pieces are known from that period - an unlocated salver and two communion cups and patens. This form of communion cup with its flared body and large trumpet foot follows the chalice-like form revived by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1630s. This form along with the use of the "IHS" on this cup was exactly the kind of vaguely Roman Catholic symbolism that infuriated the English Puritans and provoked a deep suspicion of the actual religious beliefs of King Charles I and Archbishop Laud. Probably having converted to Puritanism at an early age, Sanderson's dissatisfaction with having to make such forms may explain his decision to leave for Puritan New England. A number of American silver authorities had questioned if the London and Boston John Sanderson were the same man; however, tests confirmed that the the marks on his London and Boston pieces were struck with the same die."
Arrival in America
Robert left England and arrived in New Hampshire in 1639. He was not a passenger on the ship “The Increase” in 1635 and neither was Edward Sanderson, nor John and Mary Cross. The little we know about his life at this time is from the records of Hampton, NH. According to Dow in his history of Hampton, Robert received 80 acres of land, including a house lot in December of 1639. He later sold this lot to Francis Swaine and moved to Watertown, MA by 1642. Dow also records the baptism of a daughter Mary on 29 Oct 1639. the mothers name is recorded as Lydia.
At some time after the birth of his daughter Mary, which was probably in October of 1639, Robert’s wife Lydia died. Her death is said to have occurred in Hampton, but it was not recorded. According to Torrey and other sources Robert then married a widow named Mary Cross. Their first child was born on 1 January 1643 in Watertown. Subtracting nine months from this date gives a marriage date of no later than March of 1642, both Cutter and Bond in their histories say the marriage occurred in 1642. Torrey says that Robert married by 1643.
But who was the widow Mary Cross. She was not the widow of John Cross who was in Hampton, NH at the same time as Robert Sanderson. That John arrived in 1634 on the “Elizabeth” with his wife Hannah. He lived in Hampton briefly but removed to Ipswich. He died in 1650. According to his bio in the Great Migration series by Robert Charles Anderson, he had only one child, a daughter Hannah who later married Thomas Hammond. All we know was that he was John Cross of Watertown and that he died Sept 15, 1640. Mary subsequently gave birth to a daughter Mary on May 10, 1641. Mary was buried in the Granary Burying Grounds. According to her headstone she died June 21 1681 aged 74 and her grandson in the grave with her.
Robert Sanderson and his family settled in Watertown. In addition to son Joseph, Robert and Mary had Benjamin (1649), Sarah (1651) and Robert (1652). Presumably Robert was working as a silversmith at this time, but very little is written about his life in Watertown. In 1652 he moved his family again, this time settling in Boston.
On August 19, 1652 Robert took his oath as an Officer of the Mint. The colony of Massachusetts was about to begin producing it’s own coins and Robert Sanderson and his partner John Hull of Boston were the silversmiths chosen for the job. By mid October the new coins were in circulation. In addition to making coins the men produced silver pieces for Churches and other customers, many of these pieces survive today. The first two apprentices taken on by this new partnership were the two oldest sons of Robert, John and Joseph.
In 1658 John Hull recorded in his diary the death of his apprentice John Sanderson of some type of fever. He also notes that Robert Sanderson and his son Joseph also suffered from the same fever but recovered.
Robert was active in the church, becoming a deacon of the First Church of Boston. He together with the Rev. John Oxenbridge, John Hull, his partner, and others established the first (gun) powder mill in Massachusetts in about 1675. A pair of silver cups made by John Hull and Robert Sanderson were estimated by Sotheby's for 300,000 to 500,000 dollars. Wow!
In 1681, only months after the death of his second wife Mary, Robert Sanderson was preparing to marry for the third time. He created a deed which would ensure that his new wife, Elizabeth, would be taken care of after his death. He gave her his “mansion house”, two orchards, other land in Boston, half of his household goods and furniture and 50 pounds in money or silver plate. He said she could have whatever of his books she wanted. He also said she would have all of the rents of his tenements and houses in Boston. Obviously, Robert was fairly well off. In return Elizabeth agreed to take care of his daughter Abigail, who was incapable of caring for herself. Abigail’s birth is not recorded.
Second son of Robert, his birth was recorded in the Watertown records. He began his apprenticeship in 1658 with his brother John. He became a silversmith on the completion of his apprenticeship and worked until his early death in 1666 at age 23. Joseph married Mary Unknown and had two daughters Abiah and Mary. His widow remarried to William Ardell in Boston. A trust deed was established to protect Mary’s rights to her property. Robert Sanderson and his wife Elizabeth gave land and houses to the Ardells.
Benjamin, born 1649, followed his brothers in an apprenticeship in his fathers business. He served as an apprentice from 1663 until 1670. He married Mercy Viall about 1672 and his son Benjamin Jr. was born on May 25th 1674. He was dead by December of 1678 only 30 years old.
Sarah married Robert Darby of Boston. Her son is name in her fathers will.
Hannah (Anna) Sanderson’s birth is not recorded. She married Richard West. They are both named in her fathers will and in her step mother, Elizabeth’s will as well as are her children
Robert was the only son to survive his father. He too was an apprentice in the business and in fact took over the silversmith business after the death of his father. He is named in his father’s will.
Mary, the daughter of Mary and John Cross born 1639, married James Penniman and had two children James and Mary. They are named in her step-father’s will.
New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial: A Record of the ..., Volume 3, edited by William Richard Cutter
Family Memorials:Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, Including Waltham and Weston: to which is Appended the Early History of the Town, Volume 1, Henry Bond
Vital Records of Watertown
New England Marriages Prior to 1700, Torry
History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire: From Its Settlement ..., Volume 2, Joseph Dow
Studies on John Hull, the Mint and the Economics of Massachusetts Coinage by Louis Jordan
Suffolk Deed Volume 12 page 125-126
New England Genealogical and Historical Register, Vol 17 page 214
Comments, Challenges, Polite Criticisms Welcome, Proof Required!