Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nathaniel and John Merrill of Wherstead, England and Newbury, MA

english origins
The Merrill family originated in Wherstead, Suffolk, England, a tiny agricultural village close to Ipswich in Suffolk, England. Two Merrill men, John and Nathaniel, left England and settled in Newbury, MA. Presumably they left for religious reasons, Suffolk was a "hotbed" of Puritans, in fact John Winthrop, one time Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was from Groton, not terribly far from Wherstead. Of course, their reason may also have been economic or a mixture of the two.  

earliest merrill
Although many websites claim that the Merrill family pedigree has been traced directly back several centuries to Thomas Merrill b. 1444, this is not necessarily true.  The first Thomas Merriell  left a will dated January 1463, if he was born in 1444 he would have been only 19 years old.  Since Thomas left about 10 children, he must have been born much earlier. Thomas, or possibly and earlier ancestor started a family tradition which would and still does make life miserable for genealogist 400 years in the future. 

Cottage in Wherstead photo by Nigel Chadwick

too many johns 
How, you ask, did they do this.  Thomas had not only two sons, both living, named William, but also two sons who survived childhood named John. One of these two Johns is usually cited as the John Merrill whose will was dated 1528. If he was, he lived to a great age, or possibly there was a generation missing. The John of the 1528 will also had two sons named John. A subsequent John, will dated 1551 continued with the two Johns tradition.  

This leads us to the last John whose will was dated 1600. The problem with drawing a line from this John to Thomas is that there is no way to tell who his father was or who his father's father was.  Each of these men had sons with names other than John, any of which could have been the father of a John.   Oh, it's too confusing, but what I am trying to say is, despite seeing trees with each man directly linked to the next, there is nothing to back up their claims. 

thank you john for naming your son nathaniel
Blessedly, the John of the 1600 will named one, and only one, of his sons Nathaniel. This John is Nathaniel the immigrant's grandfather, and this we can prove. We know that his wife was named Prudence and they had at least three sons, John, of course,  Michael and Nathaniel. Some family history's claim Prudence's surname is Bird, I do not know what their source is for that.  

St. Mary's Wherstead by Adrian S. Pye
On  27 Feb 1591/2 Nathaniel  married a Mary Blackwell/Blaxell/ Blacksoll. I have not seen a transcription of the parish records and this marriage is not on familyseach, so I cannot confirm it. The baptisms of Nathaniel and Mary's children are transcribed. John Merrill was baptized August 16, 1599 and his brother Nathaniel, baptized 4 May 1601.

Nathaniel and his wife Susanna were married in England at St. Mary's in Lawford, Essex.   Lawford is about eight miles due south of Wherstead. Susanna is said to be the daughter of Susanna Unknown and unknown father.  Her mother remarried a Gregory Wilterton or Wolterton.  Susanna's maiden name is unknown. According to a Merrill Family Website, the the baptism of four of his children also took place at St. Mary's in Lawford.  The last record of this Merrill Family is the baptism of Susan Merrill, which took place on 12 December 1638. 

coming to america
It is not clear to me exactly when the brothers arrived, whether together or separately or on which ship they traveled, but they were both settled in Newbury by 1638/39. Nathaniel was then a married man about 40 years old with four children.    He took the freeman's oath in 1640.  Not much else is written about him until his death in 1654/5.  

Children of Nathaniel and Susanna
Nathaniel, baptized 25 May, 1634 in Lawford, Essex, England d. 1 January 1682/3 Newbury, MA
John bapt. 16 Feb 1635/6 Lawford d. 18 July 1712 West Hartford, Hartford, CT
Abraham, bapt. 9 april 1637 Lawford, d. 28 November 1722.
Susanna, bapt 12 December 1638 Lawford d. 10 Oct 1690 Suffield, Hartford CT
Daniel born 20 August 1642 Newbury, MA d. 27 June 1717 Salisbury, MA.
Abel born 20 Feb. 1643/44 Newbury, d. 28 Oct 1689 Newbury
Thomas, born 1648 Newbury, d. unknown

Nathaniel died March 16, 1654/5.  His estate,worth only 86 pounds, was to go to his eldest son Nathaniel. Susanna his widow had a lifetime interest in the estate.  On August 16 1661 Susanna married Stephen Jourdan.  She died Jan 25, 1672.  

my descent from Nathaniel Merrill
Nathaniel Merrill and Mary Blacksoll
Nathaniel Merrill and Susanna Unknown
Daniel Merrill and Sarah Clough
Martha Merrill and John True
Ruth True and Benjamin Baker
Benjamin Baker and Sarah Norris
Katherine Baker and Samuel Thornton
Samuel Thornton and Chloe Blanchard
John C. Thornton and Jennie Clover Rowell

Richard Cutter, New England Families, Genalogical and Memorial, vol 1

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