Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Freemen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

When you begin researching or reading about ancestors who lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony you come across references such as I made him a freeman on such-and-such a date, he was a commoner, selectmen, prudential men,.  But what does that mean exactly. Here is a brief explanation of the different terms. 

The Charter

The Colony was established by a charter granted by King Charles I, basically it was a Corporation, and the rules were laid out more for a company than for the running of towns.

The head of the Colony was a GovernorDeputy Governor and 18 Assistants who were to be chosen annually by the "Freemen" of the colony. In 1630 the only "Freemen" were the fore-mentioned men.  The charter spelled out that the Governor and the "Company" could choose as many "Freemen" as they deemed requisite for the orderly managing and dispatching of the affairs of the Governor and the Company.  Freedmen were if you like, stockholders in the Corporation and the Assistants would be the Board of Directors.

This plan was laid out in England prior to setting sail. In 1630 the Winthrop Fleet arrived in the Colony and set up the seat of Government at the newly formed town of Charleston.  They rapidly established 8 settlements: Salem, Lynn, Charleston, Mystic, Boston, Dorchester and Roxbury to disperse the 700 plus new colonists.  By December the decision was made to remove the seat of Government to Boston.

John Wintrop, 1st Governor
The charter provided for meetings of the GovernorDeputy Governor and the Assistants once a month, or as often as they felt necessary.  For a quorum, they needed at least 7 Assistants. They agreed that the GovernorDeputy Governor and the Assistants would meet quarterly with all the Freemen in the colony. 

At the first quarterly court 109 men applied for admission as FreemenThose in authority were alarmed.  As all laws and elections would be democratic, they felt it unacceptable that all men would be able to vote, so they changed the rules and said that the Freemen would only be allowed to elect the assistants and they in turn would choose the Governor. No Freemen were chosen in the first court.

In the quarterly court held in May 1631 after changing some rules, the Court admitted 116 men as Freemen.  The new rules included the stipulation that in order to be considered a man must be a member of a church in good standing with the Colony. This was not as simple as it seemed.  First of alleveryone in the Colony was required by law to attend church, but to be a full church member you had to go before a panel of elders and endure a rather excruciating examination of your beliefs.  Many men chose to forego this and as a result did not become freemenIt goes without saying that the church must be of the Puritan persuasion, no Baptists, Quakers, or Catholics allowed. 

In 1632 the town of Watertown was taxed to pay for the expense of fortifying Cambridge.  the Pastor and elders of the Watertown church refused, stating that the Governor and Assistants did not have the authority to levy taxes or make laws. They said only the General Court, and the Freemen had that right. The towns while agreeing, felt it was impossible for all the Freemen in the Colony to leave their farms and homes to travel to Boston to attend the Court.  This would leave their towns vulnerable to Indian attacks, as well as leaving their farms and businesses untended.

The Court agreed and it was decided that each town would elect two representatives, called Deputies,  to attend the General court to vote for their townsmen. 

Puritan Male

Freedmen were required to take the Freedmen's oath as follows

I, A.B., being by God's providence an inhabitant and freeman within the jurisdiction of this Commonwealth, do freely acknowledge myself to be subject to the government thereof, and therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful name of the everlasting God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support thereunto, with my person and estate, as in equity I am bound; and I will also truly endeavour to maintain and preserve all the liberties and privileges thereof, submitting myself to the wholesome laws and orders, made and established by the same. And further, that I will not plot nor practise any evil against it, nor consent to any, that shall so do, but will truly discover and reveal the same to lawful authority now here established, for the speedy preventing thereof. Moreover, I do solemnly bind myself in the sight of God, that when I shall be called to give my voice, touching any such matter of this state, wherein freemen are to deal, I will give my vote and suffrage, as I shall judge in mine own conscience may best conduce and tend to the public weal of the body, without respect of persons or favor of any man; so help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ.   

Men who were not eligible to be freemen or who choose not to be were residents. They too took an oath at age 16 called the residents of Oath of Fidelity. Women and Indians need not apply! 

Prudential Men were chosen by each town to enact the town's business.

As early as 1641, the Prudential men of the Town (Ipswich) ordered that no dog should come into the meeting house on Sabbath days or lecture days between twelve and three o'clock. Why they were so obnoxious during the afternoon service, and not in the morning, we are left to our wits to discover. Certain it is, that from very early times, the dog had been legislated against as an undesirable attendant.

The Selectmen were the Executive branch of the town government, these men had charge of the day-to-day operations; selectmen were important in legislating policies central to a community's police force, highway supervisors, pound keepers, field drivers, and other officials.  They were also the town busybodies.  Reporting those who wore clothing above their station, did not go to church, fell asleep in church, etc.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

John Gage of Ipswich b. 1606 Boxted, Suffolk and Penelope D'Arcy-Not his mother

If you have read any of my other blog posts, you will know that it drives me crazy to see junky genealogy stuff. You know what I'm talking  about, silly dates, wrong parents, born in places that didn't exist, etc. So here is yet another post about an interesting man who has a good deal of bogus information floating around out there on the internet.  This is the story of John Gage of Ipswich. 

A lot of effort has gone into finding the ancestry of John Gage and at some point early on, erroneous information was published on his parentage. According to Robert Charles Anderson, author of "The Great Migration Begins", there is not enough concrete evidence to say definitively who John's parents were, however he concedes that with further research it could be possible to prove that a John Gage born in Suffolk, at the right time, and right place might be the man.  This John was baptized on 21 April 1606, in Kersey, Suffolk, England. His parents were John and Jane (Lufkin) Gage, who lived in nearby Boxford.  Boxford is only a few miles from Groton, Suffolk, and if you know your Massachusetts history, you will recall that this was the home of John Winthrop, first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In fact, the Winthrop family opened a private boy's school in Boxford and frequently attended sermons at the Boxford church. 

© Copyright Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
John Gage gave his age in depositions once in 1659, and again in 1662.  At the first deposition he gave his age as 50 and in 1662 he stated his age as 58. This would be in the ballpark for the John Gage's name that appears on the Covenant Roll for the 1st Church in Boston, dated 27 Aug 1630.  His name was number 50 on the roll.  He had to have sailed with the Winthrop Fleet in order to be that high on the roll. The Winthrop Fleet was a group of eleven sailing ships under the leadership of John Winthrop that carried approximately 700 Puritans plus livestock and provisions from England to New England over the summer of 1630. They made John a Freeman on 4 March 1633. 

He remained in Boston until March 1633 when he joined with John Winthrop Jr. and about 10 other men to move to Agawam to start a new plantation. John Winthrop was recalled, but John Gage petitioned to remain. Agawam, purchased from the Indians for 20 pounds, became Ipswich, Massachusetts. Interestingly, there is a Boxford, Massachusetts not to far from Ipswich.

John was a farmer, a carpenter and a surveyor for the town of Ipswich.  He was also active in the militia, in 1639 he was called Corporal Gage and in 1670 he was a Sergeant. He settled in an area of Rowley which was known as Merrimac Village, this eventually became the town of Bradford, and finally incorporated into Haverhill. John was also active in the service of the town and colony.  He served on the Grand Jury, the Petit Jury, and was a selectman for Ipswich.  He was unable to write and made his mark on his deeds and his will.

John married twice, his first wife was Amy unknown, they married by 1638. They had at least 6 sons that lived to adulthood.  Amy died in June 1658 and John Gage wasted no time in remarrying.  His second wife was Sarah, the widow of Robert Keyes of Watertown and Newbury, they married in November 1658.  I suppose as the father of 6 boys under the age of 20 he needed a woman to help raise them. John died March 24, 1672/73 in Bradford. See this link for more about John Gage.

Okay, so that seems all pretty straightforward, so what is the misinformation I spoke of at the beginning.  Seemingly thousands of family trees have John Gage to be the son of Sir John Gage of Firle, Sussex 1st Baronet and his wife the Lady Penelope D'Arcy. Now if those two names don't raise red flags, I can't imagine what would. So who is this John Gage?  His mother Penelope had previously been married, and widowed at age 17, before marrying John Gage, Knight in 1611.  She was the daughter and co-heir of Thomas D'Arcy, Earl Rivers and his wife Mary, daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Kytson of Hengave Hall, Knight. Sounds mighty impressive, I think we need a picture here to impress how fantastically wealthy these people were.

Above is a picture of Firle Place, the principal residence of the Gage Family, but they owned a lot of property in many counties in England. Below is Hengrave House.

John Gage was made a Baronet in 1622, he died in 1633.  He had four sons: Thomas, his heir, John b. 1615, Henry and Edward, and four daughters: Frances, Penelope, Elizabeth and Ann (notice that there is no daughter named Susanna). In 1633 none of his sons had yet reached the age of 21. At the IPM, (inquistion post mortem) Thomas was said to be 14 years and 6 weeks old. Thomas, the eldest, inherited Firle and his father's title. All four sons are mentioned in his will. John as the second son was given twelve hundred and fifty pounds, his younger brothers and his sisters each got one thousand pounds. John was born no earlier that 1620 and was less than 13 years old when his father died.

Penelope Hervey
From about 1633 to 1640 Penelope lived in the Gage house on St. James St. Clerkenwell, London. In 1640 the widowed Penelope moved into Hengrave Hall, the home of her mother, Lady Rivers. Hengrave is in Suffolk County near Bury St. Edmunds. This area was home to a large concentration of Roman Catholic families, including the Gages. Penelope's sister Elizabeth lived nearby, she too was a widow. She had been married to Thomas Savage, Viscount, of Long Melford, Suffolk. Their son John became the 2nd Earl Rivers in 1640, upon the death of her father. Thomas Savage was a favorite of King Charles I and was Chancellor to Queen Henrietta Maria from 1628 to 1634. In 1642 the Colchester home of Lady Rivers and the Long Melford home of Elizabeth Savage were attacked by rioters. Elizabeth fled to Bury St. Edmunds where she was given shelter.

In January 1643 Hengrave Hall was visited by members of the County Committee who under orders from Parliament removed all weapons from the home. Penelope had been given a warning, shortly before they arrived, by Sir William Hervey of Ickworth. Penelope married Sir William shortly after this incident. Hengrave Hall became a Royalist hangout for the remainder of the Interregnum.

Sir William was a widower, his first wife was Susan, daughter of Sir Robert Jermyn of Rushbrook. The two families who become intertwined. Penelope's son Edward Gage married William's daughter Maria. Penelope's son Henry Gage married Henrietta Jermyn, niece of Susan Jermyn. The last of Penelope's sons to marry was John. He married Mary Barker on 9 May 1655, their marriage was recorded St. Dunstan in the West, in London. At this time, during the interregnum, all marriages were considered a civil contract and were preformed by a magistrate. There were no 'church' weddings.     
Record of the Marriage of John Gage and Mary Barker


A very important thing of note about the family of Penelope Gage is that they were Roman Catholic in a time when Catholicism was banned in England. In fact, Ickworth, home of Sir William Hervey, had a private Catholic Chapel with Priest Hole.  Found in the "Particulars taken from the Process Book of Indictments from 6 October 7 Charles I to 4 December 16 Charles I, charges were brought against Penelope D' Arcy at least eight times for Recusancy.  Charges were also brought against her son John Gage, Gentlemen and her daughter Anne in the year 1641.  To be a Recusant was to be a Catholic. These charges were brought against Sir John Gage, Penelope and her children routinely when they lived at the London home of the Gage family on St. John's Street in the parish of St. James Clerkenwell.

Henrietta Jermyn Gage
On 6 November 1650 Sir William Hervey and Dame Penelope Gage his wife, of Hengrave, Suffolk, beg allowance of their claim to lands in Botolph Bridge conveyed to Lady Gage in 1637 by Sir Thomas Shirley for 200 years for 500 pounds seized for her recusancy, but discharged 10 Charles and the rents paid until they were sequestered 31 August last....

Penelope wrote her will on 30 August 1656 and it was proved on 2 July 1661. She was interred in the private chapel at Hengrave next to her daughter Dorothy.  In her will she wrote why she settled Hengrave on her fourth son Edward, and makes provisions for her other two sons, John and Henry.  In a codicil she ratified and confirmed the conveyance to her son John the Manor in Stoneham, Suffolk as well as the Manor of Barking, and a manor in Coddenham.  Her townhouse in Bury St. Edmunds was split between five of her children, including John.

Penelope lived long enough to see the restoration of the Monarchy. King Charles II returned to England in 1660. Edward Gage inherited Hengrave was made a Baronet by King Charles in 1662. He became one of the richest Catholics in the country. In 1675 his son and heir William Gage married Mary Charlotte Bond, daughter of Sir Thomas Bond. The wedding took place at Hengrave Hall and the future King James II was in attendance.

John Gage and his wife had no living children. In his will he specifically leaves his Suffolk manors to his brother Henry and his son John Gage. John is also mention in his brother Henry's will. At the time he wrote his will he was living on York Street in St. James Square in London in a house he had from the Earl of St. Albans, Henry Jermyn. John's will was proved 27 April 1688.

There you go, two men named John Gage, contemporaries, yet their lives are worlds apart. How anyone could confuse the two is beyond me.


Gage, Arthur E., "Some Descendants of John Gage of Ipswich, Mass", New England Historic and Genealogical Register, Boston, MA, July 1908, pgs. 254-263.Online database:AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)

Rokewode, John Gage, Esquire, History and Antiquities of Suffolk, Thingo Hundred, S. Bentley, 1838, Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, England.

The Visitations of Suffolk made by Hervey, Clarenceaux, 1561, Cooke, Clarenceaux, 1577, and Raven, Richmond herald, 1612, with notes and an appendix of additional Suffolk pedigrees, William Pollard, Exeter, 1882, pgs. 48-49.

Coppinger, Walter, Arthur, Manors of Suffolk, Notes on their history and devolution, London, 1905

Will of Penelope D'Arcy from the National Archives London

Will of John Gage from the National Archives London

The Great Migration Begins Robert Charles Anderson

Parish Records, St. Dunstan in the West, London

Young, Francis, "Surviving the Penal Laws in East Anglia, Academia, www.academia.edu/6580238/Surviving_the_Penal_Laws_in_East_Anglia

Young, Francis, "The Gages of Hengrave 1640-1767, Academia, www.academia.edu/5428899/The_Gages_of_Hengrave_1640-1767

See the blog of Dr. Francis Young, Gage family researcher here. Dr. Young has done extensive research on this family and had accessed the family papers. He had also written a book on the Gage family. Which can be viewed/purchased at amazon by clicking on the book cover. 

I recently had an exchange, see comments below, with a woman who was utterly convinced that her ancestors were the Gage's of Firle.  Despite all evidence to the contrary she clings to that belief, going so far as to completely rewrite the Gage family history.  Some people will believe what they want and that's fine, but don't attack me or other researchers because we see things differently. Give me some fact based information and who knows, maybe you can change my mind. 

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