Saturday, December 12, 2015

John Folsom: Hingham, England to Hingham, Massachusetts

english origins
Hingham is a small rural market town in the county of Norfolk, in England. A town which, I would wager, most people have never heard of. This little English town has a 'daughter' town in Massachusetts, also called Hingham. Hingham, MA, originally called Bare Cove, was formed in 1635 from the proverbial Adam's rib, when a significant portion of the population of Hingham, England separated themselves from their homes, their families and all they knew and created a new Hingham. The driving force behind this migration was the spiritual leadership of the Reverend Peter Hobart, born and raised in Hingham and the Rector of St. Andrew's parish church in Hingham, the Reverend Robert Peck. These men and their congregation hoped to join in the formation of a theocratic state in which they could live free from the intrusion of the Church of England and at the same time impose their religious views on all members of this new society. Joining in this experimental society was John Folsom and his new wife Mary Gilman, both from Hingham.

english folsoms and alias smiths
John Folsom's English ancestry can be traced back about a century or so. He seems to have come from successful yeoman stock who lived in and around the Hingham area. His earliest identifiable ancestor was William Folsom who was born around the year 1500 or so. William married a woman named Agnes Smith of Besthorpe, Norfolk, not far from Hingham. After their marriage he took the surname of Smith and kept the name Folsom as an alias. Why? It has been suggested that perhaps Agnes was a relatively wealthy heiress and William took her surname in honor of her family. Who knows, but his sons, grandsons and great grandsons, used some combination of Folsom-Smith to identify themselves. William wrote his will on 30 September 1551 and it was proved on 31 May 1552. Named in his will were sons: William, Adam and Robert.

William's son Adam married a woman known only as Eme. His will was proved on 2 April 1566 and in it he named his children: Adam, Ellen, Agnes and John. His brother Robert was his executor. He died and was buried in Besthorpe on 11 April 1566. He and his brother were both known as Smith alias Folsom. Adam and Eme's son, John, also used the name Smith alias Folsom. He married a woman named Grace. He died without a will, but his burial was recorded in the Hingham Parish records in 1620.

The Smith-Folsom family really like the name Adam. John's son Adam married a woman named Agnes. He wrote his will in April of 1627, his mother Grace was living with him and he named her in his will. He gave his son John land in Hackford. He also named sons Peter and Adam and a daughter Mary.

Finally we get to John the immigrant. It is assumed that he was baptized in Hingham, but here is no record of it. Based on his testimony in court depositions he is believed to have been born around 1613. John's marriage was recorded in the St. Andrew's parish records. John Folsom alias Smith married Marie Gyleman in Hingham in 1636. Notice that the surnames have switched back and his was calling himself Folsom at the time of the marriage.

coming to america
What were the influences that persuaded John Folsom to pack up and sail to New England. His minister, Reverend Robert Peck, was under threat from Archbishop Laud and the established Anglican church. Peck needed to leave England if he was going to continue preach and practice his puritan beliefs. He would have heard from others who had begun the Massachusetts Colony and been urged to join them. Other ministers had left and lead their flock to America.

John was young, maybe as young as 21 or 22. Mary Gilman Folsom had several brothers John's age, they and their parents also emigrated.  Maybe it sounded like a great adventure to these young men. Whatever their reasons, they bought supplies, farm implements and anything they could bring aboard ship to start a new life, said goodbye to family and friends and traveled south to the mouth of the river Thames. On 26 April 1638 they boarded the ship "The Diligent" long with 130 or so others from Hingham and surrounding towns and villages and set sail for Boston. They arrived in Boston three and a half months later on 10 August.

When the new immigrants arrived the planting season was long over. John and his family would have to survive on what they brought or what they could buy or what their new neighbors could generously share. Their first priority was to secure housing. New England winters are long and cold. A warm house with plenty of firewood was essential to surviving. The Folsoms and the Gilmans not only survived but thrived in their new home.

John and Mary's arrival in Hingham probably felt like a reunion of sorts. They were reunited with friends and neighbors who had left in 1635. John was given a house lot of four acres on which he built his house. Most, if not all, of his children were born in that house. The house was photographed in about 1873, but has long since been torn down.

Not all of the immigrants stayed in Hingham. Adam Folsom, presumably a brother of John's, immigrated a year later, in 1639. He returned to England, where he died in 1670. Reverend Robert Peck also returned to England after the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the great Puritan Experiment. He regained his rectorship of the church in Hingham.

In 1654 Hingham had 60 families and is said to have 'some complete streets'. The predominant industry was farming and fishing.

children of john and mary:

1. Samuel, baptized 3 Oct 1641, (he was born between 1638 and 1639), m. 22 Dec 1663 Mary Robie, d. 1700.

2. John, baptized 3 Oct 1641, (born prob. 1639-1641), m. 10 Nov 1675 Abigail Perkins, d. before 6 Dec 1716.

3. Nathaniel baptized 2 June 1644, m. 9 June 1674 Hannah Farrow, d. after 1714.

4. Israel, baptized 26 April 1646, he married and had a son named Israel. His wife is unknown as is his death.

5. Peter, baptized 8 April 1649, m. Susanna, d. in 1717.

6. Mary, baptized 13 April 1651, m. 12 June 1672 George Marsh, death unknown

7. Ephramin born 28 Dec 1654, m. Phaltiel Hall, d. 11 June 1709 (killed by Indians)

I don't know what John did in England to make a living, but I suspect he was a farmer. He more than likely continued to farm in New England inn order to feed his family. He was also given the liberty, along with Joshua Hobart, brother of Peter, to set up a mills on Rocky Meadow and Bound Brook Rivers.

Men were also expected to participate in the civic life of their towns. In most of Massachusetts men were required to be members of their church and take the freeman's oath in order to vote or hold office. In an unusual move Hingham allowed non freeman to hold town offices. In 1645 John Folsom was chosen to be a Selectman. I cannot find anything that would indicate if he took the Freeman's Oath or not.

Exeter was founded in 1638 by the Reverend John Wheelwright and his congregation which had followed him from England to Massachusetts. He had been at odds with the Puritan establishment  almost since his arrival, and he moved to the province of New Hampshire to avoid their jurisdiction. When New Hampshire came under the control of Massachusetts he and his flock left for Maine.

The land around Exeter was heavily wooded and had many waterfalls that were excellent for sawmill operations. Mary Gilman Folsom's brother Edward took advantage of the opportunity to set up his own mills when most of the occupants of Exeter abandoned the town. John and Mary joined the Gilman family in Exeter by 1659.

John's job in the family operation was to count and measure the lumber produced in the mills. He was also appointed to choose and mark the tall white pines that were destined to become masts on the ship of his Majesty's Navy.

John was also chosen to serve as Selectman and served multiple times on juries.

In 1641 the four towns of New Hampshire petitioned to be taken under the wing of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By 1665 many of the men of New Hampshire were ready to regain control of their colony. Selectmen from the towns of Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth and Hampton convened and wrote up a petition addressed to King Charles asking for his intervention. When the Governor and General Court of Massachusetts got wind of this they were not pleased. John Folsom's name is mentioned in many of the correspondences concerning this event. John and his fellow New Hampshire men were not successful in their bid for separation.

New Hampshire remained under the control of Massachusetts for many years to come. In 1684, John Folsom Jr. was involved in another attempt to secure a separation from Massachusetts, again they failed, but it's pretty cool that they were willing to take the risk of angering the powers that be to achieve some measure of freedom.

John died on 27 December 1671 at the age of about 66. Mary died 10 years later. Neither John nor Mary had a will. Their eldest son Samuel was appointed the executor of their estate on 7 Jan 1692/3. The estate was valued at only about 11 pounds or so. John must have distributed his estate prior to his death. In 1672 He gave George Marsh, the new husband of his only daughter Mary, 100 acres of land.

Presumably they were buried in the local burying ground, but their graves are long gone.

Edward and Mary Clark Gilman

The Descendants of the First John Folsom; Dea. John, Lieut. Peter, Ephraim Folsom, (Boston: David Clapp and Sons, 1876), digital images, Folsom Info ( : accessed 12 December 2015).

Jacob Chapman, A Genealogy of the Folsom Family: John Folsom and his Descendants, 1615-1882, (Concord: Republican Press Association, 1882), digital images, Archive (http/ : accessed 28 November 2015).

Elizabeth Knowles Folsom, Genealogy of the Folsom Family: A revised and extended edition including English records, 1638-1939, Vol. 1 (Rutland: The Tuttle Publishing Company, Inc., 1938), digital images, ( : accessed 29 November 2015). 

Ezra S. Sterns, William Frederick Whitcher, Edward Everett Parker, Genealogical and Family History of New Hampshire: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, Vol 2, (New Hampshire: Lewis Publishing company, 1908), 837, digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 29 November 2015.

H. F. Waters, "Genealogical Gleanings in England," The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 61 (April 1907): 195-196; image copy,  American Ancestors ( : accessed 29 November 2015).

Sibyl Noyes, Charles Thornton Libby, Walter Goodwin Davis, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1972) 238-239.

Hingham Parish (Norfolk) Parish Register, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1600-1676, p. 39, Foulsham-Gyleman marriage, March 1636; digital images, Family Search (, citing England, Norfolk, Parish Registers, Norfolk County Records Office, 1510-1997.

Barbara Rimkunas, "The Folsoms of Exeter," The Exeter Historical Society, Historically Speaking, ( : accessed 12 December 2015. 

Nathaniel Bouton, "Provincial Papers, Documents and Records Relating to the Province of New Hampshire," Vol. 1, (Concord: George E. Jenks, 1867), Archive ( : accessed 12 December 2015).277-279, 526,544, 551, 559.

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