John Phillips ca 1602 to 1692 of Duxbury and Marshfield, Mass., and His Four Wives – The Global Tofay

John Phillips ca 1602 to 1692 of Duxbury and Marshfield, Mass., and His Four Wives - The Global Tofay Global Today

John Phillips was born in England about 1602, based on his age when he wrote his will. I haven’t discovered where he was born or who his parents were. His named is sometimes spelled Philips. There is a good deal of conflicting information in print and online about John, often confusing him with John Jr., and I’ve done my best to sort things out. He is my 8th great-grandfather on my grandfather Arthur Washburn Ellis Davis’ side of the family. I am accustomed to discovering hardships endured by many ancestors, but John’s losses are astounding—he lost three sons and a wife in violent circumstances as well as his other three wives.

John Phillips came to New England during the Great Puritan Migration and settled at Plymouth Colony—he lived at Duxbury and then Marshfield. In 1639 John Phillips bought of Robert Mendall of Duxborrow a house and land for six pounds in hand and 17 pounds to be paid in installments. [PC Deeds, Prince Chronology, vol II, page 4]

He married, first, a woman whose name is not known. There is no mention of this marriage or births of their children in Plymouth Colony records. It is likely he married in England and that John and possibly Mary were born there.

Children by his first wife whose name is unknown:

i.John probably born England about 1633; died in 1658 at Marshfield

ii. Mary who died after October 1691

iii.Samuel born about 1642 probably in Duxbury; he may be the Samuel Phillips who married Mary (Hoskins) Cobb on 15 May 1676 at Taunton

iv.Jeremiah born about 1646 probably in Duxbury or Marshfield; died in 1666 at Marshfield 

Adding to John’s challenges, his daughter Mary was intellectually disabled but she went on to survive her father and all four of his wives.

On 6 April 1640, John Phillips was granted by the Colony Court “a garden place upon Stony Brooke in Duxburrow by Phillip Delanoyes, to be laid forth by Mr. Collyer, Jonathan Brewster and William Basset.” William Bassett is my 11th great-grandfather; William Collier my 10th great-grandfather. On June 1 of same year John was granted “four acres of upland abutting upon the Stony Brook in Duxburrow by the milne (mill) to rang(e) south and north in length and east and west in breadth, and November 2 same year was granted “twenty acrees, his houslott to be pt thereof…of those lands that lie northward from Duxburrow mill, towards Green Harbor.” [PC Records I:145, 153, 165]

His purchase of house and land at Duxbury and the immediate grants by the Colony of considerable land adjacent to his purchase would indicate he was of some means and was already a family man. [Winsor’s History of Duxbury p 291 “married in England;” PC Records Court Orders III:14]

On 2 September 1647 John Phillips of “ Duxburrow” was deeded 50 acres of upland and meadow by William Lawrence of “Duxborrow.” [MD 34:80] 

In 1643 he appears on the Duxbury list of those able to bear arms [Winsor’s History of Duxbury, 53] 

The exact date of his removal to Marshfield is not known but he was involved in a lawsuit with a Marshfield citizen in 1653. [PC Rec III: 39]  His home was in the area known as White’s Ferry near the mouth of the North River. Jonathan Brewster, son of Pilgrim William Brewster, was the first to operate a ferry there. 

White’s Ferry area of Marshfield/current day

John was Surveyor of Highways at Marshfield in 1655 [PC Rec III:79], constable in 1657 [PCR III:79] and was propounded as a freeman in 1659. [PCR III:163]

On 8 January 1671[/2] the Town of Marshfield granted 14 acres of land to John Phillips, adjoining the lot he already owned. [MD 62:143]

On 6 July 1654 John married, second, Grace, widow of William Hallowell/Halloway of Duxbury. [Marshfield Town Records 1:1; Mayflower Descendant 2:4] Her maiden name is not known, and Axel Ames wrote she was at least 15 years younger than John. Grace had two daughters, Grace and Hannah, from her first marriage. She and John had two sons together:

v.Joseph born Marshfield “the last of March” 1655 [Marshfield Town Records 1:2; MD 2:6]; died 26 March 1676  at Rehoboth 

vi.Benjamin born before 15 August 1658 when he was baptized in Scituate, Massachusetts, the son of John and Grace Phillips. [American Ancestors, “Massachusetts Vital Records 1621-1850,” online database]; married Sarah Thomas and raised a large family in Marshfield

Why Benjamin was baptized at Second Church of Scituate rather than the nearer First Church of Marshfield is unclear. Perhaps there were some philosophical differences that made the Second Church more appealing to John. The Puritans and Separatists could be prickly about religion and things like methods of baptism could cause major divisions. 

Mr. John Phillips put his son William, being about age seven unto Mr. John Bradford of the town of Duxbury, and his wife, as an apprentice for 14 years from the first of December 1649. Bradford was to feed, clothe, teach him to read and write, and given him education to become a master to a servant. Indenture would expire in 1663 when William was to be paid in suits of apparel and the sum of five pounds in corn or cattle. There is no other mention of a son William, so either he died young or this was a recording error and should be Samuel. [Marshfield Town Records, 21 May 1650 Town Meeting]

John’s eldest son John died tragically at about age 25 when on 31 July 1658 he was struck by lightning. He was with Captain Nathaniel Thomas who gave eyewitness testimony at court. He said that just before the fatal tempest burst upon them that he met Phillips and another man “coming out of a meadow from makeing hay to the next house.” John was likely gathering the hay in the meadow owned by his stepmother Grace Phillips that she inherited from her first husband and while doing so he stayed at the home of Timothy Williamson where the men took shelter during the storm. It was likely the earliest account of death by lightning in the colony and garnered a great deal of attention as there are over 20 published accounts of his death. In his testimony, Captain Thomas’  speaks of how he ran into the house with John who sat on a stool with his back to the hearth. When lightning struck the house, causing a great ball of fire, John fell from the stool backward onto the hearth without any motion of life. No outward appearance of injury appeared on his body. Bricks came loose, the rafters split, a main post of the house was torn apart. The inquest was before the court of assistants on 4 August 1658 that included my 10th great-grandfather William Collier. My 9th great-grandfather Abraham Jackson served on the coroners jury. The court and jury contained distinguished citizens, an indication of the seriousness of the tragedy. [PC Recs, Court Orders III:141, inquest account]

The family misfortunes continued when John’s son Joseph died as a young man serving in King Philip’s War. He was killed with Captain Michael Pierce of Scituate in the disastrous fight with the Indians at Rehoboth on Sunday on 26 March 1676/7. Pierce’s company was ambushed by about 500 to 700 Native Americans and many perished and nine soldiers were captured and tortured to death. 

Incredibly on 23 June 1666, just eight years after John Jr. was struck dead by lightning, John’s wife Grace and his son Jeremiah were killed when their home in the eastern part of Marshfield was struck by lightning. Their neighbor Timothy Rogers was an eyewitness, and he stated the 14 people in the home were prostrated and overcome, three of whom were killed instantly: Mrs. Grace Phillips, Jeremiah Phillips, John’s son by his first wife Jeremiah Phillips who was about 20, and Mr. William Shurtleff a neighbor staying with the family because his house had burned down.The family dog was also killed.

The three unfortunate victims were buried the following day, and surprisingly their death records do not state a cause of death. [MD 2:182]

Years later, on 28 July 1683,  Rev. Samuel Arnold wrote a letter about the tragedy to Rev. Increase Mather in Boston. The lightning strike happened after the town had devoted a day of fasting and prayer for relief from a severe drought and “it pleased God to answer us by terrible things.”  He witnessed the most dismal black cloud he ever saw which brought thunder and lightning. His informant, Timothy Rogers, said that just as Mrs. Grace Phillips called to her son to shut the door, a terrible clap of thunder fell upon the house and rent the chimney and split the doors into pieces and struck most persons if not all. The house was full of smoke and a smell of brimstone. Rogers first believed everyone else was dead but most soon revived. William Shurtleff was holding a small child who was unharmed.

Many considered death in this way to be a direct act of God which must have added to the family’s grief. Where they treated with suspicion rather than compassion? Did they believe they somehow deserved such tragedy?

The family misfortunes did not dissuade women from marrying John. He married, third, Mrs. Faith (Clarke) Dotey on 14 March 1666/67, some nine months after the sudden deaths of his wife and son. John was about 65 and Faith was about 17 years his junior. [PC Recs 8:31] She was the second wife and widow of Mayflower passenger Edward Dotey and the daughter of Tristram and Faith Clarke of Duxbury. [Savage’s Gen Dict Vol 1; Davis’ Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth p 62; Winsors History of Duxbury p 246]  

Interestingly on 23 February 1666/7 Faith assented to the marriage on the conditions expressed in an ante-nuptial agreement. It stated the natural parent each child will be responsible for disposing of them [i.e. sending them out to work as apprentices]; Faith was to enjoy all her house, land and goods that she is possessed of for her own proper use, to dispose of according to her own free will; if she survived John she would receive one-third of his estate and that at the end of her life it will return to his heirs except for her wearing apparel, bed, bedding, furniture will go whom she chooses. She must have been a strong woman who wanted to protect her daughters’ legacy, refusing to go along with the norm of surrendering her rights and assets to her husband at marriage. Go Faith! John and Faith each signed by their mark in presence of Thomas Southworth and Desire Dotey. [PC Rec IV:193]

At the time of the marriage, Faith had three or four children who were under age that presumably came to live in her new home. So John Phillips had four separate family units under his roof: his daughter Mary and possibly son Samuel by his first wife; son Benjamin by his second wife; Hannah Halloway the daughter of his second wife; and the children of his third wife Faith by her former husband. Imagine the squabbles that ensued!

John lived with Faith some eight years before she, too, died. They had no children—likely due to their ages. The exact date of Faith’s death is not known, but Marshfield records show that she was buried there 21 Dec 1675 at age 56. [Marshfield Town Records 1:5; MD II:181]  Her will or what was intended by her as such, was apparently so incomplete in form that having been read by Lt.Peregrine White he deemed it practically nuncupative. Peregrine, the first white child born in New England white the Mayflower was anchored off Provincetown, was a respected man in town and lived down the road, so it would make sense Faith would ask him to come to her when she was seriously ill. That she was so careful about planning for her daughter’s legacy and then didn’t properly plan in the end may indicate she had a serious, sudden illness. The document was dated 12 Dec 1675, a few days before her death, but did not sufficiently dispose of all of her property or interests. She only made small bequests to her three daughters by her former husband. [Plym Col Wills III:2:12; MD II:89]  The June 1676 Colony Court granted administration to her three daughters: Desire (Sherman), Elizabeth (Rouse) and Mary Dotey. A considerable part of the estate  that she inherited from her former husband she appears to have disposed of by “Bill of sale” to her son John Dotey, under certain obligations on his part as to her other children. Her daughter Desire Sherman was living in impoverished circumstances due to her husband William having become “distracted” in the Indian wars. William died insane in 1680, adding to this blended family’s tragic history. Desire married again in 1681 to Israel Holmes and he drowned in Plymouth Harbor three years later. 

On 3 April 1677 John married Ann Hatch Torrey, the widow of Lt. James Torrey of Scituate and daughter of Elder William Hatch of that town. [Marshfield Town Records I:4; History Duxbury p 292; MD 2:181,] She was born about 1623 and so at the time of her marriage to John was about 54 years old, some 20 years his junior and likely her younger children were still at home. 

Ann had 10 children with her first husband and endured her share of trials, the latest of which was her house being burned by Indians. No record of her death is found she must have predeceased John as she is not mentioned in his will. 

On 15 Nov 1681 John Phillips gave to son Benjamin by deed of gift “from natural affection: one moiety of all his housing and lands” and “half his cattle and sheep.” John, who had outlived four wives, lived out the rest of his days with his son Benjamin’s family. 

The exact date of death of John Phillips is not known, but his will is dated 20 Oct 1691 and probated 10 May 1692 so he died between those dates, likely close to the latter date. His will states he was about eighty-nine and that he was in some measure of health. 

Bequests included: to eldest son Samuel 5 pounds and wearing apparel to be delivered to him within one year; to grandson John Phillips son of son Benjamin gun or fowling piece; rest of grandchildren viz the children of sons Samuel and Benjamin each 5s. Son Benjamin received all houses and lands at Marshfield or elsewhere and rest of his belongings but the expectation he was to maintain and provide for John’s daughter Mary Phillips “who by reason of ye weakness of her reason & understanding is incapable to maintain and provide for her self.” Benjamin was named sole executor. [Plym Col Wills I:140; Gen Advertiser 3:28]

The inventory, which didn’t include real estate, totaled just 45 pounds 15 shillings 6 pence but was solvent. [Plym Col Recs I;143]  Marcia Thomas rightly stated he was “a man of many sorrows.” Axel Ames wrote he had integrity, abounding hospitality, courage, high standards, and unwearied thoughtfulness for others which were never abated by his many misfortunes. He was a good type of the sturdy New England yeomanry of that day. A courtly, kindly, honorable “Old Colony” progenitor.

Sources Not Included Above:

Axel Ames, The Family and Vicissitudes of John Phillips Senior of Duxbury and Marshfield, 1903

Marcia A Thomas, Memorials of Marshfield, 1854

Samuel Deane, History of Scituate From Its Settlement to 1831, 1831 [sketch on John has multiple errors]

Torrey’s New England Marriages to 1700

#John #Phillips #Duxbury #Marshfield #Mass #Wives

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