BY QUINCY BICKNELL, FAMILY HISTORIAN.
ERHAPSat no period of time has there been greater interest manifested in New England to learn something of the history and genealogy of the men and the families who commenced and continued the settlement of the country.
From time to time this awakened interest has found expression in gathering together the widely scattered descendants, upon or near the ancestral homes and in published genealogies of many of these families. These gatherings are valuable in their social aspects, and the publications important as they become a part of our history.
Whether we look at the results which have attended the settlement of New England or to the causes which impelled the men and women who made the settlement to leave their homes of comfort and civilization to encounter the perils of the ocean passage and the wilderness, and to endure all the privations attendant upon the work of subduing it, we have ample reason to warrant the interest we feel in the retrospection.
The immediate cause of this settlement was the development upon English soil of the man and the character we call Puritan, who though subjected to harsh criticism and much censure, for imperfections, belonging to humanity in its best estate, yet when we contemplate the fulness of the character, stands out like the pyramids among the sands of the desert, dwarfing every surrounding object.
The commercial interests of England had been stirred into an unwonted degree of activity and enterprise by the discovery of America, and the maritime enterprise engendered thereby,wealth from this source had given learning and culture to a class of people, who for years had been immersed in ignorance, and had caused a general spread of knowledge among the common people.
For a generation previous to the settlement of New England, this increase of knowledge among the people had taken the direction of inquiry and agitation, into the relation of the individual to the higher concerns affecting his relation to his Maker and the more subordinate but still highly important one to the State.
He lived among the observances of a religious ritual, guarded by the flaming sword of the law, and so encumbered with material observances as to hinder rather than to help the soul to find its approach to the throne of divine mercy.
He essayed to strip from the temples of worship all these gorgeous emblems and dared to come into the immediate presence of his Maker, humbled in dust in view of his own unworthiness, but strong in his appreciation of the worth of the individual soul, in view of the sacrifice made for its atonement and redemption.
In the severity of his logic he carried his ideas of the worth of the human soul to matters of State and claimed that human institutions of government had the sanction of divine authority only as they were made to subserve the best and highest interest of man, and from this thought he developed the idea of a Commonwealth.
The attempt to make practical the Puritan idea of church and state in England, raised an issue that culminated in the civil war, led to the beheading of Charles the First, the destruction of the attempted Commonwealth, the imperialism of Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy.
Before these issues were brought to the stern arbitrament of war, some of the more intelligent and adventuresome of these men sought another means for the solution of the problem, and that was by emigration, and establishing elsewhere a Commonwealth.
To obtain chartered privileges for this especial purpose was impossible, and the ingenuity and daring by which the purpose was accomplished stand among the highest acts of moral heroism the world has witnessed.
A company chartered for the purpose of forming plantations in New England, was the instrument by which they proposed and through which they did eater upon their great work. The plantations which these companies were supposed to establish were the usual ones attendant upon commercial and fishing pursuits, and made for purposes of commercial gain. They were authorized to choose their officers for the proper management of their affairs and to make suitable laws for their government not repugnant to the laws of England.
The act of daring was the transfer of the whole government of this company and its charter to New England, and out of this small beginning has grown up the Commonwealth, under whose broad shield of government we now assemble and to the very name of which we cling with venerated affection, leaving to our sister communities the appellation of States.
The character of this emigration induced others holding similar sentiments in England to join them, especially as the power of the mother country was directed with increased severity and vigilance to suppress them. This vigilance was directed to the enrolment of all those proposing to leave England, and to requiring the oath of supremacy.
To this act of enrolment we are indebted for the record which gives the time and place of departure of Zachary Bicknell, from England, with the members of his family and their respective ages, Weymouth being the point of embarkation, with wife Agnes twenty-seven years old, he being forty-five, son John eleven, and servant John Kitchin, twenty-three. They came in 1635.
He came with the Rev. Mr. Hull and his company, and here they made their home. Others had been here before them, and soon after a considerable number left, among them the Rev. Mr. Newman and many with him, and went to Rehoboth. Some remained and, with those who joined them, commenced the settlement of this town of Weymouth. Soon after the church was formed and then with the organization of church and town, the people entered upon the work they had before them.
They built themselves houses of rude construction, barely sheltering them from the inclemencies of the seasons, felled the forests that they might have food and raiment, built their meeting-house, and by its side the humbler school-house, that knowledge might not die out among them, and freed from the impediments to their spiritual comforts, they entered upon a career of progress, with such success that to-day if we are asked for the results, we answer in the language of Sir Christopher Wren, "Look around."
Among these early immigrants, was Zachary Bicknell, but who and what he was we have at present limited means of determining, but it is fair to infer that he was in sympathy with the spirit that led the emigration, and that he was a man of substance as were many of his associates; and more particularly so as he was accompanied by a young man as a servant.
Many of the young men bound themselves to a period of service to defray the expenses of their emigration, and from this class have sprung some of the best families of New England, and of this class this young man was not an exception; for we find that John Kitchin was in Salem in 1640, freeman, 1643. He was a shoemaker and had a family of seven children of whom Robert, the youngest, was a merchant and ship-owner in Salem, and his son Robert3, a student at Harvard College, died the twentieth of September, 1716, more than a century before any of the descendants of his master enjoyed the advantages of college instruction.
Zachary Bicknell died the year following his arrival, having built a house upon land granted by the town. This house and land was sold the next year to Wm. Reed,as appears by an order of court affirming the sale, for the General Court under date of March, 1636, ordered, "That William Reade, having bought the house and twenty acres of land at Weymouth, unfenced, which was Zachary Bicknells, for seven pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence, of Richard Rocket and wife, is to have the sale confirmed by the child when he cometh of age, or else the child to allow such costs as the court shall think meet." It seems that Agnes or Annie, as the name differently appears, married again soon after the death of her husband, Zachary Bicknell. She was probably his second wife and not the mother of his son John, as an inspection of the ages of these several persons would seem to show. (See page 5, Note.)
The land which Wm. Reed bought of Zachary Bicknells estate, remained in the Reed family for many years, and we have one among us to-day who remembers the last of that name who owned and occupied the land, so that we are able to identify the exact spot where Zachary Bicknell rested and established his home, so soon to be determined and ended by his death. it is on Middle street, and is the estate of the late Sylvanus Bates, deceased. A flag marks the spot to-day, and it is to be hoped that all here present will have the opportunity to visit it.
John Bicknell was also the common ancestor of our family. At the death of his father he was twelve years of age. Where and how he lived during the remainder of his minority we do not know, but we infer that he had such opportunities for education as the country afforded; and as his occupation was that of a carpenter, it is probable at a suitable age he was apprenticed to the seven years service according to the customs of the time.
I find no record of his first marriage, but learn that his wifes name was Mary, by the record of the births of his children. His marriage would seem to have taken place about the year 1650, when he was twenty-six years old. They had three children, Mary, who married John Dyer, John3 and Naomi. Mary, his wife, died in 1658, March 25, and he married another Mary, the daughter of Richard Porter of Weymouth, an excellent genealogy of whose family has been compiled and recently published by a descendant, the Hon. J. W. Porter, of Burlington, Me.
The children by this second marriage were eight, three sons and five daughters, making the whole number of his children eleven, Ruth3 married James Richards and Mary3 married Maurice Trufant. Of the other daughters there appears to be no recorded account of either marriage or death.
John Bicknell died probably the last of the year 1678, as his will is dated November 6, 1678, and allowed January 20, 1679. In this will he names his wife Mary, and his son John3 to be executors. He gives all his estate to his wife (except twenty acres and one and one-half acres of salt meadow which he gives to his son John) so long as she shall remain his widow, to bring up the children to the age of twenty~one.* He mentions no child by name except John3
He gives to his daughters £15 each and to the three children of John Dyer, viz: John Dyer, Thomas Dyer and Benjamin Dyer £5 each; being his grandchildren.
From the evidence we now have, it would seem that John Bicknells homestead was that now owned and occupied by a descendant Thomas Bicknell. It is situated on Sea street near the corner of Bridge street. It was the homestead of his son John3, and after his death it was conveyed by John4, Zachariah4 and Ebenezer4, sons of John3 to their brother Benjamin4, from whom it has come in the direct line of descent to the present owner.
John Bicknell3 died at the early age of fifty-four years, just after filling the responsible and honorable office of representative for the town of Weymouth, to the house of deputies of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
By inheritance, industry and prudence he seems to have acquired a considerable estate, and by his good character, the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens. We have no details of particular actions or deeds by which we can form our opinions of his worth, but can only judge him by the work done by the community of which he was a part, and by whom he was found worthy of confidence and trust.
The period of his life covered the years of the formation of our most important institutions, and as we recede from that time our wonder grows that our forefathers were gifted with the knowledge and prudence demanded by the occasion.
A glance at a few of these questions may serve to refresh our minds with the character of their work, and enable us the better to appreciate it. Among the earlier measures requiring action were the enlargement of their company by the admission of members and determining a rule of qualification for such membership. The institution of the representative system when the plantations had become so many as to make meetings of the whole body of freemen for the transaction of business inconvenient. The formation of two distinct bodies in the government the magistrates and the deputies with their separate and concurrent powers. The powers and privileges which the people themselves in their several local plantations should have and enjoy, both in secular and ecclesiastical affairs. The granting of the lands among proprietors with incorporated powers and the tenure by which these lands should be held by the individual members, the mode of conveyance and the laws of descent, all of these questions came up to be wrought by thought and agitation into their proper place, in their system of government. That the consideration of these and other important questions was attended with much difference of opinion and that the discussion or " agitating of the question," as our fathers were pleased to term it, gave rise to much warmth of feeling and sometimes to seeming harshness of action, we have only to recur to the banishment of Roger Williams, the great Antinomian controversy and the consequent banishment of Mrs. Hutchinson and Mr. Wheelwright and others ;and even the training field in the neighboring town of Hingham, has become memorable in history as the scene of the earliest rebellion,and as the occasion of "agitating" the proper bounds of the authority of the magistrates and the liberty of the people.
Of John Bicknells three sons, John3 the eldest lived and died in Weymouth. He had five sons and two daughters. One of the sons, Joseph, died at the early age of twenty years. Mary married John Turner of Bridgewater, and Sarah married William Sargent.
Zachary3 married Hannah Smith in 1692. They had six children, four sons and two daughters. Five of these were born in Weymouth and the remaining son was born, probably, in that part of Swansea afterwards known as Barrington, Rhode Island, where his father removed about the year 1704.
Thomas3 married Ann Turner in 1697. He removed from Weymouth to Pembroke or Middleborough, Mass. He seems to have been a blacksmith by trade. He died at Middleborough, Mass., February 17, 1718, at the age of forty-seven. I find no record of the births of his children and only know of them through the Probate Records of the settlement of his estate. They are Mary4, Japhet4, Hannah4, and Elizabeth4.
Thus by the emigration of Zachary3 and Thomas3 from Weymouth, the descendants of Zachary became separated, and in the lapse of time, their descendants lost knowledge of the relationship existing among them, except such as a faulty tradition had preserved.
The ever prolific source of the origin of so many of the families of New England that tradition loves to indulge in, the three brothers who came from England or some other country of Europe and settled in different parts of the country, would have some foundation could we commence with the third generation of our own family. The efforts made to follow out the several lines of descent from these three brothers to the sixth and seventh generations have been, in the line of the male members, more successful than could have been anticipated in the short time devoted to the work. The interest now manifested and of which this gathering is an earnest of still increased interest should enable us to accomplish more in the future, and we hope to see the chain complete, every link in its proper place.
As there were others at the early settlement of New England who bore the name of Bicknell, we shall undoubtedly meet with some who now bear the name, who do not belong to our family. We find in the Boston and Charlestown records the names of Edward, John and Samuel Bicknell, and we find also that the recording clerk has taken large liberties in various spellings of the name. I have found nothing to show any relationship between the Bicknells of Boston and Charlestown, and Zachary of Weymouth, and it is a little singular that most or those now bearing the family name so far as we meet with them, can trace their descent from Zachary of Weymouth. The descendants of Zachary have almost invariably in their own spelling of the name preserved the original and the correct form.
There were other Bicknells, some of whom settled at the Barbadoes, and in an account of that island, the names of several with their possessions are given, including bound servants and slaves; and in 1680 William Bicknell appears as an inhabitant of St. Michaels as having one servant and two slaves.
But few of the descendants of Zachary Bicknell reached the dignity of slave-owners, and these it will be found on an examination of their wills to have carefully regarded and tenderly cared for their slaves. On their manumission these former slaves so much respected the memories of their masters that they took the family name and their descendants are to be found to this day in some of our cities, bearing the name. This should be borne in mind that in looking for some honorable line of descent we may not go on a useless search to Africa. It would have added much to the interest of the occasion could some representatives of this branch of the family been present. This brief statement of history and fact is made to show the condition under which our ancestors were placed that we may the better appreciate their characters and labors.
They found their place, not among the scholars and learned men of the land, but in the more common industrial pursuits incident to a new country. That they performed their duties with an intelligent enterprise and success, their general comfortable condition in life through so many generations bears evidence. Though none of them became wealthy, yet all generally secured what was a competency for the times in which they lived. They gave their children the advantages the schools afforded and I have not met with an instance where any of them were so deficient in the common rudiments of education as to be unable to write their names. They have generally been found among the conservative supporters of the institutions of religion from the time John Bicknell2 repaired the meeting-house to the present time, when the meeting-houses of our land are filled with the learning and eloquence of their descendants.
If the name in the earlier generations is found but seldom among the legislators and magistrates of the land, it is believed that the ability and integrity with which these positions have been filled in later times show what the latent force of the name is equal to, when brought into action in this direction.
In view of the honorable record of the past may we not congratulate ourselves, in this our first re-union, upon so worthy a record, and should we not feel pressing upon us the obligation to preserve and perpetuate the name unimpaired to those who shall follow us, so revering the Puritan as to imitate his thought, of living always in the divine presence and following the footsteps, with him, of the Divine Master as we may understand his doctrine and example.
The following is a brief account of the male descendants of Zachary Bicknell to the sixth generation. In some of the lines it is not complete.
ZACHARY BICKNELL1, 1590.
JOHN3, 16534. ZACHARIAH3, 16678.
John4, 1688. Zachariah4, 1695. Japhet4.
Zachariah4, 1691. Joshua4, 1696.
Benjamin4, 1694. James4, 1702.
Joseph4, 16989, d. Peter4, 1705 or 6.
John5, 1715. Joseph5, 1719. Nathaniel5, 1725.
Zachariah5, 1728. Ezra5, 1731, d. David5, 1734. Lemuel5, 1739.
Benjamin5, 1727 Ebenezer5, 1727.
James5, 1732, d.
Zachariah5, 1723. John5, 1725. Samuel5, 1729.
Ebenezer5 1732. Timothy5 1733. William5 1735. Nathan5 17367.
Joshua5, 1723. Allen5, 1743, d.
Peter5, 1736, d. Peter5, 1745. Asa5, 1747. Amos5.
Japhet5, 1750. Thomas5, 17489. Turner5, 1752.
John6, 1744. Thomas6, 1748. Jacob6, 1751.
Joseph6, 1754. Daniel6, 1761. James6, d.
Luke6, 1749. Nathaniel6, 1756. Humphrey6, 1762. Otis6, 1764.
Ezra6, 1753. Stephen6, 1754, d. Zachariah6, 1756. Peter6, 1759.
Samuel6, 1757. Levi6, 1759. David6, 1771, d. Elijah6, 1773, d.
David6, 1776. Elijah6, 1777.
Abner6, 1764. Lemuel6, 1770. John6, 1779.
Benjamin6, 1748, d. Benjamin6, 1770, d. Peter6, 1774.
Thomas6, 1780. Benjamin6, 1786.
Zachariah5, No ch John5, No ch.
Samuel6, 1773. David6, 1775, d.
Josiah6, 1760. Ephraim6, 1769. Benjamin6, 1773.
TIMOTHY5, No ch.
Zachariah6, 1760. Timothy6, 1767. William6, 1777.
Elijah6, 1765. Nathaniel6, 1768. Isaac6, 1770. Nathan6, 1774.
Thomas6, 1747. James6, 1749. Joshua6, 1759.
Winchester6, 1761, d. Joseph6, 1763.
James6, 1764. Calvin6. Bennet6. Daniel6.
Peter6, 1770. Kent6, 1771. John Payn6, 1780. Eezekiah6, 1785.
Asa6, 1771, d. Otis6, 1773, d. John Wilson6, 1780.
William6 1782. Benjamin Ellery6 1786. Asa6 1788. Francis6 1793.
Jesse6, 1770. Japhet6, 1772.
Thomas W. T.6 George Augustus6, 1787. Daniel Dexter6.