Paul's Perambulations a personal blog

September 8, 2010

Mass Bay Colony, Quakers, Witches, Harvard…and how Fran’s relatives were directly involved.

Filed under: Family — admin @ 4:16 pm

Fran’s great-grandfather (if you go back an additional eleven generations) was Governor Dudley of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  I sometimes joke about Fran’s family hanging Quakers and witches, so I felt it was time to get some of this straight. Turns out that there is something to these stories, but not as written above. Thomas Dudley was the first colonial governor elected by “freemen” voting in America (1634). There is a story here, because the first official governor under the Charter was Winthrop, but he was not elected in an open election. The prior governing council had held their own election without any announcement that an election would be taking place, and they proceeded to elect themselves. When the “freemen” learned of this, they revolted and demanded that the next election be public. So they elected Dudley, Winthrop’s former Deputy Governor (or vice-president in today’s parlance), and the two essentially switched places. Don’t think everyone could vote — “freeman” was a defined category representing perhaps a quarter of the total population of the colony. However, they numbered some thousands, and so this was a highly significant step for freedom in place of voting by a council of eight or of decisions being made in England (as for other colonies). These Puritans were rebellious from the start.

Dudley rotated in and out of the Governor’s Office for some years (he was four terms Governor and thirteen terms Deputy Governor). Fortunately for Fran, Dudley was not Governor at the time that the Quakers were hanged because he had already died (1653), well before Quakers became an issue in the Colony. But he doesn’t get away scot free because he was directly involved in the banishment of Anne Hutchinson. (My primary source for the following is The Emancipation of Massachusetts by Brook Adams [1887, reprint 1962]. I have also used a variety of other sources for this post, and much of my source material is online if you look carefully and find appropriate scholarly sources, or ask me).

In November 1637 Anne Hutchinson was brought before an Ecclesiastical Criminal Court, and a member of that court was Deputy Governor Dudley, recorded in the records as follows:

Dudley;  “…if she in particular hath disparaged all our ministers in the land, that they have preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of grace, why this is not to be suffered…” (p. 237).  

And it wasn’t, as the court officially banished Anne Hutchinson from the Colony.

In Dudley’s favor, he was one of the founders of Harvard a year earlier in 1636, and as Governor in 1650 he signed the official papers of incorporation of Harvard that still govern that University. For generations the family felt that it ran the place (and it somewhat did). It is that legacy to which Fran’s mother, Ann Bradstreet Clark, rebelled. Ah, but her name brings us to the next generation. Anne Dudley Bradstreet was Thomas’ daughter (google Anne Bradstreet for the story of America’s first poetess; we read from her work at our wedding) and wife of Simon Bradstreet (also a 1636 Harvard founder and also a Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony…and there are others later, e.g., Governor Joseph Dudley). Anyhow, Simon fortunately was not Governor at the time of the hanging of the Quakers, but he showed no love for them and is on record as instrumental in a court decision to whip an unrepentant Quaker, as follows:

“Simon in a fierce rage, told the court, ‘That if such fellows should be suffered to speak so in the court, he would sit there no more.’ So to please Simon, Eliakim was sentenc’d to be stripp’d from his waste upward, and to be bound to an oak tree that stood by their worship-house, and to be whipped fifteen lashes.” (pp. 330-331)

On the other hand, Simon was the last freely-elected Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony before the King revoked the Charter (the Colony was getting much too uppity) and appointed a Royal Governor. Simon thereby misses opprobrium for the 1990 Salem witch trials. They occurred during the difficult transition period between the two forms of government, and the lack of any central government at that time may help to explain why the hysteria was allowed to go unchecked for so long. But the family did not go unaffected…Fran’s relative Rebecca Nurse was hanged as a witch. It didn’t help that she was so elderly and deaf that she couldn’t hear the charges brought against her by a jealous neighbor.

And don’t forget, we have Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr’s silk underwear (and more), and Fran is named for Wendell Jr’s wife Fanny Dixwell.  But those are the recent family matters, and enough of that.


  1. love this! I too am a descendant of old Dudley (and Winthrop too) and found this summary to be enlightening AND entertaining. Thank you! May send you the names of other relatives with complicated histories to see if you can do a similar analysis.

    Comment by wendell — February 8, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

  2. Hi Wendell (and that’s for Holmes, obviously). I’m just picking up comments now. My wife was born Frances Dixwell Williams, on account that her mother (Ann Bradstreet Clark) as a child was befriended by Wendell Jr’s childless wife Frances Dixwell Holmes. On the other hand, Fran and I are downsizing and are not following genealogy any more. Putting my time into things like demonstrating on Good Friday at Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest nuclear manufacturer and war profiteer.

    Comment by admin — March 29, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

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