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Early Colonizers from Wincanton

The following article has been extracted from the book "History of Wincanton from the earliest times to the year 1903" by George Sweetman.

This is not the place to tell the oft-told tale of the "Pilgrim Fathers." Many able writers on both sides of the Atlantic have given the genral history of the emigration of the people of England to the United States during the 17th century, but in so far as can be ascertained here will be set down what this neighbourhood, and especially this parish, contributed to the early peopling of America. As is but natural, our cousins in America are more keen on these matters than we are. The interest they take in pedigrees is most praiseworthy for all the perplexing subjects in which we can engage, I know of none so perplexing as Genealogy. The most patient investigators have always, not only something to learn, but much to unlearn. True it is that the elucidation of obscure subjects gives most through pleasure, but to rack one's brains almost to madness to complete a pedigree, and then to find that a link or links are missing, and that one has to go over the whole thing again and again, and at last to find that some one or other can upset all your careful calculations, is aggravating to the extreme ; and yet, in spite of all this, some attempt must be made to connect the past with the present. With this preliminary statement, I will here present such facts as I think can be fairly proven.

Among the early emigrants from this parish were representatives of the EWENS, DYER, VINING, MEADE, GUTCH, FREKE, and SWEETMAN families. Of these, there were Puritans, mainly perhaps nonconformists ; and Royalists, for the most part Episcopalians. Some of them, again, went to enjoy in a new country liberties denied them in there own ; others, who were broken down in fortune, left to gain in America what they despaired of regaining at home . In these days, there is much mixture of politics and religious profession in families, and this mixture prevailed in the 17th century and after. This is one of the chief difficulties, at least so I find it, in discovering to which party particular individuals at that time belonged. Even specialists on this subject differ, then "who shall decide when doctors disagree?" By this, happily, "the right of private judgement is established."

In 1631, Mathew EWENS, of North Cadbury, in making his will, said, that he intended "by God's grace to take a long journey." One is at first disposed to think that what he meant was to go into the next life, but, apparently, this was not what he meant, but that his intention was to cross the sea. He appears, as I am informed by a descendant of his, Major Clarence EWEN, of New York, to have gone to Boston, accompanied by his relatives, Edward EWENS, of Suddon, Wincanton, and Robert FREKE, of Dorset. Mathew died, and his will was proved in 1633. If he had been buried at North Cadbury, his burial would be found recorded in the Register of Burials in that church, but apparently it is not found there. Edward EWENS, born at Suddon in 1607, died near Exeter, in what is now called New Hampshire, then called New Somerset, on the 9th November 1667. In the year following, Edward's son, Edward, removed to Boston to join the FREKES. John FREKE, a son of Robert FREKE, who married Katherine EWENS, was buried at Boston in 1674, and there Edward EWENS married a Miss CLARKE, on a tombstone there the arms of the EWENS and CLARKES being united. These early settlers from Somerset were no doubt attracted to New Somerset, not only by sentiment, but because Sir Ferdinando GORGES, who was a Somerset man, had a royal patent to hold a large tract of land there. They were mostly Royalist families, of which the members incresed much too fast for their fortunes. The port of embarkation was Bristol, their vessel "The Angel Gabriel," 240 tons, and 16 guns, which traded between Bristol and Permaquid, New Somerset. She was wrecked at Permaquid in a great gale in the habour in 1635.

We next come to William DYER, who with 18 others, on the 7th of March, 1638, founded the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, USA, when the said William was about 40 years of age. Mr Louis DYER, a few months ago, furnished a long and interesting account of his ancestor to the S & D Notes and Queries, to which those who require greater detail are referred.

Briefly stated, however, it may be said that William was a son of George DYER, of Bratton St. Maur. His grandmother, who lived there, was a rich woman, but, in making her will, she distributed her fortune amongst about forty relatives. William's share was only ten pounds, and his father, in 1623, ia described as "pore." It is little wonder that he wished to emigrate to better his fortune ; (of the 18 others I can find no Wincanton name.) he married Mary LONGE, who was probably a Wincanton woman. Jerom LONGE died here in 1641.

This party of emigrants did not agree long together at Portsmouth, accordingly,, he and seven others separated, and on the 28th April, 1639, founded Newport, Rhode Island.

Mary DYER was a most uncompromising Quaker. She gave her family no end of trouble. Saved from jail several times, and once from death, she was finally accused of witchcraft, and according to the pious and enlightened laws of those times, and that country, she was hanged on a tree at Boston in 1660.

The LONGES were a strange family. Herodias LONGE, a sister of Mary DYER, at the age of 14,, was married at St. Faith's church, London, in 1637, to a John HICKS, who took her to New England, robbed and deserted her. In 1648, she was married to George GARDINER. (GARDINER was a Wincanton name at that time.) They lived together until 1665, when they were divorced. When she was between 40 and 50 years of age she again married, this time to John PORTER, probably related to Deliverance PORTER, to whom we shall refer later on. William DYER, the son of William and Mary, died in Sussex Co., Pennsylvania, in 1690.

MEADE. One of this family, now or late of Rochester, N.Y., claims relationship to David MEADE, who is said to have been a native of Wincanton, and a captain of cavalry in the army of CROMWELL. The parish register records that a Richard MEADE was buried in the churchyard on July 11th, 1670.

A group of Wincanton Emigrants, about 1652.

The following account is taken from "New England Historical Registers"

"These presents are to certifieunto whom it may concerne, that wee Thomas CROMWELL and John CROMWELL whoe have beene long inhabitants here in ye towne of Salem in the county of Essex in New England, doe testifie that wee have known Hugh JOANES as one coming from England in the same ship with us into the country above thirty years agoe, and we understand in Mr. STRATTONS ship, that he came from Wincanton, and was servant to Mr. Robert GUTCH and his sister, and Elizabeth DUE, and Margaret WHITE and James ABBOTT, and John VINING as we understood came from the same place, and the said Hugh JOANES that came along with us into the country is now living.
Taken upon the corporall oathes of the said Thomas and John CROMWELL in Court at Salem the 27th June 1682 and alsoe the saide Hugh JOANES then psonally appeered in court being in health.
Hugh JOANES married 1st Hannah TOMPKINS , June 26 1660. She died May 10, 1672. He married 2nd Mary FOSTER 31-10-mo 1672."

It is quite possible that most of these people were connected with Wincanton parish. DUE or DEW is not I believe a common name. I find in the parish register that Christian DEW was buried at Wincanton on Sept. 16th, 1645, and it is only about 50 years since Nancy DEW, the last of the family here, died. Margaret, the wife of Henry JONES, was buried here on Sept. 30th, 1652. Anchoret ABBOTT, widow, was buried here in August, 1645. WHITE was a well-known family here, and the christian name, Margaret, is frequent from the year 1645.

Robert GUTCH, referred to above, bore a well known Wincanton name. Elderly people remember two of both the christian and surnames. I have also heard of another Robert GUTCH here, who wrote a religious book, entitled -- "The sure foundation." The depositions of the CROMWELLS are not the only evidences we have of an early Robert GUTCH going out to America.

In the month of August, 1885, a clergyman of the city of Bath, Maine, U.S.A., then an old man, since deceased, wrote a letter to a brother clergyman in this neighborhood in which he said --


"I have learned that the Rev. Robert GUTCH, the first settler in our city of Bath, in 1665 came from Wincanton, England, previous to his departure for America. He came to the wild woods of Maine, and settled on the banks of Kennebee. My residence is on a portion of land owned by his grand-daughter. The front part consists of 35 acres. I have mentioned the above to ask if you think anything can now be learned of the said Rev. Robert GUTCH. Would records be likely to be in existence in Wincanton concerning him or the family ? If so, I should be very glad to have copies. We have never, so far, been able to learn any particulars of him previous to his coming to America. It was only a short time since I learned he came from Wincanton. if this information is correct, and if it is not too much trouble for you to make the enquiry and learn any facts, I sgould be greatly obliged.

Yours Truely, F. S. DIKE

It is a strange thing that the name of GUTCH does not appear in the list of burials, from 1636 to 1720, nor do I find the name in any local document till 1801.

The Vining Family

It is impossible to feel any surprise that some of this family tried to find a home across the seas. Here they simply swarmed. From April 17th, 1535, to 1721, no less than 162 of them were buried in the churchyard. In the 16th century, the VINING family and that of the DYERS were closely connected, and on the other side of the water they kept up the connection.

Mr. Mark VINING of Ypsilanti, Michigan, claims to be a descendant of the Wincanton Vinings. He say -- "in the town records of Weymouth, Massachusetts, it says that John VINING came from Wincanton, England, in Mr Stratton's ship. He was a cooper, and about 16 years old. He settled in Weymouth, U.S., and was a 'select man,' and held other public offices for many years, and amassed a fortune. He left in his will large property to his wife and eight children. One of the overseers of his will was his kinsman Joseph DYER." Mr. Louis DYER says that the Dyers were Royalists. Mr. Vining says that the Vinings were puritans in America, and that the Dyers there, their most intimate friends, presumably were Puritans also. "Mr. Stratton's ship" left Weymouth, England in 1652. I have, however, failed so far to discover any particulars respecting her passengers. Amongst the subscribers to this book are several of the families most interested. I can but hope they, being so keen on matters of this sort, will trace out on the other side what I have failed in tracing on this side. The young cooper may have been a son of John VINING, landlord of the White Horse referred to on page 90, and the Feoffee who took office in 1635, (see page 27). This young emigrant, in the year 1676, testified that he was then 40 years of age. He took to wife a Mary REED. His will was witnessed by Deliverance PORTER, James LOVEL and Thomas DYER. It is noticeable that the port of embarkation and disembarkation is Weymouth. Probably the name was given on the other side in honour of the port on this. Apparently, John VINING above referred to was not the first of that name in America, in as much as in Vol. 47 of the "New England Historical Registers" it is said that John VYNINGE was made overseer of the will of Bennett SWAYNE, the elder of New Sarum, dated 3rd December 1630.

The will of William DYER, whose mother was hanged, was proved on 4th September, 1690. he is described as "William DYER of Sussex County, Pennsylvania."

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