Pawcatuck Seventh Day Baptist Church,
Interallied Families
Westerly, Rhode Island. 1840-1940

By Karl G. Stillman

The Utter Company, Publishers Westerly,
Rhode Island University Library

[Transcribed by Dave Swerdfeger]

Westerly is much the same as other communities the world over in that its residents today include many persons whose ancestors for several generations back have lived in this same vicinity. Perhaps this is generally true with respect to Seventh Day Baptists and to members of the Pawcatuck Seventh Day Baptist Church and congregation in particular. However, the natural result of this tendency to remain near the family homes has been the association of individuals in this town who have common ancestors a few generations back. Many of our newer inhabitants are quite likely to comment on this interesting genealogical situation and often they state they have come to the conclusion that all the natives are related to one another in some degree.

Early Rhode Island history records the settlement of this section of the country by individuals who sought to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences, and numbered among this group, of course, were Baptists and Seventh Day Baptists. This religious freedom was conducive to the development of Sabbath-keeping groups and churches, and in later years when laws were enacted confirming the early policies, it was natural that many families should remain here, resisting the call of the western frontiers. In addition, the climate and the fertility of the Pawcatuck valley as well as the possibilities of ocean commerce were attractive. When one today reads inventories of the estates of these early settlers, he is impressed by the apparent prosperity of those times.

It would be utterly impossible to record complete family genealogies in a book of this sort because of lack of space even if such information were readily available but perhaps it may be of more than passing interest to mention a few well-known people of earlier days whose descendants are affiliated with our church today.

    Governor Benedict Arnold (1615-1678), a Seventh Day Baptist and the first colonial governor of Rhode Island, who succeeded Roger Williams, and was reelected for two additional terms, has descendants in our church. Any who are related to Capt. William Bliss or Judge Henry Bliss are direct descendants of Governor Arnold. Among them are the Maxsons, Hiscoxes, and Utters. Other descendants, though not in the church today, include Potters and Fenners.

    Over at Poquonock Bridge, Conn., (formerly spelled Poquonoc) there is a bust of Captain James Avery (1620-1700) on the top of a granite column. He was the famed Indian fighter who led the successful attack against King Philip's warriors in the Great Swamp fight at West Kingston, R.I., in 1675. Those descendants of William Chesebrough who came down through Rev. John Burdick and Sibyl Chesebrough are likewise descendants of Captain James Avery, Dr. Joseph Miner (bapt. Hingham, Mass., 1644) and Walter Palmer (1585-1661), the latter another early settler of Stonington (1653). Captain Avery's descendants include Cottrells, Spicers, Burdicks, and Stillmans.

    John Babcock (1644-1685) and his wife, Mary Lawton, who are claimed to be the first white settlers in Westerly and who located their home near Mastuxet Brook on the Watch Hill Road, have a great number of descendants in our cornmunity and church including Babcocks, Clarkes, Stillmans, Saunders, Maxsons, Potters, and Lewises.

    James Barber appears in Newport in the late 1600's. His children settled in South Kingstown, and in the 1700's there were Barbour families who had moved west to other sections of King's County, now Washington County. They settled in Exeter, Hopkinton, and Richmond.

    James Barker came to Portsmouth, R.I., in 1638 and was the great-grandson of John Barker of London, England, who in 1549 had married the niece of Sir Rowland Hill, the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London. He was an officer of Newport in 1644, was made a fireman in 1655, was a deputy many times, Deputy Governor, and held other offices. The descent from John is through Edward Barker to Rowland Barker, who was the father of James. It is a matter of collateral interest that "James Barker, assistant," married Joseph Clarke, Junior, and Bethiah Hubbard November 16, 1664. The Barkers were actively associated with the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church, and soon after 1706, when the second purchase of land for a site for a meeting house was made "on the east side of the meeting house for an addition thereto," Peter Barker was one of three trustees authorized to receive the deed required. In 1881 when the Newport Church building was sold to the Newport Historical Society, only five members were still living, one of whom was Edmund Dexter Barker (1821- 1904). He never did take his membership to any other church and was the last member of the Newport Church to pass on to his reward. The Barkers married into the Easton, Slocum, Lawton, Peckham, Clarke, Burdick, Saunders, and Coon families.

    Rev. Chad Brown (prior to 1611-1665), a contemporary of Roger Williams, was one of the first settlers of Rhode Island and the first settled pastor of the First Baptist Church in Providence which was the first Baptist Church in America. It was said of him that "he possessed a cooler temperament and was happily adapted to sustain the interests of religion just where that great man (Roger Williams) failed." He was often referred to as "the arbitrator of existing differences in a state of society where individual influence was needed as a substitute for well digested laws." His descendants in Hopkinton inter-married with the Halls, Wilcoxes, and Stillmans. The Halls in our church today are in the direct line of descent.

    Robert Burdick (?-1692) is recorded as living in Newport as early as 1655 and is believed to have come from England in 1651. He married Ruth Hubbard, daughter of Samuel, November 2, 1655, and she was the first white child to be born in Springfield, Mass., her date of birth being January 11, 1640.

    Along with Tobias Saunders and Joseph Clarke he laid claim to land in Southertown (Stonington and a portion of Westerly today) over which both Massachusetts and Connecticut claimed jurisdiction. He was arrested, tried before Governor Endicott and associates in Boston and on the advice of Rhode Island authorities refused to recognize the authority of the Bay Colony. Rather than pay a fine or give bond he was imprisoned for two years.

    He was a deputy to the General Court of Rhode Island from Westerly in 1680, 1683, and 1685. A former member of the John Clarke Baptist Church in Newport, he withdrew and joined the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church in its early days.

    He died in 1692, leaving a large number of descendants. In addition to the Burdicks of today, there are Austins, Babcocks, Clarkes, Crandalls, Maxsons, Rogers, Stillmans, Barkers, Chesters, Hemphills, Brownings, and many other Seventh Day Baptist families in our church.

    The immigrant Champlin came to Newport. His name was Jeffrey Champlin. He was born in 1621. His sons moved to the mainland, first settling in South Kingstown, but by Revolutionary days, descendants had moved into Exeter and Westerly from whom we have our Champlins and Chapmans.

    William Chesebrough (1594-1667), who is recognized as the first settler of Stonington, having located at Wequetequock in 1649, was a friend of John Winthrop, settler of New London, coming to this section of the country at the latter's urgent request. In those early days, religious affairs were controlled by the towns, with ministers drawing their meagre pay from the town treasuries. Citizens were obliged to conform to the orthodox beliefs, notably Congregationalism, and failing to do so were the subjects of discipline. William Chesebrough was summoned to Hartford to defend himself against unorthodox religious views among other charges, and succeeded in convincing his judges that he was definitely orthodox. One cannot but wonder how he would feel could he know that some of his descendants are members today of the Pawcatuck Seventh Day Baptist Church. The descent is through Rev. John Burdick (1732-1802) and wife, Sibyl Chesebrough, and includes Burdicks and Stillmans among others.

    Joseph Clarke (1642-1723?) was the son of Joseph Clarke, brother of Rev. (Dr.) John Clarke, pastor of the Newport Baptist Church. He was one of the first three settlers of Westerly in 1661 and the first member of the Clarke family to become identified with Seventh Day Baptists, transferring his membership from the John Clarke Baptist Church to the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church soon after its organization in 1671. He served this latter church as clerk until the Westerly church was formally organized in 1708. In this service, he gave evidence of business ability and made his entries in a very legible hand.

    On November 16, 1664, he was married to Bethiah Hubbard and became the father of nine children. He enjoyed the confidence of his fellowmen and was ten times elected a member of the Rhode Island Colonial Assembly. Frequently, he was sent by the church on missions to New London and elsewhere to visit and encourage other Seventh Day Baptists who lived at some distance from the home church. In 1676 he sent his family by boat to a place of safety in Newport, because of the depredations of Indians under King Philip. Later he and John Crandall with the latter's family followed them, staying at the Newport home of his father-in-law, Samuel Hubbard. He was imprisoned at one time in Hartford because of his stand on the boundary dispute between Massachusetts and Connecticut.

    Seldom was he absent from church meetings and because his name disappeared from the records after the church meeting held June 27, 1723, it is believed he died about that time. Since his only brother, John, and both his uncles had no male descendants, the family name of Clarke comes down only from him.

    His descendants include Clarkes, Hiscoxes, Babcocks, Maxsons, Saunders, Stillmans, Rogers, Utters, Barkers, and others.

    As early as 1638 Nicholas Cottrell is listed as a resident of Newport. He was one of the signers of the Misquamicut Purchase. His descendants in the church include Cottrells, Sweets, Gavitts, Spicers, Woodmansees, and others. A branch of the family went to live in Preston, Conn., another in Hopkinton, and soon after 1750 were in the northern sections of what is North Stonington. There are Cottrells who are interested in the First Day Baptist Church of North Stonington today, now located on the top of Pendleton Hill, and whose ancestors settled originally east of the old Meeting House Bridge and later at Boom Bridge, Rockville, and other sections of Hopkinton.

    Rev. John Crandall (?-1676) has been referred to casually in this article as the son-in-law of Samuel Gorton, "the Great Dissenter," but in his own right he deserves more detailed mention. He is believed to have come to this country from England with Samuel Gorton in 1636. The first public notice of his activities came in 1651 when he, John Clarke, and Obadiah Holmes were appointed by the so-called Newport John Clarke Baptist Church to visit William Witter in Lynn, Mass., to administer the Lord's Supper, the latter being physically unable to make the trip to Newport. During a service being held on First-day in Witter's house, two constables acting for the colony of Massachusetts did interrupt "with their clamorous tongues" Rev. John Clarke's discourse, and arrested all three, taking them to the ale-house or ordinary, from which place a day or two later they were sent to prison in Boston. Their offenses were alleged acts contrary to the Puritan religion.

    In 1665 Rev. John Crandall moved to the new settlement at Misquamicut (Westerly) and there is every reason to believe he was the first minister of the Gospel to settle here. In any event it is an established fact that he was the first Seventh Day Baptist minister to be an inhabitant of the Narragansett coast. He was not an observer of the Sabbath upon his arrival, nor is it known just when he accepted that belief, but it is reasonable to suppose that since he was a preacher and elder in the John Clarke Church, thus knowing intimately the agitation on the Sabbath question there, he became a Seventh Day Baptist soon after settling in Misquamicut (Westerly), probably about 1669, the year that Misquamicut territory was incorporated as Westerly. At this time he was commissioned a conservator of the peace and in 1670-71 was a member of the Colonial Assembly. In 1670, he and Joseph Torry, Jr., were chosen to go to Connecticut to deliver a letter from the General Assembly of Rhode Island about the boundary dispute, which letter concluded by saying "These, "To our honored and beloved friends, the General Assembly of His Majesty's Colony of Coneticott, presented per John Crandall. "Ordered, that warrants shall be issued forth to press horses, boats, or any other things conducing to the comfortable accommodation and speedy dispatch of Mr. John Crandall and Joseph Torry, Jun., in the voyage to Coneticott."

    This letter is an indication of the position of leadership he occupied in Rhode Island as well as in Westerly and the confidence reposed in his fearlessness and staunch loyalty to his beliefs. In 1671 he was imprisoned in Hartford jail with other residents of the Pawcatuck Valley as a result of the visit of Commissioners of Connecticut to the plantations east of the Pawcatuck River at which time they had demanded the submission and obedience of the people to the authority and laws of Connecticut, the jurisdiction of which was questioned by the liberty loving residents of the area. In the ten years from 1666 to 1676 when he died, Rev. John Crandall was greatly influential in spreading the Sabbath truth around Westerly and New London and added a number of members to the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church from those settlements.

    Rev. John Crandall typified the true idea of civil and religious liberty and is recognized as one of the originators of that conception. Further than that, he reduced this discovery to a practical reality. Others had claimed the right to worship God according to their beliefs, but it remained for Rev. John Crandall and his associates to guarantee such rights to friend and foe alike by steadfastly defending such practices in spite of persecution and imprisonment. His descendants are very numerous and have already been mentioned.

    Rev. William Davis (1663-1745), a Quaker, emigrated from England in 1684, settling first in Pennsylvania under the protection of William Penn. In 1696 he became a Baptist and in 1700 accepted the seventh day Sabbath. His views were radical, as a result of which he was refused membership in our Newport church in 1706 but in 1711 he was accepted at the new church at Westerly and invited to preach along with the leading elder and other brethren. He was the cause of constant dissension among the church people, and was peculiarly outspoken in his criticisms as is indicated by the following copy of a vote passed at a church meeting November 19, 1734:

    "The church, considering some expressions or assertions in your writings, tending to the dishonor of the church, and consequently of God, you are desired to explain the meaning thereof, or your sin therein, as may most redound to God's glory; which assertions are as followeth:
    • "1st. That you called some persons bulls, lions, and dogs.
    • "2d. Some of the church as robbers and thieves.
    • "3d. Twenty-two of the church as guilty of audacious lying.
    • "4th. That the church called you back from going to Old England.
    • "5th. That you can prove the church have pulled the victuals out of your children's mouths.
    • "6th. That you have abused the church in suggesting as if they were the assembly of the wicked.
    • "7th. In denying them to be a church of Christ.
    "The above voted at said meeting, as attest, "George Stillman, Clerk."

    From Rev. William Davis, descendants today include almost every Seventh Day Baptist family in this country. The descendants of his grandson, Capt.(Rev.) Thomas William alone, who married Tacy Crandall, granddaughter of Rev. John Crandall, include at least twenty-five of our well known Seventh Day Baptist families. In our church are Davises, Maxsons, Saunders, and Stillmans, so if we seem a bit peculiar ourselves, pray do not be too harsh in your thoughts of us. Remember our ancestry.

    There was little mingling between the residents on either side of the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. Congregationalists, through whom the "arrogant" Puritan blood descended, the same Puritans who exiled Roger Williams because he insisted that freedom of religious worship was the better way, did not tolerate the settling of Baptists in the Connecticut Colony until the 1700's had a quarter passed. As for intermarriage with the Baptists of Rhode Island, that was not done. But after the days of the Revolution, the feeling of religious intolerance had begun to pass. Then we find the blood of the Indian fighter, Capt. George Denison, and Ann Borodel of Stonington, and Capt. John Gallup whose body lies somewhere in the Great Swamp battlefield, finding its way into the veins of the descendants of the Babcocks, Crandalls, Lanphears, Langworthys, Gteenmans, Utters, Cottrells, Stillmans, Burdicks, Maxsons, Rogers, Clarkes, Wilcoxes, Potters, and others.

    An outstanding colonist and intimate friend of Roger Williams as well as Samuel Hubbard already referred to, was Samuel Gorton (1592-1677), a colonial fighter for religious and civil liberty. He was born in Gorton, England, and sailed for Boston early in the seventeenth century "to enjoy liberty of conscience." His later biographies pay him tribute as "a forgotten founder of our liberties," "the premature John the Baptist of New England Transcendentalism". Only recently his fame has been recognized by the City of Warwick, R.I., which has named a new modern school the Samuel Gorton High School. Of particular interest to Seventh Day Baptists is the fact that his daughter, Elizabeth, married Rev. John Crandall, the earliest minister to locate in Westerly. Their descendants include Greenmans, Lampheres, Burdicks, Babcocks, Stillmans, Potters, Maxsons, Langworthys, Wells, Halls, and Witters. Elizabeth Gorton Crandall, by the way, was the first Seventh Day Baptist in America to die in the faith.

    A very common error of persons looking up genealogies of the Greene family of Rhode Island is to assume that all descendants have come down from the same immigrant ancestor, Dr. John Greene or "Surgeon John" of Warwick. The fact is that there were three individuals by the name of John Greene who were founders of three separate families of Greenes in America and so far as can be determined they were unrelated by birth to each other. One resided in Warwick as already noted, another in Newport, and the third at Quidnesset Neck in the town of North Kingstown.

    It is a known fact that John Greene of Quidnesset (prior 1639-1696?) was living with the elder Richard Smith in 1639 when the latter erected his trading post near the present village of Wickford. Nothing definite is known of his previous history, but a tradition exists among his own descendants and in the Warwick family that he came from England and had formerly borne the name of Clarke instead of Greene. The change of name, if really made, may have been for the purpose of gaining permission to leave England for America. "Godly deceptions" of this sort were frequent in those trying days. Smith had left Gloucestershire for New England and again Taunton for Narragansett, "for his conscience sake," says Roger Williams, so it is possible that John Greene was of a family sufficiently obnoxious to the authorities to render desirable a change of name as well as a change of residence.

    In 1663, he with others in Wickford expressed a desire to be under the Connecticut Colony rather than under the jurisdiction of Rhode Island, probably because title to their lands would be confirmed by Connecticut although not by Rhode Island, since the property had been purchased from the Indians in 1659 by Major Humphrey Atherton and his associates in direct opposition to an order of the General Court of Rhode Island given in November 1651. However, Rhode Island later, in 1664, confirmed the title on receipt of proper apologies from John Greene and the Court did "declare that he is still looked on as a freeman of the Collony."

    On January 1, 1672, he with five others bought of Awashuwett, Chief Sachem of Quoheset, in Narragansett, considerable land since known as the "Devil's Foot Purchase." He and his son John were large land-holders in that area. In 1679 he described himself with apparent pride as in the "publique office" of "Conservator of the Peace." A prominent citizen of his time, he is believed to have died about 1696. A great many Seventh Day Baptists are and have been descendants of John Greene of Quidnesset, among them being Elder John Greene (1792-1863), the evangelist, and Rev. Abram H. Lewis, one time pastor of this church. Others in the line of descent include Wells, Greenes, Hiscoxes, Lewises, Briggs, Coons, and Stillmans.

    John Greene (1597-1659), who was born at Bowridge Hill in the parish of Gillingham, Dorsetshire, England, in 1590, is the ancestor of the Greene family. He was a surgeon. With his wife and six children he sailed for Boston in the spring of 1635. There he became acquainted with Roger Williams. He followed Williams to Providence and was one of the 12 first members of the First Baptist Church. Descendants located in different parts of Rhode Island. His descendants include the families of Babcock, Krish, Maxson, Wells, Stillman, Champlin, and Hall.

    John Greenman came to Newport in 1638. By 1665 his children were residents of South Kingstown, Hopkinton, and Charlestown. Later generations early in the nineteenth century, were living in Westerly. The Greenmans were shipbuilders in Westerly and Mystic.

    Rev. William Hiscox (1638-1704), the first pastor of the first Seventh Day Baptist Church in America at Newport, has many descendants today in the Barkers, Clarkes, Saunders, Hiscoxes, Rogers, and others. A son, Rev. Thomas Hiscox (1686-1773) was, for 60 years, Treasurer of the Town of Westerly.

    Who were our ancestors of whom we are so proud? Perhaps one who is most outstanding and well known because of his complete diaries and letters which have come down to us is Samuel Hubbard (1610-1689), the grandson of Thomas Hubbard, one of the Christian martyrs. He came from England in 1633, married Tase Cooper in 1636, and eventually settled in Newport, R.I. He had three daughters, all of whom married and came to Westerly to live. Ruth married Robert Burdick ( ?-1692), Rachel married Andrew Langworthy (1610-1690?), and Bethiah married Joseph Clarke (1642-1723 ?).

    The Kenyon family is believed to be descended from the Kenyons of Peel, Lancaster, England. John Kenyon is found first in Kingstown, as early as 1657. Descendants have lived in Hopkinton and Charlestown, and are found in Stonington by 1783. Other families are found in Richmond, Exeter, and Westerly.

    Andrew Langworthy is believed to have come from Devonshire, England, although it is not known when he was born or where. It is possible he may have been Andrewe Langworthie, son of Richard, baptized at Widecombe, November 30, 1610. Most of the early records in England were church records and only the Established Church kept this type of information with any degree of accuracy. Therefore, if Andrew Langworthy's family were not members of that church, it is not strange that nothing can be learned concerning his birth. There is a tradition in the family that Andrew was driven from England by religious persecution and fled, leaving much property unclaimed. The first definite date establishing his presence in this country is October 6, 1652, on which he was baptized by Rev. Obadiah Holmes "at the mill" in Newport. He became a member of Dr. John Clarke's Baptist Church at Newport early in its history.

    On March 10, 1656, he was one of 98 individuals to begin negotiations for the purchase of Canonicut (Jamestown Island) and later, on June 29, 1660, he was one of 76 persons to purchase land in Misquamicut from the Indian chieftain, Sosoa. Previously on November 3, 1658, he had married Rachel Hubbard, to which union were born 10 children. His wife was one of the charter members of the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church and he too became a member in February 1676.

    The date of his death is not known with certainty but is believed to be between 1690 and 1692 since he executed a deed of sale in 1690 and his name was dropped from the membership list of the church as shown in 1692. His descendants include Langworthys, Lanphears, Maxsons, Deans, Daniels, and others.

    George Lanphere purchased land in Westerly in 1669, and was baptized "by the mill" in 1678. He appears to be the first of the Lanphere, Landfear or Lanphear family which ever since has been connected with Sabbatarian churches of southwestern Rhode Island. His descendants married Crandalls, Langworthys, Champlins, Loughheads, Babcocks and others.

    A Lewis is credited with being one of the first to settle in Hopkinton. It was John Lewis who with his four brothers came to America, and is recorded as a freeman of Westerly in 1668. His children went to live in Hopkinton. They formed alliances with the families of Maxson, Babcock, Barber, Kenyon, Noyes, and Chester.

    The Coon family are descended from the John Macoone family, recorded as living in Westerly as early as 1669. They are believed to have come from Scotland. By 1769 descendants were living on Coon Hill, Hopkinton. Others early in 1800 were in Exeter. They are related to the Saunders, Barber, Edwards, Ames, Bliven, Whitford, and Larkin families.

    Richard Maxson (prior to 1634-?), who was concerned in the founding of the new settlement at Portsmouth, R.I., in 1638, and who was one of the twenty-nine who signed the compact binding themselves into a "civil body politicke" subject to the authority of the King, has a long line of distinguished descendants including Rev. John Maxson, Sr., and Rev. John Maxson, Jr., Seventh Day Baptist ministers. Rev. John Maxson, Sr., was born in 1638 and was the first white child born at Newport on Rhode Island. He and his son are buried at the Ministers' Monument in Hopkinton Cemetery. Today among our church people are his descendants among the Maxsons, Sheldons, Burdicks, Stillmans, Whitfords, Hickoxes, Bentleys, Ayers, and others.

    Thomas Miner (1608-1690) was born in 1608 and married Grace Palmer, daughter of Walter, at Charlestown, Mass., in 1634. The surname of the Miner family originated in England in the 14th century during the reign of King Edward III. It seems that a miner by the name of Bullman had organized a company of 100 volunteers for the service of the King in the war with France and in recognition of this achievement in the face of serious difficulties, the King granted him a coat of arms with the name of Henry Miner thereon. The Miner family can trace back its ancestry in an unbroken line to 1359, the date of the death of this Henry Miner. Until 1636, Thomas Miner resided in Charlestown, Mass., but with his family he removed to Hingham, Mass., at that time where he lived until 1646, when he went on to New London, Conn. He served in the Indian wars of Colonial days as a lieutenant. In 1652 he moved from New London to Wequetequock, where he built a house on the east shore of the cove, just across from the Cheesebrough house on the west bank. Only a few months later, he sold this house to Walter Palmer, his father-in-law, removing to Quiambaug, a section favored by his descendants as their home for many generations. One of his prominent descendants was General U. S. Grant. Others today include Burdicks, Brownings, Hemphills, Stillmans, and many more.

    Walter Palmer (1598-1661) was born in Nottingham, England, and with his brother of London came to the American Colonies in 1629, settling at Salem, Mass. He was one of the founders of Charlestown, Mass., and it is said that he built the first dwelling house in that town. In 1643, he removed to Plymouth Colony and with others, including William Cheesebrough, joined in the organization of the town of Rehoboth, Mass. He was chosen as first representative to the General Court of Plymouth and figured conspicuously in the life of Massachusetts during that period. In 1653, at the urgent invitation of his friend, William Cheesebrough, he joined with the latter and with Thomas Stanton and Thomas Miner in establishing a settlement in Stonington. He settled on a 300 acre tract of land on the east side of Wequetequock Cove and there his youngest child, Rebecca, was born. It is said that in his house, purchased from Thomas Miner, the first Christian service was held in the territory included between the Thames River and Narragansett Bay. He was twice married, his first wife dying before he left England. His second marriage was to Rebecca Short in 1633. He died in 1661 and lies buried in the old Wequetequock Cemetery along with the three other founders of Stonington, William Cheesebrough, Thomas Stanton and Thomas Miner. His descendants in the church today include Palmers, Burdicks, Crandalls, Hemphills, Brownings, and Stillmans.

    Nathaniel Potter (died about 1644) was the immigrant ancestor of the Potter family of Rhode Island, which has been one of the foremost families of the Colony and Commonwealth. He emigrated from England at an unknown date but the first record of his presence in New England was in the year 1638, when he was admitted an inhabitant of the Island of Aquidneck, R.I. The surname Potter is one of the oldest of English surnames, dating back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries and has as its source, the occupation of the bearer which was apparently that of a potter. In 1639, Nathaniel Potter was another one of the twenty-nine signers of the compact for civil government which recognized the fact they were legal subjects of King Charles and bound the signers "into a civil body politicke, unto his laws according to matters of justice." Succeeding generations of the family moved into Kingstown and later to portions of Westerly which became the towns of Hopkinton and Richmond. Thomas Potter (1696-? ), great-grandson of Nathaniel, moved to Westerly (later Hopkinton) because "Kings Town was a place noted for want of piety." His father, Thomas (1663-1728) was a wealthy land owner and farmer in South Kingstown and a slave owner, too, as were many other Narragansett planters of that day. At his death his estate was inventoried at 4092 8s 7d. The Potters from the early days of the Westerly Seventh Day Baptist Church were Sabbatarians and members of that organization. They intermarried with Babcocks, Hazards, Champlins, Crandalls, Kenyons, Greenes, Barbers, Browns, Carpenters, Clarkes, Gardiners, Rietzels, and others. Many of these families are represented in our church membership today.

    The Rogers family traces its ancestry back to 1031 at Normandy, France. It is believed the English families came to England with William the Conqueror and one of the more celebrated early members of the family was John Rogers, the first man to be burned at the stake, Monday, February 4, 1555, in the reign of Queen Mary or "Bloody Mary." "His wife with nine small children and one at the breast following him to the stake," says the Martyrdom of John Rogers.

    This martyr's Bible is now at Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y., after having been cared for by the Potter family at Potter Hill, R.I., and later by the Saunders family for more than 150 years. It was James Rogers (1615-1703) who brought the Bible to this country about 1635 and who was the earliest member of the family to appear here, settling first at Saybrook, Conn., from which place he was one of six men to enlist for service in the Pequot War under Capt. John Underhill. He and his brother John were baptized in 1674, joining the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church. John became pastor of our Waterford or New London church in 1675 where both brothers had located. James Rogers was a baker and tradesman and upon retirement in 1666 had the most extensive trade, both foreign and domestic, of any man in that locality. One of his ventures was the establishment of the old mill in New London still in existence today. He was also active in public life, serving several terms in the General Court. Tradition says that his son, Jonathan Rogers (1655-1697) who married Naomi Burdick, daughter of Robert and Ruth (Hubbard) Burdick, in 1678, was drowned off Gull Island in Long Island Sound attempting to land a seal he had shot. He could not swim so went into the water astride a log, paddling out to the apparently dead animal. He tied one end of the rope to the seal and the other around his body. The seal revived, and diving suddenly pulled Rogers off the log and under the water, drowning him. Descendants include the families of Potter, Saunders, Champlin, Stanton, Beebe, Babcock, Maxson, Stillman, Wells, and Clarke.

    Tobias Saunders first appears in the records of Taunton, Mass., in 1643 and is thought to have died in 1695, as his will was proved on the second of September in that year. Although he was a member of the first Seventh Day Baptist Church in America at Newport, his ancestor, Rev. Lawrence Saunders, was not known to have been a Sabbath-keeper. He was one of the Christian Martyrs burned to death outside the city of Coventry, England, on Sabbath Day, February 9, 1555. Tobias Saunders was a soldier of the King in old England and at one time was one of the King's Life Guard. He was made a freeman in Newport in 1655 and on September 9, 1661, received a quarter of a share in the division of the land at Misquamicut, as Westerly was then called. Almost immediately he was in the midst of trouble as he, his father-in-law, Joseph Clarke, and Robert Burdick laid claim to land in Southertown (Southertown included the later limits of the town of Stonington and much of Westerly) which both Connecticut and Massachusetts claimed as theirs. All three were arrested November 1, 1661, by William Palmer, constable, but Joseph Clarke was freed later. Saunders and Burdick were both placed on trial before Governor Endicott and associates November 14, 1661, in Boston. Their defense was that they had bought the land from the Indians by the authority of the Court of Rhode Island. Bonds were set at one hundred pounds each and in the absence of surety, they were committed to prison for trial in May 1662. At that time they were fined forty pounds each and Rhode Island was notified to send in the fines, but they were kept in jail for two years. Later Connecticut was given a new charter giving Southertown to her and Massachusetts retired from the contest. Still later a compromise was reached in England whereby Connecticut relinquished her claim to the disputed territory in Westerly to Rhode Island.

    Tobias Saunders, Robert Burdick, Joseph Clarke, and John Crandall were a few of the strong men of their day who stood steadfast, endured persecution and imprisonment not only because of the land disputes but also on account of the religious freedom guaranteed to the residents of Rhode Island, but not vouchsafed to the Connecticut settlers where the Puritan church was to all intents the State religion. Tobias Saunders was a deputy to the General Assembly of Rhode Island from Westerly many terms and was active in the Westerly congregation of the Newport church of which he and his wife, Mary Clarke, daughter of Joseph Clarke and niece of Rev. John Clarke, were members. Many church meetings were held in the Saunders home. They had ten children from whom have descended the Arnolds, Babcocks, Barkers, Beebes, Blisses, Blivens, Browns, Chases, Clarkes, Crumbs, Davises, Hiscoxes, Pendletons, Potters, Sissons, Stillmans, Vars, and Wells.

    The first of the Spicers, Peter, was a landholder in New London as early as 1666. He resided in the Ledyard section. Just after the war of the Revolution, in 1793, the family appears in Hopkinton. Here they intermarried with the Thurstons, Saunders, Potters, and Whipples.

    The Stantons descend from Thomas Stanton, who was born in England and first landed in Virginia in 1635. He settled in Hartford. He was the first white man who joined with William Chesebrough in the settlement of Pawcatuck Valley, and as early as 1650 had established a trading post at Pawcatuck Rock. By 1674 another generation of Stantons had settled in Westerly, and continued to progress in their settlements across Rhode Island, intermarrying with the families already there. Among others in the church who are descendants are the Barbers.

    Dr. Comfort Starr, who came from Old England in 1635, and became a founder of Harvard College, and Elder William Brewster (1566-1644), a Mayflower passenger and the pre-eminent leader of the Pilgrims, were ancestors through the Blisses, Maxsons, and Utters. The Barbers and Knowles also are descendants of Elder William Brewster.

    George Stillman (1655-1728) sailed for New England with his wife, Jane Pickering, in 1683 or 1684, leaving behind an only son, George, five or six years old. On the voyage over, his wife died and was buried at sea. Upon his arrival, he settled at Hadley, Mass., where he was a very successful merchant, being comparatively wealthy at his death. He served Hadley as Selectman and was its representative to the General Court in 1698.

    In 1703 he removed to Wethersfield, Conn., with his second wife, whom he had married in 1686. There he died. Today numerous descendants in Westerly and vicinity have come down from his son George (1678-1760), who came to Westerly as a young man after completing his apprenticeship to a tailor to whom he had been apprenticed in England. He is reported to have said that his surname and that of his father had been Spickard (or Packard) in England. But he followed his father's example, taking his name of Stillman in this country. It was not unusual in those days of persecution for individuals to change their surnames before departure from England or upon arrival in this country. He bought land in Crumb's Neck on the Pawcatuck River about two miles north of Westerly and in 1706 married Deborah Crandall, grand-daughter of Rev. John Crandall.

    At this time he was a practicing physician. He became a member of the Westerly Seventh Day Baptist Church soon after 1708 when it began its separate existence and for over thirty years he served it as clerk. Also he was required to speak from the pulpit frequently, since on October 12, 1710, Elder John Maxson proposed that "as God had bestowed on several of the brethren gifts which qualified them to edify the churches, they should be required to exercise those gifts for that purpose." Whereupon the church ordered that the Elder, with George Stillman and Joseph Clarke, Jr., "should improve the next Sabbath" and periodically thereafter until further action. His descendants include Saunders, Crandalls, StilIrnans, Maxsons, Coons, Burdicks, Cottrells, Potters, Barbers, Babcocks, and others.

    John Vars was an early French immigrant. He was born in France in 1653. As a traveler he visited Newport, and returned to Europe to bring his family to New England. They arrived in Newport about 1685, and by 1700 had located in southern and eastern parts of Westerly. The family early married into the Peckham, Dodge, Burdick, Crandall, Gardiner, Potter, and Wilcox families.

    William Witter (1584-1659), one of the founders of Swampscott, Mass., was persecuted constantly for his religious beliefs and in 1643 was haled before the Salem, Mass., Court for his belief in the Baptist tenet that infant baptism was a sinful rite. It was stated that he came into the Court "meltingly," but in spite of his "meltingness," he remained a Baptist and was called before the Court again in 1646 for saying that "they who stayed while a child is baptized do worship ye divell." He was also accused of breaking the Sabbath and he confessed doing so, at the same time justifying his action. He continually disregarded Court orders and independently held firm to his beliefs. In 1651 he sent to the Baptist Church in Newport for advice, and John Crandall, with John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes, answered the call and promptly got into difficulties with the law for their unwelcome doctrinal preaching. Descendants today include Witters, Babcocks, Burdicks, Lewises, and others. And so we might continue to enumerate interallied families of our own church, not forgetting the many branches that lead back from each one of us to our early immigrant ancestors. These ancestors are common to most of us, and establish our relationship to one another through the intermarriage of these first settlers of Westerly who were also the first members of the Westerly Seventh Day Baptist Church.

    In the preparation of this chapter, no attempt has been made to record names or achievements of any others than the original heads of families in America except in a very few instances where such references added materially to local interest in the subject families. References consulted include the following:
    • Burdick, Langworthy, and Stillman Genealogies
    • Genealogical and Biographical Record of New London County, Connecticut
    • History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
    • Manuscripts relating to Samuel Hubbard of Newport, R.I.
    • Narragansett Historical Register. Vols. I, II, and III
    • Record of New London County, Connnecticut
    • Seventh Day Baptist Memorial. Vols. I, II, and III
    • Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America. Vols. I and II
    • de Forest, Babcock and Allied Families
    • Crofut, Guide to the History and Historic Sites of Connecticut, Vol. II
    • Wheeler, History of the Town of Stonington
    • Stillman, Miscellaneous Compositions in Poetry and Prose
    • N.B.Fars, Records of Tobias Saunders and his Descendants
    • Palmer, Stonington By The Sea
    • Denison, Westerly and Its Witnesses

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