Thursday, May 9, 2013


Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Darwin, and the bubonic plague ...what these unlikely subjects have in common can be found in the records of St. Chad's Church, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.  And our connection with this unlikely trio...?  It is revealed in the family history of Mary Hawxhurst, wife of Robert Coles. (see previous post)
Mary and her brother Christopher emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.  They were 'preacher's kids.'
a royal proclamation for the suspension of a public event due to plague, 1637
ST. CHAD'S CHURCH -a little history
St. Chad's before the 1788 collapse and new building
There has been a church honoring St. Chad at Shrewsbury since medieval times. In the 7th century, Bishop Chad is credited with bringing Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and was later canonized as a saint.    

Mary's grandfather and my 11th great grandfather, St. Chad's Curate Christopher Hawxhurst (1524-1576), had been educated at St. John's, the Evangelist College in Cambridge and was early into his career during the time of Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1558.  The protestant movement she desired in Shropshire depended upon evangelism that would be supported by a new preaching ministry.  According to researcher, Bill Champion in 'Religion in Tudor Shrewsbury in Depth', reformist connections made while at college may have helped to forge Christopher's appointment as Curate at St. Chad's through his influential Cambridge colleagues.  These connections also appear to have helped him to gain earlier employment as schoolmaster to Lord Darnley. (aka Henry Stuart who would become the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father of the future King James I)

During the 1570's outbreaks of the bubonic plague resurfaced in England.  By 1574, Cambridge was struck.  Next was Stamford where 40 victims were buried between August and September, 1575.  The disease invaded Shrewsbury in 1576.  In an effort to battle the flea- and air-borne disease, 'bailiffs ordered all swine and dogs to be removed from the town, all cats to be killed, the streets and alleyways to be cleaned regularly by the townsfold, and fires to be lit every other night in numerous places in every street.' (from A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles, J.F.D. ShrewsburyDespite these precautions, the disease took its toll and among the dead that summer was the curate of St. Chad's, Christopher Hawxhurst, leaving behind a 5-year old son, (my 10th GGF) Sampson.

Years later, Sampson Hawxhurst received annual stipends from the town bailiff's accounts to help defray college expenses while he studied at Oxford.  The esteem held for Sampson's father is evident in records that show that the money was given in his memory -more than thirteen years after his death -paid to Mr. Sampson Hawxhurst, 1589, 'toward his preferment in learning in respect to his father's pains and travell in our town, 5 pounds.'  Sampson went on to earn his BA in 1593 and BD from Magdalen Hall in 1607.  The following year he became Canon of Lichfield (1608-1626) after which he briefly held the post of Vicar of Nuneaton in Warwickshire before dying in 1627.  He left behind three grown children: William, Christopher, and our ancestor Mary.  A few years following his death (and, possibly the death of their mother) Mary, 28, and her brother Christopher, 26, set sail for America.

The 'borrowed' tombstone of "Ebenezer Scrooge" used as a prop in the 1984 movie 'A Christmas Carol' still lies in St Chad's graveyard; the tombstone is authentic -note original, time-worn inscriptions at bottom.  It was reported that someone working for the production was given permission to use the very weathered stone in shooting the movie's cemetery scenes; whether church permission was granted for inscribing the fictional name over the centuries-old epitaph of a real dead person is not known .  

"Scrooge" headstone in forefront; St. Chad's graveyard, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England;
click HERE for link to interactive tour of the beautiful 1790 church of St. Chads
Portrait of famous parishioner, naturalist Charles Darwin -baptized at St. Chad's in 1809
 With his childhood founded in faith and his adulthood founded in science, he became a 'dissenter' of a different kind whose writings included revolutionary thoughts that continue to challenge fundamental Christian beliefs:  'to admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause. It makes the work of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore.' (from Origins of the Species)
[5/2013 Note: according to Kathryn Burningham, parish administrator at St. Chad's Church, Shrewsbury, the name of Christopher Hawxhurst is included in a list of former pastors on the main board as you enter the church.  The date listed next to his name is 1558.]

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The SCARLET LETTER of Immigrant Robert Coles

from painting "The Winthrop Fleet" by William F. Halsall
Robert Cole(s) came to America in 1630 with the Winthrop fleet in a group from Essex under the leadership of Gov. John Winthrop and investor William Pynchon, founder of Springfield (and author of the first banned book of the New World entitled 'The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption' ). This historic fleet included a total of 700 passengers of whom about 200 died en route or in the colony before 1632.  Another 100 soon returned to England "partly out of dislike for our government, which restrained and punished their excesses, and partly through fear of famine (not seeing any other means than by their labour to feed themselves)." [according to a letter from Thomas Dudley to the countess of Lincoln, 1631] 
Soon after his arrival, Robert applied for freeman status through the Oath of a Freeman of the CommonwealthThis suggests that Robert was willing to accept the tenets of the strict colonial government, but was yet unaware of the extent to which it would 'restrain and punish his excesses.'  

On 16 August 1631, court records show that Robert was fined five marks for being 'disorderly with drink.'  The following March he was belatedly fined 20s. for 'being drunk at Charlton' the previous October but the fine was remitted when he confessed his fault.  Despite these citings, Robert Cole was appointed to serve the community as representative for Roxbury to the General Court in May of 1632.  However, in 1633 he was substantially fined £10 for 'abusing himself shamefully with drink, enticing John Shotswell his wife to incontinency, & other misdemeanor.' Since monetary fines did not extinguish Robert's undesirable habits, the General Court deemed it necessary to resort to a more humiliating punishment.  On 4 March 1633, Massachusetts Bay Colony Record ordered the following action against Robert Cole:

"for drunkenness by him committed at Rocksbury [Roxbury], shall be disfranchised, wear about his neck, & so to hang upon his outward garment a D, made of red cloth, & set upon white; to continue this for a year, & not to leave it off at any time when he comes amongst company, under penalty of 40s. for the first offense, & £5 the second, & after to be punished by the Court as they think meet; also, he is to wear the D outwards, (yeah, I thought of that loophole, too) & is enjoined to appear at the next General Court, & to continue there till the Court be ended." 
 NOTE: All of Robert Cole's fines were later remitted or discharged and he was most probably refranchised in the general amnesty of 6 September 1638.

Disfranchisement revoked Robert's right to vote and, therefore, hold office.  Within weeks of this order, the General Court gave permission for ten men -including the disgraced Robert Cole- to settle Agawam (Ipswich.)  Chances are, he left his scarlet letter behind. 

Records show how Robert settled and resettled, obtaining and selling substantial grants of land.  No further civil infractions were recorded.  From Ipswich, Robert moved his growing family to Salem in 1635.  It was during this time that Robert became acquainted with the Protestant theologian, Roger Williams.  Massachusetts authorities did not welcome Williams' strong views regarding what he felt should be a 'wall of separation' between church and state.  When he couldn't be silenced, Williams was banished.

In the spring of 1636, Williams and a number of his followers from Salem began a settlement on land that Williams had bought from the chief sachems of the Narrangansett Indians. With his 'twelve loving friends,' (including Robert Coles) Williams established a settlement that he named "Providence" because he felt that God's Providence had led him there.  This was to be a haven for those he called 'distressed of conscience' and a place that welcomed a broad range of dissent and beliefs.   Those original proprietors of Providence, Rhode Island were:  Roger Williams, Stukeley Westcott, William Arnold, Thomas James, Robert Cole(s), John Greene, John Throckmorton, William Harris, William Carpenter, Thomas Olney, Francis Weston, Richard Waterman, and Ezekiel Holyman [Holliman], who baptized Williams in 1838, leading to the co-founding of the oldest Baptist congregation in America:  First Baptist Church of Providence.
Robert, wife Mary and their children (including our direct ancestor, daughter Ann) would continue to reside in Providence and neighboring Pawtuxet until his death in 1655.  In Providence he was known as one of the five richest men in town. Daughters Elizabeth and Ann married Townsend brothers (also direct line ancestors.)  Their widowed mother, Mary Hawxhurst Coles remarried and would join them at Oyster Bay, Long Island where her brother, Christopher also relocated.  (His son Sampson would also marry into the Townsend family.)

Robert Coles 1630 (1597 - 1655)
is your 9th great grandfather
Ann Coles (1635 – 1695)
daughter of Robert Coles 1630
Henry Townsend (1649 - 1703)
son of Ann Coles
Uriah Townsend (1698 - 1767)
son of Henry Townsend
Uriah Townsend (1753 - 1800)
son of Uriah Townsend
Ezra Edwin Townsend (1788 - 1851)
son of Uriah Townsend
Rebecca Townsend (1808 - 1878)
daughter of Ezra Edwin Townsend
Marietta Watson (1830 - 1890)
daughter of Rebecca Townsend
Emma Jane Amrhine, Emerine (1860 - 1933)
daughter of Marietta Watson
Leon Vern Smith (1897 - 1947)
son of Emma Jane Amrhine, Emerine