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

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