SMITH/DORT-WHITNEY/BLODGETT 1635 ImmigrantsThomas & Susanna Blodgett & sons
As I continue to climb the lush and ever-branching tree of my ancestors, I find myself pondering questions to which the answers will probably always be hidden within the dark canopy of time. This is especially true of the question “why” families pulled up their roots, deeply anchored to ancient ancestral bedrock, carried them precariously across an ocean, and replanted them in the untilled soil of a wilderness far from home.
For many, these roots would take hold in the coastal sands of Massachusetts Bay while our families defined their place in a new society, or like some, were carried along with an axe and a prayer to a place where old roots were grounded in the reality of new –and often treacherous- pioneer possibility.
History sometimes provides logical clues to “Why did our ancestors re-root us here?” The Great Migration of the 1630’s brought a good number of our 10th and 11th great-grandparents to the bay colony of Massachusetts after England's King Charles I dissolved Parliament, effectively stifling Puritan leadership, reform, and dissention. But the Puritans didn’t just fade away …they packed up their families and their bibles and they boarded ships bound for the Netherlands, Ireland, the Bahamas, and New England. Here they endeavored to create the model for a ‘nation of saints’ founded on a strict, deeply religious and highly righteous bible-based society. [Make no mistake, religious tolerance was not yet established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Just look to ancestors like Roger Williams, among others who would not be welcomed for their differing Christian beliefs.]
Nearly half of the 20,000 or so English immigrants of this era came to New England from the counties of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. Among them was the family of Thomas Blodgett from Haughley, a small ancient village close to Stowmarket in Suffolk. Dr. Thomas Young, vicar at Stowmarket [and tutor to the Puritan poet, John Milton], was an emerging preacher of Presbyterian thought in a climate of strict conformity to high Anglicanism. The influence that Young and other lecturers brought to the area must have had a profound effect on its reformist-minded citizens, including Thomas Blodgett. Thomas’ heritage was deeply rooted there with two young children buried alongside generations of his ancestors. But on or shortly after the 13th of April, 1635, Thomas and his family left for America, never to return. Son Daniel was only four and our direct ancestor Samuel, a mere toddler.
The Winthrop ship, Increase, carried over 100 passengers –mostly young families with many children for the Blodgett boys to play with on the three thousand-mile voyage. Of particular interest are the set of essential skills the men were bringing to a newly-colonized America: plowright, joiner, husbandmen, carpenter, and butcher. There was also a surgeon and a lawyer. Even servants. But other trades were represented, too, such as linen weavers, a clothier, and one glover, Thomas Blodgett.
The Blodgett family began their new life in a recently-established village called Newtowne (later to be named Cambridge) a few miles west of Boston. The little town was already platted out in an orderly grid of streets that included house lots, common land, and planting fields on the outskirts. Within a year, one of America’s first colleges, Harvard, was founded in Newtowne to train young men for ministry and leadership of the colony. The liberal minister, Thomas Hooker had been chosen as pastor of Newtowne in 1633 but he quickly began to cause waves with the conservative early authorities of Massachusetts. He asked and was granted permission in 1635 to take his flock of followers to Connecticut, just in time for the newly-arrived immigrants to purchase ready-made homes and lands from members of the departing Hooker band.
In contrast to Reverend Hooker, the new pastor Thomas Shepard was not a proponent of religious toleration. He strongly believed that ‘the Puritan way was God’s way.’ Pure and no waves. This was the "soul-ravaging" pulpit message that guided Thomas in raising his young family in the early Newtowne church, the ‘FirstChurch at Cambridge’, when Thomas received his home allotment and status as freeman in 1636.
|The village of Newtowne (Harvard Square) in 1635, with the Great Bridge of 1660|
We may have some idea of ‘why’ this branch of the Smith/Dort-Whitney family tree came to America, but we can only imagine the dreams that were unfolding for the young, growing family of Blodgett’s. Sadly, just as their new life was taking root in American soil,Thomas Blodgett died at age 38. His widow, Susanna remarried a widower, James Thompson, and she and the boys moved to Woburn to merge and increase their two families.
[This family line continues with the story of Thomas’ son Samuel –my 10th GGF- as the subject of the next blog.]