Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BUTTONS, WITCHES & FIRE: 1628 Immigrant Matthias Button

Our Button family lineage:
from 1628 immigrant, Matthias Button through Aaron Thomas, Sr.’s wife Zipporah Button to Titus Dort's wife Deiademia Thomas. (Deiadamia, Alanson, Aaron Jr., Aaron THOMAS Sr.- Zipporah BUTTON, Matthias, Peter, 9th GGF Matthias)

The first 17th century fire recorded in the annals of Haverhill, Massachusetts, completely destroyed the Matthias Button homestead, a thatched roof house. The “burning questions” of why? and by whom? reveal interesting accusations of witchcraft.  Here is some background for that story gathered from various genealogical sources, including an out-of-print book by Nye entitled “Button Families in America”. 

Matthias Button was baptized 11 Oct 1607 at Harrold, Bedfordshire, England.  There has been some speculation that his family may have spent time in Holland as members of the Leydon Separatists, but no facts have surfaced to support this theory 'wishfully' connecting our Matthias with Sir Thomas Button, a noted explorer and Welsh officer of the Royal Navy.  Sir Thomas had spent time in Holland, but he was not related to this family of Buttons.  According to Nye, author of the Button Families of America published in 1971, a different Thomas Button (1558-1617), the father of Matthias, was born and died in Harrold, Bedfordshire, England, the birthplace of Matthias.

As best we know, Matthias came to America with Governor John Endicott's party on the ship Abigail that sailed out of Weymouth England. They landed on the 6th of September, 1628 at a two-year old Massachusetts settlement named Salem which was located at the mouth of the Naumkeag River, the site of an ancient Native American village and trading center. After a voyage of eleven weeks, the group arrived physically exhausted.  Even though they brought cannon and small arms for their protection from Indians, the party of men found it difficult to prepare for the threat of early hostilities due to their weakened condition.  While scouting, they became aware of imminent danger.  They were, however, able to position their weaponry so that the approaching Indians ‘scattered like sheep’ when they fired the cannon.  Matthias Button is remembered in this early incident as one of the few colonists who was fit enough to ‘get and man the big gun,’ likened as a hale and hearty man.  Although his stay in Salem was brief, he spent the rest of his life in the Massachusetts Bay area.  From Salem he soon removed to Boston in 1633, where he is listed among the earliest settlers.  Though possibly not a member, he identified himself with Boston’s First Church and was admitted with his wife on January 26, 1633, where at least two of his children were baptized. He then moved to Ipswich prior to 1639 and then, in 1646, to Haverhill (pronounced HAY-vrill), Mass., where he resided until his death in 1672.

From Vital Records of Haverhill
Matthias Button married four times:
(1) Lettice; by 1633; died 1635-1639.
(2) Joan, widow of John Thornton of Ipswich; around 1639; died by 1650.
(3) ANN TEAGLE; around 1650 (our lineage is through a child of this marriage, Peter); died in Haverhill 4 February 1662/3 as a result of the burning of their house by John Godfrey.
(4) Elizabeth (Wheeler) Duston; 1663; daughter of John Wheeler, and widow of Thomas Duston; died in Haverhill 16 July 1690.

 [The following facts were collected from other sources, based on corroborating primary written records] [EQC=Essex Co. Quarterly Court records]

·         Matthias Button maintained an unfortunate association with the notorious John Godfrey. Owing him a bond dated 12 January 1663/4, at June Term, 1668, Button was sued by Godfrey for debt and the jury found for Button. The court disagreed and set the verdict aside. In this case John Hutchins and Abraham Whitaker deposed that four years before, Godfrey had them accompany him to Button's to demand the cattle valued to £12 that Button owed him.  Button said, "I will now look up my cattle and pay thee." Godfrey told him to bring them to town to Goodman Kent's before twelve o'clock where they would be appraised, and he would give up the bond. Godfrey chose Stephen Kent for his appraiser and Button chose Bartholomew Heath. The cattle were brought before the time and appraised, but Godfrey would not come to receive them, although deponents remained till almost night [EQC 4:29].  Even with the verdict set aside by the court, Godfrey evidently harbored his first grudge.

·         From the deposition of Edward Clark, we learn that Button gave Godfrey an acquittance, or payment-in-full (9 January 1662/3), before the burning of Button's house [EQC 4:152]. Godfrey was accused, in the course of testimony, of being in two places at once, provoking suspicions of witchcraft.

·         Godfrey was found legally not guilty of witchcraft by the Court of Assistants, but was found "suspiciously guilty."  Hence, Grudge #2.

At the April Term, 1669, Button sued Godfrey for "firing his chimney which caused his house to burn and the goods therein, also the death of his wife Ann, and for running away as soon as he had done it." *
Essex County Court, which did not have the power to rule in a case of wrongful death, brought a verdict anyway, and awarded Button £238 2s damages and costs. [EQC 4:130-31].
More detail about this case is seen in the June Term, 1669, when Godfrey sued Matthias Button for "unjust molestation." Button won, but the court again set the verdict aside.  Grudge #3 and #4.

Representing Button, Ela sued Godfrey for "willful firing and burning of the dwelling house of Matthias Button, which was the cause of the death of said Button's wife." Godfrey replied, "Why should I bely myself; there be the witness: and asked whether he should go and execute himself; ... protested that he was cleared of firing the house and knew not of it: and that he went to Corlis his house, and there remained until Button came with his family" [EQC 4:185]. In a calmer deposition, Godfrey "acknowledged that he was at Button's house the day before the house was burned and went about ten or eleven o'clock to Corlis' house; that he said to Goody Button, lying upon the bed, `Woman weigh me out some meat,' and she arose and gave him meat and brought in water; also that he made a little fire of small wood upon the hearth" [EQC 4:186].  Although the role of colonial women was undoubtedly very different than that of today’s ‘homemakers,’ it still seems a bit odd that Godfrey would see nothing wrong with getting the mistress of the house out of bed and demanding a meal, of which she obliged –all while he is fixing a “little fire of small wood upon the hearth” which would later be seen as the cause of (or contributing to) her death. 

Button apparently paid Ela for his services as deputy and attorney, and the court found Ela's charges to be excessive. During testimony at November Term, 1669, it was revealed that Button had agreed to give Ela one third of all he "should return of John Godfray for the burning of my house and goods" [EQC 4:199].

*We can assume that the lingering, central cause of Godfrey's enmity towards Button was chiefly due to the fact that four years earlier, Mr. Button and others were witnesses against Godfrey when he was arrested through a complaint of Job Tyler and John Remington on suspicion of witchcraft and tried in the court of Boston in March, 1665. [The court record indicates a pattern of unusual behavior by Godfrey witnessed by others, including what appears to be another ancestor, 10th great-grandfather William Symonds/Simonds.] 

(A list of Godfrey court proceedings can be found in John Putnam Demos’ book, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, published by Oxford Univ. Press, 1983. Appendix A, pp. 402-9)

(revised: 2/23/13 and 4/21/2018)

1 comment:

  1. this information is so cool. I just discovered he's my 8th Great Grandfather.