Stukely Westcott

 

Stukely Westcott was born in England probably about 1592 and his marriage to Julianne Marchant is recorded in St. Johns Church in Yeovil, Somerset, England on October 5, 1619. A number of sources suggest the couple had six children who all came with them to America. Historians have written that the William Arnold family and also William Carpenter sailed with the Westcotts from England in 1635. This information is substantiated by writings found in Benedict Arnold’s old family papers apparently written April 1656:

 

“June 24, 1635, arrived in Massachusetts Bay. Sailed from Dartmouth of Devon May 1, 1635, all but one of the Party (William Carpenter) coming from Ilchester in southern Somerset or within five miles of that place…”

 

 "My father (William Arnold) and his family Sett Sayle ffrom Dartmouth in Old England, the first of May, Friday, & Arrived in New England (Thursday) June 24, 1635. On board was Stukely Westcott, 43, of Yeovil, and his wife with children Robert, Damaris, Samuel 13, Amos 4, Mercy and Jeremiah.”

 

 Benedict Arnold later married Stukely’s daughter, Damaris.

 

The History and Genealogy of the Ancestors and Descendants of Stukely Westcott makes reference to two brothers of Stukely, Richard and William Westcott, who are first recorded in Salem in 1636 and it appears they both later settled in Connecticut.

 

A record in 1636 lists Stukely as a grantee of land, but the extent of the grant is not named however he would have been made a freeman in order to have received a land grant. He was granted one acre of land at a town meeting  in Salem, according to the town records, in the latter part of 1637, listing his name as “Stuky Wesket” naming him as “one of the inhabitants and freemen” and listing the number of persons in his house as eight.

 

 Stukely and his family were members of the church of Salem, where Roger Williams had taught and been “excommunicated” from and Westcott was seemingly of the same mind as Williams, “first, that the members of Salem church should make public confession of their wrong in having formerly communed with the Church of England: secondly, that the civil magistrate had no lawful authority or right to take cognizance of or punish a person for his religious beliefs.” Westcott along with Richard Waterman, Thomas Olney and Francis Weston were ordered by the General Court in March 1638 to remove from the jurisdiction of “The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay” along with their families before the next General Court.  The charge was “heresy.” At the same time, notice was sent by Hugh Peters to the church at Dorchester of the order to prevent them from being received into membership there.

 

They followed Roger Williams to Providence and Stukely was one of the twelve whom Williams wrote of when he “freely admitted twelve loving friends and neighbors” into ownership of lands he had purchased in 1636. Stukely’s was the first name listed on Williams’ grant to the twelve associates at Providence. He was also one of the founders of the first church at Providence recorded as a Six Principle Church, being baptized by Williams along with ten others. They obeyed the scriptures as they understood them, practicing the first principles of the oracles of God found in Hebrews 6:

 

1) Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

 

 2) Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

 

 This re-baptism caused great offense to the church at Salem and when the church elders learned of it, the Westcotts and others were ex-communicated.

 

Records indicate in October 1638, Stukely contributed 2 pounds, 10 shillings toward defraying the town expenses and it was one of the largest contributions to the common good of the community.

 

In 1642 there was an agreement for the division of Pawtuxet from Providence, of which Stukely was a party to. Records and letters reflect there was much dissension within the community with land divisions and ownership and it was at this time that Samuel Gorton had made an attempt to settle in the Providence area at Pawtuxet, resisting being drawn into the internal conflicts of the community. Also at this same time, the larger, more powerful Massachusetts Bay Colony was attempting to extend their jurisdiction over the settlers in Rhode Island, desiring the rich resources available in that area and to stamp out what they considered heretical ideas. By December 1642, Gorton and others purchased the Shawomet area from Miantinomi, chief sachem of the Narrangansett, which put the new colony outside of Massachusetts Bay Colony by a distance of about 25 miles.

 

There are no writings that specifically state the reason Westcott left Providence for Shawomet  (Warwick) but it was a very turbulent time for the surrounding settlements of the area, with land disputes and personal differences over biblical doctrine and civil liberty.

 

The ancient records reflect that Stukely and his family came to Shawomet (Warwick) in 1647, however the book  The History and Genealogy of the Ancestors and Descendants of Stukely Westcott states that “it is reasonably certain that he was at least active at Warwick as early as the Spring of 1643”  because he was one of the nine persons that was taken to Boston when Massachusetts sent a company to arrest the group at Warwick. Also included in the Genealogy was the statement recorded in the old records that the soldiers had “killed one of his sheep” at the time the group was arrested. Stukely is listed seventh on the list of inhabitants of the town previous to June 5, 1648 of thirty-one settlers and two of his sons were listed seventeenth and twenty-seventh.

 

The men were imprisoned, charged, found guilty at Boston and sentenced to hard labor, but after a few months, were pardoned due to public sentiment of the towns where they were fulfilling their sentences. Stukely's name is not found in the towns where the men served their sentences so he may have been allowed to return to Warwick, however he was one of those who bore witness on March 30, 1644 under oath to “the outrage committed upon property and the persons of the first settlers of Warwick because they refused to subject themselves to the pretended jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay colony.”

 

 During the summer of 1648, Stukely Westcott, John Greene, William Arnold and nine others of Warwick “agreed to support in faith and practice the principles of Christ’s doctrine.” They met in homes and groves and attended the gathering at Providence as often as circumstances would allow. An actual church building in Warwick wasn’t built until several years after Stukely Westcott had died.

 

In 1655, Stukely was licensed to keep a house of entertainment [tavern] and to set out a sign at the most “perspicuous” place. His “hotel license” was renewed in 1664 when he was authorized to keep an "ordinary" [a tavern/hotel] for the entertainment of strangers during the time the King’s Commissioners held Court at Warwick.  History has shown that often times those who became “inn-keepers”  owned large houses at central points on the roads. Below is an excerpt of an article explaining the importance of the tavern, ordinary or house of entertainment in colonial days:

 

“An introduction from Nancy L. Struna's Transforming the Ordinary: A Social History of Taverns, 1750-1820s, best states what taverns meant to the local communities they served in the days of the Revolution:

 

 "In the middle of the 18th century, taverns lay at the center of life in the British American mainland colonies. People ate, drank, and slept there; they read mail and papers and in other ways got the news; they boarded stages from and voted at taverns; they attended court hearings and committed crimes. Tavern keepers themselves were often respected and influential citizens, and tavern keeping was viewed as an important and economically viable occupation, including for women. As a point of fact, taverns were everywhere, they housed everything, and everyone could be involved. They were the social and cultural centers of colonial life.

 

 "The colonial government found taverns so important to development of this new land they enacted laws to encourage their construction.”

 

 Westcott was quite involved in the settlement at Warwick and according to preserved records—owned along with his home lot, a large acreage, as did the other initial founders. He had retained his land interests in Providence after moving to Warwick and in his will he stated that he, together with Samuel Gorton, Randall Holden, Thomas Collins and John Potter, were the sole owners of a tract of land totaling about 2,100 acres, between the Pawtuxet lands on the north and the ‘Old Warwick’ lands on the south.

 

He apparently elicited the confidence of his fellowmen, holding numerous public offices. The highest office he held was Deputy of the colonies, which he held in November 1651, February 1652 and also December of that year, representing Warwick in the Colonial Assembly and again in 1656 and 1660. He was nearly eighty years old when he served his last term as Deputy to the Assembly in 1671. In 1653 he was elected twice as “General Assistant” and these officers, usually two from each colony, formed the Governor’s Council and also exercised judicial power. He served on a committee to call a special Assembly if needed, as the colony was in “eminent danger” during that time. He also served on a committee to restrict the sale of liquor to the Indians, and to regulate excise and sale of it in the Colony.

 

In local issues, his fellow townsmen chose him and Ezekiel Holliman to collect monies of the settlers to pay a person for watching over their cattle from Indian intrusion and he served as a member of the Town Council. He was a commissioner for Warwick numerous years, surveyor of highways, listed as a jurist, and also sat on a committee to confer with Indians about fencing and other matters, probably acting as liaison between the Indians and colonists, diffusing problems when the colonist’s cattle damaged the Indians crops, etc.

 

Another notable event that speaks to the character of Stukely: his neighbor at Warwick, John Bennet [probably aged and without family] gave his property, “8 cattel, 19lbs of peage* at 8 per penny” and his house and land, all except 5 pounds, which Bennet retains “to dispose of as he may see fit,” on the condition that Westcott and his heirs furnish him during his life “meate, drinks and aparall” on June 24, 1657.  Later it is recorded, Amos Westcott, who was living with his father at the time, is excused on October 10, 1670 by the town from service at the three courts, by reason of the “weak condition” of John Bennet, and Amos needing to personally attend to him during his illness, obviously fulfilling the promise of taking care of the elderly man.

 

 Stukely’s wife preceded him in death as did his son Robert. His  son Amos Westcott and wife apparently went to live with him and care for him in his last years. At the onset of the King Phillips war, Robert, a lieutenant of the militia was killed in the great swamp fight in 1675 in which the Indians suffered great losses. The Indians returned to execute vengeance, burning every house in Warwick except one and the inhabitants all fled, Stukely going to live with his grandson Caleb Arnold (son of Benedict and Damaris (Westcott) Arnold, at Portsmouth. He died there on January 12, 1677.

 

Stukely had deeded much of his land to his sons as gifts during his lifetime. He wrote a will which was never executed because apparently his grandson had encouraged him to wait to sign it until Amos and Jeremiah, his two remaining sons, could be present and he became incapacitated before they arrived. Because his will wasn’t signed and there being mention of additions that were verbalized, the Town Counsel drew up a will and it was sealed by John Greene - Assistant, Samuel Gorton - Assistant, Randall Holden, Thomas Green and Benjamin Barton who comprised the Town Council, years later.

 

Stukely Westcott’s descendants are many and a few of the notable ones are General Benedict Arnold, (descendant of his daughter Demaris who married Governor Arnold and general of the Revolutionary War, who is better known as a traitor to his country), Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and Commodore Mathew C. Perry.

 

 Doyle Davidson and David Kaspareit both trace their ancestry to Stukely Westcott through his son, Jeremiah and Eleanor (England) Westcott.

 

Compiled by Kathryn Currier
July 10, 2012

 

 *Peage: A kind of aboriginal shell money, or wampum, of the Atlantic coast of the United State; originally applied only to polished white cylindrical beads.

 

 Sources: History and Genealogy of the Ancestors and Some Descendants of Stukely Westcott; The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton (1908); Wikipedia; Society of Stukely Westcott Descendants of America.

 

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