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Dorchester & Fordington

Emigration to New England (1620-1640)

©Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington Updated May 2013

 

Pilgrim Fathers

During the early 17th Century there was a great deal of religious persecution in England resulting in the birth of two main movements, the Puritans and Separatists, both of whom sought greater freedom of worship.  From as early as 1607 some escaped to Holland, but a new phase began when the 'Mayflower' carrying the Pilgrim Fathers landed a group of separatists at Cape Cod on Christmas day 1620. They were of course the among the first of many who left these shores to start a new life in America.

Rev. John WHITE 1575-1648) Patriarch of Dorchester

In Dorchester the puritan Minister the Rev. John WHITE (1575-1648), the rector of both Holy Trinity and St Peters, was inspired by this new adventure and saw the potential for a puritan settlement as well. Among his parishioners was Richard Bushrod, a merchant and a man of some substance, who for a number of years had traded in fishing for cod and bartering furs in New England. Sharing common ideals they felt this business could benefit from an on shore settlement where the surplus men required for fishing could spend the winter until required next season, but also form the nucleas of a permanent puritan settlement. John White started raising capital, enlisting the support of influential people, and recruiting followers to move to New England, and in 1622 they formed ''The Dorchester Company' ' to take forward the enterprise.

Of the 119 investors in the company 21 were clergymen and 20 were at some time members of Parliament. Many of John Whites friends and relations are listed together with important people from the surrounding area. These included for example Sir Francis Ashley a knight and justice of the peace who was the recorder of Dorchester between 1614-1635 and MP for the borough from 1614 to 1625. William Whiteway was another prominent merchant who held many public offices; and Robert Cheeke the Rector of All Saints church who was also the local schoolmaster along with Thomas Devenish the keeper of the Dorchester goal. Relatives included his brother Steven White and his brother-in-law John Terry the Rector of Stockton.

Four of these investors have known associations with Fordington. We know very little about Robert Veare and William Roydon other than the fact that they came from Fordington. The Rev. Edward PELE however was vicar of St Georges church in Fordington from 1616 to his death in 1645 and shared John White's vision. The Rev. Edward Clarke, had been brought in to be John White's assistant in 1620, but lived in Fordington and married Ann Pelham there on 2nd May 1621. They had 3 children baptised in St Georges, the last in 1625 just before he left to become the vicar of St Mary Magdelen in Taunton.

Emigration from Weymouth

3,000 the 'Dorchester Company' started sending out ships to New England. The first was 'The Fellowship' and sailed in the year 1622/3. It sailed again the following year with a second ship called 'The Pilgrime' and for the 1625/6 sailing a third ship 'The Amytie' was added to the fleet. The company however fell heavilly into debt and folded in 1626.

The Rev. White however refused to abandon the original investors, or those left at Cape Ann, so sought and obtained fresh investors for a new company which they called 'The New England Company. This bought the detbs and assets of the old company and in March 1627/8 commissioned two small ships to sail with supplies from Weymouth, called 'The Peeter' and 'The Happy Endurance'. On 20th June 1628 they were able to put their plans more fully into effect when a fleet of six ships carried 350 emigrants and the new Govenor of the Plantation John Endicott to New England.

John Endicott (1588-1665) 1st Governor of Massachusetts

The next ship 'The Abigail' (another Weymouth vessel) sailed on 20th June 1628 carrying the Plantations new Governor John Endicott and about forty other colonists for Nahum Keike. There is now a memorial to John Endicott sited by the Ferry Terminal in Weymouth. The story of his life can be read on line at “www.books.google.com”by then entering  “Memoir of John Endicott”  in the search engine.

Because there were no passenger lists it is difficult to know which pilgrims arrived on which ships but the three brothers, Ralph, Richard & William Sprague , John Meech, John Stickland, and other residents of Fordington had arrived no later than 1629. It is likely that these in particular went with John Endicott on the 'Abigail' with some of their families following as a part of The Higginson fleet onboard the 'Lyons Whelp' which sailed from Gravesend on 5th April 1629 arriving at Salem in June.

In 1630 the Rev John White organised another major emigration of 140 people from Somerset, Dorset , Devon, and specifically the towns of Dorchester, Bridport, Crewkerne and Exeter. They set sail from Plymouth on 20th March 1630 on board the 'Mary & John' and arrived at Nantasket Point, (now called Dorchester) in Massachusetts. Family names said to have been included on this voyage and originating from Dorchester/Fordington were “ Cook, Dyer, Filer, Ford, Holman, Rockwell, Sandford, Terry, and Upsall ”. A more detailed listing can be viewed at www.maryandjohn1630.com

In 1633 they were followed by Anthony Eames, Church Warden of Fordington who set sail with his family including his daughter Millicent, the betrothed wife of William Sprague. They left from Weymouth in the Recovery of London and there appear to have been 26 families on board carrying with them “household goods, clothing and provisions for themselves, their wives, children and servants”.

The importance of these groups, many originating from Dorchester and Fordington, cannot be overstated as they laid the foundations for Boston, Dorchester and Charlestown in particular. An article written by the Rev Arthur W Ackerman DD and published in 1929 by the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England, lambastes Dorchester in England for not fully recognising the key role the Rev John White played and states that “he should be placed at the head of the list of the Founders of Massachusetts”.

[Note: viewable at www.dorchesteratheneum.org/page.php?id=917]

The Rev White's house stood behind St Peter's church, in the middle of the town on the north side of High West Street and he is buried in the church porch and has a fitting inscription:

"In this porch lies the body of the Revd. John White M.A. of New College, Oxford. He was born at Christmas 1575. For about forty years he was rector of this parish and also of Holy Trinity, Dorchester. He died here 21st July 1648. A man of great godliness, good scholarship and wonder- full ability and kindness he had a very strong sway in this town. He greatly set forward the emigration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where his name lives in un-fading remembrance."


The story of Dorchester in the 17th century is superbly portrayed in the book “Fire from Heaven” written by David Underdown. It gives a very detailed account of life in Dorchester and the people that lived there. It also gives valuable information on the background to the Pilgrim emigration and the work of the Reverend John White in particular.

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