This is the earliest known record to prove the presence of Sampson Mason in New England. Of his early history nothing more is known than is contained in the following extract from the History of the Baptists in America, compiled by the Reverend Isaac Backus. "Sampson Mason was a soldier in Cromwell's army and he came to America upon the turn of the times in England and settled in Rehoboth and his posterity are now as numerous as, perhaps those of any man who came to our country in his day" (Vol.2, page 435.) Backus probably gained his information from grandsons of Sampson Mason who were pastors of the Second Church of Swansea at the time the history was written, and possibly his wife, who was a greatgranddaughter of Sampson Mason, may have related to him some of the family traditions. However this may be, the authenticity of the statement can scarcely be doubted.
On the Ninth day of March in the year 1650-51, Sampson Mason, designated shoemaker, purchased from William Betts his house and home lot in Dorchester, the lot containing six acres. (Suffolk Co. Mass. Deeds. Vol.1, page 127.) By a later purchase the lot was enlarged to six and one-half acres. The date of purchase of this house probably indicates very nearly the time of his marriage to Mary Butterworth. Her parentage can only be surmised, but she was probably daughter of John Butterworth of Weymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and from various mentions it appears evident that she was a sister of John Butterworth of Swansea.
February 19, 1655-6, Sampson Mason sold to Jacob Hewins of Dorchester, his house and home lot containing six and one-half acres, two divisions in the commons of Dorchester, viz. the thirty- seventh lot in the second division, 2 acres, three-quarters and 26 rods, and the thirteenth lot in the third division, containing the same amount of land as the first named. By the same deed he conveyed three divisions beyond the Neponset river, containing two and three-quarters acres each, with the common rights thereto belonging. (Suffolk Co. Mass. Deeds. Vol.4, pages 299-301.)]
The exact date of his removal to Rehoboth is unknown but the records of the town have the following entry. "1657, Dec.9. It was voted that Sampson Mason should have free liberty to sojourn with us and to buy houses, lands and meadows, if he see cause for his settlement, provided he lives peaceably and quietly." The form of vote was not essentially different from the ordinarily employed and merely expressed the town's reservation of its right to expel unruly or obnoxious inhabitants.
At this time the family of Sampson Mason consisted of his wife and three children but upon removal to Rehoboth, John, the third child, was left in Dorchester to be brought up by John Gurnell (or Gornell), a tanner of that town. The births of the ten younger children are recorded in Rehoboth and it is probable that they were born there. The eleventh child Pelatiah is recorded in Rehoboth with the statement that he was born near Providence Ferry, and it is probable that the father was then living on a tract of land on Watchemoket Neck, now East Providence, Rhode Island. In conveyances from one to another son and grandson of Sampson Mason, mention is made of a tract of ninety-five acres of land on Watchemoket Neck, and also of a smaller tract of eight acres with a house at the Ferry, and it is possible that the family occupied one or the other of these places for a short time; but the homestead was probable farther inland within the limits of the present town of Seekonk in Massachusetts.
From the records it is evident that Sampson Mason had acquired considerable property when he removed to Rehoboth, and he then entered extensively into the land speculations so common in his age. He appears as the holder of one share of the seventy-nine and one-half shares in the Rehoboth North Purchase, which afterwards became the town of Attleborough, and also one of the Proprietors or shareholders of the town of Swansea in which his descendants for many generations were prominent.
To the historical student the story of the town of Swansea is, from some aspects, the most interesting of any of the old towns of the New England Colonies and some account of its origin is necessary to a proper understanding of the history of the Sampson Mason family.
In the early days of the colonies, the public energy now devoted to industrial undertakings was expended in land speculation and the settlement and development of new towns. A number of men banded themselves together under some form of agreement, obtained by purchase or by grant from the Colonial authorities - such grant usually, if not always, containing the requirement of purchase from the Indians - a tract of land and having surveyed a portion, divided this portion among themselves and proceeded to settle upon it either in person or by representatives. The undivided lands were held in common, with restrictions upon the undue cutting of timber and other depredations. As the town developed and increased in population, further surveys and further allotments were made, the land being divided among the Proprietors, as they were called. The Proprietors held the right to accept or reject intending settlers and were very cautious in the matter of admitting new comers.
As these later increased in numbers however, a dual corporation or rather, two corporations came to exist in the town. The Proprietors, owning the greater part of the real estate in the township, formed a semi-public corporation similar to a railroad corporation of the present time, while the general body of citizens formed the public, municipal corporations; but gradually the Proprieties were merged in the towns and, in general ceased to exist as distinct bodies. The records of Proprietors in Massachusetts were finally, by requirement of law, given over to the keeping of the Clerks of the towns in which the Proprieties had existed. The profit to the original Proprietors arose from the sale of the first allotment with its rights in future allotments, common rights as they were called, or from the sale of rights in divisions made or to be made.
The fundamental purpose underlying the settlement of a new town was often a common purpose or agreement in matters of religion, and such an agreement appears to have been the moving cause in the incorporation of Swansea as a distinct town.
Elder John Myles, who had been pastor of a church in Swansea in Wales, having been deprived of his parish at the time of the Restoration, came to America in 1663 and settled in Rehoboth where he organized a Baptist church. Scarcely a decade had elapsed since the persecution of the Baptists had been at its height in the Bay Colony and the establishment of an organized Baptist Society in a community of the Orthodox faith of New England proved exceedingly displeasing: a prosecution was brought against Elder Myles and other members of the church and in July of the year 1667, the Court at Plymouth delivered its judgement as follows. "Mr. Myles and Mr. Brown for their breach of order in setting up a public meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the Court, to the disturbance of the peace of the place are fined each of them the sum of five pounds and Mr. Tanner the sum of twenty shillings. And we judge that their continuance at Rehoboth being very prejudicial to the peace of that Church and that town may not be allowed and we therefore order all persons concerned therein wholly to desist from the said meeting in that place or Township within this month yet in case they shall remove their meeting to some other place where they shall not prejudice any other Church and shall give any reasonable satisfaction respecting their teachings we know not but they may be granted by this Court liberty so to do." (Plymouth Colony Records. Vol.4, part 1, page 163.)
In accordance with this very plain intimation by the Court that there would be no objection to the establishment of a Baptist Church outside the jurisdiction of any other church, the town of Swansea was organized. An agreement consisting of three articles was drawn up and signed by the intending settlers. This agreement provided first, that no erroneous person should be admitted either as an inhabitant or sojourner of the town; second, that no man of any evil behavior and no contentious person should be admitted; and third, that no man should be admitted who might become a charge upon the town. These three articles were explained to the satisfaction of the Court at Plymouth, an erroneous person being defined, among other matters, as one who denied the use or authority of the ministry or a comfortable maintenance to be due them from such as partake of their teachings. This last clause was the key-note of the broad and liberal spirit of the founders of the town. Throughout the Colonies of Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay, taxation for the support of the churches was general and no citizen was exempt by reason of non-membership in the Church, but it became the custom of the Sansea pastors to expressly waive their right in this respect and to claim support only from those who sat under their teaching. Expressing also the right of liberty of conscience, the town records show a consistent adherence to this tenet, and various prosecutions were dismissed because the spirit of the original agreement allowed to every man freedom of belief in matters of religion.
Another peculiarity of the town, the origin of which is not known, was the division of the inhabitants into three ranks. The rankings gave a distinct privilege in the matter of the allotments of the land, since the first rank received in the proportion of three acres, the second in the proportion of two acres and the third in the proportion of one acre in the division of land. The system however gave rise to much contention and the town appears finally to have abolished it.
Sampson Mason was one of the original Proprietors and a subscriber to the agreement which took effect when the town was incorporated by the Court of Plymouth in an order as follows. "March 5, 1668. The township of Wannamoisett and the parts adjacent are established as Swansey." (Plymouth Colony Records. Vol. 4, page 175.)
It is probable that Sampson Mason became a member of the First Baptist Church about this time and the family tradition that he was converted to the Baptist faith by Elder John Myles may rest upon a substantial foundation although the tendency of his religious leaning was manifested prior to this time. During his residencein Dorchester he evidently had some connection with the Orthodox Church, possibly through his wife, and had not then arrived at the conclusion that infant baptism was wrong or useless, for his son Noah was baptized in 1652 without protest or any evidence of disapproval on his part; but in 1660 when his son John was brought to baptism in the First Church of Dorchester by John Gurnell, he expressed his disapproval while giving his consent. (Printed Records of the First Church of Dorchester, Mass., page 191.)
In 1672 Sampson Mason was allotted twelve acres of land in Swansea and it is probable that upon this lot the house alluded to in his will was to be erected, it being a requirement that lands allotted should be improved or forfeited to the Proprietors in general. There is no evidence however that he removed to Swansea and his burial is recorded in Rehoboth, September 15, 1676. His personal estate was large for his time and conveyances by his sons of property acquired through his bequests show an extensive real estate amounting to many hundreds of acres. During King Philip's War, which broke out shortly before his death, his widow contributed thirteen pounds, five shillings and ten pence, the ninth largest in the list of contributions from Rehoboth. She spent the latter part of her life with her daughter Mary who married Ephraim Wheaton, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Swansea. He resided in Rehoboth and Mary Mason's will is dated in that town and her death is recorded there as having occurred 29 Aug 1714.
Will of Sampson Mason. The 22cond Day of October in the yeer of our Lord according to the English accompt one Thousand six hundred seaventy and two. Know all men by these p'sents that I Sampson Mason of Rehoboth in the Collonie of New Plymouth in New England, Cordwinder, being sicke in body, but through the Grace of my God of Good and p'fect memory doe make and declare my last will and Testament in manor and form following; That is to say first I give and bequeath my whole estate as well Reall as p'sonall to mary my beloved wife; To have and to hold the same and every p'te thereof To the use of her the said Mary during her widdowhood; onely excepting such Gifts and Legacyes as are heerin and heerafter bequeathed;
Item. I give and bequeath unto my eldest son Noah; either my house which is shortly to be built in Swansey, or that house wherin I doe Now dwell, That is to say that house which his Mother my said wife shall order him to take; and an equall proportion with all his brothers in all my lands within the severall Townships of Rehoboth and Swansey; and on the Northsyde of the Towne of Rehoboth; when hee shall attaine to one and twenty yeers of age; To the use of him and his heires and assignes for ever;
Item. I give and bequeath unto my second son Samuell that house which my said wife shall Choose for her owne p'ticulare use; with five and twenty acrees of Land where my said wife and the overseers of this my will heerafter Named shall see convenient; To have and to hold the said house and land from and after my said wifes decease; To him and his heires and assignes for ever;
Item. I give and bequeath unto my other six sonnes an equall right to and proportion of all my lands not alreddy bequeathed within the severall Townships of Rehoboth and Swansey; and on the Northsyde of the Towne of Rehoboth; whether the smae or any p'te therof be devided or undevided; as it is or shall be layed out to the use of mee mine heires or assignes att any time heerafter; To have and to hold To them my said six sonnes; and every of them respectively; when they shall attaine to one and twenty yeers of age; and after the second Marriage of my said wife or her decease; to theire severall and Respective uses of them and to the severall and Respective uses of theire heirs and assignes for ever provided nevertheless that whensoever every of my last mensioned six sons posess and Injoy an equall proportionall of land with my said sonnes Noah and Samuell; That the Remaining lands shallbe att my wifs dispose; and off my said overseers heerafter mensioned;
Item. I doe heerby declare that it is my last will and Testament; That every of my four daughters shall have such a portion of my estate both Reall and p'sonall as my said wife and the said overseers shall see meet and to be payed to every of them according to the order of my said wife and overseers;
Item. I doe heerby Nominate my said deare wife Mary sole execuitrix of this my last will and Testament; and my beloved friends Mr. John Myles, Mr. James Brown and my brother John Butterworth to be overseers therof; desireing that they doe see the same accomplished and p'formed according to the true Intent and meaning thereof; In witness wherof I have heerunto putt my hand and seal the day and yeere first above written.