We think of William Bassett as a Pilgrim, a blacksmith, and the owner of a many more books than usual for his time and place. But in 1621 he showed that he was also a risk-taker, when he embarked on a long sea voyage to a tiny colony in a strange land with a minimum of preparation. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony describes ship Fortune’s arrival in his history Of Plimoth Plantation:
This was no mere inconvenience. Half of the first 100 colonists had died the previous winter. The ship left in early December, and Bradford and his assistant
William survived the winter. By 1623 he was married and by 1627 he and his wife Elizabeth had two children. Nobody knows who she was or exactly when they married; they might even have come over together on the Fortune.
They settled down and made good. Eleven years after he arrived, only four people in Plymouth paid more taxes than he did. He served on an inquest jury and hired an indentured servant for six years. (But I’ve never seen him called “Mr.” in the records. Although he rubbed elbows with Plymouth Colony’s elite he was never one of them.)
In 1630 the much more numerous, and somewhat less radical, Puritans settled not far to the north. (Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritans considered themselves part of the Church of England, and took care not to seem too radical or separatist, for fear that the English authorities would crush them.) This large neighboring population created a market for corn and cattle, and in 1637 William was among the men who moved to a new settlement in Duxbury (”Ducksburrow”), about 5 miles across the bay from Plymouth, in order to make the most of the opportunity. Prominent settlers included John Alden, Myles Standish, Jonathan Brewster, and Thomas Prence.
The move made commercial sense but it split the colony. The Pilgrim Fathers had wanted to maintain a compact settlement in which the settlers could worship together, keep an eye on one another’s good behavior, and efficiently defend themselves against any Indian attack. Bradford lamented,
Sprawl won out in 1637 as it has almost ever since. William himself granted some land to Ralph Partridge, the new minister in Duxbury. In May 1638, the colony’s legislature ordered that
William served in the colonial legislature — known in those days as the General Court — several times in the 1640s as one of Duxbury’s representatives along with Standish and Alden. He served several years as Duxbury’s constable, a responsible and sometimes onerous position. As blacksmith, he was responsible for mending guns, and in the spring of 1649 was fined five shillings for not getting them mended “in seasonable time.”
Even in his fifties he wasn’t done pioneering. In 1655 he left Duxbury to become one of the first settlers of Bridgewater, the first inland Plymouth Colony settlement. At some point after 1634 his wife Elizabeth died and he eventually married second the widow Mary Tilden Lapham.
Over time he accumulated one of the largest libraries in the colony. After his death his books were valued at almost 10 pounds, a significant fraction of his estate. In his estate inventory they’re listed as follows:
We may wonder whether William’s children ever reminded him of his younger adventurous self.
Death caught William unawares; he wrote no will but Plymouth court testimony records the deathbed scene. On April 3, 1667, he found himself so weak and sick that he told Mary: “Wife, I must leave thee but I shall leave thee with the Lord; if God had lengthened out my life it might have been that thou mightest have been more comfortably provided for.”
His friends asked him about his estate, “whether his mind was as formerly; That hee would give his moveable goods with his Chattles to his wife.” He “answared yea it was his mind; and that shee should have the house and ground till shee Died; if she Married not; and then hee would give it to his son Williams son; and his tools to his son Joseph.”
What about his books, someone asked, “which hee formerly took care about”? “Answared hee Could not now Doe it.”
born not long before 1600, in England?
married (1) Elizabeth _____ before 1623,
married (2) Mary Tilden Lapham no later than 1664
died early April 1667 in Bridgewater, Plymouth Colony
The surname Bassett is French, meaning of small stature or low position. It was brought to England in Norman times. Family tradition holds that one of the bringers was sword-bearer to William the Conqueror; a Ralph Bassett is listed in the Domesday Book (1086), and many more held prominent positions in early England. But any evidence as to which, if any, of these people William was descended from has long since crumbled into dust.
Other pages and family trees on this fellow:
--Hh219 19:32, 21 May 2007 (MDT)
Amelia.Gerlicher 14:07, 21 October 2007 (EDT)