Family:John Webster and Agnes Smith (1)

Facts and Events
Marriage[1] 7 Nov 1609 Cossington, Leicestershire, England
  1. Extracts from the Parish Register, Cossington, in Skillington, S.H. The Ancestry of Governor John Webster. The American Genealogist. (American Genealogist, Oct 1948), 24:208.

    1609. John Webster and Agnes Smith, m. 7th November

  2.   Webster, William Holcomb, and Melville Reuben Webster. History and Genealogy of the Gov. John Webster Family of Connecticut: With Numerous Portraits and Illustrations. (Rochester, New York: E. R. Andrews Printing Company, 1915), 1-17, Secondary quality.

    Oldest Webster Family. — The progenitor of the oldest, and probably the most numerous family in America, bearing the name of Webster, was John Webster of Warwickshire, England. He came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in a year not certainly known, but, by tradition, imderstood to have been about 1630-33. He removed from Newtowne, now Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the present site of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1636, presumably with the Rev. Thomas Hooker and his historic party.

    Hartford, Connecticut. — Hartford was then known by its Indian name, Suckiaug, meaning "black earth," possibly from the dark rich soil of its fertile meadows and cultivated fields, portions of the country even then being under the rough tillage of the savages.

    The South Side. — John Webster located on the south side of Little Eiver, a small stream flowing into the Connecticut from the west, and which, from the founding of the Colony, has divided the town into two unequal parts, the south side never quite equaling the north in population. In the beginning, it formed the boundary between two "plantations" into which the community was divided, and this dual feature, — with separate meetings, independent books, and recognition in the town votes, — continued even after the legal organization of the town was effected.

    The North Side. — The north side is the older. In the autumn of 1635, "about sixty men, women and little children, went by land toward Connecticut," says Winthrop's Journal, imder date of Oct. 5, 1635, "with their cows, horses and swine, and after a tedious and difficult journey arrived safe there."

    Colonial History. — The Eev. William DeLoss Love, Ph.D., of Hartford, Conn., who is the author and publisher of "The Colonial History of Hartford" (1914), from which we are freely quoting, and hereby acknowledge our indebtedness, identifies the following as a part of that company, and thinks that they were the pioneers who located their house lots on the north side at that time, namely, Elder William Goodwin, John Steele, William Westwood, Thomas Scott, Stephen Hart, William Pantry, John Barnard, William Butler, William Kelsey, Nathaniel Ely, Nicholas Clark, Eichard Webb, Richard Goodman, Edward Elmer, Mathew Marvin, Thomas Stanley, — sixteen.

    He says, "in the judgment of the wise it was necessary for some to go forward to prepare the way, and there was at least a tacit agreement, to which the ministers were a party, that others would follow the next season."

    To the above sixteen he thinks that nine more should be added, inasmuch as their house lots are intermingled with the others, as though they were all selected at one and the same time. Since, however, it is known that some, at least, of the nine, accompanied Hooker in his march the next summer, the author holds that, after selecting their lots in the autumn of 1635, they returned to Newtowne in time to accompany their families in their journey at that time through the wilderness to Suckiaug. The nine were Mathew Allyn, John Stone, Timothy Stanley, Edward Stebbins, James Olmsted, Eobert Day, John Talcott, William Lewis, Clement Chapin. Two lots were reserved, — one each for Rev. Thomas Hooker and Rev. Samuel Stone.

    But "the majority of the settlers who came in 1636, settled south of the river and became the South-Side Plantation." (Ibd.)

    South Side Disputed Territory. — The reason for this is not far to seek. The South Side was disputed territory. The Dutch claimed it.* They held their title from the Pequots, a powerful tribe who were already predatory and menacing, and with which, a year later, the English were to test their prowess. The English held their Indian titles from the Sequins, f the ancient owners, who, however, had recently been conquered by the Pequots and made tributary. Prudence would not permit the premature defiance of these forces, and hence the first lots were chosen on the north side, and the movement to the south side was delayed until the arrival, or the near approach, of Hooker, and the main body of his congregation.

    * The Connecticut River was discovered as early as 1614 by Adrian Block, but for nine years after it is not known that any European visited it. It is claimed that the Dutch took possession of the River in 1623. Be that as It may, Edward Winslow penetrated there in 1632, and "pitched upon a place for a house." (Broadhead, I. 210.) But in 1633, June 8, the Dutch of Manhattan made a treaty with the Indians and immediately built a blockhouse on the south side of the Little River, — a stream which flows into the Connecticut from the west at Suckiaug, now Hartford.

    Earliest South Side Lots. — It is quite certain, however, that in the spring of 1636, after having secured rights through the Warwick patent, J lots were actually located on the south side, those of John White and Samuel Wakeman being the first, including, possibly, that of William Hills. Having these titles, both from the Indians and the English, the settlers gave little heed to the Dutch fort called "House of Hope," and even before the arrival of Thomas Hooker and his band of pilgrims, boldly crossed the Little River and staked out their home lots as above shown. But on the arrival of the larger number under Hooker, in June, 1636, the majority of the new comers, either from policy or choice, or both, located on the south side. Among them were John Webster, William Whiting and Thomas Welles (the last from Saybrook) foremost men of the colony. Only five proprietors in the colony owned a larger share of the common, or undivided lands, than John Webster, and only one, William Whiting, as much. Of the seven largest owners of land held in common, four were located on the south side, namely, George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, John Webster, William Whiting.

    The defect in the title to this land, in the view of the English, was, that it was obtained from the wrong Indians; the Pequots and not the Sequins who were the ancient owners.

    The Suckiaug Indians belonged to the Sequins, a general tribe which Included not only the Suckiaugs, but Matianucks, or Windsor Indians; the Hockinums living on the east side of the Connecticut, where East Hartford now stands, and the Podunks, scattered along the Podunk River (Podunk means "place of fire") lying between what is now South Windsor and East Hartford. The chief sachem of these clans was Sowheag who sold land to the planters of Wethersfleld, and the sachem of the Suckiaugs was Sequassen, the son of Sowheag. Some years prior to 1633 the Pequots had conquered the Sequins to which the above clans belonged. The Dutch purchased of the Pequots; the English of the Sequins, the ancient owners; "and in so doing, they declared their opinion that the subjugation of this tribe by the Pequots did not give to the conquerors the rights of ownership in the river lands." Lord Saye and Sele wrote in 1642 that the Pequots had no just but a usurped title." (Holland Documents, I, 128.)

    It is claimed that Robert, Earl of Warwick, received in 1620, with others, a patent from James I, and in 1631 the Earl transferred the territory of Connecticut, under that patent, to Lord Saye and Sele, Lord Brooke, Sir Richard Soltonstall, and associates, and, questions of government having been compromised late in the winter of 1635-6, between the patentees and the Newtowne people who were about to migrate, there followed the events above shown. It is probable that Rev. Samuel Stone, early in the season, went to Suckiaug and joined Elder Wm. Goodwin, who had arrived the autumn before, and they, acting together for the Colony, secured from Sequassen, sachem of the Suckiaugs, the Indian title from the Sequins. Thus was established the fact afterward asserted by the English that they "purchased the disputed lands before their settlement upon them." (Love's Colonial History of Hartford.)

    Rev. Thomas Hooker's Journey. — The journey of Rev. Thomas Hooker, and the main body of his faithful congregation, from Newtowne to Suckiaug will ever be memorable. Some had preceded them the autumn before ; others early that spring, and probably a few followed later that same season. But the majority started from Newtowne, May 31, 1636, a hundred or more strong,* including women and children. Mrs. Hooker, the pastor's wife, being too ill to walk, was carried on a horse litter. One hundred and sixty head of cattle were a part of the expedition, and furnished milk for the party. Thus encumbered, progress must have been very slow, and the journey required probably not less than ten days, and possibly more.

    Hooker's Route. — The route by which they reached Suckiaug has recently been established with probable accuracy. This was done in part by an exhaustive study of land records from Cambridge to Hartford, and noting the references to an ancient Indian trail which was no doubt the line of their march.

    The course thus shown was from Cambridge to Watertown, Weston, Wayland, Framingham, passing north of Cochituate Pond; through the borders of South Framingham, Ashland, Hopkinton, Westborough, Grafton; thence through Millbury, north of Singleton Pond to Oxford, turning westward at the Centre, and going through Charlton, whose ancient name was "Quabaug Path." It is suggested that they spent their first sabbath at Sturbridge, on the western slope of Fisk Hill, where tradition locates a camping place. Going down the slope westward, and crossing the brook, they passed the foot of Cemetery Hill, and "Old Tantiusque Fordway," up the valley through Fiskdale. The path went north of Little Alum Pond to "Little Rest," and north of Sherman Pond and north of Steerage Rock, descending the slope to the Connecticut Valley at Agawam, now Springfield, Massachusetts.

    * Dr. Love includes the following thirty-five proprietors in the Hooker party, which duplicates the names of some given elsewhere, who, after selecting their house lots in Suckiaug. returned to Newtowne in time to accompany their families. The list of thirty-five proprietors follows: Mr. Thomas Hooker, Mr. Mathew Allyn, John Talcott, James Olmsted, William Wadsworth, William Lewis, Timothy Stanley, Edward Stebbins, John Pratt, William Ruscoe, James Ensign, John Hopkins, George Steele, Stephen Post, Thomas Judd, Thomas Lord, Sen., John Stone, Richard Lord, John Maynard, Jeremy Adams, Samuel Greenhill, Robert Day, Nathaniel Richards, Joseph Mygatt, Richard Butler, John Arnold, Thomas Bull, George Stocking, Seth Grant, Richard Olmsted, Joseph Easton, Clement Chaplin, Thomas Lord, Jr., John Olmsted. Samuel Whitehead. The names of John Webster, William Whiting, and Thomas Welles, are not included by Dr. Love in the above list, although he thinks they became settlers in 1636. It is to be observed, however, that the evidence, of lack of it, which fails to place the name of John Webster in the list is eqully incapable of placing him elsewhere. Until such evidence appears is it not better to accept tentatively the more natural assumption that he accompanied the Hooker party ?

    From Agawam they moved southward on the east bank of the Connecticut River, tlirough "Longmeadow Gate," so called, because the shoulder of the hill and the river narrow the space at that point to something like a gateway; thence in a general line (still marked by highways), to what afterward was known as the "John Bissell ferry" at Windsor, where they crossed the river and completed their journey to Suckiaug on the west bank.

    Governor Street. — Whether John Webster and his family came in that group, or later in 1636, he located, as already shown, on the south side of the Little River, on what afterward was and still is known as Governor Street, not far from what became the famous Charter 'Oak.* Governor Street was so named because of the number of men living in that vicinity who became governors, — Edward Hopkins, George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, John Webster, and as late as 1850, Thomas H. Seymour. The street extends from Little River, southward, crossing Sheldon Street at the head, and Charter Oak Avenue about midway of its total length. The street ends (1914) at Wyllys Street. On the east side of the street, about half way between Charter Oak Avenue and Wyllys Street, was the home lot of Gov. John Webster. (See pictures. )

    Webster Houses. — In an interesting volume issued in 1900 by Isham and Brown of Providence, R. I., from the press of the Preston and Pounds Co. of Providence, entitled, "Early Connecticut Houses," Dr. Henry Barnard of Hartford, writes an important chapter in Appendix II, entitled, "The Webster Houses." His first effort is to correct the error that the houses on the estate of Lieut. Robert Webster, located on Retreat Avenue, and Washington Street were identical with the home of Gov. John Webster, father of Lieut. Robert Webster. Dr. Barnard says : "On this portion (Retreat Ave.) stand three houses, in none of which did his father, Gov. John Webster, ever live. Gov. Webster's home lot was on the same plot with Gov. AVyllys' (directly east of my residence) on the street now known as Governor Street, and the house, which I recollect as far back as 1817, when, I clambered over the fence to play with the Hillsdale boys, was always known as 'the Webster house.' "

    Albert William Webster of New Haven, Conn., a descendant of Gov. Webster, issued in 1900, a twenty page pamphlet entitled, "One Branch of the Webster Family." In it, he explains that the Governor's home lot of two acres lay on the east side of Governor Street, and that the house in which the Governor lived was located on, or near the spot where the barn of Peter D. Stillman, Esq., now (1900) stands.

    * A monument has been erected to mark the location of the Oak, upon which is this inscription : "Near this spot stood the Charter Oak, memorable in the History of the Colony of Connecticut as the hiding place of the Charter, October 31, 1687. The tree fell, August 21, 1856." The tree itself has been perpetuated by registered propagation.

    Webster an Original Proprietor. — Thus it is seen how Gov. Webster became one of the original proprietors of Hartford, and one of the founders of the Colony of Connecticut. It is a matter of regret that larger research into his earlier history could not have been prosecuted. The untimely death of William Holcomb Webster, the pioneer author of this work, however, cut off that possibility. What follows is taken from his early notes and must be accepted not as historic proof, but an index-finger pointing the way.

    English Ancestry. — From an ancient chart in the possession of descendants of Noah Webster, LL.D., the following is set forth as the possible line of Gov. John Webster. "The Websters were settled in Yorkshire at a very early period. They were, according to Burke and Playfair, of Scottish descent, and held the manor of Lockington, Yorkshire, in the time of Richard II (1389-1399). The apparent founder of the family was John Webster of Bolsover, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, who, in the 12th of Henry VI (1434), was returned into Chancery among the gentlemen of that County who made oath, in behalf of themselves and their retainers, for the observance of the king's laws. From him descended John Webster, who, upon the dissolution of the monasteries, received from Henry VIII, large grants in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Huntingdonshire (1509-1547). From him descended, in the third generation, John Webster who came to Watertown, near Boston, New England, from Warwickshire, England, about 1636."

    The line thus established would be: 1330, Webster of Lockington. Esquire, time of Edward III. 1434, John Webster of Bolsover, Esquire, twelfth of Henry VI. John Webster in the time of Henry VIII, 1509-1547. John Webster, b. 1590, Fifth Governor of the Colony of Connecticut.

    Other Early Webster Lines. — Among the papers of the late Charles R. Webster of Albany, N. Y., the veteran Publisher, were found the following excerpts, giving data on certain early English Websters which may be of value in further investigation of the subject, namely :

    "Extracts in the Autograph of Arthur Collins, from the Will of John Webster, Clerk, dated Aug. 21, 1494. Orders his body to be buried in the Parish church of Moreton, and that John Masson, Priest, say there Placebo and Diridge for the soul, of him, the said John Webster, William Webster his father, and Agnes Webster, his mother. Probate dated Oct. 14, 1494."

    "Will of Hugh Webster of Chesterton, but who Avrites himself of Cambridge, dated Oct. 13, 1503. Directs his body to be buried in St. Peter's at Cambridge, and six pounds for the supplying the effigies of his family in the painted glass windows of that church; bequeathes other sums for obits and other rememberances of the dead, to the Convent's of Gray Friars, Black Friars, and Austin Friars, in Cambridge. Mentions Jane, his wife; Thomas, his son and heir; Hugh, his son, and Catharine, his daughter, with Richard and Thomas, sons of Thomas, his son; appoints the said Thomas, Executor, with John Webster, and makes his own brother, William Webster, supervisor. Probate dated, Feb. 17, 1503."

    "Will of John Webster of S. Margarets, Southwark, dated last of February, 1503. Orders his body to be buried in the church of S. Margaret in Southwark, a hental of Masses to be sung on the day of his burial; bequeaths his lands in Barwey, in the Parish of Laham and Stretcham, County of Cambridge, to Agnes, his wife, during her life, and then to Robert, his son, forever; constitutes Agnes, his wife, and her father, Hugli Reubyn, of the town of Cambridge, Executors. Probate dated, April 24, 1504."

    "Will of George Webster of East Greenwich, in Kent, master cook to Queen Elizabeth; dated July 13, 1574. Probate dated Oct. 4, same year. Transcript in the autograph of Arthur Collins, Compiler of the Peerage, etc., ex registro, entitled Martyn (or Martyr) No. 16, qu. 37.

    "Will of William Webster of the Ford End, within the Parish of Eaton, County of Bedfordshire, dated Apr. 5, 1587. Ex regist vocat, Spo"cer, que 39, in cor Prace. Cant. Directs his funeral near his late wife, Anchoret, etc. Probate dated June 30 (or 20), 1587." (Other extracts follow, but of dates subsequent to John Webster's departure for America.)

    The Name Webster. — The surname Webster, meaning a female weaver, of unmistakable ancient English origin, was a trade name. It is not, therefore, any more than Smith, a proof of relationship among the first families bearing it. "With the Anglo-Saxons the termination er in trades and employments, was masculine; while that of ster was feminine. Of the former we have an example in Webber; of the latter we have example in Webster." (Anderson's Genealogy and Surnames, p. 58.) Spinner is masculine; spinster, feminine.

    Coat of Arms. — The authorities quoted in the Noah Webster manuscripts show that the Websters, Whitings, Steeles, Coffins, etc., are entitled by descent to wear coat of armor. Of this it is said, "The arras reproduced is argent, a fesse gules between three cross-crosslets-fitsschu azure. Crest, the sun rising out of the sea proper. Motto, "Emergo," — "I come up." The sun is an heraldic emblem of glory and splendor, and of absolute authority. "Fides et justitia" ("Faith and Justice,") is another family motto, and the lion, dragon, leopard and swan are emblems used in different branches.

    Webster of Penns, County of Warwick, England, Lineage : This family claims its descent from the Websters to whom arms were confirmed by St. George in the visitation of Yorkshire, 1612.

    Thomas Webster of London whose son John m. Sarah, dau. of Joseph Webster of Penns, Co. Warwick, and left, with several daughters, two sons: Thomas who m. Miss Grace Ascough and left two daughters, etc., and John Ernest W^ebster, a Captain in the Bengal army who d. unra. (On the reverse side of this note was written, William Swift, Windham, Ct.) Seat, Penns near Sutton, Coldfield.

    Gov. Webster's Position. — That John Webster was a man of influence and standing in the Hartford colony is obvious. When the colony was settled at Hartford, a Board of Commissioners from Massachusetts governed the new towns, but a meeting of all the freemen of Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield, held Jan. 14, 1639, adopted a written constitution, — "the first written constitution known to history, that created a government." (Fisk, "Beginnings of N"ew England," p. 127.) From that time to 1659 he was chosen to office; from 1639 to 1655, as magistrate, or judge; 1655, deputy governor; 1656, governor; and the three following years, first magistrate, or chief judge. Hinman in his "First Puritan Settlers of Connecticut," says that John Webster's first appearance as an officer of the Court was in April 1637, when he was a member of a committee who for the first time sat with the court of Magistrates for the purpose of declaring war against the Pequot Indians. That same year he was elected to the general court, and also elected as one of the deputy commissioners in 1638. Then followed his election to the court of magistrates at the first general court holden by Gov. Haynes in April 1639 as aforesaid.

    His sessions of court held are summarized as follows : 1639, four sessions of the general court; 1640, three; 1641, four; 1642, three; 1643, five; 1644, five; 1645, five; and of the particular court, 1639, five; 1640, four; 1641, two; 1642, two; 1643, six; 1644, five; 1645, six; 1646, four.

    In 1640 he was appointed with Mr. Ludlow and Gov. Welles to consult with friends in New Haven respecting Indian murders which had been committed, to learn of them whether they would approve a decree of war. With William Phelps he was appointed to form law against lying, and to hold consultation with elders on the subject. He was also a member of a committee with William Phelps who formed a noted criminal code of laws for the colony; reported and approved by the General Court in 1642, several of which remain on the statute book unto this day, with little alteration except in punishment. In 1654 he was appointed a member of the Congress of the united Colonies with Maj. Gen. Mason. He was the first of his name in this country who gave high character for talent in the name of Webster.

    Gov. Webster's Public Services. — Benjamin Trumbull gives the following summary of his public services: "For twenty years Mr. John Webster had been annually chosen into the magistracy of Connecticut, being elected Governor in 1656. At the election in Hartford, May 17th, 1655, Thomas Welles was elected Governor and John Webster Deputy Governor. At the election in 1656 Johu Webster was elected Governor and Thomas Welles Deputy Governor,

    At the election in 1657 John Winthrop was elected Governor, Thomas Welles Deputy Governor, and John Webster Chief Magistrate. This alternating was not a freak of voting, but arose from the law which permitted a governor to hold his office (until after 1660) only one out of two years.

    Out of the one hundred and fifty-three original settlers of Hartford, only ten gentlemen besides himself were honored with the imposing prefix Mr. The ordinary title was Goodman or Goodwife, sometimes Goodwoman, and often Goody, or Neighbor. Only men of means and rank in the Colony who had come from England were looked up to with awe and without familiarity, such as clergymen, magistrates, doctors, schoolmasters, and those freemen who had received a second degree at college; eminent merchants, military captains, captains of vessels, and sometimes the mates, were addressed as Mr. and their wives as Mrs.

    One has well said of him : "Prior to his election as Governor he was frequently directed by the General Court to decide controversies about boundaries, or arbitrating on lands, distributing estates, auditing the accounts of the treasure and answering petitions. In 1639 he was one of a committee appointed to confer with ISTew Haven in relation to the murderous attacks from the Indians at Middletown, and he bore the banner of war against the haughty and insulting Sowheag, when our sister of Quinnipiac (New Haven) turned her face from it, and her milder counsel prevailed. Ten years later, 1649, the New England Congress employed him "to set forth on the towns" soldiers and ammunition for an expedition against the Indians. At other times he was chosen "to press men and ammunition" or appointed one of the officers with whom the constables of each town were to take advise in the pressing of men." In 1654 he with others was appointed by the General Court to examine and arrange "all particular and several charges of the late war (with the Narragansetts) and for the support of Uncas," of which charges they directed that they should cause the constables of Hartford to bring in a full account. When it was determined to provide a frigate of ten or twelve guns to defend the coast of Long Island, against the Dutch and Ninigrate, Mr. Webster was one of the Committee "to treat with the owners of the frigate, and agree with them for the use of the same." Likewise in the matter of the agreement with Mr. Fenwick and the impost duty at the mouth of the river, he was frequently called to act, and also to license the exportation of provisions in times of scarcity. He made Journeys as magistrate to the seaside and elsewhere to administer justice. He was emp^oved in drawing up correspondence with friends of the Colony in England. He surveyed the highway from Hartford to Windsor, and overlooked its "amendment." He was one of the Committee which purchased and disposed of Simsbury. Abstracts for grievances to be presented to the New England Congress for its deliberation were at times drawn up by him. The New England Congress of 1654 had before it a new expedition against Ninigrate; the difficulties of New Haven with Delaware Bay ; plans for "the better passage of the gospel among the Indians ; " for the education of some of the Indians at Cambridge College, including the extension and repair of the buildings of the institution, and he with his fellow-members dealt with these early problems of the infant state. To the several letters and sets of instructions growing out of these deliberations, the name of John Webster is in every instance signed, as also to the Swedish Governor of Delaware Bay, which was written in Latin.

    The Office of Governor. — It is of interest to know that the office of Governor which John Webster reached had some pecularities not existent now. He had not only to be a freeman, but must have been previously a magistrate, and always a member of some "appointed congregation." His election by ballot was by the greatest number of votes, cast by all who had been admitted freemen and had taken the oath of fidelity, and who "did cohabit with this jurisdiction," the vote being taken the second Thursday in April each year. The convention for this purpose was held in Hartford. The General Court was in session at the same time to choose one or more persons to tell the voters who were sworn "to be faithful therein." Immediately upon his election the Governor-elect appeared before the General Assembly and took the oath of office "by the great and dreadful name of the everliving God to promote the public good and peace of this jurisdiction according to the best of my skill, and will also maintain all lawful privileges of this Commonwealth, and also that all wholesome laws that are or shall be made by lawful authority here established, be duly executed according to the rule of God's word, so help me God : In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."

    Duties of Governor. — His duties were manifold. Through the constables of each town, by himself or his secretary, he called the two General Assemblies. Special meetings might be called upon the advice and with the special consent of a majority of the magistrates, "within fourteen days warning," or shorter notice if necessary, the reasons to be stated in his warrant. When in session the Governor presided over the General Assembly, all the branches sitting in one body. He had power to order the court to give liberty of speech, and to silence unreasonable and disorderly speakings. He put the motions and in case the vote was equal he cast the deciding vote. The Governor was also a magistrate and held, with his colleagues, Particular Courts over which he presided, now in one place and then at another. He managed the chief correspondence of the Colony, served as one of the Commissioners of the United Colonies, acted on important committees and acted as principal adviser in all emergencies. For this Gov. Webster received the munificent sum of 30 pounds a year, this salary having been established in 1647, prior to which time there was no pecuniary compensation, and this was the first office to receive compensation in the Colony.

    His Church Relationships. — The First Church of Hartford justly stands in the forefront as one of the historic churches of New England. Founded by the learned and beloved Rev. Thomas Hooker who led in person the church through the wilderness from Cambridge to Hartford, he left the stamp and impress of his great personality and teachings upon them when, in 1647, eleven years after their arrival, he passed away. With the most judicious management such a crisis would not be easily passed, but when Rev. Samuel Stone the assistant assumed the pastorate with some innovations, some deviation in doctrines, and a new bent in ecclesiastical preceedure, it is not surprising that others were quick to resent it, and the little fire of controversy rose to a great conflagration. Out of the imperfect records of the time it is difficult to determine the exact cause or causes of the controversy. It probably involved some questions of church order. Mr. Stone stood for "a speaking aristocracy in the face of a silent democracy." *

    A minister had spent some time in Hartford, and preached on several occasions. It was deemed by many to be wise and courteous to put to vote the question of his call to the pastorate. This Mr. Stone would not allow, and this he acknowledges in a paper drawn up in 1657, and conceeds that the brethren had the right or liberty to have done what he did not permit, and "that he ought to have left the church to their liberty in voting." William Goodwin was the Ruling Elder, the Moderator at church meetings which it was his duty to call and dismiss ; to prepare business for action of the church, superintend the conduct of members, and preach in the absence of the pastor or teacher. (2d Church, p. 17.) In these duties or many of them he was probably thwarted by Mr. Stone the acting pastor, and both being determined men the "conflict between opposite principles of ecclesiastical order," as Dr. Leonard Bacon described it, waxed hot. To this was added a growing demand for an enlargement of baptismal privileges. As taught by Hooker, and original Congregationalism in N". E. only children of members in full communion were proper subjects of baptism, but Mr. Stone espoused the idea of extending the privilege to those outside the

    * Those desiring a fuller treatment of this subject will find it in "History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford," by Edwin Pond Parker, published 1892, by Belknap and Warfield, Hartford, Connecticut. Also "History of the First Church in Hartford," by its pastor, published in May, 1884, from the press of The Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, Hartford, Connecticut, from both of which we have freely quoted and hereby acknowledge our indebtedness.

    communion, and also to extend the voting privilege to non-communicants. (2d Church, p. 20, p. 33, p. 34.) These views leading to sharp attrition, a ukase was agreed upon and a council was convened in Hartford in June, 1656. The petition for the council was signed by George Steele, Ozias Goodwin, Will Partrigg, Jjohn Marsh, Isaac Graves, Benjamin Harbert, William Leawis, Thomas Bunc, ^jjhn_Webster, John Cullick, Nathaniel Ward, Andrew Bacon, Andrew Warner, John White, John Crow, Thoinas Stand ley, John Barnard, Gregory Woolterton, John Arnold, Zaehary Fild, Eichard Church. The Council was composed of ministers from the Connecticut churches, with one or two from the New Haven Colony. (2d Church, p. 26, pp. 23, 24, 25.) They decided that mutual satisfaction should be given on both sides, each to the other, that in case further differences arose and the dissenting brethren should desire dismission the church should grant it. "A substantial vindication of the minority as against the arbitrary procedures of Mr. Stone and the church." (2d Church, p. 26.) But Mr. Stone and the church refused to be bound by the findings of the council and matters grew worse. All New England soon became involved. Mr. Stone visited Boston and promoted a movement for a new Council. The General Court of Connecticut favored it. Gov. Webster, Cap. Cullick and Mr. Steele opposed it, pointing to the previous Council which Mr. Stone had disregarded, and objecting to legislative interference in the case. In a letter to j\Ir. Stone and the church they declined the suggestion of a new Council, (p. 29.) The following year, 1657, in April and a few days in May the council was held in Hartford with no result. The minority participated in the proceedings, holding however that all were bound by the first council. The pacification did not last and the minority demanded their dismission which was not granted and they formally withdrew, seeking admission to the church at Wethersfield, and sending to other churches their reasons for separation and this letter was read in some of the churches. For reading this and another paper the pastors were haled into court, among them Eoger Newton of Farmington, and his wife, a daughter of the lamented Thomas Hooker, "to answer for the crime of publicly reading the communication addressed to the churches by the withdrawers who could get no other hearing." (p. 37.) The subscribers themselves went before the Governor and his Deputy and declared that Mr. Stone would allow them no hearing in the church, and the Court would not permit them to make proof on oath of the particulars allged by them. The General Court ordered many things, granting in the month of May, 1658, permission for the withdrawers to settle up the river near Hadley, on condition that they should submit to an orderly hearing of the differences between themselves and their brethren. They accepted, the church declined, and the court, acting for the church selected referees. It came to nought however by fault of the church. In March, 1659, the court renewed its effort, but the churches refused to attend this "court-created council." Renewed again, June 15, 1G59, the withdrawing party was required to submit, and the church agreed to. The withdrawers said, "of our free choice we are not at all interested in the council now chosen." A month earlier they had signed an agreement to remove to Massachusetts (p. 40.). The council met in Boston, Sep. 26, 1659, reviewed the case, distributed its mild censures and counselled that those disposed to go elsewhere be given dismission. They found too much evidence of Mr. Stone's rigid handling of adverse brethren, particularly specifying Honored Mr. Webster and Brother Bacon. (1st Ch. p. 173.) ' "The weight of right and justice," says the historian of the First church, "was with the defeated and emigrating minority." "Their ideas and principles finally triumphed, not only in a separate organization, but in the mother-church as well, and in the Congregational churches of the country. For it is the Congregationalism of Thomas Hooker, and not of Samuel Stone, that flourishes in our own age." (2d Church, p. 42.)

    In this lamentable controversy Mr. Webster took an honorable and dignified part, revealing in the papers extant always the spirit of the gentleman and christian that he was.

    The Hadley History. — The agreement to remove to Hadley is dated at Hartford, April 18, 1659, and signed by fifty-nine persons belonging to Hartford and Wethersfield, including one or two from Windsor. In the Hadley records John Webster's name appears first on the list of settlers from Hartford. On a map showing the list and arrangement of the original lots in Hadley, and the names of their owners, we note the following which are also in the list of First Church, Hartford, of those who removed to Hadley: Francis Barnard, Richard Church, Andrew Warner, .Tph p Mf ^rsh, .Tnhn W pK^ter, William Goodman, John Crow, Samuel Moody, Nathaniel Ward, William Markham, William Partrigg, John Barnard, Andrew Bacon, Timothy Stanley, Nathaniel Stanley (returned to Hartford), John White, William Lewis, Richard Goodman, William Westwood. Of those who went to Hadley, the names of Samuel Church, Zachariah Field and Daniel Warner do not appear on the map; also William Hill. The following signed the agreement to go but either did not, or soon returned : George Wilerton, John Arnold, Ozias Goodwin, James Ensign, Robert Webster, George Steele, William Lewis, Jr., Benjamin Harbert, John Catling. The following upon the map came from other places than Hartford : Samuel Gardner, Chileab Smith, Joseph Baldwin, Robert Boltwood, John Hawks, Edward Church, Henry Clark, Stephen Terry, Joseph Kellogg, Thomas Coleman, Samuel Smith, Philip Smith, Richard Montague, John Dickinson, Samuel Porter, Thomas Wells, John Hubbard, John Russell, Jr., Peter Tilton, T. Dickinson, IST. Dickinson, J. Russell, Sr., J. Kellogg.

    The tract of land which they purchased was upon the Connecticut River, on the east, covering what is now included in the present towns of Hadley, Amherst, South Hadley and Granby, and on the west side, Hatfield and a part of Williamsburg. Soon after signing the agreement to remove to Hadley, dated April 18, 1659, the signers, or some part of them entered upon the work of preparing for settlement there. John Webster accompanied or preceded them that he might assist or superintend the laying out of the roads and other business, and made his temporary home in Northampton where he was taken sick and made his Will, dated June 25, 1659. It was witnessed by John Russell, Jr., the minister at Hadley, and Eleazer Mather, the minister at Northampton. Mr. Webster recovered however and lived nearly two years, dying in Hadley, April 5j_166i, and was buried there according to the instructions in his Will. Honor and labor followed him to his new field for he was soon made a judge, or commissioner as it was then called, John Pynchon and Samuel Chapin being his associates. The Court was held alternately at Northampton and Springfield. Sep. 25, 1660, a court was held in Springfield, and there were present for holding it, Mr. John Webster, Cap't John Pynchon, Mr. Samuel Holyoke, and Elizur Holyoke, Recorder. The jurors were Thomas Cooper, Henry Burt, Thomas Merick, William Warrener, M^illiam Branch, Mr. Jeans, Mr. Williams, John Dembleton, Robert Bartlett, Lawrence Bliss, Alexander Edwards and Benjamin Parsons.

    In Massachusetts Records, Vol. IV, Part I, is the following : "At a General Court of Election held at Boston, May 30, 1660, it was declared : Mr. John Webster, Senior, of the new towne of Norwottock, is by this court commissioned with magistratticall power for the year ensuing, to act in all civill and criminall cases, as any other magistrate may doe, and that he joyne with the Commissioners in keeping the court at Springfield."

    March 26, 1661, at the New Towne at Norwotuck, the following were made freemen and took the oath before Mr. Pynchon and Mr. Holyoke, who was recorder : Mr. John Webster, Mr. John Russell, Nathanooll Ward, William Markham, Thomas Dickerson, Andrew Bacon, Thomas Wells, John Hubard, Nathaneell Dickenson, Philip Smith, Thomas Coleman, Robert Boltwood, Samuel Gardner, Peter Tilton.

    The Death of Governor Webster. — The end was now near at hand. In eleven days, namely, April 5, 1661, under circumstances without record now extant, the Puritan and Pilgrim of two hemispheres, the faithful judge, the Deputy Governor and Governor of an incipient American State, the public spirited citizen and public servant, in old age an exile for conscience sake from the infant city which he helped to found, in a new home, but surrounded by neighbors who had suffered with him, he closed his labors, and sleeps with the pioneers who with him blazed the path of empire in the New World. His most eminent descendant, Noah Webster, LL.D., one of the chief lexicographers of the English language, erected in the Old Hadley Cemetery, in 1818, a modest slab* upon or near the spot where Gov. Webster was buried, bearing the following inscription :

    To the memory of John Webster, Esq. one of the first settlers of Hartford in Connecticut, who was many years a Magistrate or Assistant, and afterwards Deputy Gov. and Governor of that Colony, and in 1659 with three sons, Robert, William and Thomas, associated with others in the purchase and settlement of Hadley where he died in 1661, this monument is erected in 1818 by his descendant, Noah Webster of Amherst.

    Gov, Webster's Will. — In the Northampton, Mass., Probate Records, pages 20 and 21 is recorded the following instrument, attested as a true copy of the last Will and Testament of Mr. John Webster, late of Hadley, deceased.

    "I John Webster late of Hartford in the jurisdiction of Connecticut being weak of body yett sound of mind and having my perfect understanding doe ordayne this to be my last will and testament in manner following —

    "Imprimis. I comitt my soule into the hands of the Almighty and most mercifull hoping to be saved by the alone meritts of the Lord Jesus Christ being washed w'th his blood and clothed with his righteousness and sanctifyed by the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    "My body also I bequeath to ye earth to be interred with comely bureall (if at this time I be taken out of this world) in some part of the New Plantation on ye east side of the river agt Northampton. Moreover my worldly goods wch the Lord hath blessed me with and left me as a father's portion, I bestow as followeth.

    "To my Deare and beloved wife Agnes Webster I give one bed and comely furniture for ye same. As also my house and lands in Hartford all the profitts of the same during her natural life. And upon her decease all shall come into the hands and be at ye disposal of my executor.

    "Item, to my son Matthew Webster I give the summ of ten pounds.

    "Item, to my son William Webster I give the summ of seventy pounds.

    "Item, to my son Thomas Webster I give ye summ of fifty pounds.

    "Item, to my daughter Marsh I give ye summ of twenty pounds.

    "Item, to my daughter Markham I give ye summ of forty pounds.

    "To my grandchild Jonathan Hunt I give the summ of forty shillings.

    "To my grandchild Mary Hunt I give ye summ of ten pounds.

    "To all my grandchildren else in N. England I give ten shillings apiece.

    "To Mary the wife of William Holton of Northampton in part of recompence for her great love and paynes for me I give forty shillings.

    "To my son Robert Webster I give all the remainder of my estate of one kind and another, whom also I doe appoynt and ordayn to be my sole and full executor of this my last will and testament.

    "My will further is that the foresaid legacys should be paid within fifteen m.onths after niv decease soe farr as my personall estate (that is all my estate besides houses and lands) will reach and the rest within eighteen months after my wives decease.

    "Which of the legacys shall be paid first or how much of them I leave to the discretion and faithfulness of my son Robert desiring yt if there appeare any difference he would in it take and act by the advise of my loving friends Nathaneell Ward and Andrew Bacon who have beene acquainted with much of my mind herein. Only my just debts I would have first paid before ye legacys as also my funerall expences.

    "My lot at the New Plantation with ye accomodations thereunto belonging and I give to my sons William and Thomas upon condition of their inhabiting there as I myself was ingaged to doe wch is also my desire they should —

    "And soe doeing to have it equally divided between them.

    "In witness hereof I have sett to my hand this present 25 of June 1659.

    John Webster.

    In ye presence of
    John Russell,
    Eleazar Mather.

    Gov. John Webster's widow, Mrs. Agnes Webster, died six years later, probably in Hartford, in the year 1667.

    Gov. Webster's Family. — Savage says of John Webster who came from Cambridge to Hartford in 1636, "he brought from England his wife Agnes and children Matthew, Eobert, Ann, Elizabeth and Mary. Perhaps also Thomas and William, though one or both of the latter may have been born on this side of the ocean. All of these lived to marry, and all left issue except William and Elizabeth."

    No date of birth for any of the children of Gov. John and Agnes Webster has, so far as we can learn, been discovered. There exist some conjectures, and so, until something authentic appears, it will be well to await with patience the result of further research.

    Children : (Born in England except last two who, according to Savage, may have been born this side of the ocean.) Matthew; William, Eobert, Thomas, Anne, Elizabeth, Mary.