Freeborn #11254

English St George flag animationWilliam Freeborn (1594-1670)

Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in 1634 and later settled in Rhode Island.

English St George flag animationMary Wilson (1601-1670)

Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in 1634 and later settled in Rhode Island.

Freeborn 11254

The English ancestry of William Freeborn is not proven.  However, the most likely case, according to many sources, is that he originated in the town of Maldon, Essex, England, where he was born in 1594.  He was married to Mary Wilson in the nearby St. Mary’s Church, Mundon on 25 Jul 1625.

William and Mary sailed to New England from Ipswich, Suffolk, England on 30 Apr 1634, with their two daughters Mary and Sarah, and the teenager  (age 14) John “Aldburgh” (John Albro), whose presence in the travelling party is unexplained.  They made the voyage aboard the ship Francis, and upon their arrival first settled at Roxbury, Massachusetts, where William was admitted to the church that year, and where he became a freeman in early September 1634.

The Portsmouth Compact

The Portsmouth Compact

By 1637 William Freeborn and his family were at Boston.  At that time, there arose a major theological rift in the colony, known as the “Antinomian Controversy”.  During this period, William apparently became attracted to the preaching of the dissident minister John Wheelwright[1] and Anne Hutchinson[2].  Many followers of Wheelwright and Hutchinson were ordered out of the Massachusetts colony, but before leaving, a group of them, including William Freeborn, signed what is sometimes called the “Portsmouth Compact” on 7 Mar 1638, which established the settlement of Portsmouth, which is now a town in the state of Rhode Island[3].  It was the first document in history that severed both political and religious ties with mother England.  The document was written and signed in Boston by a group of men who followed Anne Hutchinson, a banished Christian dissident from Massachusetts, to seek religious freedom in Rhode Island.  The signers were ready to move to Aquidneck Island to set up a new colony and had been disarmed by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The purpose of the Portsmouth Compact was to set up a new, independent colony that was Christian in character but non-sectarian in governance.  It has been called “the first instrument for governing as a true democracy.”  The text of the Compact reads as follows:

The 7th Day of the First Month, 1638.

We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby.

(In the margin are the following Bible citations: Exodus 24:3-4; Second Chronicles 11:3 and Second Kings 11:17).

Welcome to Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Welcome to Portsmouth, Rhode Island

William Freeborn arrived in Portsmouth by 13 May 1638 when he was present at a general meeting there.  The following year he was granted a lot on the condition that he build on the lot within a year.  In 1641 William was made a freeman of Portsmouth, and the following year he was made Constable of the towns of Portsmouth and Newport.  From 1641-55, he held a number of town offices, including member of the town council, overseer and collector for the poor and member of the petit jury.  In 1655 he appeared on a list of freemen for Portsmouth, and in 1657 he was a Deputy for Portsmouth to the Rhode Island General Court.

In Rhode Island, William Freeborn became a Quaker, and his death, as well as that of his wife, are recorded in the Friends’ records.  William Freeborn died on 28 Apr 1670 according to the Friends’ records, but the age of 80 given for him is inflated.  His wife, Mary, died five days later.

The known children of William Freeborn and Mary Wilson are listed as follows[4]:

  1. Mary, born about 1627 and died 6 Mar 1664.  She married Clement Weaver.
  2. Sarah, born about 1632 and died 23 Apr 1670.  She married Nathaniel Browning.
  3. Gideon, born about 1639, who first married Sarah Brownell, and then married Mary (Boomer) Lawton.  Gideon served for several years as a Deputy from Portsmouth, and also as Overseer of the Poor.

William Freeborn is the g-grandfather of Gideon Cornell[5],  the first Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.  Cornell was also the great grandson of George Lawton (1607-1693) and Elizabeth Hazard (1630-1711), my 10th g-grandparents, discussed under their own heading.

The lineage for Sarah Freeborn (1624-1670) and Nathaniel Browning (1618-1674) is continued under his heading.

[1] Husband of my 10th g-grand aunt, Mary Hutchinson, sister of William Hutchinson (1586-1641).

[2] My 10th g-grandmother, discussed under her own heading.

[3] Direct ancestors of mine who were signers of the Portmouth Compact are: William Dyer (husband of Mary Dyer), William Freeborn, William Hutchinson (husband of Anne Hutchinson), Edward Hutchinson, Jr. (eldest son of William and Anne Hutchinson, called “Jr.” to distinguish him from his uncle Edward Hutchinson Sr.), and John Walker, all of whom are discussed under their own headings.  John Clarke and his brother Thomas (my 8th g-grand uncles – brothers of Joseph Clarke), John Coggeshall (father of my 7th g-grand uncle Samuel Rathbun, brother of Thomas Rathbun), Edward Hutchinson Sr. (my 10th g-grand uncle), and Thomas Savage (husband of my 9th g-grand aunt Faith Hutchinson, brother of Edward Hutchinson Jr.) were also signers.

[4] Dates of birth for Mary and Sarah are estimated based on the ages listed on the passenger lists for the Francis in 1634 (Mary- 7; Sarah – 2).

[5] Gideon Cornell (1710-1766) was a farmer and trader, who became the first Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, serving from 1747-49.  In 1732 Cornell began his public service as a deputy (representative).  From 1740-46 he was elected as an “assistant” to the governor, and in 1746 he was also on a committee to run the boundary line between Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  In 1738 Cornell served as one of the Justices of the Peace for Portsmouth, and in 1741 he was selected as one of the Justices of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace for Newport County.  He had been initially selected as the fifth justice in room of (replacing) William Ellery, Sr. who was chosen assistant, and in 1742 Cornell was selected again to serve as a Justice of this court.  In May 1747 Cornell was chosen as the first Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which at that time went by the title of the “Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery.”  He was likely untrained in the common law.  In the early days of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the legislature was distrustful of an independent judiciary and non-lawyer farmers were appointed as justices as late as 1819 (although Cornell likely served as a judge prior to his appointment).  His name is misspelled as “Cowell” in Warren’s history of the Harvard Law School.  Cornell owned the sloop Jupiter which was seized in Jamaica for violating the Navigation Act, despite an unsuccessful appeal in 1758 to the Lords of the Committee of Council for Hearing Appeals from the Plantations for the Court at Kensington (28 Jul 1758).  Other ships of Cornell’s were also accused of trading in foreign contraband according to the British laws.  Cornell was also involved in other legal entanglements, including a land dispute over mortgaged property in Newport, when in 1763 he filed a trespass and ejectment suit.  The opposing party, Thomas Shearman, appealed the case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and then eventually to the “King in Council” in Great Britain in 1767.  Cornell died in Kingston, Jamaica in 1766 where he had gone to receive a large sum of money awarded to him by the British government.  His purported city house still stands at 3 Division Street in Newport, Rhode Island.  Cornell was a co-founder of Newport’s Redwood Library, which is housed in the oldest library building in America.  He was also one of the original signatories for the petition creating Brown University.



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