Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in the mid-1630s and later settled in Rhode Island in 1638. Late in life he became active in the affairs of the colony, and he served for several years as both Deputy to the General Assembly, and Assistant to the governor. His house was sometimes used for meetings of colonial leaders and committees. He became such a highly esteemed member of the colony, that in 1676 he was one of 16 individuals whose counsel was requested by the General Assembly during the chaotic events of King Phillips War.
Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in the mid-1630s and later settled in Rhode Island in 1638.
Most of the information presented below on the English origins of the Lawton family in America are from The Shurtleff and Lawton Families: Genealogy and History, 2nd edition, by William R. Shurtleff and Lawton L. Shurtleff (Lafayette, California: Pine Hill Press, 2005), p. 71-74:
0ur Lawton family (also spelled “Lawghtn” “Laughton,” “Lauton,” or “Layton” in early records) comes from Cranfield Parish, Bedfordshire, England. We are now able, with confidence, to trace our Lawton line back to Richard Lawton who was born in about 1499 in Cranfield.
However genealogists now agree that the Lawton family name comes from the residence of its first bearers in Cheshire, England, far to the Northeast [sic – should be northwest] of Cranfield. The place was named ”Lautune” in the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) and by 1200 or earlier it had changed to “Lauton.” In about 1500, with the adoption of the letter “w” in English writing, it became Lawton.
The ancient seat of the Lawtons in Cheshire was “Lawton Hall” (also called “Lawton Manor”) in the town Church Lawton, in Cheshire. This hall burned several times over the centuries; the present hall was built on the same location as it predecessors in about 1600. Members of the Lawton family still resided here until a comparatively recent date. The hall is now being renovated [circa 2004].
The Cheshire Lawtons trace their ancestral line back to Adam de Lauton, born before 1199 (possibly in Normandy), and died after 1216 in Cheshire, England. Apparently at some early date, one or more Lawtons moved from Church Lawton in Cheshire to Cranfield Parish (far to the southeast in Bedfordshire, and the known origin of our Lawton line)—but nobody has yet been able to make the connection. Many people in England are now working on that problem and new developments can be found at www.realm.lawton.net [this is an obsolete link].
A legend (with no known historical basis, but still found on the wall of the Bleeding Wolf Inn, Scholar Green, England) purports to explain how the Lawton family first got land in Cheshire and why a wolf adorns the top of the Lawton coat of arms. When John (who ruled 1199-1216 and signed the Magna Carta) was king of England, he was hunting one day in the great forest that covered most of the Cheshire Plain. During the chase, the king lost his companions. Suddenly his horse was attacked by a great wolf. The king was thrown to the ground; the wolf turned on the fallen king. A nearby keeper, hearing the scuffle, ran towards the sounds. Seeing the wolf about to attack, he drew his hunting knife, threw himself on the beast, and plunged it into the snarling throat—killing the wolf and saving the life of the king. The forester, recognizing the king, fell to one knee but was ordered to rise. The king, finding that the keeper’s name was Lawton, rewarded him with a gift of all the land he could walk over in one week. “Moreover, the head of the wolf shall be on thy crest” (Lawton Ledger, Sept. 1995).
The Lawton coat of arms is described in Burke’s Peerage. The motto is Tu ne cede malis (Thou shalt not yield to difficulties). On the silver and white crest is a wolf and three crosses and cinquefoils.
Research on our Lawton line has made great progress during the past 25 years, and that has accelerated with the advent of the Internet, which has greatly facilitated both genealogical research and communication among researchers. Excellent books and typescripts include:
- Ancestral Lines, 3rd edition, compiled by Carl Boyer, III (1998, published by the author, see p. 368-71). Gives carefully documented details about six generations of our Lawton line in England from 1499 to about 1700. It supersedes his 1981 book of the same title.
- The Descendants of Thomas Lawton of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, by Elva Lawton (1949, typescript sent to several key libraries). Important, pioneering research, highly regarded.
- The English Origin of George and Thomas Lawton, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, 1638, by Burrell C. Lawton (1995 typescript). Cited by Boyer 1998, p. 368.
- Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, by John Osborne Austin (1978, rev. ed.). Reprint with additions and corrections. The starting point for much early Rhode Island genealogy, covering three generations of settlers who arrived prior to 1690.
- History of the County Palatine and City of Cheshire, 2nd ed. [England], by George Ormerod (1882). About early English Lawtons.
- Vital Records of Rhode Island 1636-1850. 21 vols., by James N. Arnold (1891-1912). Gives practically complete records of all births, marriages, and deaths recorded in either town or church records. Now available on the Internet as a computerized database.
- Lawton Ancestral Lines, by Frederick Brown Lawton and Frederick William Lawton (1982). Published by the authors.
- The Descendants of George Lawton of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, by Elva Lawton (1977, typescript sent to several key libraries).
Early Lawtons in Cranfield Parish, Bedfordshire, England. Our earliest known ancestor was Richard Lawton, born perhaps about 1499, of Cranfield – during the reign of Henry VII. He apparently married a woman whose surname was Purrier in about 1520 – she is mentioned in the will of her brother, John Purrier, made on 28 Aug 1558, as syster Puffier. Four other people with the surname Laughton are also mentioned in this will. Richard and his wife had five children, born between about 1523 and 1537.
The first record of a Lawton in Cranfield parish is an inquisition on behalf of the king headed “Manor of Cranfield View of Frankpledge with Court held 13 October 27 Henry VIII” (1536), which states that Richard Lawghtn appeared as a juror, and adds: “At this Court it is found by the Homage that John Kent, out of Court, surrendered into the hands of Richard Red, a tenant of this Manor one grove called Hamse, to the use and behoof of Richard Lawghtn… at an Annual Rent to the Lord at the usual terms of 3s. 7d [3 shillings 7 pence] and all other services etc., and he does fealty and pays a fine, etc… Fine 6s. 8d.”
Richard is also mentioned in another record later that year and in a record dated 1542. In both of these latter two records, his surname is spelled Laughton. Richard died after 1542 – probably during the reign of Henry VIII (ruled 1509-1547), well known for his six wives and his famous color portrait.
Thomas Lawton and Joan Wheeler. Born in about 1527, probably in Cranfield, Thomas Lawton probably married Joan Wheeler in 1552. The daughter of Thomas and Ellen Wheeler, she was born in about 1534. The will of Ellen Wheeler, widow of Thomas Wheeler, dated 17 Dec 1555 and proved 4 Feb 1555/1556, named “Joan Lawton my daughter.” Thomas and Joan had three children (Joan, Marian, and Thomas) born between about 1553 and 1558. Thomas, the youngest child, was our direct ancestor. It is not known when Thomas Lawton or his wife, Joan, died. No will has been found for either.
Thomas Lawton and Mary. Thomas Lawton was born in about 1558 in Cranfield. His first marriage was to Mary (surname unknown), in about 1580. They had four children (George, Thomas, Mary, and Joan) born between about 1581 and 1587. The eldest, George, was our direct ancestor. We do not know when Mary died. Thomas’s second marriage was to Annis/Agnes (surname unknown) in about 1599. They had two more children (Richard and Annis) between 1600 and 1603. Thomas died on 8 Dec 1605 in Wharley End, Cranfield, England. Burial records of Cranfield Parish show that he was buried there on that date. He left a very long and interesting will made on 3 Dec 1605 and written in early modern English; also in 1605 William Shakespeare’s plays Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear were first performed in England. The will begins as follows:
In the name of God Amen. The Third daye of December in the yeare of our lord God 1605 & in the Third yeare of the raigne of our Soueraigne Lord Jarmes [King James] by the grace of god Kinge of Ingland and France and Ireland defender of the faith & of Scotland the 39th. I Thomas Lawton of Wharlend in the parish of Cranfield in the Countie of Bedford husbandman Beinge of good & perfect Remembrance Thankes be to God therefore, do ordain Constitute & make this my 1.21st Will & Testament in manner & forme following[:] First I bequeath my Soule into the hands of almightie God my maker hoping that through the pretious [precious] death & bloud sheddinge of Jesus Christ his sonne to have free remission of all my Sinnes, & my Body to be buried in the Church or Churchyeard of Cranfield aforesaid Item I doe give unto Thomas Lawton my sonne… [Witnesses: Thomas Wheler, Thomas Tapp, Robert Tapp, writer hereof. Transcribed by Zena Grant Collier, the original held at the Bedford Record Office (ref: ABP/W 160607).]
George Lawton and Isabel Smith. George Lawton, was born in 1580 or 1581 at Cranfield Parish, Bedfordshire, England. He married Isbell/Isabel Smith on 13 Nov 1606 in Cranfield. Probably the daughter of Francis and Ann Smith, Isabel was born in 1585 in Cranfield. George and Isabel had eight children. The first and fourth of these, George and Thomas, came to North America, apparently together, in about 1837 [sic – should be 1637]. The children, all baptized (and probably born) in Cranfield, were:
- George Lawton. Baptized 23 Sept. 1607. He married Elizabeth Hazard in about 1647 at Portsmouth, Newport Co., Rhode Island. He died there on 5 October 1693 and was buried in his orchard (see Austin 1978).
- Sarah Lawton. Baptized 1 Oct. 1609.
- Mary Lawton. Baptized 28 Oct. 1611.
- Thomas Lawton. Baptized 17 April 1614. Married: (1) Elizabeth Salsburie on 29 May 1635 at Cranfield. (2) Mrs. Grace (Parsons) Bailey. He died in about 1681 at Portsmouth, Newport Co., Rhode Island (see Austin 1978).
- Isaac Lawton. Baptized 3 Nov. 1616.
- Bennet Lawton. Baptized 27 Feb. 1618.
- Nicholas Lawton. Baptized 20 Feb. 1621.
- Elizabeth Lawton. Baptized 29 May 1623.
George (the father) died on 26 November 1641 in Cranfield. His wife, Isabel, died after 1641 in Cranfield.
The First Generation of Lawtons in America. Thomas Lawton and George Lawton were the first Lawtons to arrive in North America. The immigrant ancestor of our Lawton line was Thomas Lawton, who was born in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England. Baptism records of Cranfield Parish, Bedfordshire, show that Thomas Lawton was baptized there on 17 April 1614. Marriage records of Cranfield Parish show that Thomas Lawton’s first marriage was to Elizabeth Salsburie/Salisburie on 29 May 1635 in Cranfield, England. The daughter of John Salisburye and Margaret Crowley, she was born about 1616 in Cranfield.
I am descended from George Lawton (1581-1641) and Isabell Smith (1585-1641) through two of their children:
- Their son George Lawton (1607-1693) and his wife Elizabeth Hazard (1630-1680), which is discussed here and
- Their daughter Elizabeth Lawton (1623-1718) and her husband Robert Carr (1614-1684), whose lineage is discussed under the heading of Robert Carr.
[The two lines will reconnect with the marriage of Robert Lawton to Elizabeth Earle in 1716.]
A good source for information on George Lawton and his family is The Shurtleff and Lawton Families: Genealogy and History, 2nd edition by William R. Shurtleff and Lawton L. Shurtleff. (Lafayette, California: Pine hill Press) 2005.
George Lawton (1607-1693) immigrated to America from England at the same time as his brother, Thomas. Early records do not record the date of their arrival in America, but they probably arrived in the mid 1630s in Massachusetts. By 1638 they had migrated as early settlers to Rhode Island. In that year George and Thomas were admitted inhabitants to the island of Aquidneck, although they are not thought to have been among the group that left Massachusetts for Rhode Island with Anne Hutchinson around the same time. By 1639 religious and political differences had appeared in the Portsmouth Colony, and some of the inhabitants felt it necessary to draw up a new governing document. On 30 Apr 1639, George Lawton signed a compact with twenty-eight others (including his brother, Thomas) acknowledging themselves loyal subjects of King Charles of England. The text of the compact reads as follows:
We whose names are underwritten do acknowledge ourselves the legal subjects of his Majesty King Charles, and in his name do hereby bind ourselves into a civil body politicke, unto his laws according to matters of justice.
In 1648, George Lawton was granted 40 acres of land, near that of his brother Thomas, and this same year he became a member of the Court of Trials. His name appears on a list of Portsmouth freemen in 1655, and in 1665 he became involved in the service of the colony as a Deputy to the General Assembly, a position he held for five of the next 15 years. George Lawton had a land interest in Conanicut Island (now Jamestown, Rhode Island), and in March 1672 sold 24 acres to merchant Richard Smith of Newport.
The year 1675 brought about the beginning of King Phillip’s War, the most devastating event to occur in the Rhode Island colony prior to the American Revolutionary War. During this war all of Warwick, all of Pawtuxet, and much of Providence were destroyed. In April 1676 the General Assembly voted “That in these troublesome times and straits in this colony, the Assembly desiring to have the advice and concurrence of the most judicious inhabitants, if it may be had for the good of the whole, do desire at their next sitting, the company and counsel of..” and 16 names are thereafter written, among which is the name of George Lawton. In May 1676, George Lawton and John Easton were directed to go to Providence to determine if garrison houses there should be maintained at the colony’s expense. In October 1678 the Assembly determined that a meeting was to be held at Lawton‘s house the following January to audit the accounts between Newport and Portsmouth concerning the expenses from the recent war.
In May 1680, George Lawton and two others were empowered to purchase a bell for the colony, to be used for giving notice of the sittings of the assemblies, courts of trial, and general councils. Previously these assemblies were gathered by drum beat. A bell was purchased for £3 10s from Freelove Arnold, the daughter of the late Governor Benedict Arnold.
Also in 1680, George Lawton was elected to the position of Assistant, and held this position for seven of the next ten years. On 30 January 1690 he was one of six Assistants who drafted a letter to the new English monarchs, William and Mary, congratulating them for their accession to the throne, and also mentioning the seizure of Governor Andros in Rhode Island, and his removal to Massachusetts for trial, and informing them that since the deposition of Governor Andros, the former government under the Charter had been reassumed.
George Lawton was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), as were following generations. Although the exact date is unknown, it is believed that in about 1647 he married Elizabeth Hazard, the daughter of Thomas Hazard and his wife Martha, of Portsmouth. He was much older than Elizabeth. Together they had ten children, all born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island: (1) Isabel, married Samuel Albro; four children; (2) John, married Mary Boomer; one son; (3) Mary, married John Babcock; ten children; (4) George; (5) Robert Lawton. He married Mary Woodell; four children; (6) Susanna, married Thomas Cornell; three children; (7) Ruth, married William Woodell; no children; (8) Mercy, married James Tripp; no children; (9) Job, unmarried and (10) Elizabeth.
On 5 Oct 1693, George Lawton died, and he was buried in his orchard at Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
Robert Lawton was born about 1649 in Portsmouth, Newport Rhode Island and died 25 Jan 1706 in the same location. On 16 Feb 1681 in Portsmouth, he married Mary Wodell, who was born 4 Mar 1665, probably in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and died 14 Jan 1732 in Portsmouth. She is the daughter of Gershom Woodell and Mary Tripp, who are discussed under the heading of William Wodell (1614-1693). Not much is known of this couple, aside from the vital details. Four children are known to have been born between 1682-1696: Mary, George, Elizabeth and Robert Lawton.
I trace my line of descent through Robert Lawton, the youngest son of Robert Lawton and Mary Wodell. He was born 5 Jan 1696 in Portsmouth, Newport, Rhode Island and died 23 Apr 1735 in Freetown, Massachusetts. On 5 Jul 1716 in Portsmouth he married Elizabeth Earle born 24 Dec 1696 in Portsmouth and died [date unknown].
The daughter of Elizabeth Earle and Robert Lawton is Mary Lawton, born 17 Dec 1723 in Portsmouth, Newport, Rhode Island and died 2 May 1797 in Westport, Massachusetts. On 29 May 1740, she married William Earle, born 28 Mar 1710 in Portsmouth, Newport, Rhode Island and died 15 Apr 1797 in Westport, Bristol, Massachusetts. Their lineage continues under the heading of Ralph Earle (1606-1678).
 Some sources suggest that the Elizabeth Lawton, who was the wife of Robert Carr, is the daughter of George Lawton and Elizabeth Hazard, but in that case none of the dates make sense, since Elizabeth Hazard’s supposed date of birth in 1630 (reasonable given that her father date of birth is 1610) is too late for her to be the mother of a woman who had her first child about 1650.
 Lawton Hall is a former country house to the east of the village of Church Lawton, Cheshire, England. The building has since been used as a hotel, then a school, and has since been converted into separate residential units. It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building. The estate on which the house stands was in the possession of the Lawton family from at least since the 13th century. The first house on the site burnt down in the early 15th century. This was followed by a more substantial house, which was replaced by the present house in about 1600. Although the core of this house dates from the 17th century, the exterior dates from the middle of the 18th century. Wings were added in the 1830s. The porch was built in about 1860, and a billiard room was added during the 19th century. Although the house was still owned by the Lawton family, it was being used as a hotel in 1906. During the Second World War it was used as a Civil Defence Reserve Camp. Between 1950-1986, the house was a school, the Lawton Hall School. In 1989 plans to turn it into a hotel were passed, but were never implemented. At some time around this period the building was badly damaged by fire. In 1999 a property development company converted the hall into four houses and five apartments. Surrounding buildings were also converted for residential use, and houses were built in the adjoining estate.
 Other signers among our ancestors are: Ralph Earle, Anthony Paine and John Tripp. This is the so-called Second Portsmouth Compact, and should not be confused with the Portsmouth Compact signed on 7 Mar 1638 that established the settlement of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The first compact is the first document in the history of the American colonies 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 (First) 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.” Direct ancestors of mine who were signers of the Portmouth Compact are: William Dyre (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.