Born in Prescott, Lancashire, England. Arrived in Massachusetts in about 1654 and subsequently settled at Block Island, Rhode Island in 1661 and
Born in Prescott, Lancashire, England. Arrived in Massachusetts in about 1654 and subsequently settled at Block Island, Rhode Island in 1661.
Through the years, the family kept changing the spelling of the name from Rathbun to Rathbone to Rathburn and back again. A Rathbun genealogy, compiled by John C. Cooley, was published in 1898. For many years, family historians accepted Cooley’s version of the family’s earliest generations. However, by the 1940s many found that they could not prove what Cooley had stated in his genealogy. Much research was done, most notably by Frank H. Rathbun of Fairfax, Virginia. He established the current thinking on the early records of the family as we know it today in his publications from 1981 to 1996 of the Rathbun Rathbone Rathburn Family Historian.
The first of our Rathbun line to arrive in America is John Rathbun. He was baptized 8 March 1629/30, at Farnworth Chapel, Prescott, Lancashire, England. He was the second son and the third child of Thomas Rathbun and Alice Childwall. Thomas was a shoemaker in the hamlet of Hough Green in Ditton Township, about two miles from Farnworth Chapel. He was born about 1596 and died February 1654 in Ditton, County Lancashire, England. He had married a widow, Mrs. Alice Chidwell, at Farnworth Chapel on 13 April 1616.
John Rathbun was raised in Ditton, County Lancashire in a family of six children. He married in the area to Margaret Acres, the daughter of Thomas Acres, a neighbor. Margaret was born in 1633. It would appear that after being left a small sum of money from his father’s estate in 1654 he left England with his bride and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts where others from County Lancashire had settled. His name first appeared in the American records when he was listed among 12 Massachusetts men who met at the Roxbury home of Dr. John Alcock to consider the purchase of Block Island, a small island twelve miles off the coast of Rhode Island. In 1658, the possession of Block Island was transferred from the Colony of Massachusetts to private individuals with its sale to Richard Bellingham, Daniel Dennison, John Endicott and William Hawthore. They in turn made the last transfer of land as a whole to the company of twelve men who met at Dr. Alcock’s. A second meeting was held where the number of individuals had grown to sixteen. Drawings were held to assign each of the proprietors a “great lot” in both the northern and southern sections of the land.
In 1911 and again on 17 Jun 1961, a monument was dedicated at “Settlers’ Rock” on Block Island with the following inscriptions:
SETTLERS’ ROCK REDEDICATED FOR THE TRICENTENNIAL JUNE 17th A.D. 1961
1661-1911 THIS STONE WAS PLACED HERE SEPTEMBER 2D A.D. 1911 BY THE CITIZENS OF NEW SHOREHAM, TO COMMEMORATE THE TWO HUNDRED AND FIFIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PURCHASE AND SETTLEMENT OF BLOCK ISLAND, BY THE FOLLOWING NAMED PERSONS, WHO LANDED AT THIS POINT
ORIGINAL PURCHASERS: RICHARD BILLINGUM / SAMUEL DEARING / NATHANIEL WINSLOW / TORMUT ROSE / EDWARD VORCE / JOHN RATHBUN/ THOMAS FAXSON / RICHARD ALLIS / PHILLIP WARTON / JOHN GLOVER / THOMAS TERRY / JAMES SANDS / HUGH WILLIAMS / JOHN ALCOCK / PETER GEORGE / SIMON RAY
ORIGINAL SETTLERS: THOMAS TERRY / JOHN CLARKE / WILLIAM JUD / SAMUEL DEARING / SIMON RAY / WILLIAM TOSH / TORMUT ROSE / WILLIAM BARKER / DANIEL CUMBALL / WILLIAM COHOONE / DUNCAN MACK WILLIAMSON / JOHN RATHBUN / EDWARD VORCE, JUN. / TRUSTRUM DODGE, SEN. / NICHOLAS WHITE / WILLIAM BILLINGS / JOHN ACKURS
John Rathbun, less affluent than some of the others pooled his funds with Edward Vorse, another native of County Lancashire and brought half shares. Their land extended from near the center of the island stretching from near where the center of town is today to the ocean east of town. In total, they had 420 acres. Years later it was discovered that a mistake was made in the original survey. In 1671, the lawyers for the estate of Dr. Alcock granted John Rathbun an additional 60 acres what land shall be found wantinge…in some convenient place in the commonland. The surveying error proved to be a bonanza, for the correction gave him a strategically located piece of land in what became the most valuable part of the island. For the next few years he steadily increased his holding on the island. In 1674, he bought 42 acres and in 1680 he bought 12 1/2 adjoining acres. On 10 Oct 1680, he made the final payment for his share of the original purchase. From the surviving records of his land transactions, it is apparent that his major holdings, and his home, were in the central part of island, which very early emerged as the town center.
John was listed as a freeman of New Shoreham in 1664. He represented New Shoreham in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1681-1684. In 1685, he was a member of the Crown Party that supported King James’ order vacating the Rhode Island colonial charter. He signed with his mark JR. That same year, King James was overthrown during the “Glorious Revolution” and the Crown Party was out of favor in Rhode Island. It appears that during his political career he kept a home on the mainland in Newport. In 1674, he was living in Hammersmith, a section of Newport. He returned to Block Island about 1685. In 1702 he was listed as a proprietor of the town wharf in Newport. In 1689, Block Island was invaded by a French privateer. The invaders asked some of the islanders who had money and they were directed to John Rathbun. At the Rathbun home, the invaders seized his son, John (Jr.) whom they tied, stripped to the waist and whipped.
John was baptized in the Anglican Church in England. He may have been a Quaker in Newport, as the birth of his youngest son, Samuel, on 3 Aug 1672 is recorded in early Quaker records in Newport.
He was a slave owner as he left a slave to his son, Thomas, in his will.
John‘s will dated 12 Feb 1702 at Block Island describes him as a yeoman. Although listed of Block Island, the inventory of his estate indicates he considered Newport his principal home. He conducted some sort of business there, as his will referred to a shop there. The will was probated 16 Oct 1702. He named his wife, Margaret, sons John, William, Joseph, Samuel and Thomas, daughters Sarah, Margaret and Elizabeth and grandchildren John (son of John) and John (son of William). The will was witnessed by James Welch and Roger Dickens. His widow, Margaret, survived him at least fourteen years. as in March 1716 as widow and relict of John Rathbun, deceased she made a deposition on Block Island regarding properties.
The children of John Rathbun and Margaret Acres (all born at Dorchester, Massachusetts) are listed as follows:
- John, 1655-1723, married (1st) unknown on 16 Jan 1679 and (2nd) Ann Dodge on 11 Nov 1686. One of John’s descendants was Maj. Henry Reed Rathbone (1837-1911), a United States military officer and diplomat who was present at the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Rathbone was sitting with his fiancée, Clara Harris, next to the President and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when John Wilkes Booth entered the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre and fatally shot Lincoln.
- Thomas Rathbun, born about 1657 in Dorchester, Massachusetts and died 26 Dec 1733 at New Shoreham, Rhode Island. On 21 Aug 1685 at New Shoreham, Rhode Island he married Mary Dickens (daughter of Nathaniel Dickens and Joan Tyler, discussed under their own heading.
- William, 1658-1727
- Sarah, 1659-1718, married (1st) Samuel George on 20 Dec 1678 and (2nd) John Mitchell (son of Thomas Mitchell) by 6 Jan 1693.
- Margaret, 1663-1740, married Thomas Mitchell (son of Thomas Mitchell) 19 May 1691.
- Joseph, 1667-1749, married Mary Mosher on 19 May 1691.
- Elizabeth, 1670-1747, married Nicholas Mosher on 12 Aug 1687.
- Samuel, 1672-1757, married Patience Coggeshall on 3 Nov 1692.
John Rathbun died in 1702, and Margaret Acres died after 1716.
The second son of John Rathbun and Margaret Acres, Thomas Rathbun, was very active in the local affairs of New Shoreham, Rhode Island, and the following facts can be gleaned from the early records of that town: He was elected constable in 1685. He served as a deputy in the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1699, 1700, 1703, 1704, 1705, 1711, 1717, 1730 and 1731. In 1702, he was named to help audit the general treasurer’s accounts in the General Assembly. In 1707, he was awarded by the town council to build an animal pound. He was a townsman in 1701 and 1702 and a second townsman in 1692. On 31 May 1699, he bought land in Poughkeepsie, New York that later would be in the possession of his daughters. He was a slave owner. He was an active member of the militia (sergeant in 1685; lieutenant in 1699 and captain by 1704 – he was called Capt. Rathbun the rest of his life). The town council meeting of 4 Jun 1683 refers to the evil proceedings of the servant of Thomas Rathbun who not long since abused an Irishman called Samuel Owings, striking him with a stick on the head and arms. The servant, John Downing was arrested and the town council asked that Thomas post cash security for his servant. He refused this request. In another incident on file took place 2 Jan 1694, the body of an Indian woman called Ruth, the daughter of Indian Sue, was found in the woods. A committee to investigate her death concluded she being drunk at Thomas Rathbuns the night before went out into the cold, being very hard frosty weather and the cold overcame her. The will of Thomas Rathbun was dated 1 Nov 1733 and probated at New Shoreham, Rhode Island 10 Jun 1734. He mentions his wife, Mary, in this will, along with his sons, John, Thomas and Samuel. The inventory of his property at death included: 27 cattle, 210 sheep, 7 swine, 2 horses and 6 negroes (there were only about 20 “negroes” on the Island at this time). The total value of his estate was calculated at 838 pounds.
Thomas Rathbun was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1657. He married (1st) Mary Dickens on 21 August 1685 in New Shoreham, Newport, Rhode Island. She is the daughter of Nathaniel Dickens and Joan Tyler, who are discussed under their own heading. He married (2nd) Mary Nixon (of whom little is known) on 30 Oct 1717. Thomas died at New Shoreham, Block island, Rhode Island on 26 Dec 1733, and he is buried at the Island Cemetery on Block Island.
The son of Thomas Rathbun and Mary Dickens is John Rathbun, born 29 May 1705 at New Shorham, Block Island, Rhode Island and died 5 Oct 1781 in Exeter, Rhode Island.
John Rathbun married Experience Mott on 1 Jan 1727 in Exeter, Rhode Island. Experience is the daughter of Nathaniel Mott and Sarah Tosh. She was born 27 Oct 1705 in New Shoreham, Rhode Island and died 31 Jul 1755 in Exeter, Rhode Island.
John sold 130 acres on Block Island in February 1749 and apparently then relocated to Exeter. He is sometimes called John Rathbun Jr., to distinguish him from his cousin John (son of John, grandson of the immigrant John).
The daughter of John Rathbun and Experience Mott is Patience Rathbun, born 22 Jan 1742 at New Shoreham, Block Island, Rhode Island and died 1840. In 1780 she married Benjamin Clarke, who was born 3 Sep 1721 in Warwick, Rhode Island and died in 1790 in Rhode Island. The lineage of Patience Rathbun and Benjamin Clarke is continued under the heading of Joseph Clarke (1616-1694).
 John C. Cooley. A Complete History of the Rathbone Family: Dating From 1574 to Date (Syracuse, New York) 1898.
 Cooley’s account begins: “Richard Rathbone, the first of the name in America of whom we have any record, was born about 1574. He married Marion Whipple, sister of Captain John Whipple, who mentions her in his will, made at Ipswich, Essex Co MA, 12/19/1616, and probated 1/28/1618. They had four children, all sons. So far as we have been able to discover, none of them left issue except John, the youngest. The eldest, Rev. William Rathbone, resided in VT in 1630; he is soken of in a work published in 1637…” He listed grandson John Jr, son of John, grandson of Richard, as marrying Margaret Dodge, the daughter of Tristram Dodge. By the 1940’s genealogy became more of an exact science, and many professionals questioned Cooley’s account, conducting their own studies, discovering that Captain William Whipple’s will was probated in Ipswich England (not Massachusetts), mentioning Richard Rathbone, a brother-in-law, but there is no indication he ever came to America or had a son named John. Rev. William Rathbone, a prominent English clergyman, never even visited America, nor was there even a Vermont in 1630. Cooley did do valuable service in rounding up family Bibles and other sources, but he did not have access to all the records and indices of today. He was not a trained scholar, and he was too willing to accept information without proof. Some of his facts are wrong, and some of his conclusions erroneous, but his book (827 pages) is still rare and valuable.
 When Thomas died, his estate inventory mentioned a shop containing shoes, leather and things belonging to a shoemaker. His assets totaled about £29.
 A good resource for the history of the island is History of Block Island, Rhode Island by S. T. Livermore (Bridgewater, Massachusetts) 1877. Though its inhabitants have never been very numerous (in 1662, natives on the island numbered somewhere from 1,200 1,500, and as of the 2000 census, the population was 1,010 inhabitants), Block Island has played a somewhat larger role in American history (and the history of our family) than might be expected of a remote coastal island. The first full-fledged war waged against natives by English settlers in New England (the Pequot War) began there. In 1634, Western Niantic Indians defended their tribe by killing John Stone, a the privateer from the West Indies who had been banished from Boston for malfeasance and who was known for stealing Pilgrim vessels, near the mouth of the Connecticut River. Despite the fact the man was trying to kidnap native women and children to sell as slaves in Virginia, the colonists became furious (partly due to earlier Indian atrocities against settlers on the mainland by a related tribe). The English demanded that the Pequot Indians (who spoke for the Western Niantic) surrender his killers. This was refused and began the slide towards war. In the summer of 1637, the Western Niantic killed another Boston man, the trader John Oldham, near Block Island. Without consulting the Connecticut colonists, Massachusetts, in August, sent a punitive expedition of ninety men under John Endicott to Block Island with instructions to kill every Niantic warrior and capture the woman and children, who would be valuable as slaves. The expedition was ordered by Massachusetts Governor Henry Vane to massacre all of the Native men on the island. The expedition killed fourteen Eastern Niantic and burned their village and crops. The English burned sixty wigwams and the corn fields. They also shot every dog, but the Niantic fled into the woods, and the soldiers only managed to kill fourteen of them. Deciding this punishment was insufficient, Endicott and his men sailed over to Fort Saybrook before going after the Pequot village at the mouth of the Thames River to demand one thousand fathoms of wampum to pay for the murder of John Oldham and some Pequot children as hostages to insure peace. This incident is seen as one of the initial events that led to the Pequot War.
 In 1911 and again on 17 Jun 1961, a monument was dedicated at “Settlers’ Rock” on Block Island with the following inames inscribed: Original purchasers: Richard Billingum, Samuel Dearing, Nathaniel Winslow, Tormut Rose, Edward Vorce, John Rathbun, Thomas Faxson, Richard Allis, Phillip Warton, John Glover, Thomas Terry, James Sands, Hugh Williams, John Alcock, Peter George, Simon Ray. Original Settlers: Thomas Terry, John Clarke, William Jud, Samuel, Dearing, Simon Ray, William Tosh (our 8th g-grandfather), Tormut Rose, William Barker, Daniel Cumball, William Cohoone, Duncan Mack Williamson, John Rathbone, Edward Vorce, Jun., Trustrum Dodge, Sr., Nicholas White, William Billings, John Ackurs.
 My 8th g-grandfather, discussed under his own heading.
 Rathbun was the only one of the 13 who signed with his mark, carefully printing JR for his signature. This is one of two documents (the other is his will) which show that he was illiterate, not uncommon in that day and age.
 Slavery in 17th and 18th century America was a fact of life, even in New England. Our immigrant ancestor, John and Margaret (Acres) Rathbun, owned one slave at the time of his death. His will called for his neager man to be left to his wife for her lifetime, then to his son Thomas for three years, and then to be set free. Margaret lived for at least 14 more years, and Thomas (the wealthiest of John’s five sons) owned six slaves at the time of his death in 1733: a man named Mingo, a boy named Quoming and four unnamed females. Of the other four sons, only William appears on record as a slaveowner. His 1727 will left Jenny to his son Ebenezer. William’s son Jonathon, in 1773, left Mingo to his wife. Religious opposition by the Quakers made slaveowning unpopular, especially involving the Rathbun family in 1765. Joshua (son of Joshua, son of Joshua, son of John Jr., son of our immigrant ancestor John Sr.) ignored the church and bought a young girl. He apologized but pleaded ignorance of church teaching and agreed to free her when she turned of age. Six years later he was in trouble again, though, when he sold her for $50 to his son Joshua Jr., who in turn sold her to a man who carried her out of the country. The angry Quakers denied Joshua Jr. church membership and urged Joshua Sr. to sue his son for breach of promise (to set her free when she came of age). Although a leading Quaker whose home was the local Quaker meeting place, Joshua Sr. refused to take his son to court. For several years the Quakers still met in his home, until 1773 they revoked Joshua Sr’s. membership. That winter sea Captain Joshua Jr. died at sea from yellow fever. Joshua Sr. applied for readmission 5 Dec 1775: …it was a great cross to me to be denied by Friends. It was all most too much for me to bear…I should not only have advised my son, but should have constrained him to have done justice to the girl, and I see now I should have taken the advice of Friends in prosecuting my son… He closed by asking the Quakers to …take me under their Christian care… which they did until his death in 1801.
 Roger Dickens (1673-1709) is my 7th g-grand uncle. He is the son of Nathaniel Dickens (1614-1692), discussed under his own heading. His daughter, Mary, married John’s son, Thomas.
 As listed on the grave marker dedicated to John and Margaret Acres Rathbun on 23 July 1983 by the Rathbun Family Association.
 This would be his second wife, Mary Nixon.