Webster #11050

John Webster (1590-1661)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts about 1634-35 and later settled in Connecticut and

Agnes Smith (1585-1665)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts about 1634-35 and later settled in Connecticut.

Webster #11050

Cossington parish church

Cossington parish church

Some of the information that follows is adapted from History and Genealogy of the Gov. John Webster Family of Connecticut by William Holcomb Webster and Rev. Melville Reuben Webster (Rochester, New York: E. R. Andrews Printing Company) 1915.

John Webster (1590-1661) is the progenitor of the oldest, and probably the most numerous, family in America bearing that name.  He was baptized 16 Aug 1590 in Cossington, Leicestershire, England and was the son of Matthew Webster and Elizabeth Ashton.  Like so many of my ancestors, his English origins are unclear[1].  On November 7, 1609, he and Agnes Smith were married at Cossington.  An article written by Mrs. S. H. Skillington[2] gives this account of their time in Cossington:

“There is not much evidence of John Webster IV’s life in England. He married, when only nineteen, a girl whose family had lived in Cossington at least as long as his own. She bore him nine children, only two of whom died in infancy. He prepared to leave his homeland in 1634. The deeds show that he then owned in Cossington three houses and a cottage, various small closes, about one hundred acres of arable land, and considerable grazing rights.

“So John Webster set out for the New World with a wife still vigorous, six stalwart children, some implements of husbandry, and with more than 1,000 in his possession.”

The exact date of the family’s arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is not known, but it was probably about 1634-35.  On 11 Jun 1634 John sold all of his holdings[3] in Cossington for £1,200 pounds and traveled by sailing ship to America.  The cost of passage was approximately £200 pounds for the entire family.  The remaining £1,000 pounds would have made them one of the wealthiest of the migrating families.

The original brownstone monument erected in 1837 was replaced by this one in 1986. It stands in the Ancient Burying Ground, which is located to the rear of the First Congregational Church at the corner of Main and Gold Streets in Hartford. This cemetery is also known as Old Center Cemetery. It lists the original Founders of Hartford.

The original brownstone monument erected in 1837 was replaced by this one in 1986. It stands in the Ancient Burying Ground, which is located to the rear of the First Congregational Church at the corner of Main and Gold Streets in Hartford. This cemetery is also known as Old Center Cemetery. It lists the original Founders of Hartford.

John Webster and his family settled for a time in Massachusetts and later moved to the present site of Hartford, Connecticut, probably with the “Hooker Party[4]”, which left Newtown (later known as Cambridge), Massachusetts in 1636.  He is recognized as one of the “Founders of Hartford”, and as such, his name appears on the “Founders Monument” in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground of the First Congregational Church of that city, presently known as “Center Church”.

John Webster‘s home lot in Hartford, Connecticut was on the east side of what became Governor Street (the present Popieluszko Court).  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 even 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 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.

That John Webster was a man of influence and standing in the Hartford colony is obvious. Out of the one hundred and fifty-three original settlers of Hartford, only ten gentlemen besides John Webster 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 who were looked up to with awe and without familiarity, such as clergymen, magistrates, doctors, schoolmasters, 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”.

Historical Marker (Hartford, Connecticut)

Historical Marker (Hartford, Connecticut)

Hinman[5] notes 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 prosecuting 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 held by Gov. Haynes in April 1639.  From 1639 (the date the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” were implemented) to 1655, he served as magistrate[6], or judge; 1655, deputy governor; 1656 governor.

Trumbull[7] 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 John 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.

John Webster was one of the leading members of the First Congregational Church of Hartford, whose minister, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, was the dynamic leader of the first settlers that came to Hartford.  When Hooker died in 1647, a controversy arose as to who should become his successor.  The Rev. Samuel Stone, Hooker’s assistant, was supported by a majority of the church members.  However, Rev. Stone wanted to change some aspects of church procedures, including liberalizing the eligibility requirements for infant baptism and admission to communion, while limiting the autonomy of each congregation.  A significant number of the parishioners disagreed with Stone and wanted Michael Wigglesworth as Rev. Hooker’s successor.  A religious dispute arose, and the congregation became split.  Church and state were not separate at that time, so this became a political as well as a spiritual crisis for Hartford.

The dissenting group, of which John Webster was a prominent member, wanted to withdraw from the Hartford church and move to Massachusetts, but Rev. Stone and his followers would not release them from their church covenant.  The dissenters attempted to get other Congregational Churches in nearby towns to accept them, but none would.  The principles disputed in Hartford were introduced in the General Assembly as the “Half-Way Covenant” in August 1657 and became points of conflict for Congregational Churches throughout New England for over a decade.  A key provision allowed Congregational churches to baptize children of parents who had themselves been baptized but who had never professed conversion and had consequently never been fully admitted to the Church.  The Half-Way Covenant was approved by a New England church synod in 1662 and finally passed by the Connecticut legislature in May 1669.  On 12 Feb 1669/70 some members of the First Church of Hartford left to form the Second Church.

Meanwhile, on 18 Apr 1659, through the arbitration of some Massachusetts Congregational Church leaders, many of the initial dissenters and Rev. Stone’s faction signed an agreement for the former group to move to Massachusetts.  The “Hadley Company”, as it was known, left Hartford shortly after that, with John Webster as one of its leaders. He was given the responsibility of laying out the roads for the company.  He and his family went first to Northhampton, Massachusetts, and later to Hadley, where he was made a magistrate in May 1660.  He died there, of a fever, on 5 Apr 1661 and is buried in Hadley.  His wife Agnes died in Hartford in 1667.

Noah Webster (1758-1843), 3rd great grandson of the immigrant, John Webster

Noah Webster (1758-1843), 3rd great grandson of the immigrant, John Webster

John’s most notable descendant, his 3rd great grandson Noah Webster[8], 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.

The dates of birth for any of the children of John Webster and Agnes Smith are not known with certainty.  Their children were born in England, and they are listed as follows:

  1. Matthew, born about 1609, whose spouse is unknown.  He was a freeman in Hartford 1645 and in Farmington 1669.  He died 16 Jul 1675.
  2. William, born about 1614 and died about 1688.  In 1670 he married Mary Reeve[9], who was accused of witchcraft, and sent to Boston for trial in 1684 but was acquitted.  She died about 1698.
  3. Thomas, born about 1616 and died 1686.  On 16 Jun 1663 he married Abigail Alexander.
  4. Robert, born about 1619 and died 1676.  In about 1652 he married Susanna Treat.  At the organization of the town of Middletown, Connecticut on 26 Feb 1654, he was chosen recorder.  He continued there until about 1660, when he returned to Hartford.  His eldest son John was the great-grandfather of Noah Webster, the renowned lexicographer.
  5. Anne, born about 1621 and died 9 Jun 1662.  She married John Marsh.
  6. Elizabeth, born about 1623 and died 1688.  She probably married William Markham as his second wife.
  7. Margaret Webster, married Thomas Hunt.

[pending… discussion of whether John & Agnes had another daughter, Mary, who may have married John Hunt, who some claim to be the father of Jonathan Hunt (1637-1691) in the continuation of this line]

The lineage of Thomas Hunt and Margaret Webster is continued under his heading.


[1] From an ancient chart in the possession of descendants of Noah Webster, 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 (1509-1549). From him descended, in the third generation, John Webster who came to Watertown, near Boston, New England, from Warwickshire, England, about 1636. The reader may make of this what he will.

[2] Skillington, Mrs. S. H. “The Ancestry of Governor John Webster”, The American Genealogist, Whole Number 96, Volume XXIV, No 4, October 1948.

[3] The deeds show that he then owned in Cossington three houses and a cottage, various small closes, about one hundred acres of arable land and considerable grazing rights.

[4] Additional information about Rev. Thomas Hooker and the “Hooker Party” is located under the heading of William Kelsey (1600-1676).

[5] Royal Ralph Hinman. A catalogue of the names of the early Puritan settlers of the colony of Connecticut: with the time of their arrival in the country and colony, their standing in society, place of residence, condition in life, where from, business, &c., as far as is found on record (Case, Tiffany) 1852.

[6] 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.

[7] Benjamin Trumbull. Complete History of Connecticut from 1630 till 1713 (2 volumes, Hartford, 1797).

[8] Refer to article under “Notable Kin”: Noah Webster was born in Hartford in 1758 and who died 28 May 1843 in New Haven.  He was a lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor and prolific author.  He was also one of the founders of Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts). He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”  His blue-backed speller books taught five generations of American children how to spell and read and made their education more secular and less religious. His name became synonymous with “dictionary,” especially the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 as An American Dictionary of the English Language.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

[9] She is known as “Half-Hanged Mary”. Canadian author Margaret Atwood claims her as an ancestor and made her the subject of her poem “Half-Hanged Mary” (1995) and dedicated her novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) to her. In 1683, Mary (Reeves) Webster was accused of and tried for witchcraft, but was officially acquitted by the court.  Like many acquitted witches, Mary’s status as an accused witch was enough of a mark of her witchery, and the year after her acquittal her neighbors tried to hang her anyway.  In the most remarkable twist, the hanging was unsuccessful.  And if there was anything that might make people think you were a witch or had a deal with the devil, it was probably not dying, particularly in such a public way.


One comment

  • Millie Eads

    Are there any ancestry connections between Agnes Smith Webster (John Websters’ wife) and Abigail Smith Adams (John Adams’ wife)?

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