Whitfield #5182

Henry Whitfield (1597-1657)

Born in England.  Arrived in Connecticut in 1639 (returning to England in 1650) and

Dorothy Sheafe (1601-1669)

Born in England.  Arrived in Connecticut in 1639.  She apparently did not return to England with her husband and died in Connecticut.


Henry Whitfield (1597 – 1657), 10th great grandfather – Abigail Whitfield (1622 – 1659) – Abigail Fitch (1650 – 1689) – Ann Mason (1669 – 1753) – Althea Cogswell (1715 – ) – Lucy Foster (1740 – 1785) – Loren Hamlin (1784 – 1843) – Fayette B Hamlin (1812 – 1866) – Henry Fayette Hamlin (1834 – 1901) – Clarence Clark Hamlin (1868 – 1940) – Elizabeth Gunnell Hamlin (1901 – 1982) – Tor Martin Hylbom (1939 – 2009) – Tor Martin (Majerus) Hylbom

Henry Whitfield Statue in the gardens of his home in Guilford, Connecticut

Henry Whitfield Statue in the gardens of his home in Guilford, Connecticut

Henry Whitfield was born 1597[1] in Mortlake, Surrey, England, now a district of London.  His parents were Thomas Whitfield (1545-1629) and Mildred Fortune Manning (1560-1627).  In 1618 he married Dorothy Sheaffe of Ockley, Surrey, England.  Dorothy was born in 1601 at St. Dunstan, Cranford, Kent, England.  Her parents were Rev. Thomas Sheafe (1562-1639) and Maria Wilson (1575-1613).

Rev. Henry Whitfield entered the Christian ministry in the Church of England in about 1616 and enjoyed “the rich living of Ockley” in the county of Surrey, in the diocese of Winchester, where he was Rector at St. Margaret’s Church[2] for more than twenty years amd settled into the quiet, gracious life of an English Vicar.  However, his sympathy with Puritans and Independents (later Congregationalists) brought him into conflict with his bishops, and he eventually resigned his post and came to America to seek religious freedom.  By the 1630s, his home became a haven for pious “nonconformists” in their time of troubles and persecutions.  John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and John Davenport were among the prominent clergy and future leaders of “The Great Migration” who found refuge and concealment in his comfortable home, and who possibly encouraged him in his emigration to America.

William Laud (1573-1645) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645. One of the High Church Caroline divines, he opposed radical forms of Puritanism. This, and his support for King Charles I, resulted in his beheading in the midst of the English Civil War.

A turning point was reached in 1637, when Rev. Henry Whitfield refused to read aloud The Book of Sports to his congregation and to follow the revised liturgy.  Conceived as a well-intentioned guide to permissible after-church leisure activities that people could engage in without violating rules of the Sabbath, this book was seen by the Puritans as a blasphemy. To them, the Sabbath was a day of worship, not of frivolities.  James I had first published The Book of Sports in the 1620s, and Charles I reissued it in 1633.  The point of contention was that King Charles I insisted that every pastor read it aloud to his congregation.  Many Puritans, like Rev. Henry Whitfield, refused to do so, and they were called before Archbishop William Laud’s Commission and censured[3].  Attempts to enforce the declaration came to an end with the fall of Archbishop Laud in 1640, and Parliament ordered the book publicly burned in 1643, two years before Laud was executed[4], but by that time Henry Whitfield had already left England.

In May 1639 (during those troubled religious times), Rev. Henry Whitfield, with his company of about 40 followers, sailed from England to Quinnipiac Harbor (present-day New Haven, Connecticut).   They settled at Guilford, Connecticut[5].  Henry Whitfield’s house in Guilford is now a museum devoted to the history of those early settlers[6].

The "Henry Whitfield House" (1639) is the oldest dwelling house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in North America. It is located at 248 Old Whitfield Street in Guilford.

The “Henry Whitfield House” (1639) is the oldest dwelling house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in North America (outside of Quebec). It is located at 248 Old Whitfield Street in Guilford.

During the voyage to America, the company drew up a covenant in which they pledged mutual loyalty and help in the new plantation.  In this document, known as the “Guilford Covenant”, the first settlers of Guilford, Connecticut agreed as follows:

We whose names are here underwritten, intending by God’s gracious permission to plant ourselves in New England, and if it may be, in the southerly part about Quinnipiack, do faithfully promise each, for ourselves and our families and those that belong to us, that we will, the Lord assisting us, sit down and join ourselves together in one entire plantation, and be helpful each to the other in any common work, according to every man’s ability, and as need shall require, and we promise not to desert or leave each other or the plantation, but with the consent of the rest, or the greater part of the company who have entered into this engagement. As to our gathering together in a church way and the choice of officers and members to be joined in that way, we do refer ourselves, until such time as it please God to settle us in our plantation. In witness whereof we subscribe our names, this first of June 1639.

The covenant was signed by 25 men, including Henry Whitfield.

The Fist Church of Guilford was founded in 1643 with Rev. Henry Whitfield as its first pastor. The building constructed in 1713 was the first church in Connecticut with a steeple clock and bell. The present structure was completed in 1830. The portico restoration project was a major activity at First Church completed in 2011. Workers replaced an entire column and restored several other areas of the structure. This project was supported in part by a grant from the State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

As devout Puritans, the settlers of Guilford embraced high Christian ideals.   By 1643, the time had come to gather together in a church way.  Therefore, a church was gathered at Guilford consisting of these 7 persons: Rev. Henry Whitfield, Samuel Desbrough, John Higginson, John Hoadley, William Leete, John Neoham, and Jacob Sheaffer.

Henry Whitfield served this community at Guilford as its religious leader from 1639-1650.

In 1650 (during the so-called “Counter Migration” following the triumph of Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War), after eleven years of service to the community he founded, Rev. Henry Whitfield returned to England.  The historian Hubbard wrote[7]:

“After sundry years continuance in the country he found it too difficult for him, partly from the sharpness of air, he having a weak body, and partly from the toughness of those employments wherein his livelihood was to be sought… He, therefore, finding his estate wasted very much, his body decaying, and many other things concurring, removed back again to England, not without the tears and unspeakable lamentations of his dear flock”.

Guilford, Connecticut historical marker

Guilford, Connecticut historical marker

He apparently left behind his wife Dorothy (for reasons unknown) and his children living in Connecticut.  If Dorothy ever left Connecticut, she apparently returned after Henry’s death in 1657, because there are records of her management of his estate in New England.

The pastorate at Guilford was assumed by his son-in-law, Rev. John Higginson, after Henry’s return to England.

Back in England, Rev. Henry Whitfield enjoyed a more welcoming religious and political climate than he had left in 1639.  Both King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud had been beheaded by that time.  The Cavaliers had been routed on all fronts by Oliver Cromwell’s Army, and the Puritans had the upper hand in the revolutionary government which was to engage several constitutional experiments over the next few years.  In England, Henry Whitfield became involved in fundraising for Indian missions and became active in the Puritan Missionary Society, for which he reported on the progress of evangelical efforts to the Puritan Parliament and asked for government support.  He published at least two volumes on the subject of the evangelization of the Indians of New England: The Light appearing more and more toward the Perfect Day (1651) and Strength out of Weakness (1652).

The nave of Winchester Cathedral, where Henry Whitfield is buried, according to some sources

After his return to England, Rev. Henry Whitfield took a position at parish in the Diocese of Winchester and appears to have resumed his former life as a quiet English Vicar.  He apparently remained at Winchester until his death in 1657[8], and according to some sources he is buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Henry’s wife, Dorothy Sheaffer, is thought to have died in 1669 at Guilford, Connecticut, or possibly in England.  No record is known to exist.

The known children of Rev. Henry Whitfield and Dorothy Sheaffer are listed as follows:

  1. Dorothy, born 25 Mar 1619 in Ockley, Surrey, England.  She married Col. Samuel Desborough, the first magistrate of Guilford, Connecticut.
  2. Sarah, born 1620.  She married Rev. John Higginson of Salem, Massachusetts in 1648 and died in 1675.  In 1677, John Higginson married (2nd) Mary Blakeman (1636-1709).  She is the daughter of Adam Blakeman (1596-1665) and Jane Wheeler (1600-1674), our maternal 9th great grandparents, discussed under their own heading.
  3. Abigail Whitfield, born in August 1622.  She married Rev. James Fitch at Guilford, Connecticut in1648.

Thomas (died young), John, Nathaniel, Mary (died young), Henry and Rebecca are possibly other children of Henry Whitfield and Dorothy Sheaffer who remained in England, except for Nathaniel who briefly went to Guilford and then returned to England later.

The lineage of Abigail Whitfield and Rev. James Fitch is continued under the heading of James Fitch (1622-1702).


[1] Some sources report 1590 as his date of birth. No record is known to exist.

[2] A replica of the tenor bell of this church was shipped to America in 1752, and is now known as the “Liberty Bell”. No one knows if it was actually rung to celebrate American Independence after the 4 Jul 1776 Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, as popular history supposes. After American independence was secured, it fell into relative obscurity for some years. In the 1830s, the bell was adopted as a symbol by abolitionist societies, who dubbed it the “Liberty Bell”. It acquired its distinctive large crack sometime in the early 19th century, and a widespread story claims it cracked while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835.

[3] For example, Ezekiel Rogers, founder of Rowley, Massachusetts (another New England town to which we have ancestral connections) also refused to read from The Book of Sports and was discharged from his post in Rowley, Yorkshire.

[4] Although the book is strange and the subject matter trivial to modern ways of thinking, the issues were considered to have serious religious and political implications in those times: The declaration listed “archery, dancing, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation” as permissible sports, together with “May-games, Whitsun-ales and Morris-dances, and the setting up of May-poles”. Also allowed: “women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom.” Amongst the activities that were prohibited were bear- and bull-baiting, “interludes” and bowling.

[5] Rev. John Davenport, a friend of Whitfield’s, had emigrated and founded New Haven colony in 1638.  Another college friend, George Fenwick, was a grantee of the Warwick Patent and had helped found the Saybrook colony in 1635. These two colonies, forty miles from each other in Connecticut, encouraged Whitfield to consider the welcoming prospect of southern New England.

Whitefield House, illustration from about 1836

Whitefield House, illustration from about 1836

[6] Guilford has one of the most impressive collections of historic homes in New England, with important buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There are five historic house museums, including the “Henry Whitfield House” (1639), the oldest dwelling house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in North America.  According to tradition, the stone of which it is built was brought by Indians on hand-barrows across a swamp from Griswold’s lodge, about eighty rods distant. The house was built with fortification in mind, and the walls are three feet thick. The historic house located at 248 Old Whitfield Street, down the street from the town green. The house was remodeled in 1868 and opened to the public in 1899 as the first museum of the State of Connecticut, the Henry Whitfield State Museum. The house was restored in 1902-04 and in the 1930s and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997. It was named a State Archeological Preserve in 2006.

Whitfield house, interior view

Whitfield house, interior view

The architectural style of the Henry Whitfield house is unique for its time period and location. In that it is styled in the tradition of the estates of northern England and Scotland, rather than the lower English and London style found in the rest of New England. When the first settlers constructed the house, they had built large rooms, ignoring the fact that smaller rooms would be easier to heat. They also ignored the abundance of wood available to them to construct an easily heated, yet still sturdy, home.

The original floor plan of the house included a kitchen and great hall (which could be divided by partitions into two separate rooms) on the first floor, a stair tower leading to the second floor, three bedroom chambers on the second floor, and a small attic above the chambers. The great hall, which was probably the most used room in the house, is thirty-three feet in length and fifteen feet in width and was built in a perpendicular ell to the rest of the house. This was the room used for church services, town meetings, feasts, and the housing of travelers. The Whitfield family slept on the second floor of the house, with the room directly above the kitchen used for the younger children because it was kept the warmest in the winter by the rising heat from the kitchen fireplace. The original roof had a sixty degree pitch, though it has been steepened during the house’s various restorations. In addition, the house was constructed with six fireplaces, the largest of which is ten feet four inches across and is positioned on the north end of the great hall. This fireplace remains mostly unchanged today, other than the addition of an oak mantel and some masonry. The smaller five have been remodeled several times since their original construction.

Just beyond the Whitfield house heading down to the shore amongst historic homes you see a strange sight:  The Spaceship that “landed” back in the 1980s one night.

"The Spaceship", 446 Whitfield Street, Guilford, Connecticut

“The Spaceship”, 446 Whitfield Street, Guilford, Connecticut

[7] Rev. William Hubbard. General History of New England from the Discovery to MDCLXXX (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1815) p 327-328.

[8] His will was dated 17 Sep 1657 and proved 29 Jan 1657/8.



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