Note: The following is a dissertation by David M. Randall based on his research of information pertaining to the origin and life of John Randall of Westerly, Rhode Island. It is presented as a possible explanation by the author. Information in this data base has not been changed to reflect Mr. Randall's research, at this time. W.R.R.
John Randall was born in 1640, at High Hingham, Cornwall County, England and was baptized on January 20, 1641 at St. Mellion Parish, Cornwall County, England. He was the son of Matthew and Margaret (Travisa) Randall. Matthew Randall was born July 3, 1600, at Bath, Somersetshire, England. Matthew and his first wife, apparently also named Margaret, were married in December 1628. They had several children born to them at Somersetshire, although the names of these children are currently unknown.
Matthew was ordained as a pastor in 1627, and eventually held the office of rector in Somersetshire. Following this, there is an information gap of several years, during which time his first wife died. Matthew eventually reappears at High Hingham, in Cornwall County, where he again serves as rector. Matthew and his second wife had six children, including three sons and three daughters, born to them at Cornwall. Amongst these children was our John.
For many generations, it was commonly reported that our John was actually the son of Matthew Randall, Lord Mayor of Bath. We now know this not to be true. Rather, it has now been determined that the Lord Mayor was actually John's grandfather. The elder Matthew Randall, was born about 1571, at Bath. He was the son of John and Johanna (Webb) Randall. Matthew married Agnes Cullen, April 16, 1596, at Bath. Agnes was born January 1, 1571, at Bath. She was the daughter of William and Jane (Millard) Cullen. Matthew and Agnes had eight children: Elizabeth (1596-1598), Robert (1598-1671), Matthew (1600-1639/40); John (1601/2-1602/3), George (b./d.1605); Richard (1606-1640); John (1609-1676); and George (1611-1642/3). Matthew was an alderman who served as Lord Mayor of Bath in 1624 and again in 1634. Agnes died February 19, 1627/28, at Bath. Matthew died February 23, 1640/41. Only four of Matthew and Agnes' sons lived to adulthood and produced children. At least two of Matthew's sons died in infancy, as did their daughter, Elizabeth. It is also widely reported that their son, Richard, also died in childhood, without producing any children of his own. However, at least one contemporary source claims that Richard actually immigrated to Scituate, Massachusetts in 1640, later settling at Boston and then Seco, Maine.
Matthew's son, Robert, married Joan Richards and had twelve children, but only two sons, John (1636-1680) and George (1648/9-?), survived to adulthood. Robert's son, John, was baptized at Bath Abbey on May 24, 1636. He became a butcher, and moved to St. James' Parish, Clerkenwell, which is now a part of London. He later inherited a portion of his Grandfather Matthew's estate at Bath. Records of a legal case show that this John was still living in England as late as 1690, and thus could not have been our John.
Although Matthew's elder son, John, died in infancy, his younger son, John, did survive to adulthood. For some time, there was speculation that our John was the son of Matthew of Bath. This John was baptized at Bath Abbey (St. Peter's and Paul's), May 28, 1609.
In 1624, he began an apprenticeship as a woolen draper, at the Drapers Company in London, eventually becoming a master draper. John married Abigail Claxton, January 6, 1647. Abigail was the daughter of Edward and Judith (Pennington) Claxton. John and Abigail had nine children: Abigail (b.1648); Edward (1650-1698); John, Jr. (1653-1658); Matthew (1655-1756); Martha (b.1657); John (b.1660); Anne (b.1661); William (b./d. 1663); and Elizabeth (b.1664). John is reported by some to have been an alderman at Bath, like his father. However, this seems unlikely as he appears to have spent his entire adult life residing in London. John died October 5, 1676, more than ten years after our John first appears in New England. Matthew's son George was married to a woman named Mary. They had at least three children: George Jr., Matthew, and Anne, but no known son named John.
There has been much speculation as to the motivation behind John's eventual migration to New England. In 1657, when John was seventeen years old, he went to work as an apprentice at the Draper's Company in London. There, his uncle, also named John Randall, was a master draper. Some have suggested that John's uncle sent him to New England in an effort to expand the family's textile business to the American Colonies. However, the lack of documentation to support such a business venture makes this scenario highly doubtful. Rather, it is more likely that John's motivation was more politically and religiously based.
England, under the leadership of King Charles I, had become embroiled in a Civil War beginning in 1642. Charles was eventually defeated and, in January 1649, was executed. Rising to power in opposition to the monarchy was Oliver Cromwell, who eventually proclaimed himself Lord Protector, having seized full dictatorial control over England, Scotland and Ireland. The period under Cromwell's rule was known as the Commonwealth. Cromwell died in September 1658, and was succeeded by his son, Richard Cromwell. But, Richard showed little of his father's talent for leadership and England soon found itself turning back to the monarchy. Charles's son was recalled from his exile in France and, in 1660, was proclaimed King Charles II. Thus began the period know in British history as the Restoration.
John's religious non-conformity would have posed little threat to him under Cromwell's rule of religious tolerance. However, Puritanism had become a growing force in England, rising primarily in opposition to what many felt was the Anglican Church's retention of much of its Catholic heritage. Although Charles II promised to carry on Cromwell's commitment to religious freedom, many of his opponents were wielding their own influence to impose Puritanism by law not only on Anglicans, but also on dissenting minorities including Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Baptists. Religious freedom in England was quickly becoming a thing of the past. The details of John's arrival in New England are unclear. It can be presumed that he initially arrived at Massachusetts, as English colonists of this period typically entered New England through the port at Boston, before traveling on to Rhode Island. In fact, between 1663 and 1700, the only known settlers to enter Rhode Island directly from Europe were a group of French immigrants in 1686. John is said to have come to Westerly, Rhode Island, with a party led by Hugh Mosher in 1667, although an affidavit from fellow Colonist Thwaite Strickland suggests that he was actually residing in the region as early as 1661.
Thwaite Strickland had been leasing land along the east side of the Pawcatuck River from Captain Daniel Gookin, since September 1661. In October 1666, Strickland made the complaint that several men, including John Randall, James Babcock and John Renholds, had been mowing his hay, damaging his cornfields, and stealing his cattle, over the previous three years. During a confrontation in the Summer of 1666, Strickland claims that Randall and Renholds interrupted his mowing. When Strickland informed them that he was mowing the land in the name of the King, the men declared that the land was theirs and that the King would not be so beggarly as to put royal cattle on their land. The men's claim appears to have been supported by constable Stephen Wilcox. Given the fluidity of the Rhode Island-Connecticut boarder at the time, it is quite possible that the men had no real intention of violating Strickland's rights, but truly believed that the land on which his was farming was legitimately theirs.
John first officially appears in the public records of Westerly, Rhode Island, on May 6, 1667, when he made a claim for land east of the Pawcatuck River, (published in Austin's Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island). John also appears in the records of Newport, Rhode Island that same year, although there is no evidence that he ever actually resided at Newport. John's wife was named Elizabeth, although her family name and origins are currently unknown. As for popular reports that Elizabeth was actually Elizabeth Morton, sister of William Morton (d.1669), of New London, Connecticut -- such suggestions now appear misguided. In addition to John's cousin, John the butcher of St. James Parish, Clerkenwell, there was actually a second John of St. James' Parish, whom many have suggested was actually our John. This could not be, however, as this John is known to have died at Clerkenwell, October 9, 1680, having never left England. It was actually this John of Clerkenwell who married Elizabeth Morton, January 31, 1658, at St. Bride's Fleet Parish, London. Elizabeth was christened in the parish of St. Lawrence Bounty, March 29, 1630. She was the daughter of Edward and Bridget Morton, and sister of William Morton, immigrant to the American Colonies in 1667. (This was not Sir William Morton of London as commonly reported -- Sir William Morton, the highly respected English judge, was eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London for his royalist views, and died in England in 1672, having never been to the American Colonies). William Morton the colonist died in 1650, at Groton, Connecticut, leaving his estate to his nephew Nathaniel, who eventually came to Groton to claim his inheritance.
At Westerly, John and Elizabeth had four children: John, Jr. (b.1666); Stephen (1668-1740); Matthew (1671-1735); and Peter (b.1674). On May 18, 1669, John was listed as one of the town's original 24 freemen. He took an oath of allegiance at Westerly, on September 17, 1669. At the time, the Colony of Rhode Island had a population of about 3,000 people. According to the book Swamp Yankee of Mystic, by James H. Allyn, John was one of those complained about by Pequot chief Wescoscotte, (also called Harmen Garret, Governor of the Pequots), in a letter to Governor Winthrop. According to Wescoscotte, "such men wear hats and clothes like Englishmen, but have dealt with us like wolves and bears." In about 1670, these Indians were removed to a reservation North Stonington.
In 1670, John purchased from Thomas Bell, 300 acres of land along the Pawcatuck River. This was land John believed to have belonged to the town of Westerly. However, in 1663, the courts had declared the Pawcatuck River to be the dividing line between the Colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Thus, John's land was located in territory now claimed by Stonington, Connecticut. At a town meeting held August 9, 1670, the Stonington authorities protested the sale, declaring their dissatisfaction with the fact that the sale had been made privately between the two men, rather than at a formal town meeting. In order for the sale to be considered valid, the town leaders insisted that John come to Stonington and declare his loyalty to the Connecticut Colony. On November 30, 1670, John attended a Stonington town meeting, at which time he was admitted as an inhabitant of the town.
The boundary dispute between Rhode Island and Connecticut continued to rage on for many years. The complex dispute of jurisdiction led to fines, arrests, imprisonment, appeals, the appointment of numerous commissions between the colonies, and even direct interference and ruling from the King himself. The town of Westerly and the Randall property had been established on land originally purchased from the Narragansett Indians by the Rhode Island colonists in 1661. However, despite backing from Rhode Island's charter of 1643, Connecticut and Massachusetts challenged Rhode Island's claim to the region, arguing old claims from Indian conquests and taking advantage of undefined phrases in the Rhode Island charter. The present-day boundaries between the colonies were not finally established until 1728.
It does not appear, however, that John ever actually relinquished his Rhode Island citizenship. John took an oath of fidelity to the Rhode island Colony in 1679, and was appointed to a committee of an unknown nature at a Westerly town meeting held September 22, 1679. He was selected as a juryman on April 29, 1680, and on September 21, 1682, was chosen a deputy to the General Assembly held at Warwick. John and Elizabeth were leading members of the Baptist Church. It was Roger Williams who established the first Baptist Church in the American Colonies at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1638, after fleeing the persecutions of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans. This church based its beliefs on seven basic principles: 1) the freedom of conscience in matters of worship; 20 church membership based on religious experience; 3) the separation of church and state; 4) the complete independence of each individual congregation; 5) the Scriptures as providing the only accepted standard of faith and church law; 6) immersion as the only Scripturally accepted form of baptism; and 7) the equality of all members of the church, with every member being am equally responsible one. Beginning in 1664, a schism began to arise within the Baptist Church. Led by Stephen Mumford, several church members began to argue that Saturday, the seventh day of the week, should be consecrated as the Sabbath, rather than Sunday, the first. Those who accepted this belief eventually became known as Seventh Day or Sabbatarian Baptists. The Sabbatarians insisted that one could not discard part of the Fourth Commandment without denying all ten. The other side maintained that ignored Christian reshaping of the Hebrew tradition amounted to a return to Judaism. In December 1671, seven members of the First Baptist Church of Newport seceded, and established the Colonies' first Sabbatarian church at Westerly. These seven individuals included John and Elizabeth Randall; Samuel Hubbard, his wife and daughter; and John and Mary Babcock, Westerly's first white settlers. By 1678, besides the seven Westerly Sabbatarians, the new church had ten members in New London, and twenty at Newport. By 1995, church membership had grown to 5,250, with 90 churches nationwide. Initially, Sabbatarian services were held every eighth week, alternating between two established churches (Providence and Newport). However, the impracticality of this arrangement soon became too burdensome and, in 1708, the citizens of Westerly established an independent congregation, under the leadership of Rev. John Maxson (1638-1720). By 1712, the church at Westerly, eventually known as the First Hopkinton Seventh Day Baptist Church, had a congregation of 130 members.
John is believed to have died at Westerly, prior to 1685, the year his wife petitioned for the privilege to improve her deceased husband's lands. Elizabeth is believed to have died in 1685.
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