Origin Story: Thomas Whittier

First published on November 2, 2015.

This weekend I fell down a rabbit hole researching Ruth Lufkin Whittier, wife of Joseph Dwinells. Ruth was supposed to be my next origin story, but before I tell her story I want to tell another. I was trying to find out more information about her parents when I stumbled onto a book titled The Descendants of Thomas Whittier and Ruth Green: of Salisbury & Haverhill, Massachusetts, by Charles Collyer Whittier. In this book I found Ruth and her parents as well as information about the Whittier side of my family tree. Ruth’s three times great-grandfather (my 10th) was Thomas Whittier, the first Whittier in America.

Thomas was probably born around 1620 in Salisbury, England. He set sail for the new world in 1638 aboard the Confidence. I was able to find some amazing information about ship manifests compiled by Anne Stevens. Thomas was 18 years old and traveling with his uncle John Rolfe. Thomas was listed as a servant but this might be an indication that Uncle John paid for his passage and that Thomas was going to pay him back. Confidence landed on April 24, 1638 in Boston, Massachusetts. From there Thomas moved to Salisbury, Massachusetts where he married Ruth Green. I found a mention that by the age of 21, Thomas was 300 pounds per family tradition, but I have a feeling that this was some sort of transcription error.

Thomas and Ruth had their first child in Salisbury, Mary born in 1647, however the Whittier family soon moved to Haverhill, Massachusetts. Their second child, John (my direct ancestor) was born on December 23, 1649 in Haverhill. I found another book, The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts, from its First Settlement, in 1640, to the Year 1860 by George Wingate Chase that mentioned Thomas quite a few times. When Thomas arrived in town he not only brought his family, but he also brought some bees that were bequeathed to him:

Thomas Whittier, of Newbury, came into town about this time [1647] and brought a swarm of bees, which were probably the first in the place. They were willed to him by Henry Rolfe of Newbury, who calls the, “his best swarm of bees”. At that time they were no mean legacy, and their arrival was doubtless the “town talk”. (pg 67)

Thomas was very involved in Haverhill. He served on the town board and even briefly served as the town constable in 1669. His third child, Ruth was born in 1651 and his fourth, Thomas was born in 1653. A year before this, he received 7 ½ acres in a distribution of plough-land. He and Ruth had six more children Susannah in 1656, Nathaniel in 1658, Hannah in 1660, Richard in 1663, Elizabeth 1666 and Joseph in 1669.

Thomas built a house for his family in 1688 and that house still exists although, I think parts of it has been rebuilt. The Whittier homestead is listed as being built in 1829 as well. Perhaps a trip to this house will clear up some of this confusion. This house is a museum commemorating the accomplishments of John Greenleaf Whittier who was a famous poet and abolitionist. We only share Thomas as a common ancestor, his direct ancestor was Thomas’s son Joseph.

Thomas died on November 28, 1696 at the age of 76. A memorial for Thomas and Ruth exists on the John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead. All of Thomas’s children lived into adulthood and contributed heavily to the town of Haverhill. As with every origin story, I’m sure that I will uncover more as I dig deeper into my history.

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