One the benefits of genealogy, for me at least, comes from those moments when I start to see a connection between my ancestors and all that stuff they tried to teach me in school. At those moments, I am challenged to crack open some history books, or digital equivalents thereof, in order to gain a better sense of who my people were and how they lived.
For example, my interest in the American Revolution was piqued, first, when I read that Thomas Harding had fought at Saratoga and witnessed the surrender of Burgoyne, and again, when Eneas Gary wrote in his pension files that he helped build a fort on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.
Most recently, it happened when I learned that my 8-Great Grandfather, Thomas Buckingham, was a Puritan and a founding member of the New Haven Colony. In addition to general resources regarding the Puritan migration to New England, I found several sources that refer to Thomas Buckingham specifically. Way too much information for one blog post! But here is his story, in a nutshell.
Thomas Buckingham was born about 1607 in England, perhaps Buckinghamshire. I found nothing about his earlier life there but he must have been a “non-conformist” or “Puritan”; one who was dissatisfied with the rites and rituals of the Church of England and refused to conform to its practices. As Protestants, they thought the official state Church of England still resembled the Roman Catholic church too much and sought to “purify” it.
The King, and Parliament, strongly opposed and harassed the non-conformists to the extent that between 1620-1640 some 80,000 people fled England to build new lives for themselves elsewhere. One of the families that settled in New England was: Thomas Buckingham, 30; his wife Hannah, 26; and their two children, Hannah, 5; and Daniel, 1.
The Buckinghams were part of a group that was, according to one source, “made up of middle to upperclass merchants and was one of the richest and most influential groups to emigrate to the New World.” Also on board were two Pastors, John Davidson and Peter Prudden. If Prudden and Buckingham were not acquainted before this they certainly were for the rest of their lives.
The voyage to America was made on The Hector and another unidentified vessel, each carrying about 100 passengers. They were probably at sea for 6 to 8 weeks, and arrived at Boston on June 26, 1637.
The group was anxious to start an independent colony free of all religious and political constraints but most of them spent the first winter in Boston while a few were scouting out a location and making preparations. The following spring, some 250 settlers, including the Buckingham’s, set sail for the area near the mouth of the Quinnipack River (current site of New Haven, CT) and arrived there in April of 1638.
Thomas Buckingham is listed under “Names of Planters” and “Division of Land according to Estate”, so we know that he was a member in good standing of the church and that he was one of the first settlers. In the first division, he received thirteen acres of upland, two and one-half on the neck, and five of meadow. In the second division he received twenty acres.
Within a year, plans were forming for yet another settlement about 10 miles farther west. On February 12, 1639, they purchased from the Indians a tract of land, for the consideration of “6 coats, 10 blankets, 1 kettle, besides hoes, knives, hatchets, and glasses (mirrors)”.
The new town was to be called Milford. The new church was organized at New Haven on Aug. 22,1639 with Peter Prudden as Pastor and Thomas Buckingham as one of the Seven Pillars.
On “moving day” the settlers marched 10 miles through the wilderness, driving their livestock ahead of them. Some household goods and farm equipment were transported by sea.
On Nov. 29, 1639, Thomas Buckingham’s name was included on the list of Free Planters. His house lot, #36 on the map below, contained three acres.
Being a new settlement in the wilderness, EVERYTHING had to be built. Church, houses, palisades. Even their government had to be invented. Each planter was required to build a house within three years or they would lose their land.
Thomas Buckingham remained a prominent member of the community in Milford until his death. His name appears often on the town records usually having to do with land transactions. One entry, which I found interesting, appears in the town record of May 26, 1657:
A question was brought before the court concerning some fence, in difference, betwixt Thomas Buckingham and Widow Plumb of Milford, which Thomas Buckingham and Richard Baldwin, brother of Widow Plumb, adjusted, by agreeing to maintain each a certain portion of the fence. The court was satisfied with that agreement and desired them to live in peace and love as neighbors ought to do.
Thomas and Hannah Buckingham had three more children while living in Milford. The youngest, also named Thomas, was born in 1646, the same year that Hannah Buckingham died. We do not know for sure when Thomas Jr. was born, but Hannah died on June 25, and Thomas Jr. was baptized on November 8th.
The elder Thomas Buckingham remarried and survived his wife by 11 years, dying at Boston, in the fall of 1657, “where he had gone, on business for the church to seek for them a pastor.” That seems probable because Mr. Prudden had died the year previous, and the church was without a pastor at that time.
As for Thomas Buckingham Jr., (my 7th G-GF) he is also quite noteworthy.
When he was only 19 years old, he began preaching on an interim basis in Saybrook which by then had merged into the Connecticut Colony. According to the Town Acts of Saybrook, Mr. Buckingham was ordained and installed pastor of the church in 1670, a little over five years from the time he commenced the regular supply of the pulpit. He remained in that position for over 40 years.
He evidently held a high rank among the clergymen of the time and was a leader in efforts for the prosperity and extension of the church. He was a moderator at a synod which convened at Saybrook and formed the platform for the government of the churches in 1708.
He was one of the founders and a Fellow of Yale College. In fact, the first commencement of Yale College was held at his home in Saybrook.
Town Records also report that frequent grants of land were made to him as his family and expenses increased. By the time he died, he was quite a landholder.
Finally, the Last Will & Testament of Rev. Thomas Buckingham revealed one more thing about him. In the abstract of his Will it says “To Mary, his wife, he gives one third of all his real estate, and one-third of all his movables, except only his two negro boys.” Later on he states who should receive each of the boys, Peter & Phillip, “to be his slave servant”.
What a blow that was. I knew that my family had been in America since way before the 13th Amendment was enacted; but this is the first evidence I have found that any of my direct ancestors were slave holders.
Chapman, F.W., Buckingham, William A.; The Buckingham Family; or The Descendants of Thomas Buckingham, one of the first settlers of Milford, Conn. (1872); Case, Lockwood & Brainard, Hartford, Conn.
Buckingham, George Tracy; Buckingham Colonial Ancestors’ (1920) Chicago : G.T. Buckingham