By Bill Miller
What motivated our ancestors to leave their home, family and country and hop on a small sailing ship for a 2-3 month risky ocean trip to the wilderness of America? When the James of London, a 300 ton ship, sailed from Southhampton, England on April 6, 1635 bound for New England, there were 53 men and boys and no women on board. Two of them were my 9th great-grandfathers: Edmond Hawes and Anthony Morse. On the ship manifest they are listed as:
Edmund Hawes, cutler, London #21
Anthony Morse, shoemaker, Marlborough, Wiltshire #12
They were from different towns and different branches of the family tree, and probably did not know each other before their cruise. Did they have anything in common? Why was this an all- male cruise? I was most interested in my knife-maker, great-grandfather, Edmund Hawes.
In 2013 my wife and I had the privilege to visit his family manor house, farm and church in Solihull, England. Built in 1576, this stately 441-year old mansion, Hillfield Hall, speaks of the wealth and station of his family. His father, Edmund, was a wealthy farmer with over 1,000 acres with many servants. His grandfather, William, was Lord of Solihull. They were deeply committed Roman Catholics and very involved in St. Alphege Parish Church, where both parents are buried in the family chapel. After his birth in 1608, Edmund was baptized, educated and raised in that church. He was the 3rd and youngest son, with 11 other siblings. Later they moved to his mother’s dowager farm home on Shelly Farm (pictured below), where Edmund grew up. He was a child of privilege in a leading family in Warwickshire. However, the next thing you hear about Edmund is that he has moved to London and is completing an 8-year apprenticeship in the making of knives, scissors, cutlery and cutting tools. It is December 1634. Three months later, April 5, 1635, he is on the ship James heading for America.
What happened? How or why did he become an immigrant, and my immigrant ancestor? The answer came on the ship. The James of London was bringing English Puritans to Boston as part of the great Puritan Migration, which brought over 20,000 Puritans to settle new towns in Massachusetts in the 1630s. The truth is, Edmund, who was raised and educated in the Roman Catholic Church and a Catholic family, apparently became the first Hawes to join the Protestant Puritans. He had to get out of town! Furthermore, as the youngest son, he was not going to get any inheritance anyway. Also, he was still single, with a new diploma in knife-making. So he joined up with a bunch of Puritan guys for a boys-life-out in New England.
During his stay in Boston he got married and had a son named John. Two years later (1637) he was granted land in Duxbury, where he dealt in land, served as a Constable, and was the surveyor of highways until 1644. From there he moved with a friend to settle the town of Yarmouth, MA. There he was a very active civic leader, including 26 years as Town Clerk and Treasurer. There he died in 1693 at the age of 85. His son married Desire Howland, granddaughter of Pilgrims John and Elizabeth Tilley Howland. That is where our family got linked up with the Mayflower and Plymouth Colony.
It’s fun to realize that the adventures of an English Catholic-turned Puritan, knife-maker, civic leader, and father-of-one, helped to make me what I am. We are all shaped by the decisions, choices, actions and DNA of those who came before. Isn’t it nice to have someone to blame or thank for the way you turned out?