Capt. Thomas Willett

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About Thomas Willett

Wikipedia Biographical Summary:

"...Thomas Willett (1611-1674) was a British merchant, Plymouth Colony trader and sea-captain, Commissioner of New Netherlands, a magistrate of Plymouth Colony, and Captain of Plymouth Colony. He was appointed Mayor of New York on June 12, 1665, by Governor Richard Nicolls, and as a commissioner of admiralty on August 23. He was a member of the governor's executive council from 1665 to 1672 under Richard Lovelace. He retired in 1673.

His son Thomas Willett was a major in the militia of Queens County and a councilor under Governors Sir Edmund Andros and Henry Sloughter.

SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Willett

Immigration:

Thomas Willet; Captain; 1st Mayor of New York; Merchant; Immigrated in 1632 on the LION.

SOURCE: Adam and Ann Mott Ancestry; Thomas C. Cornell, page 251; FHL book# 929.273 M8579C. FHL US/CAN Film 1018871 Item 10.

Resources:

http://www.famousamericans.net/thomaswillett/

http://www.newenglandancestors.org/pdfs/willett_thomas.pdf

Biographical Summary #2:

“...As a boy in Holland, Thomas learned both the Dutch and the English language and although there seems to be no record of his having attended the university, his later life shows he received more than the ordinary education” (Smith, page 42).

“In Leyden, young Willett was reared in the congregation of Reverend John Robinson, the beloved pastor of the Pilgrims in Holland. Mr. Robinson had been graduated from Cambridge University in 1599, where he received his Master’s Degree, and removed to Holland in 1608. His son, Isaac Robinson, who was born the following year, became one of Willett’s fast friends, and both boys sailed to New England on the same ship” (Smith, page 42).

The return trip referred to above was the 1632 trip in the “Lion” that Thomas Willett made after testifying at the trial of Isaac Allerton in London.

It was in 1620, that the small ship, Mayflower, crammed with 102 saints and strangers, sighted southern New England just before the onset of winter. “Of the passengers aboard the original Mayflower, only about 40 or so called themselves saints (religious dissidents who had cut all the ties to the Church of England which they regarded as hopelessly corrupt). The rest were strangers, as the saints called them; humble folk recruited to fill out the list. The strangers simply hoped to better their lot in the new world. Later generations, influenced by seventeenth century romanticists, would lump them all together as Pilgrims” (Cooke, page 48).

The story of the Pilgrims, is a separate story from that of our Thomas Willett. The Pilgrim era was closing in March, 1629, when Thomas Willett, sailed from Gravesend, England on the Mayflower with Captain William Pierce in command. This was not, however, the Mayflower of 1620 which took the original Pilgrims to Plymouth. In 1620, there were approximately 120 ships of English registry, and 20 of these were named Mayflower.

On board this second Mayflower were 35 passenger [sic] from Leyden, Holland, a portion of the Green Gate Congregation that included Isaac, Mercy, and Fear Robinson (Planters of the Commonwealth, page 35). What reason prompted young Thomas Willett to leave his family, parents and sisters, to settle in a “new world” is unknown. He most likely was encouraged by his father to start a new life away from the life of the exile in Holland.

Shortly after Thomas Willett’s arrival, the Colony's government sent him north to take charge of their tradin post near the mouth of the Kennebec River in what is now Main. A little later, a new tradin post was established on the Penoscot [sic] River, about 50 miles up the Maine Coast from the Pilgrim trading post at Kennebec. There was a royal proclamation against trading weapons to the Indians. However, another agent, Edward Ashley, was illegally furnishing the Indians with weapons in defiance of King Charles I proclamation of November 24, 1630. Ashley was arrested and sent to England for trial before the Privy Council. Young Thomas Willett had actually seen Ashley sell contraband and was a star witness. However, this required that Willett return to England. He and Isaac Allerton returned to England on Allerton's ship, White Angel. On September 6, 1631, Willett gave his testimony. Ashley was found guilty. This was only one of the problems and conflicts which faced the Pilgrim community.

And even greater fraud had been continuously perpetuated [sic] on the unsuspecting Pilgrims by Willett’s fellow traveller, Isaac Allerton. Allerton had been acting as the Pilgrim’s agent in London who dealt with the backers of Plymouth Plantation. Allerton had succeeded in running up the Pilgrim’s [sic] debt, from £400 (about $20,000) to £4,770 (about $238,500) in less than four years. Allerton was eventually dismissed from his position, but he continually plagued the Pilgrim fathers for years afterward.

The return trip to New England was arranged. Thomas had the company of another old family friend from Leyden on the outbound trip. this was his father’s friend, John Browne, along with his daughter, Mary Browne, and other members of that family who were immigrating to the new world. They left England on June 22, 1632, on board the Lion, which was a fairly large ship for the day. The return trip took twelve weeks; they arrived in Boston on September 16. Thomas Willett and Mary Brown must have seen a lot of each other during that voyage. An enduring romance must have had its inception on board the Lion.

On July 6, 1636, he married Mary, the daughter of Worshipful John Brown (b 1584 in England; d April 10, 1662, at Swansea, Massachusetts), the son of Thomas Browne. Peter Browne, the uncle of John Browne had come over on the original Mayflower, and he and the elder Thomas Browne were sons of Thomas Browne, Senior. The Browns were from Swansea, England, and his wife Dorothy (nee Beauchamp) had immigrated from Cambridge, England, to Holland, and then followed the Puritans to Massachusetts. Governor Winthrop performed the ceremony. The Browns had been one of the last of the Green Gate Pilgrims to leave Holland for the new world. They were old friends of the Willett family.

“By this marriage, Willett allied himself with one of the most influential families of the Plymouth Colony. Mr. Brown had become one of plymouth’s [sic] most prominent figures and had been given a patent on the Kennebec. For twelve years he was a commissioner of the United Colonies of New England, and for eighteen years he was a governor’s assistant.

The Dutch were suspicious of the English, particularly the English settlements in Long Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. This is where Willett, born in England, raised in Holland, was at his best, as an intermediator between the Dutch and the English. He acquired a remarkable degree the confidence of the Dutch, and also the Indians, as well as the English. When Governor Stuyvesant first arrived in New Amsterdam, in 1647, to succeed Governor Kieft, a spirit of intercolonial courtesy induced Governor Bradford, of Plymouth to write to Stuyvesant, under the date of April 3d, 1647, congratulating him on his safe arrival, and in the letter commending to the Dutch Governor, Thomas Willett and William Paddie as men who [sic] he could trust. Stuyvesant accepted the recommendation, finding it in accord with the sentiment of New Amsterdam; and soon after appointed Captain Willett to represent the Dutch in a boundary commission between New Netherlands and Hartford.

On March 7, 1647/48 Thomas Willett was made Captain of the Plymouth Company of Militia. He succeeded Captain Miles Standish, that “little stovepipe” who had died.

On June 6, 1649, he was made a surveyor of the highways. From 1651 until 1664, he was a magistrate of the Plymouth Colony.

Captain Willett kept a residence in New Amsterdam. In 1655, he was one of the 320 taxpayers. He owned several ships, and perhaps one or all of them were ocean-going vessels. In 1651, he purchased the frigate Palomne; he was bondsman for Edmond Scarborough, late of Accomack County, Colony of Virginia, for £5,000 in 1655; and about the same time purchased the ship Abraham’s Sacrifice; he also owned the New Netherlands.

[p. 8] In 1660, Thomas Willett founded the town of Swansea, Rhode Island, and here were [sic] Massachusetts and Rhode Island join, made his home. It must have been a nice home. Willett was well-to-do, if not down-right rich. His son John was living in New Amsterdam, perhaps as overseer to the Willett ventures there. His son Hezekiah lived at Swansea, probably with his father.

In the summer of 1664, Governor Stuyvesant, and the Burgomasters and the Dutch people had known that an English invasion was threatened.

On the 8th of September, 1664, Governor Stuyvesant surrendered in the face of overwhelming force. Against the fleet of Col. Nichols, he could have only brought to bear 100 men, 25 guns, and barely enough ammunition to fight for one day. All Dutch rights were to be respected. The Dutch council then in session would rule until the usual change in council members was made the next spring. But the Dutch form of government was not customary in the King's dominions, so Governor Nicolls [sic] decided to give the city a new charter and government when June, 1665, came around. Who would be the first English Mayor?

Captain Thomas Willett was chosen by Colonel Nichols to be the first English Mayor of the renamed New York City. It was a natural choice made by a Colonel who had avoiced bloodshed through negotiation. And Captain Thomas Willett was one of the chief negotiators. Not only was he respected by the English, but also by the Dutch. He spoke fluent Dutch and had a home in the city, along with business interests. On June 12, 1665, Willett assumed his seat at the head of the council. Of five aldermen on the council, three were Dutchmen who had previously served. New York was then a small town of a few narrow streets, south of Wall Street, lined with small thatched cottages and some big handsome Dutch buildings.

On January 8, 1669, Thomas Willet's wife, Mary Brown, died at their home in the Plymouth Colony. She was buried at Swansea.

Captain Willett married a second time, on September 19, 1671, he married Mrs. Joyce Pruden.

Thomas Willett died at Swansea and was buried at the head of Bullock’s Cove, in what is now East Providence, RI. His tombstone gives the date of his death as August 4, 1674 “in the 64th year of his age”. His will dated April 26, 1671 and probated on August 12, 1674, left bequests to his four sons, two daughters, a brother-in-law and the church of Rehoboth. His wife Mary died on January 8, 1699.

Known issue of Thomas and Mary:

  1. Martha Willett, married John Saffin, a merchant of Boston and had eight sons; four of them were mentioned in Thomas Willett’s will.
  2. Esther Willett, b. July 6, 1647
  3. Hezekiah Willett, born and died in 1651
  4. Rebecca Willett died April 2, 1652
  5. James Willett, mentioned in will
  6. Hezekiah Willett, mentioned in his father’s will, killed by Indians at the Willett plantation in Swansea.
  7. Andrew Willett, mentioned in will
  8. Samuel Willett, mentioned in will
  9. Thomas Willett
  10. Mary Willett, married Samuel Hooker

SOURCE: The Willett Families of North America; compiled by Albert James Willett, Jr., A Willett; House Publication

There are very detailed, scholarly analyses of the genealogy of Thomas Willet published in Volume 80 of The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (1949)

-------------------- Capt. Thomas Willett was the first English mayor of New York.

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Capt. Thomas Willett's Timeline

1605
1605
Barley, Hertfordshire, England
1632
1632
Age 27
Plymouth, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, USA
1636
July 6, 1636
Age 31
Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
1637
November 10, 1637
Age 32
Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, MA, USA
1639
August 6, 1639
Age 34
Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
1641
August 21, 1641
Age 36
Plymouth, Plymouth Colony
1642
May 4, 1642
Age 37
Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
1644
December 2, 1644
Age 39
Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
1646
October 1, 1646
Age 41
Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
1648
July 10, 1648
Age 43
Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA