Captain John 'Mad Jack' Oldham

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Captain John 'Mad Jack' Oldham

Birthplace: Derby, Derbyshire, England (United Kingdom)
Death: July 20, 1636 (44)
Aboard his ship; near Block Island, Narragansett Bay, Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America (Killed by Indians)
Place of Burial: At Sea
Immediate Family:

Son of William Oldham and Philippa Oldham
Husband of Jane Oldham and Wife of John Oldham
Father of Christian Oldham; Richard Oldham; John Oldham; Margaret Oldham and Mary Bridges
Brother of Thomas Oldham, I; Mary Oldham; Lucretia Brewster; Elizabeth Oldham and Jacobus Oldham

Occupation: Oldham grew rich in coastal trade and trading with the Indians., colonist, Trader / Explorer
Managed by: Mike Baylor
Last Updated:

About Captain John 'Mad Jack' Oldham

John Oldham (1592–1636) was an early Puritan settler in Massachusetts. He was a captain, merchant, and Indian trader. His death at the hands of the Indians was one of the causes of the Pequot War of 1636-37.

Notes for “Captain Mad Jack” John Oldham

In 1623, Captain John “Mad Jack” Oldham, his sister Lucretia, and his brother Thomas's pregnant wife, Elizabeth Rhodes, boarded the Anne and set sail to Plymouth, Massachusetts

Landed at Plymouth in 1623 and later banned. Murdered by Indians aboard his boat. His sons were taken captive, but were later rescued.

John came from England on the "Anne" and landed at Plymouth in 1623 and was murdered by the Pequod or Narragansett Indians in the Narragansett Bay near Block Island, in 1636. His two sons, John aged 12, and Thomas, aged 10, at the time they came over from England in the "Elizabeth and Ann" in 1635, were with him at the time and were held by the Indians as captives, and were given up under the terms of treaty with the Narragansett Indians made afterward.

Richard Oldham of Cambridge, Mass., was there as early as 1650, and was most certainly a brother to the youths, John and Thomas. the trio were certainly sons of John Oldham of Plymouth; some histories state that they were. John Oldham of Plymouth in 1629 or 1630, returned to England, and he was in England in 1635, the year said boys were brought over; they would not have been brought at their tender ages, in all probability, if their or nearest relative had not been coming or was not already here."

Killed in his bark at Rhoide Island by the Indians August 1636.

Among the passengers in the Anne, which arrived at Plymouth in the same summer of 1623, were some few who were not to belong to the general body, or be subject to the rules of joint trading, but came on “their perticuler,” as Bradford describes it. An agreement was soon made with them, debarring them from the Indian trade until the period of joint trading should end, and otherwise defining their status in the community. Such an anomalous group within the body politic naturally tended to trouble, nor were leaders lacking who endeavored to fan the sparks into a blaze. Among the “perticulers” was a rough-and-ready trader named John Oldham, a man of considerable practical ability, but heady, self-willed, and of an ungovernable temper. In the following spring appeared also a canting hypocritical clergyman, John Lyford

1 Bradford, Plymouth, pp. 138-41; Records of Council for New England, Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, April, 1866, pp. 91-93.

by name, who seems to have been a sort of lascivious Uriah Heep. Pretending great humility, he was honorably received by the Pilgrims, as they thought befitting a clergyman, and was given a scat in the Governor’s Council. Soon, however, he and Oldham joined forces, and gathered together the various malcontents of the colony, without any very clear idea, apparently, beyond that of fishing in troubled waters, in the hope of making some profitable catch. The waters were troubled enough at this juncture, for the factions among the Adventurers at home were then at their height. To the party there adverse to the Pilgrim interest, Oldham and Lyford dispatched letters, containing matter distinctly inimical to the established order. These were read and copied by Bradford, in the cabin of the ship which was to bear them, unknown to the senders. The latter, indeed, had some suspicions, and “were somewhat blanke at it, but after some weeks, when they heard nothing, they were as brisk as ever,” like boys relieved from the fear of having been caught in mischief. In fact, they became so brisk that Oldham, when called upon to do his turn of guard duty by Standish, refused and raised a tumult.

The grotesque effect of their next stroke was naturally lost upon people who, with all their excellent qualities, were, unhappily for themselves, very obviously lacking in the saving grace of humor. The curiously assorted couple decided to set up a church of their own. The thought of Oldham, “a mad Jack in his mood,” and the sniveling clergyman, whose innumerable light loves had brought so many heavy sorrows, reforming the Pilgrims’ church is one of the bits which lighten the somewhat sombre recital of those frontier days. A General Court was convened, and the two were brought to trial. Both of them were sentenced to banishment, Oldham to go at once, and Lyford to have six months’ grace, although the former seems to have been rather the more respectable, as he was much the more masculine, of the two. Oldham went, but, having nursed his wrath, he suddenly returned in March, for the sole purpose, apparently, of exploding it upon the yet unreformed Pilgrims, who, however, merely “committed him till he was tamer.” Lyford, meanwhile, had utilized his reprieve to write home again, criticizing the government of the colony, and making some just complaints, on the part of the large minority, of the required conformity of worship. The sentence of banishment was then enforced, and both rebels betook themselves temporarily to Nantasket.1


  1. Three episodes of Massachusetts history By Charles Francis Adams. Page 215
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Captain John 'Mad Jack' Oldham's Timeline

April 9, 1592
Derby, Derbyshire, England (United Kingdom)
July 14, 1592
Derby, Derbyshire, England (United Kingdom)
Great Totham, Essex, England, United Kingdom
August 13, 1611
Derby, Derby, England, United Kingdom
Probably England
July 1623
Age 31
Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA