17th Century Wenham
Selections from "Wenham" by Sidney Perley in History of Essex County, Massachusetts Volume 2, Part 1 edited by Duane Hamilton Hurd
The territory of Wenham is mentioned for the first time in 1637. John Williams, a ship-carpenter by trade, was arrested in Ipswich for theft some time before, and imprisoned for his crime. He broke out of the jail with one John Hoddy, and they traveled together in the way to Ipswich. When they had reached the valley by the border of the lake, near where the bound-stone between Beverly and Wenham stands, by the highway leading from Wenham Centre to North Beverly, Williams murdered his companion, and took away what he had, even his clothing, which was bloody. He put on the clothing, and went in it to Ipswich. He was there apprehended, but would make no confession until a week after Hoddy's body was found. He was tried, convicted and executed, by hanging, in Boston September 28, 1637. This is said to have been the first murder which occurred among the European settlers of the colony.
The next mention that we find made of this region is that of the preaching of Hugh Peters' sermon, about 1638... This settlement was then called Enon, and Peters was the pastor of the church in Salem, a part of which town Wenham then was. He had particular friends among the early settlers of Wenham, one of whom Dea. Charles Gott, became his agent here after he had returned to England to become involved in the commonwealth and to suffer a terrible death as a regicide.
There is a tradition in the Killam family that the first three settlers of Wenham were one of the early Fiske settlers, Austin Killam and Richard Goldsmith. The first settlement must have been made about 1635. It was at first known as Salem village as well as Enon, and was incorporated as a distinct town May 10, 1643, in the following words:
The name is supposed to have been taken from one of the two parishes near Ipswich, in England, of the same name, from whence probably some of the early settlers came.
The following is a list of the settlers of the town down to 1700:
A church was organized the year following the incorporation of the town, a militia company was soon afterward formed, and the town government was begun. Highways were early laid out. What was, much later, the turnpike from Salem to Ipswich, was laid out in 1644 or 1645. November 13, 1644, the General Court ordered
The people of Wenham obtained a deed of their territory from the Indians, bearing date December 10, 1700. The aborigines who claimed a title to the soil were Samuel English, Joseph English and John Umpee, heirs of Masconomet, the late sagamore of Agavvam. The Indians were paid for their interest in the land four pounds and sixteen shillings. The early settlers were forbidden to sell arms and ammunition to the savages; and Robert Gowing was, in 1650, fined ten pounds for selling a gun to an Indian.
The burial-place of the first settlers was the same that is now used as the cemetery of the town. The earliest mention of this cemetery made in the records is in the year 1681; and tradition says that many years ago there was a gravestone in existence in the yard bearing date 1642.... The cemetery was originally probably a part of Rev. Mr. Fiske's farm....
Extravagance was not tolerated in the early days, even in Wenham, where Thomas Fiske's wife was presented to court for wearing a tiffany [a sheer, mesh fabric made of silk], in the tenth month of 1652. Her sentence was ten shillings fine and two shillings and sixpence fees of court. Even rich men's wives could not wear silks more freely than others. It was self-evident that a tiffany could not be put on for its warmth, and there might have been moral reasons forbidding its being worn.
The little settlement had its inn from its earliest days. The town-meetings were usually held in the church, and adjournments to the tavern sometimes occurred.
Wenham never gave sufficient inducement to a lawyer to settle there in practice; but physicians have been residents of the town nearly all the years that have passed since the settlement was begun. The first minister, Rev. John Fiske, was the first medical man here. He went to with a portion of his church in 1654. Dr. John Fiske, a distant relative of the minister, was born here in 1654, and remained here in the practice of both physic and surgery. He removed in 1694 to Milford, Conn., where he practiced until 1715, when he died. He was somewhat eminent in his day. Dr. John Newman was here in 1695 and 1696, and Dr. Gott in 1704. ...
A few accidents and deaths by casualty are found recorded. In the journal of Rev. John Fiske, the first pastor of the church here, is an account of his son being carried under the mill-wheel, when it was in motion, and coming out with not a bone broken. This was his son John, who was, June 6, 1647, when the accident occurred, in his ninth year. The journal says, that he
Richard Goldsmith was killed by lightning at the house of Rev. Mr. Newman, who had lately died, on Sunday, May 18,1673, in the presence of the Rev. Mr. Higginson of Salem, who had preached in Wenham that day, and, having but a few moments before returned from the service, was sitting engaged in conversation with Mr. Goldsmith, under whose chair was a dog, which was also killed...
...The first extensive emigration from Wenham occurred in 1655, when the pastor of the church, with a large and influential portion of his parishioners went to the new settlement of Chelmsford. This removal took from the little town its minister and physician, and its main strength. Yet those left behind pushed forward in their work, settled another minister, added to their number of planters and throve...
Religious History.—For the first three or four years after Wenham was first settled, the inhabitants probably attended church at Salem. We have already mentioned the sermon preached by Hugh Peters at Wenham Lake. Mr. Peters was the successor of Roger Williams as pastor of the First Church in Salem; returning to England about 1642, he became a famous preacher, and was appointed chaplain by Cromwell; becoming conspicuous in the commonwealth, he was alleged to have been guilty of assisting in the death of Charles I., and was publicly beheaded therefor on Tower Hill after the restoration. The public initiative towards a church here was probably in 1639. Rev. John Higginson, the minister at Salem, in his church record, says:
As early as 1641 a small meeting-house was built, and Rev. John Fiske, who had assisted Hugh Peters at Salem, came at about the same time and settled inWenham. The most reliable tradition informs us that this building stood on a slight rise of ground near the present residence of Mr. Henry Tarr. A bell was added to it about 1650, and since that time Wenham has not been without its churchbell.
The church was organized and Mr. Fiske installed its pastor October 8, 1644. The church flourished until 1655, when Mr. Fiske, with a majority of his parishioners, removed to the new town of Chelmsford, and became its first pastor. Mr. Fiske's removal was -a great loss iu itself. He was an excellent man, and was a physician as well as a clergyman, practicing the healing art to both body and soul. He died at Chelmsford January 14, 1676-77, aged seventy-six years. He was a son of a prominent and persecuted dissenter, and was born in the parish ot St. James, county of Suffolk, in England, in 1601. He was educated at Immanuel College, Cambridge, and preached for several years in his native land; but, at length, '' on account of the severe restrictions upon nonconformists, he became a physician." He came to America in disguise, bringing with him servants, husbandry and carpentry tools, and provisions sufficient to support his family for three years. He taught the Charlestown grammar-school, and afterwards the first grammar-school in Salem. Mr. Fiske was an earnest and successful preacher; he composed and published a catechism, entitled " Watering of the Olive Plants in Christ's Garden." ...
Mr. Fiske's departure left the church and settlement small in numbers and means. The early settlers of Hamilton (then a part of Ipswich) soon afterwards came to this church, and it began to regain its former strength. The " neighbors," as they were called, are first mentioned as contributing to the support of the church here in 1659.
Rev. Antipas Newman, from Rehoboth, came very soon after Mr. Fiske's removal, being here in 1657. A new meeting-house was built in 1663, being probably "twenty-four feet square, and twelve feet stud." It stood in the square near the soldiers' monument, on land purchased of Austin Kilham. The old meeting-house and lot were sold. At this time the church was newly organized and a new covenant adopted. Mr. Nawman was ordained and the meeting-house probably dedicated December 10, 1663. Here he continued his acceptable service until his death, October 15, 1672. He possessed an excellent religious character.
The next minister was Rev. Joseph Gerrish, who was ordained over the church January 13, 1674, after having preaching here about seven months. A gallery was added to the house the same year on account of the increase of the church. In 1688 a new meeting-house was erected on the site of the old one, which was sold and removed. The new one had a turret, and was probably built by Abraham Tilton of Ipswich.
Several gifts have been made to the church at different times. Thomas Fiske, of Wenham, in his will, which was proved in 1723, gave the church ten pounds, and the same year Captain Thomas Fiske donated a communion cup, which is still in existence. It is inscribed,
Benjamin Fiske, of Wenham, in his will, which was proved in 1742, gave the church five pounds.
Military History.—Wenham had its military company at a very early date. Thomas Fiske was the leading military man for many years in the early settlement of the town. He was chosen "clerk of ye band to ye company 28: 9: 1654." October 10, 1683, the General Court ordered that Thomas Fiske
The first military conflicts in New England with which the settlers had to do were with the Indians. The most serious conflict that Wenham people took part in was the War of King Philip, in 1675 and 1676. The Indians saw the gradual encroachment of the English settlers upon their domains...most of them joined King Philip in his last struggle to recover the possessions of their fathers.
The savages might have accomplished their purpose had not that Power, that can give the heathen for an inheritance, come to their aid and gave the settlers success. The savages fought against hope and with the energy of despair. Hundreds of the whites were killed, and town after town destroyed. Decisive measures were at length determined upon by the colonies, and a force of five hundred and fifty men were collected in Massachusetts Colony.
Some had volunteered in Wenham, among whom were Thomas Abby and Caleb Kimball, to join the little army, and five— Mark Batchelder, Richard Hutton, Thomas Kimball, Samuel Moulton and Philip Welch—were impressed from the Wenham Company by Thomas Fiske, who was then sergeant, November 30, 1675.
These troops, with others from the Plymouth and Connecticut colonies, made a forced march through the deep snows to a swamp in the country of the Narragansetts, in Rhode Island, where the Indians had erected a fort, which the English called Fort Narragansett, and gathered their bravest warriors. They reached the fort December 19, 1675, and, notwithstanding they had camped out the preceding night, "with no other covering than a cold and moist fleece of snow," and had marched nineteen miles that day, wading through the drifts, the troops rushed to the attack at once.
The Indians retreated to the middle of the swamp, where they had fortified an island, five or six acres in area, with palisades and a hedge nearly a rod thick. The English attacked and drove them to the centre of their fort, where the whole mass, there being three times as many Indians as English, was quickly engaged in a desperate and deadly struggle, which resulted at a great cost in favor of the latter. About one-fifth of the English soldiers were killed, and most of them wounded.
Of those who went from Wenham, Mark Batchelder and Caleb Kimball were killed, and Thomas Abby wounded. John Fiske also served in the war, and was wounded. Others from Wenham took part in this conflict, but their names have not yet been determined. Wenham was apprehensive that it might be assaulted by the Indians, and in 1691 voted, and chose a committee, to build a fortification, probably a sort of garrison house. Probably the vote was never acted upon, as nothing is afterwards mentioned regarding it.
In the Andros revolution of 1688, the people of Wenham were interested; and, on its happy termination, a public town-meeting of thanksgiving was held May 6, 1689....
Schools, Libraries, Etc.—The fathers of New England sought a common educational system, making the means of obtaining the benefit of an education oqually accessible to both rich and poor. In the earliest small settlements this was accomplished as best it could at home, the parents feeling it to be their duty to instruct their children in the elements of learning. Books in those days were rare and costly, while the flood of reading material which is scattered broadcast to-day was then a thing, which would have been witchery to have dreamed of. Before schools were established the people of Wenham had acquired considerable education. ...
Business And Manufacturing Interests.— The business history of Wenham in many respects is quite interesting. The history of its old-style taverns, if it could be correctly written, would be delightful to read. From its earliest days the town had its public-house. March 7, 1643-44, William Fiske received authority to keep a tavern from the General Court, as follows: "Willi: Fiske is appointed & alowed to keepe an ordinary at Wennam." November 13, 1644, by the same authority, "Willi Fiske, of Wennam, hath liberty to sell wine." Mr. Fiske died in 1654, and in the inventory of his estate is mentioned a sign and sign-post. He continued in business until 1647.
His successor was Phineas Fiske, who was granted authority by the General Court October 27, 1647, as follows: "Phineas Fiske is granted to keepe an ordinary in Wenham." May 10, 1648, by the same authority,
Samuel Foster was chosen by the town in 1654, and Walter Fairfield January 3, 1680, to keep the ordinary. March 18, 1684-85, the General Court licensed John Fiske,
Woodward and Fairfield were licensed to sell liquor September 28, 1686. August 7, 1694, the County Court licensed Ezekiel Woodward as an inn holder "at the sign of ye flower de luce."
Thomas Fiske, Jr., was licensed to sell liquor in June, 1693, and the license was renewed in 1695 and 1696....
As early as 1653 a mill, probably built by Goodman Hawes, was located here probably on the farm where Mr. David Pingree now lives. In 1682 John Dodge had a sawmill. In 1691 there was a saw-mill near Lord's Hill, and John Porter and James Friend had liberty to flow the brook.
The first blacksmith mentioned as having a shop in Wenham was Abraham Martin, to whom the town voted on the 11th of the first month, 1670, to give two acres of land if he shall follow his trade here seven years. Robert Symonds was a blacksmith in 1697.
©Roberta Tuller 2020