William Chesebrough

From The History of
Stonington, CT  1690 - 1900
by Richard Anson Wheeler
Press of the Day Publishing company 1900
Pages 288 - 292

Submitted by: Larry  Chesebro'

WILLIAM CHESEBROUGH, the first white man who made what is now Stonington, in Connecticut, his permanent place of abode, was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, in the year 1594, where he m. Anna Stevenson, December 6th, 1620. He was a gunsmith, and worked at his trade in England, and in this country, until he came to Stonington in 1649, when he changed his occupation to that of farming and stock raising, occupying and improving the large grants of land given him by the town of Pequot, now New London.

 In the early part of the year 1630, he joined a large party of immigrants who came with John Winthrop, Esq., to this country. Mr. Chesebrough located himself in Boston, Mass., and soon after became a member of the first church. He was admitted a freeman of the Massachusetts Colony in May 1631, and afterwards took an active part in public affairs. In 1632, Mr. Chesebrough was elected as "one of two" from Boston to unite with two from every plantation to confer with the court about raising a public stock, and "Prince" in his "Annals" says that this seems to pave the way for a house of representation in the General Court.

 In 1634, Mr. Chesebrough was elected constable of Boston, where he continued to reside for several years. Previous to 1640, he removed to Braintree, and that year was elected deputy to the Massachusetts General Court. Soon after which he removed his residence to Rehoboth, Plymouth Colony, where in 1643 his list was returned at £450. The next year lots were drawn for a division of the woodland near the town, and Mr. Chesebrough received lot No. 4. During this year the planters of Rehoboth drew up and signed a compact by which they agreed to be governed by nine persons, "according to law and equity until we shall subject ourselves jointly to some other government." Mr. Chesebrough was a party to that transaction, which was participated in by thirty of the planters of the new settlement. He had taken an active and prominent part in organizing the town of Rehoboth, and at a public meeting held July 12, 1644, his services were recognized by the town in ordering that he "should have division in all lands of Seakunk, for one hundred and fifty three pounds, besides what he is to have for his own proportion, and that in way of consideration for the pains and charges he hath been at for setting off this plantation." He was propounded for freeman at the General Court in Plymouth in 1645, but was not admitted till 1648. Notwithstanding the prominent part he acted in establishing the plantation of Rehoboth and the recognition of his services by the new town, he was not treated with much favor by the General Court of that colony, which ordered him to be arrested for an affray with an Indian by the name of Z'assamequine, and harshly treated him in other respects. This led him to look further for a permanent place of abode. About this time Mr. John Winthrop, Jr., acting under a commission from the Massachusetts General Court, commenced a settlement at Ivameaug, afterward called Pequot, and then New London. Mr. Chesebrough visited the place in 1645 for the purpose of making it his future home. He was kindly treated by Mr. Winthrop, and urged to settle there; but finding the place in several respects unsuitable to his expectations, he concluded not to stay. Subsequently he examined the Pawcatuck region, and finally concluded to settle at the head of Wequetequock Cove. He shared the friendship of Roger Williams, and was encouraged and assisted by him in removing his habitation to Pawcatuck. He did not, however, immediately remove his family there, and not until he had provided for them a comfortable place of abode. It was during the summer of 1849 that his family came to Wequetequock and occupied their new house in the wilderness. The marshland bordering on Wequetequock Cove furnished hay for his stock in abundance.

 He brought his entire family with him, which consisted of his wife and four sons, namely, Samuel, Nathaniel, John and Elisha. The two eldest and the youngest subsequently married and had families, and after the death of each, their widows married again. John died single in 1660.

 Mr. Chesebrough, like most of the early planters, traded more or less with the Indians, and was engaged in trade with people of Long Island and elsewhere. The first act of the General Assembly of Connecticut was an order prohibiting all persons from selling firearms and ammunition to the Indians; another act was passed in 1642 "forbidding smiths from doing any work for the Indians, or selling them any instruments or matter made of iron or steel without a license from two magistrates." Various other acts were passed regulating and in some cases prohibiting trade with the Indians. Mr. Chesebrough while living at Rehoboth, had incurred the displeasure of certain parties in the Plymouth Colony, and no sooner was he located here, than they informed the General Court of Connecticut that he had removed here for the purpose of selling firearms to the Indians; whereupon the Court, in November, 1649, issued a warrant "to the constable of Pequot to repair forthwith to Chesebrough of Long Island (where he was trading at the time), and to let him understand that the government of Connecticut doth dislike and distaste the way he is in and trade he doth drive among the Indians, and that they do require him to desist therefrom immediately; and that he should repair to Capt. Mason of Seabrook or some of the Magistrates upon the river (Connecticut) to give an account to him or them of what he bath done hitherto." Mr. Chesebrough at first disregarded this order, claiming that his new home was within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, but subsequently, acting under the advice and assurance of Mr. Winthrop and other friends at Pequot, he so far yielded to the authorities of Connecticut as to engage to appear at the General Court at Hartford in March, I65I, some sixteen months after the issue of said order, and related to them the reason why he had taken up his abode at Wequetequock, and that he was not engaged in any unlawful trade with the Indians, and assured them that his religious opinions were orthodox:, neither did he intend to remain alone in the wilderness, and was in hopes that in a short time he should be able to procure a competent company of desirable persons for the planting of the place. The court reluctantly permitted him to remain on condition that if he would give a bond of £300 not to prosecute any unlawful trade with the Indians, and that he would furnish them with the names of such persons as he could induce to settle at Pawcatuck before the next winter, they would not compel him to remove. While the planters of Pequot were friendly to Mr. Chesebrough, they preferred that he should become an inhabitant of that settlement, rather than to establish a new township. In September of the same year, Mr. Chesebrough again visited Hartford for the purpose of obtaining a legal title to the land he occupied. Mr. Winthrop and the deputies from Pequot engaged that if he would put himself on the footing of an inhabitant of Pequot he should have his lands confirmed to him by a grant of the town. To this he acceded, but the bounds of Pequot did not include his lands, whereupon "on request" the court extended the bounds of the settlement to Pawcatuck River, and the town in November following gave him a house lot at Pequot, which he never occupied. In January, 1652, a large tract of land was given him by the town of Pequot, which was afterwards liberally enlarged until it embraced between two and three thousand acres, and was included within the following boundaries, namely, beginning at the harbor of Stonington, running northerly up the same, and Lambert's Cove, and Stony Brook to the old Post Road, thence following said road easterly to Anguilla Brook; thence down said brook and Wequetequock Cove and the Sound, to the place of beginning. Mr. Chesebrough succeeded in drawing around him a sufficient number of "acceptable persons" to satisfy the General Court; and the settlement of the town was begun, went on in a flourishing condition until 1654, when the planters here desired a separation for religious, as well as civil purposes. This measure was resisted by the planters at Pequot. Meantime, Massachusetts laid claim to the settlement, and the controversy went up to the court of the Commissioners of the United Colonies, and terminated in 1658 in awarding all the territory east of Mystic River to the Massachusetts Colony, under the name of Southertown, and so remained until 1662, when it was included in the new charter, and again became a part of the colony of Connecticut. In 1665, the name of Southertown was changed to that of Mystic, and in 1666, it was again changed to Stonington. Mr. Chesebrough was a man of more than ordinary ability, and held positions of trust not only in the Massachusetts Colony, but was prominent in the settlement of the town of Rehoboth, in Plymouth Colony. After his place at Wequetequock was included in the township of Pequot, he was elected deputy thereof to the General Court at Hartford in 1653-4-5-6, and on one occasion rate-maker or assessor.

 When in 1658 the Massachusetts General Court asserted jurisdiction over this town, Mr. Chesebrough with others were appointed to manage the prudential affairs thereof, and one of the Commissioners to end small causes and deal in criminal matters. He held the office of Townsman (Selectman) until Southertown was annexed to Connecticut, and was the first man elected deputy after the reunion, 1653, '55, '57, '64, and succeeded in restoring amicable relations with the Court which had been seriously disturbed by the jurisdictional controversy. After his return, he was elected first selectman of the town, and re-elected every year up to the time of his death, which took place June 9, 1667. His dwelling house stood on the west side of Wequetequock Cove, near the head of tidewater.

 

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