Bidwell Lore – From England to the Colonies in 1630

Welcome to the second week of Bidwell Lore! Last week we introduced you to Adonijah Bidwell, the man responsible for building the Bidwell House.  In this post, we are going to go back in time, even before Adonijah was born, to look at the history of the Bidwell Family name and how the Bidwells ended up traveling to 17th century New England.

The Bidwell Name
According to Edwin M. Bidwell, in his 1884 tome Genealogy of the First Seven Generations of The Bidwell Family in America, the last name Bidwell derives from the Saxon name Biddulph, meaning ‘War Wolf’.  He believed that the name originated in Norfolk on the eastern coast of England and the meaning certainly evokes strong images of the Reverend’s distant ancestors. Even today, there is a town of Biddulph, outside of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire England.

1634 Map of Boston Harbor

Arrival of the Bidwell Family in America

Bidwell House Museum Board Member and Bidwell descendant Rick Wilcox has put together this look at the journey of the Bidwell Family to America in 1630.  It has been slightly edited for space.  Thank you Rick!

On March 20, 1630, 140 men and women, including Richard Bidwell (1587-1647) and his son John Bidwell (1620-1687), set sail from Plymouth, England, in the good ship, the “Mary and John.” The company had been selected and assembled largely through the efforts of the Reverend John White, of Dorchester, England, with whom they spent the day before sailing, ‘fasting, preaching, and praying.’ These people had come from the western counties of England, mostly from Devonshire, Dorsetshire, and Somerset. They had chosen two ministers to accompany them, men who were interested in the idea of bringing the Indian to the knowledge of the Gospel. The Reverend John Maverick was an elderly man from Devon, a minister of the established church. Reverend John Warham was also an ordained minister of the Church of England, in Exeter, eminent as a preacher. There is some evidence that both of these men were in difficulties with the church on account of their sympathies with the Puritans.

It had been the original intent to land in the Charles River, but a dispute with Captain Squeb, the commander of the vessel caused the whole company, on May 30, 1630, to be put ashore at Nantasket. The ‘Mary and John’ was the first of the fleet of 1630 to arrive in the bay. At that time there were no pilots or charts of the channel, and it does not seem unreasonable that the captain refused to undertake the passage. According to tradition they landed upon the south side of Dorchester Neck, or South Boston, in Old Harbor. The settlement was later called Dorchester, in honor of the Reverend John White, of Dorchester, England.

Many hardships followed; they had little food and were forced to live on clams and fish. The men built small boats, and the Indians came with baskets of corn. The place was a true wilderness. Here they lived for five or six years. Other boats arrived and other towns were settled. But life at Dorchester was not entirely congenial to the lovers of liberty of the ‘Mary and John.’ The group of settlements around Massachusetts Bay was dominated by clergy and officials of aristocratic tendencies. Their Governor, John Winthrop, had little sympathy with the common people. ‘The best part (of the people),’ he declared, ‘is always the least, and the best part, the wiser is always the lesser.’  And the Reverend John Cotton put it more bluntly when he said, ‘Never did God ordain democracy for the government of the church or the people.’

These principles were repugnant to the people of the ‘Mary and John,’ who had come to America to escape such restraint. They had no wish to interfere with the methods of worship of others, and they did not wish others to interfere with them. Too, they were land-hungry, after centuries of vassalage to the lords of the manors, leading hopeless lives without chance of independence. The settlers turned their attention toward the fertile meadows of the Connecticut Valley.

In October 1635, about 60 men, women, and children, led by the Reverend Jon Hooker, set forth from Dorchester to Connecticut. The compass was their only guide. After a tedious and difficult march through swamp and rivers and over mountains and rough ground, they arrived safely at their destination. They had lost so much time in passing rivers, etc., that winter was upon them before they were prepared. By November 15th, the cold was so intense that the river was frozen over and the snow was very deep. By December 1st, the provisions gave out and famine and death stared them in the face. Some started back to Boston through the wilderness, others took passage on the Rebecca, a vessel of sixty tons. Those that remained at Hartford just managed to keep from starving by the help of the Indians and eating acorns, etc. Hartford was originally called Suckiage by the Pequot, reportedly meaning Black Earth; by the Dutch on the point in 1633, the Huise (or house) of Good Hope; and Newtown by the English on their arrival to form a settlement in 1636. The name was changed to Hartford by the court, February 21, 1636.  As you may remember from last week, Adonijah Bidwell was born in Hartford in 1716.

According to old family records, Richard Bidwell and son, John, came to America in 1630 to make a new life for themselves on this new land. It is uncertain in what exact location in England this Bidwell family had resided before coming to America, but according to notes of family historian, Frederick David Bidwell (1873-1947), he states that Richard Bidwell and son John came from County Devon.

Through correspondence dated 1979 between Rev. John Scott, Vicar of Newton St. Cyres in County Devon and Robert F. Bidwell of Urbana, Ohio, we are informed that a manor is located in Newton St. Cyres called Bidwell Barton, which, according to parish historical materials, was where the Bidwell family lived in the 16th century and was the beginning of the Bidwell family in England, and presumably where the family took its name. 

Bidwell Lineage – Richard Bidwell to Reverend Adonijah Bidwell

RICHARD BIDWELL b 1587 d. Dec. 1647 He was an early settler at Windsor, Connecticut, and is called Goodman Bidwell in some records. The identity of his wife is unknown.
2. John Bidwell b. 1620 d. 1687
3. Hannah Bidwell b. 22 Oct. 1634 d. 7 Oct 1679
4. Joseph Bidwell d. 1672
5. Samuel Bidwell
6. Richard Bidwell

2. John Bidwell b. 1620 d. 1687 Hartford, Connecticut
m. 1640 Sarah Wilcox at Hartford, Connecticut, b. 1623 d. 15 June 1690, Hartford, Connecticut, dau. of John and Mary Wilcox. Sarah’s parents were born in England.
7. John Bidwell b. 1641 d. 3 July 1692
8. Joseph Bidwell b.. 1643 d. 1692
9. Mary Bidwell b. 1647 d. 15 May 1725
10 Samuel Bidwell b. 1650 d. 5 Apr. 1715
11. Sarah Bidwell b. 1653
12. Hannah Bidwell b. 1655/1658 d. 17 June 1696
13 Daniel Bidwell b. 1655/1656 d. 29 Nov. 1719

7. John Bidwell b. 1641 d. 3 July 1692 m 7 Nov. 1678 Sarah Welles  in Hartford b. Apr 1659. Sarah was b. in Wethersfield, Conn,  granddaughter of Gov. Thomas Welles. Sarah d. 1708
19. John Bidwell b. 1 Sept 1679 d. 3 Sept 1751
20. Hannah Bidwell b. 31 Aug 1680 d. 1707
21. Sarah Bidwell b. 19 Aug 1681 d. 3 Dec. 1744
22. Thomas Bidwell b. 27 Dec. 1682 d. 17 Sept. 1716
23. Jonathan Bidwell b. 5 March 1684 d. 24 Nov. 1612
24. Abigail Bidwell baptized 4 Apr. 1686 died young
25. David Bidwell b. 25 Feb. 1687 d. 24 June 1758
26. James Bidwell b. 1691 d. 7 May 1718

22. Thomas Bidwell b. 27 Dec. 1682 Hartford, Connecticut d. 17 Sept. 1716 at sea, m. 28 March 1710 Prudence Scott b. 1683 New Haven, Connecticut, d. 14 Feb. 1763 Wintonbury, Connecticut
105. A child b. 29 May 1710 d. 29 May 1710
106. Thomas Bidwell b. 16 May 1711 d. 1746
107. Abigail Bidwell b. 18 Aug. 1713
108 Jonathan Bidwell b. 12 Jan. 1715 d. 11 June 1787
109. Adonijah Bidwell b. 18 Oct. 1716 d. 2 June 1784

Bidwell Family History 1587-1982, Volume I numbering system, also the source of the Bidwell Family History.