Welcome to the third week of Bidwell Lore! Last week we told you how the Bidwell family traveled to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. This week we will introduce you to a few of Adonijah Bidwell’s ancestors and also take a look at a poignant letter written by Adonijah’s father, to his mother, shortly before he died.
Bidwell House Museum Board Member and Bidwell descendant Rick Wilcox has put together a biographical sketch of some of Adonijah’s relatives, starting with his great-grandfather John Bidwell. It has been slightly edited for space. Thank you, Rick!
As you may remember from last week, John Bidwell (1620-1687) was born in England and moved to the colonies in 1630 with his father, Richard. He eventually settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he married Sarah Wilcox (1623-1690). Sarah’s parents were also born in England. John Bidwell’s 1687 death inventory included a number of household and business articles as well as 2 oxen, 3 cowes, 2 steares, 2 mares, 10 sheep, 4 lambes and The Homestead Ten acres of upland in fence Dwelling House Barn, out land, wast land. The home lot was valued at 140 pounds and the total value of his estate was 419 pounds, 10 shilling, six pence. This was a goodly sum for those days! His will made the usual divisions for his sons and daughters and the following for his wife: “Allso my will is that my beloved wife Sarah Bidwell shall have all my household goods & stuffe whatsoever to be at her dispose forever & I doe moreover give her the one halfe part of all my Estate…” In 1980 it was discovered that the house built by John Bidwell in 1666 in East Hartford, Connecticut, was still standing on the corner of Tolland and Elmer Street.
John Bidwell had a son, John Bidwell Jr (1641-1692), who was Adonijah’s Grandfather. He was married to Sarah Welles, the daughter of Thomas and Hannah (Tuttle) Welles and the granddaughter of Connecticut Governor Thomas Welles: “John Bidwell, Jr. had the first sawmill in Glastenbury, 1667. He lived at Hartford, as his father willed him all his land and building west of the Connecticut River. He had six saw or gristmills, three in Hartford, and one each in at East Hartford, Wethersfield and Middletown. He was an engineer and was selected by the Town of Hartford to deepen the channel in the Connecticut River between Hartford and Wethersfield. Town Records of Hartford, 1686: The town by their vote made choice of Major Talcott (1), Ensign Nathaniel Stanley, Mr. Cyprian Nichols and John Bidwell to consider the best way to make a channel in the river between this town and Wethersfield. John Bidwell is buried at East Hartford and left an estate of 1081 pounds. His wife Sarah, in March, 1704, gave to her son John land on the west side of the Connecticut River and her son Thomas witnessed the deed. He and his wife Sarah were admitted to full communion at the Second or Center Street Church, Hartford, 21 Feb. 1685 Vol. 5, page 45, Hartford Co. Probate Records: “Mrs. Sarah (Welles) Bidwell was the administrator of John Bidwell (her husband) deceased and Daniel Bidwell (her brother in law) was appointed by the court to oversee the children as they were all young.”
John Jr and Sarah Bidwell had 8 children. Their oldest, John Bidwell III (1679-1751), was Adonijah’s uncle and administrator of their father and mother’s estates with his brother, Thomas Bidwell, Adonijah’s father. “It is related of him that once so worn out with overwork in a busy season, he fell asleep in his clattering saw mill and slept twenty-four hours, unconscious of the lapse of time. Awakening he saw the sun going down. He stopped his mill and started for home, at his grist mill he stopped and shouldered his grist and plodded home. Arriving there he was questioned in regard to his long absence and was horrified to find his mill had been running all day Sunday, so he sat down with his Bible and passed the next twenty-four hours as piously as he thought he ought to have kept the preceding day. John Bidwell built a saw and gristmill in East Hartford on the Hockamun River, these mills were twice burnt down by Indians. Rebuilt a third time he left the mills to his son, yes another John (1707-1765)
We come now to Thomas Bidwell (1682-1716), Adonijah’s father. Thomas married Prudence Scott Bidwell, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (Webster) Scott of New Haven, CT, on March 28, 1710. Thomas lived in Hartford and had a store north of the State House between Exchange corner and the Hartford bank. He was also the owner of trading vessels and was lost at sea in 1716, while on a voyage to the Barbados for rum and sugar. (2) Colonial Records, page 263, Aug., 1711 he is mentioned in a list of persons whose goods were impressed for the expedition to Canada. At a town clerk’s office Hartford, Connecticut, in original distribution of town, page 504: Thomas Bidwell of Hartford, bought of Baley P. Baker some land called south meadow, 13 May 1709. Page 505: He bought land in May,1709 of William Roberts, also part of a saw mill.
Above you will see a scan of the poignant letter written by Thomas Bidwell in Barbados on June 17, 1716, to his wife, Prudence Scott Bidwell, at home in Hartford. His letter arrived; unfortunately, Thomas did not. Below is the transcription:
“Barbadoes June 17, 1716
My Dear. I hope these lines will find you & our dear Children all well as they leave me I bless God for it I have not had one Sick hour Since I parted with you we had a long Passage but we had very good Weather and another Ship in company with us which made the Voyage the more pleasant. I have been in Barbadoes about ten Days. I had no Opportunity of writing you before now. I cannot sell ye Vessel to advantage and, She is coming Home again with five or Six hundred pounds worth of Goods and I hope to be att home my Self in September at furthest I have Sent you a bottle of Sillon Water by Mr. Bouth and Some of the Fruit of ISLAND the best that is to be had now. There is not pleasant Fruit on the island like ours. And concerning business I have writ to Brother James and Mr. Saymour. Give my Service and love to all my Friends and Neighbors No more att present but Remain (in all respects) your true and loving Husband till Death
I Thomas Bidwell
I hope to be home in September”
Prudence Scott Bidwell (1683-1763) was the mother of four young children when her husband was lost at sea: Thomas Bidwell (1711-1746), Abigail Bidwell (1713-?), Jonathan Bidwell (1715-1787), and Adonijah Bidwell (1716-1784). All signs point to Prudence being a very strong woman. She never remarried and there are entries from the New Haven Land Records that show, starting in 1719, she sold number of parcels in New Haven, probably acquired from her parents. She received a land grant from the town of Windsor, Connecticut, and bought land in Windsor as late as 1747. She chose an Old Testament name for their son Adonijah (3) born less than a month after the suspected date of death of his father. When Prudence died, her son Thomas (1711-1746) was appointed administrator of the estate of 65 pounds and eight shillings, all allotted to Thomas’ children.
Adonijah’s older brother, Jonathan Bidwell (1715-1787), in keeping with the epitaph humor of the time, had inscribed on oldest brother Thomas’ gravestone in 1746: Our life is ever on the wing, and Death is ever nigh, the moment when our lives begin we all begin to die. That black humor may have reflected the uncertainty of life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Somehow in the midst of the frailty of life and the financial uncertainty of the Bidwell family, Adonijah Bidwell was able to attend Yale, graduating in 1740. Social standing and not academic achievement determined class standing in those days, so it would be interesting to know where Adonijah stood in the class hierarchy. In 1744 he went to “war” as a chaplain and again in 1745 and received “plunder” as he called it. But that is a story for another day.
(1) Lieutenant Colonel John Talcott, freeman, 1652; townsman, 1653; deputy, 1660, 1661; chosen Treasurer to succeed his father, May 17, 1660, which office he held until 1676, when he resigned, and was appointed to the command of the troops raised for King Philip’s War. He was one of the patentees named in the Charter of 1662, and that document was entrusted to Wyllys, Talcott, and Allyn, for safekeeping. He died in Hartford, July 23, 1688, leaving a numerous family. His son, Joseph, was Gov. of Connecticut, 1724-1741. The Governor’s descendants now occupy the dwelling-house on Main Street, built by Col. Samuel Talcott, his son, in 1770. [Geni]
(2)Based on a letter to his wife that was located by Rob Hoogs we know that he made it to the Barbados and was “lost at sea” on his return trip.
(3) Adonijah: This name derives from the Hebrew name “’Ădônı̂yâh / ‘Ădônı̂yâhû > Adonijah”, composed of two elements: “Adonai” (my Master) plus “Jah / Yah” (short form of Yahweh), meaning “my master is Yahweh, Yahweh is my master”. Adonijah was the fourth son of King David and Haggith according to the book of Samuel (2 Sam.) [www.name-doctor.com]
Italicized entries for John, John Jr, John III and Thomas are from the Bidwell Family History 1587-1982 Volume I, Joan J. Bidwell compiler, Gateway Press 1983