Bidwell Lore – The Wives of Adonijah Bidwell

Welcome to the tenth week of Bidwell Lore! Last week finished the essay by guest writer Bernard Drew titled The Last Skirmish of King Philip’s War, 1676.  We now move back to the Bidwell family and more specifically to the wives of Adonijah Bidwell. He was married three times: his first two wives died tragically young, not uncommon at the time, though his third wife would go on to outlive him by 30 years.  Unfortunately, we do not know a lot of specifics about his first two wives, but rather more about their families, and hope this knowledge can help tell their stories. Thanks again to Rick Wilcox for writing most of the article below.

The Wives of Adonijah Bidwell
Theodosia Colton Bidwell (1721-1759)
Jemima Devotion Bidwell (1727-1771)
Ruth Kent (1730-1815)

The Reverend Adonijah Bidwell was married three times in his life.  He became a widower twice and after the death of his second wife, which left him with four young children, he married for the last time to a woman with no children of her own who could help him raise his family.  

His first two wives, Theodosia and Jemima, were first cousins and the granddaughters of the Puritan Poet, the Rev. Edward Taylor.  Here we will talk a bit about Reverend Taylor to introduce you to their family.

A poem by Rev. Edward Taylor

“Edward Taylor’s poetry, his prose, indeed his entire life were informed by one central purpose, hammered on one anvil, aimed at one end – a blissful eternity in the Heavenly City, basking in the radiant vision of Christ, singing his praises and glory.” [1]

Edward Taylor, often referred to as the Puritan Poet, was born in 1642 in Sketchley, Leicestershire, England, sailed to America in 1668, entered Harvard with advanced standing in July, and received his BA in 1671. At the urging of Increase Mather, he moved to Westfield, MA, to serve as their minister while organizing a church there, a process that took some eight years. The 1676 King Philip’s War spared Westfield, but again delayed plans to organize the church. The frontier community of Westfield near the Connecticut River, pleasant though it must have been at times, was a far cry from the Heavenly City whose visions dazzled the poet. On November 5, 1674, he married Elizabeth Fitch of Norwich.

Taylor’s wife Elizabeth died on July 7, 1689. Edward and Elizabeth had eight children together, five of whom predeceased her. In 1692, at age 50, Taylor married 22-year-old Ruth Wyllys, daughter of a prominent Hartford family.

Ruth Wyllys was born in 1670 in Westfield, MA, and was the granddaughter of two Connecticut Governors: George Wyllys and John Haynes.[2] Edward and his second wife, Ruth, had six children together: five daughters and a son. Each of the daughters married a man of the cloth and two of those daughters connect us to the wives of Adonijah Bidwell:
-Ruth, b. 1693, married Rev. Benjamin Colton and was the mother of Theodosia Colton Bidwell
-Naomi, b. 1695, married Rev. Ebenezer Devotion and was the mother of Jemima Devotion Bidwell

It is also worth noting that their daughter Keziah, b. 1702, married Rev. Isaac Stiles, father of Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale College from 1778-1795.

“Theodosia had the reputation of being a poetess of merit.” [3]
“We are told that Theodosia was a ‘poetess’, but we believe that her poems were not preserved – women had not yet been given their place among authors. Tradition of her writings were handed down, but her brief beautiful life was a brief sonnet, including only seven years of wedded happiness.”[4]
“She was the daughter of his tutor at Yale College, Rev. Benjamin Colton. Known to be a poet, Theodosia’s work is unfortunately lost.” [5]

Theodosia married Rev. Bidwell on October 24, 1752. Unfortunately, none of her poetry seems to have survived, nor do we have any other information about her life. Theodosia’s death at age 38 on June 8, 1759, after just seven years of marriage, left Rev. Bidwell a widower with no children. It also likely means that she never saw the Bidwell House as it stands today since we believe it was not built until the 1760s. 

Rev. Bidwell kept a Daybook, which even included the death of his wife Theodosia in two short lines on June 8, 1759: “Theodosia, born 13 May 1721, married Adonijah 24 October 1752 and died 8 June 1759 just barely a month after turning 31.”

On October 16, 1760, Rev. Bidwell married Theodosia’s first cousin, Jemima Devotion, the daughter of the Rev. Ebenezer and Naomi (Taylor) Devotion, a union that gave them four children: Adonijah, Jr., in 1761, Barnabas in 1763, Jemima in 1765, and Theodosia in 1766. She too died before her time on February 7, 1771, leaving the Reverend with four young children.  She was in West Hartford at the time of her death, though we do not know why. We can speak volumes about her male children but little is known about her. 

You may think that the lengthy introduction of their family was not necessary for an article about Rev. Bidwell’s first two wives, but sadly what little we know about both of them would not generate enough information to create a short paragraph. Surrounding them with words about their extended family would let you, I hope, imagine the details of their life and speaks to the tragedy of the importance given to women in the 18th century (and beyond). We know their parents and grandparents, when they were born, when they died, and the names of children if they had them.

Rev. Bidwell waited a respectable amount of time and on October 28, 1772, married Ruth Kent, to whom he was married until he died.  We will tell you her story next week along with a brief detour back to the Puritan Poet, Rev. Edward Taylor.

[1] Edward Taylor, Norman S. Grabo, 1961, College and University Press

[2] Not to be outdone Rev. Bidwell’s great-grandfather, John Bidwell, was married to Sarah Welles, the granddaughter of Connecticut Governor Thomas Welles.

[3] Bidwell Family History 1587-1982, Volume I, Joan J. Bidwell, 1983, Gateway Press, pp. 25

[4] Rev. Edward Taylor, 1642-1729, by John Taylor Terry. Accessed on