Bidwell Lore – The Mayflower Connection

Welcome to the fifteenth week of Bidwell Lore! Last week we continued the story of Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., and this week we want to share the Bidwell family’s Mayflower connection via Adonijah Bidwell, Jr.’s wife, Melicent Dench. 

In the course of receiving Bidwell Lore articles, readers have no doubt become aware that there appears to be a connection to a great many people, places, and topics. What will follow is a connection to the Mayflower and its passengers, but with a caveat that acknowledges there is a broader history than that provided by both English settlers and historians who captured only one side of that history.
Over time the Bidwell family seemed to acquire its pedigree predominantly by marrying well, although family wealth was often gotten through some good old-fashioned hard work and timely inheritance. Adonijah Bidwell, Jr. (1761-1837), the topic of the previous two installments of Bidwell Lore, was the product of both paths and, in turn, married well.
On the 15th of January 1789, Adonijah was married to Melicent Dench at Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Hopkinton is the starting point for the Boston Marathon, which should give readers a sense of how far Adonijah traveled by horseback in January. True love? Arranged marriage? How did they meet? One possible clue is found below.
           Melicent Dench Bidwell was born on the 4th of April 1764 and died 27 July 1860. She was the daughter of Captain Gilbert and Anne (Gibbs) Dench of Hopkinton. Captain Dench was an officer in the Revolutionary Army and a member of the Massachusetts Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution in 1787. Adonijah served as a member of the Militia from Massachusetts in the Revolutionary War and he was also a member of the Massachusetts Assembly…
It would seem likely that Adonijah’s travels to Boston as a member of the newly convened Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives might have led to an encounter with the politically active Captain Dench, which, in turn, may have created an opportunity to meet his daughter.
Some time ago while trolling on the internet, our intrepid Board member and Bidwell descendant, Rick Wilcox, saw a passing reference to Captain Dench as a Mayflower descendant but lost track of the connection. More recently when chatting with another Bidwell descendant, Larry Keiffer, it came up that Rick was trying to locate the Dench-Mayflower connection. Larry Keiffer wrote:
“I found the link to the Mayflower, but it looks like it was Resolved White, Sr. that we are descended from (Peregrine’s brother). Their father was William White, also a passenger on the Mayflower. Here is the link from Resolved White, Sr. to Gilbert Dench (Meliscent Dench’s father)

Gilbert Dench is listed about 2/3 down the page…..Gilbert Dench is listed on page 90 of Meliscent Bidwell’s family history. 

“Resolved White, Sr. married Judith Vassall (abt 1619 – bef 3 Apr 1670) on 18 Apr 1640 and married Abigail Unknown (abt 1606 – bef 27 Jun 1682) on 5 Oct 1674 and is the father of 8 children and the grandfather of 31 grandchildren.”

1Gilbert Dench 1742-1807 & Anna Gibbs Dench
2Isaac Gibbs 1700-1785 & Thankful Wheeler Gibbs 1707-1785
3Uriah Wheeler 1675-1753 & Abigail Rice 1687-1754
4Josiah Wheeler 1675-1738 & Martha Prescott 1680-1748
5Obadiah Wheeler 1673-1749 & Hannah Fletcher 1674-1752
6Obadiah Wheeler 1650-1696 & Elizabeth White Wheeler 1652-1713
7Samuel White 1646-1730 & Rebecca unknown 1646-1711
8Resolved White, Sr. 1619-1670 & Abigail unknown 1606-1682
9William White

So, the Bidwell family connection to the Mayflower is via the wife of Gilbert Dench, Anna Gibbs Dench, mother of Melicent Dench Bidwell, Adonijah, Jr.’s wife.  All of the Bidwells descended from Adonijah, Jr., are also descendants of passengers on the Mayflower.

We feel that it is important to note that in recent years, there has been increased public awareness of the fact that there is more to the Mayflower story than traditionally provided.  This has resulted in a growing number of people in academic circles challenging the history that either leaves out the Native American experience or is a history as told through the eyes of non-natives. Below are several important definitions that begin to confront that bias, which are followed by a short reading list that reveals some of that long-hidden history. Closer to the Bidwell House Museum is the untold history of Mohican people of Indian Town, later Stockbridge, which is as tragic as the arrival of the Mayflower.

“Colonialism” has been defined as when one nation seizes control of another nation’s natural resources & peoples for profit. An extreme form is “settler colonialism”, in which the invading nation attempts to permanently settle the territory by eliminating the native population & erasing its culture.[1]

In recent years, several researchers have branded the colonization of New England colonialism as settler colonialism. [2]

“Decolonization” is the act of undoing the effects of colonization. It includes removing the cultural biases of the dominant colonial culture from historical interpretations to allow a more accurate presentation of a country’s past & present history & heritage. Recently, the decolonization movement has begun to remove the confines of colonial histories in the study of indigenous & other once “marginalized peoples”. Acts like NAGPRA (The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) along with efforts to involve members from these communities in all aspects of historical study & programming have created new, more accurate interpretations that utilize archaeology, oral tradition, & written documentation to correctly incorporate indigenous, captive, & emigrant lifeways & thought into the larger history of the Americas. Dr. Lucianne Lavin (IAIS) & Paul Wegner (IAIS.) The Institute for American Indian Studies

During a time of increased awareness of the impact that English Colonists had on Native populations through disease, changes to the environment, religious persecution, dispossession of land, and war, we would offer a short list of books that might begin to increase everyone’s understanding and encourage readers to seek more information about the early American history:

 Our Beloved Kin: A History of King Philip’s War, Lisa Brooks, 2018, Yale University Press.
Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, William Cronon,
The Common Pot, Lisa Brooks, 2008, University of Minnesota Press
Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick, 2006, Viking
Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England, Jean O’Brien, 2010, University of Minnesota Press

[1] Patrick Wolfe, 2006, “Settler Colonialism & the Elimination of the Native”, Journal of Genocide Research 8(4): 387-409; Danielle N. Bennett “Decolonizing Museum Session at NEMA”, November 19, 2017, web site entitled Museum Studies at Tufts University,

[2] Amy Den Ouden, 2005, Beyond Conquest: Native Peoples & the Struggle for History in New England, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln; Jean M. O’Brien, 2010, Firsting & Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; J. Kehaulani Kauanui, 2017, “Challenging Settler Colonialism in the Recovery of Wangunk Tribal History, Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut 79:37-40.

We will be back next Tuesday with a guest post from Wilma Spice about Reverend Bidwell’s daughter, Theodosia Bidwell Brewer.