Tuesday, January 22, 2013

George Felch/Felt and Elizabeth Wilkinson Biographies

By Melanie Jensen Johnson
Highlights:  Born Bedfordshire, England, Immigrated to America, Prospered in Charlestown MA and Casco Bay ME.  Impoverished by Indian War and Title issues, died wards of town in Malden MA.

One of the first of my ancestors to leave Europe to start a new life in the wilds of America was George Felch.  Born the third son of William Felce and baptized on 28 February 1609/10[1] in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England, George trained to be a Mason.  In September 1628, George left his homeland for America, in company with Captain John Endicott, settling first in Salem Massachusetts.  He was already married and a landowner in America before the Bedford Manor learned of his disappearance.  Although George didn’t report with his bows and arrows to the Manorial Muster on 29 May, 1634, he was not fined.  He was in America.  (Noyes, Libby and Bates)  That this is the same George Felch was confirmed by noted Genealogist Charles Edward Banks.  (Holman)

George moved to Charlestown soon after, perhaps arriving there just as the citizens chartered it as a city in 1629.  (Zellner)  A large group of Bedford emigrants had settled there.  He is confirmed living in Charlestown in 1633, when he received a five acre lot number 17.  Later he received another 5 acres in Scadan, a hamlet northeast of Malden and 20 more acres within the bounds of Charlestown.  (Corey)

One of his plots of land bordered the widow Wilkinson’s land.  George married her daughter Elizabeth Wilkinson around 1633.  Elizabeth came over with the Winthrop group in 1630, along with her widowed mother Prudence Wilkinson and her older siblings Sarah and John.  (Banks)   The whole family had signed up to come with 700 Puritans, but father John had died before the journey commenced. (Hamilton)  With an able-bodied grown son in the group, they family could continue without him.  Widow Wilkinson received a 5 acre plot near George in Charlestown.  Historians think that Elizabeth was born between 1610 and 1615, also in Bedford, England.  It was common for immigrants from the same general area to settle in clusters in New England.  

Image courtesy of Alfred L. Holman
George involved himself in civic matters, as seen in a signed petition to create a board of selectmen to handle town government matters in 1634. 

The town of Charlestown originally encompassed a large geographic area, which included Malden, Woburn, Everett, Somerville and parts of Cambridge.  George added to his acreage land purchased in the ‘Mystick Side’ of Charlestown, or the land north of the Mystic River, which is now Everett, as well as land on the ‘Charlestown side,’ or on the original island of Charlestown.  

In a 1638 inventory, George and Elizabeth had acquired, through grant and purchase, many acres of land in Everett and Malden.  Notable among them were 5 acres of woods on the Mystick side, backed up to the road to Malden from Charlestown (modern Broadway street in Everett) which bordered acreage owned by his mother in law Prudence Wilkinson, and a half acre of meadow butting up against the North river, both parcels in modern Everett.  George also owned 20 acres of woodland in modern Malden, and 38 acres of wetlands in modern Woburn.  (Morris)  
Thanks to Google Maps for template to draw this map

The Felch family lived in a house with a garden and kept a milk cow on property in modern Charlestown.  This house is described as being situated on the ‘south west of the Mill Hill, butting southward upon Charls River, northeast upon crooked lane.’  (Morris)  The family by all accounts had prospered; George was a land owner with vast acreage in diverse areas.
In 1640, George built a house on the 5 acres of property he had obtained in modern Malden area.  Today it would have stood at the westerly corner of Ferry and Chelsea streets in Everett.  This home is notable because it survived over 200 years, becoming the home of Revolutionary hero Daniel Waters before it was demolished in 1850.  It had been enlarged and improved, but George Felch could claim that he had built the early structure.  (Corey)  The Felch family lived in this home for over twenty years.  

On January 19, 1639/40, Elizabeth was admitted into the new Charlestown Church.  She brought her three children Elizabeth, Mary and George Jr. to be baptized a week later.  On 10 December 1641, she had her newest son Moses baptized.  George isn’t listed on the church records in the Charlestown church or the Malden church.  

George bought more land, this time in Broad Cove, now North Yarmouth in Casco Bay, Maine.  First he bought 300 acres around 1640 from John Phillips, a Welshman.  He bought the land again in 1643 from Richard Vines, the land agent of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, to strengthen the title.  George knew that title problems could deprive a man of his land.  He built a stone house on this property in Casco Bay.  (Morris)  Phillips probably squatted upon the land to gain title.  George used this stone house as a storehouse, as it was conveniently located for trading goods with the Native Americans.  Perhaps he, like other traders, traded beads, gun powder, blankets and liquor to the Natives for their skins and fish.  (Corey)
Although he purchased that land in Casco Bay, he continued to live in Charlestown, intending to move to Casco at a later date.  In 1648, he referred to himself as “Georg Felch, Inhabitant in Charlstown on Mystike Syde.”  More children were born to the couple, Moses in 1641, Aaron in 1645 and Moses in 1651.  The first Moses presumably died as a child before the second Moses was born.  A Peter may also be part of this family, born in 1648.  

Daughter Elizabeth married first, in 1655 to William Larrabee.  Then Mary married in 1660 to James Nichols.  On 25 November 1662, George paid out a sum of forty pounds to his son, George Jr at his marriage to Phillipa Andrews.  This was followed by a signed deed two days later confirming that he would allow 60 pounds more at his death, making a full hundred pounds for George Jr.  (Goold)  (Pope)  This largess shows the mindset of a wealthy man intent on passing his fortune on to his heirs.  Interesting notes in court files show that in 1662, George was accused of defaming his neighbor Richard Dexter’s wife, calling her a ‘lyar.’  It was also noted that his house in modern Charlestown was ‘Claborded’ by William Bucknam, George’s brother in law.  (Corey)

In November 1664, George began selling his Charlestown and Malden lands to John Phillips, the yeoman.  It may have simply been a trade, as George bought 2000 acres of land in Casco Bay from a John Phillips, the baker, at about the same time (1670).  The distinction might indicate that they were different men.  (Noyes, Libby and Bates)  The sum he paid:  60 pounds.  He apparently had been living on it and improving it for the past three years. (Morris)   In the contracts, George described himself as “of Casco in N. E. Mason.”  George succeeded in divesting himself of most of his Charlestown holdings, including his longtime (now famous) home in modern Malden.  

The Felch family was one of the first to settle in Broad Cove, Maine.[2]  George was residing there early enough to have features of his land that bear his name.  In Casco, ‘Felt’s Falls’ were described as ‘where the creek at Cumberland Foreside comes tumbling into the sea.’  (Notes and Queries; Landmarks)  Today the creek is only a shallow stream surrounded by expensive homes.  (Morell)

George continued farming and trading with the Natives until the Indian War of 1675-1678, which forced his family to flee for safety.  All of the area had emptied out of inhabitants while the Native Americans destroyed all evidences of inhabitation.  The war claimed the life of George and Elizabeth’s oldest son, George Jr.  When the Native Americans began burning neighboring homes in Mussell Cove (modern Falmouth) in September of 1676, he took his wife and children to Cushings Island to a garrison there, meeting up with other refugees.  After several days, starvation forced the men to search for food, landing on Peaks Island where sheep were known to roam.  The natives attacked, killing all of the men.  (Goold)  This was a tragic loss for George Jr’s young family, as well as his parents.  

After things settled down in 1678, George and Elizabeth returned to the ruins of their farm and home in Casco Bay. Their home was gone and their farm destroyed.  By now, the couple was in their sixties.  They were old and tired, perhaps too old to rebuild and continue their struggle to tame the land.  Indians were still a threat, and the ruins were a constant reminder of the loss of their son.  

In 1680, North Yarmouth was incorporated as a plantation and began to be sectioned off to new settlers.  George sold 100 acres of his land to Walter Gendall, a developer from Spurwick, to add to the land available for the settlers.  As the enterprise flourished, Gendall became wealthy and established himself as a leading citizen and wealthy man.  He set his eye on George’s remaining land in the area, finding a flaw in the title and selling it piecemeal to newcomers as if it was his own land.  Since George had bought it from Phillips, not Patent-holding Gorges, the title couldn’t be proven.  The author thinks it strange that George did not predict this outcome, as he had prevented this outcome in an earlier transaction by repurchasing the land from Gorges’ agent.   

George and Elizabeth remained on their remaining farm until 1681, when feeble and old, they moved to Malden to be near their daughter Mary and her husband James Nichols.  In 1684, George gave his remaining 200 acres in Casco Bay to his son Moses and grandson George 3rd.  Strangely, the Nichols didn’t house the Felches; instead James Nichols petitioned the city of Malden to pay for their support.  Nichols was made a freeman in 1668, had served in King Phillips war and had been appointed tithing-man, all events that could be used to establish that he was able to afford their support.  (Cutter)  On 29 May 1681, the court ordered that the Felches be considered inhabitants of Malden and that selectmen were to take care of them. (Corey)  Now ‘ould ffelt’ would be cared for.

Over the next few years, families were paid to house the old couple.  George was compelled to petition for more help in 1686, in which petition he give details of his misfortune.  He described the purchase of his property, adding:
…Some time after the late Indian war it was withheld from me by some of the inhabitants of said Town of Caskoe Bay and being by said war much impoverished I could not recover it out of their hands.  I also am now forced to suffer for want of convenient care taken of me in my present distresse being about eighty seaven year’s old and very crasy and weak. (Corey)

This petition failed to gain any further support, and in fact, James Nichols, son in law, now had the burden of caring for his in-laws.  The town, though sympathetic, felt no need to bail the Felche’s out of a title failure.  In 1691, George petitioned the court for help personally.  Nichols proposed an interesting arrangement—if the town would gather up eleven pounds for their support, if either one died within the year, after paying funeral expenses, the remainder would be returned to the contributors.  Agreed on, support was secured, and both Felches survived the year, using all of the monies. (Corey)

George died around May 1693, prompting a new agreement with the town to care for Elizabeth.  Nichols would care for her in his home for one year, at the expense of the selectmen of the town, and he could keep her cow.  She died around 1694.  The Felches were the second public charges that Malden town citizens were compelled to support.  (Corey)

Unanswered questions:  It’s puzzling to see the town of Malden supporting the Felches when family could have assumed their care.  Son-in-law James Nichols was obviously Georges’ first choice, but seemed unwilling to help them.  Nichols died in 1694, around the time Elizabeth died.  Was he too ill to care for his in-laws?  Son Moses was in hiding from another American Indian war, King Phillips War which began in 1688.  Daughter Elizabeth Larrabee lived in Malden with her husband William Larrabee, but he died in 1689 at the hand of Indians with son Isaac in said war.  George Jr.’s widow had moved to Salem; certainly regrouping after the death of her husband.  Little is known of Aaron or Peter, or their circumstances.  

Disclaimer:  This was written using the information available at the time it was written.  The author did her best in good faith to represent George and Elizabeth Felch accurately and kindly.  Author is solely responsible for the content. 

Works Cited

Banks, Charles Edward. The Winthrop Fleet of 1640: An Account of the Vesselseake, Robert Fien English Homes from Original Authorities. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1853.
Corey, Deloraine Pendre. The History of Malden, Massachusetts, 1633-1785. Malden, Massachusetts: Self, 1899.
Cutter, William Richard. Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908.
Goold, Nathan. A History of Peaks Island and It's People: Also a Short History of House Island, Portland, Maine. Portland, Maine: Lakeside Press, 1897.
Hamilton, Bonnie. "Ladd, Reed, Cooke, Engle, Hamilton, Lennon Ancestors." 6 Jan 2013. RootsWeb's World Connect Project. 11 Jan 2013 <http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=tibart&id=I14617>.
Holman, Alfred L. A Register of the Ancestors of Dorr Eugene Felt and Agnes (McNulty) Felt. Chicago: Self Published, 1921.
Morell, Barbara. "The True History of Bridgett Bishop;/ An Interesting Toronto Link to the Salem Witch Trials." The Joseph Toronto (Guiseppe Taranto) Foundation . 11 Jan 2013 <http://www.josephtoronto.org/?page_id=411>.
Morris, John E. The Felt Genealogy: a Record of the Descendants of George Felt of Casco Bay. Hartford, Connecticut: Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1893.
"Notes and Queries; Landmarks." Old Times in North Yarmouth, Maine 1879-1880: 562.
Noyes, Sybil, Charles Thornton Libby and Walter Goodwin Bates. Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. Portland, Maine, 1928-1938.
Pope, Charles Henry. The Pioneers of Massachusetts (1620-1650). Boston, 1900.
Zellner, Carl. Historic Timeline Charlestown Massachusetts 1614-1699. 8 Jan 2013 <http://www.charlestownhistoricalsociety.org/Charlestown%20Time%20Line%20Complete.html#seventeenth.>.

[1] George stated his age as ’about 40’ in 1634, confirming this date, but contradicted it in 1688 when he said he was 87 years old.  Looking for sympathy and support, he may have been exaggerating his age. 
[2] Some say George was living in Casco Bay as early as 1660 because of a statement his son Moses made, saying he lived there 14 years before the Indian war broke out.  This has led some historians to conclude that George was an early settler in Casco, a point which is disputed by other historians.  Confusion might exist with his son, George Jr., who was an early settler of Casco.  (Corey)  And there wasn’t uniform differentiation between the father and the son until much later.

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