Conjectures on the Origins of the Wheatons & Bowens of Rehoboth
Massachusetts & their likely Baptist Roots
Robert Wheaton and his wife Alice Bowen’s origins may be shrouded in history, but that does not prevent us from coming to some reasoned conclusions about them. Both Robert and Alice suffer from oft repeated errors as to their true origins. The earliest genealogies to describe Robert in detail claim that he came from Swansea, Wales in 1636. In James Savage’s 1862 ‘A Genealogical Dictionary of New England’ he writes “A tradition that the first of this name in our country was of Rehoboth, and came from Swansea in Wales...may have nearer resemblance to truth than is always found in such elements of history,” or as we will see maybe not. The same Dictionary gives us the birthplace of one Griffith Bowen as Llangenydd (Llangenyth), Glamorgan, but no birthplace for our Alice or her father Richard Bowen of Rehoboth. Llangenydd is about 6 miles northeast of Oxwich and about 8 miles from Ilston.
The Gower Peninsula of Glamorgan Wales
Note the locations of Swansea, Ilston, Llangenydd and Oxwich
The greatest confabulation is probably that of William G. Hill in his otherwise helpful ‘Family Record of Deacons James W. Converse and Elisha S. Converse’ which includes a lengthy section on “Robert Wheaton and Some of His Descendants.” Hill writes “That Robert Wheaton came from the pure, unmixed, native Welsh or rather Cumry race, which was of Tartaric origin; which race, though driven to the mountain fastness of Wales by Angles, Saxons, and Normans, was never subjugated.”
In 1975 I wrote to a Welsh historian at the Royal Institute of South Wales in Swansea, Mr. Michael Gibbs, regarding Robert Wheaton’s purported origins in Swansea. I was informed that there was no record of anyone named Wheaton in the Swansea area between 1583 and 1851 and that Wheaton was not a Welsh name and most likely was of English origin. He surmised that Robert may have had trade with the Swansea area before embarking for America. As it turns out it was probably his wife Alice Bowen who was (likely) born at Kittle Hill near Swansea, who was the ancestor from Wales. Alice was the daughter of Richard Bowen of Wales and Rehoboth. This gives credence to the idea that family myths are often rooted in fact although the facts become misplaced in succeeding generations.
Unlike the surname Wheaton, Bowen is decidedly Welsh and the claims of Mr. Hill could certainly be applied to the Bowens. Richard and Alice Bowens’ precise origins in Wales as yet remain unproven. Two competing claims one that Richard was the son of James Bowen of Pembroke, Wales and the other that he is the son of the Thomas of the Courthouse Bowens (near Ilston) of Glamorgan. The water is further muddied by the arrival in New England of the previously mentioned Griffith Bowen about the same year as Richard. Griffith Bowen was a Slade Bowen which is an area southwest of Oxwich, Glamorgan. For reasons that will become evident later I tend to think that Richard was a Courthouse Bowen although there is nothing but circumstantial evidence and the claim that he is the son of Thomas of Courthouse seems tentative at best.
The Bowens of Courthouse and the Bowens of Slade are both located on the Gower peninsula in Glamorgan County, Wales not far from Swansea. Swansea is the English name for the town the Welsh call Abertawe. The distance from the tip of Gower to the neck at Swansea is about 16 miles. The width at the neck is about five miles. The Gower peninsula has only about 70 square miles and other than Swansea has a sparse population even today. References to being “of” or “from” Swansea seem to associate immigrants with the largest town in the area from which they migrated rather than the actual village of their residence. This is true or the Rev. John Myles who arrived in America “from Swansea, Wales” in 1663 and of his countryman Richard Bowen who arrived “from Swansea” some twenty-five years earlier in 1638.
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
Map of Oxwich, Gower, Glamorgan, Wales Showing location of Slade
At the time of my original research in the early 1970’s there was no indication of where in England the Wheatons may have come from. The San Francisco Public Library had an extensive collection of Probate Indexes for the Counties of England so I began looking for Wheatons county by county, book by book. I looked through hundreds of volumes and found no Wheatons. Not a single one! Finally in Devon I found listings for 35 Wheaton probates between 1546 and 1787. In nearby Somerset there were some Wheadon and Wheddons, but there were no further Wheatons. I took this as a good indication of Robert’s origins.
Then in October of 1976 the LDS Library published their first International Genealogical Index (IGI) from which I photocopied over 20 pages of Wheaton vital records in Devon. An update in 1981 yielded even more Wheatons as more parish registers were added to the IGI. I spent many hours sorting them by parish and trying to piece families together. Also in 1976 my brother was studying at the University of Reading in England and I asked him to photocopy me any Wheatons in the Exeter phone directory. There were 38 entries for Wheatons! I wrote to three and they all ended up in the hands of John Wheaton the retired president of Wheaton Printing and Publishing Company in Exeter. He was working on a history of the company and his branch of the Wheaton family and he was most helpful in stitching together the earliest records for Wheatons. I was able to come up with material that he did not have access to and visa versa. We corresponded for several years. I wrote several short articles that I would occasionally share with other researchers on the origins of the Wheatons based on our shared research.
The IGI provided several possibilities for the birth of Robert, but none conclusive. The best guess I had was that the Robert Wheaton who married Margaret Bastine at Ottery St. Mary might have had a son born about 1606. Imagine my surprise to see recently some web pages touting Robert Wheaton of Rehoboth as born in 1606 at Ottery St. Mary child of Robert and Margaret Wheaton! What we suppose, is not necessarily fact and the same is true of the conjectures you will find here.
Alice and Richard in
Although it is possible that Robert Wheaton
and Alice Bowen were acquainted before coming to New England it is more likely
that they met first in
Town Meeting, The 6th, 11th mo., 1636 (16 Jan 1637) “Robert Wheaton refused to be inhabitant.”
I have seen this interpreted to mean he was
refused as an inhabitant or that he refused to be an
inhabitant. I saw at one time a notation that was written in the margin that
said, “We have made a show of making him an inhabitant” purportedly in Gov.
Endicott’s hand (The History of Salem, Massachusetts Volume I 1626-1637 by
Sidney Perley, Pub. 1924, page 418). At
“Of the several proportions of land laid out at Marble Head this 14th of the 9th moneth 1638 (14 Nov 1638) being formally granted… to Robert Wheadon x (10) acres of Land.”
A helpful piece of the puzzle was provided
by David Wheaton in a photo from the
Photo of Robert Wheaton Genealogy
So now we have reasonably established
that Richard and Alice were from
“1st day of ye 2nd month, 1644 (1 Apr 1644): Robert Wheadon desireth some ground at ye great lotts.” “Granted to Robert Wheadon xx (20) acres of Land neere to the marsh at Bishop’s ffarme, to be laid out by the towne conditonalle that if hee depte (depart) from the towne before hee improve it, it shall return to the towne.”
This suggests that Robert may have moved
or planned to move to Rehoboth by 1644 and that the
"Tenn acres Eyght of them upland two of swampe lying in the plaine first given to Thomas White bounded on the East with the land of Martin Phillipes, of Ralph (Allin) on the west, of his owne on the south, a highway on the north.
"Two acres of upland and salt marsh first given to Tho White bounded on the East with the comon, on the west with the land of Ralph Allin, on the north with his owne land, on the south with John Uphams marsh.
"Two acres first giuen to John King bounded on the East west & north with his owne land and of Mr. Newman on the south.”
“Weimoth the 24th of the 8th month (October), 1643: At a general meeting of the plantores of Seacunk (Rehoboth), it was ordered…When lots were drawn: Lot 58 Richard Bowen, Lot 9 Mr. Newman.”
Richard Bowen does appear in the Weymouth records in 1642:
No lots were drawn by Robert Wheaton. This seems to confirm that Robert remained at Salem while his father-in-law Richard was at Weymouth.
Wales and the West Country of England
Jumping back for a moment to the old country and assuming that the Bowens were of Glamorgan, Wales and the Wheatons of Devon one looks for any commonalities that may have drawn Robert and Alice together. In an effort to better understand the level of communication and dialogue between Glamorgan and Devon I have found the following resources of interest.
In his book “The Making of a Ruling Class: The Glamorgan Gentry 1640-1790” Philip Jenkins in writing about 17th century Glamorgan, Wales states: “Good sea communication also meant frequent links between Glamorgan and nearby areas of south-west England…. major routes between Wales and the West Country were from Swansea, Neath and Newton, from which ships sailed to Bristol, to lesser ports like Barnstaple and Bridgewater or to one of countless creeks of Devon and Somerset.” And later Jenkins goes on the explain, “There were close contacts between suspected and persecuted groups on wither side of the ‘Severn Sea’---quakers and dissenters in the seventeenth century, catholics and jacobites in the 18th.” To this he adds “the Baptists of the Vale and Swansea were close to those of Somerset[emphasis mine].” I corresponded with the author but as it has been twenty-five years since the book’s publication he could not provide further details.
In the Bridgewater, Somerset Port Books for 1615 there are listed three merchants by the name Bowen: Richard, Edward and David. Could this be our Richard Bowen? (Not impossible as he would have been about 35 in 1615) Arthur, David and Edward Bowen (the two later of Newton, Glamorgan). Edward is repeatedly mentioned as the Master of the “Speedwell’ (Is this the same “Speedwell’ that was too leaky to accompany the ‘Mayflower’? Probably not.) Also of note in 1666 the schedules list the ships “Speedwell,” Mayflower” and the “Lyon” all of Cardiff. Whether these were the ships that brought immigrants to New England or were named after them is not known at this time.
Although, purely in the realm of speculation is the idea that if Richard Bowen was a Merchant and Robert Wheaton a Tanner they might have had occasion to trade with one another. The largest exports from the south of Wales to the West Country of England at this time were wool, followed by butter. Large quantities of wool were shipped from ports in South Wales to the large clothiers in Bristol, Exeter, Colston, Milverton and Minehead. Butter arrived regularly from the creeks of Glamorgan to Bristol and Somersetshire. Certainly one of many plausible scenarios, another is some sort of religious connection as mentioned above.
In the very interesting account of his passage in 1635 from Bristol, England to Boston, Massachusetts the Rev. Richard Mather relates how the ship ‘James’ stopped at various places between Bristol, Gloucestershire, England and Milford Haven, Pembroke, Wales, before finally leaving for New England. Some passengers went ashore and worshipped with a Mr. Jessop of Nangle Church near Milford Haven (possibly the 14th century St. Marys Church at Angle). This is further evidence of informal communion. Also on board is a future Rehoboth resident one George Kendrick. His son George Kendrick Jr. married Richard Bowen’s daughter Ruth in Rehoboth in 1647. Another future Rehoboth resident is Edward Bennett of Wiltshire, last of Weymouth, England. He died at Rehoboth in 1645. "The older sons were old enough to run the widow's farm. Samuel was 18; John, 16. But the farm came into the possession of Richard Bowen Jr., whose name appears instead of hers in an allotment list drawn up in 1658."
Returning to Robert Wheaton’s suggested origins in Devon, as yet no conclusive proof is available. As previously mentioned there was a Robert Wheaton who married in Ottery St. Mary in 1602. Other Robert Wheatons appear in the parishes of Sidmouth, Seaton & Beere, and Exeter St. Sidwells during the period between 1585-1615. The heaviest concentrations of Wheaton households in the period 1524-1630 appear in parishes of Exeter, Tiverton, Tallaton, Branscombe and parishes between Colyton and Exeter. It is slightly over fifteen miles from Exeter to Colyton, in the east and about twelve miles to Tiverton in the north. With few exceptions most all early Wheatons are found within this eastern corner of Devon and in all likelihood this is where Robert was born. Not surprisingly this is also the corner of Devon that contains the largest concentrations of early Baptist gatherings. Interestingly in the 1960’s both Devon and Glamorgan continued to be among the counties with the greatest number of Baptists.
Eastern part of Donn’s 1765 Map of Devonshire
Early Rehoboth Families
In an attempt to understand why Robert Wheaton and Richard Bowen came to America and what they had in common with other Rehoboth settlers I analyzed the places of origin of pre-1660 Rehoboth families. This has yielded some interesting results. Although there are 52 counties in England and Wales the majority of those settling in Rehoboth were from the Devon, Norfolk, Dorset and Essex Counties. The only other county with more than 3 is Lancaster with 5. In other words about 2/3 of the Rehoboth settlers came from 15% of the counties in England.
Origins of Rehoboth Families pre-1650
Number of Families
Not surprising is that these counties are also overly represented in the earliest Baptist communities (prior to 1650) in England: Devon (6), Lincoln (4), Somerset (2), Oxford (2), one each in Lancaster, Warwick and Wiltshire. In Wales: Radnor (5), Glamorgan (3), Monmouth (4) and Carmarthen (1). The earliest Baptist gatherings in England were probably Warrington (Hillcliffe), Lancaster, 1522; Tiverton, Devon 1608; Kilmington, Devon in 1611, Plymouth, Devon 1620, and in Wales Olchon, Monmouth 1633 or earlier depending on one’s interpretation. Perhaps it is pure coincidence that the early Rehoboth families came from the areas of early Baptist formation in England and Wales. Most all of the early Rehoboth families had connections to non-conformist clergy. In general they were adherents or sympathizers of Roger Williams, Obadiah Holmes, George Hull, William Blackstone, John Wareham, John Maverick, and Samuel Newman all non-conformists of varying stripes. Many early Rehoboth families traveled with clergy to New England.
This helps to explain why immigrants would leave the comfort of their homes in England and in Richard Bowen’s case Wales and travel thousands of miles away to New England and then after several years move on from Salem, Boston, Hingham and Weymouth before settling in Rehoboth. The largest number of Rehoboth families came from Weymouth, MA with at least (26), Boston (18), Hingham (8), Salem (6) and Dorchester (4). These towns each hosted non-conformist clergy that have connections with Rehoboth families: Weymouth: Rev. Joseph Hull, Rev. William Morrell, Rev. John Maverick; Boston: Rev. William Blackstone, Rev. John Maverick; Hingham: Rev. Robert Peck; Salem: Rev. Roger Williams, Rev. Obadiah Holmes; Dorchester: Rev. John Wareham, Rev. Joseph Hull, Rev. Samuel Newman.
It is interesting to note that in the record of the 1643 distribution of lots for Rehoboth it lists: Lot 26 “Obadiah Holmes, formerly of Salem, now Robert Wheatons,” Lot 58 Richard Bowen and Lot 9 Mr. (Rev.) Newman. It is not until 12 Feb 1646 that Robert Wheaton appears on the Rehoboth Proprietors’ Records when lots for the New Meadow were drawn as follows: Lot 4 Mr. Newman, Lot 15 Richard Bowen and Lot 25 Robert Wheaton. It might be accurate to suggest that as Obadiah Holmes left he sold his original lot to Robert Wheaton who located there. Then as a resident he drew a subsequent lot in 1646. It may also be suggested that Robert may have been well acquainted with Obadiah Holmes in Salem and may even have worshipped with him. Obadiah Holmes was one of New England’s most outspoken Baptists and he suffered greatly for it. More on Rev. Holmes a bit later.
Baptists in England and Wales
I have conducted a fairly extensive survey of Baptist Literature on the histories of Baptist churches and communities in England and Wales. In “The History of the English Baptists” by Thomas Crosby published in 1738 he quotes a Mr. Fuller: “there was no less than fifty four congregations of them [English Baptists] in 1644.” He traces the history of Baptist thinking and development from 300 AD and notes that in 1532 a Mr. John Firth was burnt at Smithfield for his belief against infant baptism. By 1535 the crown was making pronouncement against the Anabaptists and ten were put to death that year. By 1589 many dissenters were removing to Holland and “among them were not a few Baptists.” It makes more sense that the Baptists were meeting quietly or in secret given the historical context. It is almost impossible to separate the Welsh and English Churches from those in New England. Crosby goes on at length about the dissenters journeys to Holland and then on to settle in America and how according to Cotton Mather some of these were Baptists. He mentions the Baptist Church at Swansea and one later at Boston. Another case in point: in “A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States,” Albert Henry Newman writes: “If, with most writers, we leave out of consideration the Baptist meetings held by Obadiah Holmes and his fellow believers at Rehoboth in 1649, then the first Baptist church within the territory now covered by Massachusetts was also the first Baptist Church in Wales.” This points to the fact that there was a Baptist community of believers long before there was an established Baptist Church in Massachusetts. Of course this claim also discounts the Baptist Churches of Wales in the Olchon Valley near Longtown in 1633, Llanvaches 1638, Llantrisaint 1639, Dolau 1642 and finally Swansea about 1645 (officially 1649).
It all depends on what your definition of “church” is. Perhaps these words from John C. Carlile are in order here, “The early Baptists had no idea of sacred buildings or consecrated ground. Their church was not a building, but a company of believers. They used buildings for purposes of worship as a matter of convenience when they could not meet in the open fields or by the roadside.” This would account for the discrepancies in founding dates and what constitutes a churches’ beginning. I am inclined to adopt the more generous view that during times of persecution believers were not as likely to worship publicly. To assume that Baptist Churches sprung up out of nowhere seems downright silly, yet this is most often what we find in the literature. Like any gardener or evangelist knows roots take hold best, in prepared and fertile soil.
As yet there is no record of Richard Bowen or Robert Wheaton’s membership in any of theses communities in England and Wales and it is unlikely any will be found, as records of this time frame are scarce and most often begin about 1650 and generally refer to the Associations of Baptist Churches rather than specific congregations. Congregations operated independently with no central authority. Rev. Roger Hayden of the Baptist Historical Society in the United Kingdom has found no record of any Wheatons or Bowens in his 17th century records. Given the penalty for being a Baptist during much of this time frame the lack of written records should not be surprising. Infant baptism was not practiced and so for many there may be no record of their births. The otherwise fairly well documented parish registries for England and Wales would not include non-members.
As much as it is discouraging that no records of the births (christenings) of Robert Wheaton and Richard Bowen have not been located this might also reinforce our suspicions that they, and perhaps their parents, were early non-conformists and Baptists and that there are no records to be found.
SW England & Wales showing locations of relevant towns
© 2009 Kelly Wheaton
Non-conformist Clergy in New England
So let us take up the story lines of the clergymen who may have had an impact on our Rehoboth families. The Rev. Joseph Hull was born in the parish of Crewkerne, Somerset. (Remember the Baptist communities of Glamorgan and Somerset were in close contact) He was instituted rector at Northleigh in Devon in 1621(adjacent Ottery St. Mary). In 1627 Rev. John Wareham was suspended from his parish at Exeter St. Sidwell, Devon and in 1629 he and Rev. Hull returned to Crewkerne. In 1632 Rev. Wareham was expelled from the diocese and then re-ordained at Plymouth, Devon prior to emigrating with his congregation to the settlement at Hull, MA.
The Rev. John Wareham of Crewkene, with Rev. John Maverick of Awliscombe, Devon. traveled on the ship the “Mary and John’ that later brought Rev. Hull and his company. This accounting from James Blake’s Annals of Dorchester gives us a delightful description:
“When many most Godly and Religious People that Dissented from ye way of Worship then Established by Law in ye Realm of England, in ye Reign of King Charles ye first, being denied ye free exercise of Religion after ye manner they professed according to ye light of God’s Word and their own consciences, did under ye Incouragement of a Charter Granted by ye sd King, Charles, in ye Fourth Year of his Reign A.D. 1628, Remoue thenselues & their Families into ye Colony of ye Massachusetts Bay in New England…Then it was that the First Inhabitants of Dorchester [Massachusetts] came ouer, & were ye first Company or Church Society that arriued here, next to ye Town of Salem who was one year before them.
In the ye of our Lord 1629, Divers Godly Persons in Devonshire, Somersetshire, Dorcestshire and other places, Proposed a Remoue to New-England, among whom were two Famous Ministers, viz. Mr. John Maverick (who I suppose was somewhat advanced in Age) and Mr. John Warham (I suppose a Younger Man,) then a Preacher in ye City of Exon, or Exeter, in ye County of Devon. These good People met together at Plymouth a Sea-port Town in ye sd County of Devon…”
The following year 1631 brought Roger Williams and Thomas Willet sailing on the ‘Lyon’ from Bristol, England to Salem, MA. It could be argued that Roger Williams was one of the first to settle in Rehoboth only to remove slightly west and found the state of Rhode Island. Although not always a Baptist, Roger Williams was sympathetic to their cause. Mr. Willet settled at Plymouth and his son was among the first settlers of Rehoboth in 1645. Rev. Wareham settled first in Dorchester before removing to Connecticut. Rev. Maverick died in February of 1635/6. According to Blake’s Annals Of Dorchester in 1635:
“This year arriued here on Aug. 16th the Revd. Mr. Richard Mather, that was a long time after a Pastor of this Church, and with him a great Number of Godly People Settled here with him. There came with him 100 Passengers, & 23 Seamen, 23 Cows & Heifers, 3 Suckling Calues, & 8 Mares, & none Died by ye way, though they met a terrible Storm as was almost ever heard of.”
Meanwhile Rev. Joseph Hull resigned his rectorship in Northleigh, Devon in 1632 and began preaching at Broadway in Somerset. In 1634 he was prosecuted for preaching there without a license. He failed to respond to the court’s citation and was expelled from the Church of England in February of 1635. Rev. Hull gathered some of his followers and like minded souls and left Weymouth, England on March 20, 1635 and landed at Boston on May 6th. In July they were granted the right to settle at Wessaguscus which they renamed Weymouth. Rev. Hull was the first minister of Weymouth, MA but his tenure there was short lived. He moved first to Hingham where he was in 1638 and then to Barnstaple and then in 1639 Yarmouth, before being expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It seems he tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between the puritans, separtists and Anglicans. He then removed first to Maine and later New Hampshire. Among the passengers aboard the ‘Mary and John’ with him in 1636 were future residents of Rehoboth John and Thomas Holbroke of Broadway, Devon and John Woodcock of Weymouth, Dorset and Robert Martin of Batcombe, Devon.
In 1635 at least eleven future Rehoboth families arrived in New England. At least three arrived on the ship ‘Abigail’; three on the ship ‘Defence’; one each on the ships ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Hopewell’; two on the ship ‘Elizabeth and Ann’ and one unidentified ship. In 1636 the Rev. Hull and company aboard the ‘Mary and John’ sailed from Weymouth, England to Boston and settled at Weymouth with at least three future Rehoboth families. One future family arrived on the ship ‘James’ and six other future Rehoboth families, likely arriving this year including our Robert Wheaton. Among the more notable is the Rev. Samuel Newman who appears on the records of Weymouth by 1639. What is clear is that these clergy brought many with them and paved the way for many more.
Beginnings in Weymouth
The history of Weymouth and the ecclesiastical turmoil are so clearly intertwined with that of Rehoboth some background on the History of Weymouth from Howard Joy is in order:
“The coming of Rev. Joseph Hull in 1635 with a company of about a hundred people caused at once a revival of religious activity, and during the next ten years there was excitement, turmoil and division in religious matters quite in keeping with the disturbances in England at that period…Settlements were organized and churches maintained only by the consent of the government [MA Bay Colony under Gov. Winthrop].”
By 1636 Mr. Hull had removed to Roxbury amid growing discontent, although it appears he was still preaching in Weymouth until 1639. During this period Weymouth had up to three ministers but only one church.
“John Cotton was preaching in Boston, Richard Mather in Dorchester, John Eliot in Roxbury and to the Indians, and John Harvard had recently come to Cambridge. But Roger Williams, with his views on baptism, and Anne Hutchinson in Boston and John Wheelright in Wollaston…were too extreme to be tolerated. They all had sympathizers in Weymouth.”
“Rev. Mr. Hobart of Hingham also wrote in his dairy that ‘a church was gathered’ at Weymouth Jan. 30, 1638/9, meaning doubtless a church of dissenters.”
“[Another minister] Mr. Levental was compelled to leave because his teachings were considered heretical by the colonial authorities, and he was no more tolerated thane Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and others…In 1639 he journeyed to Rhode Island, as other ‘heretics’ had done…”
“[Yet another minister] Mr. Jenner was plainly unable to unite the factions of the church acceptably and it was found necessary to seek some one who could. Rev. Samuel Newman, born in 1600 at Banbury, Eng., and graduated at Oxford 1620, had recently come to Dorchester. He had been preaching in England, but being a dissenter had been obliged to change from place to place seven times, and finally he fled to America. He seemed possessed of a peaceable nature and excellent reputation, and so he was invited to come in 1639…”
“In 1642 a movement was started to form a company for the purpose of migrating and settling a new place, as though Weymouth was becoming too thickly populated. Or else it was thought there was a more desirable location in the region towards Narragansett Bay. A majority of the church were led to join in the movement. To Mr. Newman it was serious question…and he finally offered to abide by a vote of the parish. The majority desired him to go with them, and so he went…in 1643, to settle the town which he appropriately named Rehoboth (broad place). There he continued as pastor until his death in 1663. Mr. Newman was a remarkable man, and greatly beloved by his people.”
The Rev. Samuel Newman is a pivotal character in the History of Rehoboth. He seems to be the reason for many to have come to Rehoboth and he seems to have been the reason that some left. Rev. Newman was a Congregational minister. As Henry King writes:
“In 1639 an attempt was made at Weymouth to organize a Baptist church, which was rendered unsuccessful by the opposition of the Magistrates. This attempt was the result, it has been said, of the visit of Hanserd Knollys, a Baptist preacher from London, who went throughout the Plymouth towns publishing his sentiments in 1638.”
Again King writes “…this would place the date of the origin of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts thirteen or fourteen years [actually 24 years] before the coming of Mr. Myles. But though the form of church organization in those days was very simple, it is doubtful if these Baptists did more than hold meetings by themselves for mutual comfort and edification.” Those that did speak out or who persisted like Obadiah Holmes, John Hazel, Edward Smith, Joseph Torrey and his wife, William Buell and his wife and the wife of James Mann were convicted in 1650 of continuing to hold meetings on the Lord’s day from house to house in defiance of a court order.
It is important to remember than Obadiah Holmes was in Salem in 1639 and in Rehoboth by 1646 and had fled to Newport, Rhode Island by 1650. Depending on whose history or genealogy you will read a different view on when the Baptists began and the extant of the tolerance of Rev. Newman and the other Congregationalists. In James T. Holmes book on Obadiah Holmes we see a different picture as he quotes from Bliss’ History of Rehoboth:
“Mr. Bliss, in his History of Rehoboth, issued in 1836, at page 205, says, ‘The leader on the part of the Schismatists, as they were then denominated, was Obadiah Holmes, a native of Preston in Lancashire, England. The precise date of his emigration to this country is not known. He was admitted to the church in Salem, Mass., March 24, 1639; from this he was excommunicated in 1646, removed with his family to Rehoboth and became a member of Dr. Newman's church.’”
From pages 46 and 63 of the volume, it appears that the Rehoboth Church disturbance was in 1649. It must have reached a climax in that year for on the 29th day of October, Obadiah Holmes entered suit for slander against Samuel Newman…laying his damages at £100, the slanderous charge complained of being that the plaintiff had committed perjury in some court proceeding. The defendant, Newman, confessed his error and that he did not have the facts to sustain the charge and so lost out or was cast in the litigation.
On the 2d day of October, 1650, he, with others of Rehoboth, was indicted by the Grand Jury, at New Plymouth, for holding meetings on the Lord's day from house to house, "contrary to the order of the court." This looks as if there had been another excommunication. A copy of the indictment is as follows:
‘Wee whose names are heer underwritten, being the grand inquest, doe present to this Court John Hazell, Mr. Edward Smith and his wife, Obadiah Holmes, Joseph Tory and his wife, and the wife of James Mann, William Devell and his wife, of the towne of Rehoboth, for the continuing of a meeting uppon the Lord's-day from house to house, contrary to the order of this Court, enacted June 12, 1650.’”
To give the reader an idea of the difficulty in being an avowed Baptist in early Massachusetts let me quote from the book “The Chad Browne Memorial”:
“Elder [Obadiah] Holmes preferred to submit to punishment, rather than to acknowledge that he was in the wrong. He was kept in prison until September, when he received the infliction of thirty stripes. The sentence was executed with such severity that those who, in after years, saw the scars upon his back, (which he was wont to call the marks of the Lord Jesus) expressed a wonder that he should survive. In a manuscript of Gov. Joseph Jenckes it is recorded ‘that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest but as he lay upon his knees and elbows.’"
Even though Mr. Holmes and others left for the more tolerant shores of Rhode Island that does not mean the Baptists went away. Joy writes:
“A few, however, of these early Baptist dissenters appear to have remained in Rehoboth, quietly holding their beliefs, and waiting for the favorable opportunity to avow them openly. They were compelled to wait thirteen years. The opportunity came in 1663, at the coming of John Myles with his Welsh Baptists.”
It seems 1663 is an important year in that Rev. Newman died and Rev. John Myles appears on the scene. Another coincidence? Here’s one possible scenario. If Rev. Newman was much beloved by the founding families of Rehoboth perhaps no one wanted to upset the relative ecclesiastical peace they had enjoyed for the past twenty years since they had removed from Weymouth. Upon the death of Rev. Newman and during the heavy persecution in England and Wales the time was ripe for a Baptist minister to be invited to Rehoboth.
Origins in Wales: Bowen, Myles and the Baptist Church
The record points to Alice Bowen being born at Kittle Hill, Wales and that would most likely mean that Richard Bowen was in some way related to the Courthouse Bowens just in terms of sheer proximity. Kittle Hill is a farm just about a mile east of Ilston (in the direction of Swansea). Swansea is the nearest large town in the area and as previously stated Rev. Myles is said to be “of Swansea,” when in fact he was the pastor of the “Ilston” church, St. Illtyd, from 1649 until 1660. Kittle Hill Farm is about a mile from St. Illtyd. Courthouse Farm is about ¼ of a mile from the church and is the seat of the Courthouse Bowens. (see map) It was originally owned by Thomas ap (son of) Owen who was the son of Henry ap Owen. It is recorded that Morgan ap Owen bought Courthouse and associated lands in 1441. The Richard Bowen family is likely descended through these ap Owens (Bowens) although exact parentage is as yet unproven. As can be seen in the following map we are talking about a very small area. The lines on this map denote individual parcels of land and in some cases individual houses are shown. The area encompassing Ilston, Kittle Hill and Courthouse is less than 1 square mile. Swansea lies about 8 miles east to southeast of Ilston at the neck of the Gower Peinsula. (see map on first page)
Map of Illston, Courthouse Farm and Kittle Hill Farm
St. Illtyd is just south of Ilston and marked on the map with a cross.
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
The Church at St. Illtyd in Illston has its origins in the 6th century, however the current chapel dates back to the 13th century (although restored in the 19th). From an article by Dr. Peter Guant on the Oliver Cromwell Organization website:
“Ilston is a small, inland village, in the heart of the Gower peninsula, west Glamorgan. It stands at the head of an attractive wooded valley, Ilston Cwm, through which a stream meanders south. The village is little more than a row of houses along a country lane, and even the neighboring quarry is disused and has reverted to a nature reserve. The most eyecatching feature of the village is its church dedicated to St. Illtyd. Yet for all its remote tranquility, Ilston holds a key place in the ecclesiastical history of Wales and Britain. For it was here, in the village and its valley, that one of the earliest congregations gathered to worship.
The Baptist movement mushroomed during the 1640’s taking advantage of the religious freedom of the civil war years and the breakdown in censorship…Baptist congregations were voluntary associations of free and equal members, who organized there churches on a democratic basis, electing their ministers or elders…”
The Rev. John Jones 1880 essay on the Rev. John Myles was translated from the Welsh and appeared in the 1888 Baptist Quarterly Review and provides valuable context and information. He writes:
“…but there were Baptists in Wales and the border before the year 1649. In accordance with the customs of that age, these worshipped in secret and sometimes in the parish churches. Immersion was the mode of baptism practiced in the church in Wales until the time of James I, and many persons, like Thomas Llewelyn, of Rhigos (about 10 miles northeast of Swansea) held these sentiments long before the time of John Myles and the Ilston Church; but John Myles has the honor of having established the first church of baptized believers in Wales.”
This is reiterated in Dr. Gaunt’s article:
There had been Baptists in Wales and the Marches [area on the border between Wales and England] before the foundation of the Ilston church…
John Miles or Myles is a shadowy figure. He was born in 1621 in a Welsh speaking part of Hertfordshire.”
Rev. Myles birthplace remains as elusive as Robert Wheaton and Richard Bowen’s. It appears he was born in Newton. However there are at least twenty Newtons in Wales and England. One source has John Myles birthplace as Newton in Herefordshire (of which there are three) and states “common tradition points to Newton Clodock as the birthplace of John Myles, but tradition points also to that community near the place where the rivers Olchon and Escle unite, as his birthplace.” This would be the Village of Longtown which lies between Newton and Clodock. Longtown lies at the foot of the Olchon Valley in the Black Mountains of Wales.
St. Illtyd Church, Illston, Gower, Glamorgan Wales
Photo courtesy of Ceridwen
If this is indeed where Rev. Myles was born then he was in the midst of the earliest Baptists communities in Great Britain as Longtown and Olchon claim Baptist foundations that in the case of the Olchon go back to perhaps the first century AD. Another possibility for Rev. Myles birthplace is Newton, Glamorgan which is about 15 miles southeast from Swansea. When Rev. Myles came to America he brought with him the records of his congregation called the Ilston Book. The book is written in Welsh which adds credence to the theory that he was born in or near Wales and was of Welsh descent. Myles is a welsh surname. Welsh is not an easy language to learn and it would have been highly unlikely that he would have acquired it as an adult. Rev. Myles traveled and preached widely in Wales and England. He was an associate of Thomas Proud who was the pastor at St. Iltyd until Rev. Myles succeeded him as the regular pastor in 1651.
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland
Rev. Myles was obliged to leave the Church of St. Illtyd in 1660 with the restoration of King Charles II. Legend has it the Rev. Myles preached at a chapel to the south west of Ilston from 1660 until he left in 1663. It is shown on the Map of Ilston as “Chapel (rems. of).” This may have been a small chapel known as “Trinity Well” which dates from the middle ages. In 1928 a ceremony and Memorial tablet were placed there. It reads:
“To commemorate the foundation in this valley of the first Baptist church in Wales 1649-60 and to honour the memory of its founder John Miles. This ruin is the site of the pre-Reformation chapel of Trinity Well and is claimed by tradition as a meeting place of the above Cromwellian church.”
Ruins of Ilston Church and Rev. Myles Memorial
Photo by Shropshire Baptists
Rev. John Myles emigrated from Ilston to Rehoboth, MA in 1663 with his congregation gathered from the surrounding area referred to as Swansea. He is credited with the founding of the First Baptist Church in Wales as well as the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts. This is a matter of some contention in both regards but this should not impugn the significance of the founding of these churches. “…its origin was peculiar, had the events of its early history been preserved, it would have been a matter of unusual interest to the Baptists of the present time. Hitherto churches of this order had been kept out of every New England colony except Rhode Island. An attempt was made to form one in 1639 in the town of Weymouth, but it was defeated by the magistrates, and those concerned in it were scattered. After this no further effort seems to have been made for more than twenty years.
“[At the first] meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the court, to the disturbance of the peace of the place. They were ordered to desist from their meetings for the space of a month, and advised to remove their meeting to some other place where they might not prejudice any other church. Upon this order and advice Mr. Myles and his church removed from Rehoboth to New Meadow Neck, a place south of Rehoboth, which is now Barrington, R. I. Then it was not embraced in any town. They appear to have erected a house for worship soon after their removal beyond the bounds of Rehoboth. This house seems to have been about two and a half miles from the present house, west.
In 1667 the Plymouth Court granted to this church, with others, a grant of a town to be called Swansea. The grant of this town, that the Baptists might have a resting-place, shows that the Plymouth Colony was much more tolerant than the
It seems almost beyond belief that there was not some connection between Richard Bowen and Rev. Myles since the latter preached for 11 years at the Church that most likely Richard Bowen attended before coming to America. Richard Bowen and Rev. Myles were not contemporaries. It is estimated that Richard was born about 40 years before Rev. Myles. It is likely that Richard Bowen was a Baptist or Baptist sympathizer and he may be the connection that brought Rev. Myles to America. Even if he wasn’t a Baptist, having grown up in Ilston, it is reasonable that he would have been in contact with family and friends back in his home town. Rev. Myles was the rector at the village church in Ilston and seems to have preached for Baptists and non-Baptists until he was removed and then found himself with a Baptist congregation without a church. Fearing for both his livelihood and perhaps his life it seems likely that a fellow Welshman from the same community might suggest his coming to America and forming a new church with an already existing community of Baptist believers in need of a pastor. Although Richard Bowen and Robert Wheaton do not appear on the record among the first seven people to form a covenant as the Baptist Church of Swansea, MA in 1663 both had sons who were very active in that church and in the case of Robert, his son Ephraim became its third minister. The death of Rev. Newman in the same year might have made the coming of Rev. Myles even easier or even been one of the reasons that precipitated his coming. In the absence of records there can be no certainty, but the reasonable person can not overlook the intersections.
I would argue that Richard Bowen and Robert Wheaton were Baptists that kept their beliefs to themselves. If, as we suspect, Richard was from Gower he grew up in an area of Wales rife with Baptists. The same could be said for Robert Wheaton if as we suspect, he came from the area of Devon where the first Baptist churches were forming between 1608 and 1620. Perhaps Richard was a merchant with contacts in Devon, perhaps he was an English speaking Welshman as we know Rev. Myles was. If the settlers of Rehoboth came mostly to escape religious persecution then it would make sense that the like minded would tend to congregate.
It is certain that the early Rehoboth families were non-conformists, mostly Congregationalist and many with Baptist leanings at a time when openly avowing the latter would not be healthy. It seems likely that Richard and Alice met in Salem during some informal or even secret fellowship of Baptists, perhaps even followers of Rev. Obadiah Holmes. The union would have made sense if they shared certain religious convictions. It would then make sense that when Richard Bowen was among the followers of Rev. Newman founding Rehoboth that his daughter and son in law would decide to follow. At this time Obadiah Holmes might have decided to give/sell his lands to his compatriot, Robert Wheaton. Robert and Alice’s 4th son was named Obadiah. Was he named for Obediah Bowen, Alice’s brother, or Obadiah Holmes, or both?
We might wonder why Robert Wheaton and Richard Bowen were not among the first settlers of Swansea along with Rev. Myles. I suggest that they were well established in their land holdings and their positions in the community of Rehoboth. In a speech in 1860 Sylvanus Newman states:
“Their [Rehoboth] town meetings were held in their meeting-house, and for many years "Father Bowen” as the records call Mr. Richard Bowen, was a sort of stereotyped moderator; and he also served as clerk. And here a word on the term Mr. It was very rarely applied, and only to clergymen and citizens of much more than ordinary distinction and more rarely than we now use the title of Honorable.”
Two of Robert’s sons Samuel and Joseph were original settlers of Swansea, MA and even though Robert’s son Ephraim was Swansea Baptist Church’s 3rd minister he remained living on the Wheaton farm in Rehoboth and is buried at the Old Burying Hill Cemetery in Rehoboth. I hope that in putting together a plausible story for Robert Wheaton and Alice and Richard Bowen’s origins and their connections with Baptists this will encourage others to reflect on why Rev. Myles might have selected the area adjacent Rehoboth for the founding of his church. Others may have information regarding their specific Rehoboth families that will shed further light on the matter. And it is possible that there are answers still lying uncovered in England and Wales.
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Thomas, Joshua. “Hanes y Bedyddwyr” Carmarthen, 1778 as quoted in Williams, W. Llewelyn “The Making of Modern Wales” London: Macmillan & Co., 1919
Tilton, George H. A History of Rehoboth Massachusetts: Its History for 275 Years 1648-1918. Boston, MA , 1918
White, Barrie R. The Organisation of the Particular Baptists: 1664-1660, undated
Whitmore, William Henry. An Essay on the Origin of the Names of Towns in Massachusetts settled prior to A.D. 1775. Boston, MA: Press of John Wilson and Son, 1873
Williams, Moelwyn I. A further Contribution to the Commercial History of Glamorgan, National Library of Wales Summer, 1962, Vol. XII/3. pp265-287
Wright, Otis Olney. History of Swansea Massachusetts 1667-1917, Swansea, 1917
 Sometimes written Elce
 Savage, James. A Genealogical Dictionary of New England Vol. IV. Boston: Brown, Little & Co., 1862: 495-496
 Savage, James. A Genealogical Dictionary of New England Vol. I.: 222
 Hill, William G. Family Record of Deacons James W. Converse and Elisha S. Converse. Malden, MA 1887: 42-53
 Gibbs, Michael Gowerton, Swansea, Wales Private correspondence 31 May 1975
 Abertawe: the mouth of the Tawe River. “Aber” is Welsh for mouth. “Tawe” may derive from the Celtic tamesa meaning river or dark river.
 Hill ibid.
 Tilton, George H. A History of Rehoboth Massachusetts: Its History for 275 Years 1643-1918. Boston, MA, 1918: 5 Later spelled Seekonk. Two interpretations of meaning are listed 1) at the mouth of a stream or 2) Black Goose: “seaki” (black) “onk.” (goose).
 Jenkins, Philip, The Making of the a Ruling Class: The Glamorgan Gentry 1640-1790. Cambridge University Press 1983: 10, 118
 Williams, Moelwyn I. “A Further Contribution to the Commercial History of Glamorgan” National Library of Wales Journal, Winter 1960 Vol. XI/4: pp330-360
 List of vessels at Port in Swansea Wales in 1881 is the "Speedwell" John Davies, 59, Master of Dinas, Pembroke, Wales John Reynolds, 43, Mate of Milford, Pembroke, Wales
 Williams Ibid.
 Mather, Rev. Richard. Journal of Richard Mather 1635: His Life and Death 1670. David Clapp, Boston 1850
 Bennett, Ralph B. Jr. Nine Yankee Farmers: A Bennett Line from 1636 to 1916. San Diego, CA - April 1990
 Wheaton, Kelly “Rehoboth: Early (pre 1660) Family Origins & Associated Clergy”. Unpublished manuscript. 2009
 Tilton, George H Rev. A History of Rehoboth Massachusetts. Boston, 1918: 22. From Rehoboth Proprietors’ Records Vol. 1 p. 1
 Crosby, Thomas. The History of the English Baptists: From the Reformation to the Beginning of the Reign of King George I Vol. I. London, 1738: iv
 Crosby Ibid.: 79
 Crosby ibid.: 111-121
 Newman, Albert Henry A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1915: 162
 Thomas, Joshua. Hanes y Bedyddwyr Carmarthen, 1778 as quoted in Williams, W. Llewelyn “The Making of Modern Wales” London: Macmillan & Co., 1919: 271
 Carlile, John C. The Story of the English Baptists. James Clarke & Co. London 1905: 40
 Hayden, Rev. Roger. Private correspondence June 2009
 Cook, Lawrence. Origins of the Bicknell Family in North America as Descended from Zachary Bicknell 1991
 Blake, James. Annals of Dorchester. 1630-1753 1846 pp 7-13
 Joy, Howard H. History of Weymouth Massachusetts in Four Volumes. Vol.1 Weymouth Historical Society 1923: 215-218
 Joy Ibid: 218
 King, Henry Millville. Rev John Myles and the Founding of the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts. Providence RI: Preston Rounds Co. 1905:77
 King ibid: 20-21
 King Ibid: 24
 Bulkley, Abbey Isabel. Chad Browne Memorial: Consisting of Genealogical memoirs of a Portion of the Descendants of Chad & Elizabeth Browne 1638-1888 Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Brooklyn, NY 1888: 151-2
 Holmes, J. T., Col. The American Family of Rev. Obadiah Holmes Columbus, Ohio. 1915: 16
 Bulkley Ibid: 151
 King Ibid: 25
 As yet where this reference originates is not known.
 2009 Map
 Gaunt, Dr. Peter www.olivercromwell.org/cromwell_britain.htm
 Jones, John Rev. “John Myles and His Times” Read before the Baptist Union in Wales Aug 1880. Tran. by Rev. Thomas Griffith and published in Baptist Quarterly Review 1888
 Llewelyn, Thomas was a Welsh bard or poet and perhaps lay preacher.
 Gaunt Ibid.
 Gaunt Ibid.
 Wright, Otis Olney. History of Swansea Massachusetts 1667-1917. Swansea 1917
Newman, Sylvanus Chace. Rehoboth In The Past: An Historical Oration delivered on the Fourth of July. Robert Sherman Pawtucket, RI 1860: 19