Between 1630 and 1642, over 20,000 Englishmen migrated to New England. William Pynchon, the Puritan founder of Springfield, Massachusetts was one of them. So was Benjamin Cooley, the founder of the Cooley family in America, of which I am a member. Mortimer Cooley, in his remarkable two volume work, The Cooley Genealogy (1941), clearly documents Benjamin Cooley’s early days in Massachusetts and how we all descended from Benjamin and his wife Sarah.
The purpose of this paper is to briefly summarize what was going on in England in the first half of the 17th Century that led to that great migration, and why I have become convinced that Benjamin Cooley was among them.. Estimates of the size of that migration range from 20,000 to 26,000, most of whom were English Puritans. When that large a group decides to do something as dramatic as abandon their homes and sail for several months across the Atlantic to an unknown future, there is a temptation to find a single cause. But it seems there were many factors involved: political, religious and economic.
Let’s begin with 1603, when Queen Elizabeth died and King James succeeded her. A big difference between these two monarchs was that the Queen allowed considerable religious freedom, while King James tried to force the Puritans to conform to the policies and practices of the Church of England. King James did sponsor and promote an English version of the Holy Bible in 1611, but in general his religious policy was aimed at maintaining conformity and state control of the Church. This was troublesome because the Puritans believed that the Anglican Church had not been sufficiently purged of the theology and worship practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
Then in 1625 King James died and his son Charles I inherited the throne. Charles had even stronger Catholic sympathies than his father James. This was made worse by his marrying a Catholic Queen, and his appointment of William Laud as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud enforced his high church discipline and persecuted the Puritans extensively. Laud regarded Puritanism a greater threat to the Church of England than Catholicism. “By 1630, reconciliation of Puritan viewpoints and those of the Church establishment was impossible.” (Bremer, 1995) Eventually the Puritans gained control of Parliament, and Laud was eliminated. Then King Charles was tried and executed as a traitor to his countrymen in 1649.
But before that happened, in 1629 the Massachusetts Bay Company received a royal charter from King Charles. John Winthrop and 27 other leaders of the company signed the Cambridge Agreement, signifying their willingness to migrate to New England if they can bring the charter and powers with them. William Pynchon, then of Springfield, Essex, was one of the original patentees. Over the next year they had weekly meetings planning for their migration to New England and arranging their ships. In 1630 seven ships carrying about 1000 Puritans left England for Massachusetts. Known as the Winthrop fleet, they sailed into Salem Harbor in 1630, with William Pynchon aboard.
The Cambridge Agreement was essentially a home rule decision, and soon after they arrived in Massachusetts, Winthrop established Boston as the seat of the new colony and assumed control as governor of Massachusetts. “Clearly, the emigrants to New England were not a band of adventurers, but sober rural and urban middle-class folk. From the status of disaffected minority in their native land, these Puritans became the foundation of New England.” (Beamer, 1995, pg. 47) Philbrick(2006), in his fascinating account of the Pilgrims, who preceded the Winthrop Puritans by ten years, describes the Puritans as “more well-to-do and ambitious” than the Pilgrims, but who left England for very similar reasons.
In 1635, from his initial base in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Pynchon and two others conducted an exploratory expedition up the Connecticut River looking for a good place to establish a beaver trade. They found it at Agawam, and his two colleagues remained there for the winter to get things started. Both Burt (1898) and Swift (1969) provide abundant documentation of Pynchon’s dealings with the Native Americans as they established their beaver operations.
In the following spring (1636) Pynchon led a larger expedition to create a settlement on the banks of the Connecticut River. In 1640 that settlement was named Springfield, after the town in Essex where Pynchon was from. Burt (1898, pg. 20) reports that several of the new settlers in 1640 were married prior to their arrival in Springfield, among them he lists Benjamin Cooley. This explains why there is no record of Benjamin and Sarah’s wedding in Springfield. Unfortunately their names have not been found on any ship passenger list, but many ships arrived in New England at that time without a surviving record of passenger names. The first official record of Benjamin’s Springfield presence was the birth of their daughter Bethia on September 16,1643.
In order to build a viable, self-sufficient settlement, Pynchon recruited skilled craftsmen using his agents back in England (Swift, 1969). His hometown, Springfield, was in the county of Essex. Essex and Hertfordshire were neighboring counties just north of London, and at that time were connected with extensive waterways, including tributaries of the Thames, so communication among these towns was easy. (Hill, 1982)
Benjamin Cooley was baptized in the nearby town of Tring in 1617. As a young lad he must have been trained as a weaver, for soon after his arrival in Springfield, MA he took on an apprentice weaver named Samuel Terry. We also know from Benjamin’s will that tools of the weaver craft was a big part of his estate. As Mortimer Cooley (1941, pg. 72) reports, “there is ample evidence that Benjamin Cooley was a skilled worker in both flax and wool.” So it is very probable that Pynchon’s agents in Essex and Hertfordshire (Swift, 1969, pg. 16) convinced a young weaver named Benjamin Cooley to move to the new world. That recruitment may have been fairly easy for a number of reasons.
Southern East Anglia (which included Essex and Hertfordshire) was the center of the coarse cloth industry. Unfortunately during the late 1630’s the weaver trade in the areas around Tring, had fallen on hard times. For example, in nearby Colchester a Dutchman built a factory that employed 500. He was so hated by the independent weavers that they burned down his mill when times got tough. New factories were not the only problem, East Anglia traders found it increasingly profitable to sell raw wool abroad, instead of finished cloth. (Wedgewood, 1955)
The political climate in Hertfordshire and Essex at that time was also a problem. A doctoral dissertation by Hankins (2003), who made an extensive study of the local government and the social life in those two counties circa1590 to1630, concluded that changes made by the central government in England caused great tension. “By the late 1620’s, the lords lieutenant, their deputies, and the justices of the peace [in these two counties] were stretched to the breaking point by the open-ended threat of economic, political, religious, and social innovations imposed from above.” (Hawkins, 2003) It was also true that In 1629 England suffered bad harvests that resulted in a slump in the cloth trade. (Bremer, 1995)
Cross-channel traffic brought in the flax and hemp from Normandy and Brittany and exported it as sail cloth and buckram (a fine cloth for clothes in the middle ages). (Wedgewood, 1995) But then government regulation rendered the English economy inflexible. In 1631 the Hertfordshire Justices of the Peace protested that this strict control of markets made the markets smaller. Much of the resentment against Charles I’s personal government sprang from objection to this autocratic and ineffective interference from Whitehall in local affairs.” (Hill, 1982)
Various epidemic diseases were also a problem at this time. Vaguely defined as plague, there were over 10,000 deaths in the London area in 1636. (Wedgewood, 1995). So for many reasons the 1630’s were not happy times for folks in Hertfordshire. It is easy to see why a young weaver would be willing to join the great migration of Puritans to New England.
Of course not everyone left the Tring area. Not even all the Cooleys. Benjamin’s probable father, William Cooley, and his wife Joan, had other children besides Benjamin, and Tring and nearby Parish records reveal that some of them stayed in the area. It would be very important to genealogically seek other male relatives (either ancestors or descendents) of William Cooley and determine if their DNA matches the DNA profile of the descendents of Benjamin. The latter has been well established by Greg Parker for the Cooley Family Association of America. The y-chromosome profile that Benjamin inherited from his father and brought with him in the great migration has held up well through over 11 generations of Cooleys in America. If, for example, Benjamin’s probable brother Joseph received that same y-DNA profile from William, then finding and testing descendents of Joseph would be very confirming evidence for the Tring origins of Benjamin Cooley. I was trained as a statistician, so I am very comfortable with probabilities. Hence this paper. But for those who want more convincing evidence, that would do it.
Burt, Henry (1898) The First Century of the History of Springfield: 1636 to 1736 Michigan Historical Reprint Series.
Bremer, Francis (1995) The Puritan Experiment University Press of New England.
Cooley, Mortimer (1941) The Cooley Genealogy Tuttle Publishing Company.
Hankins, Jeffery (2003) Local Government and Society in Early Modern England: Hertfordshire and Essex, C. 1590-1630. Doctoral Dissertation, LSU, Dept. of History.
Hill, Christopher (1982) The Century of Revolution: 1603-1714 W. W. Norton.
Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006) Mayflower Penguin Books.
Swift, Esther (1969) West Springfield Massachusetts: A Town History West Springfield Heritage Association.
Wedgwood, C. V. (1955) The King’s Peace: 1637-1641 Book-of-the-Month Club.