Someone must have been this way before; and probably did it better. So, if you know of a better source, with more information, please get in touch.
A tale of two cities
Between 1633 and 1643, some 200 from the Norfolk village of Hingham migrated across to the Massachusetts Bay (including, of course, an apprentice weaver by the name of Samuel Lincoln) to settle at their new Hingham, Mass.
Back in 1963 Sumner Chilton Powell’s Puritan Villager, the Formation of a New England Town, showed direct links between Sudbury, Suffolk, and Sudbury, Mass. In Chapter IV we find a comment on:
… the rural parishes and towns of East Anglia. This area, which contributed so many town names to New England, has generally been considered by historians to be the source of New England institutions, and a recent study has traced at least 1877 emigrants from Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. The names given to such early Massachusetts settlements as Ipswich and Dedham make it evident that East Anglians wished to carry some of their local heritage into their New Canaan.
The link between the earliest colonists and East Anglia is then well-established. However, Wikipedia says that Wells ME’s name derives from the Cathedral City of Wells, Somerset:
In 1653, Wells was incorporated, the third town in Maine to do so, and named after Wells, England, a small cathedral city in the county of Somerset.
Wikipedia helpfully suggests a total of ten “Place names of Somerset origin in the United States”. Two are to the county name. A further six involve “Bridgewater”, which seems as likely to be just descriptive (a bridge over water, troubled or not) as any local heritage into their New Canaan. That leaves Bath ME (so named in 1781) and Taunton MA (founded 1637, this last one with an explicit settler connection to the “mother” town).
Is there a Somerset connection?
Any connection between Wells ME and Wells, Somerset, might be adduced through Sir Ferdinando Gorges, whom Wikipedia has:
born in Ashton Phillips, Somerset.
There may be the sniff of a small rodent there, if only because one would be hard pressed to find “Ashton Phillips” — though there is a location, really no more than a by-road going by the name of Ashton Grove, a few miles west of Wells, Somerset.
The Dictionary of National Biography [DNB hereafter] differs, and makes Gorges:
the second son of Edward Gorges (d. 1568) and Cicely Lygon of Wraxall, Somerset. The year of his birth was estimated for some time at 1566, but it appears to be reasonably certain that he was born between 31 May and 23 July 1568 at the family’s suburban London home in Clerkenwell, where his father died shortly afterward. Little is known of his early upbringing, though there is some evidence that he may have attended as a youth in Elizabeth’s court.
By the way, that image (right) is merely Ernest Board inventing, as late as 1930. Accept any imitation.
There seems little in Gorges’ biography to make rural Somerset his chosen bliss-on-earth; and he was in the colony for so brief a time he hardly had a chance to be nostalgic. Even if the place-name somehow honours Gorges’ nephew and “factor” in the New World, Sir Thomas Gorges, who also originates in Wraxall, we are even further from the Cathedral City of Wells. Thomas Gorges, too, was no long-term resident of the colonies; and his “home” was Heavitree, now a suburb of Exeter.
Quite frankly, Wells, Somerset, an inland town, doesn’t match the topography of Wells, ME, a seaside location on an exposed coast, behind salt marshes and sand spits. Wells, Norfolk, on the contrary is just that kind of geography.
Consider map extracts:
Here is a sheet, dated 1838, from the First Edition of the UK Ordnance Survey:
Add a bit of colour for the the 1945 “Popular” edition of the Ordnance Survey, and those marshes are even more evident:
For comparison, here is the 1891 survey of Maine:
Quite how extensive the coastal marshes were, in either Wells, back in the Seventeenth Century, we can only assume. That they were there in both locations is undeniable.
So, to the Wells, Norfolk, connection.
Let’s start with a bit of numerology.
Wikipedia here seems a trifle thin: the corresponding page on Place names of Norfolk origin in the United States amounts to just the one: Hingham MA:
The first significant European settlement was established in 1635 when the Rev. Peter Hobart arrived with his followers from Hingham, England. In that same year, they renamed the town, Hingham, and it was incorporated as the 12th town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In Massachusetts alone, among the earliest colonial settlements, we can add Attleboro(ugh), Lynn, Needham, Walpole, Wayland, and Yarmouth. Maine gives us another Yarmouth and Wells. If we include transplanted names from the other East Anglian counties, the list extends enormously.
Then there’s this:
Long before Wells incorporation in 1653, as the third town in Maine, temporary residences were built on the beaches by traders and fishermen. Edmund Littlefield, the father of Wells, established a permanent home, sawmill and gristmill as early as 1640-41 at the falls of the Webhannet River. Reverend John Wheelwright soon followed and by 1642 was attempting to provide religious freedom here for himself and his followers. He established the first church and claimed several tracts of land for himself. During his brief three or four year stay, he also served as one of the agents appointed to survey and allot lands of Gorges grant to Wells settlers.
Traders and fishermen … looks alike, sounds alike. We can see from seventeenth century records that Wells, Norfolk, was a minor, but thriving port, with an active trade (with contraband on the side) to the Low Countries. Wells is several times listed with the other East Anglian ports, complaining to the government about interference with business.
Edmund Littlefield (abt 1592 to 11 Dec 1661) , mentioned there, is discussed at length by several family genealogical sites, as here. His origins are in Titchfield, Hampshire, but the Littlefield family, and Edmund’s wife come from Devon. The Littlefields were n the cloth trade, and this Edmund seems to have arrived in New England about 1636, and is setting up a saw-mill beside the Webhannet Falls by 1640 or 1641, which is commemorated by a plaque.
The Rev Mr Wheelwright
From the DNB:
Wheelwright, John (1592?–1679), minister in America, was probably born in Saleby, Lincolnshire, in the early part of 1592, the son of Robert Wheelwright (d. c.1612) and his wife, Katherine… He married his first wife, Marie Storre, daughter of the vicar of Bilsby, Lincolnshire, on 8 November 1621. After his father-in-law’s death Wheelwright was inducted as vicar of Bilsby on 9 April 1623. Marie was buried on 18 May 1629 and shortly thereafter he married Mary Hutchinson from Alford, Lincolnshire.
We are at least, from Malcolm’s point of view, the proper side of England here, and a significant distance across the Wash (i.e. the estuary of the rivers Great Ouse, Nene and Welland), which was still unreclaimed marshland at that time. Malcolm can assure all and sundry that, as late as the middle of the twentieth century, any originating from across the Fens was a “furrener”. Especially the farm labourers imported to break the agricultural workers strikes of 1923 and 1926. On the other hand, the port of Boston (Lincolnshire) is directly across the Wash from North Norfolk and Wells.
Then there was a Puritan preacher, of some local distinction, in Norfolk:
The Reverend John Yates (fl.1612-61) was in the thick of the Puritan struggles of East Anglia. A bachelor of divinity of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he lived most of his life around Norwich, first as a town lecturer, then as minister of St Andrew’s, and finally as rector of Stiffkey …
Stiffkey (whose more famed rector, Harold Davidson, came along three centuries later) is the next sea-side village, under an hour’s walk east of Wells.
Yes, Yates has a DNB entry:
Yates, John (d. 1657), Church of England clergyman and philosopher, was admitted as a sizar to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, at Easter 1604 and was subsequently elected a scholar. He graduated BA in 1608, and proceeded MA and became a fellow in 1611. In September that year he was appointed master of Dedham grammar school, but he left within a term, apparently foregoing payment. He was ordained deacon and priest on 4 and 5 September 1614. The following year he published, at Cambridge, God’s Arraignement of Hypocrites, a defence of Calvin and an attack on Arminius. At Emmanuel he fell under the Ramist influence of the master, Laurence Chaderton, later becoming, with William Ames, Thomas Hooker, and Charles Chauncy, one of the students boarding at Alexander Richardson’s private seminary at Barking, Essex, and chaplain to Sir William Ayloffe, bt, chief justice of the liberties of Havering Bow. With Richardson and Ames he added technometria to Ramism, setting each art or discipline in the context of the entire field of knowledge.
In 1616 Yates resigned his fellowship and on 7 May married Mary Fening (d. 1650) at Saffron Walden, Essex. She had been baptized there in November 1590, the daughter of Jonas Fening, an influential glover of the town, and his wife, Agnes Meade. Also in 1616 Yates began a six-year ministry at the civic church of St Andrew the Apostle, Norwich, first as one of the corporation lecturers, then as incumbent. He quickly became the most prominent preacher in Norfolk, with a large following of influential city fathers. To the mayor and chief inhabitants of Norwich he dedicated in 1622 his Ramist treatise A modell of divinitie, catechistically composed, wherein is delivered the matter and methode of religion according to the creed, ten commandments, Lord’s prayer, and the sacraments. Bishop Samuel Harsnett, no admirer of puritans, did his best to inhibit Yates’s preaching, banning Sunday morning sermons, so Yates was glad when in October 1622 Sir Nathaniel Bacon, the most eminent puritan layman in the county, presented him to the joint rectories of St Mary with St John at Stiffkey on the north Norfolk coast. However, Bacon and his eldest daughter, Anne (who brought the property to the Townshends), died as he was moving; both were buried at Stiffkey on 7 November. Yates soon established himself with Sir Roger and Lady Townshend, presenting them with copies of his Modell, which, he complained in the accompanying letter, had been censored before publication and again afterwards by the archbishop’s chaplain, Dr Goad, who removed two pages from copies before they were sold.
Malcolm has — ahem! — somehow “fails to recall” what this Ramist stuff is all about, so let’s leap on:
Not much is known about Yates’s local ministry, save that in 1629 he was licensed to practise medicine, giving him the cure of bodies as well as souls. His wife was buried at Stiffkey on 6 April 1650, having borne her husband ten children, four of whom were living when he wrote his will in 1656, ordering ‘neither strife nor varyance after my decease’. He died and was buried with his wife at Stiffkey on 12 November 1657, leaving his eldest son, John (1617–1659) MD of Great Yarmouth, his sole executor and main beneficiary. Dr Yates’s Latin epitaph laments that he who so often knew how to cure others was powerless in his own case. A daughter, Hannah, was married to Richard Briggs, incumbent of Warham St Mary, adjoining Stiffkey.
Norfolk puritan divines
While Not much is known about Yates’s local ministry, it is clear he was of the same Cambridge-educated Puritan cloth as Robert Peck and Peter Hobart, who led the exodus from Hingham. And they were a peripatetic lot, happily traipsing across England, modern Holland and the west German ports, across the Atlantic, wherever there were fellow spirits in need of their guidance and teaching.
Norfolk had been a hot-bed of puritanism for half-a-century previous to the main emigration:
- Richard Gawton, the minister at Snoring (barely half-a-dozen miles south of Wells), had been arraigned for nonconformity before his Dean in 1576.
- Richard Sedgwick, a Peterhouse Cambridge student who went on to minister in London and Hamburg, came from East Dereham, Norfolk.
- John Rogers, who succeeded Lawrence Faircloth as minister at Haverhill, Suffolk, in 1603, and then moved — surely significantly — to Dedham, had started his ministry at Hevingham, in the Norfolk Broadland in 1592.
- The Rev. George Philips, who went to New England with Winthrop in 1630 was born at Roudham, near Thetford, Norfolk.
- The highly-important Puritan theologian, Dr William Ames, had grown up, an orphan, at Boxford, Suffolk, but was a Norfolkman by birth. He had to take refuge at the English Church of The Hague, was hounded out of there by the English Ambassador, on the instigation of Archbishop Abbot, went on to be professor of theology at Leiden for a dozen years. He, too, had intended to make the New England trip; but died of asthma on the eve of his voyage at Rotterdam in 1633, leaving his wife, Anne, and children to carry his library to the colony.
This is a list which could be extended.
So, to conclude, there are more than prima facie links between Wells, Norfolk, and Wells, Maine. The most obvious catalyst for any emigration between the two, at that moment in time, catalyst is the Rev. Mr Yates.
, it is open to anyone compares the topography of the two towns. To Malcolm’s eye, eliminated the New England architecture, the Norfolk flint-and-brick, and the similarities are striking. Try it for yourself on Flickr.
However, sadly, Wells, Norfolk, has long since lost its railway connection.
One last thing
Ann Wells, aged 15, (the surname might indicate something: she was the daughter of John Wells of Ringstead, Norfolk, a score of miles along the coast west of Wells) left London aboard The Planter in 1635. She was in the company of a clutch of Tuttles. The main centre of the Tuttle surname is and was that corner of Norfolk.