Rev. Henry Whitfield

Rev. Henry Whitfield (1597 – 1657) was the father of Rev. James FITCH’s first wife Abigail. While he is not one of our direct ancestors, I thought his story would be interesting to include.

Henry was minister at St. Margaret’s Church Ockley, England for more than twenty years before he resigned and came to America.

Rev. Henry Whitfield was born 1597 in Mortlake, Surrey, England, now a district of London. His parents were Thomas Whitfield (1545 – 1629) and Mildred Fortune Manning (1560 – 1627).  He married Dorothy Sheaffe 1618 of Ockley, Surrey, England. In 1639, he resigned as Rector of St Margaret’s Church in Ockley and led a  group of 25 families to America. They sailed on the vessel St. John, which left London in June, 1639, and arrived about September 10, 1639 in Guilford CT. Henry returned to England, died there 17 Dec. 1657 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Henry is buried in Winchester Cathedral

Dorothy Sheaffe was born in 1601 Cranbrook, Kent, England or  St. Dunstan, Cranford, Kent, England. Her parents were Rev. Thomas Sheafe, D.D. and Maria (Mary) Wilson.  Dorothy died in 1669 Guilford, New Haven, CT.

Children of Henry and Dorothy:

Name Born Married Departed
1. Dorothy Whitfield 25 Mar. 1619 Ockley, Surrey, England Samuel Desborough
Thomas Jordan
Guilford, CT
Surrey, England
2. Sarah Whitfield bapt.
1 Nov. 1620 Ockley, Surrey, England
Rev. John Higginson 8 July 1675 Salem, Essex, MA
3. Abigail Whitfield 1 Sep 1622 in Ockley, Surry, England Rev. James FITCH
18 Oct 1648 Guilford, CT
9 Sep 1659 Saybrook, CT.
4. Thomas Whitfield bapt.
28 Dec. 1624 Ockley, Surrey, England
Died Young
5. John Whitfield 11 Feb 1627 Ockley, Surrey, England Elizabeth Waldish England
6. Nathaniel Whitfield 28 June 1629 Ockley, Surrey, England Aft. 1685
7. Mary Whitfield 4 Mar 1631 Ockley, Surrey, England Aft. 1657
Surrey, England
8. Henry Whitfield 9 Mar 1634 Ockley, Surrey, England 28 Feb 1634/35 Ockley, Surrey, England
9. Rebecca Whitfield 20 Dec 1635 Winchester, Litchfield, CT Died Young

Henry Whitfield was born in 1597, and was descended from an old and well-known English family which had long been distinguished in the south of England both in church and in state. He was the younger son of Thomas Whitfield Esq., an eminent lawyer in the courts of Westminster. His mother was Mildred Manning, daughter of Henry Manning, Esq. of Greenwich in the county of Kent.

With the intention of preparing him for the bar, his family furnished him with a liberal education. He attended the university of Oxford first and then attended the Inns of Court. (A prestigious finishing school for gentlemen).

According to Cotton Mather, Henry Whitfield became a Christian in early life and was ordained to be a preacher. He entered the Christian ministry in the Church of England in 1618 (1616 according to Foster’s Alumni Qxonienses.) and enjoyed “the rich living of Ockley” in the county of Surrey, in the diocese of Winchester. He married Dorothy Sheaffer, daughter of a Kentish clergyman, and settled into the quiet, gracious life of an English Vicar.

Rev. Whitfield was a conformist of the established church of England for twenty years. By the 1630’s, however, his home became a haven for pious nonconformists in their time of troubles and persecutions. John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and John Davenport were among the prominent clergy and future leaders of The Great Migration who found refuge and concealment in his comfortable home.

Ockley is a historic village in Surrey, built on Stane Street, a Roman Road stretching from Chichester to London. Situated between Dorking and Horsham, close to the Sussex/Surrey border, Ockley nestles in the shadows of Leith Hill, the highest point in South east England.

St Margaret’s church, dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch, is believed to date from 1291.

St Margaret’s Ockley

The original construction was simply a single aisle and sanctuary, of which probably only the south wall still remains. The porch was added around the 16th Century and the tower, despite its Norman appearance was added in 1700. The peal of six bells was hung in 1701. A replica of the tenor bell was shipped to America in 1752, and is now called ‘The Liberty Bell’ because it was rung to proclaim the Declaration of Independence. The famous herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, son of one of the Rectors was born in Ockley in 1616.

St Margaret’s used to have a gallery, but this was removed during major restoration work in 1872, together with the high box pews which were used for ‘the gentry’.

The reigning church hierarchy of Charles I, specifically Archbishop William Laud, did not look favorably on the views and activities of these clergymen. In 1637, when Henry Whitfield refused to read The Book of Sports and follow the new liturgy, he was censured by Laud and other High Churchmen of the High Commission Court.

The “Book of Sports,” reprinted under Laud’s direction, brought Henry Whitfield to the attention of the High Church Commission in 1637. Conceived as a well-intentioned guide to permissible after-church leisure activities that people could engage in without violating rules of the Sabbath, it was seen by Puritans as a blasphemy. To them, the Sabbath was a day of worship, not of frivolities.

Although the book is strange and the subject matter trivial to modern ways of thinking, the issues were considered to have serious religious and political implications in those times: The declaration listed “archery, dancing, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation” as permissible sports, together with “May-games, Whitsun-ales and Morris-dances, and the setting up of May-poles”. Also allowed: “women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom.” Amongst the activities that were prohibited were bear- and bull-baiting, “interludes” and bowling.

James I had first published the “Book of Sports” in the 1620’s, and now Charles I reissued it in 1633. The point of contention was that King Charles insisted that every pastor read it aloud to his congregation. Many Puritans, like Henry Whitfield, flatly refused to do so and, like Reverend Whitfield, were called before the Archbishop Laud’s Commission and censured. Ezekiel ROGERS, founder of Rowley, Massachusetts also refused to read from the Book of Sports and was discharged from his post in Rowley Yorkshire.

It was said that Henry Whitfield’s courteous manners, attainments as a scholar, purity, gentleness, and eloquence as a preacher made him eminent in an age of great men. According to Cotton Mather, “his doctrines were enlightened and evangelical so that his labors were blessed not only to his own people, but throughout all the surrounding country where people flocked to hear him.”

Henry Whitfield Statue in the gardens of his house in Guilford, Connecticut

He continued preaching as he had before, arousing the ire of The High Churchmen one again. Rather than face another censure, in 1638 Whitfield resigned his position as Vicar of Ockley Church and became an itinerant preacher traveling to parts of southern England. Like many of the charismatic ministers of the time, he formed a “Clerical company” and gathered around him 25 families of young people, largely farmers of Surrey or Kent, to make plans to emigrate to the New World as his congregation.

Rev. John Davenport, a friend of Whitfield’s, had emigrated and founded New Haven colony in 1638. Another college friend, George Fenwick, was a grantee of the Warwick Patent and had helped found the Saybrook colony in 1635. These two colonies, forty miles from each other in Connecticut, encouraged Whitfield to consider the welcoming prospect of southern New England.

Guilford, New Haven, CT

Henry Whitfield was one of the founders of Guilford, Connecticut.  It was first settled in 1639 after being purchased from Native American leader Wequash.  The place was named for Guilford in Surrey, the native place of many of the colonists. After negotiating with the local Native Americans, who were represented by their squaw sachem (female chief) Shaumpishuh, the group purchased land halfway between New Haven and Saybrook. There they established the plantation of Menuncatuck, which would later be known as Guilford.

Like most 17th century New England towns, Guilford was organized around a common or green. The first houses were small huts with thatched roofs, wooden walls, and dirt floors. Guilford, unlike other villages, had no protective palisade fence surrounding the community; instead they build four large stone houses for the leaders of the plantation. These homes were strategically located and used for shelter during times of danger. Life in Guilford was extremely primitive and resembled a medieval village for several generations.

It was on June 1, 1639, while still at sea that the twenty-five male family heads drew up and signed an agreement known variously as the GUILFORD COMPACT or THE PLANTATION COVENANT.  This simple agreement formed the basis for the establishment of a new settlement along the shores of what is now Long Island Sound in Connecticut.

GUILFORD COVENANT – signed “on shipboard” June 1639

“We, whose names are hereunder written, intendending by God’s gracious permission to plant ourselves in New England, and, if it may be, in the southerly part, about Quinnipiack:  We do faithfully promise each to each, for ourselves and families, and those that belong to us; that we will, the Lord assisting us, sit down and join ourselves together in one intire plantation; and to be helpful each to the other in every common work, according to every man’s ability and as need shall require; and we promise not to desert or leave each other or the plantation but with the consent of the rest, or the greater part of the company who have entered into this engagement.

As for our gathering together in a church way, and the choice of officers and members to be joined together in that way, we do refer ourselves until such time as it shall please God to settle us in our plantation.  In witness whereof we subscribe our hands, the fist day of June 1639.

  • Robert Kitchell
  • John Stone
  • Thomas Norton
  • John Bishop
  • William Plane
  • Abraham Cruttenden
  • Francis Bushnell
  • Richard Gutridge
  • Francis Chatfield
  • William Chittendon
  • John Hughes
  • William Halle
  • William Lute
  • Wm. Dudley
  • Thomas Naish
  • Thomas Joanes
  • John Parmelin
  • Henry Kingsnorth
  • John Jordan
  • John Mepham
  • Henry Doude
  • William Stone
  • Henry Whitfield
  • Thomas Cooke
  • John Hoadly

Guilford is considered by some to have the third largest collection of historic homes in New England, with important buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries There are five historic house museums, including the Henry Whitfield House (1639), the oldest dwelling house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in North America.  If this house was actually begun in 1639, it would be the oldest extant New England Colonial building, but there is no original interior wood, so the tree-ring method of dating (dendrochronology) cannot be used.  According to tradition, the stone of which it is built was brought by Indians on hand-barrows across a swamp from Griswold’s lodge, about eighty rods distant. The walls are three feet thick. The house was kept in its original form till 1868, when it underwent considerable renovation.

Whitfield House

The Henry Whitfield House is a historic house located at 248 Old Whitfield Street in Guilford, Connecticut. This house dates from 1639, having been built just before the town of Guilford was settled. The house, with its massive stone walls, also served as a fort.  It was one of four stone houses that served to protect the community. Henry Whitfield was a Puritan minister who had come from England to flee religious persecution.

Whitfield House

The house was remodeled in 1868 and opened to the public in 1899 as a museum of the State of Connecticut, the Henry Whitfield State Museum. The house was restored in 1902-04 and in the 1930s and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.  It is the oldest house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in New England. It was named a State Archeological Preserve in 2006.

Henry Whitfield House

After eleven years of service to the community he founded, Henry Whitfield returned to England. The contemporary historian Hubbard wrote, “After sundry years continuance in the country he found it too difficult for him, partly from the sharpness of air, he having a weake body, and partly from the toughness of those employments wherein his livelihood was sought…he at length took his departure about the 25th of August, 1650, in a small vessle bound for Boston, where he expected to take a ship to London. The whole town accompanied him to the shore and took their farewell of their pastor with tears and lamentations.” He left behind his wife Dorothy and some of his ten children.

It may be that Whitfield returned in what was called “The Counter-Migration” to enjoy a welcoming religious and political climate. Charles I and William Laud had been beheaded. The Cavaliers had been routed on all fronts by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. The Puritans had the upper hand in the revolutionary government which was to engage several constitutional experiments over the next few years.

Back in England, Henry Whitfield became involved in fundraising for Indian missions and joined the corporation for the Puritan Missionary Society. There were, in parts of New England, communities of “Praying Indians” who had been converted to Christianity. Henry Whitfield reported on the progress of evangelical efforts to the Puritan Parliament and asked for government support.

In 1652, he published “Strength out of weakness, or a glorious manifestation of the further progress of the Gospell among the Indians in New England: Held forth in sundry letters from divers ministersand others to the corporation established by Parliament for promoting the Gospell among the heathen in New England and to particular members thereof, since the last treatise to that effect.”  Henry is also the author of “Helps to stir up to Christian Duties” (London, 1634); and “The Light appearing more and more toward the Perfect Day, or a Farther Discovery of the Present State of the Indians in New England ” (1651)

Whitfield took a parish in the Diocese of Winchester and appears to have resumed his former life as a quiet English Vicar. He remained there until his death on September 17, 1657. He is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Savage [with some of his abbreviations expanded]

“WHITFIELD, …(5030) HENRY, Guilford, came to New Haven in July 1639, with Col. George Fenwick and his lady, and a child of famous John Davenport, who, in a letter of 27 Sept. aft. to lady Mary Vere, tells of the ship, that she was the first “that ever cast anchor in” that place. See Geneal. Reg. IX. 149 No Doubt he was bred up for the pulpit, but of his place of education wh. are unknown. The common account of him is, that he was son of a lawyer, b. about 1597, settled as minister at Ockham, about 20 miles. from London, in Co. Surry, but others day Ockley or Okely in that shire about three miles. from the metropolis

“was one of the founders of the church at Guilford yet the establishment of the church. seems to be postponed to 1643, probably from the slow growth of the town. He had propty. eno. and disregard. the fulmination of Bishop. Laud for no read. the royal proclaimation. for sports on Sunday, resigned his place without dispute, after serving at the altar near twenty years in his native land.

“Later in the autumn of 1650, he went home, published the two following years. relattions of the spread of the gospel among our aborig. and died in the city of Winchester, it is said, in the office of minister though. of this I much doubt, if my construct. of the language of letters from his son-in-law and nephew. both named (5011ii[1]) John Higginson, as to his long life, be correct. See 3 Mass. Hist. Coll. VII. 200, 1 and 4. Commonly it is said he had ten children but I know only of (2515) Abigail, the first wife of (2514) Rev. James Fitch, and (5011ii) Sarah, wh. m. Rev. John Higginson.


1. Dorothy Whitfield

Dorothy’s first husband Samuel Desborough was born in Nov 1619 in Surrey, England. “Samuel Desborough, the first magistrate of Guilford, Connecticut, returned Aug/Nov 1650 to England and became in 1656, under Cromwell, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland. His brother John had married Cromwell’s sister Jane. He died 10 Dec 1690,in Elsworth, Cambridgeshire England.

Cromwell had a plan to ship out the Irish and repopulate Ireland with Protestants under his control.  He turned to New England people because they were Puritans of approved metal; they had been schooled in adversity and had demonstrated their ability to overcome great difficulties in the settlement and development of a country. Late in 1649 or early in 1650 he began systematic efforts to get New England people into Ireland. He wrote to New England for settlers and especially for missionaries. To whom he addressed himself can only be conjectured. There is no trace at this time of correspondence between Cromwell and anyone of Massachusetts except John Cotton, to whom Cromwell wrote early in October in answer to a letter of July, 1651. Samuel Desborough, however, who was close to Cromwell, kept in communication with Cotton. But Cromwell and Cotton were brought into communication by William Hooke, of New Haven, with whom Cromwell was frequently corresponding just at this time. Hooke in turn was intimately known to Desborough, and New Haven was the colony with which Cromwell was most closely connected.  Probably, therefore, the matter was managed by Hooke and Desborough through John Cotton, of Boston, and William Cobbet, of Lynn.

Cromwell now turned his attention toward New Haven, where the general despondency seemed to offer a good opportunity. These efforts did not cease until October, 1654. William Hooke, Samuel Desborough, and William Leete were Cromwell’s agents in the matter. Very probably the movement began while Desborough was still a resident of Guilford in 1650.  After Desborough left for England he induced Leete to write to Cromwell (some time before March, 1653-54) in behalf of New England, entreating him to relieve their afflicted and straitened condition. Cromwell made a favorable answer, which was enforced by a letter from Desborough March 5 1654. Leete took the matter up and spread the Protector’s offer through the colony. Some more or less definite arrangements were made for removal, and the city of Galway  was chosen as a place for settlement. The form which this arrangement took and why no general migration resulted can not be ascertained, because of the loss of the New Haven records from 1649 to 1653.

Dorothy’s second husband Thomas Jordan was born in 1618. Thomas died in 1650 in Guilford, Connecticut.

Children of Dorothy and Samuel

i. Sarah Desborough b. 1649; m. Christopher Milles of Herne

2. Sarah Whitfield

Sarah’s husband Rev. John Higginson was born 6 Aug. 1616 Claybrooke, Leicester, England. His parents were John Higginson and [__?__].  After Sarah died, he married Mary [__?__]  (c. 1626 – 1709) of Boston, Mass, widow of Joshua Atwater.  John Higginson was Henry Whitfield’s assistant as teacher and minister.   John died 9 Dec. 1708 Salem, Essex, Mass.


HIGGINSON, …(5031ii[1]) JOHN, Salem, disting. in the annals of that place, eldest son of [John Higginson] b. 6 Aug. 1616, at Claybrook, Co. Leicest. (wh. was dwell. of ano. fam. of the same name), came with his family. was freeman 25 May 1636, served as chaplain 1637, at Saybrook, but in 1641 went to Guilford, and was some years. colleague with (5030) Rev. Henry Whitefield, whose d. (5031ii) Sarah he married

“On a design of going to England he came in 1659 to Salem, there was prevailed on to remain, ordained Aug,. 1660, and died among the most honored of our clerg. 9 Dec. 1708. He had second wife Mary, wid. of Joshua Atwater of Boston, only three mos. survived him.”

Children of Sarah and John:

i. John Higginson b.1646 Guilford, New Haven, CT; d. 23 Mar. 1719/20 Salem, Essex, MA; m. Sarah Savage (25 June 1653 Boston, Mass – 26 June 1713)

ii. Nathaniel Higginson, b. 11 Oct. 1652, Harvard College 1670; d. Nov 1708 London, England

iii. Thomas Higginson

iv. Francis Higginson, b. 9 June 1660, went to Eng,. and was, it is said, sent to the Univeristy by his uncle Francis, [[vol. 2, p. 414]] but d. at London, of smallpox, 1684

v. Henry Higginson, 22 Dec. 1661, or 2, wh. d. 1685 at Barbados, of smallpox

vi. Sarah Higginson m. 1672, Richard Wharton

vii. Ann Higginson m. 4 Oct. 1682, William Dolliver of Gloucester.

2. Sarah Whitfield

Sarah’s husband Rev. John Higginson was born 6 Aug 1616 in Claybrook, Leicestershire, England. His parents were Francis Higginson and Anne Herbert. After Sarah died, he married 1676 in Stratford, Fairfield, CT to Mary Blakeman (b 1636 in Stratford, Fairfield, CT – d. 9 Mar 1709 in Stratford, Fairfield, CT. John died 9 Dec 1708 in Salem, Mass.

3. Abigail Whitfield (See Rev. James FITCH‘s page)

5. John Whitfield

John’s wife Elizabeth Waldish was born in Surrey, England.  Her parents were Alexander Waldish and [__?__].


Whitfield 1 – Relatives on Henry Whitfield’s mother’s side

Whitfield 2

Whitfield 3

Whitfield 4 (Virtual Tour of House)

The history of Guilford, Connecticut, from its first settlement in 1639 By Ralph Dunning Smith

Historical papers relating to the Henry Whitfield House, Guilford, Connecticut reprinted by vote of the Trustees. Published 1911


This entry was posted in Artistic Representation, College Graduate, Dissenter, Historical Church, Historical Site, Immigrant - England, Line - Miner, Pioneer, Place Names and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Rev. Henry Whitfield

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  7. This Whitfield coat of arms is copyright of Please remove it, or at least add a link to our website and remove any advertising to outside companies, such as…. This amounts to you using my images to collect ad dollars for yourself. Please cease and desist. You have quite a huge number of my graphics on your site at

    Mike Kennaugh

  8. Thank you so much for this wealth of information. I was just accepted into the Mayflower Society and DAR through Jonathan Fitch who married Esther Sill. Both are Mayflower descendants who married each other. One from William Bradford and the other from William Brewster. I directed my cousins here to take a look. You have information that we didn’t know about. Thanks Again! Regena

  9. Pingback: Guilford, Connecticut | A FAMILY HISTORY

  10. Randy McCartney says:

    Hi Mark, My name is Randy McCartney and I am the Chairman for the Guilford Historic District Commission in Guilford, CT. I am in the process of updating our Rules of Procedure for the Commission’s website to aid the general public (see Town of Guilford – Historic District Commission). Is the colorized version of the Henry Whitfield Stone House about copyrighted? If so, I am seeking permission to use the image on the front page of our Rules of Procedure. If the photo is copyrighted, can you grant permission to use the image? My contact information is below. Nice blog by the way. Best Regards, Randy McCartney, Chair, Guilford Historic District Commission (203) 458-1991.

    • markeminer says:

      Hi Randy,

      I have photos of my own going back to about 1860, but my material before that is all “fair use” Once in a blue moon someone asks me to remove content and I do, but this is a non-commercial site and I am not competing with anyone to tell my family history.

      Sorry, I have no permission to give about Rev. Henry Whitfield images.


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