John BLISS (1561 – 1617) was Alex’s 12th Great Grandfather, one of 8,192 in this generation of the Shaw line.
John Bliss was baptized 2 Feb 1561 in Daventry, England. His parents were William BLISS b. ABT 1533 in Daventry, Northampton, England and Elizabeth OLIPHANT b. 1540 in Daventry, Northampton, England. His first wife was Agnes or Annes [__?__]. He married his second wife, Alice Smith in 1614. John died 7 Sep 1617 in Preston Parva, England and was buried 8 Sep 1617 in St. Peters, Preston Capes, Northampton, England.
Agnes or Annes [__?__] was born in 1571 in Daventry, Northants, England. She died before 1614 in Preston Capes, England.
Alice Smith was born about 1553 in Preston Capes, Northampton, England. Her father was Walter Smith (1525 – 1567). Alice died 26 Mar 1625 in Little Preston, Daventry, Northamptonshire, England.
Children of John and Alice:
|1.||Thomas BLISS||c. 1588
Preston Parva, Daventry, Northamptonshire
22 Nov 1614
Holy Cross Church, in Daventry, Northampton, England.
7 Oct 1647
Preston Parva, Northampton, England
30 May 1635
Holy Cross Church in Daventry.
| 31 Aug 1667
Preston Capes, Norths., England
Preston Capes, Norths., England
12 Jul 1629,
Preston Capes, Norths., England
Preston Capes, Norths, England
John was a blacksmith at Preston Parva (a small village near Preston Capes) His first wife, by whom he had all but one of his children, is unknown. His second wife, who he married in 1614, was Alice Smith, and she was the mother of John Bliss (born 1615, died 1616).
1. Thomas BLISS (See his page)
2. George Bliss
George’s wife Ann Shaw was born 1593 in Preston Parva, Northampton, Devon, England.
George and his wife joined Thomas and his family in their crossing to America, landing probably at Boston around 1638. George may have resided a short time at Lynn, then Sandwich, Massachusetts. On April 16, 1640, George was granted 1.5 acres of land. He later removed to Newport, RI where he practiced his trade as a blacksmith. In 1650, George was appointed (along with others) to make and mend all arms in Newport. In 1657, Gov. Benedict Arnold described George Bliss as one of the original purchasers of the Island of Quononicut. Later, Gov. Arnold’s daughter, Damaris, married George’s son, John. George is listed in the Colonial Records as a freeman in 1655/56.
George bought land in Newport March 22, 1660. On that date articles of agreement were made whereby Sosoa, an Indian captain of Narragansett, deeded (June 29, 1660) a large tract of land called Misquamicutt [the Indian name of salmon] to seventy-six of the colonists, George Bliss being one of the number. In 1669 the territory of Misquamicutt was incorporated under the name of Westerly.
George Bliss died August 31, 1667 at Newport.
There was another Thomas Bliss who immigrated to Hartford, CT. Several sources state that he was the cousin of our Thomas and George, The relationship is unproven, but it is interesting coincidence that both family branches had a Thomas, Johns, George and Jonathan. This Thomas was from Devon while our Bliss ancestors originated in Northampton.
Tradition has it that Thomas Bliss, the emigrant, was the son and name-sake of a well-to-do, locally influential citizen in the village of Belstone, county Devonshire. In the opening decades of the 17th century the father, Thomas, Sr. had become a determined advocate of the Puritan cause and had participated with like-minded neighbors in the acts of protest against religious oppression. On one particular occasion, he and three of his sons (George, Jonathan and Thomas, Jr.) had accompanied a party, led by the local member of parliament, in riding up to London to engage both king and archbishop in direct confrontation. The upshot was their imprisonment and the levying of heavy fines (said to have been in excess of £1000) in lieu of their freedom. Payment of the fines required the virtual liquidation of the family estate, and even then there was not enough money to free all four Blisses. Thus one of the sons, Jonathan, remained in jail some while longer, was severely whipped in the public square at Exeter, and never thereafter recovered his health.
Impoverished and broken in his own health, Thomas, Sr. subsequently returned to Belstone and lived in the household of his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Calcliffe. She was the wife of a knighted gentleman who had remained a regular communicant of the Anglican church (thus avoiding persecution). As the crisis of the realm deepened, the father summoned his sons, divided among them what patrimony he still retained, and advised them to remove to New England. Thomas, Jr. and George left soon thereafter; Jonathan was too ill to join them, but sent at least one of his sons in their care. During the years that followed, Lady Calcliffe sought to help her relatives across the sea by sending them periodic shipments of clothing and food. And it was in her personal correspondence — regrettably, long since lost — that this part of the Bliss family history was remembered for succeeding generations.
Thomas was born about 1590. The particular location of his birth is not known. He resided in Rodborough, Gloucestershire at one time, and a son Nathaniel was born there. However, there were very few Blisses resident at Rodborough at that time and in fact no Bliss testators lived there during Thomas’ stay. It was not the place of his birth nor the place of his ancestors. The reason for his presence was one Margaret Hulins (or Hulings) of Rodborough whom he married in about 1617. Numerous Bliss records are traced to the Painswick area which has been termed “Bliss Country” by other researchers.
Thomas’ wife Margaret Hulings was born 15 Jul 1595 Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England. Her parents were John Hulings and Margaret Lawrence. She married Thomas Bliss 18 Oct 1620. Margaret died 28 Aug 1684 – Springfield, Hampden County, Mass., full forty years after the death of her husband, and nearly fifty after she emigrated.
Some sites say that Thomas Bliss Sr was the son of William BLISS, John BLISS’ father so maybe the two immigrant Thomas Blisses really were cousins. Thomas Bliss, Sr. was a wealthy landowner, and was a Puritan, persecuted on account of his faith, by civil and religious authorities, under the direction of the infamous Archbishop Laud, that he was maltreated, impoverished and imprisoned. He was reduced to poverty and his health ruined by the persecution of the Church of England. He is supposed to have been born about 1555-60, and he died about 1635.
When the parliament of 1628 assembled, Puritans or Roundheads, as they were called by the Cavaliers or Tories, accompanied the members to London. Two of the sons of Thomas Bliss, Jonathan and Thomas, rode from Devonshire on iron-grey horses, and remained for some time-long enough, anyhow, for the king’s officers and spies to mark them, and from that time they, with others who had gone on the same errand to the capital, were marked for destruction. The Bliss brothers were fined a thousand pounds for their non-conformity, and thrown into prison, where they lay for weeks. Even their venerable father was dragged through the streets with the greatest indignities. On another occasion the officers of the high commission seized all their horses and all their sheep, except one poor ewe, that in its fright ran in the house and took refuge under a bed. At another time the three sons of Thomas Bliss, with a dozen Puritans, were led through the market place, in Okehampton, with ropes around their necks and also fined heavily.
On another occasion Thomas Sr. was arrested and thrown into prison with his son Jonathan, who eventually died from the hardships and abuse of the churchmen. At another time the king’s officers seized the cattle of the family and most of their household goods, some of which were highly valued for their age and beauty, and as heirlooms, having been for centuries in the family. In fact, the family being so impoverished, by constant persecution, was unable to pay the fines and secure the release of both father and son from prison, so the young man remained and the father’s fine was paid. At Easter the young man received thirty-five lashes.
After the father died, his widow lived with their daughter, whose husband, Sir John Calcliffe, was a communicant of the Church of England, in good standing. The remnant of the estate was divided among the three sons, who were advised to go to America to escape further persecution. Thomas and George feared to wait for Jonathan, who was ill in prison;, and they left England in the fall of 1635 with their families. Thomas, son of Jonathan, and grandson of Thomas Bliss, remained in England until his father died, and then he also came to America, settling near his uncle of the same name. At various times the sister of the immigrants sent to the brothers boxes of shoes, clothing and articles that could not be procured in the colonies, and it is through her letters, long preserved in the original but now lost, that knowledge of the family was handed down from generation to generation.
Thomas Bliss sold his property in England and sailed for America, in 1635. The name of the ship has not been revealed. Thomas’ wife, Margaret, accompanied him, along with several of their children, born in England. The Bliss group landed in Boston, then settled for a while in Braintree, Massachusetts. In 1639 they accompanied the Thomas Hooker party to Hartford, Connecticut.
The street where they lived there was first known as Bliss Street but is now called Trinity Street. In 1646, Thomas Bliss was a member of the Hartford Train-Band but the family removed to Springfield, Massachusetts and he died there.
Thomas Bliss’ wife Margaret is said to have been a good looking woman, with a square chin, indicating great strength of character. After the death of her husband, which took place about 1638, she managed the affairs of the family with great prudence and good judgment. She was energetic, efficient and of great intellectual capacity. Her eldest daughter married Robert Chapman, of Saybrook, Connecticut., April 29, 1642, and settled in Saybrook, where Thomas Bliss Jr. also settled, removing to Springfield, Massachusetts, on account of the malarial fevers then prevalent in Connecticut. She sold her property in Hartford and purchased a tract a mile square in Springfield, in the south part of the town, on what is now Main street. Margaret Bliss died August 19, 1684, full forty years after the death of her husband, and nearly fifty after she emigrated.
A large “house lot grant” was given to the Widow Bliss in Springfield. In 1644 the widow Margaret Bliss became one of only two women recognized in her community as a “Freeman.” She earned the esteem of the people of Springfield. John Homer Bliss describes her as follows:
“The Widow Bliss was a handsome woman with broad brow, fair hair and blue eyes, who managed her family’s affairs with great prudence after her husband’s death (about 1639). She was considered a woman of unusual mental ability. She died in Springfield on August 26, 1688”
Margaret was then at least ninety at the time of her death. A long life indeed for her generation. She left her name “Widow Bliss” on many of the pages of the town records, dealing mostly with land acquitions and improvements that affected her properties. On one occasion she was fined two pence for having a defect in her fences, which allowed her cattle to range on other’s property.
One entry in the town records is interesting showing a concern on her part for the rights of the local Indians:
Here ffolloweth Severall Grants of Land, Made by this Towne Beginning wth ye Yeare, 1665″: “Widdy Bliss hath granted unto her soe much of the pond as is at ye end of her lott in Long meddow: provided ye Indians be not molested in comeing to or gathering of their pease”
The inventory of Thomas Bliss of Hartford , husband of Margaret afterwards of Longmeadow , MA was presented 14 Feb 1650 and appears in Longmeadow Centennial, as does his estate. His children, Lawrence, John, Samuel, Elizabeth, Hannah and Sarah are mentioned, as well as daughter Heather who is not mentioned elsewhere. Not mentioned are the children Nathaniel, Anne, Mary, and Thomas, all of whom survived their father. It is to be presumed that they had received their share of the estate upon their respective marriages.
Children of Thomas and Margaret:
i. Ann Bliss b. 1620 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. 20 Nov 1685 Saybrook, Middlesex, CT; m. Robert Chapman b. 1 Jan 1616 in Hull, Yorkshire, England; d. 13 Oct 1687 in Saybrook, Middlesex, CT
ii. Nathaniel Bliss b. 1622 in Belstone, Devon, England or baptized 22 Dec 1622 at Rodborough, Minchin Hampton, Gloucestershire, England. m. Catharine Chapin, daughter of Samuel Chapin, Deacon and Cicely Penny, on 20 November 1646 at Belstone, Devonshire, England. He went to Springfield after his father’s death. Nathaniel died on 8 Nov 1654 at Springfield, Hampden, MA, at age 31. He was buried on 10 Nov 1654 at Springfield, Hampden, MA.
After Nathaniel died, Catherine married Thomas Gilbert 31 Jul 1655.
iii. Samuel Bliss b. 1624 in Belstone, Devon, England; m. Mary Leonard Nov 10, 1665; d. 23 Mar 1720.
iv. Mary Bliss 16 Mar 1628 in Northampton, Hampshire, Mass.; d. 29 Jan 1712 in Springfield, Hampden, Mass.; m. 26 Nov 1646 Hartford, CT to Cornet Joseph Parsons (1620 – 1683)
Mary Bliss Parsons, wife of Cornet Joseph Parsons, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Bliss of Hartford, Ct., both very prominent families, was born in England about 1628 and came to this country with her parents when she was about eight years old. She was eleven or twelve when they decided on still another move, to the rude little settlement of Hartford. There for a time life stablized, and Mary grew to womanhood as an average member of an ordinary New England community. In 1646 she married Joseph Parsons, a successful merchant, and went to live in Springfield. Henceforth, her life would be increasingly set apart from the average.
In 1654 the Parsonses moved to Northampton. The family, which included eleven children, became members of the church. Local tradition has remembered Mary as being “possessed of great beauty and talents, but…not very amiable…exclusive in the choice of her associates, and…of haughty manners.”
In 1656, Mary was accused of witchcraft by some of her neighbors who were envious of their prosperity and endeavored in this way to disgrace them. She was vigorously defended by her mother, Margaret, but in 1674 a formal charge was made. She was sent to Boston for trial, where the jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime, and she returned home to Northampton. She and her husband removed back to Springfield in 1679. Soon after her acquittal in Boston , her son Ebenezer,was killed by the Indians at Northfield (Sept. 8, 1675). Those who had been instrumental in bringing her to trial said, “Behold, though human judges may be bought off, God’s vengeance neither turns aside nor slumbers.”
Samll Bartlet of Northampton having lately lost his wife to his greate greife as he expresseth and ye rather for ye he strongly suspects yt she dyed by some unusuall meanes, viz, by meanes
of some evell Instruemt he presented to this Corte diverse evedences to shew the grounds of his feares & suspicioun Alsoe Goodman Bridgeman finding so ye Corte & Intreateing that
Diligent inquisition may be made concurring ye Death of ye sayd Woeman his Daughter for yt he also Strongly suspects she come to her and by some unlawfull & unatureall means
& for ye Diverse of ye testemonyes doe reflect on Goodwife Parsones Sen of Northampton yeCorte haveing read ye testemonyes doe thinks it meete yt ye case should be ffurther lookt into & therefore doe refferr ye sayd case & all other things Concerning ye sayd Goodwife Parsons yt have beene now Presented to ye ajournmt of this Corte which is to be kept at Northampton ye 18th Day of November next, for further Disquition & doe order yt she be warned thereto attend to answer wt shall be objected agst her & ye wittnesses are to be warned to appeare to testify before her viva vere wt they have already given in upon oath concerning her.
In 1656, soon after the Parsons family moved to Northampton, Joseph Parsons brought an action for slander against Sarah Bridgeman, charging that Sarah had accused Mary, his wife, of being a witch. On the docket of the Middlesex County Court, for its session of October 7, 1656, is found the following entry: “Joseph Parsons, plaintiff, against Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, defendant, in an action of the case for slandering her [Parson’s wife] in her name. This action, by consent of both parties, was referred to the judgment of the Honored Bench of Magistrates.” A separate document records the magistrates’ finding in favor of the plaintiff and their order that the defendant make “public acknowledgment” of the wrong she had done. The acknowledgment was to be a dual performance – once in the town of Northampton and again at Springfield. Failure to fulfill either part of this requirement would result in a fine of £10.
The testimony against Mary Parsons was that following hard upon the heels of any disagreement or quarrel between Mary Parsons and any member of the Bridgeman family, a fatal disease would seize upon some horse, cow, or pig, belonging to the Bridgeman family and, as the disease could not be accounted for in any other way, it must be the result of Mary’s uncanny influence exercised by way of revenge.
The first set of testimonies was recorded at Northampton on or about the 20th of June. For example: Robert Bartlett testifieth that George Langdon told him the last winter that Goody Bridgman and Goody Branch were speaking about Mary Parsons concerning her being a witch. And the said George told to the said Robert that my [Langdon’s] wife being there said she could not think so – which the said Goody Bridgman seemed to be distates with. As also [according to Langdon] they had hard thoughts of the wife of the said Robert [Bartlett] because she was intimate with the said Mary Parsons.”
The other depositions in this early group enlarge on the gossip theme. The same Hannah Langdon mentioned in Bartlett’s statement testified that “Sarah Bridgman … told her that her boy when his knee was sore cried out of the wife of Joseph Parsons.” Bridgman had also alleged widespread “jealousies that the wife of Joseph Parsons was not right.” For a time Langdon herself had entertained suspicions of Mary Parsons, but recently “it hath pleased God to help her over them, … and [she] is sorry she should have [had] hard thoughts of her upon no better grounds.” These depositions converged on the issue of what Goody Bridgman had said.
The second major group of papers in the case carries a date several weeks later. They were taken before a different official, and probably in a different place (Springfield). They expressed a different viewpoint, as the recorder noted at the top of the opening page: “Testimonies Taken on Behalf of Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, the 11th day of August, 1656.” The Bridgmans themselves supplied lengthy testimony on the events which had caused them to suspect Goody Parsons.
The previous summer the Bridgemans’ eleven-year-old son had suffered a bizarre injury while tending their cows: “In a swamp there came something and gave him a great blow on the had…and going a little further he…stumbled…and put his knee out of joint.” Subsequently, the knee was “set” but it would not heal properly – and he was in grievous torture about a month.” Then the boy discovered the cause of his sufferings: “He cried out [that] Goody Parsons would pull off his knee, [saying] ‘there she sits on the shelf.’ …I and my husband labored to quiet him, but could hardly hold him in bed for he was very fierce. We told him there was nobody…’Yea,” says he, ‘there she is; do you not see her? There she runs away and a black mouse follows her.’ And this he said many times and with great violence…and he was like to die in our apprehension.” At about the same time the Bridgmans had also lost an infant son:
“I [Sarah] being brought to bed, about three days after as I was sitting up, having the child in my lap, there was something that gave a great blow on the door. And that very instant, as I apprehended, my child changed. And I thought with myself and told my girl that I was afraid my child would die…Presently… I looking towards the door, through a hole…I saw…two women pass by the door, with white clothes on their heads; then I concluded my child would die indeed. And I sent my girl out to see who they were, but she could see nobody, and this made me think there is wickedness in the place.”
The decision of the court was in favor of the plaintiff and against Mrs. Bridgeman, and she was ordered to make public acknowledgment of her fault at Northampton and Springfield, and that her husband, James Bridgman, pay to plaintiff 10£ and cost of court.
But the charge of witchcraft against Mary Parsons did not end with the judgment in the slander suit. Her name was cleared, but only from a legal standpoint. In the years that followed, her husband prospered ever more greatly, her children grew in number and (mostly) flourished, her mother and brothers sank the Bliss family roots deep into the CT Valley. But her reputation for witchcraft hung on.
In 1674 the whole matter was renewed in court – with the important difference that now Mary Parsons was cast as defendant. Unfortunately, most of the evidence from this later case has disappeared. All that survives is the summary material from the dockets of the two courts involved. In August 1674, a young woman of Northampton, Mary Bartlett, had died rather suddenly. She was twenty-two, wife of Samuel Bartlett and the mother of an infant son. More importantly, she was a daughter of Sarah and James Bridgman. Her husband and father jointly believed, as they later testified in court, that “she came to her end by some unlawful and unnatural means, … viz. by means of some evil instrument.” And they had distinct ideas about the person most likely to have used such means.
On September 29, the Hampshire County Court received “diverse testimonies” on the matter. Mary Parsons was also there – on her own initiative: “She having intimation that such things were bruited abroad, and that she should be called in question…”the fact that Mrs. Parsons voluntarily appeared before the court desiring to clear herself of such an execrable crime, and that subsequently she argued her own case before the court must not be overlooked. On both these occasions she met her accusers boldly, protesting her innocence, and showing ‘how clear she was of such a crime.’ In this trial Mrs. Parsons was called to speak for herself and from the meager report upon record, undoubtedly did so most effectively.” The court examined her, considered all the evidence, and deferred further action to its next meeting in November. There followed a second deferral “for special reasons” (about which the court did not elaborate).
On January 5, 1675, the county magistrates conducted their most extended hearing of the case. The previous depositions were reviewed and (apparently) some new ones were taken. Both Samuel Bartlett and Mary Parsons were present in person once again.
Mary was “called to speak for herself, [and] she did assert her own innocency, often mentioning … how clear she was of such a crime, and that the righteous God knew her innocency – with whom she had left her cause.” The magistrates decided that final jurisdiction in such matters belonged not to them but to the Court of Assistants in Boston. Still, considering “the season” and “the remoteness” [i.e., of their own court from Boston] and “the difficulties, if not incapabilities, or persons there to appear,” they determined to do their utmost “in inquriing into the case.” Among other things, they appointed a committee of “soberdized, chaste women” to conduct a body-search on Mary Parsons, to see “whether any marks of witchcraft might appear.” (The result was “an account” which the court did not disclose.) Eventually, all the documents were gathered and forwarded to Boston.
At the same court, and apparently as part of the same proceeding, “some testimony” was offered “reflecting on John Parsons.” John was Mary’s second son: he was twenty-four at the time, and as yet unmarried. How and why he should have been implicated in the charges against his mother cannot now be discovered; but the evidence was in any case unpersuasive. The court did “not find…any such weight whereby he should be prosecute on suspicion of witchcraft” and discharged him accordingly.
Meanwhile, the case against Mary Parsons moved towards its final round. On March 2, Mary was taken to Boston, “presented” at the Court of Assistants, and formally indicted by the grand jury. Thereupon the court ordered her commitment to prison until “her further trial.” The trial came some ten weeks later (May 13, 1675). An imposing roster of Assistants lined the bench: the governor, the deputy-governor, and a dozen magistrates (including her husband’s old associate, John Pynchon). However, her fate rested with “the jury of trails for life and death” – twelve men, of no particular distinction, from Boston and the surrounding towns. The indictment was read one last time: “Mary Parsons, the wife of Joseph Parsons…being instigated by the Devil, hath…entered into familiarity with the Devil, and committed several acts of witchcraft on the person or persons of one or more.” The evidence in the case was also read. And “the prisoner at the bar, holding up her hand and pleading not guilty, …[put] herself on her trial.” The tension of this moment must have been very great, but it does not come through in the final, spare notation of the court recorder: “The jury brought in their verdict. They found her not guilty. And so she was discharged.”
The jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime. Of Mary’s life subsequent to 1674 there is little direct information. She and her husband would eventually give up their home in Northampton and move back to Springfield. Joseph would died in 1683, leaving a substantial estate of £2,088, and Mary would enter a very long widowhood.
She remained thereafter in Springfield, completed the rearing of her numerous progeny, and saw her sons – and then her grandsons – assume positions of prominence in several CT Valley towns. Death claimed her in January, 1712, when she was about eighty-five years old. She was not again tried for witchcraft, but neither was she ever free from local suspicion.
v. Lawrence Bliss b. 628 in Of Rodborough, Gloucestershire, , England; d. 8 Nov 1676 in Springfield, Hampden, Mass.; m. Lydia Wright
vi. Thomas Bliss b. Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England went to Norwich. d. 15 Apr 1688 Norwich, CT He went to Saybrook, CT after his father’s death.
vii. Hannah Bliss b. 1633 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. single 25 Jan 1660
vi. John Bliss b. 1635 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. 10 Sep 1702; m. Patience Burt.
vii. Elizabeth Bliss b. 1640 in Hartford, Hartford, CT; m. Miles Morgan (second wife) 15 Feb 1670 and had one child.
viii. Hester Bliss b. 1640 in Hartford, Hartford, CT, m. Edward Foster
The first century of the history of Springfield: the official …, Volume 2 By Springfield (Mass.), Henry Martyn
http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/parsons/hnmockup/ (Goody Parsons Witchcraft Case)
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