Thursday, November 25, 2010


As we celebrate this 389th Thanksgiving, I thought it would fun to remember, celebrate and share the role the Shurtleff family played in the beginning of our wonderful and blessed Nation.

As you know, the Puritans wanted to separate themselves from the Church of England to worship according to their free will and closer (or more “pure”) to the original Church of Jesus Christ as based on scripture. They began to call themselves Separatists. A branch of these Separatist Puritans removed to the north of England, and began gathering in the town of Scrooby in Yorkshire. They later felt the need to separate themselves physically from England itself and immigrated to Leyden, Holland in 1608. Wishing to further distinguish their faith from that of other Puritans who wanted to remain within the Church of England and work for biblical reform from within – they chose to call themselves Pilgrims. In 1620, seeking a new start in the New World, they boarded the Mayflower and set sail, arriving at Cape Cod in November of that year.

Arriving far north of their intended landing, the Pilgrims and the non-religious members of the crew determined that if they were to succeed as a new community in a new land, they would have to put aside their differences and work together as a community. On November 11th, 1620 they entered into the Mayflower Compact, to live according to the Rule of Law and equality. The Mayflower Compact became known as the “anchor” and the inspiration and template for the U.S. Constitution 160 years later.

The signers of the Compact declared, “…do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

So how do my Shurtleff ancestors factor into these historic events?

The first Shurtleff to come to America was my 8th Great Grandfather William. He was born in 1624 in Ecclesfield Hall in Hallamshire, West Riding, Yorkshire, England. He was the first to spell our name S-H-U-R-T-L-E-F-F when he came to America. His father was William Shiercliffe, son of Nicholas, son of Nicolas, son of Alexander, son of Thomas, who we know lived in that part of Yorkshire since before 1500.

Ecclesfield was just twenty miles north of Scooby where the Pilgrims had lived for many years before leaving for Amsterdam. Many stayed behind but followed with great enthusiasm the travels of their brethren and began following them to Plymouth Colony throughout the 1920s and 30s.

As stated in a history book written in the early nineteenth century, “therefore it is not unreasonable to suppose that he [William Shurtleff], living so near the nestling place of the Leyden Pilgrims and being of an enthusiastic age and ardent temperament, became fired by the spirit of adventure or inspired with the holy zeal of the Puritans, and thus became one of the first settlers of the town of Plymouth and one of the forefathers of New England.”

At the young age of ten, William became an indentured servant to Thomas Clarke for the term of eleven years commencing on May 16, 1634, as is made apparent by the following entry preserved on page 70, vol. 1, of the Plymouth Court Orders: "September 1 William Shetle [sp] hath put himselfe an aprentise to Thomas Clarke for the terme of eleuen yeares from the 16 of May last and at the end of the sayd terme the sayd Thomas is to cloth him with two sutes fit for such a seruant and also eyght Bushells of Indian Corne."

Indentured servants contracted to work for their master for a term of years and at completion were granted their own land. Apparently our cunning great grandfather negotiated an extra bargain of two suits and eight bushels of corn (to seed what would become his lands in the New World when he turned 21.)

William was obviously not at the First Thanksgiving, but likely participated in many November feasts of thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony. His master, Thomas Clarke was a carpenter [and some say was the same pilot of the Mayflower] and one of the first Pilgrims to be buried on the Old Burial Hill just across the road from the current Plymouth Rock, Pilgrim Monument and the rebuilt Mayflower . William’s son, Captain William Shurtleff, would later be buried in that same small graveyard where his gravestone can still be seen today. He associated in life with the likes of William Bradford, Miles Standish, Perigrine White (first child born in America aboard the Mayflower just prior to the first landing.) His name appears with these and others on the Plymouth Founders Memorial [pictured here] as "William Shurtle[ff] and his wife Elizabeth."
William did his mandatory military service for Plymouth Colony during the last two years of his indenture. He was apparently a feisty young man being “fyned” for “breaking the peace vpon John Smyth" on June 5, 1644; and on Oct. 2, 1650, the authorities "present James Cole of the towne of Plymouth for making of a batterie vppon William Shirtley[sp]” [sp]ofthaforesaid towne."

In 1646 Grandpa William appeared in a list of names comprising the townsmen of Plymouth and at the General Court of the Colony held at Plymouth. On October 18, 1655 he married nineteen year old Elizabeth Lettice, who had been born in Plymouth in 1636 and on an unrecorded date in 1657 (300 years before my birth in 1957) Grandma Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, William.

On June 3, 1656 Grandpa William entered public life, being chosen one of "the Surveyors for the highwaies" for the town of Plymouth. In recording this event his name is written "William Shirtley"; and again he is found serving as juryman on Oct. 6, 1657, in a controversy between two residents of Plymouth. On June 7, 1659, "William Shurtley" was chosen constable for Plymouth and on the same day, as "William Shirtley," he was first on a list of names of "such as stand propounded to take vp their freedom." That year Elizabeth gave birth to twins Martha and Thomas.

The following entry is made in the Colonial Court Orders under date of the first of May 1660; probably it is the last during his connection with Plymouth, of which he was then Constable: "William Shurtlife -) were admitted freemen… att this Court." Freemen were those adult male citizens with full rights to participate in all public and political aspects of life in the community.

He probably removed north to Marshfield about this time, as his name cannot be found any later in any of the records of the town of Plymouth. From an instrument recorded with the Old Colony deeds, it is ascertained that he sold meadow land in Plymouth to Gabriel Fallowell on Mar. 27, 1660, at which time he was called "of Marshfield."

While in Plymouth he resided on his estate at Strawberry Hill near the Reed Pond and not far from the present bounds of Kingston, after which he dwelt in the easterly part of Marshfield in the neighborhood of White's Ferry, near the mouth of the North River, where his dwelling house was destroyed by fire in the early part of the year 1666; and on this account he was sojourning at the house of his near neighbor, John Phillips, at the time of the occurrence of the lightning which caused his death.

You have likely heard the family lore of our ancestor killed by lightning which came down the chimney of a home. The following are the historical accounts of his death that made a significant impact on Plymouth colony.

While Grandpa and Grandma William and Elizabeth and their children were “partaking of the hospitality of Mr. Phillips, it appears that one of those dreadful droughts occurred which were so very distressing to our early planters and which threatened to destroy all the fruits of their spring labor. On this account the good people of several neighboring congregations observed a day of fasting and prayer as they were wont to do in those days when suffering under afflictive dispensations. Soon after this, on June 23, 1666, happened the terrific thunderstorm which is so graphically described in a letter of Rev. Mr. Arnold. At the time of this storm there were fourteen people in the common sitting-room of the house of Mr. Phillips [including]; William Shurtleff, wife Elizabeth and their two sons, William and Thomas; and finally Timothy Rogers, the individual who related the circumstances to Mr. Arnold, the writer of the letter which has been the means of preserving many of the particulars of this sad event. They were mostly seated around the room. Mr. Shurtleff was sitting beside his wife, holding her hand in his and having one of their children in his arms, the other being between him and a table, under which was a dog. The storm of rain came on with great violence and Mrs. Phillips requested to have the door closed. Whereupon a stroke of lightning passed down the chimney, which it rent to pieces, smote down most of the people if not all, instantly killing Mr. Shurtleff, Mrs. Phillips and Jeremiah Phillips, and then passed out through the door, splitting it into fragments. This occurred on Saturday and they were buried on the following day, being the twenty-fourth, according to an entry made in the Marshfield town records.”

The account is related in a letter from Rev. Samuel Arnold of Marshfield to Rev. Mather of Boston, 1638, as follows: “There were, at the house of John Phillips, fourteen persons. Instantly a terrible clap of thunder fell upon the house and rent the chimmey, and split the door in many places, and struck most of the persons, if not all. There were mortally struck with God's arrows, that they never breath more. They were the wife of John Phillips, and his son, aged about 10 years, and one Wm Shertley (Shurtleff). Who had a little child in his arms, which was wonderfully preserved. This Shertley had just before been burnt out of his own house, and with his family, was at this time; a present sojourner at said Phillips."

Another survivor wrote of the tragedy: "The woman of the house calling earnestly to shut the door which was done, instantly a terrible clap of thunder fell upon the house & rent the chimney & split the door in many places & struck most of the persons if not all. Timothy Rogers told me that when he came to himself he saw the house full of smoke & there was a terrible smell of brimstone.”

Grandpa Shurtleff was buried in a Cemetery in Marshfield called the Old Winslow Burying Ground. Unfortunately his grave marker has long been lost. We do know that the great Daniel Webster shares the same burial ground.

A final interesting fact tied Elizabeth and children to the signers of the Mayflower Compact. Three years after the tragic death of Grandpa William, Grandma Elizabeth the mother of four children (having given birth to another son, Abiel, a few months after William’s death) remarried a Jacob Cooke. She joined her four children to his seven and together they raised thirteen children. Jacob was the son of Francis Cooke who was on the Mayflower and was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. So beginning at age twelve, our 7th great grandfather was raised by his stepfather and step grandfather who signed the Great Anchor Document. Young William would grow up to become “Captain William Shurtleff” one of the prominent citizens of the growing Plymouth Colony.

This interesting additional detail of the fatal lightening strike is included in the book Signers of the Mayflower Compact, page 50:

In 1865 Jacob Cooke married Elizabeth Lettice Shurtleff, “the widow of William Shurtleff who was killed by a stroke of lightening at Marshfield ‘while sitting while sitting with a child in his lap and holding his wife’s hand to encourage her, but he alone of his family was hurt.’ Goodwin tersely tells that ‘this storm immediately followed on a fast on account of drought and ended in a hurricane – prayer was too efficacious.’ "

William grew up and moved back to Plymouth and in 1683 married Susannah and became a very prominent member of the now “county” of Plymouth. He served as a selectman and was a representative to the State Assembly, and active in other offices of honor and trust. He was especially prominent as a military man among the pilgrims, rising to the rank of Captain of the local Militia. His remains were interred on Cole's Hill, the first burying lot of the Plymouth pilgrims, and his headstone bears this inscription: "Here lyes ye body of Capt. William Shurtleff who Decd Febry The 4th, 1729-30, in The 72d year of his age."

I have a transcription of his Last Will and Testament including his bequests to each of his children and also of his estate inventory if any are interested.

Captain William and Susannah had thirteen children, including 6th Great Grandfather Ichabod, who was born in Plymouth on Nov. 8, 1697. The direct lineage to me is as follows:

Jonathon Shurtleff, (1736 Plymouth, MA)

Elisha Shurtleff, (1774 CT)

Vincent Shurtleff, (1814 MA)

Harrison Tuttle Shurtleff, (1841 MA, and was a member of state legislature, Utah Constitutional Convention, and an original signer of the Utah Constitution)

Harrison Smith Shurtleff, (1867 UT)

James Henry Shurtleff, (1900 UT)

James Leonard Shurtleff (1930)

Mark Leonard Shurtleff (1957)

I am very thankful for my wonderful heritage and all of my family who continue centuries of family love and unity, patriotism and service to God and Country.


PsychDoctor said...

Very 10th great grandfather was William Bradford...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark, figured we were related, but hadn't figured out how, your blog set me on the right path! I feel the same way about the Shurtleff heritage, very proud.
By the way I am your 8th cousin once removed.
Jen Morris

hshurtleff said...

If any Shurtleffs plan a trip to Massachusetts, give me a call. I may be able to show you around.

Hal Shurtleff 857-498-1309