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Thomas Axtell

  • Born: 26 Jan 1619, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England
  • Marriage: Mary about 1637-1638 in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England
  • Died: 8 Mar 1646, Sudbury, Middlesex, Massachusetts at age 27

bullet  General Notes:

Had two children in England, baptism recorded in St p[eters. Left England as early as 1643 in OCtober. Thomas purased five acres of land in Sudbury, MA of Edmmund Rice, who had come from Berkhamstead, five years later.

"The young Englishman was a soldier or atleast trained to arms [he was the son of the mayor of Berkhamstead]; he was of strong Puritanical leanings, like his brother Daniel the regicide." Hardships and exposure are supposed to have killed him soon after he got his house built. His widow, Mary, married John Maynard, a widower w a boy of eight, on June 16, 1646.

Another version is that John Maynard had a 16 year old son.

He married Mary, marriage record not found, last name unknown, around 1637/8, had two children christened in Berkhamstead from 1641, and sailed with them to New England. Last one born in New England (I think).

1. Thomas AXTELL was born about 26 Jan 1619 in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England. Died in Mar 1646 in Sudbury, MA. Son of William and Thomasine Axtell, was baptised in St. Peter's Church, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, January 26, 1619 (N.S.). His father died in 1638. He married Mary -- probably in 1638; two children were born to them in England, and their baptism is recorded in St. Peter's. They left England as early as 1643, for in October of that year, Thomas purchased five acres of land in Sudbury, Massachusetts, of Edmond Rice, who himself had come from Berkhamstead five years earlier. This land is described as "lying in ye south part of ye town-bounds, the southwest side lying to the commons and joined to the land of Edmond Rice, southward and northward to the highway leading from Sudbury to Mr. Duston's farm." This is what is now Wayland near "The Five Paths." Thomas took the oath of fidelity July 8, 1645. He died in March, 1646, and was buried the 8th of that month. The following is the inventory of Thomas Axtell of Sudbury, lately deceased, Imprimi: His land and house 8 10s Cattle 8 10s Wearing apparel and bedding with his arms 10 Brass and pewter 5 Edmond Rice bought back the land, six acres, and dwelling house. This was near the spring. The story told in those words is short, indeed, but we are permitted to see what it stands for. The young Englishman was a soldier or at least trained to arms; he was of strong puritanical leanings, like his brother Daniel the regicide. With his wife and two little ones he followed his neighbor across the sea to make his home in a frontier settlement of New England. Scarcely had he set up his rooftree in the wilderness when hardships and exposure struck him down. With his last breath he leaves his little all for the helpless group about his death bed. Mary, the widow of Thomas, appears to have married John Maynard, a widower with a boy of eight, on June 16, 1646.

1642: Came to this country. "Robert Darvell, a chief burgess of the borough of Berhamsted, who had spent years helping to administer both town and church, left England with Rice, as did Thomas Axtell, the young son of the mayor of the borough. And yet neither of these two men were ever elected to any major town post in their new town of Sudbury." "Thomas, the son of (Robert) Darvell's old mayor, William Axtell gained even less recognition. While he might have inherited his father's position had he stayed at home in Berhamsted, Thomas chose to emigrate to a town which did not even grant him land or meadow. He had to buy five acres of upland from Edmund Rice, and it is not surprising that his son, Henry moved to another new town to try his luck."Puritan Village The Formation of a New England Town Chilton Sumner Powell)

Thomas emigrated in 1642 at age 23. He must have observed his father's work and been familiar with town government, but he was not active in the government of Sudbury, Massachusetts. Powell speculates that he was simply younger than the other settlers. Also, he arrived 4 years after the original settlers. He died just 4 years after that and never played a large role in the new settlement.

Thomas Axtell came to America in 1642 and settling in Sudbury with his wife, took the oath of fidelity July 8th, 1645. Two children, Henry and Lydia, were born at Sudbury. Scarcely had Thomas Axtell set up his rooftree in the wilderness when the terrible hardships and rigors of that era struck him down. He died in March 1646 and was buried in Sudbury the 8th of that month.

Powell gives a sense of the daily life and the values in the English towns and in the wilderness settlement of Sudbury. With so little information about the first 2 generations of Axtells in America, this book is the best source for imagining how they lived. We may never know Thomas's reasons for leaving his home for America, but Puritan Village describes several good reasons for emigration. In any case, it was obviously not an easy decision for a 23-year-old with 2 very young children. Possible reasons for leaving England included:

the 1630-31 drought. Besides personal suffering, this severe drought prompted higher borough taxes that stayed relatively high in the following years. These borough taxes were in addition to the manorial rents that were due annually to the lord of the manor.

His Majesty's Ship Money Tax. This traditionally was charged only to coastal towns that benefited directly from naval protection--mostly against pirates. Starting in 1635, a high rate was also charged to inland towns, including Berkhamsted and other towns of the early Sudbury settlers.

the Civil War pitting the Parliamentarians and Puritans against the King and the Aristocracy. The violence had deep, 5-year-old roots but reached London in January 1642 when King Charles tried to impeach 6 members of Parliament. Full-scale war started 23 October 1642.

the powerful Anglican church with its "popish" customs. Puritans were the targets of Royal Proclamations such as one on 10 December 1641 requiring conformity to the rituals of the Church of England.

These reasons make it easier to imagine taking your family to a distant colony of the British Empire to get away from high taxes, persecution, and possible violence. But many Puritans, including Thomas's brother Daniel, stayed behind. We may never know what finally prompted Thomas to uproot his family.

A sampling of other interesting details you will find:

Berkhamsted was a market town with a population of about 1500 of whom about 200 were taxpayers.
Open field farmers shared communal farm tools. This may explain why no tools are included in the inventory of Thomas's estate after his death.

Childhood was short. During the 1630-31 drought in England, only poor children under 6 were certain to receive aid from the borough. Children 6-12 qualified only if they were put to some honest labor and their families were still too poor to assist them. Children 12 and above were expected to provide for their own necessities.

Berkhamsted was on the edge of the open-field territory and had a combination of open fields and closes, so Thomas was probably familiar with both styles of farming.

The first settlers of Sudbury walked west from Watertown along the "Great Trail" or "Connecticut Path". This was an Indian trail that lead to Hartford, Connecticut. (The original town center of Sudbury is today part of Wayland, Massachusetts, where a paved road is still called "The Old Connecticut Path".)


Thomas married Mary about 1637-1638 in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England.

bullet  Marriage Notes:

Marriage record not found, date guessed from christening of first child found in church records.

Axtell family organization web site: Although no marriage has been found as yet for Thomas, we estimate that he married Mary (___) about 1637/38 since their first child, Mary, was christened in Berkhamstead on the 15th day of October 1641.

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