Nicholas Norton
(Abt 1610-1690)


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Nicholas Norton

  • Born: Abt 1610, poss Wells, Somersetshire, England
  • Marriage: Elizabeth in prob Weymouth, Massachusetts
  • Died: 1690, Duke County, Massachusetts about age 80

bullet  General Notes:

Of the first of the name on the Vineyard, <b>Nicholas Norton</b>, a full biographical sketch has been given in this history (Vol. II, pp. 85-90 Annals of E.), and nothing of material importance about him has been found since that was written except the statements which follow concerning his English ancestry. [*One fact is worthy of record as being recently discovered. He served in the Pequot War, 1635-7 as shown by a petition of himself and others. (Sup. Jud. Court Mss. No. 477).]
The opinion hazarded in the sketch of his life above referred to that Nicholas "emigrated from Somersetshire and probably came from the vicinity of Batcombe or Broadway in that county" has been established to the satisfaction of the author after a long search of all the known sources of records which might throw light on the case. His business dealings with Richard Standerwicke, a clothier, of the parish of Broadway, has proved to be the important clue in locating this prominent pioneer as a resident and probable native of the same parish. [*Standerwicke sold to Norton in 1639 "all the cattle whether Bowes, steers or calves, whatsoever I have with Mr. Hull in New England." (Plymouth Col. Rec.). The Standerwick family have been Lords of the Manor in Broadway for over four hundred years and possessed their memorial records for four centuries. I am indebted to the Rev. Mr. Standerwick for assistance in my search and notes from his family records on the Norton family.]
The Norton family was long settled in Somersetshire where the name was generally spelled Nourton and Nurton in the earlier records, and there are references to them as early as 1400 in wills and deeds. They are to be found in more than a dozen different parishes in that county before 1600, including the parish of Broadway. Wills, depositions, chancery suits, and other documents of the 16th century show that a Norton family, tanners, lived at White Lackington, an adjoining hamlet of Broadway, and the fact that Nicholas Norton of Edgartown was a tanner is quite significant. [*John Norton of White Lackington, a tanner, was a witness to the will of John Standerwick of Broadway in 1568, but the Manor Rolls of 1555 do not contain his name. William Norton wee churchwarden of Ilminster in 1543, a still earlier record of the family in that vicinity.] In those days occupations were continued in families from generation to generation.
The first known ancestor of Nicholas Norton was <b>WILLIAM NORTON</b>, tanner, of White Lackington about 1540 described as the eldest of the family, but his parentage is unknown. He had two younger brothers, <b>JOHN</b>, also a tanner who made his will in 1576, and <b>ROBERT NORTON</b>, who took up his residence in the cathedral city of Wells where he followed the occupation of innholder and was at the date of his death (1590) without issue. He left considerable property to his nephews.
WILLIAM NORTON of White Lackington was born abt. 1535 and was living in 1604 in Broadway. He had among other children two sons, namely:
I.  NICHOLAS, b. 1562.
II. WILLIAM, executor of the will of his uncle, Robert of Wells.
Robert Norton of parish of S. Cuthbert, Wells, innholder, at his decease had four water mills, which he disposed of by will dated 1590, viz: two to his wife and two to his brother William.
In 37 Elizabeth (1594) Joan the widow, William and Nicholas began suit against William Norton the executor, and litigation was continued by John, the son of Nicholas. The latter had followed the prosecution of this suit for 22 years, according to the complaint of John, to the ruin of his estate and in the end "sickened & died with great greife & anguishe of mince leavinge behinde him a poor widdowe and 8 children (1616) whereof yor subject is the eldest, but not one pennye towards their reliefe & maintenance other than the hopes of the said decree, by means of whose death his wiffe & children have nott only lost a careful! pvider for them but also a possibilitie of an estate wch the said Nicholas had, after the said William the executor, worth at least 200 marks." [*Star Chamber Proceedings, (James I) 221/10, John Norton of Broadway, Chapman, plaintiff vat William Norton et als defendants. The compiler has much other material on this family, which is omitted for want of space. Doubtless the complete pedigree of this family could be worked out in England from the authors' notes.]

<b>NICHOLAS NORTON</b>, the father of the emigrant, removed from White Lackington with his father when a child, and died there at the age of 54 years (1616) as described in the chancery suit. That he was a man above the average is shown by the fact of his occupying the position of church warden of the parish (1599) but as the parish register does not exist prior to 1678 it is not possible at present to determine the names of but half of his eight children. The attested copies of parish registers then required by church law preserved the names of three of them and the chancery suit furnishes the name of his eldest son. Unfortunately, the Bishops Transcripts of Broadway Parish in the Diosceasan Registry at Wells for the years 1609-11 inclusive, the particular years in which we should undoubtedly find the baptism of our Nicholas whose birth fell, as we know, within those years are missing from the files. His known children are as follows:
I.   JOHN, b. abt. 1590.
II.  JOAN, bur. 1598.
III. JAMES (?) bur. 1678 at Broadway.
IV. JOSEPH, bapt. 3 Feb. 1607.
V.  NICHOLAS, b. 1610 (the emigrant). He deposed in 1676 aged 66 years.
VI. ELIZABETH, bapt. 1612.
The occurrence of the names Joseph and Nicholas in the Broadway family which were also distinctive in the Vineyard family together with other collateral circumstances makes it practically certain that we have here the parentage and home of the first of this family to settle on Martha's Vineyard. Al1 other clues have been carefully followed out and give no such marked combination of the probabilities as does this, and the author is satisfied that it is the right solution.
Broadway, situated in the Hundred of Bulstone, is so-called, because it consists of one wide street leading from Ilminster two miles distant to the Forest of Roche on the West. It has about fifty houses with about 300 population and two religious edifices, one belonging to the Church of England, dedicated to S. Aldhelm, where the parents of Nicholas Norton worshipped, and a dissenting chapel of which latter named the present minister is the Rev. John W. Standerwick, a direct descendant of the Richard Standerwick, who had the business dealings with Nicholas Norton. [*Edward Poole, who was a neighbor of Nicholas Norton in Weymouth, was an emigrant from Broadway also.]

<b>NICHOLAS NORTON</b> undoubtedly found his wife Elizabeth _____ in Weymouth, or an adjoining town after his arrival in New England, but no record of his marriage has been found and nothing to indicate her family name. They had eleven children, four sons and seven daughters; three of the former—Isaac, Joseph and Benjamin left issue and in the following genealogy their descendants will be divided for convenience sake into three "tribes" named for these three sons respectively according to seniority. By wife Elizabeth he had the following named children:

<i><b>The History of Martha's Vineyard by Dr. Charles E. Banks:
</b>Volume II Annals of Edgartown: pp. 85 - 90

</i><b>Sketches of the Early Settlers:

(See also <i>The Descendants of Nicholas Norton</i>.)
</b>The ancestor of the numerous family of this name on the Vineyard was born about 1610 [He testified that he was aged sixty­six years in 1676. (Dukes County Court Records, Vol. l)], probably in England, although the place of his nativity is not known. [There is a will of Robert Norton of Wells, Somersetshire, dated Sept. 29, 1590 who mentions his nephew Nicholas. (17, St. Barbe.) This is too early for our settler, but may be a clue to the family.] It will probably be found upon investigation that he emigrated from Somersetshire, and perhaps came from the vicinity of Batcombe or Broadway in that county, and there is some reason for inferring that he was one of the party of colonists accompanying the Rev. John Hull in 1635 to New England. [Rev. Mr. Hull brought twenty families from the vicinity of Batcombe and Broadway, and in 1639 Nicholas Norton had some business dealings with one Standerwyck, a clothier of Broadway in the County of Somerset. In 1640 he had a suit at law with Parson Hull.] He first appears at Weymouth, Mass., in 1637, where he married his wife Elizabeth, and in which place he maintained a residence for twenty years prior to his removal to the Vineyard.

That he was of a social station somewhat above the average appears from the fact that he kept a servant, whose "miscariages" brought the subject of this sketch into trouble in 1658 with the magistrates of Massachusetts. The following petition explains the case as related by Nicholas Norton himself to the General Court:-

To the Honord Genll Court now assembled the Petition of Nicholas Norton humbly Sheweth:

That whereas yor poore peti'or stood engaged to the Treasurer in the sume of five pounds to bring in his servant to a County Court held at Boston to give answer for sume miscariages Comitted, which accordingly he did, at which Court yor poore peti'ors servant was also pr'sented by the grand-Jury either for the same or for some other offenses, the Court was then pleased, to deferre the Issue of the Case, & to require the Coutynuatio of the sd bond of yor poore peti'or, where upon he did agayne engage himselfe in the foresd sume to bring in his sd servant to the last Court of assistants, but in regard he was under a pr'sentment, expected to have him sent for by warrens & that wittnesses should also have bin sent for to prove the same as is usueall in case of pr'sentments, where upon vor poore peti'r, through Ignorance of the manner of Courts p'ceedinges in such Cases hath forfeited his foresd bond.

Now although yor peti'r cannot blame any but himselfe, vet is bold to Crave the favour of this Honrd Court, that the forfeiture may not be required of yor poore peti'r, but short you would be pleased (out of yr woonted tendernes in offenses which p'ceed meerely out of Ignorance, to remits the same or so much of it as in yr wisdome you shall thinke meet, hopeing you will the rather be moved hereunto considering the great loss yor poore peter hath sustayned in the service of the Country in Collecting of the Country rate which he hopes is vet in yor mynds, & that the delinquent is ready when required suffer the Just sentence of the Court according to the merritt of his offenses, which if the Lord move yr harts to grannt it will abundantly engage yr poore pet'r ever to pray. [Mass. Archives, XXXIX, 39.]

The Court granted his petition providing he should bring his servant to bar.

Of his life in Weymouth but little is worthy of mention. He shared in the division of lands in 1651, and was constable in 1657, an office of some distinction in those times. Two years later he was still called "of Weymouth," and in the same year his name first appears in the records of Edgartown. This may be taken as the probable date of his removal to the Vineyard. He was chosen a referee to represent the town in its controversy with John Daggett respecting his farm at Oak Bluffs.

On Aug. 22, 1659, "Goodman" Norton was granted "a Lott of forty acres of Land" and on the same day it was" ordered by the town that Goodman Norton shall have Liberty to make use of any Pond about the Ox Pond for his Trade, except the Great Ponds." It does not appear what trade Nicholas Norton followed, but the use of ponds suggests that he may have been a tanner. Before the end of that year, he was engaged in two lawsuits as a plaintiff and a defendant. He was sued by Henry Goss in that year and was mulcted in the sum of five shillings "for charges about the cure of Mr. Gousse's child: to pay one half in Wampam current and halfe in come and five shillings to the constable for the Tryall about the abuse of Mr. Gousse's child." The exact nature of this suit at law is not clear from the records. In that same year he sued the Rev. Mr. Cotton, missionary to the Indians. In 1661 he was one of a committee to buy land of the Indians for the use of the town. In 1662­63 and 1669, he again appears in litigation with various townsmen, and if not a pattern in this respect, his fence was deemed the pattern and lawful standard to which others were required to conform in the maintenance of boundary fences in the town. [Edgartown Records, I, III, 138.] In 1666 he was forbidden by the proprietors of the fish weir from taking any fish at Mattakeesett Creek, the right to which he claimed by purchase from the sachem Tewanticut, "contrary to our patent," upon a penalty of £5 yearly so often as he disobeys the order. [Ibid., I, 144.] In 1673 he joined in the " Dutch Rebellion " with others of his townsmen, and when it had collapsed he was tried and convicted. The following is the record in the case.:-

Whereas Nicolas Norton upon Commission from the Right honorable Sr Edmond Andros Knight Governor of New York &c hath beene before the Court legally convicted of oppugning the Government established here under his Majestie wherein he acknowledgeth that he is ashamed and Sorry in his heart that he was Misled therein and hopes he shall be more careful for the future: The Court by virtue of the said Commission do adjudge the said Nicolas Norton to make a publique acknowledgment of the same at this Court and at the next quarterly Court holden at 'Marthas Vineyard: or to pay the summe of fifty one pounds as a fine to the Country. [Dukes County Deeds, I, 65.]

In 1685 he was one of a committee "chosen to make the Govenors Rate" and this is his last appearance on the town records before his death. [Edgartown Records, I, 39.] 

There is no consolidated record of his real estate holdings such as was entered by others proprietors. He lived on his forty­acre grant situated north of the Great Swamp and south of the present road to West Tisbury. He was an early owner of land at Sanchacantackett in the vicinity of Major's Cove, where his descendants for two centuries resided and improved that beautiful estate. These purchases were made of the Indians Wampamag or "Sam" and Thomas Sisseton, both of which are unrecorded, though it is said that the original deed from "Sam" was in existence in recent years in the hands of a descendant. It is not believed that he ever resided on this property. He also held the usual proprietor's shares in the various divisions of town lands, besides a plot of meadow land at Aquampache. At the ripe age of four score years Nicholas Norton died, leaving four sons and six daughters, at least two of whom were born in Weymouth. Following is a copy of his will dated April I7, 1690:-

[Court Records, Vol. I, 1690.]

The last will and testament of me Nicolas Norton Being very weak in body but of perfect understanding and Souend memory After my death and desent Christian burial: I give and bequest my worry good as foloeth:-

Iprimes: I give my Son Izak Norton on half Comminig as also fouer Small Shares of medow

Secondly I give my Son Benjamin Norton all my medow at Saniacantick as also my medow at Morthals neck beach from the Crick dug into the Great pond westward as also my now dwelling hones and all my land aioyning to my Sayd houes after the deces of my wife Elizabeth Norton as also my lots at quompasha with all my devided land Elsewhere: provided my Sayd Son Beniamin deliver up his now dweling houes to my now wife Elizabeth Norton with the land aioyning to the Sayd houes: to be at my Sayd wifes sole will and pleseuer to dispose of at or before her desese, as also all that medow I have from a Creek to Izak Norton Medow

thirdly. I give Moses Cleveland the Remaynder of the Sayd medow to joyne with Weeks medow also on halfe Commonidg with all prevleges belonging there untoo

fourthly I give my Son in law Thomas Wolling on halfe Commonidg with all prevelidges belonging to it with a pese of medow from Izak Norton's medow to the Creeke abofe named.

fifthly I give my Son Joseph Norton a tract of land lying at Saniacantacket joyning to the mill Creke which I bought of Mr Sam.

Sixtly I give that whole Commonidg which was Arys to my aforeSayd Son Beniamin Norton

Seventhly I give to Elizabeth Norton my wife all my Catle Coues oxen Steeres & Sheepe also all my hors kind & furder I give my Sayd wife Elizabeth Norton all my houeshold goods Beding pewter bras Iron tin wood wood as Chests trunks tables Chayers and all other things not named, also all plowes Carts Chayns yoks and all other utensells with all lumber: furder I leve my Sayd wife to give my dafter pese and my dafter wil (Wollong or Williams) and my dafter Stanbridg & my dafter Butler Something to Every one of them as much as shee sese cause: as also my dafter huxford to her my wife knows my mind

Eithly, my medow at the neck Caueled the Manado I leve to my wife Elizabeth Norton

Ninthly I doe apoynt my Sayd wife Elizabeth Norton to be my Sole Execitor and to performe my will as abof whritin. 

The mark of N Nicklis Norton


Richard Sarson
Joseph Norton.

His widow did not long survive to carry out the provisions of her husband's will. She died a few monthes after him, between June 8, the date of her will, and Oct. 8, 1690, when it was proven in Court. The following is a copy of her will: ­

[Court Records, Vol. I, 1690.] Edgartown in Marthas Vineyard June 8, 1690

The Last will and testament of me Elizabeth Norton widow I doe give to my fouer dafters named in my husbons will, five Shillins to Each of them.

I give that houes & land to Ester huxford that my Son Benjamin Norton lives in and to be delevered before his Entering into mine I dwell in acording to my Said husbons will & mind he left with me to performe & I give my Sd dafter Ester huxford that pese of medow laying between Izak Nortons meadow and the medow of Moses Cleveland nere Mortols Neck. Then my will is after my death Christian buryall & funeral! Rights be performed first I give that pese or parsoll of medow laying at a place Caueled Manadoo to my Son Joseph Norton

Secondly I give to all and Every on of my gran­Children on Shillin in money to Every one of them and to be payd wthin ten days after my buriall 

thirdly I give all my lands houeses medows fences Commons Cattle Sheep horses and horskind & monys with all my household goods as beding & bed furnyture with all my Chests trunks tables Chayers with all my pewter bras Iron and tin vesels with all my plews Carts Chayns yoks wedges Siths with all other things and goods that is mine to all my Sons and darters to be Equally devided amongst them to Every on alick Equall portion and skier

fourthly I doe apoynt my Son Joseph Norton to be Exe citor to this my will to pay all my depts and delever out all my legasys treuly and faythfullv acording this my mind and will.

fifthly I doe Request Richard Sarson to be overser to see this my will performed soe far as he is able: and in witnes to this my will I have put too my hand and Sele the day and yere abof whritin

Sixtly doe Request my beloved son Izak Norton to be overser with Richard Sarson to this my will
The mark of U Elizabeth Norton
Witness here untoo
The mark of X Johnnathan danham
gershom donham

This abof mentioned will be profed in Coart is Exepted 
Court held Octobr the Eight: 1690 
pr Curiam Tho Butler Clarke

Whereas by the last will and testament of Elizabeth Norton is mentioned as bequeathed to hester huxford an hous and land according to the will of Nicolas Norton left with his wife sd Elizabeth Isaac Norton

The maiden name of his wife is not known. He married her probably in Weymouth, and she must be sought for in that locality. Their descendants have constituted one of the largest families on the island from the earliest times. [A century ago there were thirty­three separate families bearing this name on the Vineyard, the second largest numerically at that time.]

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Nicholas married Elizabeth in prob Weymouth, Massachusetts. (Elizabeth died in 1690 in Duke County, Massachusetts.)

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