Page 7 - Wallingford Magazine Holiday 2019
P. 7

ported between 700 and 1000 Eng- lish Puritans, their livestock and household provisions to the Mas- sachusetts Bay Colony. Together with the Mary and John, these and several other ships brought a critical mass of settlers who would go on to establish the cities of Dorchester, Massachusetts and Windsor, New Haven, and Walling- ford, Connecticut.
Among those on board the
Mary and John when it set sail
for the New World was 30-year-
old John Benham and his family.
[No offcial ship manifest has ever
been found so other methods
have been used to create a list of
probable passengers. Alternative-
ly, several sources put the Ben-
ham family on the Winthrop Fleet.] Almost nothing is known about John’s background except that he was born circa 1600, was a brickmaker “of humble and obscure social station” (Winthrop Fleet 252) and, like most of his fellow travelers, was from the West Country of England near Dorchester. John had recently lost his wife Mary, and had custody of his sons John, Jr. (7) and Joseph (6). A daugh- ter Mary may also have been with them, but she died as an infant either right before or during the voyage. Imagine a young father with two little boys and perhaps a baby in his charge for a two month ocean voyage. Conditions were primitive, food scarce, and illness an ever present threat. What a relief to finally reach Massachusetts and begin the lifelong challenge of creating a home in America.
At home in the new world
John Benham, along with many of the new im- migrants, settled in the area near where their ship had landed. They named their new town Dorches- ter Plantation, established a few months before the founding of Boston, and began to develop govern- ment, church, schools, and farms. Beginning with his arrival in America, John Benham left a paper trail which has aided in piecing together some basic facts about his life. On October 19,1630, five months after his arrival, John petitioned the leaders of Dorchester Plantation to be admitted as a freeman. With this status, one could vote, be represented in court, and receive portions of land. Qualifications included church membership and a good reputa-
tion. In May 1631, Benham was admitted as a freeman, one of the first 24 in Dorchester Plantation. Eight months later, he received a parcel of land in Naponsett, a sec- tion of Dorchester. Over the next five years, he would be awarded various land allotments in the area of Dorchester Plantation. In 1638 Benham was listed as a freeman and brickmaker who got his material from the community clay pits.
A puzzling aspect concern- ing John Benham is the identity of his second wife. We know he married Margery Alcock, widow of Thomas Alcock; but we don’t know the date of that marriage. It appears that Margery’s first hus-
band, Thomas Alcock, died in 1657. But in several documents between 1638 and 1657 a Mrs. Benham is referred to. It is possible he was married to an- other woman between Mary, his first wife and Mar- gery. Records may surface to support this conjec- ture.
John Davenport and the New Haven Colony
Around 1637: Rev. John Davenport and his old school friend Theophilus Eaton, recent English im- migrants to Boston on the Winthrop Fleet, were looking for land on which to establish a new colo- ny. Eaton explored Long Island Sound and was im- pressed with the land “between the two red rocks” [current day New Haven between East Rock and West Rock]. He left several men there and returned to Boston to assemble a community of like-minded people interested in founding a settlement based on the “laws of God”. Davenport, and particularly Eaton, also had in mind the idea of focusing on the development of commerce rather than pursuing a strictly farming economy.
Meanwhile, in Dorchester Plantation, John Benham may have joined the congregation led by the Rev. John Davenport in Boston. Whatever the case, Benham associated himself with the group of about 200 followers who, with Davenport and Eaton, sailed into New Haven Harbor on April 24,1638. Davenport and Eaton proceeded to pur- chase the chosen land from Quinnipiac Chief Mo- mauguin and his council and founded the New Ha- ven Colony. Several months later, they purchased
 Winifred Benham, Sr.

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