Immigrants William Reed & Mabel Kendall, Francis Wyman & Abigail Justice Reed
Normally we do not think of Massachusetts as a slave state, but there were African-American and Native American slaves in Massachusetts as far back as the 1630s. I am displeased to acknowledge one of my ancestors, Francis Wyman (my eight times great-grandfather) was a slave owner.
Francis and his brother John were 17 and 14 when they immigrated from England along with their uncles on their mother’s side, Samuel and Thomas Richardson, in 1636. The brothers left behind their older sibling, Thomas Jr, who was in line to inherit the family farm back in Hertfordshire.
In 1640, the Wymans and Richardsons signed a charter creating the town of Woburn, Massachusetts. The Wyman brothers were but 21 and 18 at the time. The original Woburn charter included the land known as Burlington today.
In 1644, Francis married Judith Pierce. She died without children. Six years later Francis married Abigail Justice Reed. Abigail immigrated from the same hometown in England. She had immigrated with her parents, William Reed and Mabel Kendall, when she was one year old. They sailed on the ship Defence in 1635, arriving in Massachusetts a year before the Wyman brothers.
Francis and Abigail had a dozen children while living in Woburn. John and his wife had ten children of their own.
It is likely Francis and John apprenticed as tanners in England, and upon acquiring land in Woburn, they built a tannery, which was highly prosperous and made them wealthy. The brothers expanded their enterprise by building country farms, and by the 1670’s they owned a thousand acres, stretching out into Burlington and Billerica.
In 1671 Francis, John, and eleven other citizens of Woburn found themselves in trouble with the Church of Christ. The County Court admonished them for “publicly manifesting contempt for the ordinance of baptism, and for attending illegal assemblies of the Anabaptists.”
The Church of Christ practiced infant baptism, whereas the Baptist movement believed an individual’s conscious decision was required before observing the sacrament of baptism.
It would appear John returned to the Church of Christ after being rebuked by the Court, but Francis retained at least some rapport with the Baptists, for in his will, Francis left money for two Elders of the Baptist Church in Boston.
It is interesting to note the Puritans, who left England in search of religious freedom, became equally intolerant of anyone with religious beliefs differing from their own in the New World.
Francis was involved in local politics, serving as Selectman in Woburn in 1674 and 1675.
Unfortunately, Francis Wyman was erroneously identified by historian Winfield Scott Nevins, as the witness who sent accused Salem witch Margaret Scott to the gallows. Nevins was deceived by the peculiarities of Puritan penmanship and mistook Frances Wycomb of Rowley as one and the same as Francis Wyman, which is not accurate.
Francis Wyman died in 1699. In his will, he left to his wife “a Negro girl named Jebyna.”
Because the colony was not well suited to plantation-style agriculture, most Massachusetts masters rarely owned more than one or two slaves. It was customary for wealthy families to hold slaves who worked and lived in their homes as domestic servants.
At the time, slave ownership was condoned by the church. Slaveholders justified their practice by citing the Bible. Who was to question the Word of God when preachers quoted, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling,” (Ephesians 6:5), and “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9)?
Slavery was not abolished in Massachusetts until 1783, when the Court declared, “All men are born free and equal.”
Francis Wyman’s name survives in Massachusetts today. A portion of Route 62 in Burlington is known as Francis Wyman Road, and Francis Wyman Elementary School in Burlington is also named after my ancestor.
For over 100 years, the Wyman Family Association has hosted a gathering of the family clan at the Francis Wyman House in Burlington. The family homestead still stands at 56 Francis Wyman Road. Part of the home was built in 1666, and is one of the three oldest houses in the state.
The next three generations of Wymans were born in Massachusetts. Francis Wyman’s great-grandson, Asahel Wyman, was a private in the Revolutionary War. He responded to the Lexington Alarm, the first battle of the Revolution.
At some point after the war, Asahel and his son, Jeremy Wyman, moved to what was then the frontier wilderness town of Farmington, Maine, where they opened a blacksmith shop. The Wyman line of my family lived in Maine for the next five generations, through the birth of my mother. Thousands of Wyman descendants can be found throughout New England and beyond today.
Francis and John Wyman, being the second and third sons born to their father, had little opportunity for economic prosperity in England. By immigrating to Massachusetts, they realized the American Dream becoming wealthy, respected merchants of their day. The brothers sought religious freedom, even seeking freedom to deviate from the Puritan style of worship. Their dreams are no different from those of 21st Century immigrants.
Has your family benefited from immigration to America? Do you believe our diverse population makes us stronger? Do you want to be part of the solution? Consider the following:
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.
The IRC was founded at Albert Einstein’s request. Albert Einstein was one of America’s most famous immigrants. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein on the IRC website states, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
More from the IRC website: “The International Rescue Committee is providing humanitarian aid to millions of people displaced by years of brutal conflict in Syria. The IRC is the only aid group helping Syrians trapped by violence inside their country and helping Syrian refugees in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.”
Please choose to be a part of the solution and consider offering your support to The International Rescue Committee. You can donate, shop Rescue Gifts, volunteer, or attend an upcoming event. For more information, check out the IRC website:
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My Family Tree:
- Francis Wyman Sr. // William Reed & Mabel Kendall
- Francis Wyman Jr. & Abigail Justice Reed
- Samuel Wyman Sr.
- Samuel Wyman Jr.
- Asahel Wyman
- Jeremy Wyman
- Hiram Wyman
- Esther Elizabeth Wyman
- Pliny Wyman Sturtevant
- Electra Wyman Sturtevant
- Patricia Louise King
- Me (Alan deMeurers)
Running count of my direct immigrants from Europe to North America = 31