Wednesday, March 25, 2020

2020 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 8: "Prosperity" - John Blackleach and Elizabeth Bacon

Week 8's theme of "Prosperity" immediately brought to mind my 12th-great-grandparents, John Blackleach and Elizabeth Bacon Blackleach. John and Elizabeth have been a source of great fascination to me for a few years now; while Elizabeth was the daughter of a wealthy mariner and was raised in considerable comfort, John was very much a self-made man. He took after his father-in-law in becoming a mariner, and became very wealthy in his own right. But John and Elizabeth's prosperity did not always do them any favors, and in fact got them into one situation that could have potentially been quite serious.

St. John's Church, Wapping, London.
John Blackleach and Elizabeth Bacon were married on 30 September 1623, in St. John's Church in the neighborhood of Wapping, in London. They lived in London for about ten years after their marriage, and their first three children - Elizabeth (1), John, and Marie - were born in London. In 1634 the family immigrated to the New World, and settled first at Salem, Massachusetts. They went on to have nine more children: Desire, Exercise, Joseph, Elizabeth (2), Benoni, Elizabeth (3), Solomon (1), Solomon (2), and Mary.

The nature of John's mercantile work meant that the family was frequently moving. From Salem they moved to Boston, and afterword lived in several towns in Connecticut, including New Haven, Hartford, Stratford, and finally Wethersfield, where he passed away on 23 August 1683. John also traveled frequently to London and to the West Indies on business, often accompanied by his son, John Jr. Two of John Sr.'s other sons, Benoni and Solomon, were also fond of travels on the high seas; but according to Julius Gay's Farmington Papers (privately printed, 1929), unlike their father, their "business trips" often earned them such titles as as "privateer," "pirate," and "pretender."

John Winthrop the Elder
In addition to being a good businessman, John was also a very adamant philanthropist and Puritan reformist. He wrote several treatises and pamphlets on the subject of religion, including one that was read by John Winthrop the Elder (which has unfortunately been lost), and a defense of Republican government entitled Endeavors Aiming at the Glory of God, printed by John Macock in January of 1650. John was actually imprisoned in June of 1634 for "unorthodox religious practices," which I'm sure explains his subsequent immigration to the New World. Religion remained an important part of John's life - so much so that he actually became a missionary to the Native Americans, both in New England and in the West Indies. In 1671 he took a missionary voyage to Jamaica, and wrote to John Winthrop the Younger of the challenges that he faced there, saying:
"I could patiently have born, and waited for deliverance, and not have come to this place, but I believed I might please God in this voyage; the whole need not a physician; Christ came to call sinners to repentance."
John's wealth, influence, and well-known philanthropy made him such friends as John Winthrop the Elder (also my 12th-great-grandfather, but in another line), founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; John Winthrop the Younger, Colonial Governor of Connecticut; and the Reverends John Cotton and Increase Mather, incredibly influential religious leaders. These friends in high places allowed John to become an influential colonist in his own right. And it was this influence, bought at a steep price with his prosperity, that might well have saved his life in 1662.

An artist's depiction of the Katherine
Harrison trial.
Everyone knows about the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, but few people realize that the witch hysteria in the Colonies began nearly 50 years earlier in Wethersfield, CT. Between 1648 and 1668, Wethersfield had nine documented accusations of witchcraft, three of which ended in execution. This seems like peanuts compared to the 200 accusations and 20 executions of Salem in 1692, but considering that there were only 43 documented accusations of witchcraft recorded in the 150-year history of Colonial Connecticut, 16 is a significant percentage to come from one small town.

In 1662 there were two "diabolical possessions" of Wethersfield residents that resulted in the first widespread witch panic in New England history (to read more about this witch panic, see this article). John and Elizabeth were both accused of witchcraft during this year, but it is not clear who accused them or why. Fortunately for them, accusations were as far as it ever went. They were never formally charged with witchcraft, and in fact they went on to bring slander suits against several people in the community the following year. It was undoubtedly John's wealth, influence, and reputation for piety that saved them, when so many others did not have the same defenses at their disposal. One of these unfortunate souls, Katherine Harrison, was actually accused of witchcraft by John and Elizabeth (among many others) six years later. Katherine found guilty, very narrowly escaped execution, and was exiled to the Colony of New York. It is difficult for us to understand through a 21st-century lens why they would do such a thing when they themselves knew firsthand how dangerous it was to be accused of witchcraft; but it was a very different time from ours, and a difficult one to live in. People are sometimes pushed to do crazy things in the face of widespread panic.

It is clear that prosperity was a double-edged sword for John and Elizabeth Blackleach: it brought them material comfort and influence within their community, but it also could have ruined their lives on more than one occasion.

~ ~ ~

My descent from John and Elizabeth Blackleach is as follows:

John Blackleach 1600-1683
12th great-grandfather

John Blackleach 1626-1703
Son of John Blackleach

Elizabeth Blackleach 1659-1710
Daughter of John Blackleach

Mary Harris 1689-1746
Daughter of Elizabeth Blackleach

William Walter 1717-1796
Son of Mary Harris

William Walter 1744-1793
Son of William Walter

Clark Walter 1767-1854
Son of William Walter

Medad Walter 1790-1865
Son of Clark Walter

Jay Clark Walter 1831-1909
Son of Medad Walter

Amzi Walter 1861-1920
Son of Jay Clark Walter

Mary Ellen Walter 1888-1952
Daughter of Amzi Walter

Clara May Schofield 1906-1989
Daughter of Mary Ellen Walter

Arthur Ray "Jack" Quinn 1939-1986
Son of Clara May Schofield

Lora Marlene Quinn 1961-
Daughter of Arthur Ray "Jack" Quinn

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

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