Let’s face it. Sometimes, our ancestral families leave a documented paper trail. Other times, it is difficult, if not downright impossible, to support many facts about certain of our ancestors.
The life and family of John Webster is an example of the first sort, although by looking at online family trees, you would think he definitely fit into the second category.
First, let’s DEBUNK some of the data posted online about John Webster and his family:
- There is no evidence that a man named John Webster born in 1605 in Ipswich, England is the same man who married Mary Shatswell and settled in Massachusetts by 1635. I can’t even determine whether there was a real person with that name born in Ipswich in that year.
- If there is no evidence that there was a John born in 1605, then it certainly isn’t a proven fact that his parents were Thomas and Elizabeth “Lettie, Lottie” Ashton Aston either.
- John Webster was NOT the father of Thomas Webster, ancestor of Noah Webster of dictionary fame.
- He wasn’t married by 1624, as he would have been too young and not of legal age.
- There is NO proof of who his daughters Mary and Elizabeth married. Mary did NOT marry her stepbrother, John Emery Jr. One daughter likely married a Mr. Semons/Simmons/Somers as mentioned in their mother’s will. However, due to the legibility of the will, this is still an open question.
6. John Webster is NOT the same man as John Webster the BAKER, also in Essex County, Massachusetts and who was still alive well after 1646.
How can I be certain of these statements? Because I went looking for proof myself.
No, I didn’t go digging into early 17th century primary records, but I did the next best thing. I checked the Great Migration Study Project at American Ancestors for an entry on John Webster.
If you are unfamiliar with the Great Migration, it is a 30+ year project led by Robert Charles Anderson, FASG, who has mapped the migration and written family sketches of those immigrants to New England who arrived by 1640.
If you are wondering about the FASG designation, it is Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, which is the highest honor any American genealogist can earn in my book. Membership is limited to 50 lifetime members at any given time.
That means I accept the conclusions drawn by Mr. Anderson as the most accurate that can be determined given the evidence available at the time.
Here is the family of John Webster and Mary Shatswell as defined in the Great Migration Study Project.
First, John Webster’s origins are unknown. However, Mary Shatswell’s mother, Judith, died in Sibbertoft, Northamptonshire, England about 1616, documented in a chancery court case in England in the late 1620s.
Mary married John Webster before they left England c1634. It is therefore possible that John Webster was also from Northamptonshire, BUT it has not been proven with any certainty either.
The names, birth order and birth years of their children have been determined from court records associated with the probate of John’s estate from 1646 onward in Essex County, Massachusetts. The only apparent variable is whether Mary might be older than John, identified as the eldest son, but not called the eldest child.
1. John, born c1631, England; married Anne Batt, 13 June 1653, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts. Anne died 18 October 1716 “when she had lived in a marriage state with her sd husband about sixty three years.” This implies that John survived her, but his death isn’t recorded in Newbury vital records.
2. Mary, born c1634, England; alive on 14 October 1651, but no further records have been found about her life.
3. Stephen, born c1636, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; died 10 August 1694, Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts; married (1) Hannah Ayer, 24 March 1662/63, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts (2) Judith (MNU) Broad, 26 May 1678, Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts.
4. Hannah, born c1638, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; died after 1708; married Michael Emerson, 1 April 1657, Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts
5. Elizabeth, born c1640, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; alive on 14 October 1651, but no further records have been found about her life.
6. Abigail, born c1642, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; died 12 August 1712, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts; married Abraham Merrill, 1 January 1660/1661, New bury, Essex, Massachusetts
7. Israel, born c1644, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; died 7 December 1683, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts; married Elizabeth Lunt, 9 November 1669, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts
8. Nathan, born c1646, probably Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts; died 24 April 1694, Haverhill, Essex, Masschusetts; married Mary Haseltine, 30 June 1673, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts. It is possible that Nathan was born after his father’s death.
For more detailed information about John Webster’s life, read Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, Volume VII, T-Y, Pages 261-268. A subscription is required, but it can be accessed at your local family history center.
If you are descended from John Webster and Mary Shatswell and your family tree sketch doesn’t match mine, you might want to read the Great Migration entry for yourself. Multiple court records are abstracted and cited along with previous search, all of which Robert Charles Anderson, FASG used to draw his conclusions.