I decided to write about Robert Ashley today because part of his story is very real to me as I write. I have been reading "King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict" by Eric B Schultz and Michael J. Touglas, and when I started looking at Robert's life, I realized he lived in Springfield, Massachusetts at the time that the Indian attack took place in 1675. However, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.
There isn't a lot of information about Robert's early life. He was born in 1620 apparently in Lowesby, Leicestershire, England, although I have seen another birth location listed. His father is believed to have been William Ashley and Elizabeth or Mary, possibly widow Schuyler. Almost nothing is known of his life in England. There are dates postulated as immigration dates ranging from 1626 to 1638. If he came at the age of 6, it would likely have been with a family member who is as yet unidentified. If he came later, he may have come about the same time that William Pynchon came, or he may have joined the Pynchon group after he got to Roxbury.
Although the first notice I've found of Robert in America is in 1639, where he is in Springfield, Massachusetts, some sources say he first spent several years in Roxbury. Roxbury was the early home of the Pynchons, before William and some other colonists went to the area that would soon become Springfield in 1635. If Robert was still underage in 1635, it's possible that his name would not have been noted until after he was 18, so it is possible that he was in Springfield at its founding.
We know that he was there in 1639,when he agreed to help pay for the minister's maintenance and either helped physically, or contributed monetarily, to build a home for the minister. He must have worked hard and been a financial success, for in 1641 he won the hand of Mary Eddy, who was the wealthy widow of Thomas Horton. She had a three year old child and an infant when they married. It was not necessarily a marriage of equals, because Mary was an educated woman and Robert always signed with his mark, but that doesn't mean that Robert wasn't financially astute or a good businessman. Mary thought enough of him that she assigned her property that she had inherited from her first husband to Robert, for the use and behalf of her two children.
Mary was called to account by the town authorities in 1641 for having sold her husband's "piece" (gun) to an Indian and was told to recall it immediately. She pleaded innocence in that she didn't know it was against the law to do so. Robert must have either squirmed, being very embarrassed by the whole situation, or else he thought that she needed a man to take care of her. Regardless, the marriage took place as planned.
Robert soon was a respected member of the community because he was first a juryman in 1639 and 1640, and then was elected selectman of the town for most of the years between 1653 and 1666. From this, we can deduce that he was a freeman, and a property holder. We don't know for sure what his early occupation was, but his wife's first husband had operated an "ordinary" (tavern/inn) and in 1665 Robert and his wife, keepers of the ordinary, were ordered not to sell any "strong waters" or wine to the Indians. We don't know if he had been operating the ordinary since his marriage, or whether he acquired it later in life.
Robert and his wife raised her two children, plus five of their own. They were born between 1642 and 1652, so they may not have been part of the family home during the Indian troubles of 1675 and 1676. By the time of King Philip's War, Springfield may have had a population of about 500, and about four small settlements that made up Springfield itself. It's not clear which settlement held the home and ordinary of the Ashleys, and we also don't know for sure whether the Ashleys were still in Springfield or whether they had fled to other towns where they would be somewhat safer.
Most of the homes in the village, as well as barns and some of the garrisons, were burned by the Indians in that attack. The homes and barns were looted and ransacked, so that there were few supplies left to the people and they faced a very difficult time, along with numerous of their sister settlements, in keeping food on the table. Robert would have been 55 years old at the time of the attack, so he may or may not have been involved as a part of the militia. He may have been excused from training by this time due to his age, but he may also have been considered a "reserve", to be called on when needed.
Robert died on November 29, 1682 and his wife Mary died less than a year later on September 19,1683. I've not yet located a will for him, but since he died of disease it is likely he had time to write one. I'll keep looking for it.
I'd love to know more about Robert's story, especially surrounding the harrowing years of King Philip's War. What an amazing life he led!
The line of descent is:
Robert Ashley-Mary Eddy
Mary Ashley-John Root
Samuel Root-Marry Gunne
Martin Root-Eunice Lamb
Martin Root, Jr-Ruth Noble
Ruth Root-Samuel Falley
Clarissa Falley-John Havens Starr
Harriet Starr-John Wilson Knott
Edith Knott-Edward Allen
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook
Fun fact: Robert Ashley and Mary Eddy were the ancestors of Rutherford B Hayes and Franklin D Roosevelt. We are becoming quite the presidential family!