Friday, July 29, 2016

Holrook line: William Comstock 1595-1683 Immigrant

We know a lot more about William Comstock than we know about some of our other immigrant ancestors.  In this case, that might not be such a good thing, because there is at least one troubling event that we'll need to discuss further.

But in the beginning, he was born to William Comstock and an unknown mother on July 4, 1595 at Culmstock, Devon, England.  This was a very small village but it had a church, All Saints, which was where he was baptized and which is still in use today.  If I were ever to take a trip to England, one goal would be to worship in an ancestral church like this one. For us, it is hard to think of a church that has been standing for 700 years, but that's the approximate age of the oldest parts of this building.  You can find pictures of the church on Google, which may be the next best thing to an in person visit.

William's family likely were sheep farmers, or/and weavers, for this part of Devon is known for its wool.  About 1623 or 1624, William married Elizabeth.  Most on line sources say her name was Daniels but there is a decent cast to be made for her name have been Cock or Cocke.  As far as I can see, the jury is still out on that one.  There were five or possibly six children born to the Comstock family in England.  It's possible that Christopher, the youngest, was born after n earlier Christopher was born and had died as an infant. 

We also don't know when or why William, Elizabeth, and family left for New England, or where their first stop was.  Some say that they were in Watertown, Massachusetts Bay Colony for a short time.  Others think they went directly to Wethersfield, Connecticut.  He purchased land then that had previously been awarded to Richard Mylles, so William had at least some money by that time. 

The evidence that "proves" he was in Wethersfield prior to that is scanty, but troubling.  His name is apparently listed (where???) as being a private at Wethersfield, and 26 privates from Wethersfield were involved in a shameful incident in the Pequod War, when between 400 and 700 members of the tribe, mostly women and children, were massacred.  The English set their village on fire, and shot anyone who tried to escape.  This was in supposed retaliation for previous raids on the English settlers.  So if William Comstock was at Wetherseifeld by May 26, he likely took part in this horrible event.  If not, most of his neighbors would have been there.  Wethersfield was small enough that everyone below the age of 55 or so would have gone, with only the older men left behind to guard the town. 

William and his wife raised their children in Wethersfield until about 1650, when they moved to Pequot, which was quite near New London, Ct.  He contracted with John Winthrop to establish a corn mill there, and in 1651 he was working on the dam for the mill.  In 1659, he and Elizabeth sold land in New London. 

He was chosen to be sexton on February 25, 1661.62,to order youth in the meeting house, sweep the meeting house, and beat out dogs.  He was to be paid 40 shillings a year for this job, plus 4 shillings for each adult burial and 2 shillings for each child burial.  He, at the age of 66 or more, had to dig the graves for the burials.  It's not reported how long he held this job. 

Traditional sources say that William lived until 1683, with only two of his sons surviving him.  I've not found a record of a will. 

So, really, there are still a lot of unknowns for our William.  Besides the missing facts, I would most like to know if William really was part of the massacre, and if so, what he was thinking before, during, and after the event.  Did he suffer from anything like PTSD?  Was he "just following orders"?  Or was he an eager participant, doing what he felt needed to be done to keep his family safe?  Had he been in the Colonies long enough to be able to make an informed decision?  It's hard to come upon a "probable" like this, which to our thinking leaves a big black mark on his name. 

The line of descent is: 

William Comstock-Elizabeth
Daniel Comstock-Palthiah Elderkin
Kingsland Comstock-Mary Atwell
Kingsland Comstock-Rachel Crocker
Rachel Comstock-John Eames
John Eames-Elizabeth Longbottom
Hannah Eames-James Lamphire
Susan Lamphire-Joseph B Eddy
Susan Eddy-Hiram Stanard
Louis Stanard-Mary Alice Hetrick
Etta Stanard-Loren Holbrook
Glady Holbrook-Richard Allen
Their descendants

Fun Fact:  William Comstock was an ancestor to Gerald Ford, making us distant cousins to another president.