The Wives of John Gilbert of Dorchester, Mass.



Source: Geoffrey Gilbert, “The Wives of John Gilbert of Dorchester, Mass.,” New England Historical and
Genealogical Register
61[1957].

[page 234]

John Gilbert of Bridgwater, Somerset, one of the original purchasers of Taunton, Mass., brought with him to Dorchester, in or about 1635, a wife Winifred, four sons, and a daughter. He was born in 1580, and in January 1602-3 he married Mary Street, both in Bridgwater. Mary has been considered the mother of the two older sons, Thomas and John, Jr., who were “well grown youths” in 1636. The two younger sons, Giles and Joseph, and probably the daughter Mary, have been assigned more or less doubtfully to Winifred. As to the identity of Winifred, the only clue has been a clause in John’s will referring to his wife’s grandchild Elizabeth —-; the surname has been variously deciphered as Peaslee, Peslee, Peter, and Pester. This clause has been the basis for a guess that Peaslee or a variant was the name of Winifred’s first husband, and she has appeared in some genealogies as “widow Peaslee”, though obviously this would only be true if Elizabeth were the child of a son of Winifred, not of a daughter.

Somewhat later, restudies of the Bridgwater records suggested that there might be still another wife. A daughter Joan was born in 1614 to John and Alice Gilbert and Alice, wife of John Gilbert, died in 1618. It was not considered certain that these records related to John, the immigrant, but on the other hand evidence was uncovered that a John Gilbert, who later became mayor of Bridgwater, was born about 1614, and there is reason to suppose that the Joan of the 1614 baptism is really this John. If so, he is in all likelihood the second son of John, the immigrant, who is known to have returned permanently to England in 1645, after about ten years in America.

In the late 1920’s, my father, Philip H. Gilbert, engaged an English genealogist, Mr. H. Tapley-Soper, of Exeter, to try to uncover further

[page 235]

details about John Gilbert, Sr., and his antecedents. The Chancery Reports, neglected by earlier workers, yielded several pieces of information about John and his father Giles. One in particular, a suit brought against John in 1610 by one Valentine Babb, clears up the question of the second wife. It shows that John married Alice Hopkins, daughter of Thomas Hopkins of Bristol, in September 1606; a reference to Nicholas Street as John’s father-in-law removes all doubt as to his identity. In all probability a Mary Gilbert who was buried in Bridgwater in October 1605 was John’s first wife, and beyond any doubt the Alice who died in 1618 was the second. Alice must certainly have been the mother of the sons Thomas and John, Jr.

The Babb document reads in part as follows:

Chancery Proceedings C.2 James I, B.26-7.

26 April 1610. Complaint of Valentine Babb of Trull, co. Somerset, yeoman, that whereas one John Gilbert of Trull, gent., by virtue of the last will of Giles Gilbert his father deceased ….. was possessed of a lease ….. called Peasehay containing 80ac in Baudripp, co. Somerset ….. said John Gilbert about 29 Nov. last in consideration of £600 ….. did sell to orator said premises ….. Since then there hath been a paper book made embodying the contract, which paper book was made by one Nicholas Street, gent., fatherinlaw to Gilbert ….. Gilbert refused to ….. perform the covenants of the agreement.

15 June 1610. Answer to John Gilbert, gent. He ….. made an agreement with the complainant ….. but 3 years before the time of the agreement he, in consideration of a marriage then shortly after to be had between him & Alice his now wife, which was then very shortly after solemnized, by his writing indented between him & Thomas Hoptkins & William Hoptkins of city of Bristol, merchants, & Richard Winter, gent. of same city dated 1 Sept. 4 Jas.I.1606 conveyed his interest in the premises to them for the jointure of Alice now his wife being daughter of said Thomas Hoptkins, & at the time of the agreement he thought he would procure and get the good liking of Alice & her trustee to relinquish the same assurance ….. but cannot succeed ….. and as this was the case Gilbert was unable to sign the agreement.

Mr. Tapley-Soper also found two other documents which, taken together, definitely establish the identity of the third wife, Winifred. The first is the will of Joseph Combe of Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset, proved in April 1620. It mentions among others wife Winifred, daughter Joan, and “brother” Edward Rossiter. It has been printed in two collections of Somerset wills, and reprinted in an important article by Colket.*

The other document is as follows:

Feet of Fines, Somerset, Easter, 11 Charles I. 1635.

“Nicholas Rossiter gent. querent & John Gilbert gent. & Winifred his wife deforciant of a moiety of 15 ac of land & 8 ac of meadow in Combe St. Nicholas which John & Winifred granted to Nicholas to hold for life of Winifred & of Joan Combe daughter of Winifred & for the life of the longer liver of them”.

This suit establishes the identity of Winifred Gilbert with widow

_______________

*Colket, Meredith B., Jr.; “Edward Rossiter, his Family, and Notes on his English Connections”, American Genealogist, vol. 13, 1937, pp. 145-51.

[page 236]

Winifred Combe, but it does considerably more. It is no doubt a fictitious suit, and merely indicates that John and Winifred were selling their land to Nicholas Rossiter. Nicholas, in the Colket list, was a son of Edward, probably the oldest. He is thought to have been in America from about 1630 to 1635.* The transaction goes far to reinforce the conclusion that when Joseph Combe referred to Edward Rossiter as “brother” he meant brother-in-law, and that Edward was a brother of Winifred. It also gives an approximate date for the Gilbert departure for America; in spite of various traditions that include them in the passenger list of the Mary and John, I know of no evidence of their presence earlier than January 1635-6.** It gives us still another piece of information, to which I shall revert below; it shows that in 1635 Joan Combe was a still unmarried member of the Gilbert family.

Incorporating the above facts, we get the following outline for John Gilbert of Dorchester:

JOHN GILBERT, son of Giles and Joan (Pearce) Gilbert, was baptized 30 Aug. 1580 in Bridgwater, Somerset; died 1657 in Taunton, Mass. (will signed 6 April 1656, proved 3 June 1657). He married (1), 17 Jan. 1602-3, in Bridgwater, MARY STREET, bapt. 22 March 1578-9 in Taunton, Somerset; probably she who was buried 25 Oct. 1605, in Bridgwater; daughter of Nicholas Street. He married (2), in September 1606, perhaps in Bristol, ALICE HOPKINS, buried 25 April 1618 in Bridgwater; daughter of Thomas Hopkins of Bristol. He married (3), in or after 1620, WINIFRED (ROSSITER) COMBE, widow of Joseph Combe of Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset, and sister of Edward Rossiter of that place.

Children by first wife:

  • ?. Twins MARY and JOAN, bapt. 4 Aug. 1603, Bridgwater; buried there 5 and 9 Aug. Parentage not stated, but they may have been daughters of John and Mary, born prematurely.
  • ?. MARY, bapt. 19 Aug. 1604, Bridgwater. Parentage not stated; if a daughter of John, she probably died young, as she could hardly have been the Mary listed below.

Children by second wife:

  • ?. ELIZABETH. The will of Emma Escott of Bridgwater, widow, dated 10 Nov. 1632, mentions “Elizabeth daughter of Mr. John Gilbert” (Somerset Wills, 2nd series, p. 96). Nothing further is known of her.
  • i. THOMAS, b. probably about 1612, perhaps in Trull, Somerset; d. about 1676, England.
  • ii. JOHN, b. about 1614, and probably the “Joan” bapt. 19 Aug. 1614, Bridgwater; prob. also the John who d. there 10 Feb. 1691.

Children by third wife:

  • iii. MARY. Mentioned in John’s will as Mary Norcross. Her husband was probably Rev. Nathaniel Norcross, bapt. in 1619 in London; in America 1638 to about 1649-50; d. 10 Aug. 1662, London. If this identification is

_______________

*Colket, idem.

**Boston Record Commissioners, Fourth Report, pp. 14-15.

[page 237]

correct, Mary was probably born in the early 1620’s and married in the early 1640’s.

  • iv. GILES, b. perhaps about 1627 (apparently under military age of 16 in 1643); d. 8 Jan. 1717-18, Rehoboth, Mass.
  • v. JOSEPH, b. perhaps about 1629; migrated from Taunton to North Carolina.

This paper is intended to be primarily factual, but I should like to end it on a note of conjecture regarding two Gilbert questions that still await an answer. One of these has already been implied. Now that we know who Winifred was, what are we to do about her granddaughter, Elizabeth Peaslee?

The other relates to Jane Rossiter, who married John’s oldest son Thomas in Taunton on 23 March 1639-40. The ancient statement that she was a daughter of Hugh Rossiter has been shown by Colket to be baseless. The most probable alternative is that she was Hugh’s widow.* If so, whose daughter was she?

I think that both birds can be killed with one stone. My evidence so far is circumstantial, but it is still coming in, and it makes at least a very plausible story. I hope to present it eventually, either in another paper in this journal or in the “John Gilbert Genealogy”, of which I am at present a co-compiler. Meanwhile I should like to stake my claim to the “discovery”, and invite rebuttal.

I believe that Jane Rossiter was the widow of Hugh, and that Hugh died in 1638 or 1639, leaving her with an infant daughter Elizabeth. She was also Hugh’s first cousin. She was the daughter of Winifred Gilbert, and the stepdaughter of John Gilbert. She was stepsister of her second husband, Thomas Gilbert. Her maiden name was Joan Combe.

As for Elizabeth of the illegible surname, it should be pointed out that the illegibility must be blamed on the clerk who at an uncertain date transcribed the will into the Plymouth records. The will itself has perished. Instead of burdening Winifred with an unaccountable Pester relative (Pester is fully as logical a reading as Peaslee**) can we not assume that the clerk slipped, and that the word written by John was something like Roseter or Rocester? If so, the conjecture is just about set up. Winifred was a Rossiter herself, but the only way she could have had a Rossiter grandchild would be by marrying a daughter to a Rossiter. We have an available daughter in Joan (Jane is a mere variant), and an available Rossiter in Hugh. What more do we need?

What became of young Elizabeth? I think I know that, too. She makes one more brief appearance, in the Thomas Gilbert inventory.*** She is referred to as “the daughter of Mr. Thomas Gilbert”,

_______________

*Colket, idem.

**Plym. Col. Records, Wills, vol. 2, pp. 46-7. See also the printed version in The Mayflower Descendant, vol. 14, 1912, p. 114, which gives it as Pester.

***Plym. Col. Records, Wills, vol. 3, pp. 78-9.

[page 238]

and perhaps she was, by adoption. Anyway, she did not share in the estate. She had married Thomas Starr, Jr. and died before 1677.

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