Home > 013980. Thomas Gilbert, 013981. Jane Rossiter, 027962. Edward Rossiter > Edward Rossiter, His Family, and Notes on His English Connections

Edward Rossiter, His Family, and Notes on His English Connections

Source: Meredith B. Colket, Jr., “Edward Rossiter, His Family, and Notes on His English Connections,” American Genealogist 13[1937].

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Edward ROSSITER, of Combe St. Nicholas, Somersetshire, gentleman, was one of the most distinguished members of the Massachusetts Bay Company. His name is first mentioned in connection with America in 1629 when he was elected one of eighteen magistrates (they were styled “Assistants”) to aid the newly elected Governor, WINTHROP, in ruling his large domain. ROSSITER is one of the few known stockholders of the Massachusetts Bay Company to have settled in America; he is one of two assistants to have come from the west-country. Yet despite the prominence of Edward ROSSITER and despite the fact that a large number of Americans are descended from him, very little has been written about this man and his family. This is owing partly to the fact that certain early records in the town which he settled have been burned, partly because the parish records of Combe St. Nicholas before 1678 are lost, and partly because he died the year he came over, and no record of a will or distribution of the large estate he reputedly died possessed of has turned up. The writer has assembled a few notes relative to his interesting career, to his family, and to his English connections, and it is hoped that this article may serve as a stimulus toward a more thorough search of the English records and toward a genealogy of his American descendants.

Herewith are a few abstracts of the English records relative to the ROSSITERS:

Will of Joseph COMBE of Combe St. Nicholas, co. Somerset. Dated 21 March 1619-20. Proved 28 April 1620. (Abstracted: Abstract of

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Wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Register Soame, 1620, p. 115; and Brown, Abstracts of Somerset Wills, Second Series. p. 22)

Bur. in Ch. of Combe; dau. Agnis (und. 21) £100; dau. Joan £80 at 21; my child unborn; Extrx: wife Winefred; John BOWDAGE of Totworthe in psh of Chard; George FRYE of Combe; bro. Wm. COMBE of Combe; my bro. Edw. ROSSITER and my bro. Edm. COMBE. Wits: Joseph GREENEFIELD, clk., John FRYE, Edward ROSSITER, Edmunde COMBE.

Will of John FRYE the elder of Combe St. Nicholas, co. Somerset. Dated 13 Jan. 1618-19. Proved 31 Dec. 1620 by John FRYE,a brother of deceased, Joseph COMBE being dead. (Abstract of Wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Register Soame, 1620, pp. 429-30)

Bur. in Ch. or chyd. of the sd. psh. Sister Maute MEERES, her daus. Margt. and Agnes MERES (both und. 21); Hughe, son of Edw. ROSCITER; cos. Eliz. BOURMAN.

Will of John FRY (Junior, brother of above) of Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset, gentleman. Dated 2 Jan. 1635. Proved 20 Nov. 1638. (Waters, Genealogical Gleanings, p. 765)

To be buried in the parish church of Combe St. Nicholas. My wife, Dorothy, Lands in Combe St. Nicholas lately purchased of Edward ROSSITER, gent., deceased.

Power of attorney of George BETTY of Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset. Given 2 Feb. 1664. (New England Register, Vol. 81 p. 122)

Power of attorney given Feb. 2, 1664 by George BETTY of Combe St. Nicholas in the county of Somerset, to Humphrey PINNY of Windsor in the Colony of Conn., over the estate of BETTY’s children John and Elinor. Signed, sealed, and delivered unto Hugh ROSSITER, for the use of Humphrey PINNEY… (Note: Humphrey PINNEY came to New England in the “Mary and John” with Edward ROSSITER. Bryan ROSSITER resided for a time at Windsor).

During the five years after Mr. ROSSITER’s decease, 1630-35, the names of three ROSSITERs appear in the Dorchester (Mass.) records. One Bryan ROSSITER became a freeman 18 May 1631, and he has been identified as a son. Secondly, there is constant reference to one “Mr. ROSSITER” who seems to have possessed a huge tract on the outskirts of Dorchester. It has been ingeniously supposed that he was an eldest son who inherited his father’s property but returned to England, and in the light of facts now available this is quite possible. Finally, one Hugh ROSSITER appears in the records, first in Dorchester, later in Taunton, but his name disappears from American records sometime before 1643. Savage, in his “Genealogical Dictionary,” cautiously asserted he was probably not son of Edward, and this statement has somehow prevented anyone from attempting to make any analysis of their relationship whatever. In fact, the identity of Hugh ROSSITER has been a puzzle to genealogists for over a century.

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(a) A study of the FRYE family may lead to further clues in determining the ROSSITER ancestry. According to the Visitations of Devon, a John FRYE married a ROSSITER. The above John FRYEs were brothers being styled John FRYE, the elder, and John FRYE, Junior, respectively.

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Only once, in colonial New England, did ROSSITERs come to settle; indeed, all known ROSSITER comeovers appeared abouth the same time in the same town of Dorchester. Certainly it would be a most curious coincidence if these ROSSITERs were not closely related; interestingly enough, the first mention of Hugh in New England records shows him acquiring land adjoining a ROSSITER:

10 Feb. 1634-35. “It is granted unto Hugh ROSSITER and Richard ROCKETb to have each of them 8 acres of land on the west side of the brooke adjoining to Mr. ROSCITERs ground, as farr forth as the Plantation hath any right to dispose of it.”

New England Register, Vol. XXI, p. 330.

On the face of it there is strong presumptive evidence that Hugh was related to Bryan and Edward. It is more than of passing interest then when we find John FRYE, the elder, of Combe St. Nicholas, referring in his will dated 13 Jan. 1618-19 to “Hughe, son of Edw. ROSCITER.” There seems little doubt that Hugh, son of Edward, is identical with the Hugh who appeared in Dorchester records some sixteen years later.

Before discussing the apparent objections of Savage, I would like to consider a statement that has been made and repeated in publication after publication for generations until now it has been accepted by genealogists as undisputed fact, yet it is not based on the slightest thread of evidence, so far as this writer has been able to ascertain. I am referring to the assertion constantly repeated that Hugh was the father of Jane (ROSSITER) GILBERT. The earliest published statement to this effect appears in a footnote in Baylie’s History of New Plymouth,c 1830. Farmer’s Genealogical Dictionary — excellent for its times — came out the preceding year, and though Edward and Bryan were both discussed, no mention was made of Hugh. Baylie seems to have based his assertion upon the single fact that both Hugh and Jane appeared in the Taunton records. Joane ROSSITER (daughter of Edward) who married Nicholas HART undoubtedly also lived at Taunton, as her husband made his residence there before he removed to Rhode Island. If Baylie had known this fact why wouldn’t he have made this Joane a daughter of Hugh? At this early period in genealogical research, many guesses were made about the early ROSSITERs that were not based on actual fact and have long since been disproved, e.g., that Edward was of Devonshire, that he had six or seven sons, that Hugh was the ancestor of the Connecticut ROSSITERs, and so forth. Genealogists have discarded most of these guesses, but the assertion that Jane was a daughter of Hugh has still been accepted. While there is

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(b) The ROCKETs and ROSSITERs of the west-country were closely identified. One John ROCKETT, of Thornecombe, Devon, refers in his will dated 1615 (P.C.C.) to one John ROSSITER of Somerset and mentions Combe St. Nicholas.

(c) Vol. II, Part II, p. 281.

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still a possibility that it may be true, it has never been proved in a recognized genealogical journal, and the known facts certainly make the statement questionable.

It is known that Hugh received land in Dorchester in 1635, that he is mentioned in the Taunton records in 1637-38 when he became one of the original purchasers of the town, that he certainly was not in the town in 1643 when the military list was prepared and the name never appears in American records subsequent to about 1638. To have been the father of a girl born ca. 1614 (see below), Hugh must have been aged about 45-50 in 1638, while there is every indication both in English and American records that he would be a young man at this time. Savage apparently objected to a relationship with Edward (1) because Hugh seems to have been too old, as the father of Jane, to be the son of Edward, (2) because Hugh seems never to have been dignified with the title of “Mr.” as Edward had always been, and (3) because his comparatively minute land holding appear to place him in a much lower social status. Hugh may be the father of Jane, but in the light of known facts, it seems very doubtful. It is almost indisputable that Hugh and Edward are related, regardless of the relationship of Jane, and there is nothing to suggest they were brothers. In considering the second possible objection, we must remember that the title “Mr.” was given sparingly enough in the early colonial period, and as a younger son of Edward, he probably would not be thus referred to. Certainly Bryan’s name appears often in the earlier records simply as “Bray ROSSITER.” Thirdly, although Mrs. Joane HART received as much as 500 acres of land from the Mass. Government in the right of her father, Mr. Edward ROSSITER, we must not lose sight of the fact that one “Mr.” ROSSITER had a grant from the town of Dorchesterd of only 6 acres in 1631. This was probably Bryan who became a freeman of the town in the early part of that year.

If it is a matter of guessing the identity of Jane (ROSSITER) GILBERT it might be just as well assumed that Jane who married Thomas GILBERT in 1639 was the young widow of Hugh. Jane was born ca. 1614 and on 23 March 1639/40, was aged about 26, a rather late age for a girl of that period to enter her first matrimonial adventure, when marriages for women at this period seem to have been almost regularly at about 18 to 20. Yet even this proposed solution does not exhaust all possibilities. The point to be emphasized is that the parentage of Jane (ROSSITER) GILBERT has not been positively ascertained.

Bearing the above discussion in mind, let us try to reconstruct the early history of the ROSSITER family.

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(d) The few earliest pages of the Dorchester town records are now destroyed, but Blake in 1745 abstracted some of their contents. See New England Register, Vol. XXXII, p. 58, note.

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The name ROSSITER, usually spelled ROSSETER, is most uncommon in west-country records. In the Visitation of Somerset,e however, there is a short record of one John ROSSITER of Crewkerne who married Agnes, daughter of John FOSTER, and had a son John who was of “Old Cleve” in 1631. The arms of the family are given as: ARGENT ON A CHEVRON GULES THREE PHEONS OR. In Lincolnshire on the opposite coast of England the family seems to have sprung into one of considerable size. In Maddison’s “Lincolnshire Pedigrees” (p. 831) there is a detailed account of the family of ROSSETER of Aslackby and it is interesting to note that the pedigree is headed by one Richard ROSSETER of Coome, co. Somerset, who married dau. of HARTGILL, sister of HARTGILL murdered by Charles, 8th Lord STOURTON, 1555-56. The arms therein given are but slightly varied from the above, being ARGENT, ON A CHEVRON GULES THREE PHEONS OF THE FIELD.

The predecessors of our Edward of Combe St. Nicholas are still undeterminable, though it is not improbable that there is some connection of Edward and the Richard mentioned in Maddison as being of “Coombe, co. Somerset.”f Edward’sg birth can be tentatively set at ca. 1585 (this approximation fits in well with the known facts and is five years earlier than the baptism of his close associate Roger LUDLOW). The name of his wife is still unknown, though perhaps suggested by the above abstracts. His name first appears in English records in 1610-11 when he signs, along with others of Combe St. Nicholas, a petition in behalf of a poor and aged couple Richard and Ursula STOCKMAN.h John FRYE, Junior, a close associate and friend, also signs the petition. From the various references to his name, it is apparent that he was a man of wealth and influence in his parish. He was deeply religious and took an enthusiastic part in the project of colonizing America. He sold his property at Combe (at least in part) to John FRYE, Junior, and became one of the original stockholders of the Massachusetts Bay Company. On 20 Oct. 1629 he was chosen an assistant for the Company. That year he seems to have been an influential leader among the small group of west-country folk who were gathered at Plymouth, preparatory for the long trip across the ocean. To defray the expenses both for food while at Plymouth and for the cost of transporting people, freight, and goods from Plymouth to America, ROSSITER borrowed heavily from the Rev. John WHITE, of Dorchester, Dorset, the leading spirit back of the migration. The total account was £106.09.09

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(e) The Visitation edited by Weaver. Exeter, 1885, p. 128.

(f) The name ROSSETER does not appear in the early records of the west-country and is almost absent in Collinson’s Somersetshire. There is every indication that the ROSSETER family of Combe St. Nicholas originated in Lincolnshire; and Maddison gives at least one pedigree of the family which dates to the 15th century.

(g) Edward, a grandson of the above Richard, was baptized at Aslackby, 24 Feb. 1560/1. was assessed for a subsidy in 1598, but subsequently disappears from the records.

(h) Somerset Record Society, Vol. 23, p. 73.

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(a large sum for those days), which was repaid in part before his departure from Plymouth and in part after his departure through his son “Mr. Nich: ROSSITER by his order” on 4 Feb. 1630 and 1 April 1630.i A sum of £15.02.00 was “due by Mr. ROSSETER’s Executors” to the Rev. John WHITE after ROSSITER’s death. Among the charges against ROSSITER, we find an item of £47.13.04 for the “passage of 13 persons att 3l 13s 4d each person.”

The group of Pilgrims left Plymouth in the Mary and John 20 March 1630 and arrived on the New England coast a fortnight before the WINTHROP fleet. Most of the passengers, ROSSITER and his family among them, settled at a place on the coast which a few months later received the name of Dorchester. ROSSITER has the distinction of being one of the nine present at the first meeting of the court in New England, 23 Aug. 1630. He attended two subsequent meetings of the court, but on 23 Oct. 1630 there appears the terse note in Governor WINTHROP’s “Journal”: “Mr. ROSSITER, one of the assistants died.”j But Thomas DUDLEY, then Deputy-Governor, wrote rather feelingly to the Countess of Lincoln:k “Within a month after,l died Mr. ROSSITER, another of the assistants, a godly man and of good estate, which still weakened us more.”m An English grandson of Edward ROSSITER refers to him years later as “a pious gentleman of good estate who left England for the sake of religion.”n Here is an example of a wealthy Englishman, of undoubted gentry extraction, who came to America for religious freedom but died before he could carry out his ideals.

The children of Mr. Edward ROSSITER, as far as known, with proof of parentage, are as follows:

I. NICHOLAS, b. prob. ca. 1608. Probably eldest son; as far as known did not come to America; mentioned as “Mr.” Nich: ROSSITER son of Edward in the accounts of the Rev. John WHITE of Dorchester, Dorset, in 1630. Edward (grandson of the first Edward) who was deacon of the dissenting church at Taunton, Somerset, in 1682o may have been his son.

II. BRYAN (alias BRAY), b. prob. ca. 1610. He was admitted freeman at Dorchester, 18 May 1631. Parentage indicated when his son-in-law John COTTON in 1685 petitions the Mass. Court in behalf of Joane, dau. of Edward ROSSITER. Bryan, a noted Connecticut physician, d. at Guilford, Conn., 30 Sept. 1672. He m. Elizabeth dau. of the Rev. John ALSOP of Crewkerne, Somerset.p She d. at Guilford, 29 Aug. 1669. Issue.

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(i) Rose-Troup. The Rev. John WHITE Founder of New England, has an interesting verbatim copy of the account.

(j) 1908 edit., Vol. 1, p. 53.

(k) She was a daughter of Lord SAY AND SELE, colonizer, in whose honor Saybrook, Conn., was named. See Cockayne, Complete Peerage, Vol. VII, p. 697.

(l) After 30 Sept. 1630.

(m) Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1802, Vol. VIII, p. 40.

(n) Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts Bay.

(o) Ibid.

(p) The finding of Waters, viz., that Elizabeth was the sister of the Rev. Josiah ALSOP of London, has been generally accepted. His birthplace, parentage, biography, and the biography of a brother, are given in Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part I, Vol. 1, p. 24.

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III. HUGH, mentioned 1619 in the will of John FRYE of Combe St. Nicholas as son of Edward. Probably identical with the Hugh who obtained land at Dorchester, 1635, and who became an original purchaser of Taunton shortly thereafter. One of this name about to leave Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset, for Windsor, Conn., 1664.

IV. JOANE, b. ca. 1616. She m. Nicholas HART who was early of Taunton but who removed to Warwick, R.I. He is stated by Austin to have d. about 1654. Upon petition to the Mass. Court in 1675 she received 500 acres of land from the Government in 1685 and at that time was stated to be “youngest surviving child of the late Mr. Edward ROSSITER, one of the adventurers.”q Mrs. Joane HART, widow, d. at Plymouth 9 June 1691, being 75 years of age. (Plymouth Church Records, Vol. 1, p. 271.) Issue.

(?) “JANE,” relationship with above not proved, b. ca. 1614, d. 1 June 1691 at Taunton, aged 77; m. at Taunton, 23 March 1639/40, Thomas GILBERT. Issue.

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