Friends of the Family: The Bradstreets

by clabarge

Nathaniel2 Wade (Jonathan1) was the second son and the sixth child (that we know of) of Jonathan and Susannah Wade. He was born about 1648 based on a description of his tombstone in the old Medford Cemetery which reads “Here Lies ye Body of Maj. Nathaniel Wade Died Nov Ye 28 1707, in ye 60 Year of his age.” Along with his older brother, Jonathan2, he moved to Mystic, now Medford, Massachusetts where his father Jonathan had acquired a large property. Jonathan and Nathaniel were some of the earliest residents of Medford and Nathaniel became quite involved in civic affairs and in the local militia eventually becoming Major of the Middlesex Regiment.

The arrangements for Nathaniel Wade’s marriage to Mercy Bradstreet is one of the few early arrangements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be so well documented. Upon the death of Jonathan Wade senior, a protracted battle about his will and estate ensued over several years. As part of the proceedings, Gov. Simon Bradstreet filed a deposition as to what Jonathan had discussed with him when he sought permission to allow his son Nathaniel to court (and possibly marry) Bradstreet’s 6th child, Mercy.

When Mr. Jonathan Wade, of Ipswich, came first to my house at Andover in the year -72- to make a motion of marriage betwixt his son Nathaniel and my daughter Mercy, he freely of himself told me what he would give to his son viz. one half of his farm at Mistick, and one third part of his land in England when he died; and that he should have liberty to make use of [the] part of improved and broken up ground upon the said farm until he should live in and have the use of half the house etc. until he had one of his own built upon his part of the farm. I was willing to accept of his offer, or at least said nothing against it: but propounded that he would make his said son a deed of gift of that third part of his land in England to enjoy to him and his heirs after his death, this he was not free to do but said it was assured for he had so put it into his will, that his 3 sons should have that in England equally divided betwixt them viz. each a 3rd part. I objected he might alter his will when he pleased, and his wife might die and he marry again and have other children, which he thought a vain objection. Much other discourse there was about the stock on the farm etc. but remaining unwilling to give a deed for that in England; saying he might have to spend it and often repeating he had so ordered it in his will as aforesaid which he should never alter without great necessity or words to that purpose so we parted for that time leaving that matter to further consideration.
After he came home he told several of my friends and others, as they informed me, that he had preferred to give his son Nathaniel better than 1000£ and I would not accept it. The next time he came to my house, after some discourse about the premises and perceiving his resolution as formerly, I consented to accept of what he had formerly engaged, and left it to him to add what he pleased towards the building of him a house etc. and so agreed that the young persons might proceed in marriage with both our consent which accordingly they did. [Adapted to modern spelling by C. Labarge].

Source: Dudley, Deane. History of the Dudley Family Vol. 6. Deane Dudley: Wakefield, Mass: 1892. (p. 1031 – 1032). Available online at The Internet Archive

This is a remarkable document from many different perspectives. In the first place, it is a rare document that describes in some minute details the kind of negotiations that would have taken place between two fathers whose children might be interested in courtship and marriage. In an earlier post, I commented on the roles of the father and the prospective father-in-law in the context of the puritan marriage rituals in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

For his three sons, Jonathan would have needed to show the prospective father-in-law that the son would be endowed with property and enough wealth to maintain the prospective bride’s social circumstances. See

Simon Bradstreet showed a deep concern for Johnathan’s plans for endowing his son with enough property to ensure his wife’s present and future financial status. He pressed Jonathan to gift a portion of the land he had acquired in England to Nathaniel immediately rather than wait for Nathaniel to acquire it when Jonathan died and his estate was probated. He was also concerned about what might happen if Jonathan changed his will or if his wife died and he had more children from a new wife. It is clear from the document that Simon Bradstreet wanted to be very sure that his daughter Mercy and possibly his future grandchildren would be well taken care of in her marriage and widowhood. Secondly, it would appear that Jonathan might have been a little circumspect in his dealings with Mr. Bradstreet. Jonathan told Bradstreet that he had decreed in his will that his land in England be divided equally between his three sons. This will, as will be seen in a later post, was a second will that Jonathan had written, but not signed, ostensibly replacing an earlier will that bequeathed the land in England to his eldest son Jonathan. Simon Bradstreet was right to be skeptical about Jonathan never changing his will, and indeed, his deposition was given during the legal wrangling over which of the two wills was the “official” will. Bradstreet would obviously had been quite concerned if his son-in-law, Nathaniel, had not received what he claimed Jonathan had promised. As another sign of some friction between the two men, Bradstreet relays Jonathan’s supposed conversation with some of his friends “and others” to the effect that Jonathan claimed he had preferred to give his son £1000 but that Bradstreet would not accept it. The veracity of Bradstreet’s deposition was not verified – his deposition was simply accepted as his version of the discussion he had with Jonathan. When this deposition was made, Jonathan was already dead and unable to challenge any word of it. His sons, meanwhile, were busy wrangling over which one the wills was the legitimate one.

The third aspect of this document that is particularly interesting , to me at least, is the language that is used. This deposition reads like a family letter written in the most familiar of terms and conversational language. Written in 1683, it sounds very much like North American English used in the 20th Century, except for a few odd words such as “betwixt” and “propounded”. Although there are a few phrases that seem British in style, the deposition seems to show a progression towards an American version of English quite different from the formal language of Old England.

Finally, the deposition gives us an insight into these two leading men in the community. Jonathan has come to see Simon Bradstreet, perhaps at the behest of his son, Nathaniel, to discuss whether Bradstreet would give his consent to Nathaniel’s courtship and possible marriage to his daughter Mercy. From Bradstreet’s point of view, Jonathan freely offered to give one half of the farm at Mistick and one-third of his land in England to Nathaniel after Jonathan’s death. Then, they discussed that Nathaniel could make use of some of the tilled portion of the farm until he could till the land that would be his part. Since the farm contained a manor house (per the original deed of sale), Nathaniel and his wife could use one-half of the house until he built his own. Bradstreet wanted to secure his daughter’s position and inheritance while Jonathan wanted to keep his options open. After Bradford acquiesced to Jonathan’s plan, the two elders held a detailed discussion about the stock that was on the farm that no doubt included details about both quantity and quality. In the end, despite the quibbling over the will versus the deed of gift and despite Bradstreet’s surprise or irritation that Jonathan had told his friends a story that was not true, Bradstreet agreed to the arrangements and gave permission for the courtship and, if the relationship developed, to the marriage. It would seem plausible to interpret this final agreement as an affirmation of Jonathan’s status in the community and of Bradstreet’s perception of the Wades as a suitable level for his daughter to marry into. Coming from Simon Bradstreet, this was no light endorsement.

Who was Simon Bradstreet? Simon was the son of a Horbling, Lincolnshire non-conformist clergyman who died when Simon was only fourteen years old. He was committed to the care of Thomas Dudley, the future Deputy-Governor and the second Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After schooling and working as a steward for a number of years, he married Anne, the 16 year-old daughter of Thomas Dudley who would be later known as the first poet of America. They decided to emigrate with Thomas Dudley, John Winthrop, and the other passengers on the Arabella in 1630. He was an assistant to the new government in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, an office he held for forty-eight years. He became the first secretary of the colony, a position that lasted 13 years, and was made Deputy-Governor from 1672-1679, after which he served ten years as Governor 1679-86 and 1689-91. Thus, at the time Jonathan Wade came calling, he would have been months away from his appointment as Deputy-Governor, if he were not already in the post. In the sketch in The Essex Antiquarian from which this biographical material is mostly drawn, he is as described the following terms:

He was puritanic in his religion, and prosecuted the Quakers so severely that Bishop, in his New England Judged By The Spirit of the Lord called him “a man hardened in blood and a cruel persecutor.” He was, however, opposed to the witchcraft delusion.

He was a just magistrate judged by the times, possessing prudence, sound judgement, and strict integrity. Believing fully in his mission, he sought usefulness rather than popularity.

In his home life he was a tender father and loving husband. He took pride in his wife’s poetical talents, and greatly mourned her death.

from The Essex Antiquarian, Vol. 2 (1898) pp. 159-160. The Essex Antiquarian. Salem, MA: The Essex Antiquarian, 13 vols. 1897-1909. (Online database: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006.)

His tombstone in Salem, MA originally contained a Latin inscription which may be translated as:

SIMON BRADSTREET, esquire,  senator, in  Colonial Massachusetts from the year 1630, unto the year 1673. Next, in the year 1679, the vice-governor. Finally, in the year 1686, Governor of the same colonies with common and consistent support of the populace. Husband, gifted judge, neither deities nor honor enticed him.  He drank evenly from the cup of authoritative ruler, and of liberty for the people. Religion with feeling, a life of innocence, the world he both conquered, and forsook, the 27 day of March AD 1697, the year William, 31, 9 and age 94.

(with my most sincere apologies to my high school Latin teacher and Latin scholars – I would be happy to receive alternate translations).

Simon Bradstreet and his wife Anne Dudley Bradstreet had eight children. Their first daughter, Dorothy, married the Rev. Seaborn Cotton, son of the well-known Rev. John Cotton, one of the most eminent puritan ministers in the Colony. This marriage would have clearly indicated Simon Bradstreet’s strong allegiance to the puritan religion and to its clerical leadership. Dorothy Bradstreet Cotton died on Feb. 26 1672 leaving the Rev. Seaborn Cotton with nine children ranging in age from 16 to 2 years old. Almost one and a half years later, Rev. Cotton married Prudence Wade, Jonathan Wade’s daughter and the widow of Anthony Crosby. She was 34 years old at the time of her marriage to Rev. Cotton on July 9, 1673 and still of child-bearing age. And within three years of their marriage, she had given birth to two sons. It is inconceivable that Rev. Cotton would not have talked to his former father-in-law about the suitability of Prudence Wade as a second wife. There are too many close connections between these two families that would support the idea of Simon Bradstreet being asked his opinion of the woman who would become his grandchildren’s stepmother.

Mercy was the sixth child and the fourth daughter of Simon and Anne Dudley Bradstreet. After the intense negotiations described in Simon Bradstreet’s deposition, she and Nathaniel Wade married on October 31, 1672, about 9 months before Rev. Cotton married Nathaniel’s sister Prudence. This marriage would have signified Simon Bradstreet’s acknowledgement of the status of the Ipswich merchant Jonathan Wade as well as the role that the merchants played in the development of the local and colony-wide economy. Bradstreet was himself a busy import and export merchant. According to the sketch in the Essex Antiquarian, while he was in Andover, he “did considerable business in sawing lumber, and shipping it to Barbadoes, where he exchanged it for West India goods, which he brought home and sold.”[page 159]. Obviously, he and Jonathan Wade understood the language of trade and were more than likely quite familiar with the art of negotiation and bartering. The deposition he made in 1683 gives a rare insight into the delicate negotiations for his daughter’s future and his skillful bargaining tactics. It is only unfortunate that Jonathan Wade was not alive to give his side of the story!

©Charles Labarge