A new look at our earliest Roger Terrill record

by Conrad W. Terrill and Nancy Tyrrel Theodore, 24 June 2011

Postscript (9 Aug. 2011): Milford historian Richard N. Platt Jr. has informed us that he has Lambert's own annotated copy of his 1838 History of the Colony of New Haven ..., and that the annotation indicates that Lambert became uncertain, soon after publishing, of his interpretation of the 1639 list of nine. Click here to read more ...

Postscript (23 Apr. 2012): The validity of this article is still intact, but we have learned that Roger Tirrell bapt. 1620 at St Magnus The Martyr, mentioned in two places, died in 1625.

Our earliest record for Roger Terrill of Milford, New Haven / Connecticut Colony in the 1600's is found on the first page of the Milford land records, a page headed "20 Nov. 1639," starting with a list of the names of 44 men, headed "These persons whose names are here under written [are allowed] To be free planters having for the present lib[erty to act] Jn the Choyce of Publique officers for the ca[rrying of] Publique Affaires in this Plantation." 1 Roger Terrill's name is not on this list, but on another just below it, of nine names, following the sentence, "The power is Setled in the Church to Chuse persons ou[t of themselves] To Divide the lands into Lotts, as they shall have light [from the Word] of God, and to take order for the timber." You may have read interpretations of this second list which contend that these nine men were not church members, and thus did not have full rights as planters. And you may have read interpretations which contend that these names were added later. We'll address those concerns below, but we believe that the names were indeed listed on 20 Nov. 1639, and that they comprise a crew of nine young men chosen by the newly organized church to lay out their new town, and to take orders for timber—exactly as indicated by the preceding sentence, which is actually a somewhat abstruse heading for the list.

What led us to re-examine this record was the discovery last year of a Roger Tirrell baptized 9 Nov. 1620 at St Magnus The Martyr, London, whom we believe {believed} to be a good origin prospect for the Roger Terrill found in the 1639 New England record. However, at age nineteen, he seemed to us a little too young to have been selected as a planter (free or otherwise) and allotted land in the new town. We noticed, though, that others on that list of nine were also very young in 1639, which made us wonder if all on the list were young at that time. We've conducted a study to determine as many birth dates as we could, for both the men on the list of nine and those on the list of 44. And we have found from a statistical sample that the men on the list of nine ranged in age from their mid-teens to their very early twenties, except for one who appears to have been in his mid-to-late-twenties. The men on the list of 44 were much older, for the most part, and probably all were over 21 except for one, Richard Baldwin, who was 17 and was presumably representing his mother and his siblings as the oldest male member of the family (his father died on the voyage to New England).

The original record book containing the 1639 lists is long lost. All we have is a 1677 transcription of "the most Nessisary Things" from that book, containing those lists on its first page. (You can examine a photocopy of that first page by clicking here (PDF, 4.4 MB—see p. 4)). Notice that the items headed "November 20th 1639" take up most of the page. At the bottom you'll see an entry headed "March 9th 1639[/40]," which is continued on the next page (you won't see that part). Less than a quarter of the way down that second page begins a long entry (over a page in length) headed "At A generall Court November : 24th : 1640," containing the minutes of that Court. The third page contains the minutes of general Courts held 21 Jan. 1640/41, 27 May 1641, and 13 Dec. 1643. We mention these entries because some authors (Jacobus for one) have contended that the names in the 1639 list of nine were added later, whereas we think it obvious that the entire 20 Nov. 1639 entry was written on 20 Nov. 1639. The recorder would not have left space on the page for additional names, in between the list of free planters and the list of judges. And we believe the 1677 transcriber would have transcribed these earliest records accurately. Perhaps Jacobus 2 believed that the nine names were added later because he knew that most of those nine were too young in 1639 to have been chosen planters, and he didn't know what to make of the sentence preceding the list. And of course the nine (or most of them) were too young to be planters. Those who contend that the nine were not members of the Church are correct too. Again, most of the nine were too young. At that time, most of those who were admitted to the Church were of legal age, and most were married—and from the mid-to-late 1630's, in Puritan colonies all across New England, it was required that you first relate how it was that you knew you were one of "the saved." If there was no reason to believe that you were of "the Elect of God" then you were not admitted. So it was not so simple to "join" the Church. We believe that our interpretation—that the nine were selected (or perhaps they volunteered) to lay out the town, as indicated (inscrutably) by the list header—is the most reasonable interpretation.

The results of our research on birth dates for the men on the list of nine and on the list of 44 are presented graphically below. We were able to find birthdates for four of those on the list of nine and for 15 on the list of 44. (Those who are interested in the full report should click here.) For most of the others we were able to determine approximate birth dates based on some general assumptions, but we don't present that information below, and it wouldn't affect the point of the graph. Those in red are from the list of nine and those in blue are from the list of 44. It's easy to see that the nine were much younger, in general, than the 44. And the exceptions can be explained. We've already explained that the youngest of the 44 was probably serving as a stand-in for his deceased father, because his mother wanted to settle in Milford, undoubtedly with friends and relatives. The oldest of the nine (William Slough/Slow) may have been a person qualified and available to lead the effort to lay out the town. (Note: Click on the graph to see a full-size version in a new window.)

What did Milford and New Haven Colony historians have to say on this subject? Edward R. Lambert wrote in 1838 3 that the nine were recorded immediately after the 44, "but not as free planters, they not being in church fellowship, which was a requisite qualification, in the view of the colonists, before a person could be admitted a "free planter."" (N.B.: See our postscript article concerning this.) Strangely, without even mentioning that he had done so, Lambert added a tenth name, that of John Fowler, to the list of nine. In Lambert's defense, the birth dates of many of the men on both lists were not yet known in 1838, so he would not have realized that the nine were quite young compared to the 44. Edward E. Atwater in 1881 4 mentioned in his preface that he did not thoroughly examine the records of Milford, and relied on the history by Lambert. Isabel MacBeath Calder in 1936 5 did not address the 1639 list of nine. (Her interesting book was quite critical of Lambert and Atwater in its preface.) The Federal Writers' Project in 1939 6 parrotted Lambert: "The following [nine] persons are recorded immediately after [the 44], but not as free planters." They noted, however, that Lambert had added a name to the list of nine.

Are we the first to interpret the list of nine as we have? It appears not, but we believe we are the first to explicitly and clearly state our interpretation. Lambert in 1838 may have been the first to touch on it. 7 In his account of Robert Treat (pp. 136-138) he wrote (on p. 137), "Robert left that settlement [Wethersfield] and came to Milford with Mr. Prudden. At the first meeting of the planters [which would have been the 20 Nov. 1639 meeting] he was chosen to assist in surveying and laying out the township." We wonder why Lambert didn't state the obvious on p. 90, when discussing the actual record— the list of nine. His only early comment was on p. 92, where he wrote, "At their first general meeting, Nov. 20th, 1639, it was "voted and agreed that the power of electing officers and persons to divide the land into lots, to take order for the timber, and to manage the common interests of the plantation, should be in the church only, and that the persons so chosen should be only from among themselves."" It seems strange that he expanded on the original sentence and then put his expansion in quotes, as if quoting the original record; but worse yet, he failed to mention that this sentence headed the list of nine. It appears that when writing what he wrote on pp. 90-92 he had not yet realized what he appears to have realized when writing what he wrote on p. 137, concerning Robert Treat. Or perhaps he drew the latter material from some outside source (a Robert Treat historian?), and never actually grasped the connection with the list of nine. If indeed he had finally realized the significance of the list of nine, wouldn't he have revised what he had written previously? Others have quoted Lambert's comment concerning the planters' choice of Robert Treat to assist in surveying and laying out the town of Milford, but none have mentioned that there were eight others. 8,9

Now, what of Jacobus's 1936 contention that the names of the nine are probably those of freemen added after 1639? 2 It's true that their names showed up years later in Milford land records, but there were others besides them whose names also showed up. Here are the names of those beyond the original forty-four planters whose names appear in the land records, including the dates they first appeared. Those in bold dark red were on the 1639 list of nine and those in bold black were not.

13 Dec. 1643: John Smith
22 Nov. 1643(?) (list): John Fowler, Martha Beard
7 Feb. 1643: Widow Peppers
25 Dec. 1645: James Rogers, William Roberts, William Slow
16 Mar. 1646: Edward Addams
18 May 1646: John Baldwin, Andrew Benton
24 Dec. 1646: Roger Tirrel
31 Dec. 1646: John Stream, Thomas Ford
28 Jan. 1646: Thomas Canfield, Thomas Hine, Henry Lyon
17 May 1647: Ed[ward] Riggs, John Brown, William Brooks
23 Dec. 1647: James Beard
After 23 Dec. 1647 & before 31 Jan. 1647: Thomas Bardsly
22 Jan. 1648: Robert Denison, James Peirce, John Beard, Joseph Northrup & his mother, Daniel Clark

We stopped looking after 14 May 1649 (the end of a 19th century partial transcription of the land records). Seven of the men on the 1639 list of nine had shown up in the records by then. And we learn from reference 9 that Robert Treat moved to Milford from Wethersfield in 1649. So, if Jacobus is correct, why then were the other persons not listed along with the nine? If, however, the nine happened to have connections to the original Milford planters, but were too young in 1639 to be planters themselves, it's natural that they showed up in the Milford records as they came of age.

What was it that the nine young men actually did, in surveying and laying out the town of Milford? John Frederick Martin explains in the first paragraph of his 1991 book Profits in the Wilderness: 10

"Starting a town was an expensive, complicated affair. People did not simply move to the wilderness and build log cabins. Before that could happen, a great deal had to be done—the site chosen, the General Court's permission obtained, the land purchased from the Indians, and fellow settlers admitted to the group. Then the township had to be surveyed, the survey had to be accepted by the General Court, and the first lots had to be laid out—the home lots, planting lots, wood lots, meadow and swampland. Lots of poor quality had to be augmented by quantity, river frontage had to be rationed, rocky land shared. Roadbeds had to be found, rivers bridged. All of this had to be started before settlers could take up their lands and begin new lives. With good reason, Thomas Hooker called town-founding "hard work" after he founded his own."

The nine did only a portion of this, of course, and we cannot know if they built the palisades and watch towers in the process, but even if not, they were obviously handed a great deal of responsibility. We do not know of any other instance of young people given this same kind of responsibility, but we do not claim to be authorities on the subject. Perhaps the influence of Reverend Prudden was a factor in the case of Milford. Although we believe our interpretation of the list of nine to be correct, it is not essentially important to the two of us to establish that Roger Terrill was part of a group responsible for laying out the town. What is important to us is to establish that he was a member of a group which can be shown statistically to have been quite young in 1639. That allows us to conclude that a Roger Terrill of age nineteen would have fit in well with the group of nine, and so Roger Tirrell bapt. 1620 at St Magnus The Martyr, London, could very well have been our Roger1. {Addition (23 Apr. 2012): But he was not, since he died in 1625.}


1. Land records, Milford, CT, vol. 1; LDS FHL film #4918, item 1. Some words in the 1677 original are obscured, and have been filled in using 19th or early 20th C. transcriptions.
2. "Milford Land Records," abstracted by Donald Lines Jacobus, M.A., The American Genealogist, vol. 12 (Jan. 1936), pp. 170-175; see comment in parentheses above the list of nine on p. 171. Available online via the New England Historic Genealogical Society (The American Genealogist).
3. History of the Colony of New Haven, ..., by Edward R. Lambert (New Haven: 1838). See pp. 89-90 for presentation and discussion of the 1639 lists. Available online at Internet Archive and Ancestry.com.
4. History of the Colony of New Haven, ..., by Edward E. Atwater (New Haven: 1881). See p. vi in Preface. Available online at Quinnipiac U. A 1902 reprint by R. A. Smith et al. includes supplemental history and sketches of the planters. Preview available at Google books.
5. The New Haven Colony, by Isabel MacBeath Calder (New Haven: 1936). Available online at Ancestry.com.
6. History of Milford, Connecticut, 1639-1939, compiled and written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Connecticut (Milford Tercentenary Committee: 1939). See p. 7. Available online at Ancestry.com.
7. Lambert's History of ... New Haven (ref. 3), pp. 137, 90 and 92.
8. "Robert Treat, Founder, Farmer, Soldier, Statesman, Governor," by General George Hare Ford, a paper read before the New Haven Colony Historical Society, 17 Apr. 1911, reprinted from vol. VIII, New Haven Colony Historical Society, published Apr. 1914, see p. 165. Available online at Internet Archive.
9. "Robert Treat, Governor of the Colony of Connecticut, 1683-1698," by the Historical and Genealogical Unit, Connecticut State Library, www.cslib.org/gov/treatr.htm.
10. Profits in the Wilderness (Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century), by John Frederick Martin, published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 1991. Preview available online at Google books.