Thursday, February 22, 2018

John Bagg of Springfield, Massachusetts

This is the first in a series of posts about four generations of my ancestors in colonial Massachusetts and Connecticut. It will include the Bagg, Burt, Phelps, Moseley, Stanley and other related families between 1635 and 1795.

Seventeenth-century New Englanders were wary of strangers. In Springfield, Massachusetts, newcomers had to be approved by the town residents before they could stay for more than a month, but when John Bagg moved to Springfield around 1657, he not only stayed, he married the daughter of one of the town’s leading citizens.

John’s origins are obscure, but once he settled in Springfield, town records were thorough, and the life of my seven-times great-grandfather was well documented. The first record of John Bagg’s name in Springfield was his marriage to Hannah Burt, daughter of Henry Burt and Ulalia March, on Dec. 24, 1657.1 Soon after, he opened an account at John Pynchon’s general store. He also worked for Pynchon, earning several shillings a day for fetching hay and stones, felling timber, reaping wheat and trimming the orchard.2

View of Springfield and the Connecticut River
In 1659, he was listed in the ninth of 10 rows in the meeting house, where seating was assigned according to status in the community. Three years later, he had moved up a row.
In 1662, John and several friends appeared in court, charged with the illegal act of playing cards. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Another case involving a breach of town regulations was more complicated. John had been named a fence-viewer, an important responsibility since escaped livestock could cause crop damage. When he and his fence-viewing partner Reice Bedortha observed defects in a neighbour’s fence, town officials fined the owner. At the same time, John complained there was a defect in Bedortha’s fence, but Bedortha countered that it wasn’t his fence. Finally both John and Bedortha were fined for not carrying out their fence-viewing duties properly.  

The inhabitants of Springfield all supported their families as subsistence farmers. No one became rich, but neither did they starve. They mainly acquired farmland as land grants from the town. John’s first grant, a six-acre parcel of land, was approved in 1660. In 1664, he purchased 20 acres on the Chicopee Plain and, in the same year, the town granted him 30 acres near the Agawam River (now the Westfield River.)

In 1668, John and two friends leased 40 acres. Cash was always in short supply, so they paid half the rent in “good merchantable wheate, and the other half in Pease and Indian corne, all good and merchantable.”4 The town later granted him several more small pieces of land.

Springfield, the first town built in the western interior of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded beside the Connecticut River in 1636 by a group of eight men. The site was chosen primarily for commercial reasons. The Great River, as people called it, provided transportation, while meadows provided grazing for livestock and the fertile soil allowed the settlers to grow crops.

The town founders purchased land on both the east and west sides of the Connecticut River from the indigenous people. The town was on the east side and most of John’s property was on the other side, in what later became West Springfield.

King Philip’s War

The destruction of much of Springfield in 1675, during King Philip’s War, must have been the most terrifying event of John’s life. Town residents were on friendly terms with many of the area’s indigenous people, but a bloody conflict between the New England settlers and a group of Native Americans erupted in 1675. Some 32 houses and 25 barns in Springfield were burned, as well as several mills and large quantities of corn that had been stored for the coming winter.

King Philip meets with settlers
His wedding was another milestone. When he married Hannah in 1657, she was 16 years old; he may have been considerably older than her. Hannah was the tenth of Henry and Ulalia Burt’s 13 children and the first to be born in New England.

Hannah and John eventually had 10 children: Hannah (1658-1740) married Nathaniel Sikes; Mercy (1660-1738) m. Ebenezer Jones; Daniel (1663); John (1665-1740) m. Mercy Thomas; Daniel (1668-1738) m. Hannah Phelps (my direct ancestors); Jonathan (1670-1746) m. Mary Weller; Abigail (1675-1739) m. Benjamin Cooley; James (1675-1689), Sarah (1678-?) m. 1. Benoni Atchison, 2. Samuel Barnard; Abilene, (1680- 1750).5

Hannah died, age 39, on Aug. 1, 1680,6  several days after giving birth to Abilene. Perhaps members of the Burt family stepped in to help raise the couple’s nine surviving children. Three years later, on Sept. 5, 1683, John Bagg “was sicke and died”.7

John’s probate record shows that Samuel Marshfield became guardian of sons John and James, and of baby Abilene, but it is not clear what happened to the other children. The inventory of his estate listed the simple belongings of a farmer: a yoke of oxen, a horse, some cows and swine, a cart, plow, axe, kettle, bedding, two coats, a pair of britches, a hat and a pair of stockings. His house and adjoining land were evaluated at 16 pounds. His debts totalled 50 pounds.8   

In 1893, Springfield historian Henry M. Burt wrote that John Bagg “appears to have been an industrious citizen and his descendants are among the most prosperous and intelligent people of recent times.”9 Some of John and Hannah Bagg’s descendants still live in Massachusetts today.

Next: Henry Burt, from Devon Clothier to Springfield Farmer

Photo credits:
Janice Hamilton
Metacom (King Philip) meeting settlers, illustration 1911; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital file no. cph 3c00678), (accessed Feb. 22, 2018)

1. Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1621-1850 (Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016)., accessed Feb. 21, 2018.

2. Henry M. Burt, Silas W. Burt. Early Days in New England. Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants. Springfield: Clark W. Bryan, printers, 1893. Google Books, p.250.

3. Henry M. Burt, The First Century of the History of Springfield. The Official Records from 1636 to 1736, with an historical review and biographical mention of the founders. Volume 1 Springfield, Mass: Printed and Published by Henry M. Burt, 1898. Google Books, p. 55.

4. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 251.

5. Thomas B. Warren, Springfield Families, Vol. 1 (A-E), copied by Mercy Warren Chapter, Springfield, Mass, 1934-1935, p. 22.

6. Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1621-1850 (Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016)., accessed Feb. 21, 2018.

7. Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1621-1850 (Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016)., accessed Feb. 20, 2018.

8. Hampshire County, Massachusetts probate records 1660-1916. index, 1660-1971 [microform].

9. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 250.

Additional Sources:
Virginia DeJohn Anderson. New England’s Generation, The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg “Autobiography 1846-1895. Forming a supplement to the “Obituary Notice of a Yale Graduate of ’69 written by himself in 1890.” New York: printed for private distribution by Karl Kron, publisher; reprinted from the Biographical Records of the Yale Class of 1869, vol. I, p 24-32.

Patricia Law Hatcher. Researching Your Colonial New England Ancestors. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2006.

Nathaniel Philbrick. Mayflower. A story of courage, community and war. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mrs Mitcheson Came

My three-times great-grandfather was a merchant, not known for being overly emotional. His personal notebook was filled with financial sums, with only one page of personal comments. Those notes included the date his two-year-old grand-daughter died, the dates of birth of two other grandchildren and a short sentence, “Mrs. Mitcheson Came, June 8, 1850.”1

For Stanley Bagg to make a note of that visit, it must have been a special day indeed.

Stanley Bagg
"Mrs. Mitcheson" was Stanley’s son’s mother-in-law, Fanny Mitcheson, from Philadelphia. She had probably come to Montreal to be present at the birth of another grandchild, Catherine Sophia Bagg, born a month later.

Stanley wrote nothing more about this visit, but I like to imagine what might have taken place. He had been a widower since his wife’s death 15 years earlier, but he probably he had a servant to clean and cook for the occasion. In addition, son Stanley Clark Bagg and daughter-in-law Catharine Mitcheson Bagg lived nearby, so they probably helped with the arrangements. 

By 1850, Stanley had retired from a long career as a timber merchant and general merchant, and his health was failing. He lived in a two-storey home, called Durham House, on Saint Lawrence Street in what was then the outskirts of Montreal. Perhaps he entertained his guests in the drawing room, where they could have sat on the sofa or the mahogany chairs, and perhaps he told Fanny about the portraits (probably of himself, his deceased wife and his father) that hung on the walls.2

Perhaps he and his visitor discussed the weather, or the recent birth of Queen Victoria’s seventh child. Fanny was an American by choice (born Mary Frances MacGregor, she had immigrated to the United States from Scotland as a young woman) and Stanley was an American by birth (born in Massachusetts, he came to Canada as a child,) so maybe they talked about the recent California Gold Rush.

Durham House
Stanley’s son and daughter-in-law probably attended this gathering. Another possible guest was Mary (Mitcheson) Clark, Stanley’s deceased wife’s mother. She also lived nearby, in a house called Clark Cottage. Mary, a widow, would have been age 74 at the time.

Mary Clark and Fanny Mitcheson were also related by marriage: Mary’s brother was Fanny’s husband, Robert Mitcheson.

I do not know whether Robert accompanied his wife to Durham House, or even if he came to Montreal. If he didn’t, someone else must have travelled with her. She certainly would not have come from Philadelphia to Montreal by herself.

Fanny (MacGregor) Mitcheson
Long-distance travel in 19th-century North America was time-consuming, complicated and uncomfortable. Thankfully, transportation was improving, especially after the first North American railroad started operating in 1826.

In 1836, people travelled between Philadelphia and Montreal via a combination of railroad, stagecoach and steamboat, with the longest leg by boat. In 1849, about the time Fanny made the journey, it was still by steamboat and railroad with a 38-mile stretch by stagecoach. A dozen years later, the whole trip could be done by rail, although the journey still involved several connections.3 

Perhaps Stanley saw fit to note Fanny’s 1850 visit because he realized what an effort she had made to get there from Philadelphia. 

All Photos, Bagg family collection


Mary Mitcheson (1776-1856) and her brother Robert Mitcheson (1779-1859) were born in County Durham, in northeast England, and immigrated separately to North America. Mary, her husband John Clark (1767-1827) and daughter Mary Ann (1795-1835), settled in Montreal around 1795. Mary Ann married Stanley Bagg (1788-1853) in Montreal in 1819.

Robert Mitcheson arrived in the United States from Antigua in 1817. I do not know when or where he married Fanny MacGregor (c. 1792-1862). They lived in what was then the outskirts of Philadelphia.

All these relationships boiled down to one central fact: Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) married his first cousin once-removed, Catharine Mitcheson (1821-1914). They were wed at Grace Church, Philadelphia on Sept 9, 1844 by Reverend Robert Mitcheson, the bride’s brother. If the family was upset about the blood relationship between them, no hint of that has survived.

                                                                                             Joseph Mitcheson m. Margaret Phillipson
                                                                                                /                              |
                                          John Clark m. Mary Mitcheson                                   |
                                                      |                                                                        |
                   Stanley Bagg m. Mary Ann Clark            Robert Mitcheson m. Mary Frances MacGregor
                                                      |                                                                        |             
                                      Stanley Clark Bagg              m.             Catherine Mitcheson

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Mary Frances MacGregor” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 14, 2014,

Janice Hamilton, “Fanny in Philly,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 29, 2014,

Janice Hamilton, “A Home well Lived In,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2014,

Janice Hamilton, “The Life and Times of Stanley Bagg, 1788-1853,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 5, 2016,


1. Personal notebook of Stanley Bagg, Bagg Family Fonds, McCord Museum, Montreal

2 An inventory of the contents of Durham House is included in Act No. 3556, dated 2 Nov, 1842, of notary Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, accessed at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) in Montreal.

3.  Gary Gorton, ”Ante Bellum Transportation Indices”, Philadelphia, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 1989;, accessed Dec. 31, 2017