Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Obscure Origins of John Bagg

About 40 years ago, my mother tried to find out who was the first member of the Bagg family to come to North America. (Her mother’s maiden name was Bagg.) The answer surprised everyone and revealed a further mystery that remains unsolved.

Mother turned to Debrett, a company that specialized in researching British aristocratic ancestries. She suggested they look for the Bagg family’s origins in County Durham, in northeast England, but that search came up empty. (We eventually realized it was another branch of the family that came from Durham.)

She told her friend Carol, who lived in Boston, about her interest in the Bagg family. Carol replied, “I’m descended from the Baggs too!” Carol then sent my mother an article about the family’s roots in colonial Massachusetts.1

With that information, my mother went back to Debrett and they prepared a report on four generations of the Bagg family in New England, including our ancestors who fought as soldiers in the American Revolution.2 Carol’s ancestor was Joseph Bagg (1740-1836) and our direct ancestor was his brother Phineas (c. 1751-1823), who moved to Canada around 1795.3 Their great-grandfather, John Bagg (? – 1683) was the immigrant member of the family.

John Bagg first appeared in the records of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1657, 20 years after the town had been founded, and long after the end of the Great Migration, the period between 1620 and 1640 when thousands of people emigrated from England to New England. John married Hannah Burt in Springfield and he stayed there for the rest of his life.

A book about the Burt family written in the 1890s said that John Bagg “is supposed to have emigrated from Plymouth, England,4  but my mother’s research was not able to confirm that.

Several John Baggs

Debrett’s report revealed that there were several individuals named John Bagg in the 17th century. For example, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, by John Camden Hotten, which listed emigrants, religious exiles, political rebels and others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, included a John Bagg who owned more than 10 acres of land in Barbados in 1638. Almost 50 years later, in 1685, another John Bagg from Thorncombe, Dorset left Bristol, England for Barbados. 

In 1991, Mother contacted British genealogy researcher Peter Bennett. He noted that the wills of several individuals named Bagg, Bagge or Baggs and dated between 1540 and 1667 could be found in the Archdeaconry Court of Exeter, and there were several more wills in Dorset. Devon wills were destroyed by bombing during World War II.

According to a family story, we were descended from the James Bagg who was mayor of Plymouth around 1600, but there is no evidence to support that story.  

A better bet, though still unproven, was the John Bagg, age 16, who was transported to Virginia aboard the ship Safety in August, 1635.5 In 1991, researcher W. Denis Hanley of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) replied to Mother’s query. He wrote that there was no trace of John Bagg in Virginia records at the NEHGS, but that there might be something at the Virginia state archives.

Hanley suggested that John Bagg may have gone to Virginia as an indentured servant, having promised to work the land for several years, but broke that promise and sailed to Barbados where he was granted land, then eventually moved to Massachusetts. Or he might have gone to Virginia as an indentured servant, stayed on the plantation for a number of years and then moved to Massachusetts in the 1850s.

If John Bagg left England at age 16 in 1635, he would have been 38 when he married 16-year-old Hannah in 1657. As for his motivation to leave Virginia, there were few unmarried women on the plantations of Virginia, so perhaps he came to Massachusetts to look for a wife and picked Springfield because he would be able to find employment as a day labourer there until he could acquire land of his own.

My mother did not follow up with further research in Virginia, nor did I. But even if I find John Bagg – or Bag, Bagge, Begg, Bigg or Biggs – in in the records there, it would be hard to say with certainty that he was the man who settled in Springfield, and we still do not know his origins in England.

See also:
Janice Hamilton, “John Bagg of Springfield, Massachusetts,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 22, 2018,

1. 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.

2.  Debrett, “The Bagg Family of Massachusetts, America and of Montreal, Canada. Research for Mrs. J.D. Hamilton, July, 1980.”

3. William A. Cooper, “The James Bagg of Lanesborough, Massachusetts” based on research made by John McIlvene. Conshohooken, Pa, 1918.

4. 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.249.

5. Michael Tupper, editor. Passengers to America. A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists from The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977, p. 98.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Henry Burt: From Devon Clothier to Colonial Farmer

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

When Springfield, Massachusetts pioneer Henry Burt died in 1662, an inventory of his estate showed that his belongings included a suit of clothes, a hat, a pound of hemp and flax, his house in the town and 14 acres of farmland nearby, livestock, three blankets and a rug, a brass pan and kettles, a chest and two guns.1 That list suggested Henry had lived a simple, but comfortable, life.

Henry probably brought his family to New England in 1638. Prior to that, he had been a successful clothier in Harberton, Devon, in southwest England, where he had inherited property from his father.2 At the time they immigrated, he and his wife, Ulalia March, had seven children ranging in age from an infant to 18 years old.

England was going through political turmoil in the 1630s, and the textile industry was in decline. Over a ten-year period, some 80,000 people left England for Ireland, the West Indies, Virginia or continental Europe. Between 1630 and 1640, some 20,000 people, many of them members of families with children, went to New England.
Springfield Congregational Church, around 1908

Henry Burt and many other migrants also left for religious reasons. In England, members of the Congregational church were persecuted for their beliefs. In New England, where they were known as Puritans, they could worship as they pleased and build a new society based on their religious values. Henry was undoubtedly a Puritan since records show he became a deacon, or lay leader, of the Congregational church in Springfield.

Henry was born around 1595, the son of clothier Henry Burt Sr. and his wife Isett. Henry Sr. died in 1617, leaving his son an orchard and gardens, a mansion house and several other houses that were rented out. 

He married Ulalia (sometimes spelled Eulalia) March on December 28, 1619, in the nearby parish of Dean-Prior.3 Ulalia had been born about 1600 to Richard March and Joan (Martyn?) of Sherford, Devon.4

Before they left England, the Burt family probably sold or rented most of their possessions to help raise money for the trip. They had to take along enough food to feed the family for a year, as well as clothing, tools, livestock and other basic supplies.

The average transatlantic voyage took eight to 10 weeks in a ship that carried about 100 people and their supplies. Most new immigrants stayed in the Boston area until they got their bearings, and the Burts were no different, settling in nearby Roxbury. Perhaps they wondered whether God had sent them a message when the Roxbury house in which they were living burned down in September, 1639.5

The following year, they settled in Springfield, on the Connecticut River. The land was fertile there and, like his new neighbours, Henry became a subsistence farmer. My eight-times great-grandfather, he eventually became one of the town’s leading citizens.

Henry first appeared in the town records when he was allotted a planting lot in 1641. He acquired further agricultural land grants in 1642, and in later years. The family home was on the town’s main street, and Henry acquired farmland on both sides of the river.

In 1644, Henry Burt and three other men were elected as selectmen, or town officials.6  Serving as a selectman for ten years between 1644 and 1655, he was responsible for handling local issues such as taxation, land distribution, fencing regulations and road building. When Henry became a freeman in 1648, he became eligible to vote.

In 1649, Henry became Springfield’s first Clerk of the Writs.7  This was an elected position that involved issuing summonses and recording births, marriages and deaths. He held this position continuously until his own death in 1662. He was also a deacon of the church and, for several years in the 1650s when the First Church of Springfield did not have a minister of its own, he was one of several men chosen to conduct services.8

Besides these activities, Henry had a large family to support. He must have been a hard worker, raising his own crops and livestock and, like many other Springfield inhabitants, working for merchant William Pynchon or his son John. Pynchon owned the only store for miles around, and he also owned the mill and the blacksmith shop. Pynchon generally paid employees in store credits, and Henry purchased precious nails, a pane of glass and the occasional treat, such as sugar.

Henry and Ulalia had a total of 13 children, nine of whom were born in England, and two of whom died there. Daughter Hannah, the first of their children to be born in New England, married John Bagg in 1657. She was my direct ancestor.

When Henry died on April 31, 1662, he left part of his estate to son Nathaniel and the rest to his widow. His possessions were valued at 181 pounds, while his debts, primarily to merchant John Pynchon, came to 50 pounds.
Ulalia lived another 28 years, dying Aug. 29, 1690, but she prepared her will six years before her death. She listed individual bequests including a heifer for daughter Mary, two cows for daughter Sarah and, to daughter Abigail, a cloak, a green apron, a coat and a shift. Daughter Patience received her red stockings. Ulalia divided her land, cattle and kettles between her sons and requested that the rest of her estate be divided according to the needs of her survivors.9

Ulalia’s will did not mention daughter Hannah Bagg or Hannah’s husband John because both were already deceased, but she did want granddaughter Abilene Bagg to receive two yards of cloth.

This article is also posted on

See also:
Janice Hamilton, “John Bagg of Springfield, Massachusetts,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 22, 2018,

I was able to find an amazing amount of detail about Henry Burt’s life thanks to the careful record-keeping of the early settlers of Springfield, and to the fact that, 120 years ago, another Burt descendant used those records to write two books about the Burt family and the town of Springfield.

For background on New England’s Great Migration, see You can find details on the individuals who moved to New England between 1620 and 1640 in the multi-volume study of the Great Migration published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and members of the NEHGS can access the society’s extensive online database.

The children of Henry and Ulalia Burt were:10
Sarah, b. Harberton 1620/21, m. 1. Judah Gregory of Springfield, 2. Henry Wakley of Hartford and Stratford, Ct.  Sarah was living in 1689.
Abigail, b. in England about 1623, m. 1. Francis Ball of Springfield, Mass. In 1644 2. Benjamin Munn of Springfield in 1649, 3. Lieut Thomas Stebbins, in 1676.
Jonathan, bapt. Harberton 1624/25. d. 1715.  m 1. Elizabeth Lobbell, in Boston, 1651, 2. Deliverance Hanchet, 1686.
Samuel, buried Harberton, 1625.
David, bapt Harberton, 1629, d. 1690. moved to Northampton. m. Mary Holton, 1655.
Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1632, buried there 1634
Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1635, d. 1689; m. William Brooks in 1654 of Springfield and Deerfield, Mass.
Nathaniel, bapt Harberton c. 1637, d. 1720; m. Rebecca Sikes, 1662.
Elizabeth, bapt. Harberton, 1638, m. 1. Samuel Wright Jr. of Springfield and Northampton, 2. Nathaniel Dickinson of Hatfield, Mass.
Hannah, b. Springfield, 1641 m. 1657, John Bagg of Springfield.
Dorcas, b. New England, 1643?, m. 1658, John Stiles of Windsor, Ct.
Patience born Springfield, 1645, m. 1667 John Bliss of Northampton and Springfield.
Mercy, b. 1647, Springfield, m. 1. 1666/7 Judah Wright of Northampton and Springfield.

1. 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. 92-93.
2. George Skelton Terry, “Genealogical Research in England: Burt-March” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1932, vol. 86, Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-, p. 218. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)
3. Terry, Ibid, p. 83.
4. Mary Lovering Holman, Ancestry of Colonel Harrington Stevens and his wife Frances Helen Miller, compiled for Helen Pendleton (Winston) Pillsbury, 1948, privately printed, p. 365.
5. Terry, Ibid, p. 219.
6. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 85.
7. 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. 45-46.
8. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 87.
9. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 93.
10. Terry, Ibid. p. 219. 

Photo Sources: 

Hannah's birth: Henry M. Burt, Silas W. Burt. Early Days in New England. Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants. p. 115.

Henry's death: Henry M. Burt, Silas W. Burt. Early Days in New England. Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants. p. 91.