Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Smith Family in Sudbury, MA

The inheritance laws of Great Britain, source of the majority of immigrants to the northern colonies during the "Great Migration" of 1620-1640, were based on primogeniture - inheritance of land by the oldest son. (In the absence of sons, daughters would inherit, but the practice of the day was to keep plugging away until a male heir and a spare were produced.) Younger sons joined the military, the Church, took up a trade, or sought their fortune elsewhere.

In Massachusetts Bay Colony and the other northern colonies the practice of multigeniture - dividing the family property among several children, took hold. Early landowners in expansion towns, such as Sudbury (established 1639) were granted more land than they could manage. As time passed, the land could be divvied amongst several sons, the oldest oft times getting the largest share. Economically, 30 acres was about as small as possible for a functional farmstead, so land was rarely divided into smaller bits unless a site also encompassed a trade - for example, a mill, smithy or tavern.

The colonies also saw the practice of ultimogeniture - whence the youngest child (son or married daughter) stayed to inherit the household, including care of the aging parents, while allowing older sons opportunity to succeed elsewhere. This practice thrived when there was a surplus of land and a system of official expansion. John Maynard, for example, was one of the early landowners in Sudbury, in the 1640s; his oldest son was one of the early settlers of the new town of Marlborough in 1660. Five generations later, Amory Maynard left Marlborough for Assabet Village, and was buying land from the Smiths.

THE MEN OF THE SMITH FAMILY (see below for wives' maiden names)

John Smith (1622-1687), another early settler in Sudbury, was a contemporary of John Maynard. [John was a very common first name - 21 of the 76 men who settled originally Sudbury went by it.] Smith came over in 1638. Sudbury History Society records have him swearing the Oath of Loyalty in 1645 and marrying Sarah Hunt in 1647. When Sudbury was extended north to the Assabet River, he was among the men getting a 130 acre lot.

There is an interesting note in A.S. Hudson's History of Sudbury 1638-1889 wherein Smith and four other men were granted the right to operate a saw mill on Hop Brook, with the caveat that they not retain water behind a dam or operate the mill between the middle of April and the first of September. The intent here was that whatever water was entering the brook should pass through for the use by downstream farmers.

Asa Smith, one of Haman's sons,
sold this house on Summer Hill Road
 to Amory Maynard in 1846
John Smith's land went to youngest son, Thomas, and in turn to his youngest son, Amos, and in turn to his two youngest sons, Benjamin and Jonathan. Benjamin left a farmstead to his youngest son, Haman. Haman broke the pattern by deeding farms to each of his four sons, but by then (circa 1850) all the nearby new land had been settled. 

As noted in last week's column on the oldest houses in Maynard, by the late 1700s, when this area was still part of Sudbury and Stow, the Smiths were buying more land and building substantial houses along Great Road (now Route 117). Two generations later the Smiths were still a major presence in what was becoming the fast growing Assabet Village, selling land to Amory Maynard and his partner William Knight, and signing one of the petitions to create the new town that came to be named Maynard in 1871. Glenwood cemetery holds graves of at least 60 Smiths, and there are dozens of people with last name Smith living in Maynard today. It's a good bet that some of them are direct descendants of the John Smith who crossed the Atlantic 377 years ago.

Trying to trace immigrant John Smith's genealogy upstream gets very murky very quickly. It appears that in Watertown, the parent town for Sudbury, there were two John Smiths, one at times going by the name John Bland. Both are mentioned as being the father of the John Smith who moved to Sudbury.

Using the Smith (not-Bland) genealogy, the ancestors are another John, another John, then William Smith, a resident of Stratford-on-Avon at about William Shakespeare's time, but apparently not the William Smith who was godfather to Shakespeare. ( I said it was murky.)


All the genealogy to this point is about men named Smith, as the bulk of records (and inheritances) are patrilineal. Here is what is available for the women they married:

John Smith (1599-1669) married Sarah Homan (1595-1629)

John Smith (1622-1687) married Sarah Hunt (1627-????)
   Thomas Smith (1658-1718) married to Abigail Rice (1657-1735)
   Amos Smith (1699-1786) married Susanna Holman (1702-1778)
      Benjamin Smith (1741-1819) married Lucy Maynard (1741-1816) 
          Haman Smith married to Nancy Noyes
              Four sons: George, William, Dexter, Asa
      Jonathan Smith
          Two sons: Levi, Noah

The Lucy Maynard who married Benjamin Smith was not a known relative of Amory Maynard. One of the puzzlements here is there are better birth and death dates for the 1600s and 1700s than for those who were alive in the 1800s. Also, there is a monument in Glendale Cemetery for Benjamin F. Smith, 1844-1877 that mentions wife Ellen and two children who died very young. No idea if this B. Smith descends from those listed above.  

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