John Endecott, (1588-1665), regarded as one of the Fathers of New England1, was also the longest serving Governor of Massachusetts. He served a total of 16 years, including most of the last 15 years of his life. When not serving as governor, he was involved in other elected and appointed positions from 1628-1665—except for the single year of 1634.
For the general reader to be able to understand John Endecott, the first step is to understand his times. King Henry VIII split the English Church away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1533 and, through the Act of Supremacy, became the head of the Church of England the following year.2 This was the beginning of a conflict between religions, kings, and queens that would continue for the next 150 years. In about 1560, the Puritans emerged. These were persons in the Church of England who sought a more thorough reformation within the church than had been provided under Queen Elizabeth I and her Tudor predecessors. They were not united and included Anglicans, Separatists, and Congregationalists.3
In 1584, the Separatist Robert Brown published his “Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Any,” This will become the basis for the society established in theMassachusetts Bay Colony some 48 years later. 4 In 1590, Archbishop Whitgift arrested scores of nonconformist Puritans and Presbyterians and charged them with sedition. 5 This was followed with the arrests of Nonconformists who denied the royal supremacy and worshipped in independent congregations. A total of nine of them were hanged. 6 Finally, at the Hampton Court Conference convened by King James I in 1604, the pleas of the Presbyterians were all rejected and Archbishop William Laud began persecutions of the Puritans.7 This was the nature of the world as John Endecott experienced it in the early seventeenth century and led to his growing belief that the Puritans needed to leave England and find a place where they could establish a society that more closely conformed to Puritan beliefs and practices. That would be the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While his defense of Puritan society may have later become overzealous, there is little doubt that what he experienced in England from childhood on led him to his hatred for the King’s government and the Church of England.
Over the first two decades of the 21st Century, a great deal of new information regarding the family of John Endecott has been discovered that overturns much of what was assumed to be true about his early life. These discoveries provide new insights into his life and times.They include the Church Wardens’ Accounts of St. Michael’s Church in Chagford, 1480-1600; an in-depth research effort into the search of family records held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; a new interpretation of the work of Sir Roper Lethbridge, and on-the-ground research in the County of Devon spread over the period 1980 to 2013.
John Endecott, (1490-1562), the great-great-grandfather of Governor John Endecott (1588-1665), came to Chagford from his father’s home in South Tawton and was living as a tenant with his wife at Throston (Drewston Manor) by 1515.8 All five of his children were born there. In his early years he became involved with the tin mining industry. In 1523, he served as a church warden alongside John Yoldon, the owner of Middlecott Manor which had its own tin works.9 In 1528, John Endecott purchased Middlecott from John Yoldon. Another church warden in 1526 was William Bennett, who owned Drewston Manor.10 He sold it to John Endecott in 1630, and John gave it to his eldest son, Henry Endecott (1515-1585). John then moved to Middlecott Manor. Henry Endecott was the great-grandfather of Governor John Endecott.11
By 1532, John Endecott (1490-1562) had achieved status and wealth in Chagford. In that year, he was serving as a Jurate for the Chagford Stannary at the Great Court held at Crockern Tor on 28 October 1532 and again on 25 September 1533.12 The Stannary of Chagford had been established by King Edward I (1239-1307) in 1305 along with two othertowns. They were to receive and process tin as a monopoly and were shown exceptional favor through the establishment of Stannary Courts with jurisdiction over the civil and legal affairs of those involved in the mining operations. They also had membership in the Stannary Parliament. The mayor of each Stannary Town chose 24 Jurates, who served as legislators and judicial magistrates at the Great Court. Membership came from miners, tin workers, and those with financial interests in the tin industry.13
John Endecott also continued to buy lands and properties in the Chagford area. Sir Thomas Denys, Knight and Kings Councilor, sold John all of his lands in Boadon, Little Cranbrook, Northwest Cranbrook, Cranbrook Downs, and Leigh Parkes in Morton Hampstead.14
John Endecott continued to live at Middlecott Manor for the remainder of his life. When he died in 1562, he passed along a great fortune to his eldest son, Henry Endecott.
Henry Endecott (1515-1585) was the great-grandfather of Governor John Endecott. While hi s father had moved to Middlecott Manor in 1530 after buying Drewston Manor for Henry, there was no move by Henry from Drewston for the next 34 years. He first appeared on the scene in Chagford in 1626 when he served as a Church Warden for a single day during the feast day of St. Crispus and St. Crispianus. 15 He was 11 years old at the time
During his life, Henry Endecott continued to maintain the wealth of the family and improve their social status even as commoners. He married the first time in about 1540, wife’s name unknown, and there were three boys and two girls that came from this marriage. After the death of his first wife, he married Margery Hals. There were no more children from this marriage.
The eldest daughter of Henry Endecott was named Katherine, and she had married John Downe who died. Then she married Edward Knapman, son of William Knapman and the fourth grandson of William Knapman of Throwleigh (c. 1500-1563).16 Edward Knapman had an older brother, Alexander Knapman (1545-1618), who married Anna, the daughter of Sir John Whiddon (1508-1576), Knight of Throwleigh.17 The daughter of Alexander and Anna, Alice Knapman, married Robert Lethbridge of Nymet Tracy. These four families, Whiddon, Endecott, Knapman, and Lethbridge owned most of the tin-mining land in the Stannary of Chagford and were related by marriages. The Endecott family rose from its more humble social status and became regular associates of the local power elite.
In 1564, the eldest son of Henry Endecott, John Endecott (1541-1635) married Johanna (c. 1543-1637) in Chagford. As a wedding gift, Henry presented his son with Drewston Manor and moved to the family estate at Middlecott Manor. When Henry died in 1585, John inherited Middlecott Manor as well as the large tin mining properties in the area including the Cranbrook properties purchased by his grandfather. John Endecott was the Grandfather of Governor John Endecott.
John Endecott (1541-1630) and others in his family remained active in the affairs of St. Michael’s Church in Chagford. In 1591, he was one of the head wardens, along with James Vogwil, as receivers of the charitable gifts for the poor and for the repairing and maintaining of the parish church. Late in the year, on 19 December, he and Vogwil “granted unto Barnabe Hore the 32nd part of a certain tinwork called Tawemarshe from the date hereof until the end and term that shall rise upon the 32nd part.”18 John continued to serve the church for the remainder of the century and was a warden in 1593, 1594, 1597, and 1598.19 It is probable that John Endecott continued serving the church well into the next century since he lived until 1635 but the accounts for those years no longer exist.
1. Jacob B. Moore. Memoirs of American Governors. New York: Gates and Stedman. 136 Nassau Street. 1846. 362.
2. Susan Doran. The Tudor Chronicles 1485-1503. New York, NY: Metro Books, 2008, p. 155.
3. Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 18. Puritanism. London: William Benton, Publisher. 1967. 879.
4. John C.L. Giessler. A Text Book of Church History. Volume IV. The Reformation and Its Results, 1517-1648. New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers. 340.
5. Doran. The Tudor Chronicles. 370.
6. Ibid. 374-375.7 Jenkins. A Short History of England. 166-168
9. Ibid. 70.
10. Ibid. 78.
11. Ibid. 82.
12. Anonymous. All the Statutes of the Stannary. London. William Serer. 1562. (Only known copy at Huntington Library, San Martino, California. Information provided by Tom Greeves of Devon to David Diamond and Teddy Sanford in 2014.
13. G.R. Lewis, “The Stannary. A Study of the Medieval Tin Miners of Cornwell and Devon.” 1908.
14. M.A. Thomas. Morton Hampstead Enrolled Deed Number 102 dated 20 June 1540 (32 Henry VIII). Letter dated 5 October 1979 from M.A. Thomas to D.L. Endicott.
15. Osborne. The Church Wardens’ Accounts of St. Michael’s Church, Chagford, 1480-1600, p. 88.
16. David Knapman. An Account of All Known Instances of Families and Individuals Named Knapman in the 1840s and Their Origins. Compiled in May 2014.
17. Sir Roper Lethbridge. Hands Across the Sea:The Devonshire Ancestry and Early Homes of the Family of John Endecott, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, 1629.W.J. Southwood & Co. Catherine Street, Exeter, 1912, 18-19.
18. Osborne. The Church Wardens’ Accounts of St. Michael’s Church, Chagford, 1480-1600. 253
19. Ibid. 260-267