Rev. Henry Smith

Henry was born in England about 1600. His origin has not been ascertained. He may have been the Henry Smith who matriculated from Kings College, Cambridge, A.B., 1619/20, Fellow of Kings. A letter written by his son, Samuel Smith, from Hadley, Massachusetts, January 1, 1698/9, to his own son states:

My Revered Father was an ordained Minister of ye Gospelle, educate at Cambridge in England & Came to yis Land by reason of ye Great persecution by which ye infamous Archbishop Laud and ye Black Tom Tyrante (as Mr. Russell was always wont to call ye Earl of Stratforde) did cause ye reign of his Majestie Charles ye Firste to loose favour in Watertown which is neare Boston, & after a year or two to Weathersfield on ye great River, where he became ye firste settled pastor...My Parents had broughte bothe Men Servants & Maid Servants from England...I so well remember ye Face & Figure of my Honoured Father. He was 5 foote, 10 inches talle & spare of builde, tho not leane. He was as Active as ye Red Skin Men and sinewy. His delighte was in sportes of strength & withe his own Hands he did helpe to reare bothe our owne House & ye Firste Meetinge House of Weathersfield, wherein he preacht yeares too fewe. He was well Featured & Fresh Favoured with faire Skin & longe curling Hair (as neare all of us have had) with a merrie eye & swete smilinge Mouthe, tho he coulde frowne sternlie eno' when need was...My Mother & Sister did each of em kill more yan one of ye gray Howlers [wolves] & once my oldest Sister shot a Beare yt came too neare ye House. He was a good Fatte onne & keept us all in meate for a good while. I guess one of her Daughters has got ye skinne. As most of ye Weathersfield settlers did come afoot throu ye Wilderness & brought with em such things only as they did most neede at ye firste ye other Things was sent round from Boston in Vessels to come up the River to us. Some of the shippes did come safe to Weathersfield, but many were lost in a grate storm. Amongst em was onne wch held alle our Beste Things. A good many Yeares later, long after my Father had died of the grate Fever & my Mother had married Mr. Russell & moved to Hadley, it was found yt some of our Things had been saved & keept in ye Fort wch is by ye River's Mouthe, & they was brought to us. Most of em was spoilt with Sea water and Moulde especially ye Bookes & ye Plate. Of this there was no grate store, only ye Tankard, wch I have, and some spoones divided amongst my sisters, wch was alle so black it was long before any could come to its owne colour agen, & Mr. Russell did opine yt had it not been so it might not have founde us agen, but he was sometimes a little shorte of ye Charity wch thinketh no Evil, at ye least I was wont to think so when his Hand was too heavy on my Shoulders & I remembered ye sweetness & ye Charity of my firste Father...

Henry's wife was Dorothy (____) whom he married some time before 1622 while still in England. According to his son, Henry had come from England to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1636 or 1637, and had moved on to Connecticut "after a year or two." Thus he may have been one of the several early preachers at Wethersfield, although he was not "settled" in the pulpit there until at least 1641. Henry was involved in controversy almost from his first days in Wethersfield.

The Pequot War was barely over when Wethersfield began experiencing another sort of difficult. The church was not only divided from the town, but those elders who ran the church were divided among themselves. Outside mediation proved unhelpful. The next few years witnessed a massive exodus from Wethersfield in response to the mood of alienation. In 1639 a dozen families moved off to the new settlement of Milford. Others left soon after for New Haven, Guilford, Stratford, and Saybrook. In the summer of 1641, the biggest removal of all took place when some thirty-five families left Connecticut altogether. To this point in the history of Wethersfield, the dominant theme was instability. The original leadership of the town was badly fragmented; three ministers had come and gone. The church was so badly decimated that its very existence was briefly in doubt.

The church remained an arena of conflict for some while longer, even with a new man, Rev. Henry Smith, in the pastorate. In 1643 the differences within the membership became once again "exceedingly great." The pastor himself was the central issue, and the General Court advised, after "sad and serious consideration," that "the best way for recovering and preserving the public peace is that Mr. Smith lay down his place.

This was the recommendation, in April 1643, of a court-appointed committee on the troubles at Wethersfield. Since Rev. Smith declined to leave, controversy continued through the following summer; in July the magistrates established new ad hoc procedures "that the differences may be ripened...and a final end put thereunto." As a result "many complaints [were] made wherein Mr. Smith was accused and judge to lie under much guilt. But upon a full was found that most of their accusations were mistakes, wherein Mr. Smith was much wronged, both by false reports and unjust surmises." Thus, in November, it was ordered that "whosoever...shall hereafter...continue or renew any of the former complaints wherein [Mr. Smith] hath been cleared by this CourtÉshall forfeit to the county ten pounds for every such offense." For once, in the annals of 17th century Connecticut, a policy of forcible suppression of conflict seems to have achieved the desired results.

At least a dozen families left Wethersfield at about this time to found the new settlement of Branford. Eventually, the trouble was resolved (or at least scaled down), and Henry stayed on as minister until his death several years later.

In the winter of 1640 the court was obliged to mediate "a difference...between Mr. Smith and some others of Wethersfield, about the measure of some ground." In November, 1643 three men from Wethersfield were fined for "divulging and setting [their] hand to a writing, called a declaration, tending to the defamation of Mr. Smith," and two others for "proferring a role of diverse grievances against Mr. Smith, and failing of proof in the prosecution thereof."

The years 1647 and 1648 brought to New England a heavy siege of "epidemical sickness." This may have been the cause of Henry's own death, which occurred in 1648. Wethersfield lost two other leading men to the epidemics that year as well. Was it merely a coincidence that 1648 also brought the first "proven" witch trial to Wethersfield?

Henry's will, dated May 8, 1648, reads:

I Henry Smith, of Wethersfield, being at present in health of body and soundness of minde, considering my mortality, and knoweing it to be my duty to provide for my family and settle my estate, that I may leave no occasion of trouble to my children when I am gone, and that I may be free my self from distractions of this kind, if it shall please God to visit mee with sickness before I dye; I doe therefore leave this testimony vppon Record as my last Will and Testament. Then, for my outward estate, wch, because it is little and I have well proved the difficultyes of this Country, how hard a thinge it will be for a woman to manage the affaires of so great a family as the Father of Mercyes hathe blessed me withall, and have had alsso experience of the prudence and faithfullness of my deare wife, who shall, in parting with me, parte with a great parte of her livelihood, I give to my wife full power to dispose of all my estate in howses, Lands, Cattell and Goods whatsoever, within dores and without, only providing if she marry again, or otherwise be able comfortably to spare it from her owne necessary maintenance, that she give to my sonne Samuell that part of my howselott which was intended for my sonee Peregrine lyinge next to the burying place, and the land I have beyond the great River eastward, and also to him and my 2nd sonne Noah, 5 acres apeece of meadow, with upland proportionable thereunto; and to the rest of my children unmarried, £20 apeece at the age of 21 yeares, or at the time of her death wch shall come the soonest; and for my two daughters that bee married, my desire is that they have £20 apeece, and every one of their children £5 apeece, either in books or such other thing my wife shall best please to parte withall. And I desire the Church, whose serviant I now am, to take an ouersight of my family, that they may be brought vp in the true feare of God, and to see that this my will bee faithfully prformed. Henry Smith.

After Henry's death, Dorothy married John Russell as his second wife. John was baptized at Cretingham, Suffolk, England, February 26, 1597/8 and died at Hadley, MA, May 8, 1680, aged 83. Dorothy removed to Hadley with her new husband and there made her will in 1682. It was proved on December 22, 1694. It disposes a decent estate to her son Samuel (executor), daughter Dorothy Hall, and daughter Mary Smith. The last was her son Samuel's wife, and she evidently made her home with Samuel after John Russell's death.

I'd be happy to exchange family information.
Please send e-mail to Sam Behling.

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