Thomas, a farmer, was born most probably in Gloucestershire, England about 1590. The particular location of his birth within Gloucestershire is not known, however numerous Bliss records are traced to the Painswick area which has been termed "Bliss Country" by other researchers. He resided in Rodborough, Gloucestershire at one time, and a son Nathaniel was born there. However, there were very few Blisses resident at Rodborough at that time and in fact no Bliss testators lived there during Thomas' stay. It was not the place of his birth nor the place of his ancestors. The reason for his presence was one Margaret Hulins (or Hulings) of Rodborough whom he married in about 1617.
The particulars of the family's arrival in New England are not known, though tradition has preserved a date of 1635. Evidently they lived first at Mount Wollaston (then a part of Boston, now belonging to Braintee), and subsequently removed to Hartford, Connecticut. However, there is nothing to prove these statements. It does, however, appear that Thomas was in America at the time of his father-in-law's death. In February of 1640 he had his land entered into the Hartford records and on one parcel "his dwelling house now standeth." This would indicate that he had been a resident of Hartford for some time, and for lack of any earlier evidence of his presence in America, his arrival in New England was probably in 1638, early enough for the construction of a dwelling house and late enough to not tempt the reality of John Hulins' will, which makes no reference to his daughter residing anywhere but Rodborough. There is, of course, the possibility that Margaret Bliss joined her husband after her father's will had been written. Evidence of Thomas's presence at Hartford prior to 1640 is found in the following excerpt from the Hartford Book of Distributions:
Anno dom: 1639
One parcell on which his dwellinge house now standeth with yards or gardnes therein being Contayninge to Estimation two roods (more or less) Abuttinge on the highway leading from John Barnards land toward the North on the west & on Thom Richards land on the North & on Thom Blisse jun: land on the South & on Paul Pecks land on the East.
Thomas and his son, Thomas, Jr., were mentioned in a few other land records. At the division of the lands on the east side of the Great River in 1641, "Thomas Blysse Senior" was given six acres and "Thomas Blysee junior" was given four acres.
Thomas made little impression on the public life of Hartford. He held no public office (though belonging at the time of his arrival to the age-group most liable to civic responsibilities). He had not been among the first comers, and hence held no regular rights of proprietorship. He pleaded but one minor court case, and was himself presented once only for being absent from military training: "March the 4th, 1646. Tho: Blisse for not trayneing, is fyned 2s. 6d." From this account he was probably then under 60 years old, but from the apparent ages of his older children, he was at least over 50.
Thomas died either very late in 1650 or early in 1651 at Hartford. He was possessed of 58 acres of land and the house lot was on a highway west of the present Lafayette Street in Hartford. His estate was inventoried at a meager 86 pounds, 12 shillings and 8 pence on February 14, 1650/51, but since four older children were already married, it is likely that their portions of the estate had already been distributed. Thomas had not written a will, but instead recited it orally to his wife, with his daughter, Mary Parsons, as a witness. As recorded and witnessed by John Pynchon and Henry Smith at the time of his estate's inventory, his will was as follows:
feb: 14th 1650/51. mary parsons of Springfeild the daughter of Thomas Bliss late of Hartford deceased, doth testifie, that when her father lay on his death bed Shee heard her mother Aske him, how hee would dispose of his estate, hee Answered hee would giue it to her, who should haue it elce, her mother asked him if hee would not dispose of it to his Children, her father Answered againe no, her mother Should haue it, this Shee Shall bee ready to testifie if Called therevnto. wittness John Pincheon Hen: Smith.
The Inventory of the goods Chattells and Cattles of Thomas Bliss of Hartford deceased taken by Joseph mygatt and Nathaniell warde this 14th febr. 1650/51.
The New England experience of this man appears, in sum, undistinguished. However, his earlier life may well have been very different. Such at least is the traditional story of the Bliss family during the years just prior to their departure from England. Unfortunately, the story comes down without firm documentation, and is included here only for interest.
Tradition has it that Thomas Bliss, the emigrant, was the son and name-sake of a well-to-do, locally influential citizen in the village of Belstone, county Devonshire. In the opening decades of the 17th century the father, Thomas, Sr. had become a determined advocate of the Puritan cause and had participated with like-minded neighbors in the acts of protest against religious oppression. On one particular occasion, he and three of his sons (George, Jonathan and Thomas, Jr.) had accompanied a party, led by the local member of parliament, in riding up to London to engage both king and archbishop in direct confrontation. The upshot was their imprisonment and the levying of heavy fines (said to have been in excess of £1000) in lieu of their freedom. Payment of the fines required the virtual liquidation of the family estate, and even then there was not enough money to free all four Blisses. Thus one of the sons, Jonathan, remained in jail some while longer, was severely whipped in the public square at Exeter, and never thereafter recovered his health.
Impoverished and broken in his own health, Thomas, Sr. subsequently returned to Belstone and lived in the household of his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Calcliffe. She was the wife of a knighted gentleman who had remained a regular communicant of the Anglican church (thus avoiding persecution). As the crisis of the realm deepened, the father summoned his sons, divided among them what patrimony he still retained, and advised them to remove to New England. Thomas, Jr. and George left soon thereafter; Jonathan was too ill to join them, but sent at least one of his sons in their care. During the years that followed, Lady Calcliffe sought to help her relatives across the sea by sending them periodic shipments of clothing and food. And it was in her personal correspondence -- regrettably, long since lost -- that this part of the Bliss family history was remembered for succeeding generations.
On Feburary 20, 1650/51, the Particular Court gave Margaret full power to administer the estate "if Shee So long Continue a widdow." Margaret, daughter of John Hulins/Hulings and Margaret (____), was born ca 1595. It is evident that she was a woman of more than ordinary force of character. Some of her older children had already settled at Springfield, Massachusetts at the time of Thomas' death, leaving her with the sole care of seven children still in their minority. Margaret wasted no time taking over the management of her husband's estate, and removing with her younger children to Springfield.
Under the date of "Jan ye 22th 1651/2" she appeared as a grantee of three acres "on Pacowsick beginning at ye lower end" in the Springfield Town Votes. She also acquired seven acres on the west side of the Great River opposite her house lot, nineteen and one half acres in Longmeadow, four acres in the same general area, five acres in the second division over Agawam River and three acres on Pacowsick Brook. This estate is bounded today by Main Street on the east, the Connecticut River on the west, Margaret Street on the north and Fremont Street on the south.
Margaret's widowhood would last for another three decades. Her resources at the outset were relatively meager, but she managed - more than managed - with what she had. She made particularly effective use of the courts. She filed, and won, lawsuits on a variety of counts and charges. At the Particular Court of Connecticut "Goody Bliss of Hartford", having received her administration powers, brought suit against William Ayers for the unlawful detaining and wrongful selling of her cow on March 7, 1650/1. Margaret also sued "for damage done in her Indian corn by [the defendant's] swine"; for [defects in] ditching and quick-setting a hedge in her meadow"; for "debt to the value of 35 shillings"; and (this one against the town of Springfield) "for the annoyance she receives by the passage of the water to the mill." She served as guardian to at least two of her grandsons (and sometimes went into court to protect their interests). Her estate, when probated in 1684, came to £278 - an increase of more than three times the amount of her husband's inventory. It made an unusual record by any standards - and, for a widow, perhaps a unique one.
Margaret died August 28, 1684. On September 30, 1684, her son Samuel, of Springfield, presented her last will and inventory of her estate to the Hampshire County Court. Her will read as follows:
At the Countie Corte in Springfield Sept: 30: 1684
I, Margaret Blisse of Springfield, being by Gods Good hand of Providence kept alive to this present day, & being aged, & not Knowing how soone the Lord may call me out of this world, I Knowing that I ow a debt to Nature, I thought It my duty to Settle my Estate that soe I may the freelyer Leave this World, when God shal cal me home.
And First I shal declare my faith & Leave it with my surviveing children, wch is this. That I doe beleive in the free mrcy of God the father, in & through the merites of God the Son my blessed Redeemr, & In Gd the Holy Ghost the Applyer of al that Good Jesus Christ hath purchased for his People: I believe the Resurrection both of the Just & the Unjust, & That we must al stand before the Judgment Seate of Christ, My Body I comitt to the Earth to be decently buried at the discretion of my Executor (hereafter Named). And now being of sound and pfect mind & memory doe bestow my Estate, wch God hath graciously given me in manner & forme followinge
First, I haveing given Something Considerable formerly to my son John Blisse, & under the consideration thereof, I do in this my Last wil & Testamt give to him the said John Bliss no more but this wch followeth (being sufficient wth what he has had alreadie) That is to say Twenty pounds to be paid to him, wth in Two yeeres after my decease, & that shalbe paid him in Cattle or Corne, as it passeth betweene man &: man, & also that four acres of land he bought of mee in the Long Medow wch I was never paid for, I do now give that to him.
Item, I give to my son Lawrence's Son, Samll. Blisse my seven acres of Land in the necke over the River, onely he the said Samuel shal pay to Each of his sisters Two pounds:
Item, I give to my grandson Nathaneel Morgan Three pounds wn he comes to the age of Twentie yeares.
Item, I give to my daughter Parsons, And my daughter Scot my weareing clothes, bedding & household Stuffe, onely my Bason, I give to my son Samuel's daughter Hannah.
Item, I give to my Daughter Scot five poundes, & if my Cowes doe live, & I be not forced to sel them for my necessity, I then give one of them to my Grandson John Scot:
Item, All the Rest & Residue of my Personal Estate goods Lands housing Cattell whatsoever I have in Springfeild or else where, I do give and bequeath to my Loveing son Samuel Blisse & his heeres for ever, & if his wife Mary Blisse shal survive my son, then she shall have a Third part of my Land during the time of her Widowhood, & then to Return it to my sons children as He shall see good to bestow it on ym. And him the said Samuel Blisse, I do make full & Sole Executor of this my last Wil & Testament, & I do revoke disannul & make voide al formr Wills & Testaments, by me heretofore made. In witnes whereof, I Margaret Bliss do to this my Last Wil & Testament Set my hand & Seale
Widow Margaret Bliss, with her Seale affixt. Widow Margaret Blisse declared thisWriting her Last wil & Testamt & being of Good & Sound understanding, Subscribed her hand, & seale theretoe, all being fully & distinctly Read to her, she declareing her satisfaction & Resting in his her last Disposure of her Estate: in Testimony whereof we here unto set or hands: this 25th of June: 1684:
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See lineage of Bliss Family
Read the Biography of Thomas's son, Nathaniel Bliss
Read the Biography of Thomas's daughter, Mary Bliss Parsons, who was accused of witchcraft
Read the Biography of Thomas's grandson, Samuel Bliss
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