Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Charlestown Ferryman – John Burrage

B. 1616 in Norton Subcourse, England
M. (1) about 1639 in Massachusetts
Wife: Mary
M. (2) before 1655 in Massachusetts
Wife: Joanna Stowers
D. 19 Oct 1685 in Charlestown, Massachusetts

During the mid-17th century, the only way to travel between Boston and towns to the north was via a ferry operated by John Burrage. He was born in 1616 to Thomas Burrage and Frances Dey, in Norton Subcourse, a village of Norfolk, England, one of seven children. When he was 16, his father died. It isn't known what ship John took to America, but he turned up in Charlestown, Massachusetts by 1637. He acquired property in 1638 that bordered on the Charles River; it was at a point where Boston was a short distance across the water. He owned four acres of land with a house, garden, warehouse and wharf. He lived at this location until 1661, when he made an exchange of waterfront properties with a man named Richard Russell.

John married a woman named Mary in about 1639; her surname is unknown. They had four children born between 1640 and 1646. Mary died and John then married Joanna Stowers daughter of some of the first settlers of Charlestown. They had seven children born between 1655 and 1668. John was admitted as a freeman in Charlestown on May 18, 1642.

Sometime between 1648 and 1657, John began operating a ferry between Charlestown and Boston. He partnered with a man named Francis Hudson, who was based on the Boston side. John worked from his side of the river to take people to Boston in a small boat. The two men worked together for many years. When John moved in 1661, it was likely to have a more prime location for the ferry, since it was nearer to the center of business in Charlestown.

In addition to running the ferry, John was elected to serve as "clerk of the market" in Charlestown from 1658 to 1672. The market area was described in 1650: "Charlestown hath a large market place near the water side, built round with houses comely and fair, forth of which there issues two streets orderly built with some very fair houses beautified with pleasant gardens and orchards. The town consists in its extent of about a hundred and fifty dwelling houses. Their meeting house for Sabbath assembly, stands in the market place very comely built and large." It is believed that the market was held once a week there.

In the years following his tenure as clerk of the market, John was appointed "salt measurer" by town officials. He was also involved in a business venture with his oldest son John — they shipped horses to Barbados during the 1660s. John Jr. helped his father with his ferry business, but tragically died of small pox in 1677 at the age of 31.

By this time, John Sr. was suffering the effects of an accident that happened in around 1672 when he fell off a horse. His ferry partner Francis Hudson described that John had "so shattered his brains that he was never capable of managing any business after so long as he lived, so that I was forced to manage the whole affairs of the ferry for his wife and family." He said that John's mind was so muddled, that when strangers asked where the ferry boat was, he would get angry and say such things as, "She has not been here in one thousand years."

In this condition and with his older brother John Jr. dead, John's middle son William tried to take title of all of his father's property, and on October 23, 1678, John signed everything over to William. John died on October 19, 1685 and the other surviving children contested the title. The court sided with the family, but it wasn't finalized until May 2, 1694. The inventory of John's estate amounted to over £246.

Famous descendants of John Burrage include former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bartlett Giamatti and actor Paul Giamatti.

Children by Mary:
1. Mary Burrage – B. 8 Mar 1640, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. 30 Nov 1680, Billerica, Massachusetts; M. John Marshall (1645-1702)

2. Hannah Burrage – B. 14 Dec 1643, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. 7 Jun 1667; M. John French (~1635-1712), 3 Jul 1662, Billerica, Massachusetts

3. Elizabeth Burrage – B. about 1644, Charlestown, Massachusetts; M. (1) Thomas Deane (?-1677); (2) John Poor (~1636-1686)

4. John Burrage – B. 1646, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. Jun 1677, Charlestown, Massachusetts; M. Susannah Cutler, 15 Jun 1675

Children by Joanna Stowers:
1. Nathaniel Burrage – B. Dec 1655, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. 21 Dc 1656, Charlestown, Massachusetts

2. William Burrage – B. 10 Jun 1657, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. 1720; M. Sarah ______

3. Sarah Burrage – B. 24 Nov 1658, Charlestown, Massachusetts; M. William Johnson

4. Bethiah Burrage – B. 23 May 1661, Charlestown, Massachusetts

5. Thomas Burrage – B. 26 May 1663, Charlestown, Massachusetts; D. 11 Mar 1718; M. Elizabeth Breed (?-1709), 30 Nov 1687

6. Ruth Burrage – B. 28 Feb 1664, Charlestown, Massachusetts; M. Ignatius White

7. Joanna Burrage – D. 16 Jun 1668, Charlestown, Massachusetts

The Burrage Memorial, Alvah Augustus Burrage, 1877
History of New England, Gorham Palfrey, 1858
GeneaStar: Famous Family Tree and Genealogy [website]

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