Monday, March 12, 2012

Beachfront Home on Martha's Vineyard – Nicholas Butler

B.about 1595 in (probably) Eastwell, England
M. (1) 18 Jul 1613 in Canterbury, England
Wife: Mary Cotterell
M. (2) 22 Jan 1624 in Ashford, England
Wife: Joyce Baker
D. 13 Aug 1671 Edgartown, Massachusetts
Emigrated: June 1637 on the ship Hercules

Nothing is known of Nicholas Butler’s background other than that he came from Eastwell, England (which was in Kent), and he was born in about 1595. On July 18, 1613, he married Mary Cotterell in Canterbury. They had three children who died young, then Mary died in 1623. Nicholas married Joyce Baker in Ashford on January 22, 1624, and they had four children (one died young). In June 1637, the family migrated to the Massachusetts Bay colony on the ship Hercules, along with five servants, which suggests that Nicholas was a man of some wealth.

Once in America, Nicholas lived at Dorchester. His son Henry attended Harvard and graduated in 1651. Nicholas moved to Martha’s Vineyard about this time; he first appeared on a document there regarding the division of some land on May 8, 1653. Nicholas settled in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard and was named magistrate in 1653, then assistant to the chief magistrate in 1655. He was called “Mr. Butler” or “Mr. Nicholas Butler” in the records, which wasn’t usually done for lower ranking men. In December 1661, Nicholas was fined for absence from a town meeting and “for Going away Disorderly.”

Nicholas lived on twenty acres of beachfront property near Swimming Place Point. At one time or another, he owned seven other parcels of land on Martha’s Vineyard, including nine acres on Chappaquiddick. His son John had property next to him. His other son, Henry, returned to England and lived out his life there as a preacher.

On August 12, 1671, Nicholas made out his will, a very brief document that left everything for his wife to decide on later. He signed the will with a mark, which was accompanied by an explanation, “his sight as it were gon,” which probably meant he was blind when the document was written and could no longer sign his name. He died the following day. The inventory of his estate was sparse and amounted to only about £92. It may have been that he gave most of his possessions away to his children before he died. Nicholas’ wife Joyce left a much more detailed will when she died in 1680, naming many grandchildren as beneficiaries.

Famous descendants of Nicholas Butler include Wild Bill Hickock.

The History of Martha's Vineyard, Vol. II & III, Charles E. Banks, 1911
Glover Memorials and Genealogies, Anna Glover, 1867
Palmer Groups: John Melvin of Charlestown and Concord, Mass., Emily Wilder Leavitt, 1905
GeneaStar: Famous Family Tree and Genealogy [website]


  1. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

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  2. Well, originally I thought we were connected through the Fletchers of Chelmsford (did I leave a post about that? -- not sure). But my family's Mary (?Fletcher) Rowley turns out to be more elusive than I thought. But: in Nicholas Butler, we do have a connection; his descendant Rebecca Butler married (the also-elusive) Lt. James Shaw of Edgartown, and they are one pair of my 5th great-grandparents.

    I'd love to hear from you if the connection's of interest. And if you know anything at all about the "other" Mary (?Fletcher) (additional possible surname: Troop) Rowley, that would be spectacular.