Friday, March 2, 2012

Questioning an Indian on Religion – William French

B. about 1603 in England
M. (1) in England
Wife: Elizabeth (last name unknown)
M. (2) 2 May 1668 in Billerica, Massachusetts
Wife: Mary (Lathrop) Stearns
D. 20 Nov 1681 in Billerica, Massachusetts
Emigrated: 18 Jul 1635 on the ship Defence

Many have done research on where William French had his origins in England, and a lot of what's been written is speculation. But based on his age when he wrote his will, he would have been born about 1603. He married a woman named Elizabeth at an unknown date and they had at least three children born in England.

On July 18, 1635, William and his family boarded the ship Defence, bound for America. They landed at Boston on October 8th. The passenger list showed William, Elizabeth, and children Elizabeth (age 6), Mary (age 2) and John (age 5 months). There was also a boy, Francis (age 10), but it isn't certain that he was William and Elizabeth's son. William was entered on the passenger list as a servant to Roger Harlakenden.

The French family settled first at Cambridge, and they had six children born there. William was made a freeman on March 3, 1636 and a member of the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company in 1638. His home in Cambridge was on what is now the west side of Dunster Street about midway between Harvard Square and Mt. Auburn Street. He bought this property in 1639 and sold it to William Barrett on June 10th, 1656.

In 1653, William became one of the first settlers of the town of Billerica (which was first called Shawshin). In March 1660, he was chosen as one of the first five selectmen. He was the first representative of Billerica at the General Court in Boston, chosen in 1660 and taking his seat in 1663. He became a lieutenant of the militia, and afterwards, a captain. As a lieutenant, he did garrison duty during King Philip's War. He was also the first man chosen "to sit in the deacon's seat" in 1659. It was said that William was authorized to join people in marriage.

For nine years, William served on a committee to examine children and servants in "reading, religion and the catechism." A letter written by William giving the testimony of an Indian convert was published in London in a 1652 book called, Strength Out of Weakness. In it, he interviewed the converted Indian through an interpreter, asking such questions as, "Do you think that God will do you any good for any good that is in you?"

William's wife Elizabeth died on March 31, 1668, and he married a widow named Mary (Lathrop) Stearns on May 2, 1669. Though he was an old man, they had four daughters, the youngest being born when he was at least 70. William died on November 20, 1681. He was buried at Old South Burying Ground, Billerica, Massachusetts.

Famous descendants of William French include Eli Whitney, Samuel F.B. Morse, Charles Goodyear, Walt Disney, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Geena Davis and Kelsey Grammer.

Children by Elizabeth:
1. Elizabeth French – B. about 1629, England; D. 21 Jul 1697, Dedham, Massachusetts; M. (1) Robert Ellis (1629-1694), 19 Sep 1650, Dedham, Masachusetts; (2) Richard Ellis, 1658

2. Mary French – B. about 1633, England; D. 27 May 1672, Newton, Massachusetts; M. Jonathan Hyde (1626-1711), about 1650

3. John French – B. 1635, Halstead, England; D. Oct 1712, Billerica, Massachusetts; M. (1) Abigail Coogan (1637-1662), 21 Jun 1659, Billerica, Massachusetts; (2) Hannah Burrage (1643-1667), 3 Jul 1662, Billerica, Massachusetts; (3) Mary Rogers (1650-1677), 14 Jan 1668, Billerica, Massachusetts; (4) Mary Littlefield (1646-1719), 16 Jan 1678, Billerica, Massachusetts

4. Sarah French – B. 1638, Massachusetts; D. 1694; M. Jonathan Peake (1637-1700), 15 Aug 1660

5. Jacob French – B. 6 Jan 1640, Cambridge, Massachusetts; D. 20 May 1713, Billerica, Massachusetts; M. (1) Mary Champney (1639-1681), 20 Sep 1665, Chelmsford, Massachusetts; (2) Mary Convers (1650-1686), 3 Jun 1685, Cambridge, Massachusetts; (3) Mary _________ (1650-1709); (4) Ruth ______ (1650-1730)

6. Hannah French – B. 12 Apr 1643, Cambridge, Massachusetts; D. 30 Jun 1643

7. Hannah French – B. 16 Feb 1644, Cambridge, Massachusetts; D. 9 May 1674, Billerica, Massachusetts; M. John Brackett (1637-1686), 6 Sep 1661, Braintree, Massachusetts

8. Samuel French – B. 3 Dec 1645; D. Jul 1646

9. Samuel French – B. about 1647, Cambridge, Massachusetts; D. 4 Nov 1724, Dunstable, Massachusetts; M. Sarah Cummings (1661-?), 24 Dec 1682

Children by Mary Lathrop:
1. Mary French – B. 30 Apr 1670 Billerica, Massachusetts; D. 1729; M. (1) Robert Sharp (1670-?), 20 Jun 1687; (2) Nathaniel Dunklin (1670-?)

2. Sarah French – B. 29 Oct 1671 Billerica, Massachusetts; M. Joseph Crosby (1671-?), 6 May 1691, Billerica, Massachusetts

3. Abigail French – B. 14 Apr 1673 Billerica, Massachusetts; D. 1674

4. Hannah French – B. 25 Jan 1676, Billerica, Massachusetts; D. 2 Jan 1766, Watertown, Massachusetts; M. John Child (1669-1748), 5 Sep 1693

The William French page [website]
New England families, genealogical and memorial, Vol. 3, William Richard Cutter, 1997
A genealogical history of the French and allied families, Mary Elizabeth Queal Beyer, 1912
New England historical and genealogical register, Vol. 44, Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters, 1890
Strength Out of Weakness, 1652
GeneaStar: Famous Family Tree and Genealogy [website]


  1. I enjoyed the format and format for story telling, excellent blog!

    William and Elizabeth are my 10th g-grand parents through their son Jacob.

  2. Thanks for your research. William is my 10GGF too. I descend from his son Jacob. My name is Brian French My y-dna matches William line in the French DNA project