Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Town Crier and Grave Caretaker – Thomas Woodford

B. in England
M. 4 Mar 1635 in Roxbury, Massachusetts
Wife: Mary Blott
D. 6 Mar 1667 in Northampton, Massachusetts
Emigrated: before 1635

Thomas Woodford is of unknown origins. It is believed that he came from Lincolnshire, England and that he sailed to America on the William and Francis in 1632. He settled first in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where on March 4, 1635, he married Mary Blott. They had three daughters born between about 1636 and 1649.

By 1639, the Woodford family moved to the new settlement of Hartford, Connecticut, and Thomas was granted land there. His name is on a monument listing the town's original settlers that is today located in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground. The family's home was on what is now Front Street.

During his years in Hartford, Thomas was given many jobs in order to serve the community. One of his assignments was to inspect the fences in the common fields so that no animals got loose. In 1640, he was to receive two pence "for the use of his lungs" as town crier. He also used a bell to summon the people to meetings. By March 1641, Thomas was given the responsibility of trying to find the owners for lost items in the town. In September 1644, he was assigned to assess how much each family owed the colony for maintaining Harvard College. He was to collect the money from the families as well.

Another job Thomas had was as "sexton" of the town graveyard. He had to make sure the graves were prepared properly. For infants, the graves could be four feet deep, but for anyone over the age of 10, they needed to be six feet deep. He had to give notice of a new grave by ringing a bell, and tend the graves so that they could be identified.

Some time between October 1655 and April 1656, Thomas moved his family up the Connecticut River to the new settlement of Northampton, Massachusetts. He held several offices in the town; in 1656, he was given judicial authority along with two other men. He also was one of many that donated part their land to offer to prospective settlers in order to populate Northampton. As he did in Hartford, Thomas owned several parcels of land scattered around Northampton.

Thomas' wife Mary died sometime before 1662 (probably in Hartford), as she was not mentioned in her father's will, nor was she listed at Northampton Church with her husband when it was formed on June 18, 1661. Thomas died March 6, 1667. He left a detailed will listing the exact household items that would go to each of his daughters. His estate was valued at over £197.

Famous descendants of Thomas Woodford include Glenn Close, Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hunt, Nancy Reagan and Bess Truman.

1. Mary Woodford – B. about 1636; D. 7 Apr 1684; M. Isaac Sheldon (1629-1708), about 1653, Hartford, Connecticut

2. Hannah Woodford – B. about 1642; M. Samuel Allen, 29 Nov 1659

3. Sarah Woodford – B. about 1649; M.(1) Nehemiah Allen (~1634-1684), 21 Sept 1664, Northampton, Massachusetts; (2) Richard Burke, 1 Sep 1687, Northampton, Massachusetts; (3) Judah Wright, 11 Jul 1706, Northampton, Massachusetts

The American biographical dictionary, William Allen, 1857
Hartford town votes, 1635-1716, Connecticut Historical Society, 1897
Hartford in the olden time: its first thirty years, Isaac William Stuart and W.M.B. Hartley, 1853
New England families, genealogical and memorial, Vol. 3, William Richard Cutter, 1913
Powers-Banks ancestry, William Howard Powers, 1921
Woodford Family [website]
GeneaStar: Famous Family Tree and Genealogy [website]

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