Humphrey Atherton's date and place of birth are
uncertain. It has been presumed that he was born in
Lancashire, England, because the name Atherton is
prominent there. The date of 1608 is sometimes given as
his date of birth because Edmund Atherton of Wigan
Lancashire, England died in 1612 leaving, as his heir, a
four-year-old son named Humphrey. However, Duane
Hamilton Hurd, in History of Norfolk County,
Massachusetts stated that Atherton was 36 years old when
he died in 1661. On the other hand, Charles Samuel Hall
in Hall Ancestry, pointed out that when Atherton was
made freeman and was granted property in 1638, "he must
at that time reached his majority."
A descendant of his, Charles H. Atherton, said that
Humphrey Atherton, his wife and three young children
arrived at the colony in the ship James, August 7, 1635,
but there is no record of this. His descendant further
said that Atherton and his wife were each about 15 years
old when they were married.
There is a record of Nathaniel Wales having voyaged on
the James. Wales referred to Humphrey Atherton as his
"brother-in-law" in his will, so it has been assumed
that Atherton's wife, Mary, was Wales' sister. However,
the term may have been used because Atherton's daughter,
Isabel, was married to Nathaniel Wales, Jr. The identity
of his wife is unknown.
George Weeks is listed as being born at Salcombe Regis,
Devon, England 23 Feb 1595. His wife, Jane Clapp was
born in 1604 at Salcombe Regis, Devon, England. (One
wonders if she was of the same Clapp family as Thomas
Clapp who was born at Dorchester, England in 1639 ...
The Fisher/Clapp Family Line ) They
had a son William who was born in England on 20 Aug
Major-General Humphrey Atherton, ( ca.1608 – September
16, 1661) an early settler of Dorchester, Massachusetts,
held the highest military rank in colonial New England.
He first appeared in the records of Dorchester on March
18, 1637 and made freeman May 2, 1638. He became a
representative in the General Court in 1638 and 1639–41.
In 1653, he was Speaker of the House, representing
Springfield, Massachusetts. He was chosen assistant
governor, a member of the lower house of the General
Court who also served as magistrate in the judiciary of
colonial government, in 1654, and remained as such until
his death." He was a member of the Ancient and Honorable
Artillery Company of Massachusetts and held the ranks of
lieutenant and captain for several years before rising
to the rank of major-general. He also organized the
first militia in Massachusetts.
He was active in the governance of the colony,
taking part in the acquisition of Native American lands,
the persecution of Quakers, and the apprehension and
convictions of heretics. (Witches) His accidental death
was seen by the Quakers as a punishment from God for his
persecution of them, an idea repeated in a play by Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow. He was one of the most successful
land speculators in the New England colonies. He and his
wife, Mary, had a number of children and several New
England families have traced their ancestry to them. He
is interred at Dorchester North Burying Ground, one of
the oldest cemeteries in New England.
Atherton had a very active public life having power and
taking part in the law making, enforcing and
interpreting affairs of the colony. Subsequent to his
acceptance as a freeman, in 1638, he was frequently
selectman or treasurer, and for several years a member
of the Court of Assistants which gave him a say in the
appointment of governors as well as judicial power in
criminal and civil matters. In 1638 and 1639–41 he was a
governor's assistant in the General Court, and in 1653,
he was Speaker of the House, leader of the Court of
Deputies, which was the lower house of the General
Court, representing Springfield, Massachusetts. He was
also "long a justice of the peace, and solemnized many
marriages". One of the marriages over which he
officiated was that of Myles Standish, Jr. and Sarah
Atherton was a member of the Ancient and Honorable
Artillery and he organized the first trained band
(militia) in Dorchester. As Major-General in the Suffolk
Regiment, he was the senior military officer in New
England. which included the responsibilities of subduing
and controlling Native Americans and apprehending
criminals, such as those accused of heresy.
In 1644 he [Atherton] was sent, with Captains Johnson
and Cook, to Narragansett to arrest and try Samuel
Gorton for heresy. It is hoped that Gorton's complaint
of his treatment was exaggerated, for he said, in
passing through Dorchester. 'A large concourse of
persons assembled with several ministers to witness the
passage of the troops, and the prisoners were stationed
apart and volleys of musketry fired over their heads in
token of victory.' "
Harlow Elliot Woodword, in Epitaphs from the Old Burying
Ground in Dorchester, said that Atherton had believed in
witches and "felt it to be a duty which he owed to God
and to his Country to mete out to the poor creatures,
against whom accusations were brought, the punishment,
which, in his opinion, they so richly merited."
Woodward said that, in his capacity as assistant,
Atherton had been instrumental in bringing about the
execution of Mrs. Ann Hibbins, a wealthy widow, who was
executed for witchcraft on June 19, 1656. Hibbins was
later fictionalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet
Letter. In that book she was depicted as the sister of
Atherton was involved in the persecution of Quakers and
there are two incidents in particular that the Quakers
wrote about in relationship to Atherton. First, the case
of Mary Dyer, a Quaker who was executed in 1660 after
returning to Boston despite banishment. Atherton was
assistant governor at the time, and at her hanging he
was said to have remarked, "She hangs there like a
flag." The Quakers understood this comment to be an
Secondly, there was the case of Wenlock Christison, a
Quaker who had repeatedly returned to Massachusetts
despite banishment, whose trial in May, 1661 put an end
to the execution of Quakers. He was sentenced to death,
but the law was changed soon after, and he was not
executed. He was the last Quaker to be sentenced to
death in Massachusetts. The Quakers believed that during
an altercation between the accused and Atherton at the
trial, Christison prophesied the outcome of his trial as
well as the circumstances of Atherton's untimely death.
Quaker writer George Bishop wrote, "Yea, Wenlock
Christison, though they did not put him to death, yet
they sentenced him to die, so that their cruel purposes
were nevertheless. I cannot forbear to mention what he
spoke, being so prophetical, not only as to the judgment
of God coming on Major-general Adderton, but as to their
putting any more Quakers to death after they had passed
sentence on him." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recreated
the Christison trial in his play John Endicott which
included the damnation of Atherton by the accused.
Humphrey Atherton was a successful land speculator. The
land he owned in Dorchester included a large portion of
South Boston. He also owned a share in what became
Milton, Massachusetts. The General Court awarded 500
acres to him for his public service, but because some of
it impeded the town on Hadley, Massachusetts, he was
given a new grant that had an additional 200 acres.
Since he had represented Springfield in the General
Court, he probably owned land in Springfield as well.
When he died, his estate was worth 900 pounds, not
including much of his land.
Atherton "played a key role in fighting and removing
Indians from land he later owned." In 1659, he and some
friends, including Connecticut Governor, John Winthrop,
Jr., made some illegal purchases of land from Native
Americans in Rhode Island. The group, referred to as the
Atherton Company, circumvented the law by making the
purchases appear to be gifts.
In 1660, commissioners of the Four Colonies, of whom
John Winthrop, Jr. was one, transferred ownership of the
mortgage of Pessicus's land to the Atherton Company for
735 fathoms of wampum. The Company then foreclosed on
the mortgage. The land included the Narragansett
property within the bounds of Rhode Island. Rhode Island
found this transference of land to be illegal and
prevented the sale of the land for several years. The
company, which changed its name to "Proprietors of the
Narragansett Country," eventually did sell 5,000 acres
of the land to Huguenot immigrants who began a colony
there called Frenchtown. The Huguenots lost the land
when, in 1688, a Royal Commission determined the
Atherton claim to be illegal.
Relationship with Native
Humphrey Atherton died, September 16, 1661, from head
injuries sustained in a fall from his horse. He was
traveling through Boston Common, on his way home after
drilling his troops when his mount collided with a cow.
Woodward, aforementioned author of Epitaphs from the Old
Burying Ground in Dorchester, said that because of
Atherton's persecution of the Quakers, "they believed
his horrible death to be God's visitation of wrath."
Woodword credits Joseph Besse, a Quaker author, with the
following account of Atherton's death:
"'Humfray Adderton, who at the trial of Wenlock
Christison, did, as it were, bid defiance to Heaven, by
saying to Wenlock, 'You pronounce Woes and Judgements,
and those that are gone before you pronounced Woes and
Judgements; but the Judgements of the Lord God are not
upon us yet,' was suddenly surprised: having been, on a
certain day, exercising his men with much pomp and
ostentation, he was returning home in the evening, near
the place where they usually loosed the Quakers from the
cart, after they had whipped them, his horse, suddenly
affrighted, threw him with such violence, that he
instantly died; his eyes being dashed out of his head,
and his brains coming out of his nose, his tongue
hanging out at his mouth, and the blood running out at
his ears: Being taken up and brought into the
Courthouse, the place where he had been active in
sentencing the innocent to death, his blood ran through
the floor, exhibiting to the spectators a shocking
instance of the Divine vengeance against a daring and
hardened persecutor; that made a fearful example of that
divine judgment, which, when forewarned of, he had
openly despised, and treated with disdain.' "
Longfellow repeated this sentiment in his account of
Atherton's death in the final scene of John Endicott. In
the scene Governor Endicott, while speaking to Richard
Bellingham, asks if it is true that Humphrey Atherton is
dead. Bellingham confirms that he is and adds, "His
horse took fright, and threw him to the ground, so that
his brains were dashed about the street." Endicott
responds, "I am not superstitions, Bellingham, and yet I
tremble lest it may have been a judgment on him."
Humphrey Atherton, whose wife, Mary died in 1672. is
interred at the Dorchester North Burying Place in
Boston. Engraved upon his tombstone are the following
Here lies our Captain & Major of Suffolk was withall;
A godly magistrate was he, and Major General;
Two troop horse with him here comes, such worth his love
Two companies of foot also mourning march
to his grave,
Let all that read be sure to keep the
faith as he has done
With Christ he lives now
crowned, his name was Humphrey Atherton.
Humphrey Atherton and his wife, Mary, had twelve
was their first born and was probably born in
was Isabel, who married Nathaniel Wales, Jr.
Elizabeth was married to Timothy Mather and
Margaret was married to James Trowbridge.
Rest was born 1639 and married Obadiah Swift.
Increase was baptized February, 1641 and died at
Thankful was born 1644 and married Thomas Bird of
son, Hope, was born 1646. He was minister of Hadley,
Massachusetts and married Sarah Hollister.
Their son, Consider, married Ann Anibal.
Watching, who was born 1651, married Elizabeth
Patience, born in 1654, married Issac Humphrey.
Mary was married to Joseph Weeks.
Among the family genealogies that the Humphrey Atherton
family are included in are The History of the Dorchester
Pope Family: 1634–1888, by Charles Henry Pope and Hall
Ancestry, by Charles Samuel Hall. George Caster Martin
traced his ancestry to Atherton in his article Humphrey
Atherton: Founder of the Atherton Family of New England
in National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 1,
Issue 4. In the National Genealogical Society Quarterly,
Volume 60, some of Humphrey Atherton's descendants are
included in the Belcher Genealogy. In the same volume,
Samuel Edward Atherton's ancestry was traced to Humphrey
Atherton. William B. Task claimed descent from Atherton
in the 1899 New England Historical Genealogical
George Weeks arrived at Dorchester, MA about 1630,
possibly on the ship Mary & John. He brought with him
from England his son William and his wife, Jane Clapp.
They would have been some of the earliest settlers of
Dorchester, now a part of Boston.
There were at least two children born to them at
Dorchester; Ammiel born in 1633 and Joseph
born 07 May 1635. George died at Dorchester, on 27 Oct
1659. Jane died at the same place on 02 Aug 1668. They
were my 8th great grandparents.
Joseph Weeks, son of George Weeks and Jane Clapp
was born at Dorchester on 07 May 1635. On 09 Feb
1667,he married Mary Atherton, born 30 Apr 1636
at Dorchester, the daughter of Maj Gen Humphrey
Atherton and his wife Mary. She may have had a
previous marriage with either with William
Billing or Deacon James Trowbridge. There is
conflicting information in this regard.
Joseph and Mary were the parents of:
Joseph, Mindwell, Repent and
The parents died at
Dorchester, Joseph on 13 Oct 1690 and Mary on
Sept. 17, 1692. She is buried at
Dorchester North Burying Ground, MA. They were my 7th great grandparents.
was born 28 Sep 1628 at daughter of
Maj Gen Humphrey Atherton and his wife Mary was
born at Winwick, Lancashire, England, on 28 Sep
1628. She came to Massachusetts with her parents
and there in 1650, married William Weeks ,son of
George Weeks and Jane Clapp. William was the
brother-in-law of her sister Mary.
is a claim that she was also married to a
Timothy Mather but it would be impossible for
her to be married to the two men at the same
Elizabeth and William were the
parents of William, Elizabeth, John, Richard,
Mary, Abigail George,
Renew & Jane..
Both parents died
at Dorchester, William on 13 Dec 1677 and
Elizabeth on 15 May 1678. They were my 8th great
Repent Weeks was born in Stoughton, Norfolk,
Massachusetts on 22 Feb 1675. She was the
daughter of Joseph Weeks and Mary Atherton. On
04 Feb 1708 at Dorchester, she married Joshua
For a continuation of this line
The Pomeroy Family Line.
This couple were my 6th great grandparents.
Weeks was born in Dorchester on 11 Oct 1656, the
daughter of Elizabeth Atherton and William
Weeks. She married Thomas Green, date unknown.
Thomas was born on 04 Jan 1653 at
Malden,Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Green
and Rebecca Hills.
Thomas and Mary may
have had 8 or 9 children. The first two are
listed as being born on 22 Nov 1676 at Salem,
Essex, so they may have been twins but their
death dates are listed as identical which would
have been highly unlikely. Other children were
John, Mary, Thomas, Ebenezer,
Martha, Elizabeth and Sarah.
on 15 Apr 1694 at Malden,Massachusetts, but
Mary's date of death is unknown. They were my
7th great grandparents.
Weeks was born in Dorchester on 12 Aug 1660, the
daughter of Elizabeth Atherton and William
Weeks. She married Benjamin Carpenter, date
Benjamin was born 19 Jan 1658 at Rehoboth,
Bristol, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph
Carpenter and Margaret Sutton.
There were 12
children; Benjamin, Jotham,
Renew, Elizabeth, Hannah, Jane, John, Submit,
Job, Heziah, Hezekiah, & Edward .
These were my
7th great grandparents.
continuation of this line see
The Carpenter Family Line.
Thomas Green, son of Thomas Green and Mary Weeks
was born at Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, in
1685. He married Martha Moulton in 1710. She was
born at Salem in 1685, the daughter of Robert
who's wife is unknown.
Thomas and Martha were
my 6th great grandparents. For a continuation of
this line see
The Cooke Family Line.
These three lines of ancestors merge back into
one as can bee seen in the following charts.
Donald James Plefka
to Thomas Green
Donald James Plefka
to Repent Weeks
Donald James Plefka
to Renew Weeks
4th Great Grandparents
Allice Harriet Bingham
My Great Grandparents