Bidwell Family History
Compiled By Joan J. Bidwell
On the twentieth of March 1630, a group of men and women, one hundred and forty in number, set sail from Plymouth, England, in the good ship, the "Mary and John." The company had been selected and assembled largely through the efforts of the Reverend John White, of Dorchester, England, with whom they spent the day before sailing, "fasting, preaching and praying." These people had come from the western counties of England, mostly from Devonshire, Dorsetshire and Somerset. They had chosen two ministers to accompany them, men who were interested in the idea of bringing the Indians to the knowledge of the gospel. The Reverend John Maverick was an elderly man from Devon, a minister of the established church. Reverend John Warham was also an ordained minister of the church of England, in Exeter, eminent as a preacher. There is some evidence that both of these men were in some difficulties with the church on account of their sympathies with the Puritans.
It had been their original intent to land in the Charles River, but a dispute with Captain Squeb, the commander of the vessel caused the whole company, on May 30, 1630, to be put ashore at Nantasket. The "Mary and John" was the first of the fleet of 1630 to arrive in the bay. At that time there could not have been pilots, or charts of the channel, and it does not seem unreasonable that the Captain refused to undertake the passage.
According to tradition they landed upon the south side of Dorchester Neck, or South Boston, in Old Harbor. Ten of the men, under the command of Captain Southcote, found a small boat, and went up the river to Charlestown Neck, where they found an old planter, who fed them "a dinner of fish without bread." Later they continued their journey up the Charles River, as far as what is now Watertown, returning several days later to the company who had found pasture for their cattle at Mattapan. 'The settlement was later called Dorchester, in honor of the Reverend John White, of Dorchester, England.
Many hardships followed, they had little food, and were forced to live on clams and fish. The men built small boats, and the Indians came with baskets of corn. The place was a true wilderness.
Here they lived for five or six years. Other boats arrived and other towns were settled. But the life at Dorchester was not entirely congenial to the lovers of liberty of the "Mary and John." The group of settlements around Massachusetts Bay was dominated by clergymen and officials of aristocratic tendencies. Their Governor, John Winthrop, had little sympathy with the common people. "The best part (of the people)," he declared, "is always the least, and that best part, the wiser is always the lesser." And the Reverend John Cotton put it more bluntly when he said, "Never did God ordain democracy for the government of the church or the people."
These principles were repugnant to the people of the "Mary and John," who had come to America to escape such restraint. They had no wish to interfere with the methods of worship of others, and they did not wish others to interfere with them. Too, they were land-hungry, after centuries of vassalage to the lords of the manors, leading hopeless lives without chance of independence. Perhaps they were influenced also, by the fact that a great smallpox epidemic had raged among the Indians, killing off so many that they were not the menace that they had been at first. The settlers turned their attention toward the fertile meadows of the Connecticut Valley.
In October, 1635, about 60 men, women and children set forth from Dorchester to Connecticut, their furniture, etc., was sent around by water. 'The compass was their only guide. After a tedious and difficult march through the swamp and rivers and over mountains and rough ground, they arrived safely at their destination. They had lost so much time in passing rivers, etc., that winter was upon them before they were prepared. By November 15th, the cold was so intense that the river was frozen over and the snow very deep. By December 1st, the provisions gave out and famine and death stared them in the face. Some started through the wilderness for Boston, but the greater number on December 3rd, took passage on the Rebecca, a vessel of 60 tons, but she ran aground on the bar at the mouth of the river and they were obliged to unload to get her off. After this they reached Boston in five days. Those that remained at Hartford just managed to keep from starving by the help of the Indians and eating acorns, etc. Hartford was called Suckiage by the Indians; by the Dutch on the point in 1633, the Huise (or house) of Good Hope and Newtown, by the English on their arrival to form a settlement in 1636. The name was changed to Hartford by the court, February 21, 1636.
According to old family records, Richard Bidwell and son, John were passengers on the vessel, "Mary and John" coming to America in 1630 to make a new life for themselves on this new land. It is uncertain in what exact location in England this Bidwell family had resided before coming to America, but according to notes of family historian, Frederick David Bidwell 1873-1947 he states that Richard Bidwell and son John came from County Devon.
Through correspondence dated 1979, between Rev, John Scott, Vicar of Newton St. Cyres in County Devon, and Robert F. Bidwell of Urbana, Ohio, we are informed that a manor is located in Newton St. Cyres called Bidwell Barton, which according to parish historical materials, was where the Bidwell family lived in the 16th Century and was the beginning of the Bidwell family in England, and presumably where the family took it's name. Rev. Scott states the fact that the parish records contain a mass of entries relating to the Bidwell family, including the baptism of a John Bidwell, who may be the son of Richard Bidwell. However, no documented proof has been found that Richard Bidwell was the name of the father of John, Joseph, Samuel and Richard, although all evidence certainly leads one to believe this is the correct relationship.