A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 3


Non-Conformity and the American Colonies

The religious disputes of the time not only threatened the unity of the Church of England, the appointment of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 brought a popish element back into the ritual of the State Church. Laud was supported by Matthew Wren, who was appointed Bishop of Norwich in 1635. He tried to impose on the diocese these new rules, which included the wearing of surplices and hoods, the bowing at the name of Jesus and the use of set prayers instead of the informal ones which were in use by the Puritan lecturers. Lecturers were accused of giving 'scandalous and offensive speeches in the pulpit'.

Such a feeling of dissatisfaction was the background to the growth of non-conformist or dissenter's places of worship. The non-conformity in this area is directly associated with the Chapel at Walpole. This was used by groups supporting Congregational principles from at least 1647. Others were prepared to sell their homes and most of their belongings to risk a journey of 3,000 miles to make a new life in the American Colonies. From 1629-1638 some 650 people from Suffolk crossed the Atlantic, also 1,200 from Norfolk and Essex.

The contemporary knowledge of the New World was due to such seamen and navigators as Thomas Cavendish (1560-1592) of Trimley St. Martin, near Ipswich. He is known as the 'Wonderful Suffolk Boy' who shared in Sir Richard Grenville's expedition to Virginia (America) in 1585 and also at the age of twenty six set out to circumnavigate the globe in 1586-8, the second Englishman to do it. Cavendish has a link with WaIter Norton of Gothic House, who purchased lands from him in Lincolnshire in 1586, who was selling them off to raise the money needed for the voyage which he took in the same year.

The next move came in 1602, with Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, (1572 - 1607) who was born at Grundisburgh (near Woodbridge). He set sail in the 'Concord' to find a new and shorter route to Virginia, which resulted in a journey of seven weeks. He was the leader of an expedition which, under the auspices of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, discovered the Capes of Virginia, and founded Jamestown, the first viable settlement in North America.

The most famous voyage was by the 'Mayflower', a square-rigged brigantine of 150 tons which was registered at Harwich. This was captained by Christopher Jones of Maldon, Essex and fitted out near Southend, before sailing to join the 'Speed-Well' at Southampton, which brought exiles from Leydon, in the Netherlands. They sailed in 1620 to Plymouth in America.

Another group of men, led by John Winthrop (1588-1649) of Groton (near Hadleigh in Suffolk) met in Cambridge and planned the founding of a permanent colony. He felt that 'This land growes weary of her inhabitants' and saw the need to move right away from the religious impasse. In 1630, the Winthrop fleet sailed for New England with fifteen ships carrying 1,000 emigrants, to create the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which John Winthrop became the Governor. Richard Saltonstall went with Winthrop, and helped in the founding of Boston, Massachusets. He was a nephew of Sir Richard Saltonstall, a Deputy Governor of the Merchant Adventurers and Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1597. His connection with Halesworth lies in the marriage of Elizabeth Base (who inherited Gothic House in the early 17th century) to Richard Saltonstall, a grandson of Sir 'Richard Saltonstall.

More locally, Thomas Payne, a prosperous weaver of Wrentham, fitted out the 'Mary Anne' in 1637 bound for America. He took with him a Norwich weaver, Francis Lawes, who was accompanied by his servant, Samuel Lincoln. There also went a group from South Elmham St James, which included:-

John Fiske, a schoolmaster and physician with his wife Anne and two children, his sister Anne Fiske and younger brother William Fiske. David Fiske and his wife Sarah of Wrentham. Captain Edmund Thompson, Master Mariner of St James, South Elmham and Mrs Martha Thompson, the sister of John Fiske.

Also in the party was the Rev. John AlIen of Wrentham, the Rev. John Yonges of Southwold, who built a chapel at Southwold in New England, and whose son John, commanded the Southwold Militia against the Dutch settles, and was involved in the capture of New Amsterdam, - afterwards called New York. Reports of the success of the trip must have reached England, for in 1638, in addition to 17 persons from Fressingfield, John Fiske and his wife and William Fiske followed the steps of the other members of that family.

Everybody was in some way involved in this remarkable exodus to the Americas. At Ipswich, the accounts show an entry which reads 'adventuring out of the Town treasure one hundred pounds in the voyage to Virginia'. N.C.P.Tyack, in his thesis of 1951 'Migration from East Anglia to New England before 1660' lists many of the villages from which the emigrants left. Halesworth is not mentioned, but many places around crop up in his research.


Place Year Number   Place Year Number
Blythburgh 1640 2   Elmham St Michael 1638 5
Bramfield 1638 4   South Cove 1638 1
Brampton 1635 2   Southwold 1635 7
    ''  1637 10       '' 1637 7
Dennington 1634 5       '' 1639 2
    ''  1637 5   Walberswick 1635 1
Fressingfield 1630 1   Wrentham 1636 1
    ''  1638 18       '' 1637 15
Laxfield 1638 3       '' 1638 4
Elmham St James 1637 8       '' 1649 1
Elmham St Margaret 1637 8    

The Registers of Passengers from Great Yarmouth to Holland and New England for 1637-9 included John Smith, a tailor from Halesworth, who on 3rd August 1637 stated he was 'desirous to passe into Holland' which was often the first step in emigrating to New England.

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, and his son Richard took the title of Protector for only a year when calls for the return of Charles 11 heralded the Restoration in 1660. Not all was solved by this action, and many were disturbed by the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, which directed that all clergy and schoolmasters use the Book of Common Prayer and assent to it. Many ministers in Suffolk refused to do this, and lost their livings, including some at Beccles, Halesworth with Holton, Blythburgh, Brampton, Bungay, Dunwich, Ilkenshall St Margaret, Peasenhall, Rumburgh, Sibton, Walpole, Westhall, Wrentham and Yoxford. 


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