Edward Starbuck and Katherine Reynolds

FindAGrave image of memorial to foremothers of Nantucket-https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10904429/edward-starbuck

No marriage record was found in England or New England which could be positively identified as Edward’s. Marriage records for an Edward, which predated his immigration to Dover, were found near Edward’s English origin but none were to a lady named Katherine. There is no doubt he had a wife named Katherine when he lived in Dover and on Nantucket. Beginning with a deed in 1653, three original records identified Katherine as Edward’s wife. The deeds are the only original records found thus far which include her given name. As with most records made on a woman after her marriage, no mention was made of her maiden name.

20 Jul 1653[1] Dover (in Rockingham County Deeds)Edward & Kathren sold ½ Edward’s grant of Cochecho upper falls to Peter Coffyn p. 1 & 2
6 Mar 1659/60[2] Dover (in Rockingham County Deeds)Edward & Kathren sold land to Peter Coffin
19 June 1678[3] Dover (in Rockingham County Deeds)Edward & Katherine sold land to Peter Coffin (p. 1 & 2)

Despite the lack of a marriage record, Katherine has been identified with the surname Reynolds in several compiled sources, sometimes with the addition, “of Wales.” Clarence A. Torrey listed many of the histories in his New England Marriages to 1700.[4]

Of the nine books and four issues of The Register Torrey used (all printed between 1870 and 1988), each identified Edward’s wife as Katherine Reynolds but without an original source to back their statements up.[5]

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Was Katherine Edward’s Second Wife?

Most family historians credit Katherine as the mother of all of Edward’s children. That may be true, but it is also possible Katherine was Edward’s second or possibly third wife. She may have been the birth mother of all or just some of Edward’s children:

  • Sarah, possibly born in Derby in 1631, or as late as approximately 1633[1]
  • Nathaniel likely born in 1634 or 1635 based on his death in 1719 while “in his 85th year”[2]
  • Abigail born between 1635 and 1638, but possibly as late as 1639[3]
  • Gap of up to 15 years
  • Dorcas mostly likely born in the 1640s, possibly as late as 1648-50[4]
  • Jethro born in 1650 if his traditional age at death is correct, but possibly between Abigail and Dorcas instead[5]

As noted above, there could have been a gap of up to fifteen years between Abigail and Dorcas. That spread could also have been as few as eight or nine years if Abigail was born in 1639 and Dorcas before 1648. If Jethro was born earlier than 1651, his birth could conceivably fill an eight- or nine-year gap since Edward’s wife (or wives) were having children approximately every three or four years.

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Did Edward Starbuck grant the same land twice?

Is it possible to give the same land away twice? Is it legal? Usually, the answer to those questions is a resounding, “NO!” But in the case of land apportioned to Edward Starbuck in colonial Dover the quick answer is, “Yes, he did.” But the real question is why and how did he do that? To find a reason, we must study Edward’s land grants in the Dover town records and Rockingham County deeds.

Edward Starbuck’s Back River Land

This is the timeline of the land Edward Starbuck received along the Back River which flowed on the west side of Dover Neck:

  • 1642-Edward Starbuck received 20 acres on the Back River (entered in the town books at some point after 1647 when they restarted after the early records were lost)[1]
  • 1652-The twenty acres were still in Edward’s possession (entered in the town books in the 1690s)[2]
  • 1652-1662-Edward Starbuck gave Joseph Austin the Back River land during this period (no record of the event was placed in the town records until a later one which implied the action)[3]
  • 1663-Joseph Austin’s probate inventory includes his Back River property[4]
  • 1664-Edward Starbuck regifted the Back River land to Humphrey Varney (recorded in Dover town records, and in Rockingham deeds in 1699)[5]
  • 1696-Humphrey Varney sold the land he received as a gift to William Blackstone (recorded 1699)[6]

Other important facts to know are:

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What Religion was Edward Starbuck?-Part 1

Unfortunately, Edward Starbuck did not leave us a neat and tidy answer for this question. Since it isn’t possible to ask him, we must examine Edward’s actions and what he wrote for clues.

To begin, we need some background on Dover before and during Edward’s time there and provide evidence of how the town’s religious leanings shifted from non-allied or Church of England conformist to puritan:

Dover’s Early Years

1621-1626 Wealthy merchants set up a council in the southwest of England to establish profit-making plantations in North America.[1] A fishery was created near what later became Dover, but no church was built, and no minister was brought in.[2] The business failed financially because costs outweighed profits and many of the early residents left.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

1627-1629 Edward Hilton helped renew efforts to make Dover profitable.[3] His brother, Richard (who’d had disagreements with Plymouth Colony’s separatists), moved north to join him.[4] The Hiltons were Church of England conformist.

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What Religion was Edward Starbuck?-Part 2

Although the previous post asserted Edward Starbuck was a puritan, that term is nebulous in colonial America. By the 1640s, the English Reformation (Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church) had been evolving for over 100 years.[1] The monarchs covering that span had variously supported and tried to reverse the course of religious reform. It is little wonder the average members of the Church of England espoused a variety of religious concerns. Those who wanted to see the services and ordinances of the church less ritualized and more “pure,” gained support from both commoners and gentry. However, by 1633 William Laud was the Archbishop of Canterbury and he was pushing back against those who supported reform, with the aim of imposing his Arminian forms of worship.[2]  

Separatists and Puritans

Two groups in particular, the Separatists (who founded the Plymouth Colony) and Puritans (who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony) left England respectively in 1620 and 1630. They both left for religious reasons, but those reasons were not identical. The authorities fined and imprisoned Separatists to the extent than many had to leave England, fleeing first to Holland and then to what became Plymouth Plantation. They did not want any nationally established Church of England.

Image from the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a06959/)
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Life Events of Sarah Starbuck Austin Varney

A possible baptism was found for Sarah Starbuck in the parish of Derby St. Peter in 1631.[1] This parish borders the one in which a possible baptism was found for her father, Edward. A baptism in 1631 made 1648-1652 a reasonable time frame for Sarah’s first marriage. There is no marriage record for Sarah and Joseph Austin, but the birth of their first child, Deborah, indicated a marriage around 1649.[2]

Most of the confusion regarding Sarah comes from mistakes made in various family histories. Sometimes she was labeled Esther Starbuck and other times the fictional Esther was named as her sister. One of the most common mistakes was making “Esther” the wife of William Storer/Story. No proof of an Esther Starbuck has been found in records made on the Starbuck family in the 1600s. Each of Edward’s children had several documented records made within his or her lifetime, but no records exist for an Esther except in histories compiled by later researchers.

Sarah Starbuck did not, at any time, marry William Storer/Story. Sarah married (1) Joseph Austin about 1649.[3] Joseph Austin’s will was written 25 Jan 1662/3, and his widow was appointed executor 1 July 1663, therefore Sarah Starbuck Austin was still a widow as of July 1663.[4]

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Life Events of Nathaniel Starbuck

Nathaniel’s first appearance in Dover’s town records was a land grant from the town of Dover which added to the land his father had already given him, making a total of 200 acres for him in Dover. The date for the event was given only as 1656, which wasn’t recorded until 22 December 1658 in the town records.[1] Although parents could deed or bequeath land to a child at any age, according to English law at that time, that child could not do anything with the land until the age of twenty-one without parental/guardian consent.[2] Because of that, towns were unlikely to grant a patent or permission for land use to anyone under the age of twenty-one. Nathaniel also appeared in the Dover tax records on 21 July 1657, an indication he had taxable property by then and was accountable for it.[3] These records would indicate Nathaniel was born in the mid-1630s.

Nathaniel’s, and his sister Abigail’s, first appearance in the New Hampshire State Papers was as witnesses to their parents’ sale of land to Peter Coffin on 20 July 1653.[4] There was no specific age or gender requirement for being a witness, but common sense made it unlikely a very young child would perform that task. Both signed with an X, but neither the marks nor the witnessing was an indication of age.

Nathaniel was deposed in court on 27 June 1661 concerning a statement made by William Furber three or four years previously about ownership of a parcel of Furber’s land.[5] In the deposition, the Nathaniel Starbuck was described as, “ageged about twenty-five years,” placing his birth about 1636 or shortly before.

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Life Events of Abigail Starbuck Coffin

No baptism record was found for Abigail Starbuck in England or New England. Abigail first appeared in a public record with Nathaniel, her brother, in a 20 July 1653 deed.[1] She and her brother, Nathaniel, were witnesses to their parents’ sale of land to Peter Coffin. There was no specific age or gender requirement for being a witness, but common sense made it unlikely a very young child would perform that task. Both signed with an X, but that was not an indication of age.

Abigail’s marriage to Peter Coffin was not recorded in any vital record. Torrey’s book on New England marriages prior to 1700 listed the possible years of 1655 and 1657 with three possible locations: Dover, New Hampshire; Salisbury, Massachusetts; and Exeter, New Hampshire.[2] The sources used by Torrey to arrive at those conclusions included the following:

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Life Events of Dorcas Starbuck Gayer

Very little was documented for the life events of Dorcas Starbuck Gayer. As a result, assumption of her birth was dependent on the events of others in her life.

Dorcas Starbuck was documented on Nantucket on 29 June 1671 by witnessing a deed with the Native Americans in which she signed her maiden name. She likely married within a year or two of that date and had three children with her husband, William Gayer, all born on Nantucket, between 1673 and 1677.[1] Their birth dates were 24 October 1673, 29 August 1675, and 3 June 1677. That placed the marriage of William Gayer and Dorcas Starbuck after June 1671 but prior to October 1673, likely at some point in 1672 or earlier. Torrey’s New England Marriages to 1700 stated Dorcas married William Gayer before 1673.[2]  That is as accurate as it is possible to get.

This was several years after the marriage of her closest older sibling, Abigail, which occurred about 1656.[3] Although the children of Dorcas were born close together, making it appear she had no infertility problems, with only three children it was possible her fertility was impacted by her age, as she may have married later in life than usual.

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Life Events of Jethro Starbuck

Jethro Starbuck’s only original record in New England was of his death on Nantucket on 27 May 1663.[1] The entry in the handwritten vital records of Nantucket read: “Jethro the son of Edward Starbuck died the 27th of May 1663.” This entry may have been written some time after the event because the earliest handwritten vital records of Nantucket were in the same handwriting from 1662 to 1726 and appear to be in a style more common to the early 1700s. It may be a town clerk transcribed the earliest scraps of original records into a book and then continued the record.

The 1928 official printed publication of the town death records for Nantucket was compiled from various sources including the handwritten book. It stated, “STARBUCK, Jethro, s. Edward, May 27, 1663 [s. Edward and Catherine Reynolds, PR 38. 27th 5 mo. PR 63.][2] The town vital records were created by bringing various town and private family history records together. PR 38 is the private records kept by William C. Folger (1806-1891) which are in the hands of the Nantucket Historical Society. PR 63 is the private record of Isaac Coffin (1764-1862), judge of probate, which is at the Nantucket Atheneum. The compiled death entry gave neither cause of death nor age at death.

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