Captain John Underhill
Raised relief sculptural bust of Captain John Underhill from the Underhill Burying Ground near Oyster Bay, New York.
|Born||7 October 1597
|Died||21 July 1672
Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
|Known for||Early settler of American colonies, Captain of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Militia|
Helena de Hooch (died)Elizabeth Feake
|Parents||John Edward Underhill (1574–1608), Leonora Honor Pawley|
John Underhill (7 October 1597 – 21 July 1672) was an early English settler and soldier in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Province of New Hampshire, the New Haven Colony, New Netherland, and later the Province of New York. He is most noted for publishing an account of the Pequot War of 1636-1637 and for participating in destructive attacks against Native Americans during the Pequot War and during Kieft's War.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Arms
- 3 Writings
- 4 Tributes and Memorials
- 5 Modern Interpretations
- 6 Famous Descendants
- 7 External links
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 References
Captain John Underhill was one of three children of John Edward Underhill (1574–1608) and Leonora Honor Pawley. His great-grandfather Sir Hugh Underhill was Keeper of the Wardrobe for Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich, and his grandfather Thomas Underhill held the same position for Elizabeth's favorite - Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth Castle.
Captain John Underhill was born in 1597 in Baginton, Warwickshire, England, the son of John Edward Underhill. The family had to escape to the Netherlands after a failed plot by the Earl of Essex to overthrow the Queen. There they stayed in Bergen op Zoom, a heavily fortified city. John Edward Underhill was sergeant in the company of Captain Roger Orme. He died there in October 1608 and is buried in the Church of St. Gertrude.
Following his father's death, John Underhill and his siblings lived with his mother and a group of Puritan exiles in the Netherlands. While there he received military training as a cadet in the service of Philip William, the Prince of Orange. He also married a Dutch girl, Helena (Heylken) de Hooch on 12 December 1628 in the Kloosterkerk, The Hague, Holland. There they had one child before emigrating, Deborah Underhill, and two other children after emigrating - Elizabeth (born 1635) and John Underhill (1642–1692).
The Massachusetts Bay Colony
In 1630 Underhill was hired by the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the rank of captain and asked to help train the colony's militia. He and his Dutch wife emigrated that year. In May 1634 he was appointed to the General Court, and in July was elected a selectman for Boston. He started the first construction of the fortification on Castle Island at Boston.
Early in 1636 he was sent to Salem to arrest Roger Williams, who was viewed by the Puritans as a heretic. However, Williams had already fled to Rhode Island. In August 1636 Underhill led an expedition to Block Island.
The Pequot War
In September 1637 Underhill headed the militia as it marched out to the Pequot War. They first went to the fort at Saybrook. Joining with Mohegan allies and Connecticut militia under Captain John Mason, they attacked the Pequot fortified village near modern Mystic. They set fire to the village, killing any who attempted to flee. About 400 Pequots died in what came to be called the Mystic Massacre. Underhill led other expeditions that joined in hunting down the surviving Pequots. He published an account of his service as Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A True Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado (London, 1638).
The wandering years
Within a year of these exploits, Underhill in his turn fell to the Puritan drive for conformity. He had signed the Boston Petition supporting minister John Wheelwright, who had been censured for a sermon. Underhill was removed from office and disenfranchised in 1637, banished along with Anne Hutchinson in 1638, and excommunicated in 1640. After a fruitless trip to England in search of employment, Underhill returned to Boston where he sold his house and land and joined Wheelwright, who had settled in Dover, New Hampshire. His mother and her second husband Morris moved to Exeter. In Dover, Underhill soon rose to the position of Governor despite letters from Governor John Winthrop to citizens of that community denouncing him.
In June 1641 Underhill's banishment was repealed, and in September of that year he was acquitted of a charge of adultery. Still finding no gainful employment in Boston, following the baptism of his son John III in April 1642, he leased a tobacco plantation in Flatlands, Long Island, in New Netherland, though apparently he never occupied that land.
Instead he moved to Stamford, Connecticut, where he was named a Freeman in 1642, a Deputy to the General Court of the New Haven Colony in 1643, and Justice of the Stamford Court. Following Indian raids in 1643 he was hired by the New Netherland Board of Eight Selectmen to attack Indian settlements.
In February 1644, working for the Dutch, Underhill slaughtered an estimated 500 to 700 individuals thought to be of the Siwanoy and Wechquaesgeek groups of the Wappinger Confederacy. The killings occurred at a winter village of the natives, the site of which has not been identified with certainty, although some believe it was in what are now Pound Ridge or Bedford, N.Y.
Service in New Netherland
In May 1644 Underhill took up residence in New Amsterdam. His plot of land is now the site of Trinity Church in Manhattan. Later that year he led New Amsterdam's forces in a reprise of his attack during the Pequot War. The Indians on Long Island built a fort called Fort Neck in what is now Massapequa. Underhill attacked and burned the Massapequan fort, killing about 120 Indians. The war started because the leader of the Indians, Tackapausha, claimed he sold the Dutch use to the land, but not the land itself.
Upon returning to Manhattan, in 1645 Underhill was elected a Selectman to the Council of New Amsterdam. That same year he was named one of Eight Men to adopt measures against the Indians. While preparing to occupy Bergen Island, he was assigned to Flushing instead by Governor Peter Stuyvesant. He was appointed sheriff of Flushing in 1648 and magistrate from 1651-1653.
There in 1653 he turned against Stuyvesant, accusing him of being a tyrant. As Flushing's leader, Underhill issued a proclamation calling for the overthrow of the government: "We declare that it is right and proper to defend ourselves and our rights, which belong to a free people, against the abuses of the above named government." Just as many of his descendants would enumerate George III's wrongdoings, so he described Stuyvesant's; he had, for example, imposed magistrates on the people of Flushing "without election or voting." In conclusion, Underhill declared, "This great autocracy and tyranny is too grievous for any brave Englishman and good Christian any longer to tolerate Accept and submit ye, then, to the Parliament of England." This was a precursor to the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, that further served to question and challenge Dutch authority.
Return to English service
After being imprisoned for a brief time he was released. Upon hearing of Dutch plans to ally with some tribes to attack the English settlements, Underhill brought word of this to the colonies in Connecticut. The General Assembly of Rhode Island named him Commander-in-Chief and authorized him to seize a Dutch settlement named the House of Hope at Hartford, Connecticut. Fearing an attack by troops led by Underhill Stuyvesant ordered that a high stockade and a small breastwork be constructed across the northern border of New Amsterdam. Thus Wall Street was built When the First Anglo-Dutch War was finally resolved in 1654, he returned to Long Island. There he lived in Southold, Setauket, and finally in Oyster Bay, where he lived out the remainder of his years. Appropriately this place was on the edge of New Netherland and far enough out of reach of Massachusetts Bay and other colonies to give Underhill a respite from war, conflict, and religious intolerance.
Retirement to Oyster Bay
Underhill eventually retired to a large estate (Kenilworth or Killingworth) at Oyster Bay on Long Island. There he would carry a few more titles before his death, including Delegate of Oyster Bay to the Hempstead Convention in 1665. Delegates from all the towns on Long Island were asked to send two representatives. There they sought to establish laws. One particularly relevant to Underhill is that no land purchase would be made in the future without the governments consent. At the close of the convention, Underhill was named High Constable and Surveyor-General. The following year as Chief Advisor to the Matinecock Indians he presented a petition to the Council of Assizes in 1666, after which the Matinecock conveyed 150 acres (61 ha) of land to Underhill in Oyster Bay.
Following the death of his first wife and his mother in 1658, Underhill married his second wife Elizabeth Feake on 2 December 1658, in Oyster Bay. Feake was a Quaker and converted John to Quakerism before he died.
Elizabeth Feake and her family, much like Underhill, had an important role in the shaping of colonial America. The daughter of Elizabeth Fones and her second husband Robert Feake, Fones was the subject of much consternation for marrying her third husband William Hallet while her second husband Robert Feake was still alive.
Hannah Feake, the second daughter of Robert Feake and Elizabeth Fones and sister of Elizabeth Feake, would go on to become an important figure in the fight for religious freedom in colonial America. Governor Peter Stuyvesant banned the rights of Quakers to assemble and worship. On 27 December 1657, thirty townspeople of Flushing signed the Flushing Remonstrance protesting this ban. The ban was later tested when Hannah, a Quaker minister herself, held services in her own home. Her husband was arrested and returned to England, only to be released and allowed to return. The events contributed to the principles codified a century later in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, granting religious and political freedom to all citizens.
Captain John Underhill and Elizabeth Feake had five children: Deborah (1659–1697), Nathaniel (1663–1697), Hannah (1666–1757), Elizabeth (1669–1704), and David (1672–1708). Son Nathaniel Underhill settled in Westchester County, New York, where he became a prominent citizen and the progenitor of a large number of descendants. There are several streets in Nassau County(Locust Valley and Syosset), and Westchester County named for Underhill and his descendants.
Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book, published in 1907, describes the arms of Captain John Underhill as follows:
Captain John Underhill, 1597–1672, of Boston, 1630, Governor of Piscataqua Plantation. He had previously served in the British Army in the Netherlands, in Ireland, and at Cadiz. Arms - Argent, on a chevron sable, between three trefoils slipped vert, as many bezants. Crest - on a mount vert a hind lodged or.
In his lifetime Underhill was responsible for numerous writings. One of these titled "Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A True Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado" is the most complete contemporary account of the Pequot War of 1636-1637.
Tributes and Memorials
- The Underhill Burying Ground is located on land granted to Captain John Underhill in 1667. The cemetery has been in continuous use since Underhill's burial in 1672.
- "John Underhill" is the title of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, published in Hazel Blossoms in 1875.
- An obelisk memorial honoring Underhill was dedicated at the Captain John Underhill gravesite in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
- A New York State marker notes the site of Council Rock - "Here George Fox, 1672, met with Wrights, Underhill and Feeke (sp.) at Quaker gathering"
John Underhill has been the subject of a recent trend toward historically revised accounts of the Pequot War. (See: Pequot War#Controversy about the war). He has been described as a mercenary in service to the English and the Dutch. He was a professional soldier, so at times he was paid for his service. He served in the army of the Prince of Orange before coming to New England and was married to a Dutch woman. Ultimately he rejected these affiliations with the Netherlands and strongly asserted his patriotic commitment to England and English claims to North America.
Myron Charles Taylor, A leading American industrialist, and a key diplmatic figure at the hub of many of the most important geopolitical events before, during, and after World War II. Also eighth generation descended from Captain John Underhill.
Amelia Earhart, American aviation pioneer and author famous for her mysterious disappearance.
- More information on Captain John Underhill in the Underhill Society of America website
- "John Underhill" by John Greenleaf Whittier
- Boyer, Carl, 3rd, Ancestral Lines, 144 Families in England, Germany, New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (Newhall, CA 1975)
- Elizabeth Wells Bardwell, Crossing to Freedom, 2002
- Missy Wolfe, Insubordinate Spirit: A True Story of Life and Loss in Earliest America 1610-1665
- Burrows and Wallace 'Gotham' p. 63
- Early Long Island: A Colonial Study by Martha Bockée Flint, p. 303.
- Known as The Winthrop Woman after a 1958 book by Anya Seton
- Although Robert Feake had abandoned Elizabeth, and was considered mentally ill, they had not obtained a divorce
- De Forest, L. Effingham (1934). Captain John Underhill: Gentleman, Soldier of Fortune.
- Seton, Anya (1959). The Winthrop Woman.
- Shelley, Henry C. (1932). John Underhill: Captain of New England and New Netherland.
- "Underhill, John (d.1672)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Travers, Len (2004). "Underhill, John (c. 1608-1672)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Vowell, Sarah (2008). The Wordy Shipmates.