James Cudworth (colonist)

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James Cudworth (c.1612 – c.1682) Per author Eugene Stratton, James Cudworth was one of the most important and interesting men in Plymouth Colony. Over his long life he served as a Deputy to the Plymouth General Court, Assistant Governor, commander of the colony’s militia in King Philip’s War as well as being Deputy Governor. He was also a commissioner to the New England Confederation four times between 1655 and 1681.[1][2][3]

English Origins[edit]

James Cudworth was baptized in August 2, 1612, in Aller, Somerset, England. Per author Douglas Richardson, his father was Rev. Ralph Cudworth, D.D., Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (d.1624). His mother was Mary Machell, who had been a nurse to Prince Henry, eldest son of King James I. Richardson provides her ancient English ancestry from 12th century nobility and earlier.[2]

Life in Plymouth[edit]

He and his wife Mary immigrated to New England in 1634 and initially settled at Scituate, Massachusetts.

On January 1, 1634/5 he was admitted as a freeman of Plymouth Colony. On January 18, 1634/5 he and his wife Mary joined the Scituate church.[4]

In October 1636 the Plymouth General Court appointed William Brewster, James Cudworth and several other prominent citizens as a special committee which was to join with the governor and Assistants in reviewing all laws, with proposed changes to laws being presented at the next court meeting.[5]

In 1639 he and his family removed to Barnstable but in 1646 returned to Scituate.[6]

The 1643 Able To Bear Arms List cites James Cudworth on the lists of men able to bear arms for two locations - Scituate and Barnstable.[7] [8] and from 1649 he was a deputy to the General Court from Scituate. In 1652 he was captain of the militia in Scituate.

James Cudworth was an Assistant to the Governor in 1656-1658.

On October 6, 1656, Myles Standish, Mayflower Military Captain, died. He had appointed his loving friends Mr. Timothy Hatherly and Capt. James Cudworth to be supervisors of his will.[9]

In 1657 James Cudworth was a Commissioner of the United Colonies, which was an alliance of Puritan colonies against the Indians.

On March 2, 1657/58 the General Court noted a petition from “sundry persons from the towne of Scituate” with a complaint against James Cudworth, head of the Scituate military company, for allowing Quakers to frequent his home. Because of this, Cudworth was relieved of his military command, with Lt. James Torrey and Ensign John Williams ordered to command the company in his capacity. In 1657 Cudworth had served as one of Plymouth’s two commissioners at the United Colonies, with the other commissioner being Thomas Prence, who now presided over the court which tried him, having become governor on June 3, 1657.[10]

After losing his military position in 1657/58, James Cudworth was again elected a deputy to represent Scituate, but the court refused to allow him to serve.[11]

He was sent by Scituate as a Deputy to the Plymouth General Court in 1659, but was not approved by the Court. In 1660 he was disenfranchised of his freedom of the Plymouth Colony, being found a “manifest opposer of the laws of government” owing to his support of the quakers. These charges he was accused of in having rendered assistance to, and had congenial relations with, Quakers, pertained to the writing of his thoughts in two letters, one of which he sent to England. Colonial governments were always quite concerned that any prominent person in New England might send a letter of complaint to the government in England and feared involving the English government in colonial affairs.

His problems were mostly due to the fact that in 1658 Cudworth sent a long letter to England, expressing his umbrage and his many complaints, largely regarding his association with Quakers, with whom he did not agree on most issues, but in closing with: but the Quakers and my self cannot close on divers Things; And so I signified to the Court, I was no Quaker…But withal, I told them, That as I was no Quaker, so I will be no Persecutor. Cudworth went on in his letter to describe to those in England the brutal punishments that the colonial government gave the Quakers and others, for unlawful actions large and small, such as whippings, mutilations and banishments from the Colony on pain of death.[4][11]

On July 4, 1673 James Cudworth was readmitted to freemanship and on the same day was made magistrate for Scituate and in 1673 he was authorized to solemnize marriages, grant subpoenas for witnesses, and to administer oaths to witnesses.

In December 1673 he was chosen to lead a military expedition against the Dutch. and in 1675 he was chosen to take charge of the Plymouth Colony military forces. That summer Cudworth was a Capt. in charge of one hundred Plymouth men and two hundred Massachusetts (Bay Colony) men.[12]

In December 1675 Plymouth’s governor, Maj. Josiah Winslow, son of Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow, was made commander-in-chief of the United Colonies forces, and planned a campaign of attacks against the Indians during “King Philip‘s War” (1675–1676). James Cudworth, now promoted to the rank of Major, took Edward Winslow’s place as commander of all Plymouth forces; Cudworth was much older now than when he had put in his plea for toleration for the Quakers, and so far in this war he had accomplished very little.[13]

On December 6, 1675, the Plymouth War Council appointed Maj. James Cudworth, Cornet Robert Stetson, and Isaac Chittenden as press masters to obtain enough fit and able Scituate men for an Indian-fighting expedition. The press masters were not the forced press-gang of old but more like a draft board. On December 30, 1675 the council further ordered that any person being pressed into the colony’s service who refused such service would pay a fine, and if he did not have enough financial resources available to pay it, he would be sent to prison for a term not to exceed six months.[7][14]


James Cudworth married Mary Parker on February 1, 1633/4 at Northam, Devon, England. Marriage information per parish records in Devon and verified with researcher in UK.[15]

Children of James and Mary Cudworth: (per records of the time) They had five sons: James, Jonathan (1st of name), Israel, (unnamed) and Jonathan (2nd of name), and two daughters, Mary (wife of Robert Whitcomb) and Joanna (wife of _____ Jones).

  • James, born May 3, 1635 in Scituate and died prior to 1697. He married 1665 Mary Howland, a Quaker, parents being Henry Howland and Mary Newland. James and Mary had been fined in Court in October 1665 for having fornication before marriage. She died in 1699. They had eight children, although some sources state ten. Both James and Mary were buried at Meeting House Cemetery (Men of Kent Cemetery), Scituate.
  • Mary, baptized July 23, 1637 in Scituate. She married March 9, 1660/1 Robert Whitcomb, a Quaker, son of John Whitcomb. Records state that they were charged in 1660/1 with “disorderly conduct in coming together without consent of parents and lawful marriage” and paid a fine and were imprisoned “during the pleasure of the court”. They had five children.
  • Jonathan I, born 1638 in Scituate and died September 24, 1638.
  • Israel, baptized April 18, 1641 in Barnstable and died ca 1727. He married Joanna ____. She was born in Barnstable. They had one child, Mary.
  • Joanna, baptized March 24, 1643 in Barnstable, and died in 1718. She married ______ Jones and moved to Freetown.
  • Jonathan II, born _____ in Barnstable and died in 1718. He 1st married May 31, 1671 Sarah Jackson. In July 1670 they were charged in Court with having committed fornication with each other prior to marriage. They had eight children. He married 2nd Elizabeth _____.[2][7]

Will of James Cudworth[edit]

His will was dated September 15, 1681, with an inventory date of June 20, 1682. In his will, Cudworth named his sons James, Israel, and Jonathan; daughter Mary’s four children Israel, Robert, James and Mary Whetcombe; and daughter Joanna Jones. His inventory included almost £8 worth of books. The will also impossibly left two-thirds of his lands to his eldest son James, and one-third each to Israel and Jonathan. This error would probably have been more correctly understood as two-fourths to the oldest and one-fourth each to the others.[1]

Death and burial of James Cudworth and his wife Mary[edit]

James Cudworth is believed to have died in England sometime between September 15, 1681, the date of his will, and the date of inventory, June 20, 1682. The will was proved on July 7, 1682. His death was believed to have been from smallpox and due to practices of the 17th century regarding the burial of smallpox victims, his body may have been disposed of rather than having been formally buried.[1]

The date of death for Mary, wife of James Cudworth is unknown. It is known she was living on December 17, 1673 but was apparently not alive in 1681 when James Cudworth wrote his will as she was not named. Her place of death as well as her burial place are unknown. A memorial stone in his honor was erected in the Men of Kent Cemetery in Scituate, Massachusetts. It reads: A memorial to Gen. James Cudworth. We honor him as a lover of religious freedom, a brave and able commander and a true patriot[2][16][17]


  1. ^ a b c Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: 1986), p. 275
  2. ^ a b c d Douglas Richardson, Jewels of the Crown
  3. ^ Douglas Richardson
  4. ^ a b NEHGR Letter of James Cudworth of Scituate, 1634, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 14, 1860, 101-104
  5. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: 1986), p. 143
  6. ^ NEHGR. The First Settlers of Barnstable, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 2, 1848, 64-67.
  7. ^ a b c History of Scituate p. 2
  8. ^ Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, List of Those Able to Bear Arms in the Colony of New Plymouth 1643, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 4, 1850, pp. 255-259.
  9. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: 1986), p. 358
  10. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: 1986), pp. 91, 164
  11. ^ a b Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), pp. 91-92
  12. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: 1986), p. 112
  13. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), p. 113
  14. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), p. 114
  15. ^ Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850. Online Database: NewEnglandAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2007
  16. ^ Memorial of James Cudworth I
  17. ^ Memorial of Mary Parker Cudworth