John Oldham (colonist)

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For the poet, see John Oldham (poet). For the baseball player see John Oldham (baseball)
John Oldham
Born July 1592
Derbyshire, England
Died July 20, 1636
Block Island
Nationality English
Other names "Mad Jack"
Occupation landowner, magistrate
Known for Founder of Wethersfield, Connecticut
Religion Puritan
Spouse(s) Jane Bissell
Children Richard, Mary, John Jr.

John Oldham (1592–1636) was an early Puritan settler in Massachusetts. He was a captain, merchant, and Indian trader. His death at the hands of the Indians was one of the causes of the Pequot War of 1636-37.[1]

Plimoth Plantation

Early life[edit]

Oldham was born in Derbyshire, England in 1592, and was baptized at the Church of All Saints (now Derby Cathedral) in Derby on July 15, 1592. He was a follower of the Puritans from an early age, and emigrated to Plymouth Colony with his sister in July 1623 aboard the Anne.[2] His sister Lucretia Oldham Brewster was married to Jonathan Brewster, son of William Brewster, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.

Banishment from Plymouth Plantation[edit]

Oldham is proof that relations were not always harmonious among the Pilgrims. Over half of those who sailed on the Mayflower had come for economic opportunity rather than religious motivations.[3][4] In 1624, Rev. John Lyford came over to America and was welcomed at first, but soon Plymouth residents gravitated to him who did not share the Puritans' viewpoints. Lyford gave them encouragement and met with them in secret. Oldham was a supporter of Lyford, and the two of them stirred up dissension and trouble in Plymouth, according to the accounts of Pilgrim leader William Bradford.[5]

Oldham and Lyford secretly wrote letters back to England disparaging and slandering the Pilgrims. Bradford intercepted some of these letters but did not mention it immediately to Oldham or Lyford. Oldham next refused to stand his scheduled watch (a communal duty expected of all the men) and began to be insolent to the Pilgrims' military advisor Miles Standish. He then drew his knife on Standish unprovoked, and angrily denounced him as a "beggarly rascal". Lyford and Oldham were put on trial for "plotting against them and disturbing their peace, both in respects of their civil and church state," and they were banished from Plymouth.[6][7][8]

After Plymouth[edit]

Oldham recovered nicely, though. He grew rich in coastal trade and trading with the Indians. He became a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts from 1632 to 1634, and was the overseer of shot and powder for Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As a trader, Captain Oldham sailed to Virginia and England, but by 1630 he was back in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He took up residence on an island in the Charles River and was a member of the church at Watertown. He represented Watertown in the colony's first General Court or assembly in 1634. He continued in the Indian trade, sailing the coast from Maine to New Amsterdam.

In 1633 or 1634, Oldham led a group of ten men (which included Captain Robert Seeley) along the Old Connecticut Path to establish Wethersfield, Connecticut, the first English settlement on the Connecticut River.


In July 1636, he was on a voyage to trade with Indians on Block Island. On July 20, his boat was boarded by hostile Indians, presumed to be Pequots. He and five of his crew were killed, and his two boys were captured. The ship's cargo was looted. A fishing vessel rescued the boys and tried to tow his sloop to port, but adverse winds affected them. They scuttled the ship but brought home the two boys.

The Bay Colony was outraged at this latest incident, and sent John Endicott to Block Island with a force to retaliate.


  1. ^ Bremer, Francis J., and Webster, Tom (eds.) (2006). Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America, p. 477. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-678-4.
  2. ^ Alden House Historical Site, "First Comers," (
  3. ^ "Thanksgiving on the Net," (
  4. ^ Parker, Dana T., "Reasons to Celebrate the Pilgrims," Orange County Register, Nov. 22, 2010 (
  5. ^ Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. by Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 148-57, 165-6, 169, 209, 226, 292 and 374, The Modern Library, Random House, New York, NY, 1967.
  6. ^ Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. by Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 148-57, The Modern Library, Random House, New York, NY, 1967.
  7. ^ Philbrick, Nathaniel, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, pp. 161-162, Viking, New York, NY, 2006.
  8. ^ Stager, Helen and Evelyn, A Family Odyssey, pp. 169-170, 309-310, Nicollet Press, Inc., Pipestone, MN, 1983.

Family records: The two young boys captured with John Oldham by the Indians off Block Island were his nephews, John and Thomas Oldham. Thomas Oldham Jr. stayed in Massachusetts. John migrated to the Virginia colony and became a significant land owner. His descendants subsequently settled in North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. They were some of the original settlers of Kentucky. Jessie Oldham came through the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone and helped him blaze the Wilderness Trail and plot and build Ft. Boonesborough. He was also credited with being one of the first white man to plant a crop in Kentucky.

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