John Oldham (colonist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
John Oldham
BornJuly 1592
DiedJuly 20, 1636
Other names"Mad Jack"
Occupationlandowner, magistrate
Known forFounder of Wethersfield, Connecticut
Spouse(s)Jane Bissell
ChildrenRichard, Mary, John Jr.

John Oldham (July 1592 – July 20, 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]

Plymouth 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] 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.[4]

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.[5][6][7]

After Plymouth[edit]

Oldham recovered and prospered from coastal trade with colonists and 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


In July 20, 1636, he was on a voyage to trade with Indians on Block Island. His ship was boarded by American Indians, probably Narragansetts.[8] He and five of his crew were killed, and his two young nephews were captured. The ship's cargo was looted. A fishing vessel rescued the nephews and tried to tow his sloop to port, but adverse winds affected them. They scuttled the ship but brought home the two boys.[citation needed]

The Narragansetts convinced the colonists that the Pequot people were responsible for killing Jack Oldham. Oldham was known for his difficult ways and may have provoked the fight that killed him, but ministers across Massachusetts condemned the murders. Massachusetts Governor John Endecott was ordered to retaliate.[8] The Bay Colony was outraged at this latest incident, and sent John Endicott to Block Island.[9]


  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," ("Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-09-18. Retrieved 2013-09-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)).
  3. ^ Parker, Dana T., "Reasons to Celebrate the Pilgrims," Orange County Register, Nov. 22, 2010 (
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. by Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 148-57, The Modern Library, Random House, New York, NY, 1967.
  6. ^ Philbrick, Nathaniel, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, pp. 161-162, Viking, New York, NY, 2006.
  7. ^ Stager, Helen and Evelyn, A Family Odyssey, pp. 169-170, 309-310, Nicollet Press, Inc., Pipestone, MN, 1983.
  8. ^ a b Mad Jack Oldham Starts the Pequot War
  9. ^ Allen, Zachariah (10 April 1876). Bi-centenary of the Burning of Providence in 1676: Defence of the Rhode Island System of Treatment of the Indians, and of Civil and Religious Liberty. An Address Delivered Before the Rhode Island Historical Society. Providence: Providence Publishing Company. p. 18. Retrieved 11 Feb 2019.

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 men to plant a crop in Kentucky.

External links[edit]