Thomas Leavitt (settler)

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Salt marshes, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Early postcard, c. 1905.

Thomas Leavitt (1616–1696) was an English Puritan who was one of the earliest permanent settlers of the Province of New Hampshire. A farmer, Leavitt apparently followed Rev. John Wheelwright to his settlement of Exeter, New Hampshire. Later Leavitt moved on to Hampton. He was seldom involved in town business, and was described by one writer as "a quiet, useful citizen."[1] He was not remarkable, except insofar as those who crossed the Atlantic, swept by storms startling to Englishmen, to settle an unknown continent, peopled by tribes with which they were unfamiliar, were unremarkable.

Life in the new world[edit]

Thomas Leavitt arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1635,[2] and an early Boston record of 1636 shows him assessed a fine.[3] Perhaps chafing at the discipline of early Puritan Boston, Leavitt departed in 1639 for Exeter, New Hampshire, where the Rev. John Wheelwright, a Puritan clergyman forced to flee England because of fears of persecution – and later forced to leave Massachusetts because of run-ins with ecclesiastical authorities – had settled and assembled a congregation.[4] Leavitt remained in Exeter only a few years before eventually settling at nearby Hampton, one of the four original New Hampshire townships chartered by the General Court of Massachusetts.[5]

Thomas Leavitt was a farmer and perhaps a tanner, although one ancient deed called him 'planter.' In 1639, Leavitt was a signer of the Exeter Combination,[6] but soon left Exeter for Hampton, where by 1644 he had married Isabella (Bland) Asten, daughter of John Bland (alias Smith) and Isabella Drake of Colchester, Essex, England – and later of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Martha's Vineyard – and widow of Francis Asten, who had died in the New World a couple of years prior. Leavitt and his new wife lived on the land granted to Asten in Hampton.

Nothing is known of Leavitt's parentage or even place of birth in England, although some historians [7] speculate that Leavitt came from heavily Puritan Lincolnshire. His name appears in various permutations in early records, mostly as Levet, but also as Levit, Levitt and Levett – sometimes all in the same document.[8] The manner of spelling was complicated by the fact that Leavitt apparently was not literate, and simply made his mark in early documents. When his name was written for him by someone else, as it was in his will and that of his wife, the orthography almost always appeared as Levet. But a copy of the Hampton Petition of 1643, filed in the Massachusetts Archives with the early settler's name appended to the list of signatories, records his name as "Livet".[9]

Leavitt served as selectman for Hampton in 1657 and again a decade later, in 1667. In 1664 he served a year's term as constable. His name appeared on the list of several juries, and in 1678 he took the oath of allegiance to Massachusetts. By 1683 he, along with 18 other citizens, signed a petition asking that their poll taxes be cut as the signers were aged, "many about seventy, some above eighty, others near ninety, being past labour and work." By 1691 Leavitt and his wife had delegated their power of attorney to son John to deal with his mother Isabel's share of the Bland family lands on Martha's Vineyard.

Thomas Leavitt died at Hampton, New Hampshire, on November 28, 1696, while still residing on the land granted to his wife's first husband. His widow died three years later, in 1699. The couple had four sons,[10] all of whom lived nearby and who left descendants who still reside in the area today.[11] In his will Leavitt had made provisions for his wife, leaving her land and "two cows, two swine, three sheep, my brass and puter [pewter], the thirds of all my corne."[12] Leavitt also carefully disposed of his tools, leaving his son Aretas "half the cross cut saw," with son John receiving "the other half the tools mentioned with all carpenter tools and his house and ground."[13] The will makes note of 219 acres (0.89 km2) of land, including 5 acres (20,000 m2) of swampland, owned by Leavitt which he left to his wife and children.[14]

Thomas Leavitt was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Hampton in 1696.[15]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas Levet of Exeter and Hampton, Victor Channing Sanborn, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. LXVII, The New England Historic Genealogical Society, Published by the Society, Boston, 1913
  2. ^ One of the most bizarre sidelights of early New Hampshire history was the early deed, signed in 1629, between the Native American chiefs in the locality of Exeter, New Hampshire, and John Wheelwright, Augustine Storer, William Wentworth, 'Thomas Levet,' and Thomas Wight.[1] In the document, which was said to have been discovered years later in the files of York County, Maine, Wheelwright, Levet and the other early Exeter settlers were said to have bought their title from the Indians. The entire document was later adjusted to be a clever forgery.[2] Thomas Leavitt almost certainly had no knowledge of it.[3]
  3. ^ Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, Second Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, Boston, Mass., 1881
  4. ^ Early Settlers in Exeter, New Hampshire, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. XXV, The New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1871, Reissued by Heritage Books
  5. ^ The town of Leavittstown, New Hampshire, was later settled by descendants of Thomas Leavitt of Hampton. Leavittstown was subsequently rechristened Effingham, in honor of an absentee English lord.
  6. ^ The History of New Hampshire, Vol. I, Jeremy Belknap, John Farmer, S. C. Stevens and Ela and Wadleigh, Dover, 1831
  7. ^ Thomas Leavitt and his Artist Friend James Akin, The Granite Monthly: A New Hampshire Magazine, Vol. XXV, Published by the Granite Monthly Company, Concord, N.H., 1898
  8. ^ The corruption in the spelling of the name has flummoxed observers for centuries. In 1817, for instance, Rev. Dr. William Bentley, pastor of Salem's East Church, paid a visit to Beverly, Massachusetts, to attempt to sort out one Leavitt from another. His visit, like many before and since, was inconclusive.[4]
  9. ^ Thomas Levet of Exeter and Hampton, Victor Channing Sanborn, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. LXVII, The New England Historic Genealogical Society, Published by the Society, Boston, 1913
  10. ^ Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire, Vol. IV, Ezra S. Stearns, William F. Whitcher, Edward E. Parker, The Lewis Publishing Company, New York, 1908
  11. ^ History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire, From Its First Settlement in 1638, to the Autumn of 1892, Vol. II, Joseph Dow, Lucy Ellen Dow, Salem Press Publishing and Printing Co., Salem, Mass., 1893
  12. ^ The Will of Thomas Leavitt of Hampton, 1692, Lane Memorial Library, Hampton, New Hampshire
  13. ^ The matter of dividing a cross-cut saw by half to satisfy the provisions of a will seems a treacherous endeavor.
  14. ^ Hampton's location near the salt marshes made it sought after by early settlers, who exploited the salt reserves for commercial purposes.
  15. ^ Touring A Town's Grave Past, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lane Memorial Library, Hampton, New Hampshire

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