Thomas Willett

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Thomas Willett
1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Thomas Delavall
In office
Preceded by Thomas Delavall
Succeeded by Cornelius Van Steenwyk
Personal details
Born 1605
Barley, Hertfordshire, England
Died August 29, 1674 (aged 69)
Swansea, Plymouth Colony (now approximately Bristol, Rhode Island)

Thomas Willett (1605 – August 29, 1674) was a British-born American merchant, Plymouth Colony trader and sea-captain, Commissioner of New Netherland, magistrate of Plymouth Colony, Captain of the Plymouth Colony militia and was the 1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City, prior to the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898.


The fourth son of Andrew Willet, he was born in August 1605, in the rectory-house of Barley, Hertfordshire, and was baptised on the 29th of the same month. He was educated at The King's School, Ely. His father dying when he was only sixteen years of age, he appears to have continued to reside with his widowed mother and maternal grandmother till he came of age. Shortly after he went to Leyden, and then to the new Plymouth Colony where he gained the trust of Governor William Bradford.

In 1633, after he had become a successful trader with the Native Americans, he was admitted to the freedom of the colony, and married a daughter of Major John Brown, a leading citizen. He shortly afterwards became a large shipowner, trading with New Amsterdam. He was elected one of the assistant governors of the Plymouth colony, and acted as arbitrator in disputes between the English and Dutch colonies; he also became captain of a military company. Early in 1660 he left the town of Plymouth, and, establishing himself in what is now part of Rhode Island, became one of the founders of Swansey.

Accompanying the English commander Richard Nicolls, he contributed to the peaceable surrender of New Amsterdam to the English on September 7, 1664.

When the colony received the name of New York, Willett was appointed the first mayor (12 June 1665) and a commissioner of admiralty on August 23,[1] with the approval of English and Dutch alike. The next year he was elected alderman, and became mayor a second time in 1667.

Shortly after he withdrew to Swansey, and here, after having lost his first wife, he married the widow of a clergyman named John Pruden. He was a member of the New York governor's executive council from 1665 to 1672 under Richard Lovelace. He retired in 1673, and died in 1674, at the age of sixty-nine. He was buried in the Little Neck Cemetery at Bullock's Cove, Riverside area of East Providence, Rhode Island.[2] In his religious views, Willett was an independent.


His son Thomas Willett was a major in the militia of Queens County and a councillor under Governors Sir Edmund Andros and Henry Sloughter. Mary Willett, eldest daughter of Capt. Thomas Willett and his wife Mary, married in 1658 Rev. Samuel Hooker, son of Rev. Thomas Hooker, Puritan divine and founder of Hartford, Connecticut.[3]

Some have claimed that his great-grandson was Marinus Willett, who also served as Mayor of New York, from 1807-1808. This claim has been refuted by E. Haviland Hillman in an article published in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 47 at 119, published in April 1916.[4]

The descendants of Thomas Willett were numerous. The 'Dorothy Q.' of the poem of Oliver Wendell Holmes was Thomas Willett's great-granddaughter, and the great-grandmother of Holmes.

The Fire Department of New York operated a fireboat named Thomas Willett from 1908 to 1959.[5]



New title Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Thomas Delavall
Preceded by
Thomas Delavall
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Cornelius Van Steenwyk