They Came to America

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Jonathan Gillett

Many people came to the shores of the New World as a way to escape religious persecution. For the Gillette family, the flight to freedom had begun two generations, and nearly a hundred years before. Jonathan Gillett’s grandfather was Reverend Jacques de Gylet, a resident of Bergerac in France, and a minister in the French Reformed or Huguenot church. In August 1572, in Paris, on Saint Bartholomew's Day, the Catholics, under the influence of Catherine de Medicis, the mother of King Charles of France, killed between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants in a massacre that lasted three days and nights. Reverend Gylet escaped the massacre, but was banished from Bergerac, and so fled to Scotland. Between 400,000 and 800,000 French Huguenot’s found safety in England, Switzerland, Holland or Germany, leading to the end of France’s commercial superiority and the enhancements of the other countries.

Two years after the massacre, safe, for the time being, in England, Jacque de Gylet and his wife, Jeanne Mestre, welcomed a son into the world. His name was William and he was born in Devon, England in 1574. William grew and became a minister. He married Habiathia Pye or Chafcombe, England, and they had nine children: Abiah, 1598; Mary, 1600; Nathan, 1602; Jonathan, 1604; William, 1606; Thomas, 1608; Jeremiah, 1610; Elias, 1612 and Andrew in 1623. In 1610 William became the rector of the Anglican Church at Chaffcombe, Somersetshire, in southwestern England, where he served until his death in 1641.

In 1630, Jonathan and Nathan, aligned themselves with a group of separatists who had decided to flee the religious persecution of the old world, for the freedom to worship as they pleased in the new world. This was the group, that under the direction of John Warham, sailed on the ‘John and Mary’ on March 20, 1630. (Since no official passenger list exists for the ‘John and Mary’ it is always possible that someone who was said to have sailed on her, did not.)

Although, the 70-day voyage was probably uncomfortable, and often unpleasant, the passengers were a Church Society, and the word of God was preached every day aboard ship. Jonathan arrived with his copy of the ‘Breeches Bible’

The first year in the New World, at the settlement they would name Dorchester, was very difficult, marked by sickness and deprivation. But through hard work and perseverance, they thrived, and by October 1633, Dorchester was the largest and wealthiest town in Massachusetts.

With things going so well in his new home, Jonathan decided to briefly return to his old home. In 1634 he sailed for England, and once there, on March 29, 1634, he married Mary Dolbiar (Dolbere), the third of seven children of Yeoman Rawkey and Marie (Mitchell) Dolbere, of Devonshire. The newly weds left almost immediately for New England, arriving in June 1634. Their first child, Jonathan, was born in December 1634.

Problems were brewing in Dorchester, however, and many people were considering leaving for the still unsettled areas of Connecticut. A group had gone the year before and set up a trading post in what would become Windsor – talk began of a migration to that area. By 1635 the population of Dorchester had grown to nearly 6,000 and the earliest settlers, those who had come over on the ‘John and Mary’ were not happy with the way that Governor Winthrop was imposing his will upon the inhabitants. They had come to Massachusetts so that no one would interfere with their right to worship as they saw fit. Winthrop, by imposing rules regarding church government and discipline was doing just that.

In April 1635, Jonathan was given the right to fence in half an acre around his house and on May 6 1635 Jonathan became a freeman of Massachusetts Bay. In June 1635 the first group of people from Dorchester emigrated to Windsor. Jonathan’s brother Nathan may have been among this group, but Jonathan stayed in Dorchester for awhile In fact, he stayed until his wife Mary gave birth to their twins, Cornelius and Mary, in early 1636. Shortly after the babies were born, Jonathan joined the many others of his church in the new settlement of Windsor.

Although the settlers in Windsor seemed to get along very well, and to have agreed who should live where quickly and without major argument, things were not peaceful in Windsor. In 1637 the Peqoud Indian war broke out. Fourteen men from Windsor were among the 77 white men to fight in it, including Jonathan’s brother Nathan.

Jonathan and Mary’s family continued to grow. In 1639 their daughter Anna was born, and that same year Jonathan was granted a four-acre plot of land in Windsor. He was granted additional land in 1640, and had another son, Joseph, in 1641. There followed nearly a child a year, with Samuel in 1642, John in 1644, Abigail in 1646 (she died in 1648), Jeremiah in 1647 and finally Josiah in 1650.

Between 1653 and 1671, Jonathan served on the Jury of the County Court ten times. He served as Constable in 1655. The constable was a town officer that ‘inspired awe.’ After 1650, the constable duties were of a purely civil character and included warning the freemen to attend meetings and collecting the county rate and transmitting it to the collectors. At the time, Connecticut town life was ‘pure, simple and natural,’ and nearer the law that governs today than anywhere else in America.

By 1675, Windsor taxpayers were divided into five classes. Class 1, which was a family with a horse and four oxen, had nineteen families. Class 2, was a family with a horse and two oxen; 42 families were in class 2. Class 3, was a family with a horse. Jonathan Gillett and his sons Jonathan, Jr., Cornelius and John were among the 37 in that category. The other two classes were ‘only families’ with 15 and ‘Single men’ with 24, (seventeen of them owned horses).

The King Philip’s War, between the settlers and the Indians, took place between 1675 and 1677, two of Jonathan’s sons, Joseph and Samuel, were killed during this time. Joseph died on Sep 18, 1675 at the Bloody Brook Indian Massacre, and Samuel died May 19, 1676 at the Turner Falls battle with the Indians.

Jonathan died on August 23, 1677, and eight years later, Mary died on January 5, 1685, age 81.

Old Church in Colyton, perhaps where Jonathan and Mary were married

Jonathan Gillett m Mary Dolbiar

    Samuel Filley m Anna Gillett

           Josiah Filley m Esther Eggleston

                    Deliverance Filley m Solomon Halladay

                            Jonah Halladay m Patience Doolittle

                                     Lydia Halladay m John Howard

                                                Alfred Burr Howard m Ann Wheeler Fogg

                                                       Max Clinton Howard m Rose Anne Forderkunz

                                                                Ruth Howard