John and Abigail (Eddy) Benjamin are my 9th great grandparents. The Benjamin family, along with the Bradfords, Newcombs, Clevelands, Ormsbys, and many others, form my English ancestry, through my grandmother, on my dad’s side of the family.
John Benjamin was born about 1584 in Heathfield, Sussex, England. He was a close friend of John Winthrop, the great Puritan leader who began the Great Migration with the Winthrop Fleet of English settlers to New England in 1630. Benjamin met John Winthrop while they were at Cambridge University. It is thought that his friendship with Winthrop played a big part in his decision to leave England and come to America. Also, two of his wife Abigail’s brothers had already come and settled in New England, and that may also have played a part in their decision.
Abigail Eddy was born on October 6, 1601, in Cranbrook, Kent Co., England. She was the daughter of Rev. William Eddye, who was Vicar of St. Duntan’s Church in Cranbrook, and Mary Fosten. She married John there in about 1619. They had eight children together.
John and Abigail sailed from Plymouth, England on June 22, 1632 aboard the ship “Lyon”, captained by Captain William Pierce. John took the oath of allegiance to the King and government of England before he embarked. This group of Puritans were members of Thomas Hooker’s “Braintree Company”. After being at sea for 12 weeks, they landed in Boston Harbor on Sunday evening, September 16, 1632. They brought with them their children John, Abigail, Samuel and Mary. The “Lyon” carried 123 passengers, with 50 being children.
This was the last voyage of the “Lyon”. On the following November, while returning to England, it was wrecked on a shoal a few miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake River.
The Benjamins soon settled in Newtowne, Massachusetts. Newtowne is the original name of the present day Cambridge. On November 6, 1632, he became a Freeman. A Freeman had the right of sufferage, enjoyed advantages in the division of land and, before the representative system started, Freemen were members of the General Court. The principal qualifications of this privilege seem to have been Church membership. John Benjamin was one of the original proprietors of the Freeman of Boston. It is worthy to note that he became a Freeman within two months of his arrival, an unusual honor, and perhaps a record of the high regard the community placed on him.
On May 30, 1633, he was was appointed Constable of Newtowne by the General Court. The Constable in England and in the Colonies was the Chief Executive Officer of the parish or town, hence an office of honor and importance.
On six acres of land in Newtowne, Benjamin built, what Governor John Winthrop described as, a “mansion…unsurpassed in elegance and comfort by all in the vicinity. It was also a mansion of religion and hospitality; visited by the clergy of all denominations and by the literate at home and abroad”. The location of the Benjamin home was on the present site of Harvard University. The map below shows the home’s location on the present day map of Harvard.
It would certainly seem that John Benjamin was both wealthy and well educated. Gov. Winthrop referred to him as “Mr. Benjamin,” a title indicating prominence and used rarely. On April 7, 1636, the Benjamin home in Newtowne was damaged badly by fire. It’s loss was valued at over 100 pounds. John was said to have had a very large library. Many of his books were lost in the fire.
In about 1637, John moved his family to Watertown, Massachusetts. Watertown records of 1642 say that he owned the largest homestall in the town at that time. This lot was bought from the Oldham family and much of his land contains the current site of the Perkins School for the Blind. His homestead in Watertown was 60 acres and was situated east of Dorchester Field and bounded on the south by the Charles River. You can see the location of the Benjamin property on the map of present day Watertown below.
The following pictures show the view of the Charles River today from the site of the Benjamin homestead in Watertown. Click on each to view a larger version.
The records do not show that he assumed an active part in the civil affairs of Watertown. Apparently he led a very quiet life there. He was a member of the First Church of Watertown. This church was the second oldest church in the Colony of Massachusetts.
John Benjamin died in Watertown on June 14, 1654. His wife, Abigail, went to Charlestown, MA (now part of Boston) after John’s death, and lived with daughter Abigail and son-in-law Joshua Stubbs. Abigail died in Charlestown on May 20, 1687.
John and Abigail’s 3rd great grandson was Asa Benjamin. You can read more about him at this link.