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John's signature on his will when he was "weak in body"

The first record of John as an adult was on 22 August 1726, when, with his mother and siblings, sold his father's homestead in Wenham. He was just short of his 21st birthday, but already referred to as a housewright. His sister Mary and brother-in-law Robert Herrick were also of Manchester at the time. John married to Manchester native Abigail Hooper in November 1727. They lived there for the rest of their lives, but I don't find a record of where in that town the family might have lived until 40 years later. On 21 April 1728, John became a member of the Manchester church "by profession or by letter," following his wife joining the previous January.1
     On 10 August 1749, John bought land in Manchester and Gloucester from Robert Herrick.2 Herrick had bought them and others the year before from the estate of Samuel Morgan. There's no obvious reason for him to have done so other than investments. Being described as a gentleman in that deed, he appears to have been well-settled. Many of these were woodlots, which may have been of interest to John to provide for his house-building business. Another was six acres known as Crow Island, which is now a peninsula at the entrance to Kettle Cove. Others were marsh and thatch lots. I don't know the distinction between them, since the salt-water marshes in the area also had marsh grasses used for thatch and fodder.

The marsh at Kettle Cove, where John owned a lot.

The marsh grass was used mostly for feeding livestock. John didn't farm, but his estate inventory shows he had enough cultivated land to support his three cows, for milk and cheese at least and a horse for riding and getting wood from his woodlots. For the latter he had a an ax, beetle and wedges to split the wood, horse "tackling" and a cart. He also had an orchard in Kettle Cove for fruit, although the location of that is obscure in deeds.
     His house was on another lot he bought in 1749. The history of this house and the lots around it is very complicated. They were like an irregular, patchwork quilt of small parcels and sold often. The deeds for these are generally very poorly worded as to bounds and compass directions. They are sometimes inconsistent or incorrect. Also, the same poor descriptions were reused several times over from owner to owner. There's more oddness in the ownership chain, but it's safe to say that the Edwards house lot was a two and three quarter acre plot at what is now the northeast corner of what is now Summer and Ocean Streets.
There is an old house still standing there, oriented east/west as the Edwards house was. It was built in two sections. Although it appears symmetrical in shape and openings, the windows in the east half are closer together than the west and closer to the entry. The window above the entry isn't centered above the door. The evidence suggests the east three quarters was built first, possibly by Edwards in Fall 1749, but this is a guess. John himself may have made the extension to the west, or it was done for David Morgan, who bought the property in 1797.3 The entry with the sidelights is likely an 1830s-40s modification, causing it to be off center with the window above. The rear extension, the cornice, the subtle molding details around the windows and the shingles in the gable ends are also from the 19th century.

On this small homestead lot, the Edwardses would have had a barn and garden. John's inventory shows that the family did enough domestic work, or had at least some of the work done for them, to sustain them as non-farmers. There was a cheese press, a hoe and a goose. What they didn't provide for themselves they could buy. The value of John's estate was £403, with $100 of cash on hand, making it plausible they bought their meat. It's interesting to see that they had a flax comb, but no spinning wheel.
     Other indicators of a fairly comfortable living were brass and pewter utensils, a coffee mill, a tea kettle, pot and service, several mirrors, Delft plates and books. Among the latter were "two volumes of Mr. Flavells works." John Flavel was an evangelical Presbyterian minister in England who wrote in the later 17th century.
     At a town meeting on 13 March 1737/38 John was voted to be a tithingman and a "measurer and marker of timber," also described as a "measurer of board and timber."4 After sixteen years he returned to the latter office for a continuous seventeen years.5 This likely related to his housebuilding experience. He also served again as a tithingman in 1747, 1750 and 1751.6 On 12 March of 1738/39, he was elected a hogwarden, and again in 1740, 1753, 1758, 1762 1763, 1764 and 1767.7
     On 9 March 1740/41 he was voted to be a surveyor of fences and again in 1760, 1763, 1764, 1768, 1770, 1771 and 1772.8 At the same meeting it was agreed that John could lease the "school land" for 40 shillings a year for seven years, agreeing to only cut pine and hemlock trees.9 Also at this meeting it was agreen to lease the "way" to Crow Island. Samuel Morgan, who owned and very likely lived on the land John later bought for his homestead, was given the right to lease the road (now Ocean Street), agreeing to keep a gate across it.10
     The meeting on 26 March 1740 was called to fill the office of the town's constable.11 John, Samuel Carter and Paul Leach all refused their election and paid the fine before two men agreed to do it. John was elected a surveyor of highways on 15 March 1742/43 and again in 1752, 1759 and 1762.12 He was chosen to serve on the grand jury at the Essex County Quarterly Court in 1743, 1758 and 176213 and the jury of trials in 1750 and 1754.14 On 27 February 1743/44, he was appointed to a committee to find a new minister.15 In July 1745 he was one of two men appointed to join a church committee to offer Benjamin Toppen the position of the town's minister and a salary agreed to by the townsmen.16 Toppan agreed and John's signature is on the final papers.17
     John was appointed a "corder of wood" in 1745, 1746 and 1750.18 He was on a committee to survey the town's highways to see if they had been encroached on by abutting property owners by narrowing them or putting up gates.19 On another committee, he would join in seating the meeting house for various years.20 In 1758 he voted against raising tax money to pay for two men to keep a school or schools in town.21 He was a hayward in 1760 and 1766,22 and a "warden" 1761.23 Although named without suffix, it was John, Jr., who was elected a culler of fish in March 1773.24 John, Sr., died the following September and "John Edwards" served again in that office in March 1774.25
     John had an unusually long and varied history of serving the town. In New England, men, if they served at all, normally did so in a handful of different offices in their younger years. John continued to age 67 and served in multiple offices in the same year almost to that age. His sons John and Daniel succeeded him in some of the same offices and on committies. Although John is named without a suffix in the records of the same town meeting in which there is also a John, Sr., named, this happened before his son John was an adult, and I don't think the evidence supports the John without a suffix being John, Jr. The latter is first named as such in 1766 and appears infrequently until his father died.26

The following is taken from John's probate file:27

In the name of God amen: I John Edwards of Manchester...housewright, this twenty ninth day of December anno domini one thousand seven hundred and seventy two, being weak in body although of sound disposing mind & memory, (for which blessed be God) have thought expedient to make & ordain this my last will & testment in the following mnner and form...

Item - I give and beqeath unto my well beloved wife Abigail the improvement of all my real & personal estate I shall die siezed or possessed of during the whole of her natural life proveded she remain my widow.
[there is a section crossed out saying she should be provided with enough fuel from any woodland he may own to keep a sufficient fire, and the wood she be used for no other purpose.] And likewise my will is that in case the improvement of my said real & personal estate prove insufficient for my said wife support, my will is that she call in such part or parts or the whole if need b e of the principal sum of forty pound at use at the time of publishing this my last will & testament for her comfortavble maintenance & support.

Item - My will is that at and after my said wifes decease or cotracting marriage with anjy other person the whole of my estate both real & personal revert to my then surviving chilldren to be divided amongst them in such manner and form as the law directs where a person dies intestate.

Lastly - I make and ordain my said wife Abigail executrix & my son John Edwards executor to this my said last will & testament in trust for the intents and pruposes there in contained. In witness whereof I the said John Edwards do hereunto set my hand and seal the day & year first before herein written...

John Edwards the presence of us...

Joseph Whipple
Jacob Hooper Jnr
Benjamin Kimball

On 24 September 1804, almost eight months after Abigail died, her son Samuel wrote this letter to Samuel Holton, judge for the Essex County probate court:

Honoured Sir, I would inform you that I am an heir to the estate of John Edwards deceas'd of Manchester, and that I am not satisfied with the proceedings of John Edwards as executor of his father's will, as he has delay'd from time to time setting this business and I do not see any probability of his doing it at all unless you will be pleased to make him know his duty, which I would humbly implore you to do, for, sir, this is the most sutible season of the year to divide the lands &c. This is not my petition alone but a number of the heirs joins theirs with my that you would forward the bisuness as you think proper. I humbly subscribe myself your suplicating svt [servant

No estate division is evident in the court records, but the following inventory shows he had land when he died.

one dwelling home & barn & three acres land adjoyning 110 [pounds]
seven acres pasture land adjoyning on Mr. Stones 20
one & a half acre of mowing land below Deacon Herrick 18
about four acres land at Crow Island 16
about nine poles land adjoining on Andrew Hooper 1
twenty three acres pasture land at Grave's so called 60
four acres of orchard & pasture adjoyning Joseph Knight 24
three & a half lots in Cape Ann long lots no. 1, 2, 3 & 4 50
three half lots in Cape Ann 12
one piece salt marsh adjoyning on Deacon Herricks land 8
real estate £319

three cows £ £10 10
[shillings] 0 [pence] one heifer 36/ [shillings] one horse £5 17 6
one quarter of pew in Manchester meeting house 3
beetle and wedges 5/ one ax 4/6 one saddle & bridle 7/
[0] 16 6
horse tackling 5/8 one iron chain 3/
[0]8 8
one horse cart 15/ three barn forks 3/
[0]18 0
one cheese press 6/ one case with draws 10/
[0] 16 0
one chest with one draw 5/
[0] 5 0
one white pine square table 6/
[0] 6 0
one white do.
[ditto] 2/8 [0] 2 8
one white round do. 2/8
[0] 2 8
one low case with draws 8/ one old chest 2/
[0] 10 0
one iron barr 7/4 9 chairs 18/ 1 5 4
one bed and furniture appertaining 7 8 0
one bed and furniture do. 3 9 4
one old bed and furniture do. 1 8 0
eight coton & linen sheets 37/4 fourteen tow do. 28/ 3 5 4
one tow diaper table cloth 2/8 four tow table cloths 5/
[0] 7 8
three diaper napkins 1/6 six tow towels 4/
[0] 5 6
six cotton & lines pillow caes 9/ ten cotton linen pillow cases 10/ 19 0 0
thirty pounds of pewter 36/ one brass kettle 30/ 3 6 0
one warming pan old brass kettle & skillet
[0] 4 0
one gun 12/ sword and belt 6/
[0] 18 0
one pair bellows 3/ one tea kettle 3/4
[0] 6 4
carried over £366 14 0

tin ware 1/4 tea pot 2/4 bowls cups & sacers 6/
[0] 9 8
one iron pot 3/ one small do. 2/ one iron kettle 2/4
[0] 7 4
two iron skillets 2/8 frying pan 2/ pr. tongs 1/6
[0] 6 2
two trammels 6/ pr. andirons 3/ two candlesticks 1/
[0]0 10 0
grid and toasting iron 5/ box iron and heaters 2/8
[0] 7 8
coffee mill 2/ lanthorn 2/ goose 2/
[0] 6 0
two wheels 3/ two looking glasses 4/6
[0] 7 6
six delf plates 3/4 sundrie glass bottles 2/8
[0] 6 0
meal chest 3/ earthen ware 3/ wooden do. 7/
[0] 10 0 six knives & forkes 2/6 flax comb 10/ [0] 12 6
one hoe 3/ parcel of small books 15/
[0] 18 0
two volumes of Mr. Flavells works 32/ 1 12 0
one hundred dollars in cash 30 0 0
£403 6 10

John Edward exectr sworn

Jonathan Herrick
Joseph Whipple
Benjamin Kimball

Manchester Jany 20th 1774

Danvers Mar. 8 1774 Then John Edwards Excr presented the aforewritten and made oath that it contained a true & perfect inventory of the estate of John Edwards late of Manchester decd so far as has come to his hands and knowledge and if any thing further shall hereafter appear he will cause it to be added

before me Benja Lynde J. Prob.

children of John Edwards and Abigail Hooper:28

i. Abigail b. 26 August 1728, d. 27 August 1751
ii. Anne b. 26 June 1730
iii. Daniel b. 19 August 1732
iv. John b. 16 August 1734
v. Mary b. 26 June 1737
vi. Ruth bap. 22 June 1740
vii. William b. 20 April 1743
viii. Elizabeth b. 11 March 1745/46
ix. Samuel b. 30 May 1748

vital records sources: John's birth date comes from John's birth date comes from Vital Records of Beverly, Massachusetts, to the year 1849, vol. 1 (Topsfield Historical Society, Topsfield, MA:1906), 118. His marriage and death dates come from Vital Records of Manchester, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Salem: Essex Institute, 1903), 162, 252. Regarding his death, two sources are given. The town record says he died on 6 September and a First Church record says 7 September. His death was reported in The Essex Gazette, and The Boston Evening Post (shown above). These records say he was 69, but he was actually in his 69th year (making him 68).

2. Essex Co., MA, deeds, 103:18.
3. Ibid, 174:35.
4. Town Records of Manchester, vol. 1 (Salem, 1889), 25-26.
5. Ibid, 1754, 67; 1755, 70; 1756, 73; 1757, 75; 1758, 77; 1759, 81; 1760, 85; 1761, 90; 1762, 94; 1763, 97; 1764, 102; 1765, 104; 1766, 105; 1767, 111; 1768, 115; 1769, 120; 1770, 123; 1771, 128.
6. Ibid, 55, 57.
7. Ibid, 28, 31, 64, 77, 94, 97, 101, 111.
8. Ibid, 33, 85, 97, 102, 114, 123, 127, 133.
9. Ibid, 34.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid, 38, 61, 81, 94..
13. Ibid, 39, 79, 96.
14. Ibid, 57, 69.
15. Ibid, 40.
16. Ibid, 45.
17. Ibid, 48.
18. Ibid, 43, 50, 55.
19. Ibid, 69.
20. Ibid, 72, 86, 98, 112.
21. Ibid, 78.
22. Ibid, 85, 107.
23. Ibid, 90.
24. Ibid, 138.
25. Ibid, 142.
26. Ibid, 109.
27. Essex Co., MA, probate file 8612.
28. Vital Records of Manchester, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Salem, MA: Essex Institute, 1903), 45-46.

all text and photographs © 1998-2023 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted