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top: John's signature in a Freetown record, 1688; bottom: from his 1724 will. In both cases the spelling is very tentative,
suggesting he didn't write often. This is the only consistency. In both cases he evidently wrote both, but I can't guess, within reason,
why they're so different. If he learned cursive writing after 1688, it would be purposeful enough to suggest he would spell
his last name in a more confident way.

Hathway or Hathaway?

In my ancestor's biographies I spell their names the way they did wherever possible. Some were illiterate, shown by signing with a mark. Many in the 17th and 18th centuries were semi-literate - they signed their names but probably didn't have frequent reasons to write and not enough education to spell everything correctly. When it comes to surnames, some were committed to a certain spelling. Some spelled their name or names inconsistently, probably because they signed infrequently and it wasn't important to them to be consistent. I also compare signatures of other members of their family. In some cases there was a prevailing spelling of the time. For instance, the prevailing spelling of the family we now call "Hathaway" was "Hathway." Others spelling this name used "Hathwey," "Hatheway" and less commonly "Hadawy" and "Hathaway." "Hathaway" became the standard spelling in the later 18th century, and I think using it is anachronistic for earlier generations. Even if it was phonetic and the signers were semi-literate, I defer to "Hathway" because it was the most common spelling in the 17th and early 18th centuries in New England.

Biographical information:

     John was undoubtedly born in Taunton and grew up in the part of that town that became Dighton and then Berkley. I find no evidence for the claimed birthdate of 16 August 1650. Although often repeated, the source has never been cited. It isn't in the Taunton town records. However, a circa year of 1650 is likely. John swore a deposition in July 1717 and his age is given as about 67.1 For £52 in March 1671, his father supposedly bought lot eighteen in the Freemen's Purchase in what was then Plymouth Colony south of Taunton.2 This area became Freetown, Massachusetts. Most of March was in the overlap of the Julian (officially used at this time) and Gregorian (known but not adopted officially until 1752) calendars. The start of the year in Julian form was 23 March. Therefore, March is called the first month in dates that don't use month names. Some clerks referred to the months numerically and not by name. To avoid confusion, some clerks in the later 17th century used a dual year to clarify which year is meant if a date was between 1 January and 23 March. Since we only have "March 1671" to go by, this could have been before 23 March. If so, it was March 1671 on the Julian calendar but March 1672 on the Gregorian. It wouldn't have been until after 23 March that a clerk or recorder would use 1672 if he was strictly using the Julian form.
     This acquisition may have been for John, Jr., being the oldest son, since this is where he had his homestead. He eventually had saw and grist mills built on Mill Brook nearby, now called Rattlesnake Brook. This suggests he was ready to start life on his own and was about 21. If the deed was made very near his 21st birthday, and with the ambiguity of the exact year of the deed, his birth would be between March 1650 and March 1651. If he was 67 when he gave his deposition, he was born between July 1650 and July 1651.
     Below is an explanation about my choices of circa dates and order of births for his children, and the circa date of 1650 for the birth of his wife Hannah Burt. The oldest child could have been born about 1673 and the next about 1675 (earlier than others have assumed), so, according to my theory, it makes sense that John built his homestead say by 1672, married Hannah about 1672-1673 and started a family.
     There's some confusion about when John was made a freeman of Plymouth Colony. This was an act of the Colony government, and "John Hathwey, Junir" is on the list of men who "took up their freedom this court" at the 6 June 1682 session of the General Court.3 No towns are specified. "John Hathwey" and "John Hathwey, Junier" are on a subsequent, undated list of Taunton freemen.4 There was another John Hathway/Hathaway living in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, who was about 2 years younger than John of Freetown, but there's no compelling evidence to suggest he was John, Jr., on either list. The two Johns, by process of elimination, must be John, Sr., of Taunton/Dighton/Berkley and John, Jr., of Freetown. If the Taunton list post-dated the 1682 list by more than a year or so, it leaves the question of why John, Jr., appears on it, since Freetown was incorporated in 1683. There are no other Freeman's Purchase or Freetown men on it. The Taunton list was part of a greater account of freemen, but some towns are missing from it.
     That John (Jr.) was at least 21 and made free in 1682 is supported by his being given a license to have an inn on 5 June 1684. "This Court graunts liberty to John Hathway, Junir, to keep an ordinary att Freetowne, and to be provided with such nessesaries as are requisett for that purpose, as lodging and victualles for men, and povender for horses; and that hee keep good orders in his house with those that lodge ther or shall stay ther in theire jorniings, that hee incurr not just blame by his negligence."5
     John served in various town offices for many years. The earliest recorded is in May 1688, when he was elected one of the town's selectmen with a note that seems to say he had also served the year before.6 While the Freetown records I've found filmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints start in 1688 (contrary to the claimed 1686 start date), the Plymouth Colony records don't include him among the Freetown selectmen in 1686 or 1685.7
     The following are more references from the Freetown town records. Rather than cite every entry I've given an image/page reference from this base source:

24 Dec 1688, owed 6 s (shillings), 6 p (pence) for carting (prob supplies for bridge work, which is mentioned in most of the other entries) and a "copy of the law." (a copy of the law for making rates is mentioned in an August entry) 12/5
another entry apparently for the same "carting" says "cash and goods of John hathaway for carting timber," 4 s, 6 p, but crossed out. The next entry says "By John hatheway's rate."

11 Aug 1688, the rates residents should pay to repair the Assonet River bridge, 13/7

24 June 1690, elected to a "town council," which supplemented the offices of the selectmen, 18/17

1690, militia provisions during King William's War for the local militia heading for what is now Maine:

3 (pd?) powder, 6 s 19/19
cash to him for his musket 5 s
a powder horn for Tarlo Cary 6 p
a "wes kot" for Tarlo Cary 7 s, 6 p (waistcoat?)
a gun to John King 1 s, 7 p
"for a gun lost ps 8 by Kingman" 19 s (21/23)

13 July 1692, "town council" and paid for a "snap sack" (obsolete term for a backpack) for Tallby Jennens 2 s, 3 p, 23/27

21 Mar 1698 (not double-dated, prob. 1698/99), selectman 25/31

10 June 1699, selectmen met at John's house to consider a good place for the meeting house 27/35

27 Mar 1699 (prob. 1699/1700), selectman 28/37

9 Aug 1700, assessor same

31 Mar 1701, selectman 30/38

26 Mar 1706 (prob. 1705/06), selectman, petit juror (at the Plymouth Colony court sessions the following year), assessor 33/45

30 Mar 1709 (prob. 1708/09), selectman, assessor 34/47

29 Mar 1711, selectman and petit juryman 35/48

22 Sep 1712, chosen an agent to find a minister and town meetings "shall be kept at John Hathaways for a time" 36/51

13 Jan 1712/13, James Hale was brought in as a possible minister by John but the town didn't approve. John was paid 30 s. 36/51

17 Mar 1712/13 selectman 37/53

29 Mar 1714 (prob. 1713/14) constable (this and subsequent constable service was likely done by John, Jr., see below)

5 Jan 1714, constable (prob. 1714/15, comes after later month entries for 1714 followed by an entry for 24 Jan 1715 and later 1715 entries same)

referred to as constable on 19 Aug 1717, when the town charged him with warning the inhabitants about a meeting to choose the approved minister (Thomas Craighead) 39/56

31 Mar 1719, selectman

13 Mar 1720/21, assessor 41/61

prob. same meeting, Jacob Hathaway, as administrator fo the estate of John Hathaway, Jr., deceased, was abated the rates of Nathan Summers for 1717. 42/52 This suggests he was the JH voted constable above, but there isn't any designation of Sr. and Jr. in the records. No death date for John, Jr., oldest document in his probate file is his inventory, dated 1 Oct 1718

     He is said to have purchased goods from Nathaniel Byfield of Bristol, Massachusetts, later annexed to Rhode Island. On 13 October 1720 he is recorded as having paid for a 5' 2" millstone. I haven't found a source to corroborate this.

John's wives:

     Hannah and John are mentioned in the will of her father James Burt. John and his second wife Christian deeded property to John's son Jacob on 24 June 1726, and she is named in John's will. She was very likely Christian Maxfield, widow of Samuel Maxfield. She was Maxfield's widow as late as 1713. John's son Thomas Hathway married Christian's widowed daughter Margaret (Maxfield) Ingraham in 1719. Margaret was living in Bristol with her first husband Timothy Ingraham when their son Timothy was born in 1712. There's no certain death record for Timothy, Sr. Her marriage record to Thomas says she was from Freetown. This strongly suggests that John Hathway's second wife was Christian (Potter) Maxfield, and that when they married some time between 1713 and 1719, Margaret, with her baby, and Margaret's youngest brother and only full sibling, Richard Maxfield, moved to Freetown to live in the Hathway household. Thomas and Margaret named two of their children Christian and Richard. This would have made Thomas and Margaret step-siblings when they married. John and Christian, one of Freetown and one of Bristol, which were not neighboring towns, both had business accounts with Nathaniel Byfield of Bristol, so John was at least an occasional visitor to the latter town and may explain how he met Christian. John's other business dealings, perhaps with Samuel Maxfield, or social connections may also have provided opportunities for them to meet. An alternative is that Thomas married Margaret first, leaving the same question about how they met. Margaret's brother Ichabod married in Freetown in 1713 and brother Joseph was in Dighton by 1712. The family moved from Freetown to Dighton after John Hathway wrote his will in May 1724. Thomas Hathway appears to have been living in Dighton when he married Margaret (where the marriage took place). John and Christian may have moved into Thomas's household.

John's estate probate:9

John's will, written May 23 1724 (edited for specificity, with modern puncuation and capitalization added):

In the name of God amen, the twenty third day of thousand seven hundred and twenty and four, I, John Hathway of Freetown...yoeman, being aged and infirm of body but of sound and perfect make this my last will and testament...

...I give...unto my beloved wife Chistian the use of my house and land where I live dureing her widdowhood

...I give...unto my wife three cows and my bed, bedstead and furniture belonging to it which stands in my southerly room where I usually lodg

...I give...unto my son Jacob and to his heirs and assigns half my grist mill and saw mill and damn and the liberty of pending as now is used so long as he shall keep up a mill or mills where the mill now stands

...I give unto my son Jacob and to his heirs and assigns all my land which lieth between the land he now owneth and the lands I give unto my son Ephraiem

...I give...unto my son Isaac and to his heris naad assigns the other half of my grist mill and saw mill and damn and liberty of pending as now is used so long as he shall keep up a mill or mills where they mills now stands

...I give...unto my son Isaac and his heirs and assigns half my lands at the head of the lot that it to say half the land from Ephraiems land to the head of the lot and allso two load of salt grass and thatch togetherpr year foir the space of six years, he my said son Isaac or his assign to have the liberty of cuting sd two load a year in the meadow I have hereafter given to my son Thomass

...haveing hiven my son John who is deceased his portion in his lifetime, I give my grandchild Hannah the daughter of my deceased som John five shillings

...haveing also given my son Ephraiem his portion I allso give him five shillings

...I give unto my five daughters, viz: Hannah, Sarah, Martha, Abigaill and Experience five shillings a peice or each of them five shillings

...I give...unto my son Thomass and to his heirs and assigns my house and land, being my home stead where I now dwell after the death or expiration of my wife's widdowhood and allso reserving the liberty of and for my sons Jacob and Isaac to pend and drownd the land as is now used for benefit of the mills as is given to them in this my will

...I give unto my son Thomass and his heirs and assigns all my salt marsh and half my lands in the woods at the head of the lot from Ephraiem's land to the head, onely reserveing to Isaac two load of salt grass and thatch together pr year for the space of six years as before in this my will is given and expressed

...I do constitute and appoint my said son Thomas sole executor of this my last will and testament and in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seall this day abnd year first above written

John hthway

signed, sealed and by John Hathway published and declared to be his last will and testament in presents of us

William Hoskis
Ephraiem his x mark Pray
Edwd Shove

Bristoll, June ye 11 1730

Then before the Honod. Nathaniel Blagrove, Esq., Judge of the Probate of Wills, etc., within the County of Bristoll came Edward Shove, William Hoskins, two of the wittnesses to the last willl and testament of John Hathway, late of Dighton Freetown, deceased and made oath that they were present and did see and hear the said deceased signe, seal, publish and declare the same to be his last will and testament and that he was of a sound, disposing mond when he so did and that they saw Ephraim Pray signse as a wittness with them and that they all signed in the presence of the testator...

John's estate inventory:

A true inventory of all and singullar the goods, chattells and credits of John Hathway, late of Dighton...hussbandman, deceased, praised at Dighton the twenty seventh day of July anno domini 1730 by Benjamin Leonard, Richard Woods and John Paull, all upon oath as followeth


item to his apparrill £4=15=00
item to one bull £5=00=00
item to more one bull £2=15=00
item to two cows £12=00=00
item to one horse £1=05=00
item to five feather beds and furniture £13=10=00
item to lining £2=09=00
item to pewter £3=01=00
item to earthen ware 0=08=00
item to one chest, trunks and case of bottles £2=03=00
item to two tables 0=17-00
item to brass £4=18=00
item to iron ware £3=00=00
item to chairs £1=12=00
totall £57=13=00

     There was no further action taken in John's estate other than Thomas'ss letters of administration. John sold his homestead and mills in Freetown to sons Jacob and Isaac in 1726, and Thomas bought his share of a Dighton homestead shortly after the will was made.

The order of John and Hannah's children's births:

     Due to the lack of birth records and more obvious clues that help date someone's birth, John and Hannah's children have been listed somewhat randomly in most biographical works. The chronology I've chosen is based on John's will and whatever other clues I've found. The will is important. It was customary in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries, at least, to make bequests and to mention children by order of birth, but usually separated by gender. It was the norm, but not the rule. John's sons were named in this order: Jacob, Isaac, John (deceased), Ephraim and Thomas. The daughters were Hannah, Sarah, Martha, Abigail and Experience. Arranging them merged is more of a guess. Where marriage dates are available, it shows the daughters tended to marry later in life than the norm. The last children born of Abigail and Experience suggest they were at the end of their natural maternity period and were the last of the daughters. Hannah was married early enough for her to have been the first-born daughter, maybe the first-born child. Jacob and Isaac were favored by their father with his real estate, either by sale or in his will, placing them as the oldest sons. Ephraim and Thomas married in 1717 and 1719, later than any of the other sons, and their wives were born in the 1690s, suggesting they were the youngest sons. Compared to the listing order in the will, I see no reason not to order them this way by birth. I put Sarah's birth after John's. In 1714 she married a man born in 1685. My list suggests a 1683 birth, with some leeway granted since two years between births is an estimate, so 1684 is possible even with my birth order. It was more common for first wives to be the same age or younger than first husbands at this time, but given they were in their late 20s, Sarah being one or two years older doesn't raise a red flag.
      Jacob was evidently born about 1675. If Hannah had a child every two years on average up to Ephraim, as was the norm, his birth was about 1691. Normally there was a gap in fertility of about five years or slightly less for women giving birth between aged between about 40 and 45. If this was the case for Hannah, it makes sense that her last child, Thomas, was born about 1695. That date fits with other facts and circumstances known about Thomas. This shifts slightly if Hannah, Jr., was born about 1673, but not enough to change my chosen order.

children of John Hathway and Hannah Burt:

i. or ii. Jacob, b. abt 1675
i. or ii. Hannah, b. abt 1673-1677
iii. Isaac, b. abt 1679
iv. John, b. abt 1681-1683
v. Sarah, b. abt 1681-1683
vi. Martha, b. abt 1685
vii. Abigail, b. abt 1687 (had last child 1732, previous child 1727)
viii. Experience, b. abt 1689 (last child b. abt 1732)
ix. Ephraim, b.abt 1691 (m. 1717 to wife b. abt 1697)
x. Thomas, b. abt 1695

1. Bristol Co., MA, deed, 10:71.
2. An often repeated statement, the oldest reference to which I've found is Collections of the Old Colony Historical Society, vol. 5 (Taunton:1878), 79. Although not sourced, this apparently was in the proprietor's records of the Freetown Purchase, which couldn't be found by the time A History of the Town of Freetown, Massachusetts (Fall River:1902) was published.
3. Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England hereafter (RCNP), Misc. Records (1633-1698)(Boston:1857), 86.
4. Ibid, 205-206.
5. Ibid, Court Orders, vol. 6 (Boston:1856), 131
6. Freetown, MA, town records, 1:3, see, LDS film 007009638, image 11.
7. RCNP, 6:168, 187.
8. see note 6, format: film image #/original vol. page #.
9. Bristol Co., MA, probate file 12447 and 12448. Whoever did the filing created two folders, thinking the will of John of Freetown was different from the probate for John of Dighton.

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