John was a resident of Somerset, England, when he became involved with the Dorchester Co. (Dorchester, Dorset, Eng.), with interests in establishing a settlement in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They sailed on the ship Zouch Phenix, which is said to have arrived in Salem in the Spring of 1624.(1) John's son Humphrey made the following deposition in 1680:
I understood that my...father came to new England by order of a company caled Dorchester company (among whome mr. white of Dorchester in England was an active Instrument) & that my father and the company with him brought cattle & other things to Cape Ann for plantation work & there built an house & kept theire cattell & sett up fishing & afterwards some of them removed to a neck of land since called Salem: After about 3 yeares absence my said father returned to England & made us acquainted with what settlement they had made in new England & that he was sent back by some that Intended to setle a plantation about 3 leagues west of Cape Ann. to further this designe after about half a years stay in England, my father returned to new England & brought me with him: wee arrived at the place now caled Salem in or about the month of June 1628 [in the ship Abigail]: where wee found severall persons that said they were servants to the Dorchester company & had built another house for them at Salem, besides that at Cape Ann. The latter end of that sumer, 1628: John Endecott Esq: came over governor, declaring his power from a company of pattentees, in or about London; & that they had bought the houses boates & servants which belonged to the Dorchester company & that he sd Endecott had power to receive them which accordingly he did take possession of: when wee settled the Indians never then molested us in our improvemts or sitting downe either on Salem or Beverly side of the ferry, but shewed themselves very glad of our company & came & planted by us & oftentimes came to us for shelter saying they were afraid of their enemy Indians up in the country: & wee did shelter them when they fled to us. & wee had theire free leave to build & plant where wee have taken up lands; the same yeare or the next after wee came to Salem wee cutt hay for the cattell wee brought over on that side of the ferry now caled Beverly: & have kept our possession there ever since by cutting hay or thatch or timber & boards & by laying out lotts for tillage : & sometime after building & dwelling heere, where I with others have lived about 40 yeares.(2)
A tradition handed down says that when Gov. Endicott arrived in Massachusetts, the ship caught on a sand bar near the shore. John and another man, who must have gone out to the ship, carried Endicott to the shore on their shoulders to spare him the embarassment of arriving in the colony in a bedraggled state.(3)
John's first wife had died before about 1628-29, when his son John was born. The mother of his children born between then and 1640 (who could not have had Humphrey around 1610) was probably Annis, also called Ann in some records. She is named (first name only) in church and probate records and her own death record.(4) The name is widely thought of as Agnes based on the first list of members of the church at Salem.(5) This was very likely a misunderstanding by the minister or a clerk of the name Annis, or an error in modern transcription. The original record hasn't been seen by the author. There is no evidence found that she came with John, Sr., and Humphrey.(6) A town record that includes the number of people in each household in Salem credibly dated to 1637 says that John had six.(7) This indicates that his daughters Abigail and Hannah, baptized in 1635 and 1636 respectively,(8) were the next children born after John, unless there was an infant death.
Given all this, it is reasonable to think that the John Woodbury who married Ann/Annis Napper in 1628 in England is John the Salem "Planter." Only their license has been found, but John was from Dorchester (note that Humphrey's above account says that he accompanied his father as far as Dorchester in John's trip to New England in 1624) and Ann/Annis lived near the concentration of Woodburys in Somersetshire who are supposed to have gone to Salem. The license was issued on 19 March 1628(9) and John returned to Massachusetts about three months later. In this scenario, it appears that Ann/Annis was pregnant by the time he left. This may have been a good reason to stay behind. She would have had the child, John, Jr., later that year or early in 1629 and come with the child to Massachusetts ) no later than early 1636, given John's daughter's baptism in December of that year. She might have come over with
William Woodbury, her presumed brother-in-law, and his family. Their relationship is likely but not proven. It is technically possible that Ann/Annis was not the mother of these later children but rather the Agnes of the Salem church list. The administration of John's estate was given to "Ann" early in 1642, about 1 1/2 years after the birth of John's last child Peter, so the latter thought is not very credible.
As for John's first wife, she may have been Joanna Humphrey, who apparently died in 1601. There is a John Woodbury who married Joan Bishop on 3 May 1607 in West Coker, Somersetshire, near South Petherton, apparent home of Salem settler William Woodbury.(10) John and Joan (Bishop) had a son Humphrey baptized in West Coker on 25 July 1611.(11) More records in England may be found to further fill the gaps in our knowledge of John's years there.
John was at the forefront of the steady development of Salem, established nearby in place of the failed effort at Cape Ann. In 1630 hundreds of settlers came in the Winthrop Fleet to the area, which saw other villages settled around Salem. Many necessities of a budding town become apparent when reading the early Salem town records. John was among the men chosen to oversee the division of land at Salem in 1635 and for the effort was paid 4 shillings per acre of his share of "small lots" and 10 shillings per acre of his share of "great lots."(12) He spent a lot of time at this in the coming years as people arrived in town. Settlers were encouraged to expand beyond the tiny village and set up farms. He and others were granted farms of 200 acres at the head of Bass River (now part of Beverly) on 25 January 1635/36.(13) He was granted 5 acres of meadow in 1638.(14) Salem was considered for the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in these earlier years, and there was a brief thought to establish a college on land that is now in Manchester. John was on the committee to examine the land for that purpose in 1636.(15)
Single women without familial attachment were unusual in these early days of the American colonies (such a thing was socially discouraged, in any case), save the occasional widow who found herself in such a circumstance, but Deborah Holmes, a "maid," wished to settle in Salem. She refused a grant of land, with the record noting that "it would be a bad precendent to keep house alone." Instead she was given what seems an unbalanced compensation of four bushels of corn, one of them to be provided by John Woodbury.(16)
For years John had served as an overseer of town affairs with Roger Conant, John Trask, John Balch and several others. On 31 December 1638 the elected position of selectman was established at Salem when "there were chosen seven men for the managing of the affaires of the towne for a twelve moneths, viz. Mr. Endecott, Mr. Hathorne, Mr. Conant, John Woodbury, Lawrence Leech, Jeffry Massy and John Balch."(17) John Woodbury and apparently John Balch were never given the distinction of being called "Mr." as the others consistently were, which held social currency at the time. This surely reflected their positions in English society before they immigrated. At the same meeting the contemporarily important business of constructing a meeting house was brought up. The church had been organized by this time and the first list of members of the church, apparently from 1636, include the names John and "Agnes" Woodbury (husbands and wives are dispersed among single people, making it uncertain that Agnes was Mrs. John).
On 26 February 1639 John was elected to represent the town at the General Court (the colony legislature) in March,(18) for which he was paid 1 lb. for expenses.(19) From when the court was established in 1636 to the time of his death, John was a frequent juryman and occasional foreman at the Quarterly Court in Salem. He was considered an arbitrator on his own, being chosen to settle a dispute in 1639.(20) John was elected to "see to ye order about swine" from 3 January 1639/40 to 31 October 1640. This town office was known as a hogreeve or hog warden.(21) John continued as a selectman of Salem to his death. The last town meeting he attended was on 3 December 1641. The Salem Quarterly Court records that he was absent from the grand jury and "now dead" on 25 January 1641/42.(22) There is no death record and the death date found for him in some places on the internet appears not to be based on documentation. He wrote a will that was proved on 27 June 1643 but never recorded.(23) His son Humphrey's will followed similar circumstances, although a copy of his will still exists. Administration of his estate was given to his widow "Ann," who was ordered to bring in an inventory of his estate to the court. This was also not recorded.
John's family name is spelled variously depending on the document. He signed "Woodbery," as did his son Humphrey. Nicholas (son of William, the "Planter") signed his name "Woodberry" but the carver of his gravestone used "Woodbury." William, the "Planter" and his son Hugh also signed "Woodberry." The name surely derives from an English geographic description of a wooded place (wood "bury") and "Woodbury" is a common spelling in this family, although more so in later generations. In written records such as town minutes and birth records, spelling was at the discretion of the clerk. Family intent is best found in the signatures, but many people learned to sign their name without otherwise being able to write or spell well, or at all. Some relied on phonetics. Since even the Woodburys themselves in these early generations aren't known to have been literate, the spelling "Woodbury" is used for these articles.
children of John and Joan (Bishop) Woodbury (this John may be Planter John of Salem):
Joan, bap. 23 March 1607/08(24), West Coker, Somerset, England
Humphrey, bap. 25 July 1611(25), West Coker, Somerset, England
Regarding Humphrey Woodbury, son of John of Somerset, immigrants to New England: court records in New England that give his approximate age do so variously, placing his birth between 1604-1609. Such records are notoriously unreliable. It is within reason to think his mother was Joan Bishop, but it is for the time being speculation.
children of John and Ann/Annis (Napper?) Woodbury:
John, b. abt. 1629
Hannah, bap. 25 December 1636(26), Salem, Essex Co., MA
Abigail, bap. 12 November 1637(27), Salem, Essex Co., MA Peter, bap. 19 September 1640(28), Salem, Essex Co., MA