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vital records sources

The very early origins of John aren't known. His baptism probably predates existing church records. He is supposed to be a relative of immigrant William Woodbery, another Salem "planter," and this is plausible (see an explanation at the end for the name spelling "Woodbery"). It's very likely he married and had at least two children in West Coker, England, only about five and a half miles from towns that William lived in - South Petherton and Misterton. Both men, neither of whom has a known baptism record, were probably born in that part of south-central Somersetshire.
     John was associated with the Dorchester Company based in Dorchester, England, as early as about 1624. They were investors interested in establishing a cod-fishing settlement in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He isn't on a list of members of the Company,1 but surely was employed by them in a position of importance, probably as an agent. His son Humphrey deposed about his father's involvement many years later, and the chronology he mentions puts John on board the ship Zouche Phoenix, arriving at Cape Ann in the Spring of 1624:2:

...when I lived in Sumersetshire in England, I remember that my father, John Woodberye...did about 56 yeares agoe remoove for new England & I then traveled with him as farr as Dorchester...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.

     The Dorchester Company as an entity failed, partly due to speculation that went off the mark and ignorance of local geography. The settlers moved to Naumkeag, now Salem, where they could fish and farm. Needing more support from England, John may have been an agent of sorts who was sent back, surely with others, to see what could be done. A London-based company (The New England Company) headed by John Endecott, was given a patent that included the coast of what is now Essex County with the aim of sailing to Naumkeag with settlers to enhance what the Dorchester Company had started. This was the trip on the ship Abigail, which left England in late June 1628 and arrived in early September.3 A tradition handed down says that the ship caught on a sand bar near the shore. John and another man carried Endecott to the shore on their shoulders to spare him the indignity of wading through the water.4
     Humphrey said his father had been in England for about six months, putting his arrival late in 1627. Apparently his wife Joan's burial record hasn't been found, but Humphrey was still alive and maybe living in Dorchester, where he went in 1624. His mother likely died after that, unless John left him and perhaps his sister with someone in Dorchester who would look after them, but if she had died, it seems more likely he would have left them in the West Coker area. If Joan died in Dorchester, the children might have been sent back "home." By March 1628 John had met Annis Napper of "Hardington," so says their marriage license issued on 19 March 1627/28. This must have been Hardington Mandeville, which is about a mile from West Coker. There is a parish named Mandeville further away, but it's less plausible that he would have met and married someone living there, since his residence, according to the license, was in Dorchester. The most likely scenario is that, during his six-month stay in England, he spent time in the West Coker area where he surely had extended family, including at least Humphrey, and met her while there. Humphrey was about seventeen by then and was ready to face the "New World" with his father.
     The evidence is clear that John first married John Bishop, who had Joan and Humphrey, married secondly Annis Napper and she had John, Hannah, Abigail and Peter. 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. Only a transcription of these records survives. She was undoubtedly the "Anis Woodbery" in a court record.6 Although people have said he was the John who married "Joanna Humffry" in 1596 in Burlescombe, Devon, this isn't likely. There was a well-established Woodberry family there that doesn't appear to have any connection to the Somerset Woodberrys. The assumption was likely appealing due to the name Humphrey, and the idea has made it's way deep into internet genealogy. It would also push John's birth back to at least 1575. His activity with the Dorchester and New England Companies and subsequently in Salem suggest he was younger than that.
     There is no indication that Annis came over with John and Humphrey. This could explain why there's a long gap between the birth of John, Jr., and his sister Hannah, if there wasn't a child in between. Evidence shows that John was born about 1629, apparently conceived before John boarded Abigial. She might have come over with William Woodbery and his family. William is said to have been John's brother and came to Salem with him. This is a very casual statement and not based on any substantial evidence. The first record of William in Salem is in 1636, and there's no evidence of his coming before that. John and Annis' next child of record after John was Hannah, baptized in Salem in December of 1636. Many people came to New England in 1635, and not all of the ships that brought them have existing passenger lists.
     John was at the forefront of the steady development of Salem after 1628 and was one of its selectmen, futher suggesting that although he wasn't an investing member of the Dorchester Company, he was high in the employee hierarchy and was respected in his position. In 1630s hundreds of settlers came to New England, and Salem thrived. Many necessities of a budding town become apparent when reading the early Salem town records. 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 Woodberry, Lawrence Leech, Jeffry Massy and John Balch."7 John Woodbery 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. Roger Conant was one of the investors in the Dorchester Company. The church at Salem had been organized by this time and the first list of members of the church, apparently from 1636, include the names John and "Agnes" Woodberry.
     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."8 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 on 25 January 1635/36.9 Bass River became Beverly, where the name Woodbery/Woodberry/Woodbury became so well-known. He was granted 5 acres of meadow in 1638.10 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 1636.11
     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," wanted 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 four bushels of corn, one of them to be provided by John Woodbery.12
     On 26 February 1639 John was elected to represent the town at the General Court (the Colony legislature) in March,13 for which he was paid £1 for expenses.14 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 1639.15 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.16 John continued as a selectman of Salem to his death. The last town meeting he attended was on 3 December 1641.17 The Salem Quarterly Court records that he was absent from the grand jury and "now dead" on 25 January 1641/42.18 There's no death record, and the death dates found for him in some places on the internet are usually one of these bracket dates. He wrote a will that was proved on 27 June 1643 but never recorded.19 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 also wasn't recorded.
     This family name in the 17th and early 18th centuries is spelled variously depending on the document and the gravestone. There were varying degrees of literacy, even among town clerks and ministers. Spelling was fluid and often reflected phonetics, but the prevailing spelling amongst family members was decidedly "Woodbery." Since there is no ambiguity about this, I see no reason not to use it. I do so with the note that other spelling were used, uncommonly by Woodberys themselves, more commonly by others. This spelling eventually shifted to "Woodberry," and now "Woodbury" is favored.John Woodberry - John Woodbury

children of John Woodbery and Joan Bishop:

Joan bap. 23 March 1607/08, West Coker, Somerset, England
Humphrey bap. 25 July 1611, West Coker, Somerset, England

children of John Woodberry and prob. Annis/Agnes Napper:20

John b. abt. 1629
Hannah bap. 25 December 1636, Salem, Essex Co., MA
Abigail bap. 12 November 1637, Salem, Essex Co., MA
Peter bap. 19 September 1640, Salem, Essex Co., MA

vital records sources: See text for discussion about his marriages and death. His signature was taken from the record of a Salem town meeting on 17 April 1637, published in Essex Institute Historical Collections, 9:46.

1. New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Boston:1907), 61:278.
2. Essex Institute Historical Collections 35:257-8, Perley Derby, "John Woodbury and some of his Descendants") 3. There is no extant passenger list for this trip of Abigial. A substitute list has been made based on other evidence and appears in various publications.
4. Search for the Passengers of the Mary & John, 1630 (hereafter SPMJ), 18:157-159.
5. Records of the First Church, Salem (hereafter RFS), original mss held by the Congregational Library & Archives (, digital dabase online, "Salem, Mass. First Church," (volume) church records 1629-1843, image 210 of mss p. 217. See also Joseph Barlow Felt, Annals of Salem (Salem:1845), 1:172.
6. Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts (hereafter ECQC), 2:60. At the November 1657 Salem Quarterly Court testified on behalf of Mrs. "Agnis" (also called Annis) Balch. In a reference to John's probate she is "Ann Woodbury," ibid, 1:57.
7. Ibid, 2:77.
8. TRS 1, 10.
9. Ibid, 12.
10. 7 May 1638; Ibid, 96.
11. 2 May 1636; Ibid, 15.
12. 16 January 1637; Ibid, 32.
13. Ibid, 85.
14. Ibid, 88.
15. ECQC, vol. 1, pg. 12. Other references to John being a juryman can be found on pp. 2-28. He was a foreman in 1638 and 1639.
16. TRS, 96.
17. TRS, 112.
18. ECQC, 1:33.
19. The Probate Records of Essex County Massachusetts, vol. 1 (The Essex Institute, Salem:1916), 21.
20. RFS, image 140, mss p. 201 (Hannah, Abigail); image 141, mss p. 202 (Peter).

all text and photographs © 1998-2020 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted