Craft Academy: Dragons and Dinosaurs

Fabulous beasts on Roman Mosaic, Dewlish © DCM 2017

Fabulous beasts on Roman Mosaic, Dewlish © DCM 2017

Looking for something to do with the kids this Easter? Come and join us for a morning of messy fun at Dorset County Museum’s Craft Academy on Wednesday during the Easter Holidays, 10.30am – 12.30pm.

The theme for Wednesday 19 April is Dragons and Dinosaurs’. Our special St George’s Day theme event will look at how dinosaur fossils may have been misinterpreted as dragons and fabulous beasts in the past and we will Wyvernlook at the familiar traits they may have shared in folklore and art.

We’ll provide the materials and the inspiration – you’ll create a wonderful piece to take home with you. Even better, it’s absolutely FREE thanks to sponsorship from Battens Solicitors.

Each time you create a masterpiece at one of our sessions, we will stamp your Craft Academy passport. If you collect three stamps we’ll give you a special certificate.

The next Craft Academy sessions for 2017:

  • Wednesday 31 May
  • Wednesday 2 August

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Travellers’ Tales: Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim: On foot across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

Like a Tramp Like a Pilgrim On foot across Europe to Rome by Harry  Bucknall

Like a Tramp Like a Pilgrim On foot across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

Thursday 17th November 2016 at 7.00pm. Come and join us for an interesting talk in our Travellers’ Tales series Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim: On foot across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

Watching in disbelief as his computer was struck by lightning in 2007, Harry Bucknall had no idea that the subsequent trail of events would lead him to Rome – five years later, on foot.

Following the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim path that dates back nearly two thousand years, Harry walks through England, France, Switzerland and Italy on a historical backcloth that is liberally coloured with tales of angels and saints, emperors and kings and war and revolution.  He uncovers a little known route that leads him through villages, towns and cities over rivers and mountains across Europe to the heart of the Eternal City, Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim is a joyous journey of Elizabethan proportion filled with anecdote, adventure and mishap as Harry observes the changing landscape around him, the people he meets, the places he stays and his assorted fellow pilgrims along the way.

Copies of Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim (published by Bloomsbury) will be available to buy on the night at the Museum.  Harry will be pleased to sign copies.

Thursday 17th November 2016 at 7.00pm (The Museum doors open at 6.30pm). The talk is FREE although a donation of £3 is encouraged to cover costs.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Making a Living from Land and Sea, Peasants and their Environments in Later Medieval England by Dr. Miriam Muller

Early 14th Century image depicting peasants working the land, from Luttrell Psalter.

Early 14th Century image depicting peasants working the land, from Luttrell Psalter.
British Library © 2015 MS 42130

This Friday at 7.30pm, Dorset County Museum invites you to come along to a talk on later Medieval England which will explore how peasants made a living in both coastal and inland villages, and the impact this had on other areas of their lives, for example marriage.

Speaker Dr. Miriam Muller, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, says “This talk is based on my current research and will examine the differences between inland and coastal villages, in particular in relation to their underlying economies, and what effect such differences had on social structure.”

Dr. Muller has published on various aspects of rural life in later medieval England, and has a special interest in the sociology of village communities and the relationships between lords and peasants, including the uprising of 1381. Recently, she has published a paper re-examining the status of peasant women, and is currently researching how medieval villagers dealt with orphans and young heirs to the land.

Friday 4th December 2015, Dorset County Museum, 7.30pm (doors open at 7.00pm). This talk is open to everyone and is FREE of charge, although we do encourage a donation of £3 to cover costs.

For further information and other forthcoming events contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Dorset County Museum Thanksgiving Party is Great Success

Dorchester Thanksgiving Party Cake

The beautiful Dorchester Thanksgiving Party Cake created and kindly donated by Angel Cake Company

Friday 14th November saw an enthusiastic crowd at Dorset County Museum celebrating Thanksgiving with new friends in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

The fundraising event brought together people from both sides of the Atlantic in a joint venture to raise money for Dorset County Museum’s new Collections Discovery Centre. A total of just over £1400 was raised on the night which will go directly towards funding the project

Staff and trustees of Dorset County Museum would like to express their thanks to the following people who made the event such a success: Lord and Lady Fellowes of West Stafford; Peter Mann, Mayor of Dorchester; David Taylor, Museum Fundraising Team Leader; Jan Cosgrove, David Cuckson, Jane Squirrell, Volunteers of the Museum’s Fundraising team; Mark North, Andy Worth, Ian Condon, Jenny Devitt, Film and Media Technicians;  John Fiori from the Horse with the Red Umbrella and Nicci Campbell of the Angel Cake Company for the food and the cake, plus Dorchester Town Crier Alistair Chisholm and members of the New Hardy Players.

Dorchester Thanksgiving Party

Crowds gather in the museum for the Dorchester Thanksgiving Party

During the evening, the two Dorchesters were directly connected by a live video link. Julian Fellowes talked with the Rt Reverend Richard Kellaway and the Rev Arthur Lovoie from the First Parish Church in Dorchester Massachusetts, assisted by  who had been helping to coordinate the event on the American side. A major element in the joint heritage of the two towns is the rectory of the Reverend John White. A listed building, it was here that events took place that played a key role in the founding of the United States of America. Regeneration of this site, in the centre of Dorchester’s urban conservation area, will help promote understanding of Dorset’s international story and provide a definite link for the many tens of thousands of people around the world who can trace their family heritage back to Dorset.

Lord Julian Fellowes

Lord Julian Fellowes of West Stafford

The Museum’s Collections Discovery Centre project has been developed to provide new galleries, learning resources, collections storage facilities and a renewed public face for the Museum. The new centre will enable the museum to showcase its collections, spanning over 185 million years. It will build a safe conservation environment and sustainable future for the heritage the collections represent. This will enable more people to learn about history and prehistory using the Museum’s collections, and create additional collecting capacity for

 Julian Fellowes speaks to First Parish Dorchester - Rev. Arthur R. Lavoie, Phil Lindsay and Rev. Richard Kellaway — with Julian Fellowes at Dorset County Museum.

Lord Julian Fellowes speaks to First Parish Dorchester – Rev. Arthur R. Lavoie, Phil Lindsay and Rev. Richard Kellaway

Dorset’s strategically important collections such as the archaeology of the South Dorset Ridgeway and the geology of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

In addition, new galleries will encourage more people to visit and experience the collections including groups which do not currently use the Museum and visitors will be able to see, for the first time, objects in reserve collections which are not normally on display. The scheme will also help to improve the cultural tourism offer for Dorset, and support the regional economy. The Museum is in the heart of a rural county, in the centre of the county town, and in an area that attracts visitors from across the UK. In this location, with the right investment, the new centre will provide wonderful access to the region’s heritage and become an essential part of the experience of visiting Dorset.

Further fundraising events are currently being planned to support the project – for more information visit www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone the Museum on 01305 262735.

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The Roman Pavement, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Roman Pavement Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

The Roman Pavement in the entrance to the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

From the Massachusetts newspaper ‘THE ITEM’ February 1906, an article written by the A. W. H entitled ‘The Roman Pavement’

Rumors have lately been afloat that an old Roman pavement, discovered in Dorchester, England, is to be laid in the floor of our school. Since we are to see daily this relic of an empire which perished fifteen hundred years ago, it is fitting that we should know something of its history and by whose efforts we have come into possession of it.

Close up of the Roman Pavement in the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

Close up of the Roman Pavement in the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

In 1903 there appeared a notice in the Listener of the Boston Transcript saying, that, while making repairs in the crypt of All Saints’ Church, Dorchester, England, there had been discovered, beneath the foundations, a pavement laid by the Romans probably more than sixteen hundred years ago. The rector of All Saints’ parish, Mr. Filleul, expressed his willingness to present this pavement to the City of Boston, should it wish it. The paragraph was brought to the attention of Mr. Lincoln by Miss Hovey: and the former at once wrote to Mr. Filleul accepting his offer and suggesting that, since our Dorchester here is the namesake and offspring of the old English town, the pavement should be laid either in the floor of the Dorchester High School or in that of the proposed new public library, th place to be designated at the rector’s discretion. Soon Mr. Filleul replied, selecting the library as the more fitting place for the pavement to be laid. Mr. Lincoln at once consulted the architects of the building; but they thought best not to have it placed in the present library building.

Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

When the circumstances were made known to Mr. Filleul, he consented to its being placed in the High School. Whereupon Mr. Lincoln consulted the schoolhouse commissioners about having it laid in the Dorchester High School. The commissioners voted at once, as soon as the matter was brought to their attention, to incur the expense of laying the pavement.

But, while a home for the “migrant floor” was being secured with more or less difficulty on this side of the Atlantic, the generous parson of Dorchester across the sea was putting himself to much trouble in our behalf, and enduring much unjust criticism on account of his kindness toward the people of the American Dorchester. We quote the following scathing lines taken from a Devonshire newspaper in regard to Mr. Filleul’s action:

“If vandalism of this kind is to be permitted, there is no knowing where it will stop. We shall next, perhaps, hear of a proposal to sell York Minster to New York, or St. Paul’s to the town of that name in Minnesota. * * * The excuse for selling the old Roman pavement is that the money to be paid for it will help to buy a new organ for the church. * * * The proper place for the Roman Pavement, if it cannot be left in situ, is the Dorchester museum.”

We are glad to add, however, that a Dorset paper, evidently better informed of the facts of the transaction, has valiantly defended Mr. Filleul’s position and generosity, and wrote in reply to the above article :

“There has been no act of vandalism, and to associate so good an antiquarian as Mr. Filleul with such an offence is grotesque. The facts have evidently been misunderstood. In the first place, there is no sale, and in the second, the fragment of pavement * * * is but one of a score of similar specimens that have been found in the borough. To make such a gift out of our bounty to the Dorchester across the sea seems to us an altogether gracious act, and entirely devoid of offence even to the most punctilious antiquary. The Standard, in an admirable leading article, regards the exchange of courtesies between the two Dorchesters as equally interesting and creditable to the Western county and Western state. “It was from Dorchester,” says the writer, “that the little Massachu¬setts town of the same name derived its origin, and not long ago it took the graceful opportunity of acknowledging its parentage by erecting memorials in two of the churches of the old Roman settlement to the Rev. John White, its virtual founder. The pres¬ent gift is no more than “making even” with American generosity; but the descendant is not to be outdone by the ancestor, and has determined to exhibit its gratitude by a “handsome donation ” towards a new organ for All Saints’ Church.”

The donation mentioned in these paragraphs is being made up, through the efforts of Mr. Lincoln and by citizens of Dorchester interested in the High School, and is no more than an acknowledgment of English courtesy.

About the genuineness of the pavement, there can be no question. The above quotations show that the people of Dorset have no doubt that it is the work of Romans: and Mr. Edwia D. Mead of Boston who saw it a few years ago as it lay in Dorchester, further corroborates the opinion by expressing his delight that so genuine a relic of Roman antiquity is to belong to Boston. He also adds that the owners of the pavement are to be congratulated on possessing a priceless treasure.

Roman Pavement discovered in Dorchester, Dorset similiar to  one Dorchester now in Dorchester, Massachusetts

Roman Pavement discovered in Dorchester, Dorset similiar to one Dorchester now in Dorchester, Massachusetts

The negotiations necessary to procure the relic took a great deal of time, so that the fragment itself did not reach us until this month, January 1906. Since we are to see it so soon, it will be of interest to know how and of what it is made. The section of pavement, which is to be laid in the lower corridor, is made of nine thousand tesserae, or little cubes about an inch.square, six thousand white, and three thousand red. The red tessene are made of some manufactured stone more compact than our brick; and the white are probably cut from the common white limestone which is so abundant in southern England. They are to be laid in the same patten as that of the pavement in the photograph Mr. Filleul has sent us, which is a picture of a pavement similar to ours, and gives a good idea of how deeply these traces of Roman civilization have lain buried beneath the dust of centuries. Each interior square is about eight inches on a side and contains about sixty-four cubes. Aside from the mere laying of the pavement, each tessera must have individual attention and be cleaned of caked dirt and stain before set in the cement.

We have at hand a letter from Mr. Filleul, from which we quote in part, telling something of the nature and former environment of the pavement and mentioning an interesting though rather gruesome historical incident in regard to it.

“This pavement, of course, is not one of the finer qualities of which several have be buried in Dorchester: but it is a sort that seems to have been used chiefly for inferior rooms, and passages, and courtyards. We traced this pavement, of which you are having the remains, for thirty-five feet without getting; to the end of it. so it was evidently a passage or pathway. It was covered by about three feet of earth.

“It might interest you to know the pavement lay on the flanks of an old road in the parish called formerly ‘Gallows Hill and underneath a building which was formerly part of the ‘Bell Inn’. At this inn criminals were allowed their last drink before being turned off on the gallows just by it.”

This, then, is the story of our Roman pavement. To the imaginative who pass by it may suggest the proud centurion, with his clanking broadsword and breastplate, who, perhaps, trod on those very stones before the great empire fell. It will serve to remind those of historical bent of the thoroughness with which the imperial race carried out their civic and military system even in the sombre wilds of Britain: and all of us will extend our thanks to Miss Hovey, Mr. Lincoln, and the Rev. Mr. Filleul for their kindness in procuring a relic of a mighty civilization for the people of Dorchester.

A. W. H., 1905

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Dorchester Thanksgiving Party 14th November 2014

Dorchester Thanksgiving PartyDorset County Museum is working hard to raise funds for a major redevelopment project to improve its facilities in Dorchester. An important part of the process is a series of fundraising events linked with increasing the profile of the Museum at home and abroad.

Dorset, and Dorchester in particular, has a strong historical connection with early settlers in the United States, in particular with those who sailed on the ship Mary and John. This was the ship that brought the first European settlers to Dorchester Massachusetts in 1630 under the guidance of the Reverence John White. Part of the Museum’s current project is the renovation and development of John White’s Rectory located behind the Museum in Colliton Street, Dorchester.

Model of the Mary and John

Model of the Mary and John in the Dorset County Museum © DCM

Fundraising Team Leader, David Taylor said, “We are talking to people in America who are researching into how their ancestors originally came to the Massachusetts area. We hope to build on this relationship as our project moves forwards – and help them find out more about who these early settlers were, and why they left England for the New World.”

There will be a small exhibition about the Mary and John on display including original passenger lists. The event will also include a live link with contacts from Dorchester and Boston Massachusetts.

In addition, Lord and Lady Fellowes of West Stafford will introduce a brand new film about Dorset’s heritage. Entertainment will include the performance of a Mummers Play by the New Hardy Players and traditional folk music by Jerry Bird.

Tickets cost £15.00 and include canapés and a glass of wine.

They are available now from the Museum Shop on 01305 756827 or by email on shop@dorsetcountymuseum.org Tickets can also be obtained from the Dorchester Tourist Information Centre, telephone 01305 267992.

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Museum holds fundraising event to celebrate links with Dorchester, Massachusetts

Dorset County Museum is currently working on a major refurbishment and development project to improve its galleries and collections storage facilities and to increase access to the public. Part of the project involves fundraising and increasing the profile of the Museum at home and abroad.

David Taylor points to the coat of arms of the Lawrence Family at St Michael & All Angels, Steeple.

David Taylor points to the coat of arms of the Lawrence Family at St Michael & All Angels, Steeple.

An important part of Dorset’s heritage is its connection with early settlers in the United States. The Museum is keen to establish links with American organisations interested in the history of those who travelled under the guidance of the Revd. John White of Dorchester. The Museum owns John White’s Rectory in Colliton Street which will be restored as part of the project. The Museum has several American members who are keen to promote the project and become involved in establishing stronger links with places like Dorchester in Massachusetts, one of the original landing points of English settlers.

Fundraising Team Leader, David Taylor said, “We have found links from Dorset families to the great-grandfather of George Washington who became the first President of the United States. There are also coats of arms from the Lawrence and Washington families going back to 1390 which show stars and stripes very similar to those used on the American flag.”

Dorchester Thanksgiving PartyThe fundraising event on Friday 14th November will celebrate the Museum’s re-established contact with the United States and will include a live link with dignitaries from Dorchester and Boston Massachusetts. The thanksgiving party will start at 5.30pm with a presentation of a new film about Dorset’s heritage which will be introduced by Lord and Lady Fellowes of West Stafford. Entertainment will include the performance of a Mummers Play by the New Hardy Players and traditional folk music by Jerry Bird.

Tickets cost £15 and include canapés and a glass of wine. They are available now from the Museum Shop on 01305 756827 or by email on shop@dorsetcountymuseum.org. Tickets can also be obtained from the Dorchester Tourist Information Centre, telephone 01305 267992.

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The Black Death in Dorset

Black Death in Dorset From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 43 1923, an article written by the Rev. Canon J. M. J. Fletcher, M.A. entitled ‘The Black Death in Dorset (1348 – 1349)’

It has frequently been pointed out that the middle of the fourteenth century appeared to be the time of England’s greatest glory. France had suffered a crushing and unexpected defeat at Crecy in 1346. In the following year Calais was taken. And when Edward III, in the height of his triumph, landed at Sandwich on October the 14th, 1347, the whole country seemed to be carried away with excitement at the success of their King. To all appearance an era of glory, of peace, and of plenty had arisen. It was the golden age of chivalry. And, in various parts of the country, tournaments were held to celebrate the establishment of the Order of the Garter, which appears to have been instituted by the King in order to hand down to posterity the memory of his martial prowess.

Such was the England upon which the great pestilence fell in the summer of 1348. It has been described as having been

“a turning point in the national life. It formed the real close of the mediaeval period and the beginning of our modern age. It produced a break with the past and was the beginning of a new era. The sudden sweeping away of the population and the subsequent scarcity of labourers raised, it is well recognised, new and extravagant expectations in the minds of what are called the lower classes; or, to use a modern expression, labour began then to understand its value and assert its power.” (F. A. Gasquet, The Great Pestilence, p. xvi.)

For two years or more, previously, there had been rumours of a mysterious disease which had been raging in the distant east, and by which, in a brief space of time, whole districts were depopulated. China and India more especially suffered. Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia were depopulated. Cairo lost daily, while the plague was at its height, from 10,000 to 12,000 persons. (Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages (translated by Babington) 2nd Edit., 1835, p. 21.)

Its specific causes are unknown. The opinion of the time connected its appearance with contemporary physical phenomena of a remarkable kind. Parching droughts were
succeeded by convulsions of the earth and crackings of its surface from which a fetid and poisonous vapour was projected into the atmosphere, the corruption of which was afterwards increased by malarious exhalations from swamps caused by incessant deluges of rain. To the panic-stricken imagination of the people, the pestilence seemed to be advancing to their destruction in the palpable form of a thick stinking mist.

The Death CartThe pestilence found its way to Europe along the great trade routes, being carried by the trading caravans which brought spices and gums and silks and other produce of the eastern markets. An Italian writer (|Gabriele de Mussi, Ystoria de Morbo. quoted by Gasquet, Op. cit.. pp. 4, 17, &c.) tells how the infection was brought to Genoa. Some number of Italian merchants had resorted to a place called Tana, north of Constantinople and under the rule of the Tartars. Tana was besieged and taken by the Tartars; and the Christian merchants, who were violently expelled from that city, were then received, for the protection of their persons and property, within the walls of Caffa, which had been built by the Genoese in the Crimea. This, too, was attacked by the Tartars, and the inhabitants were hard pressed. Suddenly the plague broke out amongst the Tartar host. At first they were paralysed with fear; and then, turning their vengeance on the besieged, and, in the hope of communicating the infection to their Christian enemies, by the aid of the engines of war they projected the bodies of the dead over the walls into the city. As far as possible the plague-infected bodies were committed to the sea. Before long, however, the air became tainted, and the wells of water poisoned. In this way the disease spread so rapidly in the city that few of the inhabitants had strength to fly from it. From the Crimea the plague seems to have found its way to Constantinople, which, at that time, was the great centre of communication between the Asiatic and European countries. It reached Italy in the early days of 1348, being brought from the Crimea to Genoa and to Venice. Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Decameron, Introduction) tells us graphically of what happened at Florence. All classes were affected. Magnificent dwellings were rendered desolate, sometimes to the last inhabitant. Riches were left with no known heir to inherit them. People of both sexes dined, apparently, in the best of health, and at supper time were lying dead. Stricken children were forsaken by their parents. The poor languished on the highways, in the fields, or in their own cottages, and were dying like animals. Flocks and herds wandered unwatched through the forsaken harvest fields.

The pestilence reached France about the same time that it reached Italy. From Genoa it was brought to Marseilles, where in a month 57,000 were carried off by the sickness. It reached Avignon, where Pope Clement VI held his court, in the early days of January, 1348. Here, in the first three days, 1,800 people are said to have died ; and in the seven months that the plague lasted no less than 150,000 persons in the surrounding territory died. The Pope found it necessary to consecrate the Rhone, that bodies might he thrown into the river without delay, as the churchyards would no longer hold them. He himself lived in seclusion in his palace at Avignon, keeping up constant fires and allowing no one to approach him.

Weymouth Harbour

A view of the harbour as it appears today. At the time of the Black Death Melcombe Regis Harbour was to the right and Weymouth Harbour to the left

The pestilence first attacked England in the summer of 1348. It was probably brought from Calais, being conveyed by fugitives who came to England in hopes of escaping from it. It appears certain that the first place attacked was Melcombe Regis, or Weymouth, which at that time was apparently almost as important a port as Bristol or London.

” In the year of our Lord 1348, about the feast of the translation of S. Thomas (July 7th),” writes the Author of the Eulogium Historiarum, (Eulogium Historiantm, Vol. Ill, p. 213.) a contemporary monk of Malmesbury, ” the cruel pestilence, terrible to all future ages, came from parts over the sea to the south coast of England into a port called Melcombe, in Dorsetshire. This plague, sweeping over the southern districts, destroyed numberless people in Dorset, Devon and Somerset.”

The plaque on Custom House Quay which records the part that Melcombe Regis played in the story of the Black Death

The plaque near ‘The George Inn’, Custom House Quay which commemorates the event when the Black Death entered Dorset

Bristol more especially suffered. Other dates given for its first appearance in this country are July 25th and August 1st, while another contemporary monkish chronicler (Henry Knighton, Chronicon Ltyccstrcusis (Rolls Series), Vol. II, pp. 58, &c.) states that it began in the autumn of the year 1348. News of its actual presence had not apparently reached the Bishop of Bath and Wells (Ralph of Shrewsbury, Bishop, 1329-1363.) on August 17th, for on that date he sent letters throughout his diocese ordering processions and stations every Friday, in each collegiate, regular, and parish church, to beg that Almighty God would protect the people from the pestilence which had come from the east into the neighbouring kingdom. The same bishop, a little later, issued a mandate which he ordered to be read clearly and distinctly in the cathedral on the 10th of January, 1348-9. (Wilkins, Concilia Magn. Brit, 1737, Vol. II, pp. 745-746 (Ex reg. Wellen., fol. 333). In it he speaks of the pestilence having left many parishes destitute of spiritual care and without a priest. Numbers of people were dying without the Sacrament of Penance, in consequence of the infection, and through dread of the disease. And he directs that it shall be made generally known that, if a priest cannot be found, confession of sin may be made to a layman, or even in case of necessity to a woman; though, if the penitent recovers his health, confession is again to be made to a priest. Moreover, in the absence of a priest, the Sacrament of the Eucharist may be administered by a deacon. And if no priest can be found to administer the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, then, as in other cases, faith in the sacrament ought to suffice.

It is said that from June 24th until Christmas it rained either by day or by night almost without exception. And no doubt the abnormally wet season,’ unhealthy as it naturally was, would aid the development of the sickness.

Black Death VictimThe Pestilence appears to have been some form of the ordinary Eastern, or bubonic, plague (Gasquet, The Great Pestilence, p. y; Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages, pp. 4-27; Villani, quoted by Dr. Jessopp in The Black Death in East Anglia; Chronicon GalfricU le Baker de Swyhebroke, Oxford 1889, pp. 98-100). It showed itself in swellings and carbuncles under the arm and in the groin – sometimes in size as large as a hen’s egg, at others smaller and distributed over the body; but in addition there were special symptoms, from one or more of which the patient suffered, which seemed to differentiate it from the common type, viz.:

  1. gangrenous inflammation of the throat and lungs,
  2. violent pains in the region of the chest,
  3. the vomiting and spitting of blood,
  4. the pestilential odour coming from the bodies and breath of those affected.

Though many recovered from the carbuncles and glandular swellings, it is stated that none did from the blood spitting. Sometimes the patient died within a few hours, though more usually the sickness lasted from three to rive days before death.

From the absence of contemporary statistics it is impossible to tell what proportion of the population was swept away by the plague. Platina, of Cremona, (B. Platina, Lives of the Popes (Clement VI) who lived about a century later, conjectures that, during the three years that it raged in Italy, ” scarce one man in ten escaped.” The same proportion is given for England by some of the Chroniclers,( Galfridus le Baker, Op. cit., p. 98; T. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series), Vol. I, p. 273; Annales Monastici (Rolls Series), Vol. Ill, p. 475. ) who are followed by Stow and Barnes. (Barnes, History of Edward III (Cambridge, 1688), p. 435; Stow, Survey of the City of London, Vol. I, p. 129, Vol. II, 61. 62.) This must of course be an exaggerated conjecture. But, in all probability, the population of the whole country before the plague was somewhere approaching rive millions, of whom perhaps the half perished in the fatal year. A certain amount of evidence, however, can be obtained from various ecclesiastical documents, such as the records of institutions to vacant benefices, lists of ordinations, &c. And, if I seem to deal mainly with ecclesiastics, I would point out that it is because such statistics are to a certain extent available; and, what is more, that they are practically the only ones that are, with the exception of what may be surmised from the Court Rolls. I propose for the most part to confine myself to the county of Dorset, merely stating beforehand that, in January, 1349, Parliament, which was to have met at Westminster, was prorogued until April, (Rymer, Fcedera, Vol. V. p. 655.) in consequence of the deadly pestilence having broken out and daily increasing in severity, so that grave fears were entertained for the safety of those attending. In the early spring it was again found necessary that it should be prorogued indefinitely. (Ibid, p. 658.)

A scene from the former Weymouth attraction 'The Timewalk' shows a plague victim receiving the last rites from a priest while his distraught family look on

A scene from the former Weymouth attraction ‘The Timewalk’ shows a plague victim receiving the last rites from a priest while his distraught family look on

Dr. Gasquet gives the number of Institutions in the county of Dorset during the seven months from October 1348 until April 1349, as 5, 15, 17, 16, 14, 10, and 4, or a total of 81, whereas the previous average had been only one a month. That is to say that during those months there were more than eleven times the usual number of Institutions. The learned Doctor must have dealt, I think, only with Institutions to benefices conferred by the King or by some monastic or other quasi-public body; for from the episcopal registers, which are preserved amongst the muniments of our own Cathedral at Salisbury, and which I have examined carefully, the number of actual Institutions to Dorset benefices will be found to be 4, 17, 28, 21, 12, 12, and 6 – making a total of 100. And furthermore in these numbers are not included Institutions due to vacancies which had been caused by resignation or exchange. The pestilence still lingered on during the next four months, May to August, when the Institutions, owing to death, numbered 9, 3, 11, and 5.

West Chickerell appears to have been the first parish to be deprived of its Incumbent, for his successor was instituted on September 30th, 1348. His oversight of the parish, however, was but a short one, for another Institution to West Chickerell was necessary on the 6th of the following March. During October, 1348, there were Institutions to Warmwell on the 9th, and to Wool, Combe Keynes (Wool and Combe Keynes, however, were held in plurality by John Glanvill in succession to Richard Palmere. Consequently the loss by death was only one and not two.) and Holy Trinity, Dorchester, on the 19th. From then the deaths of Dorset clergy followed one another in quick succession. The parts of the county most affected were the districts within a short distance of the coast, and the villages through which the Winterbourne passes before emptying itself into the Stour. Bincombe changed its Incumbent both in November and in March; Worth Matravers lost both Rector and Vicar; at East Ringstead (Osmington) there were two changes in a short space of time; Tyneham suffered early in November ; Warmwell, Combe Keynes and Wool have already been alluded to; Winterbourne Monkton, Winterbourne Houghton, Winterbourne Came, and Radipole doubtless caught the infection from Weymouth or from Dorchester. At Wareham the Incumbents of Lady S. Mary, S. Martin, S. Michael, and S. Peter (two ?), as well as the Prior of the alien Priory, (Onginalia Roll, 22 Edw. Ill, m. 4.) were amongst the victims; There were new Incumbents at Milborne S. Andrew in November and again in February. Between November 17th and November 20th there were eight Institutions, seven of which apparently were due to the death of previous Incumbents, viz.: — on the 17th at Kingston Russell, (Here, as elsewhere at implies for, or on behalf of . Xo doubt the clergy were usually instituted at Salisbury, or wherever the Bishop might be at the time.) on the 18th at Cerne Abbas, East Lulworth, and East Morden (as well as one at Catherston Leweston, through resignation), on the following day at Toller Porcorum and Winterbourne Zelston, and on the 20th at Langton Long, Blandford, of the Chantry Priest. At Langton, although the Rector lived through the visitation, another Institution to the Chantry followed in June. Then there were Owermoigne, Aff puddle, Chalbury (twice), West Chaldon (now united to Chaldon Herring) both in December and May, West Knighton, and Stafford. Along the Valley of of the Winterbournes, Clenston S. Nicholas suffered most severely, there being fresh Institutions on December 7th, March 6th, April 8th, and yet again on May 3rd; while Winterbourne Houghton had three changes, viz. : on December 18th, March 5th, and June 7th. The Winterbournes Steepleton, Stickland, Whitchurch, and Zelston all lost their clergy, as, too, did Sturminster Marshall, which lies near the junction of the Winterbourne and the Stour. Not far away is Spetisbury, which lost two of its Rectors as well as two Vicars. Lytchett Matravers and Hilton, two other sufferers, are in the same neighbourhood. Lower down the Stour from Sturminster Marshall we come to Wimborne Minster, (Close Rolls, 23 Edw. III. January 31 and June 17.) two of whose Deans died in quick succession. Here the Win, or Allen, joins the Stour; and along the Win there were fatal cases amongst the clergy at Witchampton, Wimborne S. Giles, and Wimborne All Saints.

Blandford Forum, on the Stour, so far as its clergy were concerned, seems to have escaped the ravages of the disease; but Blandford S. Mary, Pimperne, Tarrant Monkton, Tarrant Rushton, Okeford Fitzpaine, Shillingstone, Farnham, Iwerne Courtney, Hammoon, Fontmell Magna, Iwerne Minster, Ibberton, Marnhull, Thornton (early in December and again in the middle of April), and Stour Provost all were bereft of their parish priests.

On the other side of Dorchester, of the coast towns, Bridport was one of the first to suffer, the institution taking place on November 9th, 1348, while the new Incumbent
himself succumbed just three months later. From the Bridport Corporation Records (Historical MSS. Commission. Appendix to Report, p. 475) we find that there were two Bailiffs of the town in each year; but in the 23rd year of Edward III (1349-50) four bailiffs are named, as having held office, Edward Stone, John Grey, William Hichecoke and Richard Laurenz in tempore P&stilcntice. The Abbot of Abbotsbury fell a victim quite early to the ravages of the disease, and, before his successor was appointed, the Vicar also died. Portesham, Puncknowle, Litton Cheney, Askerswell, Compton Valence, Allington, Bradpole (twice in the space of three months), Pilsdon and North Poorton were deprived of their clergy, as were Maiden Newton, South Perrott, Hooke, Toller Porqorum, Chelborough, Chilcombe, Chilfrome, Broadwinsor and Buckland Newton.

The northern part of the county was not nearly so much affected, though Gillingham lost one of its Chantry Priests at the beginning of December, 1348. Shaftesbury, however, suffered most severely. The Abbess herself, fell victim to the terrible disease, which also proved fatal to the Incumbents of S. Peter and S. Andrew, S. Martin, S. Laurence (both in November and in May), S. Mary and S. John, and later in the year S. Ronald. In addition to these, the Monastery lost its Chaplains, both at the altar of S. Nicholas and at that of S. Curas, while the House of S. Thomas was bereft of its Custodian.

For Sherborne, there were Institutions for the Free Chapel of S. Thomas on January 12th; and on the 18th of the same month a new Abbot was elected. Castleton, hard by, had previously lost its Vicar before December 21st. At Bradford Abbas, not far away, a new Vicar was instituted on December 1st. He can but have lived for a few days, for just twelve days later, on December 13th, in consequence of his death a successor was instituted; and about eight months afterwards, on the 20th of August, 1349, the death of this successor is noted, and there was yet a third Institution. Chardstock, farther S.W., on the borders of Devon, saw changes of Incumbents on March 8th and on December 8th.

Enough has been said to show how widely spread the ravages of this terrible disease were in the County of Dorset.

Although our own Bishop, Robert Wyvil, was spared, for his episcopate lasted from 1330 until 1375, yet two of our Metropolitans died of the plague. John de Ufford was elected Archbishop of Canterbury upon the death of John Stratford, and received the temporalties on December 14th, 1348; but he died of the plague before his consecration, on the 20th of May, 1349. He was succeeded by Thomas. Bradwardine, who was consecrated on the 19th of July, 1349. This great and good prelate, writes Dean Hook, (W. F. Hook, Lives of the Arclibisliops of Canterbury, Vol. IV; p. 106.) who had known how to administer

“the consolations of religion to the wounded in camp, and to the dying on the field of battle, regarded the post of danger as the post of honour. He hastened to England, prepared to lead the way to the abodes of sickness, sorrow, and death.”

He landed at Dover on the 19th of August, and after doing homage to the King, who held his court at Eltham, on the 22nd, he proceeded to London. At once he sickened of the plague, and died on the 26th of August.

There was a return of the plague in 1361, and, great as had been the mortality amongst the clergy of Dorset in 1348-49, at this later visitation it was, if anything, greater. Amongst the victims of this second pestilence was Thomas de Brembre, Dean of Wimborne Minster, and founder of a chantry in that Collegiate Church. Wimborne had lost two Deans during the time of the preceding visitation. And this was not all, for the Bishop of Worcester, Reginald de Bryan, who had formerly been Dean of Wimborne, died in his Cathedral City of the plague. Amongst other Dorset Incumbents who died were those of Canford, Lytchet Matravers, Moor Crichel, Hinton Martel, Chalbury, Gussage All Saints (two), West Aimer, Iwerne Minster, West Parley (two, viz. on August 27th and on September 6th), Pentridge, Edmondsham, Tarrant Gunville (two), Long Crichel, Belchalwell, Pulham, and Buckland Newton; and at Shaftesbury, S. Peter (two), S. Martin, and S. John.

It will be interesting just to look at the comparative numbers of deaths amongst the clergy in the neighbouring counties of Wilts and of Hants.

In Wilts, the Institutions, according to the Registers of the Bishop of Salisbury, in 1343 were 15; in 1347, 29, which number would be above the annual average. In 1348 they had risen to 72, and in the following year to 103. In 1361, during the second visitation of the plague, they were 128. At Ivychurch Priory, in Wilts, a house of Augustinian Canons, the ruins of whose abode are still to be seen some three miles or so to the east of Salisbury, the whole community was carried off with one single exception.

In Hants, the number of Institutions in December 1348 was 7; in January, 12; in February, 19; March, 33; April, 46; May, 29; June, 24; July, 18; August, 11 ; and in September 12; or during the ten months, 211, which would be about ten times the annual average.

What has been said of the mortality amongst the clergy will imply that there must also have been a terrible mortality amongst the people in general; although no doubt, in the exercise of their office amongst the sick and dying and with the dead, the clergy would be more especially exposed to the risk of infection. It is quite evident that the ranks of the clergy must have been very seriously diminished. And consequently, steps had to be taken to supply the places of the parish priests and chaplains of the religious houses who had died in such great numbers. The regular times of Ordination, at the Ember Seasons, had to be disregarded; and not infrequently men who had only attained to the minor orders — deacons, and even acolytes — were instituted to vacant benefices before being raised to the priesthood. Over and over again we read of permission being given for considerable numbers of men to be ordained priest who were under the canonical age. And sometimes they were passed very quickly through the various orders to the priesthood. It has generally been considered that it was partly due to this that there was a marked decline in the spirituality, as most certainly there was a deterioration in the intellectual attainments, of the clergy.

“So great,” writes the chronicler, (Henry Knighton, Chronicon Leyceslrensis, Vol. II, p. 63.) “was the dearth of clergy that many churches were deprived, and were wanting in divine offices, masses, mattins, vespers, sacraments, and sacramentals. It was difficult to get a chaplain for less than £10, or 10 marks, to minister in a church, instead of for four or live marks, or two marks with board (cum mensa), as before the pestilence when there were plenty of priests. It was difficult to get anyone to accept a Vicarage for 20 marks or £20. But in a short time a great multitude whose wives had died of the plague, many illiterate and mere lay- men, barely able to read, still less to understand, became candidates for orders (conjiuabant ad ordines).”

There was a natural reaction upon the religious life of the nation. One good result, however, was the foundation of Winchester College, of which the plague was the proximate cause, the ultimate cause being the wish to have a learned clergy to carry on the duties of the church and the business of the state. And in the first clause of the Statutes of New College, Oxford, William of Wykeham’s other great foundation, the munificent Founder sets forth with great clearness the objects of his foundation, and shows that what he intended was to provide educated clergy, who were not monks, but seculars, to fill up the gaps caused by the Black Death.

And the recurrence of the pestilence, in some places at any rate, drew attention to the advisability of better sanitary conditions. In one of the Close Rolls (Lit. Clans, 35 Edward III, Feb. 25, quoted in Stow’s Survey of the City of London (1720), Vol. I, p. 129.) is a King’s letter relative to Butchers’ Hall Lane, or Stinking Lane, London (25th February, 1361).

“Order that all Bulls, Oxen, Hogs, &c., should be led as far as to Stratford or Knightsbridge to be slain, instead of being killed in the city, and the putrified blood running down the streets, and the bowels cast into the Thames, whereby the air is corrupted and sickness and other evils have happened.”

Although at first the scourge fell most heavily upon the labouring classes, it was not long before it produced a marked improvement in their social status, and eventually a general enfranchisement of servile labour. In numberless manors so many of the peasants had been swept away that the land could not be tilled, but lay fallow and neglected. The old method of farming by bailiff gave way firstly to the system of stock and land lease, (Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, pp. 277-280, &c,) and gradually to that of ordinary tenant farming. And, partly from lack of labourers, and partly because it was found to be more profitable to “grow” wool than corn, large tracts of land which had formerly been cultivated were converted into pasture. And, indeed, labour was in such request that it could make its own terms; and, in spite of statutes and enactments and branding and fines and imprisonments, men were not content to be bound down as in past days to reside always in their old neighbourhood and to work for a mere pittance. The Statute of Labourers was passed in 1349, immediately after the first visitation of the plague, with the idea of compelling labourers to work for the wages formerly accustomed to be paid, and confining them to their own counties. This and subsequent laws passed were but imperfectly obeyed, and eventually,

“under the dread of servile war, the abolition of compulsory service and all the other demands of the populace were tacitly but surely accorded. Thus, within fifty years of the visitation of the Black Death, serfdom and villainage were practically abolished in England, and the labourer, released from his bondage to the land, was free to carry his thews and sinews to the best market” (W. Warburton, Edivard III, p. 144.).

In addition to the authorities noted, the following works may be consulted.

  • Seebohm, Articles in Fortnightly Review, Sept. 1, and 15, 1865.
  • Creighton, History of Epidemics in Britain, Vol. I.
  • Victoria History of Dorset, Vol. II, pp. 20, 21.
  • English Historical Rcvieiv, July, 1890, p. 524.
  • Stubbs, Constitutional History ,1875), Vol. II, p. 434.
  • Dr. Jessopp, Nineteenth Century, Vols. XVI, p. 915, and XVII, p. 599.
  • Stow, Annates, 384.
  • Thucydides. History of the Peloponesian War, Bk. II. sect. 47 — 57.

Related Sources:

The Founding of Dorchester, Massachusetts and the Rev. John White

John White's House, Colliton Street, Dorchester

Behind the Museum – Rev. John White’s Rectory, Colliton Street, Dorchester, Dorset © DCM

Here is an article written by Captain J. E. Acland taken from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Volume 42,  1922 concerning ‘The Founding of Dorchester, Massachusetts and the Rev. John White

The founding of Dorchester, Mass., dates from the year 1630, i.e., ten years later than the better known expedition of the Mayflower to Province-town and Plymouth. The movement that induced “The Pilgrims,” to leave their homes, and face the risks and hardships of the “Great Enterprise,” was in its origin of a definitely religious character, thus quaintly recorded by a chronicler of the period.

He writes – “When many most godly and religious people that dissented from the way of worship then established by law in the realm of England were being denied the free exercise of religion after the manner they professed according to the light of God’s Word, and their own consciences, they did remove themselves and their families into the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, that they might Worship God without any burthensome impositions, which was the very motive and cause of their coming.”

Rev. John White House Plaque

The Plaque on the Rev. John White’s Rectory, Colliton Street, Dorchester, Dorset © DCM

In connection with this Puritan (or Separatist) movement, definite and combined action may be traced as early as 1607, when William Brewster, a gentleman of good social position, organized a Church of Puritans at the little village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, where “on the Lord’s Day he entertained the members with great love” in the Manor House. William Bradford of the near-by village, Austerfield, who became afterwards Governor of Plymouth (Mass.), was closely allied with Brewster in this movement. In the following year, 1608, being threatened with imprisonment (for the Act of 1593 made Puritanism an offence against the Statute law), they and their friends left England for Amsterdam, under the leadership of Rev. John Robinson, removing to Ley den in Holland in 1609.

Not wishing to lose their English nationality, which must have been the case had they remained in Holland, they once more started on their travels, sailing to Southampton in the Speedwell, August, 1620. Here they found other Puritan Pilgrims waiting for them in the Mayflower with the object of crossing the Atlantic, and founding new Colonies in a new land, with freedom of laws and religion which they could not hope for at home.

The Mayflower and Speedwell started down channel in company, but after delays at Dartmouth and Plymouth, Speedwell was finally abandoned, some of her passengers being taken on board Mayflower, which little vessel of 180 tons, with 102 passengers, left Plymouth on 6th September, and after a dangerous voyage reached Provincetown, Cape Cod Harbour, on 21st November, and New Plymouth, 21st December, (N.S.) 1620.

Although, up to this time, Dorset had made no important contribution to the flow of settlers into the New Country, there can be no doubt that the movement was coming more and more under the influence of the Rev. John White, Rector of S. Peter’s and Holy Trinity, 1606 – 1648, ” Patriarch of Dorchester,” known later as “Father of the Massachusetts Colony.” Born at Stanton St. John in Oxfordshire in 1575, he was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxon, being elected Fellow of the College, 1595. A man of conspicuous piety, learning, and power, a moderate but earnest Puritan, he was in touch with the struggle for religious freedom from its earliest days. Living in Dorchester at the time, he would have been specially interested in the emigrations of the “Pilgrims” from the Southern ports, Southampton, Weymouth and Plymouth, and gave both sympathy and assistance to the original emigration in the Mayflower. In 1623 he personally organized the formation of a trading post,” or station for fishing vessels, at Cape Ann, under Roger Conant. Near the spot where the first settlers landed there is now a fine bronze tablet set in a rock at State Fort Park, with the words

‘On this site in 1623 a Company of Fishermen and Farmers from Dorchester, England, under the direction of the Rev. John White, founded this Massachusets Bay Colony.’

About 20 years later, this Cape Ann settlement was given the name “Gloucester,” as at that time a large number of emigrants from the English town of that name had arrived there.

White next devoted all his energies to the acquisition of a Massachusetts Bay Charter, a most important event in the history of New England; it being mainly due to his skill and perseverance that the Company was ultimately formed. He journeyed frequently to London to create and cement the great alliance between the wealthy London merchants, and the seamen of the West of England. Before the final consummation of this work, other enterprises closely connected with Dorchester and Dorset were undertaken by Parson White, which prepared the way for future developments.

The founding of Charlestown, in which the Spragues of Upwey took a leading part, is recorded in a pamphlet written by Mr. Henry Sprague, published in Boston, U.S.A., in 1910. He proves by evidence from early records that the first permanent settlement in Massachusetts Bay was due to three brothers, Ralph, Richard, and William Sprague, sailing from Weymouth in the Abigail in June, 1628, reaching Naumkeag (now Salem) on 6th September. He quotes from an independent historical account of the settlement, (John Greene, appointed to transcribe the records of Charlestown, at a meeting of the Select men, 18lh April, 1664) that ” the inhabitants that first settled in this place, and brought it into the denomination of an English town, was in Anno 1628, as follows, viz.:—Ralph, Richard and William Sprague, John Meech, Simon Hoyte, Abraham Palmer, Walter Pamer, Nicholas Stowers, John Stickline, with Mr. Bright, Minister to the Company.” The father of the three brothers was Mr. Edward Sprague, a fuller, and owner of the old mill at Upwey.

There seems little doubt that the Spragues went out in the Abigail with John Endecott, himself a native of Dorchester, selected as supervisor of a Company organized by J. White (more or less in the Puritan interest) for the purchase of land between the Merrimac and Charles Rivers. They would have been of great assistance in promoting this undertaking, being described as men of “character, substance and enterprise, excellent citizens, and generous public benefactors.” In the following year, 1629, his Company was re-inforced by emigrants filling three ships, one of them called the Lyon’s Whelp, consisting entirely of passengers from Weymouth and Dorchester.

Endecott had full power to take charge of the plantation, and to begin the ” Wildernesse work.” As a ruler he was zealous and courageous, behaving to the Indians with marked justice. It is recorded of him that, together with his Puritan Council, he objected to the growing of tobacco, as they ” believed such a production, except for medicinal purposes, was injurious both to health and morals.” They also insisted on the abolition of the use of the Book of Common Prayer, Endecott earning the title of ” Puritan of Puritans.” He exercised the chief authority as Deputy Governor, until the arrival of John Winthrop, the lirst Governor elected under the Charter of the home authorities. The original Mass. Plantation thus became a self-governing community, by: Royal Charter, sealed 4th March, 1629, to the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay, in New England.

The embarkation of Winthrop and his company from Yarmouth in the Arbella, in March 1630, was the occasion of the issue of a remarkable letter entitled “The humble request of his Majesties Loyall subjects, the Governor and the Company late gone for New England, to the rest of their brethren in and of the Church of England for the obtaining of their prayers and the removal of suspitions, and misconstruction of their intentions.” It was printed in London, in all probability drawn up by John White himself, although not one of the emigrants, being in fact a formal leavetaking, and exhibits very clearly the spirit in which the enterprise was undertaken. It has been re-printed, facsimile, by the New England Society of New York, a copy being presented to our Museum Library by the John Carter-Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, from which a few extracts are now taken, of special interest with reference to the reputed author.

It begins

” Reverend Fathers and Brethren, the general rumour of this solemn Enterprise, wherein ourselves with others are ingaged, as it may spare us the labour of imparting our occasion unto you, so it gives us the more incouragement to strengthen ourselves by the procurement of the prayers and blessings of the Lord’s faithfull servants…… We beseech you therefore lo consider us as your Brethren, standing in very great need of your helpe, and earnestly imploring it.”

“And  howsoever your charity  may  have  met  with  some  occasion of discouragement through the misreport of our  intentions,  or through the  disaffection,  or  indiscretion,  of  some of us, or rather amongst us, yet ws desire you would be pleased to take notice of the principals and body of our company as those who esteemc it our honour to call the Church of England from whence we rise our deare Mother, and cannot part from our native Countrie where she specially resideth without much sadness of heart and many teares in our eyes……..     Bepleased therefore Reverend Fathers and Brethren to helpe forward this worke now in hand, which if it prosper you shall bee the more glorious.”

“It is an usual and laudable exercise of your charity to commend to the prayers of your congregations the necessities and straights of your private neighbours ; Doe the like for a Church springing out of your own bowels……… What goodness you shall exiend to us in this or any other Christian kindness, wee shall labour to repay in what dutie wee are or shall be able to performe, promising, so farre as God shall enable us, to give him no rest on your behalfes, wishing our heads and hearts may be as fountaines of teares for your everlasting welfare, when wee shall be in our poore Cottages in the wildernesse, overshadowed with the spirit of supplication through the manifold necessities and tribulations which may not altogether unexpectedly, nor, we hope, unprofitably befall us.

Your assured Friends and Brethren

From Yarmouth        Jo. Winthrope, Gov.          Rich. Saltonstall
aboard the Arbella    Charles Fines                    Isaac Johnson
April 7, 1630            George Philips                   Tho. Dudley
                                &c.                                      William Coddington

Model of the Mary and John

Model of the ‘Mary and John’ in the Dorchester Gallery, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, Dorset © DCM

About a month in advance of the Arbella, a company met at Plymouth, where the Mary and John, a vessel of 400 tons, had been chartered for the voyage, the first ship of the fleet of 1630 to arrive in Massachusetts Bay. These are the Pilgrims that are termed the ” Founders of Dorchester.” Among them were, Roger Clap, Henry Wolcott, Thomas Ford, George Dyer, William Gaylord, William Phelps, William Rockwell, Israel Stoughton, George Minot, George Hall, Richard Collicott, Nathaniel Duncan, and Captains Mason and Southcote.

The 17th June, 1630, (N.S.) may be safely named as the official birthday of our namesake in Massachusetts. It is fixed by two reliable authorities. In the First Parish Church, Dorchester, is a tablet bearing the following inscription :—

“Dorchester, named from the town of Dorchester in Dorset, England. The first settlers sailed from Plymouth, England in the Mary and John, one of the Winthrop fleet, March 20, 1630, arrived at Nantasket, now Hull, May 30, and landed in Dorchester June 6, 1630.(These dates are Old Style.) “

Also, at the great gathering in Dorchester to celebrate the 250th aniversary of the planting of the Church, and foundation of the Town, the 17th June (N.S.), was the date observed.

Thus as the Mayflower stands in history for the founding of the New England States at Provincetown and Plymouth, so does the Mary and John mark the commencement of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, composed for the most part of emigrants from Dorset and the Western Counties. When she was ready to leave Plymouth, John White was on the spot to speed the Pilgrims on their way. Although the commercial aspect of the emigration was not forgotten, the religious character of the movement was always kept in view. A proof of this is the fact that before leaving these shores the Pilgrims on the Mary and John selected their pastors, and organized themselves as a Christian Church. One of the passengers has left on record that ” a solemn day of fasting and prayer was held, and that Mr. John White of Dorchester was present and did preach unto us the Word of God; the people did solemnly make choice of and call those godly ministers to be their officers, so also the Rev. Mr. Warham and Mr. Maverick did accept thereof, and expressed the same.”

Two hundred and fifty years after this scene was enacted, two great religious gatherings took place in The First Church and Parish, Dorchester, Mass., on 31st March, and 17th June, 1880, to commemorate the gathering of the Church at Plymouth (just mentioned), and the arrival of the Dorset Colonists in America. The celebration was an important event, the Governor of the State being present, with his staff, and also the pastors of the Dorchester and Boston Churches and many descendants of the early settlers. An address was delivered by Rev. Dr. Hale, an authority on the early history of New England, who pronounced with no uncertain voice the debt they owed to John White. He said:-

“If we build statues to our heroes and founders, it would be to John White of Dorchester, the founder of Massachusetts, that we should build the first. Let him be clad in his ministerial robes and bands, as when he spoke his farewell to the colonists. Let him bear in his hand the Sacred Book he was so fond of illustrating. So let us show who conceived the idea of this free State, and who was the very hero who called this free State into existence. Do not think simply of Dorchester. Let us remember that it is the birth of Massachusetts that we are celebrating. It is the birth of the Colony of the Bay that we are celebrating. The hero of the Colony, the founder of the Colony, is John White of Dorchester, England.” It was he who made the great alliance between the London Merchants and the sea-men of the West of England. It was he who taught Old England what it was which was waiting for them in the pre-emption of New England. It was John White who blew that Gospel trumpet. (Gather yourselves together, your wives and little ones, the people of Christ oppressed and denied, and be shipped for His Service in the Western world, the united colonies of New England). Yes – John White is the hero of this day,”

Grand words surely for us to remember, a testimony to his character and life work that had stood the test of two centuries and a half, uttered by one who had personal and impartial experience of the fruitfulness of his labours.

St. Peters Church Dorchester

St. Peters Church Dorchester, Dorset , © DCM

Another glimpse into his personality is given by Thomas Fuller, a contemporary (1608—1661) and indeed Rector of the Dorset parish of Broadwindsor, who gives a characteristic sketch of White in the Worthies of England.

“A grave man, yet without moroseness, as he would willingly contribute his shot of facetiousness on any just occasion. A constant preacher, so that in the course of his ministry he expounded the Scripture all over, and half over again, having an excellent faculty in the clear solid interpreting thereof. A good governor, by whose wisdom the town of Dorchester was much enriched; knowledge causing piety, piety breeding industry, industry procuring plenty unto it. He absolutely commanded his own passions and the purses of his parishioners, whom he could wind up to what height he pleased on all important occasions.”

Rev. John White Memorial Brass

Memorial brass erected in the Porch of St. Peter’s Church, Dorchester, Dorset, to the Rev. John White, the inscription written and designed by the late Mr. Henry Moule © DCM

Verily he had “a strong sway in the town” as is recorded of him in the porch of St. Peter’s Church.

There is not much more to be said of Master White and his connection with the Puritan emigration. Our Dorchester declared for the Parliament party at the commencement of the Civil War, with which the Puritan Patriarch would have agreed most heartily. In 1642 a troop of Prince Rupert’s Horse attacked the town, broke into Parson White’s house, carrying off or destroying his books. Taking refuge in London he was given  duty as Minister of the Savoy, and Rector of Lambeth, being appointed also one of the Westminster “Assembly of Divines.” He was able, however,, to return to his old home and Rectory, where he died 21st July, 1648, and was buried in the Porch of the Church of St. Peter.

Another Memorial to the “Patriarch of Dorchester ” may be seen in Holy Trinity Church, Dorchester.

An oak panel at the West end of the Church gives a list of Rectors dating from the year 1302 A.D. (The two parishes of Holy Trinity and S. Peter having been united down to 1824 A.D.). It is recorded that this panel, erected in 1902, is ” In Memory of the Rev. John White, 45 years Rector of Holy Trinity and St. Peter’s, Dorchester, by Members of Holy Trinity Church and those who revere his memory in Dorchester, Massachusetts.”

Names of Ships trading from England to America, 1620, onwards.

Speedwell
James – from Bristol
Mayflower
Elizabeth
Mary and John
Hercules
Abigail
John and Dorothy
Arbella
The Rose
Lyon’s Whelp
Defence
Sparrowhawk – wrecked
James

Books consulted in preparing this paper.

  • Founding of Charlestown, by H. H. Sprague, Boston, U.S.A., 1910.
  • Proceedings at  the  250th  Aniversary of First Church  and  Parish, Dorchester, Mass., Boston, U.S.A., 1880.
  • Towns of New England and Old England, State Street Trust Company, Boston, 1920.
  • History of Dorchester, Antiquarian and Historical Soc., Boston, 1859.
  • Narrative History of Good Old Dorchester, Orcutt.

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