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The Church
Rev. F. B. Zincke
Land Ownership in Wherstead
The Founders of New England

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    Samuel Merrill, 1928, reprint 1983

Wherstead, a Parish in Suffolk - Chapter V, pp48-54

Rev. F. B. Zincke

   Wherstead parish was fortunate in having a talented vicar, who, as curate and vicar, served the parish from 1841 until his death in 1893, and who became its historian. Rev. Foster Barham Zincke, chaplain to the Queen, was a gentleman of studious tastes, possessing industry, imagination, and genial good-nature, and he produced a history whioh is instructive and readable as few such works have ever been. Most historians would have recited the facts which, in the aggregate, would have constituted the history of the humble parish, and would have considered their work finished. But Mr. Zincke always goes a step farther, and seeks to ascertain the reason why. Why are the birds and animals in the parish less numerous than in earlier times? Why has the number of land owners decreased in such marked degree? These and many other questions relating to the territory of the parish, the church and its vicars, the customs and language of the people, he answers in an interesting way.

   Under the title “Some Materials for the History of Wherstead,” Mr. Zincke reprinted, in 1887, a series of articles which he had written, and which had first appeared in an Ipswich newspaper. Much enlarged, especially by a number of chapters on “Wherstead in Domesday,” this work appeared in a second edition in the year of its author’s death. It tells much of the causes which gradually brought about the changes which have taken place in the rural life of England, and its perusal would nterest anyone of studious tastes, even though a stranger to Wherstead and its affairs. A copy of the second edition of this work may be found in the Boston Public Library.

Land Ownership in Wherstead

At the time of the great migration, in which the foundations of New England were laid by the sturdy and enterprising colonists from Old England, Samuel Sames was vicar of Wherstead. Like many other clergy and laymen of his time and neighborhood he was a Puritan in his beliefs and practices. He died in 1657, after fifty-four years’ service in the parish.

   “We can imagine the old man,” says Mr. Zincke in his history (*), “for he must have lived to beyond eighty, sunning himself in the warm vicarage grounds. . . . In whatever direction, north, south, east or west, he had looked in those days, he would have seen the houses of substantial land-owning neighbors, for they were around him on every side. But now there is no representative among us of any one of them. Their descendants, one after another, were bought out; and where may be the descendants of those who sold the inheritance of their fathers, or whether indeed they have any descendants at all, no man knows.” (**)

   It would be vain to look to Wherstead today for representatives of the families of the seventeenth century. The parish contains 2264 acres, and with the exception of the glebe—a small tract belonging to the church—and a half-acre belonging to a certain farmer, the entire parish (***) was, in 1893, according to Mr. Zincke, a part of a single still larger estate. “It is a significant illustration of the action of our land system that at this day there is not one householder of any class in this parish who is residing in the house in which he was born, and that of all our resident householders only two are natives of the place.

   A century and a quarter after the first settlement of Newbury, Massachusetts, there were ten or more landed properties in the parish of Wherstead, the owners in a number of cases being people of some social distinction. Less than a century later, according to Mr. Zincke, these families had djsappeared so completely that even “tradition is dumb as to where in the parish they respectively lived.” In view of this fact it would obviously be futile, at this late day, to seek the site of any Merrell homestead occupied three hundred years ago.

The Founders of New England

The earliest settlers of New England were chiefly from the great middle class of the English rural population. Few were of the aristocracy. Secure in their property rights and social privileges, and close adherents of the established church, the aristocracy had every reason to remain where the continued enjoyment of these rights and privileges was best assured. On the other hand, few were of the lower strata of the social structure. Some pecuniary means, and an even greater measure of enterprise and ambition, were needed to induce families to leave the assured conditions of an established community for the uncertainties of a wilderness, in which even the beginnings of a commonwealth were yet to be laid.

   We are wont to think of the early settlers of New England as victims of hardship, giving up comfortable homes in the mother country to subject themselves to the privations incident to life in a forest. To a certain extent this was true, but it was less so in the case of those coming from rural England than in the case of those from the large towns.

   Populous tracts in Suffolk, England, of considerable extent, were inaccessible to wheeled vehicles for more than a hundred years after Newbury (****) was founded, and such roads for wheel traffic as there were were of a primitive character, deeply rutted, and the many places where mud made passage difficult were mended with faggots, if mended at all.

   The England of today, a land of hard broad highways, over which motor vehicles race in competition with the steam-drawn trains of the railways, is very different from the England which Nathaniel and John Merrill left, to build their homes among the Indians beside the River Parker. For generations after Nathaniel Merrill’s time the guards of English mail coaches carried blunderbusses and pistols to protect the passengers under their care from the lawless men who infested the country roads throughout the kingdom. The Indians of Massachusetts ceased to be a source of danger to travelers long before the Dick Turpins of England were forced to retire from the sinister profession of highway robbery.

* Zincke, 1st ed. p. 39; 2d ed. p. 46

** The most distinguished man who ever made his home in Wherstead was Lord Chief Justice Coke. He was a contemporary of Nathaniel Merrill.

**** Zincke, 1st ed. p. 97; 2d ed. p. 126

**** Zincke, 1st ed. p. 52; 2d ed. p. 67

Chapter VI


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