Merrill family history and genealogy to the benefit of all.


VII. Nathaniel1 and His Sons
      The Will of Nathaniel1

2nd Generation - John

A Merrill Memorial

    Samuel Merrill, 1928, reprint 1983

Nathaniel1 of Newbury and His Sons - Chapter VII, pp 66-101

John2 Merrill - pp 78-84

   It is to be regretted that when we inquire into the motives for John2 Merrill's removal to Hartford, Conn., and into the circumstances surrounding his migration, we are forced to base our conclusions on conjecture.

   He made the journey in 1657, or perhaps a little earlier. Hartford had been settled for about twenty years. Gregory Wolterton (or Wilterton, sometimes also written Walterton, Woolterton and Winterton), who seems to have been a kinsman, had lived in Hartford, of which town he was one of the original proprietors, since 1637. Wolterton was thrice married, but died without issue. It is thought that John was received into his household on his arrival in Hartford. John Merrill is said, indeed, to have been adopted by Gregory Wolterton, (*) but no reference to this fact appears in Gregory Wolterton's will, and I know no early documentary evidence to support the statement. John Merrill learned the tanning business from his benefactor, and lived at the homestead granted to Wolterton on the south side of what is new Elm Street, close to Little River. (**)

   As a very young man John Merrill was admitted a freeman (1658), and he filled the humble office of chimney viewer in 1664 and 1673. He was a townsman, or selectman, in 1684, 1694 and 1700.

   Means of travel were very deficient in those days, and it is quite likely that no visits were ever exchanged between John Merrill of Hartford and his Newbury brothers and their families. But John2 Merrill named his sons after his brothers in Massachusetts until the list was exhausted, besides remembering in a similar way his wife, his mother, and his benefactor, Gregory Wolterton. (See pages 165-6.)

   The dates of birth and death of Sarah Watson, wife of John Merrill, are not known. In 1650 her father, John Watson, made his will, in which he provided that his wife should pay to his daughters Sarah and Mary £5 each when they reached the age of eighteen years. By this it would appear that Sarah (Watson) Merrill was born subsequent to 1632. In 1683 Margaret Watson, widow of John Watson, died, and by a nuncupative will "She bequeathd to her daughter Sarah Merrells her red cloth Petticoat. . . . She did desire that her daughters, Sarah Merrells & Mary Seamor, should have £5 paid to each of them, that was bequeathed to them by their Father's Will."

   John2 Merrill acquired a large amount of land in West Hartford. In 1673 certain undivided lands "at the west end of the town" were allotted to the proprietors. Gregory Wolterton's allotment of forty-two acres was fourteen rods wide and a mile and a half long, reaching to the Farmington line. The lots were laid out in 1674, but, as Gregory Wolterton had died earlier in the same year, this land came into the possession of John Merrill.

   "The first purchase with a view to settlement in West Hartford was made by Thomas Hosmer, for his son Stephen, in 1679, about half a mile north of the meeting house. John Merrill began his purchases in the same vicinity in 1683. The purchase had reference to a mill, immediately erected, where the present mill stands, at the expense of Mr. Hosmer, though probably Mr. Merrill was actively engaged in the work from the first. Mr. Hosmer deeded Mr. Merrill one-third of the sawmill and sixty acres of land in 1685." Between this time and 1730 the Hosmers and Merrills purchased six hundred acres in that section. (***)

John 2 Merrill's Will

   The will of John2 Merrill is preserved with the Colonial records of Connecticut in the State Library at Hartford. The paper is badly worn at the folds, and the ink has penetrated through the paper more than in most contemporary documents. In many of the lines in his signature the ink has indeed eaten the paper away, so that, when the document is held up to the light, one can look through as through the lines of a stencil. With careless handling the instrument would now quickly go to pieces. Only the signature is in John Merrill's own handwriting. An inaccurate copy of this will is given in Manwaring's Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, I, 486-7.

   John2 Merrill made his will 11 April, 1684. He was then in his prime, a "townsman," and actively engaged in his business as a tanner. Nathaniel3, the eldest of his eight sons, was a boy of seventeen at this time, and Jacob3, the youngest, was yet unborn. But John2 Merrill lived twenty-eight years after making his will. In the interval Nathaniel3 had become insane, and in other respects circumstances had changed.

   The instrument is quite long, and it begins with something more than the usual solemnity of phraseology.

      "Jn the Name & fear of the Eternall God
      ffather sonn & Holy spirit to Him Be Given
      all Glory now and for ever more: Amen.
"J John Merrills of Hartford In New England Being now through the Graticuss providence of God towards mee In good Health of Body: And Haveing the Right use of my understanding & Reason; And J Calling to mind the Certainty of Death & the uncertainty of the time thereof: Thought Good to manifest to those whome it may Conserne what my mind & will is Conserning the Dispose of those things that God Hath (with subordination to his Holy will Given mee Liberty to Dispose off
"Jmprimis I Commit my soule into the Hands of my most Gratiouss god & mercyfull Redemer: my Body after my Decease J Recommend to Comely & Christian Like Bury all according to the wise Discression of my Excecutrix & over seers; Hopeing for & expecting a Gloriouss Reserection when my soule & Body shall Bee Reunited and Live Eternally to the Glorifying of God my Redemer and Conserning Those worldly goods that it Hath pleased God Jn mercy to Bestow on mee: my will is that my Just Debts Bee payd out of my Estate; Farther my will is That my Loveing wife shold Have Half my Dweling House with Half my Home Lott & the privilidges thereunto BeLonging so Long as shee shall Remaine a widdow. . . . "

   After providing further for the widow, he stipulated that the residue should be divided into a number of parts equal to the number of surviving children, with one additional equal part. He gave a share to each of the sons on reaching the age of twenty-one years, and to his daughter Sarah at eighteen years of age. He gave to Nathaniel3, provided he should "Learn the Trade off a Taner and is Likely to Improve the sayd Trade well; that Hee the sd Nathaniell shall Have twoo parts of my Estate it Being Devided as abovesayd. . . . "

      The will then continues:

"Also my will is that my sonn Nathaniell Attending the Conditions abovesayd so that he Reseaves a Double portion; that Hee shold Have half my Homestead & half the Tann yard with all the Apurtinances thereunto Belonging as part of His portion. . . . Also my will is that iff eaither of my other sonns will learn my Trade of a taner & is Likely to Jmprove it well; that that sonn that so Doth shold Have the other Half of the Tanyard with half the fats [vats] & houseing and other Conveniences thereunto BeLonging; as also the other half off my Homestead which is Left with my wife Dureing hir widdowhood. . . . Also my will is that None of my Lands nor Tanyards that J shall Dye possessed off shall Bee Allienated to any other pson that is not of my possterytie; for ever."

   John2 Merrill died 18 July, 1712. The will was filed for probate, but by an agreement dated 1 Dec. 1712, the heirs waived its provisions, stipulating that the widow should have her "thirds" during her life, and the children should share equally in the residue, except that Nathaniel should have a double portion, "if he shall Live to spend it, or Come to the right use of his reason."

The Inventory

   The "Inventor of Decon John merills Late of Hartford Deceased" disclosed real and personal estate amounting in the aggregate to £505.4s.6d. Among the items were: "Half the Homstead & Housing," £ 50; "Two Acres of upland Abuting upon Isaac merills his home Lott," £ 17; "half That Lott that John merills And Abraham Lives upon 25 acres At 20s pr Acre," £ 25; "The Tanyard with the Land Adioining & the Building That wear formerly upon Jt," £ 50; also seven other parcels of land, aggregating 104 acres, £ 251.

   Other items in the inventory were: Two cows, £ 6; "the half of thre thre year olds," £ 3.15s.; "The half of a Two year old," 16s.; "The half of A yearling," 7s.; a yoke of oxen, £8.10s.; "Two mare." £ 5; "The half a mare Colt," 6s.; "The half of 5 swine," £ 4.10s.; eighteen sheep, £6.6s.; "Twenty Bushells of Endian Corn," £ 2; about forty pounds of "puter" at 3s. a pound, and four "muskits at 10s 0 pr muskit."

Gregory Wolterton

   Gregory Wolterton was made "townsman" at the first election held in Hartford, and later on several occasions was chosen to the same office. Under the name "Goodm Winterton" he appears to have been a member of a jury which convicted Nathaniel Greensmith of witchcraft, 30 Dec. 1662, for which offsnce Greensmith was executed 25 Jan. 1663. The psychology of these witchcraft trials will always be a mystery to those of us who are mentally normal. Rebecca Greensmith, wife of the unfortunate wizard of Hartford, was convicted at the same time as her husband, having confessed her guilt. (****)

   The will of Gregory Wolterton was dated 17 July, 1674, and it was filed in the Probate Court less than six weeks later--26 Aug. 1674. (*****) It is entirely in the handwriting of the testator, and is less easily read than many of the writings of that period. With few preliminaries, and generally without waste of words, he made such provision as a business man, realizing that death was near, might make of his estate. The instrument begine thus:

   "I Gregory wolterton of hartford upon the Riuer of Conictiticote doe make this my last will and testimement wherein I giue unto my wife Jane wolterton the some of twenty pound to be payd in mouebel goods as is prised prouided that it be in such as she desire I doe also giue unto Jane my wife her dweling and liberty and use of the nue roome which was last bilt which is next to the garden but not for to let it away to any but for to use it for her owne use during the time of her life and for to use some part of the seller and the quene for her Conuenienty and liberty for to set her fire wood in the yard I doe also giue unto her six pound to be payd to her euery yeare by my excecktor during the time of her life I doe also giue unto James wolterton the son of mathew wolterton that liue in Ipsage in sufolke in owld Ingland ten pound if he be liuing if not to his Childeren eaquelly deuided . . . "

   Here follow gifts to more than twenty-five individuals, mostly in sums of money ranging from 20s. to £10, besides two parcels of land, of four and six acres respectively, the latter for the benefit of the church. The concluding provisions are as follows:

"moreover I giue unto John mirels and his Ayers for euer booth my howsing & tanyard & all that I haue and all my land that Is undesposed whome I ordayne and apoint sole excetor to this my last will will & testement"

   It is inferred that Gregory Wolterton was related to John Merrill, his residuary legatee. (See page 30) Perhaps he was a brother of Susanna Merrill of Newbury, and therefore was John Merrill's uncle, but no mention of relationship appears in the will. Failure to refer to relationship proves nothing, however. Gregory Wolterton in his will gave four acres of land to "John shepeard sener the son of Edward shepard," without mentioning relationship of any sort to himself, but the following receipt shows that John Shepherd was his nephew: (******)

   Receaved by me, John Shepherd, of my loving Unkel, Gregory Winterton, thirty-four pounds wch he receaved of my Brother Thomas Greenhill for Lands I sold him, for wch I made my Unkel a letter of Attorney. I say receaved by me. August 4th, 1654.

                                 JOHN SHEPHERD

   The amount of Gregory Wolterton's estate, including real and personal, according to the inventory was £ 585. 16s. This included "the house Barne & Home lott," £ 90; "the Tanyard with what belongs to it," £ 50; five other parcels of land aggregating thirty-eight acres; "Seuerall hides in the Tanyard," £ 10; "debts many of them being uncertain valued at £ 100."

<!--[Image for Signature]-->

Facsimile of the signature of John2 Merrill. From his will.

* See Memorial History of Hartford County (1886), I, 274; Savage, Genealogical Dictionary of New England (1862), IV, 590.

** On this lot lived, in 1902, Sarah-Butler Johnson (b. 1821), daughter of Gen. Nathan and Sarah-Butler6 (Merrill) Johnson. Her brother, Charles-William Johnson (b. 1831), lived in an adjoining house. Sarah-Butler6 Merrill was a daughter of Hezekiah5 Merrill (Hezekiah4, Daniel3, John2). She married Gen. Johnson in 1818. --(Letter from Joseph-Warren Merrill, Collinsville, Conn., 12 March, 1902.)

*** "Historical Notices of Connecticut," June, 1842.

**** Manwaring, Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, I, 121-2.

***** The original of this will is preserved, with contemporary papers, in the vaults of the State Library at Hartford. An ancient copy, differing in many unimportant details of spelling, etc., is preserved in the office of the Secretary of State, in the Connecticut Colonial Probate Records, vol. 3, p. 127. An imperfect copy is given in Manwaring's Digest, vol. 1, pp. 259-260, and a much better copy, with photo-engraved facsimile, is given in Manwaring, vol. 3, following p. xx.

****** Manwaring's Digest, I, 121.


   If you have further information on the book, "A Merrill Memorial" and would like to share it with others, please contact me.

     © - Updated 30 July, 2002