Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Underhill, John (d.1672)

UNDERHILL, JOHN (d. 1672), colonist, came of a Warwickshire family, (probably of the Kenilworth branch), and may perhaps be identified with John Underhill, the son of Thomas Underhill of Barton-on-the-Heath, a brother of Sir Edward Underhill (d. 1641) of Eatington, Warwickshire. He was trained to the profession of arms, and, after service in the Netherlands and in the Cadiz expedition of 1625, he was taken over to New England in 1630 by Governor Winthrop to train the people in military discipline. He soon acquired a good reputation, and was chosen in 1634 to represent Boston in the Massachusetts assembly. In 1637 he served with credit in the war against the Pequot Indians. He was appointed captain in command of the New England detachment by Sir Henry Vane, and, after he had effected a junction with the New Hampshire forces under Captain John Mason (1600–1672) [q. v.], the Pequots were entirely crushed. Of this war Underhill wrote an account, entitled ‘Newes from America; or a New and Experimentall Discovery of New England, containing a True Relation of their Warlike Proceedings these two years past …’ (London, 1638, 4to; there are two copies in the British Museum and one in Harvard College Library. It was reprinted by the Massachusetts Historical Society, ‘Collections,’ 1837, 3rd ser. vol. vi.).

In November 1637 Underhill was disfranchised for holding Antinomian opinions and for supporting Wheelwright, the leader of that party; he was soon after found to have been guilty of adultery. In the meantime he had fled to the little colony at Piscataqua, called Dover, which was independent of Massachusetts. This had just passed through a revolution, and now elected Underhill governor, a post which he managed to retain for nearly two years. After further disputes with the government of Massachusetts he moved to New Haven, where in 1643 he served in the assembly as representative for Stamford. In the same year he removed to New Netherlands, and served the Dutch against the Indians. He married a Dutch wife, but in 1653 was expelled from New Netherlands as a seditious character. He then went to Rhode Island, and received a commission from the government of that colony to make war against the Dutch by sea.

After the conquest of New Netherlands by the English in 1664 he returned thither, and served as a delegate for Oyster Bay in the assembly called by Colonel Richard Nicolls [q. v.] at Hempstead in 1665. He was appointed by Nicolls under-sheriff of Yorkshire or Queen's County.

In 1667 the Mantinenoc Indians gave him 150 acres of land, which has remained in his family, the name of Underhill still existing in New Hampshire. In 1671 he was excused military service, and he died on his estate at Killingworth, Oyster Bay, in 1672, leaving a son John, who was a magistrate and a man of influence. Underhill is said to have been twice married: first, to Mary Mosley; and, secondly, to Elizabeth Field of Long Island, who survived him. Several of Captain Underhill's letters are published in the ‘Massachusetts Historical Society Collections’ (4th ser. vol. vii.).

[Wood's Sketch of the First Settlement of the several Towns on Long Island, 1828, p. 76; Belknap's Hist. of New Hampshire, 1831, i. 23–7; Winthrop's Hist. of New England, ed. Savage, Boston, 1825 passim; Savage's Geneal. Hist. of New England; Atlantic Monthly, Dec. 1873 (a poem on Underhill by Whittier); Winsor's Hist. of America, iii. 148; Brodhead's Hist. of New York; Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, vi. 382; Hazlitt's Bibliogr. Collections, 2nd ser. pp. 612–13.]

J. A. D.