Oldham, John (1600?-1636) (DNB00)

OLDHAM, JOHN (1600?–1636), one of the 'pilgrim' settlers in New England, was born in England about 1600. He arrived at Plymouth, New England, by the ship Anne in July 1623. He and nine others were 'particulars,' or private adventurers, and did not belong to the regular body of the colonists. He brought a wife, and probably children and servants, and was a man of some importance, as in the allotments at Plymouth in 1624 ten acres were assigned to him and his dependents, being more than to any other person. Soon after his arrival he was invited by the governor to take a seat at the council. He 'was a man of parts,' says Nathaniel Morton, 'but high spirited, and extremely passionate, which marred all' (New England's Memorial, 1855, p. 79). One cause of his unpopularity may be explained by his episcopalian views. With another restless person, John Lyford, a minister, he attempted 'reformations in church and commonwealth.' The governor called a court; the two were charged with plotting against church and state, and expelled the colony, although Oldham's wife and family were allowed to remain (ib. pp. 75-6). Oldham went to Nantasket, afterwards known as Hull, whither he was followed by Roger Conant and Lyford. In April 1625 he returned to Plymouth without permission, and was expelled a second time in an ignominious manner.

The Dorchester adventurers, who had commenced a settlement at Cape Ann, chose Conant as governor, and asked Oldham, who had great skill in dealing with the natives, to manage their Indian trade. He preferred to remain independent at Nantasket. In 1626 he took a voyage to Virginia, and was wrecked on Cape Cod. In the midst of danger he made 'a free and large confession of the wrongs he had done to the church and people of Plimouth' (ib. p. 78), regained the confidence of the colonists, and was entrusted by them to convey a rioter to England. While in England he and John Dorrell purchased a lam tract of land near the mouth of the Charles river, title to which was contested by the company (first general letter to Endicott, 17 April 1629, in Young, Chronicles, 1846, pp. 147-50). He is believed to have returned to America in 1629. A grant was registered to him and another, 2 Feb. 1630, of a tract of country, four miles by eight, on the Saco river (Doyle, The English in America, 1887, i. 431). On 18 May 1631 he was admitted a freeman.

He was one of the first settlers in Watertown, where a larger measure of civil and religious liberty prevailed than in any of the other early plantations about the bay (Bond, Family Memorials of Watertown, Boston, 1855, p. 863). Oldham doubtless took an active part in the resistance of the Watertown people to taxation without representation, and in May 1632 he was appointed the representative of that town at the first meeting of the deputies of the several plantations which met to confer with the court about levying taxes for public purposes (Winthrop, History of New England, 1853, i. 91-2). His house at Watertown, near the weir, was burnt on 14 Aug. 1632 (ib. i. 104). He was the projector of the first plantation on the river or in the state of Connecticut. He travelled from Boston in 1633, with three companions, following the Indian trails, and lodging in their cabins (ib. i. 132). He was chairman of the first committee appointed by the court to consider the question of the enlargement of Boston. In September 1634 he was made 'overseer of powder and shot and all other ammunition for Watertown and Medford' (Bond, p. 863).

In November 1634 the Indian chief Canonicus gave Oldham an island of one thousand acres in Narragansett Bay (Winthrop, i. 175). Oldham and some of his fellow-townsmen took possession of Pyquag, on the Connecticut, and named it Watertown, changed to Wethersfield by the court on 21 Feb. 1636-7. In May 1635, though not re-elected deputy, he was one of the committee appointed to report on the charge against Endecott of having defaced the king's colours.

Oldham was murdered by Indians in July 1636, near Block Island, Rhode Island, while trading in his pinnace with the natives along the shore of Narragansett Bay (ib. i. 225-34; Hubbard, General History of New England, 1848, pp. 248-9). The murder was one of the causes of the Pequot war. His affairs seem to have been left in an involved state (Savage, Genealogical Dictionary of First Settlers, 1861, iii. 308).

[Besides the authorities quoted in the text, see Farmer's Genealogical Begister of First Settlers, Lane 1829; Francis's Historical Sketch of Watertown, Cambr. 1830; Thacher's History of New Plymouth, Boston, 1835; Cheever's Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, N.Y., 1848; Young's Chronicles of the First Settlers in Massachusetts, Boston, 1846; Banvard's Plymouth and the Pilgrims, Boston, 1851; Prince's Chronological History of New England, Boston, 1852; Oliver's Puritan Commonwealth, Boston, 1856; Martyn's Pilgrim Fathers of New England, N.Y., 1867; Winsor's Memorial History of Boston, 1882, i. 79, 253; Goodwin's Puritan Conspiracy, Boston, 1883, and Pilgrim Republic, 1888; Palfrey's Compendious History of New England, Boston, 1884, vol. i.; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography, New York, 1888, iv. 570.]

H. R. T.