Willet, Thomas (DNB00)

WILLET, THOMAS (1605–1674), first mayor of New York, fourth son of Andrew Willet [q. v.], was born in August 1605, in the rectory-house of Barley, and was baptised on the 29th of the same month. His father dying when he was only sixteen years of age, he appears to have continued to reside with his widowed mother and maternal grandmother till he came of age. Shortly after he joined the second puritan exodus, going first to Leyden, and then to the new Plymouth plantation. Governor Bradford mentions him as 'an honest young man that came from Leyden,' as 'being discreet, and one whom they could trust.' In 1633, after he had become a successful trader with the Indians, he was admitted to the freedom of the colony, and married a daughter of Major John Brown, a leading citizen. He shortly afterwards became a large shipowner, trading with New Amsterdam. He was elected one of the assistant governors of the Plymouth colony. As a proof of his worth of character and commanding abilities, he was frequently chosen to settle disputes between the rival colonies of England and Holland; he also became captain of a military company. Early in 1660 he left Plymouth, and, establishing himself in Rhode Island, became the founder of the town of Swansey. Accompanying the English commander Nicholls, he greatly contributed to the peaceable surrender of New Amsterdam to the English on 7 Sept. 1664; and when the colony received the name of New York, Captain Willet was appointed the first mayor (in June 1665), with the approval of English and Dutch alike. The next year he was elected alderman, and became mayor a second time in 1667. Shortly after he withdrew to Swansey, and here, after having lost his first wife, he married the widow of a clergyman named John Pruden. He died in 1674, at the age of sixty-nine. He lies buried in an obscure corner of the Little Neck burial-ground at Bullock's Cove, Swansey, Rhode Island. His descendants were numerous, and included Colonel Marinus Willet, the friend of Washington, who himself became mayor of New York, while the 'Dorothy Q.' of the poem of Oliver Wendell Holmes was Thomas Willet's great-granddaughter, and the great-grandmother of the poet. In his religious views Willet was an independent.

[A full account of Willet, with authorities, by Dr. Charles Parsons, is given in the Magazine of American History, xvii. 233 et seq. See also Governor Bradford's History; Brodhead's History of New York, i. 518 et seq., 524, 743; Mrs. M. J. Lamb's History of New York City, i. 231.]

J. F. W.