Martha Bent 1643-1680
Martha Bent’s Family
When Martha Bent’s parents John and Martha welcomed her into the world on September 5, 1643, they had lived in American only five years. Martha, named for her mother, had five older brothers and one older sister. All but the youngest had been born in Penton-Grafton in Hampshire, England.
- Robert Bent, eighteen, named for their paternal grandfather.
- William Bent had been born 16 years before Martha, but may have died before Martha was born. The records are unclear, although the family history says “Probably died young.” I have not found any other information on William, except that documents show that the parents, John and Martha, traveled from England with five young children. If the ship’s record is correct, William must have still been alive in 1638.
- Peter Bent a 13-year-old. Some records say Martha’s maternal grandmother was named Pierre Jean, which could explain the name Peter.
- Agnes Bent, ten years old, named for their paternal grandmother.
- John Bent, named for their father, seven years old when Martha was born.
- Joseph Bent, the toddler, two years old, the first of the family born in America.
Life in Sudbury, a Puritan Village
A year earlier, the two Sudbury families had celebrated when Samuel How was born to John Bent’s friend and fellow Sudbury pioneer–John How. John How had been granted land in Sudbury in 1638, as had John Bent. In the small community of Sudbury, people lived on separate lands doled out for the common good, but the life was communal in many ways. They worshipped at the community church. They all took turns at holding public offices to be sure order reigned and taxes were collected. They helped each other build houses and clear land and protect their families against the few remaining indigenous people who were still resisting English settlement.
Although John How moved his family to nearby Marlboro, the two families remained friends. The Bent family no doubt mourned with their friends the Hows when Robert How died in the winter of 1648. The Bent’s oldest son was just 23 years old.
Martha Bent and Samuel Howe
Given their many ties, it is no surprise that 21-year-olds Samuel Howe and Martha Bent, young people whose family had been longtime friends, would marry in June, 1663. Martha’s father, John, gave the young couple a leg up by giving them 44 acres of land in Sudbury. If he wished to keep them close at hand, he succeeded, for despite the fact that the rest of his family had moved to Marlboro, Samuel moved back and stayed in Sudbury the rest of his life.
The Bents were no doubt pleased with the match, as Samuel already had started a career as a carpenter and must have showed signs of the entrepreneur he was to become. I hope that Martha had an adventurous spirit, because her busy husband had many occupations. For instance, he built a bridge over a stream on their land. He built the bridge, not as a community service, but so that he could collect a toll. And soon he also was charging people to use the meadow next to the bridge. He got permission to sell drinks out of their house, bought and sold land, held town offices and was a colonel of the Sudbury militia regiment.
You can read more about the wheeler-dealer Samuel in my earlier portrait of him. Late in his life, Samuel helped their son David build a house which became a tavern and today is Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.
Martha Bent How Makes a Family
Martha was kept busy on the domestic front. Their first child, a son named for his grandfathers John, was born 13 months after they married. Following the pattern of most colonial wives, Martha gave birth about every two years–seven children in thirteen years. Unlike most colonial families, Martha and Samuel lost no children in childbirth or infancy.
- July 1664: John How, named for his paternal grandfather
- March 1666: Mary How [Farrar;Barnes], named for her paternal grandmother.
- May 1668: Samuel How, named for his father
- October 1669: Martha How [Walker; Whitney], named for his mother
- Oct 1672: Daniel How [Died when he was eight years old]
- Nov 1674: David How [My ancestor]
- Apr 1677: Hannah How [Barnes]
In 1675, when Martha was 32, her youngest brother died. I will relate that tragic story later.
In 1676 the Indian war known as King Phillip’s War raged across Massachusetts, and Samuel and Martha became victims. Not only was one of Samuel’s brothers killed in the fighting, but Martha and Samuel’s house and barn were burned to the ground. In April of 1676 , my 7x great-grandmother, the mother of six children under 13, found herself without a home and probably without many of the animals she depended on for sustenance. The youngest child at that time, my ancestor David How, was a 16-month-old toddler.
No doubt the community pitched in and helped her carpenter husband rebuild. In the mean time, she and her children could stay with the many family members in the area. But think of the quilts to be made, the clothes to be replaced, the cloth to be woven to replace lost yardage. Samuel could make new furniture, but he also had to be making money to replace lost equipment and farm animals. Samuel had to replant burnt fields and he and Martha had to make all the things that today we could run down to Wal-Mart or Home Depot to replace.
Exactly a year after the tragic loss of home and barn, another daughter, Hannah, joined the family in their rebuilt homestead. Life (and death) went on.
Two years later, Martha’s brother Peter died while on a commercial trip to England. Another story to come. Of her six siblings, only two remained–John and Agnes. And then the final blow–in 1679, Martha’s mother, Martha Bent, also passed away.
The Great Comet of 1680
I have not seen a cause of death for Martha Bent How, but since her eight-year-old son died the same year, in the summer, I suspect an epidemic of some sort. Noah Webster’s compendium of disasters and disease, tied to celestial events, does not mention a 1680 epidemic in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However, a paper on an earlier plague by Mark Laskey, does have this something to say about 1680. The statement by Cotton Mather, sheds light on the belief system of our Puritan ancestors.
I wanted to end with saying that Martha dramatically went out with a comet, but alas, she died at the end of August, 1680 and contemporary viewers report the comet appeared from late autumn through December of 1680. And perhaps that is far too dramatic for this hard-working colonial wife and mother anyway. Perhaps she was simply exhausted from caring for so many children, from worrying about the attacks of the Indians–her home particularly vulnerable since it was located near the bridge that Samuel had built across the river. Perhaps losing her home and having to rebuild from scratch and then having a seventh baby was all just too much.
Martha Bent How died in Sudbury at the age of thirty-seven, joining her eight-year-old son and leaving six children between three and sixteen with Samuel How. Neither Martha’s grave nor the grave of the child, Daniel* has been identified.
*Note: Samuel married a second time and had six children. The second child with his second wife was also named Daniel.
How I Am Related
- Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
- Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
- Vera Stout (Anderson),the daughter of
- Hattie Morgan (Stout), the daughter of
- Mary Bassett (Morgan),the daughter of
- Elizabeth Stone (Bassett) the daughter of
- Elizabeth Howe (Stone), the daughter of
- Israel Howe, the son of
- David How, the son of
- Martha Bent How.
Notes on Research
- In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts by David W. Conroy, (1995), my personal library
- As Ancient Is This Hostelry: The Story of the Wayside Inn, by Curtis F. Garfield and Alison R. Ridley(1988), my personal library
- A History of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn by Brian E. Plumb (2011), my personal library
- Howe Genealogies by Daniel Wait Howe (1929), New England Historic Genealogical Society, 9 Ashburton Place Boston. 1929. This is said to be the best of the several genealogies of the family. Although I do not have a copy of the entire book, portions of it are available on the Internet at archives.org and at ancestry.com
- Middlesex County records found on ,Ancestry.com. Birth, death and marriage.
- Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts Vol. 1, ed by Ellery Bicknell Crane (1907) Available as a Google Books e-book.
- FindaGrave.com The tombstone picture came from Find a Grave, because although I visited the Sudbury Old North Cemetery, (located in Wayland MA) where Samuel is buried, I was unable to spot his grave.
- I also have had assistance from the archivist and a historian at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn and the historian with the Sudbury Historical Society.
- Massachusetts, Marriages, 1633-1850, Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp Sudbury, Middlesex, Samuel How and Martha Bent, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT, Film # 0599521 item 4.
- Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, Death records: Martha How
- The Bent family in America : being mainly a genealogy of the descendants of John Bent : who settled in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in 1638 : with notes upon the family in England and elsewhere. in North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 at Ancestry.com, Allen H. Bent, 1900
- U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, Place: America; Year: 1638; Page Number: 58, Ancestry.com
- U.S., New England Marriages Prior to 1700, Martha Bent How and Samuel How