My Bassett Ancestors–Naughty Pilgrims


My forefather, Pilgrim William Bassett’s children and in-laws were quite naughty. Their misdeeds ranged from talking in church to outright scandalous.

Pilgrim Punishment

So you thought all Pilgrims were stuffily pious?  Impious describes the behavior of the 2nd generation of Bassetts in America and some of their spouses. But the worst of them managed to have a very famous descendent.

Joseph Bassett, (my direct ancestor) the youngest, and perhaps the favorite of his father since he seems to have been the good child in this 2nd generation American Puritan family, had several brothers and sisters who acted up. Including our family’s proud claim to the first divorce in the Pilgrim colony.

 NATHANIEL BASSETT’S sins were rather minor, and he went on to become a community leader. When he was about 22 years old he was sentenced to pay 20 shillings fine or be bound to a post in a public place with a paper on his head explaining his crime–disturbing the church of Duxbury.

WILLIAM BASSETT JR. moved from his father’s town of Bridgewater to Sandwich, where he joined  some people who were stirring up dissent against the church. Two were fined for “deriding, wild speeches about God’s word.” William and another also paid fines–misdeed unspecified.

SARAH BASSETT WHITE  married Peregrine White, the famous first child to be born in New Engalnd. I am going to write more about  Sarah and her famous husband, but I need to mention here that in March 1648/49, they were fined at Marshfield, Massachusetts for “fornication before marriage.”


Now we come to a truly sexy couple–Elizabeth and her first husband Thomas Burgess.

In June 1661, Elizabeth asked for a divorce after the town brought her husband, Thomas Burgess, to court in Sandwich Massachusetts, “for an act of uncleanliness with Lydia Gaunt.” Elizabeth and Thomas had been married thirteen years when he strayed.

The Court agreed to a divorce and gave Elizabeth one third of Thomas’ property and 40s [shillings] worth of bed and bedding “that are at William Bassetts.” It was the first divorce in Plymouth Colony. Shocking!

But what amuses me is what happened next.  They both remarried, and Elizabeth was the first at the altar with William Hatch in the same year as the divorce. The speed of her remarriage makes me a little suspicious about her motives for the landmark divorce.

Thomas marryied Lydia Gaunt a year and a half later.  However, the embarrassment must have driven him out of Plymouth Colony. He and Lydia moved to Newport, Rhode Island.

Ruth Bassett Sprague Thomas

Elizabeth may have had a straying husband, but at least he wasn’t the complete rascal that her sister Ruth’s husband turned out to be.

Ruth Basset’s husband John Sprague, was born in 1633 in Duxbury, where the Bassett children also spent their childhood [Francis Sprague was John’s father].

2 Jan. 1637/38 – Francis Sprague was fined 6 shillings & 8 pence for beating William Halloway (fined 5 shillings), late servant of William Basset. Witness: William Halloway.”

According to a source named Goodwin but not further identified in Miner Descent,

“Francis Sprague was licensed as an inn-holder in Duxbury. He continued to be so until 1666, though often before the court. He killed Hatherly’s mare, beat Bassett’s servant, drank “overmuch,” sold liquor illegally, etc. In 1669 he was succeeded by his son who was much like him.
17th century tavern

Tavern Scene-1658-David Teniers II, Public Domain, Displayed at National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. USA
Although this is a Flemish tavern, the early New England taverns would have been similar.

Whoops! Son John follows in father Francis’ footsteps.That sounds like a formula for disaster. And indeed, John’s time in court had not ended. Drunken revelery, including leading his horse into a friend’s parlour got him in trouble once more.

John spent hours in the stocks for “highly misdemeaning himself in the house of James Cole of Plymouth, near unto or on the evening before the Sabbath Day, in drinking gameing, and uncivill reveling, to the dishonor of God and the offense of the govment, by his gameing and bringing his mare uncivilly into the parlour of James Cole aforesaid.”

So when John and Ruth were hauled into court for fornication–is this charge getting to be a family badge of honor?–one wonders whether Ruth was complicit or coerced.

At the 6 Jun 1655 Court at Plymouth, John Sprague and Ruth Bassett, of Duxbury, were presented for fornication before they were married and paid a fine.

Whatever they were doing in 1655 before marriage, their first child, named for his father, was not born until 1656. Presumably, they were married by then, although I do not have a record of their marriage.

Despite the fact that his daughter was marrying the son of the man who beat William’s servant, and a man who carries on drunkenly himself, William sold John Sprague four lots in Duxbury after his marriage to Ruth.

John was not an innkeeper for long.  On 26 March , 1676, he was killed at Nine Men’s Misery, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. That was a particularly horrible and bloody battle in King Philip’s War. The dead fighters were identified as “Friends”, so perhaps the quick-to-drink-and-fight Spragues were Quakers? If you should want to visit the spot, here’s a description, pointing out that it includes the oldest monument to veterans in the United States.

Pequot Wars

Pequot War. Charles Stanley Reinhart drawing circa 1890. from a July 2007 exhibit by the East Hampton Historical Society on Gardiner’s Island. Licensed under Public domain

After John died, Ruth (Basset) Sprague remarried a Thomas.  I just hope he was a bit mellower in disposition than her first husband.


And here is the surprise–it is alleged that among Ruth and John’s descendents was a prominent Englishman whose mother was an American– Winston Churchill, it seems, was a distant cousin of mine.  Wonder what he thought about his rabble-rousing American ancestors?

How I Am Related to Elizabeth and Ruth

  • My maternal grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson, was the daughter of
  • Hattie Stout Morgan, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, the daughter of
  • William Bassett the son of
  • Samuel Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, Jr., the son of
  • William L. Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, the son of
  • Joseph Bassett, the son of, and Mary Lapham Bassett, the step-daughter of
  • William Bassett, the Pilgrim, also father of
  • my 8th great-grand uncles and aunts, Elizabeth, William, Nathaniel, Sarah and Ruth.


  • Much of the information here is from a website called Miner Descent, which cites references. Unfortunately, the references are not tied directly to the facts and quotes, and most references used are secondary sources.
  • Birth, death and Marriage records gleaned from Massachusetts town records, particularly U. S. New England Marriages Prior to 1700  found at
  • The New England Historic and Genealogical Register, 1847-2011, Vol 002 (1848) (1854)  available through Ancestry, and other Internet sources.
  • FindaGrave often contains valuable hints about relationships, however the information is rarely sourced, so it is only a starting point.
  • New England,The Great Migration and The Great Migration Begins, 1620-1635 by Robert Charles Anderson, contains information about the early English immigrants. Accessed through
  •  Because this is compilations of individuals family trees and does not contain original sources, it is only a starting point.
  • History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater in Plymouth County, Massachusetts(1840, reprinted 1897,Gateway Press 1970; Heritage Books 1983; Higgeson Books 1992)


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5 thoughts on “My Bassett Ancestors–Naughty Pilgrims

  1. Bro

    I caught myself snickering at some of these charges and peccadillos but stopped when I considered how many of these laws were necessary for stabilizing isolated frontier communities. It’s not unreasonable in any society to prosecute those who abuse spouses, servants, animals, and neighbors’ property. The divorce case you examine shows that women were not as powerless as sometimes supposed. Milton himself (granted with some self-interest) wrote a powerful moral and legal defense for this. For all their admitted excesses, the pilgrims established one of the most successful (and literate) provinces in the New World. Also, the stocks may have been a painful public shaming but the punished, as you note, could be redeemed to respect in their communities.

  2. Kerry Dexter

    I like Bro’s points in the comment above.

    Were the Spragues Quakers? Though there is and always has been quite a diversity of belief among Quakers on many points, going back as far as the 1600s there is a common opposition to war and refusal to take part in military service. Treating others with respect and the equality of women and men are also long standing central tenets of belief for those who follow that religious tradition. Individual Quakers may of course see things differently and make different choices with their lives, but I wonder if that term Friendly fighters may have had a different meaning?

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      My source, says, ” John was killed 26 Mar 1676 at Nine Men’s Misery,Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Among the fallen fighters whom we imagine probably to have been armed Quakers were:
      — Friend Stephen Wing, Jr. of Sandwich
      — Friend Samuel Bourman or Bowerman of Barnstable
      — Friend John Sprague of Duxbury”

      The supposition sounded strange to me, too, but I found this at a site called “Chronicles of America” in a section about Quakers and the French and Indian War:
      . Quakers, though they hate war, will accept it when there is no escape. The old story of the Quaker who tossed a pirate overboard, saying, “Friend, thee has no business here,” gives their point of view better than pages of explanation. Quaker opinion has not always been entirely uniform. In Revolutionary times in Philadelphia there was a division of the Quakers known as the Fighting Quakers, and their meeting house is still pointed out at the corner of Fourth Street and Arch. They even produced able military leaders: Colonel John Dickinson, General Greene, and General Mifflin in the Continental Army, and, in the War of 1812, General Jacob Brown, who reorganized the army and restored its failing fortunes after many officers had been tried and found wanting.

      It looks like the misbehaving Spragues, could indeed have been Quakers. Another point is that the Quakers changed their point of few shortly after this time period, and withdrew from the vigorous civic involvement of William Penn’s time.

  3. Sarah

    I enjoyed the way you told the story! 🙂 There is also recent DNA evidence that shows that John Sprague Jr. was actually a Fuller, likely the biological son of Samuel Fuller Jr.


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