Rachel Shotten, daughter of dissent

Rachel Shotten ( -1696) was the only daughter of Sampson and Alice Shotten of New York and Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She eventually inherited her parents’ lands in Portsmouth and Warwick. Alice Shotten took, as her second husband, Ralph Cowland. Both men were active in the settlement of Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Rachel Shotten’s family had been involved in strident conflict with the Puritan authorities of Massachusetts even before Robert Hodgson came upon the scene. Whatever Rachel’s mother’s maiden name, the family nevertheless found itself a part of New England’s tightly wound nest of dissent against Puritan theocracy. The reported New York linkage, whatever it may be, is beguiling: perhaps there is a strand of Dutch Mennonite here, or expatriate New Englander from a malcontent family such as the Scotts. “Shotten” may, in fact, be a Dutch version of “Scott.”

To understand dissident strands in colonial New England, one must be aware of events in Salem, Massachusetts, more than a half-century before its infamous witch trials of 1692. Some historians have, in fact, speculated that those trials were an indirect attempt to curtail Quaker influence, by threatening servants and neighbors rather than the more securely ensconced Friends. Salem and its environs would later be one of the few Quaker strongholds in the Massachusetts Bay colony, and would also provide a nucleus of families settling what would become the Friends stronghold on Nantucket Island. By the early 1630s, however, Salem had already become a center of controversy, spawning seeds that would emerge in the Americas as the Baptist denomination and the Society of Friends. After arriving in New England in 1631, Roger Williams accepted a position as minister in the Salem church. Events escalated, as Anne G. Myles explains in “Arguments in Milk, Arguments in Blood: Roger Williams, Persecution, and the Discourse of the Witness” in Modern Philology (November 1993):

By 1635 any solution to the tensions he provoked was becoming increasingly unlikely. In July Williams’ application to the magistrates for a grant of unsettled land near Marblehead was denied, apparently in reprisal for his having earlier accepted a position in the Salem church without the magistrates’ approval. Williams and one of his supporters sent an angry letter to the Massachusetts churches, urging that the magistrates be censured as individual church members for their interference in religious affairs.

One month later, the court, which had already investigated the “divers dangerous opinions,” recalled Williams to answer for his final, radical step. He had announced to his Salem congregation his intention to “renounce communion with all the churches in the Bay, as full of anti-Christian pollution,” and informed them that unless they chose collectively to do likewise, he would renounce them too. … The court sentenced him to banishment from the colony in six weeks and then, since winter was approaching, granted him an extension until spring if he refrained from publicizing his views. Williams continued to hold forth, however, and when the authorities learned of this and that he now planned with a group of followers “to erect a plantation about the Narragansett Bay, from whence the infection [of his opinions] would easily spread” it was determined to send him back to England. But Williams refused to return to Boston, and shortly thereafter, Captain John Underhill went to Salem to apprehend him and ship him back under guard. However, in [Governor John] Winthrop’s words, “when they came at his house, they found he had been gone three days before; but whither they could not learn.”

In 1636 Williams founded Providence, now in Rhode Island, where he was joined the next year by Richard and Catharine (Marbury) Scott and her sister, Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson, daughters of the Rev. Edward Marbury.

Before leaving Boston, however, several of their followers had gathered on March 7, 1637/8, to sign a compact to incorporate as a “Bodie Politick” upon their imminent removal to Aquidneck (Rhode) Island. Among them were Anne’s husband, William Hutchinson; William Coddington, who had been a Massachusetts magistrate; Henry Bull; Richard Carder; John Coggeshall; Randall Holden (“Howldon”); and others. They and their families made the move in March and April. (Boston immigration dates include Williams, 1631; Hutchinsons, 1634; Scotts, 1634; Coddington, circa 1630; Dyers, summer 1635; Vane, 1635.)

Arthur J. Worrall observes:

In the 1630’s a much larger number of dissidents, many of them of a mercantile orientation, organized themselves around a Boston housewife, Anne Hutchinson, against the original clerical and lay leadership. For a time it seemed that the … Antinomian party led by Anne … would control Massachusetts; but John Winthrop and the orthodox clergy won the struggle for power, and Anne, with most of her mercantile followers, departed to found Portsmouth, Rhode Island. … To Massachusetts authorities the most threatening area was on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, settled by the Hutchinsons. Their gathering in that permissive colony meant that when Quaker missionaries appeared there almost two decades later, they found many people ready for Quakerism.

*   *   *

This section comes essentially from extensive research notes provided, with thorough documentation, by Sabron Reynolds Newton, like me, a descendent of the Guilford County Hodgsons. Her sources include Howard Chapin’s Documentary History of Rhode Island (Preston & Rounds, 1919), Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth (Freeman, 1901), C.P.B. Jefferys’ Newport: A Short History (Newport Historical Society, 1992), Oliver Payson Fuller, History of Warwick (Angell, 1875), Samuel Arnold, History of the State of Rhode Island (Appleton, 1859), and History of Newport County, Rhode Island (Preston, 1888).

On May 13, 1638, Judge William Coddington (who had been elected in Boston) presided over the first town meeting on Aquidneck. On July 16 of that year, “Sampson Shatton” was recognized as an inhabitant of the island – a rank below that of freeman. On April 30 the next year, Sampson Shotten signed a document organizing the residents of Portsmouth (previously called Pocasset) into a “Civil body Politicke.” Other signers included the noted dissident Samuel Gorton, William and Samuel Hutchinson, plus George, Nathanyell, and Robert Potter. Portsmouth is at the northern end of the island. Newport, at the southern end, was then established by a group of separatists who took with them the official records and land titles from Pocasset. The “Newport Compact” was signed in April 1639 by John Clarke, a physician who had studied law and probably was the chief religious leader; William Coddington; William Dyer; Nicholas Easton, a farmer, miller, and tanner with something of a religious following; William Brenton; Henry Bull; Jeremy Clarke; John Coggeshall; and Thomas Hazard. Coddington was clearly the dominant political leader. Loyalty or opposition to Coddington was a dividing point between the two settlements. By late 1639, however, most of the Portsmouth leadership had reunited with Newport. Gorton was an exception, his followers reduced to an “unimportant minority.”

Also, in Tenth Month 1639, Portsmouth records make reference to the “house lotte next beyound Mr. (Ralph) Cowland …”

In 1640 Sampson Shatton was one of eight “received as freemen by the General Court at Newport” on March 12. On August 6, Ralph Cowland was “admitted freeman.” Cowland then served on several juries between then and 1647, was taxed “1 yearlinge” in April 1642 and in court about a charge of trespass against him in December 1642. He was named Junior Sargeant in March 1641/2.

Meanwhile, on January 12, 1641/2, Samuel Gorton and eleven others, including Sampson Shotten, bought 60,000 acres beyond Providence – a strip about four miles wide, extending twenty miles back from shore – from Chief Miantonomi and then set about founding Shawomet, later known as Warwick.

A preacher and Biblical scholar, Gorton had unorthodox religious views and an abrasive manner. Although his most notable trial was for religious heresy, his apparent opposition to any form of government was seen as particularly troubling. He spoke out against self-authorized governments that had no English charters, and made no pretense of organizing a government in his own settlement until 1647, when the community came under Roger Williams’ charter. In arriving at Shawomet, Gorton had few remaining options, having been expelled, successively, from the Massachusetts Bay colony, Plymouth colony, Aquidneck Island, and Providence – though never, it is pointed out, with charges of any “immoral conduct.”

Co-purchasers of Shawomet included Richard Carder and Randall Holden (“Howldon”), who had signed the 1637/8 compact in Boston, where Carder had been a freeman since 1636. Holden had been the sole other signer with Roger Williams of the deed to Rhode Island (Aquidneck), March 1637/8, and of a July 1638 agreement with Indians for grass and timber rights on the mainland. Others were John Greene, Gorton’s 1635 shipmate from England to Boston, an early settler at Salem and a surgeon who helped Gorton collect kindred spirits for Shawomet; John Wickes (Weeks), Gorton’s primary convert at Plymouth; and William Wuddall (Waddall), a Boston resident in 1637 who may be the William Wodell listed as a minor official at Portsmouth from the 1650s. Greene was the signer of the Shawomet deed, not Gorton.

On March 16, 1641/2, “At the Generall Court … Nuport … It is ordered that Richard Carder, Randall Holden, Sampson Shatton & Robert Potter are disenfranchised … & that their names be cancelld out of the record.” (Potter was listed as a freeman in Massachusetts, 1631-1639). Furthermore, the next day: “It is ordered that if John Weeks, Randall Holden, Richard Carder, Sampson Shatton, or Robert Potter shall come upon the Island armed, they shall be by the Constable … disarmed & carried before the magistrate and there find sureties for their good behavior, and further … if that Course shall not regulate them or any of them then a further dew & lawfull course by the magistrates shall be taken in their Sessions.”

There was, apparently, a fear of armed invasion or insurrection.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, found some pretext to lay claim to the land at Shawomet and, in October 1643, sent an armed force that outnumbered men in the settlement four to one, holding the men together in a house under siege for several days. Upon their surrender, they were taken as prisoners to Boston and tried, except for John Greene and son, who escaped and were never captured. The men were kept prisoner over the winter, and then freed but banished. The settlement had by then been abandoned, their stock all confiscated and driven to Boston. At the beginning of the siege, the women and children had fled into the woods or by boat, and the wives of John Greene and Robert Potter died of exposure. Reports said there were no fatalities during the siege, but there are conflicting reports about Shotten, who had died either of “hardships” before it began or after being taken prisoner. It is uncertain, therefore, whether Alice and young Rachel were among those who fled into the woods. It seems quite likely they were. At any rate, Rachel’s land rights at Warwick derived from this settlement venture.

Meanwhile, William Hutchinson had died at Portsmouth in 1642, and Anne – with eight children and seven neighbors – moved to Pelham Bay, a new settlement in Dutch territory, where she and some of her children were killed by Indians in August 1643; one daughter, Susannah, was kidnapped by the Indians and lived two years among them. A few of the neighbor women and children escaped and returned to Aquidneck Island.

Several subsequent political developments deserve notice. On March 13, 1644, the General Court for Portsmouth and Newport officially changed the name of Aquidneck Island to Rhode Island. That year Roger Williams obtained from the English Parliamentary Commission his charter for the Providence Plantations. In summer or fall of that year, Gorton, Greene, and Holden sailed from New York to England, seeking to have the ban on settlement at Shawomet overruled and to obtain an official charter. On May 15, 1646, the English Commissioners of Foreign Plantations issued an order to Massachusetts to permit the settlers “freely and quietly to live and plant upon Shawomet.” Holden delivered the order September 13 in Boston. On July 22, 1647, in receipt of a response from Massachusetts, the commissioners issued a further order, that inasmuch as people had moved to and settled at Shawomet “at great charge,” they be given “protection and assistance in all fit ways” – artfully sidestepping the question of jurisdiction. Also in 1647, with the Shawomet settlement now renamed in honor of the Earl of Warwick, who headed the foreign plantations commission, Warwick joined Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport as the fourth town included in the Providence Plantations under Roger Williams’ 1644 charter.

Gorton himself returned from England, 1648, armed with a safe-conduct letter from the Earl of Warwick. His opposition to government evaporated as he now found himself under an authority with a legitimate charter. He represented Warwick in the colonial legislature almost continuously from 1649 to 1666, and died about age 85 on December 10, 1677. He apparently conducted weekly religious services as a branch of the First Church of Providence (Baptist), though in 1725 his followers would organize as an independent sect. Though he was like the Quakers in not observing outward sacraments, and was visited by George Fox in 1672, he nevertheless opposed Quaker doctrine and said Friends had come out of the world only a little way.

Back in Portsmouth, Ralph Cowland began to appear in civic activity. He was chosen constable on June 2, 1649; on January 19, 1651, he is included among “the desposers of lande” determining the status of previous land claims and establishing Common lands for the town. On June 9, 1652, “R(ichard) Burdin [Borden] and Ralph Couland” are “chosen overseers … for the pore,” but on April 1, 1653, “Richard Bordin and Mr. Cowland are Chosen to gather up what is behind unpayde of all former rates exsept the last and are authorized to destraine upon the goods of those that refuse.” On June 2, 1656, Cowland is again chose constable at Portsmouth.

On October 1, 1661, Portsmouth “lotters” were asked to “Run the line at the upper End of” Edward Hutchinson’s land “to see if he hath not intrenched or inCroched upon that land that was laid out to Ralph Couland for the use of Sarah Gre(en)man.” The records do not explain Sarah’s situation; John Grinman was admitted an inhabitant at Newport in 1638, and there is a 1643 reference to his five acres.

On May 1, 1664, John Greene reported selling to his brother, James, a tract “bounded Northerly by a parcell of meddowe layd out for the Heires of Sampson Shotten, Southerly by the Sea …”

In November 1664, this document was written:

Know all men … my husband Shottin dyinge, and makinge no will, but left all to me, therefore, I, Alice Couland, with the approbation of my husband, Ralph Couland, do give and dispose as followeth: 1st, I doe take to my sselfe the land where on the Stone howse Standeth with one Rod in bredth, from the uper End of the stone howse, on both sids the howse and land above said, is given and apointed for frinds in the minestrey Cauled Quakers … I say for there use that thay may be Entertained therein, in all times to Come Even for Ever. Also, I do apointe Rachell Shottin and hur husband if shee marey to live in the said howse the time of there life if thay be free so to doe not Elce. Like wise to the said Stone howse I doe give and apointe for frinds use in the minestrey Cauled Quakers that is to say 1 fether bead and 2 pillows, 3 blankets, 1 Coverled, 2 paire of sheits, 2 pillowbers, 2 towels, 1 bason, 1 Candlstik, 1 Chamberpott. More over I doe give unto Rachell the land tht wos hur ffather Samson Shottins, Namly the fearme which is 60 akres more or less and the 2 Akres of meddow, 1 the othere side the pond, all so the ould howse Next the stone howse and the Rest of the 3 Akres lott, from the oulde howse to the Common Northwest, all so all hur ffather Right at Worwicke, who wos a twelfe purcher of the lands there. And if the said Rachell marey and have a Child or Children and hur husband then my will is that the said land and howses Returne to the stone howse after them for the use of frinds above said. Also my will is tht my husband Ralph Couland shall Equaly Share with my daughter Rachell Shottin in the afforesaid lands and Rights for the tearme of his life in Consideration of the paines and Cost and Charge he hath bine at upon the said land and howses. My will allso is, tht John Hordon, Joseph Nicholson, Christopher Howlder, my husband Ralph Couland, Daniell Gould, Edward Perrey shall see this my will performed … This is to aQuainte the overseers of my will that since it was writ I … have upon sume Consideration given freely up all hur fathers Right at Worwick, that is to say Rachell Shotten to do with it whot she will. The Marke of Alice Couland: [a kind of gull wings] Witnesses hereunto: Wm. Baulston; Richard Bulgar; Samwell Wilbor; Philip Sherman; John Albro.

Sabron Reynolds Newton raised the question: Was the property used for this purpose eventually, or did it stay in the family? Subsequent events, we learned, show that Rachel and her husband instead continued to live in the house. The present Friends meetinghouse was erected about the time that Rachel’s son moved from Rhode Island.

Sabron notes, too, that the records almost always refer to William Coddington and Nicholas Easton as “Mr.,” unlike Henry Bull and Robert Hodgson.

In 1666 Ralph Couland’s cattle mark is registered.

On May 17, 1667, Warwick records mention “Lotts cast for ye smale Lotts in ye necke called Shawomett,” noting “that there is a hyghway 4 pole wide down to ye sea betwixt Richard Carders meadow & Mr. Samuell Gortons meadow in order to preserve a landing place for ye use of ye purchasers beginning from Shottens suthern stake on ye south side thereof 4 pole wide betwixt ye said Shottens lott & ye 17th share.”

On October 7, 1667, a finding is recorded in Portsmouth that Sampson Shotten died without a will, and having no other offspring than his daughter Rachel, she was his “sole heir”; therefore, “said Robart Hodgson and Rachill his wife have hereby power to Administer on [or?] possess and injoy whatever to the said Rachill is apertaining as being heir.” This, presumably, results from Alice’s death sometime after the 1664 and indicates that Rachel and Robert Hodgson were married in that interim. (They married August 3, 1665.)

The next day, October 8, this testimony was recorded:

Know all men … that I Robert hodgson doe give full power to Ralph Couland to posses and injoy the percel of land at the farme, from the goinge in at the barrs which now is downe to the howse the bredth to hould downe to the Sea, and allso upward to the Comon, with the howsinge and Barnes there standinge the said land and howsinge to injoy for the tearme of his life, in Consideration of the Expence and Charges the said Ralph Couland hath bine at, on the said lands and howses which wos Samson Shottons, both here and Elce where. And I the said Robert Hodgson am to have Liberty to buld a howse on the said fearme land if I see Cause, and to have Egress and Regress from the said howse without mollestation from the said Ralph Couland, or any for him.”

Both men signed.

Town council recorded this agreement on November 10, reporting that the witnesses “have measured the bredth of ye said land, from the said barrs to ye lane of Adam Mott, and wee finde to be 3 by 30 Rods” – thus, 16½-by-165 yards.

In searching for the New York/New Amsterdam connection for Shotten, one factor should be considered: In Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, “Shotten” is a translation for “Scott” – a meaning that has shifted in modern German. Because of the family’s New Amsterdam connection, however, I find myself wondering if Rachel’s family name was originally Scott: some of that name, after all, became Friends or influenced the turbulent New England affairs. Scotts also have connections with later generations of Hodgsons. And, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, one of the notable Quaker captains plying between Cork and Barbadoes was Robert Scottin.

One source (Todd A. Johnson) has Sampson Shotten being born about 1605 in Leicestershire, England, and dying in September 1643 at Warwick, Rhode Island; with Alice being born about 1610 in England, and their marriage about 1637 in England. The date of the marriage, however, comes after the events in Salem, Massachusetts. Another version estimates his birth in the 1590s in England, and notes a George Shotten born in the 1620s in Massachusetts, a Margery born in the 1620s, and a Nicholas arriving in Virginia, age 40, aboard the Ann, in the 1620s. Johnson lists Sampson as the son of Thomas Shotten (born circa 1575 in Leicestershire-dued February 1632 in Cropson, Leicestershire) and Mary (unknown) (born circa 1578 and died after 1632). He places their marriage around 1600.


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