The Swifts

We can follow the Swift family for several centuries. The earliest ascertainable record is for one Sir Alexander Swyft who lived during the time of the Wars of the Roses in the late 15th Century. His birthplace in 1478 bears the unfortunate name of Penistone in Yorkshire. The title of Sir is not documented but might be fun to research. By 1502, the family has relocated to Rotherham also in Yorkshire. His son Richard will live his life in Rotherham with his wife Jean Wheelock until passing at age 80. Rotherham or “homestead on the river’ Don was established by the Saxons in the early middle ages. Prior to the 1480’s, Rotherham was a quit market town under the control of Rufford Abbey who collected tithes from the town and governed the local market. The Archbishop of York, local boy Thomas Rotherham, established the College of Jesus to hopefully rival Oxford and Cambridge. By the beginning of the 16th Century, the town was a modern and happening place. This changed when Edward VI dissolved the college and granted the assets to his supporters. Remember that Edward while son of Henry VIII was also the most Protestant of the Tudors and probably had no issue with closing the Catholic college.

Son William Swift (1530-1604) marries Elizabeth Mason in 1560. Elisabeth was born in Wensley, Yorkshire. To give feel for this small town, the Holy Trinity Church was the site of the wedding between James and Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small. The church itself was built in the 1300’s and could have been the site of William and Elizabeth’s wedding.

HolyTrinity back 8812.jpg

Another William is born in 1561 in Rotherham. He marries Janet Wilson in 1582 and their son, another William is born and baptized in 1589. In 1588 the Spanish invasion had been turned away with the sinking of the its Armada. While we know little about their life or livelihood, we can presume that the family lived in the market town and survived despite the turbulent times. Keeping a low profile during the reigns of the Tudors was probably wise. Both parents die in 1597 when son William is eight years old. Since both parents die in the same year, we can only speculate about disease or plague which visited and revisited the region on a periodic basis.


By 1619 William Swift marries Joan Sisson probably in Bocking, Essex. Their child, named to no one’s surprise, William is born followed by daughter Hannah in 1625 also in Bocking. The family immigrated to New England in 1634. Their first stop was in Watertown where William the elder owned property. He sold his property there in in 1637 and moved to the newly established Sandwich in 1637. By 1643 the family is established in Sandwich on Cape Cod. The elder William Swift passes away in 1643. Widow Joan marries Daniel Wing in 1642 and survives until 1664. Son William marries Ruth Tobey in 1645. Curiously, Ruth’s parents were also married in Bocking, Essex.

Ruth’s Dad, Thomas Tobey held a number of positions in the colonial government including overseeing the cutting up of stranded whales and managing the sale of fish “taken” by Indians for the benefit of the town treasury. In 1658 he was selected as Constable for Plymouth with responsibility of collecting taxes, establishing tax rates as a “Rater” as well as Quaker hunter. He was also one of three men selected to handle the town efforts in King Philip’s War.

William Swift Jr. (1619-1706) will represent Sandwich in the General Court in 1673, 1674, 1677, and 1678. He will serve as town Constable and as a Selectman for 15 years. It appears that his occupation was that of a carpenter. He must have been well respected to serve regularly on the General Court. The General Court was original colonial legislature of the Plymouth Colony from 1620 to 1692. Membership in the General Court probably establishes that the Swifts were not Quakers at this time. Quakers refused to sign oaths and would be prohibited from serving. In 1671, freeman who owned property in the amount of 20 pounds was allowed to serve on the General Court. William would also act as a local magistrate and would hear local cases. It is clear that the Swifts were responsible people.

The will executed by William in 1704 divides up his sizable estate amongst his children and wife Ruth. Several tracts of land in the will were purchased from Jonathan Morey, the third son, Samuel born in 1662 is left out of the will. There is no clear reason for this in the public records. Samuel marries Mary Gibbs, also of Sandwich in 1688 who is older by five years. The Gibbs were also early arrivals in Sandwich. Perhaps Mary was beneath the station of the Swift family.

Samuel and Mary will live out their lives in Sandwich. Son Seth is born in Sandwich in 1693 and dies in Plymouth in 1753. In his 1730 will Samuel provides Seth an inheritance of 20 shillings. The younger three sons Zaccheus, Ephraim and Samuel receive the bulk of the estate. Again there is no obvious reason for this. I do suspect that religious beliefs might have had something to do with it. Quakers had arrived in Sandwich in the 1650s. The Puritan pastor left in 1653 with the Quakers in charge. It would be another 20 years before a Puritan or Congregationalist minister would retur to Sandwich. He promised to leave the Quakers alone. Perhaps young Seth drifted from the Puritan tradition. The records are incomplete.

There are few records of Seth Senior in Plymouth but it appears that he must of landed on his feet. In 1746, Seth is involved in real estate transactions with Joseph Morey. The information on what these deals actually were is lacking, but it appears that Seth must have had proprietor status as a landowner. Of course his 1722 marriage to Maria Morey might have helped. Maria was the daughter of the respected and prosperous Jonathan Morey. The birth of their son Seth Junior in 1724 completes our family merger of the Moreys, the Swifts and the Bournes. Now is the time to see what happens in the lead up to the Revolution.

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