My Puritan Roots

Dateline: 28 January 2008

After posting my last blog entry about my great grandfather Elias Moses Philbrick, I decided to “Google” his name. If you have never done a Google search of your great grandfather’s name, I recommend that you give it a try.

My search turned up two things. One was the blog story I had written. The other was an extensive Philbrick family tree. There was Elias and his children, including my grandfather, Percy. There was Percy and Gertrude with all their children, including my mother. That is as far as the tree goes in that direction. I am not on it yet. But it goes a long way back in the other direction. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Philbrick kin at the site and all are descended from one man, Thomas Philbrick of England. He emigrated to America in 1630. This man, Thomas Philbrick, is clearly my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

I wish my mother were alive so I could share this revelation of family lineage with her. She knew only as far back as her great grandfather, the father of Elias. I recall her telling me his name was Freeman Philbrick and he was in the Civil War.

Well, indeed he was. I found out Freeman was a private in the 20th Maine. It appears that he went in the military August 29, 1862 at 33 years old. A month later he saw action at Antietam where he was wounded. He was discharged February 24, 1863. According to the family tree, he died at 58 years old as a result of his war injury.

Antietam has the distinction of being the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. 12,000 Union soldiers died and just about as many Confederates in the one-day battle.

Until Antietam, Robert E. Lee’s army achieved stunning victories against the superior northern forces (superior in numbers, not leadership). Lee was leading a campaign into the north. It was likely that he would have succeeded if not for one little mistake. A Confederate officer lost a copy of his orders, which outlined Lee’s entire battle plan. The papers were discovered by two Union soldiers who took them to the Union general, McClellan. With the Confederate battle plan in hand, McClellan was able to know where Lee was and exactly what his intentions were. He made a decisive move to attack Lee’s army.

After the bloody day of fighting at Antietam, the sun arose the next morning and the Rebs had not moved. They were standing their ground. The North didn’t have the will to attack again. That evening, Lee retreated to Virginia. He would attempt a second invasion of the North in the summer of 1863. And, again, he would be stopped, this time at the tree-day battle of Gettysburg. But by then Freeman Philbrick was back home in Maine.

Perhaps Freeman had known Joshua Chamberlain. He was a professor from Bowdoin College (the alma mater of my father and grandfather Kimball) in Maine who led the 20th at Gettysburg. He came from a military family but had no military experience prior to his enlistment. It was Chamberlain and the 20th Maine who held Little Round Top and the Union left flank against repeated Confederate assault. With many of his regiment dead or wounded, and almost out of ammunition (and no reinforcements to back him up), Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge down the hill at the Caonfederates. But it was not a wild free-for-all charge. The line of men swept ahead like a pivoting hinge. It was a bold and desperate frontal/flanking maneuver that surprised the enemy and saved the day. Joshua Chamberlain was one of the most dashing and admirable of Union war heroes. But I digress...

Were my mother still here I would have told here what I learned about grandfather Elias’s older brother Freeman Jr. He went to school in Maine until he was 12-years-old and worked on the family farm until he was 21. Then he struck out for Montana where he worked a couple of years on ranches before staking his claim and setting up a homestead of his own in the Rosebud Valley. In 1891 he purchased 600 acres of land. In 1899 he purchased an adjoining 6,000 acres of land. In 1901 he purchased another 6,000 acres of land. He had 7,000 Merino sheep,150 head of cattle, and raised “immense crops of hay” (kind of reminds me of Abraham in the Bible). In 1912 Freeman Jr. was president of the Rosebud State Bank. All that with a sixth grade education.

But the thing that would have most fascinated my mother would be the thought that our first recorded ancestor, Thomas Philbrick, was, undoubtedly, part of the great Puritan migration from England to America. From the book, “Genealogy of Families in Weare” is this entry:


Thomas Philbrick, with his wife and six children, emigrated from Lincolnshire, Eng., in company with Governor Winthrop, Sir Richard Saltonstall and others. They arrived in Massachusetts Bay, June 12, 1630, after a temptuous voyage of seventy-six days. They attempted a settlement where Salem, Mass, now is, but in July went to Watertown, Mass.


Such information requires some more historical background:

First, we need to understand that the Pilgrims of Thanksgiving fame were English Puritans, which is to say they were Calvinist Protestants. They wanted nothing to do with the “Popish” Anglican Church of England. But the Anglican Church was the State church and everyone in England was compelled to not only be a member, but abide by the rules. If you didn’t (and these Puritans didn’t) you were persecuted by the government and church authorities.

That being the case, these Puritans (then known as Separatists) fled England for Holland. Then they eventually set sail for America. They were the original Mayflower Pilgrims who, by the grace of God, established a colony at Plymouth Massachusetts in 1620. [See my essay, Pilgrins & The Christian Agrarian Exodus of 1620 for more information.]

Now, the rest of the Puritan believers in England, the ones who were not Separatists, believed they should remain in the Anglican Church and endeavor to make changes from within. Because of their contrarian beliefs and efforts to change the established state church, they were not popular with the church and government leaders.

When King Charles I became king of England in 1625, he allowed Anglican bishop William Laud to crack down on the Puritan dissidents, with the full force of the government. When this happened, the Puritans realized they had to get out of the country.

In 1629, under the leadership of John Winthrop, the Puritans managed to get Charles to grant them a charter for a joint-stock company known as the Massachusetts Bay Company. This charter gave the Puritans the power to rule and govern all Englishmen residing in the colony they established. This was an opportunity for them to not only be free from the religious persecution in England, but to also establish a better form of self-government.

In 1630 a fleet of eleven ships and hundreds of Puritans left England. Winthrop and the actual Charter were on the ship, Arabella. It was the first time a company ever left England carrying the King’s Charter with them. If they had it with them, the King couldn’t take it back.

One Puritan pastor, Francis Higginson, upon leaving for the new colony, said:


“We will not say, as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving England, ‘Farewell, Babylon!’… but,…’Farewell, the Church of God in England!’… We do not go to New England as separatists from the Church of England; though we cannot but separate from the corruptions of it.”


Twenty-thousand men, women, and children fled England for the new Puritan colony over the next ten years. Though the Massachusetts Bay Company was ostensibly established for the purposes of business enterprise, their primary intention was to establish a network of Protestant, church-based communities, and a form of government that was based on Biblical law.

These people helped lay the philosophical and spiritual groundwork for the American Revolution of 1776 and the establishment of the new American Republic. They were not perfect people. They made their share of mistakes. And they are largely misunderstood by the average modern American. Nevertheless, they stand out as remarkable people who sought to glorify God in all that they did. Christians of today can learn much by studying the Puritan writings, many of which are still in print.

And so we conclude this little foray into my family line and history. Thanks for reading along.

3 comments:

Patti said...

Love the new look!

C, Hays said...

Fascinating, Herrick! My husband has traced his family back pretty far using Ancestry.Com. I think he tried Googling names too. What an interesting heritage you have!

Love the new look too.

C. Hays

naturalpaths said...

Genealogy is fascinating, isn't it? I spent a good deal of time researching my family lines just over a year ago and found some interesting things. I'd love to know more, but there just weren't enough hours in the day. Maybe I'll get back to it soon.