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First Settlers of Simsbury

Simsbury is often considered to be the first western frontier over the mountain from the Connecticut River Valley.  Early settlers came from Windsor seeking land and employment in the pitch and tar manufactory, supported by the abundant pine forests which covered the area.  There were religious reasons for relocation as well.  Windsor did not honor the "halfway covenant" meaning that children of non-members were not allowed to participate in state-endorsed Congregationalism.  Many families sought a more welcoming area and settled within the Farmington River Valley.  “Massacoh,” as Simsbury was known until 1670, brought together many families whose descendants still live in the area.  Several early families and their stories are presented here; for more information or to research additional Simsbury families, please contact the Research Library and Archive.  


Thomas Barber, an original patentee of Simsbury, was the son of Thomas Barber of Windsor who came from England with the Saltonstall party under Francis Stiles in 1635. Thomas Barber, Jr. probably learned the carpentry trade from his father. We know that he built the first meeting house, church and gristmill in Simsbury.

Barber received the commission of Lieutenant in the local militia. A famous story told about him is the incident of the drum warning. Apparently he noticed Indians surrounding the town and went onto his roof with a drum and beat out a warning that was heard by the militia company in Windsor who then marched to Simsbury's defense.

Barber married Mary Phelps, the daughter of William Phelps, Sr. and Mary Dover Phelps, on December 17, 1663. Mary Phelps was born on March 2, 1644, in Windsor; when her husband died on May 10, 1713, she and five of their eight children shared his estate. Thomas Barber is buried in the Hopmeadow Cemetery near the site of the now lost meetinghouse.

Children of Thomas and Mary Phelps Barber
1. John (born 1 November 1, 1664; married Mary Holcomb; died 1 March 1, 1711/12)
2. Marcy also called Mary (born January 11, 1666)
3. Sarah (born July 12, 1669; married Lieutenant Andrew Robe)
4. Joanna (born 1670; married first Josiah Adkins; married second Benjamin Colt)
5. Annie (born 1671; married Jonathan Higley died November 15, 1722)
6. Thomas, Jr. (born October 7, 1672; married Abigail Buel; died 17 Jul 17, 1714)
7. Samuel (born May 17, 1673; married Sarah Holcomb; died December 18, 1725)
8. Infant (born 1677)

John Case was born about 1616 in Aylesham, England, but had settled in Windsor by the 1650s.  By 1657 or 1658, Case had married Sarah Spencer, the daughter of William and Agnes Spencer of Hartford, CT.  In 1669, the family "removed" to the "Weatogue area” of Simsbury.  The General Court appointed John Case as Constable for Massacoh on October 14, 1669. He represented Simsbury at the General Court in 1670 and several times afterwards.

John and Sarah Case had ten children. Five of them were born in Windsor and five in Simsbury. Sarah died in 1691 at the age of 55 and John remarried Elizabeth Moore Loomis, widow of Nathaniel Loomis; John and Elizabeth (Moore Loomis) Case has no children.

Children of John and Sarah Case
1. Elizabeth (born 1658 in Windsor; first Joseph Lewis in 1674 he died in 1680; married second John Tuller in 1684; died 9 Oct 1718)
2. Mary (born June 22, 1660 in Windsor; married first William Alderman; married second James Hilliard; died August 22, 1725)
3. John, Jr. (born November 5, 1662 in Windsor; married first Mary Olcott on 12 September 12, 1684; married second Sarah Holcomb in 1693; died May 22, 1733 in Simsbury)
4. William (born June 5, 1665 in Windsor; married Elizabeth Holcomb; died March 31, 1700 in Simsbury)
5. Samuel (born 1667 in Windsor; married first Mary Westover; married second Elizabeth Thrall; died July 30, 1725)
6. Richard (born April/August 27, 1669 in Simsbury; married Amy Reed; died April 27, 1746 in Simsbury)
7. Bartholomew (born October 1, 1670 in Simsbury; married Mary Humphrey; died October 25, 1725 in Simsbury)
8. Joseph (born April 6, 1674 in Simsbury; married Anna Eno; died 11 August 11, 1748 in Simsbury)
9. Sarah (born April 20, 1676 in Simsbury; married Joseph Phelps, Jr.; died May 2, 1704)
10. Abigail (born May 4, 1682 in Simsbury; married Jonah Westover, Jr.)

James Cornish was a schoolteacher who traveled up and down the Connecticut River teaching in towns from Northampton, MA, to Norwalk, CT.  He also served as Clerk of the Courts in Northampton.  Cornish settled for a period in Westfield, MA, where he served as the first town clerk and at one time owned the area now known as Tolland and Granville, MA, supposedly purchasing the land from an Indian called "Captaine Toto" on June 10, 1686. It is believed he had a first wife but no record of her name or any issue has been found.

On one of his teaching assignments, Cornish met twice-widowed Phebe Brown Lee Larabee; they married some time before 1661 when he assumed the administration of the late Greenfield Larabee’s estate and the guardianship of his four children with Phebe.  James and Phebe (Brown Lee Larabee) Cornish had two sons of their own, Gabriel and James, before her death in 1664. James raised the combined family of six children (entries in the Diary of Joshua Hempstead, a grandson of Phebe, describe trips to Simsbury to see "Uncle James" and "Cousin James").

By 1698, the elder James “Old Mr. Cornish” had relocated from Windsor to Simsbury with his son James and James’ family.  At his death on October 29, 1698, sons James and Gabriel Cornish inherited their father’s estate.  Gabriel Cornish died just a few years later in Westfield, MA; James Cornish flourished in Simsbury, becoming one of the first deacons appointed by the First Church and a trusted leader of the community.

Children of James and Phebe Cornish
1. James (born ca.1663; married first Elizabeth Thrall of Windsor on November 10, 1693 {their children were James, who married Amy Butler; Elizabeth born September 25, 1695; Joseph (Ensign); Benjamin born March 20, 1700/01; Sarah born April 19, 1709}; James married second Hannah Hillyer on April 15, 1715 {they children were Gabriel born May25, 1716; Jemima born November 20, 1718; Jabez born ca.1723; Mary; Phebe}; James died April 2, 1740

2. Gabriel (married Elizabeth Wolcott {their children were James born 23 October 23, 1687; Damaris born 19 February 19, 1691, who married William Tuller of Simsbury}; Gabriel died May 24, 1702

Various compiled records and many genealogists indicate that the patriarch of the Connecticut Drake family was the John Drake who sailed from Plymouth, England, to Massachusetts Bay on the John and Mary in 1630, however, the synthetic passenger list compiled in 1993* does not include a John Drake.  Additionally, further research uncovered another John Drake, who subsequently returned to England and has been confused with the John Drake who settled in Windsor, CT, appears in town records in1640, and dies on August 17, 1659.  

According to Robert Charles Anderson in his The Great Migration Begins, the Connecticut patriarch of the family, John Drake, Jr., was born in Hampton (Warwickshire), England and received a land grant in Massacoh (Simsbury) in 1667, however there is additional confusion regarding the true recipient of the grant.  Incomplete and often confusing birth and land records, coupled with generations of “John Drakes, mean that the origin of this Simsbury family remains a mystery, but one ready for further research and clarification.  Regardless of his origin, we do know that the local family is descended from the John Drake who married Hannah Moore on November 30, 1648, in Windsor, CT.  

            * A synthetic list is developed from contemporary records when an historic list has not survived.  The synthetic John and Mary passenger list of 1630 was compiled by Robert Charles Anderson and published in his article appearing in the New England Historic Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 147 (April 1993).

Children of John and Hannah Drake
1. John (born September 14, 1649; married Mary Watson or Weston)
2. Job (born June 15, 1651; married Elizabeth Alvord)
3. Hannah (born August 8, 1653; married John Higley)
4. Enoch (born December 8, 1655; married Sarah Porter)
5. Ruth (born December 1, 1657; married Samuel Barber)
6. Simon (born August 28, 1659; married Hannah Mills)
7. Lydia (born January 26, 1661; married Joseph Loomis)
8. Elizabeth (born July 22, 1664; married Nicholas Buckland)
9. Mary (born January 29, 1666; married Thomas Marshall)
10. Mindwell (born November 10, 1671; married James Loomis)
11. Joseph (born 26 June 26, 1674; married first Ann Foster; married second Sarah Fitch Stoughton

John Higley, son of Jonathan and Katherine (Brewster) Higley, was born on July 22, 1649 in Frimley (Surrey), England, and worked as a glove maker's apprentice. He left England in 1665 and settled in Windsor where he was indentured to John Drake, a prosperous merchant and later father-in-law to Higley. 

John Higley became successful in own right importing rum from the West Indies and manufacturing tar, pitch and turpentine. In 1684, he bought the Wolcott Homestead located north of present day Tariffville where he settled his family. Higley soon added huge adjoining tracts of land (the area was called “Higley Town” for more than 150 years in recollection of his purchases and the number of Higley descendents still in the area) and by 1705 was the richest landowner in Simsbury with holdings of approximately 500 acres. Higley held many town offices, was the first captain of Simsbury’s militia, the “Traine Band,” and active in the start up of the Turkey Hill copper mines in present day East Granby.

John married Hannnah Drake (August 8, 1653 – August 4, 1694), daughter John and Hannah (Moore) Drake on November 9, 1671. After her death, Higley married the widow Sarah Strong Bissell (March 14, 1665 - May 27, 1739), the daughter of Return and Sarah Strong of Windsor. Sarah Strong had married Joseph Bissell on July 7, 1687, in Windsor; their children were Joseph (born March 21, 1688) and Benoni (born December 7, 1689).

John Higley died on August 25, 1714, in Simsbury and is buried in Hopmeadow Cemetery; he left land and books to each of his surviving children.

Children of John and Hannah Higley
1. John (born August 10, 1673; no known marriage; died December 1, 1741)
2. Jonathan (born February 16, 1675; married Ann Barber; died May 1716)
3. Hannah (born March 13, 1678; died 1678)
4. Elizabeth (born March 13, 1677; married Nathaniel Bancroft; died 7 December 7, 1743)
5. Katherine also called Ketren (born August 7, 1679; married m. James Noble)
6. Brewster (born 1680; married Hester Holcomb; died December 17, 1775)
7. Hannah (b. 22 April 22, 1683; married Joseph Trumbull; died 7 November 7, 1768)
8. Joseph (born ca.1685; no known marriage; died May 3, 1715)
9. Samuel (born ca.1687; married Abigail (?); died 1737
10. Mindwell (born ca.1689; married first Jonathan Hutchinson; married second James Teasdale; married third Nathaniel Fitch)

Children of John and Sarah Higley
1. Sarah (born 1697; married Jonathan Loomis)
2. Nathaniel (born November 12, 1699; married Abigail Filer or Fyler; died Sept 1773)
3. Joshua (twin, born September 8, 1701; died April 2, 1702)
4. Josiah (twin, born September 8 1701; married Dinah Gillett; died May 31, 1751)
5. Abigail (born November 4, 1703; married Peter Thorpe; died July 1742)
6. Susannah (born 1705; married Elisha Blackman)
7. Isaac (born July 20, 1707; married first Sarah Porter; married second Sarah Loomis)

Joshua Holcomb was the eldest son of Thomas Holcomb, who immigrated to Windsor and died there in 1657/8. Joshua was born in April 1640. By 1667, he was living at Massacoh (Simsbury); on April 23, 1687, he received a Simsbury land grant from King Charles II for property east of the Farmington River near present day Terry’s Plain. Joshua Holcomb married Ruth Sherwood, possibly the daughter of Thomas Sherwood of Fairfield, CT, with whom he had ten children. Holcomb was known to be "one of the sound, substantial men of his time;" he was active in both civic and religious affairs until his death on September 1, 1690, in Simsbury.

 Children of Joshua and Ruth Sherwood
1. Ruth (born May 26, 1664; married John Porter)
2. Thomas (born 30 March 30; married first Elizabeth Terry; married second Rebecca Pettibone in 1666; died 1731)
3. Sarah (born June 23, 1668; married first Isaac Owens; married second John Case; died 1763)
4. Elizabeth (born 1670; married first William Case; married second John Slater; married third Samuel Marshall; died 1762)
5. Joshua II (born 1672; married first Hannah Carrington; married second Mary Hoskins; died 1727)
6. Deborah (born 1675; married Daniel Porter possibly Carter)
7. Mary (born 1676; married first John Barber; married second Ephraim Buell; died 1745)
8. Mindwell (born 1678; married Theophilus Cook)
9. Hannah (born 1680; married Samuel Buel; died 1740)
10. Moses (born 1686; died 1699)

Samuel was the fourth son of William and Margaret Wilcoxson who had sailed from England on the Planter in 1635 with their eldest son John, born 1633.  William and Margaret Wilcoxson settled in Stratford, CT, where Samuel was born about 1640.

Samuel Wilcox(son) was the sixth named patentee of Simsbury. He was a sergeant in the Simsbury militia, the “Traine Band,” serving with the militia periodically from May 1689 through May 1712. A distinguished citizen of Simsbury, he lived at Meadow Plain, and acted as town attorney in many land transfers. Samuel Wilcox(son) died in Simsbury on March 12, 13. His branch of the family dropped the final “son” of their name to become the Wilcox family.

Children of Samuel and Hannah Rice Wilcox
1. Samuel, Jr. (born April 15, 1666, in Windsor;  married Thankfull Mindwell Griffen {their children were Hannah born November 1, 1692; Samuel born April 20, 1695; John born April 10, 1698; Joseph born July 3, 1701; Mindwell born 1704; Ephraim born 4 Feb 1707}; Samuel, Jr. died September 17, 1713)
2. William (married Elizabeth Wilson January 18, 1699/1700 in Simsbury {their children were  Elizabeth born October 11, 1700; William born April 22, 1702; Martha born October 30, 1704; Azariah born July 27 1706; Amos born February 20, 1708/9; Mary born ca. 1713; Daniel born 17 January 17, 1717}; William died March 22, 1733 in Simsbury
3. Joseph (married Abigail Thrall April 29, 1703 in Simsbury {their children were Abigail born unknown and died 30 January 30, 1713; Joseph born 9 February 9,1705/6; unknown daughter born August 10, 1709; Sarah born April 2, 1712; Hezekiah born June 25, 1713; Abigail born December 15, 1715; twins Nathaniel and Marcy born 5 September 5, 1719}
4. Margaret (dies possibly in childbirth of son Benoni, born  December 7, 1714/15)

Although they did not reside in the town of Simsbury, no history of the early settlers would be complete without the mention of these two men. Both were original Simsbury patentees; Major Talcott obtained the deed from regional Native Americans and Captain Newberry laid out the lots.

John Talcott was born in Braintree, MA, and came to Hartford, Connecticut with his father around 1636. He married Helena Wakeman of New Haven on October 29, 1650.  Talcott served as a townsman and deputy, and succeeded his father as treasurer, a post he held until 1676, in Hartford.  He was also put in command of the troops raised for King Philip's War and made a name for himself as a successful fighter.

The early inhabitants of Simsbury frequently called upon Talcott to intervene on their behalf with the Native Americans regarding land claims. Talcott also help sort out problems regarding the placement of the meetinghouse, the calling of ministers and land distribution.  In later negotiations, Talcott nearly doubled the original land grant area and received 300 acres for himself in present day Canton.   Talcott died on July 23, 1688.   

Captain Benjamin Newberry was born before 1630, the son of Thomas Newberry of Dorchester, MA.  He settled in Windsor after the death of his father and married Mary Allyn on June 11, 1646; they had nine children. Newberry was an original Simsbury patentee; the land he owned became known as Newberry's Plain and later as Westover's Plain and Hoskins Station. In 1663, Newberry was appointed by the General Court of Connecticut to lay out the remaining Simsbury lots, giving preference to residents of Windsor who wished to relocate to Massacoh (Simsbury).

After the burning of Simsbury on March 26, 1676 (King Philip’s War), Newberry helped decide where to rebuild houses based upon personal safety; returning settlers were also required to rebuild their home within six months of the committee's determination or pay a fine of forty shillings per year.  Interestingly, Captain Newberry was summoned to court in 1681 to explain why he had not yet built a "mansion house."  Eventually, Newberry sold his land in Simsbury and lived in Windsor until his death on September 11, 1689.





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