My Ancestors (13) – Peter Folger – 1617 – 1690

(1) Peter Folger, (2) Phoebe (Floger) Marshall (3) Major Elihu Marshall, (4) Elizabeth (Marshall) Guion, (5) Elijah Guion, (6) Elijah Guion II, (7) Alfred Beck Guion, (8) Alfred Duryee Guion, (9) Alfred Peabody Guion, (10) Judith Anne Guion

Peter Folger had a useful, versatile, practical cast of mind, combined with staunch idealism, that reminds one of his grandson, Benjamin Franklin, later on, and may in fact have been Franklin’s model. Franklin, you’ll remember, never could see anything that needed doing, from inventing a new stove or streetlamp to launching newspapers and founding libraries and philosophical societies, without getting in and doing it. Peter Folger, who knew surveying, first laid out Edgartown and its surrounding farms, then became the town’s first school-master, town clerk and record-keeper, and finally it’s only magistrate. He learned the Indian tongue, served as the settlers’ translator and diplomat in their dealings with the tribe, and the school that he taught had Indian children in it as well as white. In addition, he served as the Rev. Mayhew’s assistant preacher; he wasn’t ordained, but that made no difference; he preached sermons and conducted services, and Peter Folger’s christenings and marriages were as good as anyone’s in the settler’s opinion.

A prime challenge to Peter Folger’s scholarship lay just ahead. In the work of Christianizing the Indians, the Rev. Mayhew decided to translate the Bible into the Narragansett language. He is mentioned in our schoolbooks as the first man to put the Bible into an Indian tongue; what isn’t mentioned, though it is embedded in Nantucket tradition and is obviously true, is that Peter Folger helped him do it. It certainly was never a one-man work, and there isn’t the slightest reason to doubt the tradition. Here was one of the outstanding intellectual feats in the annals of the colonies, and it was a religious labor-of-love as well. The translation was made, and used to good purpose, while on the mainland the best minds were locked in bitter doctrinal disputes.

Such was Peter Folger’s life from 1642 until after 1660. There was one important interlude, however, in 1644. Peter, at that time, went by boat around the tip of Cape Cod and up to Salem, to get Mary Morrell for his wife. Her indenture wasn’t fully worked out, and he paid the Rev. Hugh Peter 20 pounds of English money for her — he said ever afterward that it was the “best bargain he ever made in his life”. It was at this time that Rev. Hugh Peter was returning to England, probably explaining why he was willing to make the sale.

Our ancestor, Mary Morrell, had an interesting “owner” during her nine years of servitude. And she had an interesting husband after her freedom was bought.

Peter Folger and Mary Morrell had a dozen children, all but one of them born on Martha’s Vineyard. (That last one was Abiah, who married Josiah Franklin of Boston as Josiah’s second wife and became the mother of Benjamin Franklin. Abiah was born on Nantucket after Peter and his family moved there.) There are still plenty of Folgers on Nantucket and elsewhere, and all are Peter Folger’s descendants.

When the Macy-Coffin-Pike-Hussey group from Salisbury and Hampton visited Martha’s Vineyard in 1659, to discuss the purchase of Nantucket with Mayhew, they naturally contacted Peter, Mayhew’s chief assistant. It was Peter Folger who sailed over to Nantucket with their party to guide them around and serve as their translator to the Nantucket Indians. Peter had been there before — some work had been done towards Christianizing those Indians too — but the smaller island hadn’t been settled by whites. The purchase was accomplished; and the next year, 1660, when the first settlers including Stephen Hussey arrived, they hired Peter as surveyor to lay out the new town – called Sherburne; it is Nantucket today — and to establish the lines of the various farms.

They liked him and he liked them. Overtures for him to come over and manage the new colony were made during the next couple of years, but Peter didn’t accept until his mother, and also the Rev. Mayhew, died. Then in 1663 he took the offer and became a Nantucketer for the remaining 27 years of his life, always being referred to in the old records as Nantucket’s “most useful man.”

He was at this time about 46. As before, he became Nantucket’s town clerk, keeper of records, schoolmaster, chief magistrate and Sessler of disputes. In 1666 a gristmill was needed to grind the grain; Peter designed and built it and became the Miller. The settlers needed cloth; Peter built the town a little, learned weaving himself, then taught two women to Wii. He served as Nantucket’s blacksmith and worked iron for the early ships. He continued to preach, and I find no record of any other preacher on Nantucket. He had a literary streak, and produced occasional poems. He practiced immersion, and is on record as having it baptized one Nantucket girl in a pond. He was named on several special committees, the phrase “Peter Folger consenting” being used to indicate that no action could be taken unless he agreed.

But Peter had a very independent streak, which emerged as he grew older. To begin with, while the rest of the island was turning toward Quakerism, Peter became an Anabaptist — this being the other persecuted religious sect, and a completely anarchistic one as far as authority was concerned, each member communing directly with his God. (Peter’s descendants, however, became Quakers like the rest.”

And up flair of rebellion against the full-share owners, in which Peter adopted cause of the “little man” and led the fray, occurred in 1673. The control of Nantucket’s public affairs rested with the share-owners, as in a corporation; Tristam Kaufman, a full share owner, was the island’s chief boss, with Thomas Macy and Robert Bernard seconding him. Other shares had been subdivided, so that there were half-share and quarter-share man, who had correspondingly smaller votes. The full-share owners appear to have shoved the “little man” around, and in 1673 they especially offended Peter Folger by electing Peter Coffin as assistant magistrate.

This set off the only real dispute that ever occurred on the island. Peter was record-keeper of the island’s court, and he refused to surrender the “court booke” to Peter Coffin. Result: a session of the General Court was held, older was summoned before it, and, still refusing to turn over the “booke”, was thrown into jail for contempt of court. The jail, as he later described it in a letter written in 1677, was a place “where the Neighbors Hogges had layed but the Night before, and in a bitter cold Frost and deep Snow. They had only thrown out most of the Durt, Hogges Dung and Snow; the rest the Constable told me I might Ly upon if I would.” Folger was released after a day or so, and he never did surrender that “court booke” which continues missing from Nantucket’s records to this day.

Peter Folger died on Nantucket in 1690. He was, in his way and earlier Franklin, and this is recognized by modern encyclopedias of American biography, which quite commonly include brief write-ups of Peter Folger, as well as of the Rev. Stephen Bachiler and, in some cases, of Christopher Hussey. Major Elihu Marshall was Peter’s direct descendant through Phoebe Folger, his mother; and since Major Marshall was our ancestor, Peter Folger was too. We are descended from Peter and Mary Morrell through their son John, born on Martha’s Vineyard in 1659. John was some eight years older than his younger sister, Abiah, the mother of Benjamin Franklin.

I will go into more depth about our relationship to Benjamin Franklin in a future post.

Source: COLONIAL ORIGINS of the CALIFORNIA GUIONS, An Informal Genealogical Study by Ernest Jerome Hopkins, finished in 1952.

For more information,

Next Sunday we will meet the Barnards, ancestors of Mary Barnard, who married John Folger.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting letters written in 1944. By this time, all five of Grandpa’s sons are serving Uncle Sam in a variety of circumstances. Only Grandpa hold’s down the fort with Dick’s wife, Jean (Mortensen) Guion.

Judy Guion


7 thoughts on “My Ancestors (13) – Peter Folger – 1617 – 1690

  1. Mrs. P says:

    So cool to have this documentation on your relationship. Did you already know this? He is Our favorite statesman!

    • Judy Guion says:

      Mrs. P. – I didn’t find out about our Nantucket relationship until about 3 years ago when a 3rd cousin found my blog and we connected. I’ve had The Colonial Origins of the California Guions, An Informal Genealogical Study, by Ernest Jerome Hopkins for about 10 years but only read the section regarding Elijah Guion’s ancestors. It wasn’t until I started this challenge of 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks that I read all of it and discovered our Nantucket connection. I am fascinated by this information and definitely want to make a trip to Nantucket.

  2. Pure Glory says:

    Loved your description of Peter Folger. He definitely made an impact every where he lived. The jail where the pigs had been housed was incredible. A productive but stubborn man!

    • Judy Guion says:

      Yes, he was, and I have to admit I see that trait in many of the descendants I know, including me. I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to be put in a “Hogges” pen in winter, though. Principle matters.

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