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


My Ancestors (12) – John Folger – 1617 – 1669

 (1) John Folger (2) Peter Folger, (3) Phoebe (Floger) Marshall (4) Major Elihu Marshall, (5) Elizabeth (Marshall) Guion, (6) Elijah Guion, (7) Elijah Guion II, (8) Alfred Beck Guion, (9) Alfred Duryee Guion, (10) Alfred Peabody Guion, (11) Judith Anne Guion

Benjamin Franklin in the famous “Autobiography”, first chapter, says that the Folger family was originally Flemish and came to England in the time of Queen Elizabeth. The Folgers settled in Norwich, England, where John Folger was born about 1590.

John Folger married an English girl, Meribah or Merrible Gibbs. The date of that marriage isn’t known, but was probably 1616, for in 1617, still at Norwich, their only son, Peter Folger, was born.

The Folgers were Dissenters. It was in 1635 that they joined the “westward movement” and sailed to America, aboard the good ship “Abigaile”. That was five years after Christopher Hussey and Theodate Bachiler had crossed, three years after Stephen Bachiler had joined them, and a year after George Bunker had arrived. Peter, the son, was 17 or 18 at the time.

The Folgers were “freemen” and paid their passages. But aboard the “Abigaile” was a girl named Mary Morrell, from I don’t know where, but evidently traveling alone; Mary came under indenture, meaning that she would have to work out her passage-money by several years of servitude after reaching New England. And aboard the same ship was a fiery and a brilliant young Puritan preacher, Rev. Hugh Peter, the same who was considered for a time as successor to old Stephen Bachiler at Lynn, but who went to Salem instead. Hugh Peter and John Folger became close friends aboard the ship and remained so.

The main incident of the trip was that young Peter Folger, during the eight-weeks passage, fell dead in love with Mary Morrell. But he was too young to marry and she had her indenture to work out, so nothing came of it at the time. The Rev. Hugh Peter liked the girl and, upon arriving in Boston, bought her indenture. She was a friendly “slave” in Hugh Peter’s clerical household for the next nine years.

The Folgers stayed three years in Boston, then, when a group was formed in 1638 to settle Dedham, inland from Boston at the head of the Suffolk marshes, they joined it; John Folger was among Dedham’s original proprietors. They lived six years at Dedham, then moved to Watertown, where they owned 6 acres. They had just come to Watertown, in 1642, when their whole life changed.

They became associated with a very remarkable man, the Rev. Thomas Mayhew, who can only be described as a primitive Christian. Neither Folger nor Mayhew had had any overt trouble with the Puritans — unlike Bachiler, they were non-resistants — but they disliked the banishment of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, and in 1642, Mayhew decided quietly to banish himself. On his mind was the thought that the Indians, instead of being slaughtered, should be converted and educated in the Christian faith. Out of this thought came the purchase of the two islands, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, which were thickly settled by the Gayhead branch of Narragansetts at the time, and, being under New York jurisdiction, were out of Puritan reach.

Mayhew bought both islands. He and a small body of followers, including the three Folgers, sailed out to Martha’s Vineyard, the larger island, and founded Edgartown in 1642. It was a dangerous venture — the Pequot War was at its height, Puritan trainbands (including that led by Christopher Hussey) were killing all the Indians they could find at the time, and this Mayhew party went un-armed. They built a rude village of stones, mud and brush, made friends with the islands sachems, and proceeded to make Martha’s Vineyard an island of peace in the midst of the Indian war.

John Folger, the father, cleared land and farmed it, doubtless with Indian aid. Young Peter, now in his mid-20s, and unusually well-educated for that time, soon became the Rev. Mayhew’s right-hand man and chief assistant.

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

Next Sunday we will follow the life of Peter Folger.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting letters written in 1943. Lad is in California, Dan is in  Pennsylvania getting further training for overseas, Ced is in Alaska working at an airfield as a mechanic, Dick is in Florida and Dave is still home with Grandpa.

Judy Hardy