George Byam (1617)



Birth: ABT 1617

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Death: 28 May 1680
27/28 May 1680, Chelmsford, Mass

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Event: Aug 1635
Probably to Boston on the "Blessing"

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Updated by: Trevor Allred at 2007-10-10 15:11:24

Childhood Adulthood Later Years
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  Susanna Shaw (1619)
     Abigail (7 Jan 1643)
     Abraham (14 Apr 1644)
     Mary (16 Sep 1646)

Biography & History

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George's and Susannah's Early Lives and Immigration to New England

We know nothing about George Byam's early life except that he wasundoubtedly born in Great Britain. As Edwin Byam points out inDescendants of George Byam (? - 1680) there were Byams in the counties ofMonmouth and Somerset in England. Both are in the southwest of England,and Monmouth is on the Welsh border. Since the name Byam has Welshroots, it is possible that George was born there. A fair supposition,then, is that he was born in southwest England or in southern Wales, withthe former somewhat more likely given limited Welsh emigration to NewEngland in the early years of colonization.

We know even less about Susannah Byam than we do about her husband. Wedon't know her maiden name, where she was born in England or when sheimmigrated to America.

We do not know what ship George took to New England, nor how old he was.We know he was fairly young when he arrived. He became a member of theChurch in Salem in September 1640 and a freeman (voter) in May 1642. Hisfirst child of whom we have record was born in January 1643, sopresumably he and Susannah married in 1642 or slightly earlier. It isunlikely that George was born later than about 1620 and probably notbefore 1610.

Edwin Byam makes a good case for George having arrived in Boston inAugust 1635 on the ship Blessing. He deduced this from family legend andsupporting facts concerning George's connections with others,particularly with the parents of his son Abraham's first wife, ExperienceAdford. There is also recorded as a passenger on the Blessing aNathaniel Byam, aged 14. We have no other record of him. Since thelegend had it that George and Henry Adford and another came together asteenagers, it may well be that it was on this ship.

It appears that George came as a teenager, travelling to a new countryeither alone or with his sibling Nathaniel. Nathaniel, however, may wellnot have existed but actually be George -- the result of a recordingerror. Why did George come? There are two possibilities: 1) George wasorphaned or simply left his family and decided to go to New England or 2)George's parents or his remaining parent had indentured him to anotherfamily who either brought him to New England or encouraged him to come.

The 17th Century was a time of large families, and decreasing infantmortality (though still extremely high by today's standards), and givenhard times in the west of England, many families turned their childrenout at an early age, often by 13. Most of the early settlers in NewEngland came either from what was then England's wealthiest area, EastAnglia and surrounding counties, or the southwest, which at that time wasone of the poorest areas.

It was not uncommon for 17th Century English children to be indenturedwith more wealthy families, or with poor families who merely had fewerchildren. Many Americans assume that indentured servants were only onthis side of the Atlantic. George was almost certainly indentured in NewEngland, probably in Salem, to pay for his passage (which is the commonperception of indenture), but he may well have been indentured or "hiredout" while he was still in England.

The religious ferment against the Established Church of England waslargely, though certainly not exclusively, in the prosperous east.Relative wealth gave people the opportunity to learn to read and time toread the Bible. Cambridge University, on the western edge of EastAnglia, was the hotbed of dissent and turned out leaders for themovement. But even in the west of England, George may have lived with aPuritan family. It is not impossible that he developed his owndissenting ideas while still in England.

On the other hand, George may have come to New England for purelyeconomic reasons. Like the many immigrants who followed him, he may seengreater opportunity on this side of the Atlantic.

The Puritans

In any case, at least after arriving in Massachusetts, George Byam was aPuritan, and it is helpful to understand their beliefs and thedistinction between Puritans and Pilgrims.

The Pilgrims first landed at Provincetown on November 21, 1620 after a65-day voyage on the Mayflower and later at Plymouth on Christmas Day1620. They established the Plymouth Colony, sometimes called "NewPlymouth," consisting of Cape Cod and what is now the southeast corner ofMassachusetts from the Rhode Island border to the Boston suburbs

The Puritans arrived in Boston in the summer of 1630, almost ten yearslater. They arrived in vastly greater numbers (11 ships versus 1) andthe population of the new Massachusetts Bay Colony tripled that ofPlymouth in less than a year. It ostensibly began as a commercialventure -- the Massachusetts Bay Company was a corporation.

In England, those known now as Pilgrims were called Separatists orIndependents (and later Dissenters), while those known in America asPuritans were called Puritans in England as well , but they were alsocalled Non-Separatists.

Both Pilgrims and Puritans agreed that the Church of England was horriblycorrupt. Although it was far less liturgical than the Anglican Church oftoday, they nevertheless rejected the Church of England as too "Romish."Their principal objection was that the role of tradition, as embodied bybishops, was given too much weight in counterbalance to Scripture. Bothgroups were Reformed, in that they were followers of the teachings ofJohn Calvin, and embraced the concept of predestination, i.e., that onlyGod's elect (a small number) will be saved.

Pilgrims/Separatists favored leaving the Church of England and forming aseparate denomination. The old church was simply too corrupt to reform.They also believed that each individual congregation should establish itsown rules and make its own decisions. They ultimately formed what cameto be known as the Congregational Church.

The Puritans/Non-Separatists, on the other hand, initially stronglyopposed leaving the Church of England. They insisted it should and couldbe reformed from within. They were Presbyterians and at this timeincluded in their numbers a large percentage of the gentry and wealthymerchants of England. Not surprisingly, they were strongest in what wasthen the most prosperous and middle-class area of England, East Anglia.

Only a few years after the founding of Massachusetts Bay, thePuritans/Non-Separatists gained power in England through Parliament.Under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, they won the English Civil Warand beheaded King Charles I on January 30, 1649. A Commonwealth wasproclaimed with Cromwell as Lord Protector. Bishops were removed and theChurch of England became Presbyterian, as was (and is) the Church ofScotland. After Cromwell's death on September 3, 1658, the Commonwealthfairly quickly fell apart and Charles I's son, Charles II assumed thethrone in May 1660. Bishops were almost immediately reinstated. Duringthe Restoration, the gentry and upper middle-class (who were frightenedby the excesses of the Puritan revolution) became firmly Anglican andremained the backbone of the Church of England for the next two hundredyears. Presbyterianism disappeared in England.

In America, the events in the Mother Country naturally had an impact.Several Puritans returned to England to participate in the Civil War andthe government of the Commonwealth. Most in Massachusetts Bayunenthusiastically acknowledged Presbyterianism when it became the statechurch and a presbytery was proposed for New England in 1648. The vastmajority of Puritans had ceased to be Presbyterians in anything but nameby that time. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were even lessenthusiastic. They were no more anxious to be under the control of apresbytery than they had been to be under control of a bishop and diocese-- and at least there were none of those in the colonies.

The Puritans' beliefs were similar to religious fundamentalists/Bibleliteralists of today, but they differed in many significant ways. Forexample, fundamentalists of today are split on both predestinarianism andinfant baptism, benchmarks of Puritan theology. The Puritans completelyrejected any observance of Christmas. They brewed and drank beer, andused wine in communion services.

The history of congregational organization and the failure of the EnglishCommonwealth were major factors in the rejection of Presbyterianism bythe people of Massachusetts Bay Colony and the rest of New England. Thusthe Pilgrim's church, the Congregational Church, became the dominantchurch in the remainder of New England in a very short time. It becamethe Established Church in the New England states, and remained so until1833.

Salem and Wenham

Perhaps the most "congregational" of the Massachusetts Bay (Puritan)towns was Salem. A minister from Plymouth had actually founded it in1626. The church there had become so removed from the wider church thatby 1634 they were denying communion to those fellow Puritans recentlyarrived from England. This is important to us since George andpresumably Susannah began their sojourn in America in Salem. He probablylived in the Salem area for twenty years -- 1635-1655

George and Susannah moved out of Salem proper to the nearby town ofWenham some time before 1648. Wenham, north of Beverly Bay, was made aseparate town from Salem in 1643.

Yes, George and Susannah did live in the Salem area at the outset of thewitchcraft hysteria (1647), for which it will ever be famous, but themain trials occurred in the 1690s, long after their departure toChelmsford and subsequent deaths . It is unlikely they played any rolein the early hysteria.


Perhaps in 1653, and certainly by 1655, George (around 35), Susanna andAbraham (about ten) began a westward trek from the Atlantic coast thatsome of their descendants would ultimately follow to the other ocean.Chelmsford, in Middlesex County, is about twenty miles west of Salem andperhaps 25 miles northwest of Boston. Today the town is bisected byInterstate 495 and is a beautiful bedroom suburb of Boston. But in the1650s, it was the frontier and the brave farmers who came there facednumerous hardships.

The Rev. John Fiske had come from England in 1637, preached in Salem forabout three years, and then moved to Wenham where a church was "gathered"in 1644. He served in Wenham for eleven years and was the minister thereduring the entire five to seven years that the Byams lived there. Fiskewas remarkable, even for that amazing period. He was both a medicaldoctor and a minister, so he ministered to his flock in both the temporaland spiritual senses.

Settlement of Chelmsford began soon after 1650. By 1654, there was asmall community and they wanted to form a church. In the fall of thatyear, a deputation from Chelmsford went to Wenham and invited the Rev.Dr. Fiske to come minister with them, and invited all of his congregationto join him. Almost a year later, on November 13, 1655, Dr. Fiske andothers joined to form the Chelmsford Church. George Byam was one, beingamong the five church founders who had come from Wenham with Fiske.

The church that George helped found is still very much in existence, butnot in a form George would recognize today. Fiske was probablysufficiently Separatist/Pilgrim in his orientation that the congregationhe led undoubtedly welcomed the transformation fromPresbyterianism/Puritanism to Congregationalism. What Fiske, and perhapsGeorge, might have been less enthusiastic about was the transfer of thechurch to Unitarianism in the early 19th Century . The current church,the 4th on the site, was built in 1842.

George and Susanna settled in the Beaver Brook meadows, west of thevillage, an area known as the West End. The original Byam homestead, at50 Hunt Road (at the corner of Hunt and Littleton Roads) was built in1656 and is still standing today. It remained in the Byam family fornine generations, being sold in 1907.

The Byam farm was never a big one by today's standards, about 35 acres.Of course, at today's prices in Chelmsford, it would probably be worthmore than a million dollars.

In 1668, George served as constable. He was then at least 48. On atleast two occasions he was selected as custodian of the meetinghouse, forwhich he was paid. He also served at least two terms as a highwaysurveyor.

George died on May 27th or 28th, 1680, age at least 60. Susannah diedAugust 21, 1687.

George and Susannah had two children and adopted another. Theirdaughter, Abigail, was born January 7, 1643 and died young. Abraham wasbaptized in Salem on April 14, 1644. Mary Horsey/Harsey/Hersey wasadopted on September 16, 1646. She was the daughter of MaryHorsey/Harsey/ Hersey, who had died. We know little more of Mary exceptthat she may have been referenced as being "in the hands of William King"in Salem records of 1660, after George, Susannah and Abraham had departedfor Chelmsford.

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