Thomas Weston and the Early Settlers of Wessagusset
The first European settlement in what is now Weymouth was established at Wessagusset in 1622.
Thomas Weston is generally considered the founder of the Wessagusset colony. He was a merchant from London and he thought that a North American colonial settlement should be foremost a commercial venture, consisting of single, able-bodied men. This idea was not shared by the Plymouth colonists. But Weston was not a Puritan or a Separatist, and felt the Mayflower expedition was fraught with peculiar religious views and encumbered with women and children. As a result, he was at odds with the Mayflower Pilgrims. Weston was seeking a profitable investment, though, so he obtained his own land patent and set his sights on trade in the new settlement. Weston recruited a company of 60 men to establish the colony.
The first 10 men sailed on the Sparrow from London and arrived at Plymouth in May 1622 to await the rest of Weston's company. Later that summer, two more ships arrived -- the Charity and the Swan. The Swan was to be used by the colonists, and the Charity was to journey back and forth between America and England with supplies for the settlers and marketable products to be sold in London. A party of Weston's men ventured north up the coast and chose a settlement site at a place the natives called Wessagusset. (Weymouth historians believe that the first settlers lived at Hunt's Hill. This area is right off of King's Cove in North Weymouth. Click to see a very rough sketch of prominent places in Weymouth, circa 1800.)
By the end of 1622, supplies at the Wessagusset colony had become insufficient as the men were not well-versed in farming or hunting. The colonists arranged with the community at Plymouth for the Swan to voyage around Cape Cod to obtain Indian corn. Richard Green, who was the leader of the Wessagusset Colony at the time, had taken sick and died. Therefore, Miles Standish from the Plymouth Colony led the trip, which yielded 26 hogsheads of corn. John Sanders [Saunders] took charge at Weymouth. As food supplies continued to diminish, he asked Plymouth authorities for permission to take corn from Indians by force. His request was refused. Sanders then sailed north for supplies, and Thomas Morton was named the new leader of the Wessagusset colony.
Many colonists starved to death. The settlement was in serious distress by early 1623. Relations with the local native tribes were becoming hostile. One man, Phineas Pratt, stole away to Plymouth where he learned that a Pilgrim army of seven was ready to thwart an Indian plan to destroy both settlements. However, Plymouth’s John Winslow had cured Chief Massassoit of a serious sickness and in return the chief warned Winslow of the plan. In late March, a small force under Miles Standish was sent up to Wessagusset. They met with representatives of the tribes, but violence broke out and a number of Indians were killed.
After the bloodshed, some of Weston’s colonists sailed north to Maine on the Swan. Others went to the Plymouth Colony. By the summer of 1623, there was nobody left from the maiden settlement at Wessagusset and the colony had been disbanded. Ten people had died from famine, two had been killed, and one was badly wounded. The three men that remained sought refuge at the Indian camp and were ultimately tortured to death by the Indians. However, later in 1623, a new company of families from Plymouth arrived to resettle the area, led by newly-appointed Governor Robert Gorges. After wintering in Wessagusset, Gorges abandoned his new colony in the spring of 1624 due to financial difficulties. Most of his settlers returned to England, but some remained in the area. New colonists from Weymouth, England, showed up in 1624. Residents of Wessagusset were supported by Plymouth until they joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. One hundred more people from Weymouth, England, led by Rev. Joseph Hull, were permitted to join the colony in 1635. On September 2 of that year, the colony was incorporated as a town and its name was officially changed to Weymouth.
Shortly after the dissolution of the original Wessagusset settlement, Thomas Weston landed in Maine on his way to check on his colony. After learning the bad news, he attempted to journey to Wessagusset but was shipwrecked, robbed by Indians, and left to die. Finally making his way to Plymouth, Weston was arrested by Governor Gorges and charged with neglecting his colony and with selling weapons that were supposed to have been used for the defense of the colony. Weston denied the first charge, but confessed to the second. After consideration, Gorges released Weston "on his word."
Thomas Weston returned to Virginia and eventually settled at St. George’s Hundred, Maryland, where he prospered, gaining praise and distinction. He died of the plague in 1647, during a visit to England.
There are other writings in existence that give details of what had happened during the first attempt to settle in Weymouth (Wessagusset). Because of the testimony of men that survived in this first wave of settlers, and the writings of Phineas Pratt in particular, we do know some of the names of these 60 adventurers. Additional information can be found in the "Historical Sketch of Weymouth" from 1885.
1. "Phineas Pratt's Narrative: A Declaration of the Affairs of the English People that First Inhabited New England," by Phineas Pratt, published by T. R. Marvin and Son, Boston, 1858.
2. "Historical Sketch of the Town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, from 1622 to 1884," compiled by Gilbert Nash, published by the Weymouth Historical Society, 1885.
3. "The Weston Group Settles Weymouth, Mass," published in The Second Boat, Vol. 9.
4. "History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, 1622-1918," edited by Louis A. Cook, published by S. J. Clarke Company, New York, 1918.
5. "Wessagusset and Weymouth," published by the Weymouth Historical Society, 1905.