Andover, Connecticut

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Captain Thomas Willett

The First Mayor of New York City
Tenth Great Grandfather

1. Thomas Willett
+Mary Browne
2. Mary Willett
+Samuel Hooker
3. John Hooker
+Abigail Stanley
4. Hezekiah Hooker
+Abigail Curtis
5. James Hooker
+Dorothy Parmalee
6. Thomas Hooker
+Ruth Parmalee
7. Dr. Thomas Gould Hooker
+Esther Sweet
8. Thomas Edwin Hooker
+Lucy Hyde
9. Marcus Edwin Hooker
+Elizabeth Delphine Rosenburg
10. Jennie Estella Hooker
+John Emil Dahlquist Sr.
11. John Emil Dahlquist Jr.
+Florence Mary Bowman
12. Debra Florence Dahlquist
+Edward (Ned) Deck Munson
13. Scott Edward Munson :)

Thomas Willett was born in Norfolk, England about 1610 to Thomas and Mary Willett. The family was a member of a separatist congregation (Puritans) who were pursecuted by the King of England and the family moved to Holland where Thomas would have spent a significant portion of his childhood. This is important later, as it would give him some understanding of Dutch culture and allow him to feel at home in New Amsterdam (New York).

Thomas Willett arrived at the Plymouth Colony in 1629 at the age of 19. He was on board a second ship called the Mayflower (The first Mayflower had arrived in 1620 and established the Plymouth Colony). He was a well respected and honest young man and within a couple of years he was sent by Governor Bradford to Maine where he was soon in charge of the trading post on the Penobscot River. Beaver Furs were the life blood for trading in the New World and competition soon grew fierce. It was not long before a French battalion arrived at the post and chased the English traders, including Thomas Willett, out of the post. In 1635, he was assigned to a new post at the current site of Augusta, Maine.

Thomas Willett traveled extensively as a trader and soon found himself in New Amsterdam (New York) where he established himself as an honest businessman and befriended then Governor Petrus Stuyvesant. He probably spoke Dutch and understood Dutch culture having spent a portion of his childhood in Holland. This would prove invaluable in his business, personal and political dealings with this very important trade city. He was a learned man and probably was able to converse extensively on the affairs of New England, New Amsterdam and the World. In 1650, he actually represented New Netherlands in settling the disputed border with the Connecticut Colony.

In 1636, he married Mary Browne in Plymouth. Together they had 12 Children including my Ninth Great-Grandmother Mary, who married Rev. Thomas Hooker's son Samuel.

In 1647, Thomas Willett succeeded Miles Standish as Captain of the military company at Plymouth. This would have been an extremely important post, as tensions with the French, Dutch and Native Americans would have been a source of continued anxiety in the English settlements. In 1651, he was elected as Assistant Governor of the Plymouth Colony, serving for four years.

In 1660, Charles II became King of England. His brother, James, the Duke of York, decided that the Dutch settlement at New Netherlands was the only obstacle to English dominance in controlling trade in the New World. So, in 1664, a battalion was sent to invade New Amsterdam and take control of New Netherlands from the Dutch. Captain Willett joined the expedition as an advisor, again putting to use his knowledge of the Dutch culture, language and city.

When the people of New Amsterdam saw the show of force which the English were prepared to bring against them, they were ready to surrender. Stuyvesant tried to rally his neighbors for a fight, but the English had sent word that they would be treated fairly and peacefully if they surrendered. On September 8, 1664, the Dutch surrendered and New Amsterdam, New Netherlands became New York, New York, in honor of the new King's brother.

The English treated the Dutch very fairly as they had promised. The new English Governor Nicholls appointed Thomas Willett as the first mayor since he was known and liked in the town - an extremely judicious move. Thomas Willett served for mayor for one year, then as an alderman for one year and then for a second year as mayor.

In 1667 he retired to the Plymouth Colony. His home was in Swansea. His wife, Mary, died in 1669. He married Joanna (Boyse) Prudden in 1671. He died in Swansea in 1674 and is burried on land which was part of his property and is now located in East Providence, RI.

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