Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Holcombe Family (2) - Colonial Generations

Part 2 - Nathaniel Holcombe of Salmon Brook

Thomas Holcombe would arrive in New England sometime between 1630 and 1633. A few short years later, he would be living on the outskirts of Connecticut's first settlement, Windsor. There, he and his wife, Elizabeth would raise a large family and prosper. Their youngest son, Nathaniel would be only nine years old when Thomas died. After that time, Nathaniel's stepfather, James Enno and his older brothers would probably have a great influence on him as he grew to manhood in the wilderness at Poquonock.

If you missed Part 1 of the story, go here . . .

The original settlers at the remote outpost at Poquonock, circa 1640. 

Nathaniel Holcombe was born on November 4th, 1648 at Poquonock, Windsor, in the colony of Connecticut. The circumstances of his upbringing seem to have had a direct relationship to him later becoming one of the "outlanders" of the region. He was born into a Puritan family and thus would start off as part of that society but after his father died, his rank in the society might have been affected by his mother's marriage to James Enno.

The Settlement at Salmon Brook

In 1660, Nathaniel received £28-12s (28 pounds, 12 shillings), his allotment from the estate of Thomas Holcombe. Nothing is known about his early adult life until 1670, when he was married to Mary Bliss of Springfield, Massachusetts. He and Mary may have lived for a few years with her family in Springfield. They would be back in Windsor by 1675. That was the same year that Springfield was attacked as part of a greater conflict known as King Philip's War. The extent of Nathaniels involvement in the war is unclear but respect and rank in later town militias seems to confirm that he gained fighting experience during the war. Nathaniel and his young family would be one of the first settlers at a place called Salmon Brook (now the Town of Granby, Connecticut) arriving as early as 1677.

Colonial expansion west from the Connecticut River valley was inevitable and planning had already begun by the 1660’s. A small settlement was formed at Simsbury but abandoned during King Phillips War. After the war, the settlers returned to find homes and farms burned to the ground. While a scarcity of land was one reason for expansion, local Indian tensions as well as more global concerns also played a role in the movement west. The authorities at Windsor and Hartford planned a series of small clusters of homes along the frontier, thus creating a line of defense against the known and unknown dangers that lurked in the wilderness beyond. Those who ventured out into this frontier to live where taking a real risk as the threat from both the French and Spanish and their Indian allies was real. They were living at the edge of English civilization and along a volatile imperial border.

How Nathaniel ended up in Salmon Brook as opposed to more desirable locations in Windsor or Simsbury seems to have something do with his childhood circumstances. As stated above, living in remote Poquonock and being the stepson of James Enno may have worked against him in the politics of land distribution in northern Hartford County. His brother Joshua was rewarded with more choice land in Simsbury but he was much older and associated more with his father in the eyes of the town leaders. Nathaniel may have been more associated with James Enno, who sometimes rocked the boat in Windsor and as a Huguenot who worshiped in the Anglican Church, was always somewhat of an outsider. Nathaniel may have been guilty by association and passed-over in the race for the best land. It should be noted that most of the settlers offered land in the more remote “outer settlements” like Salmon Brook were Welsh, Anglicans, Huguenots and other non-Puritans.

Simsbury in 1686, Salmon Brook Meadow is at the top.

(ABOVE) From "The Brittle Thread of Life," A map of Simsbury (what the Indians called Massaco) as surveyed about 1686. Already cleared areas (meadowland) made parts of Simsbury an ideal place for expansion. The “river towns” to the east, along the Connecticut River were filling up fast and open land for farming was starting to become scarce.

The plats of the first settlers at Salmon Book.
(ABOVE) From "The Brittle Thread of Life," The first plats at Salmon Brook about 1688. At a bend at the West Branch of Salmon Brook. The occupants are: [1] Nathaniel Holcombe, Mary Bliss and seven children; [2] Samuel Willcockson Jr.; [3] Samuel Adams, Elizabeth Hill and a daughter; [4] Nicholas Gossard, Elizabeth Gillet and three children; [5] Richard Segar, Abigail Griffin and two children; [6] Thomas Griffin; [7] Josiah Owen, Mary Osborn and seven children; [8] Joseph Owen, Elizabeth Osborn and three children; [9] John Matson. 
Nathaniel received his Land Grant as a result of the Land Division in 1680. In that year his family, along with the Owens were the only two families living at Salmon Brook. In 1681 he was elected Town Constable. He was a joint signer of an agreement with the pastor of Hop Meadow in 1687. In that same year, he was also noted as a lister (tax assessor). In 1688, he signed an offer to citizens of Salmon Brook and Low Meadow for exchange of parts of land to better fortify against Indians. Nathaniel served as Deputy to the General Court of Connecticut for Simsbury (Colonial Assembly) between 1703 and 1705 and again between 1720 and 1722. One source noted that he was a Sergeant in the militia, “an experienced Indian fighter” and a veteran of King Philip’s War. Early in the settlement of Salmon Brook, possibly because of their experience in the Indian Wars, he and Daniel Adams were called up to lead Simsbury’s “train band” (militia).

As the years wore on, Nathaniel would develop a reputation as a well-respected citizen, a sort of elder statesmen of Granby. His grandson’s generation would call on him to help them secure their land grants and he would serve his second stint in the colonial court while in his 70’s. Salmon Brook, which became part of the Town of Granby is an important place in the history of this family line (my family line). Every Holcombe in Granby was a descendant of Nathaniel and hundreds of them raised families and lived out their lives there. Six generations from this line lived there, for over 120 years, starting with Nathaniel and ending with Apollas.

The Family of Mary Bliss

Mary Bliss was the 3rd of four children of Nathaniel Bliss (b.1622, d.1654) and Catharine Chapman (or Chapin) (b.1630, d.1711) and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mary’s father, Nathaniel, was born in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England and came to America at about the age 13 with his father, Thomas Bliss (b.1589? d.1650?) of Northamptonshire or Gloucester and some siblings. His mother, Margaret Hulins (b.1595? d.1684) and other siblings followed soon after. They are reported to have been living in Belstone Parish, Devon prior to embarking for New England and settled in Harford, Connecticut.  Nathanial Bliss settled in Springfield, Massachusetts about 1645. His mother, Margaret, and some of Nathaniel’s siblings also went to Springfield at about the same time and after Margaret’s husband died. She was noted as a very able manager of the family estate as it tripled in value under her guidance.

The Marget Hulins Bliss house in Springfield (late 19th century photo)

There were at least three Bliss immigrants, two brothers and a cousin (Thomas was the cousin) that came to New England in the first half of the 17th century. According to the Bliss Family History and Genealogy website, Thomas Bliss is likely a descendant of John Blisse of Tyringham, a feudal serf. The family has been traced back, with some gaps, to the 13th century. Margaret Hulins was the daughter of John Hulins (b.1595, d.1638?) from Rodborough and Margaret (b.1566?). John Hulins (b.1540, d.1609) was the son of Henry Hulins (Huling) (b.1540, d.1608) also from Rodborough and Joane (d.1612).

Catherine Chapin was born in Pomeroy, Devon and was the 3rd of 10 or 11 children of “Deacon” Samuel Chapin (b.1598, d.1675) and Cicely Penney (b.1602, d.1682) both from Paignton, Devon. Samuel was the 5th child of six of John Chapin (b.1560) and Phillipa Easton (b.1569, d.1614) also from Devon. The Chapin family has been traced back with certainty, at least one more generation to Roger Chapin.

The Puritan, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, depicting Samuel Chapin
Samuel and Cicely sailed to America with at least five of their children and possibly Samuel’s father, John, sometime before 1638. Samuel was one of the founders of Springfield in 1642 and an important leader of the community. At various times, he served as a Selectman, Deacon and Magistrate. His many notable descendants include: Grover Cleveland, William Taft, Spencer Tracy, J.P. Morgan and John Brown. Samuel, Cicely and a number of descendants are buried at Chicopee Cemetery (Chicopee Street Burying Ground) in Springfield. Catherine Chapin was married three times and had children by all three of her husbands (four with each). Cicely Penney was the daughter of Henry Penney and Jane (?) both probably from Paignton. Phillipa Easton’s parents were Henry Easton and Joan Cliffee.

Map of Springfield from about 1645 shows the plats of the Bliss and Chapin families.

The Children of Nathaniel Holcombe and Mary Bliss

Son (Lieutenant) Nathaniel Holcombe (II) (b.1673, d.1766) would raise his large family at Salmon Brook. His life and times are covered in the next section.
  • Daughter Mary Holcombe (b.1675, d.1744/45) was born at Springfield and though she lived a long life, she never married. In her will she left a Bible to her brother Benjamin “to be his forever, and the Lord be with him” her best quilt and a pair of silver clasps to her sister Esther, and to all four sisters “rest and residue.”
  • Son (Sergeant) Jonathan Holcombe (b.1678, d.1761) married Mary Buell (b.1677, d.1720), the daughter of Sergeant Peter Buell and Martha Cogan in 1695. Mary was the sister of Nathaniel II’s wife, Martha. Jonathan reportedly “died of the falling of a small tree.” Jonathan and Mary had nine children.
    • Notable descendants included William Horace Holcombe (b.1837, d.1908), a civil war veteran who helped build the Chicago and Iowa Railroad and later the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. He was a political leader in Rochelle, Illinois and in 1893 was active in the management of the Transportation section of the World’s Columbian Exhibition. His house is a Rochelle landmark.
    • Also Chester Holcombe Jr. (b.1844, d.1912), a missionary and diplomat. The son of a pastor, he began as a teacher and later studied theology. His mother’s interest in missionary work seemed to have passed to her son. In 1869 he departed for Peking and spent the next 20 years in China. He learned the language and began interpreting for American diplomats, eventually becoming a diplomat himself. He served 11 year with the American Legation which included stints as Charge d’Affaire. ”As United States minister, he accompanied him (President Grant) and his party through China . . .  and entertained him for several weeks in the legation at Peking." He was also involved in Chinese immigration issues and wrote and taught about China later in life.
  • Son (Ensign) John Holcombe (b.1680, d.1744) married Ann Pettibone (b.1679, d.1753), the daughter of John Pettibone and Sarah Eggleston in 1706. John Pettibone, a freeman at Windsor in 1658, came to America, perhaps from Wales and was possibly a soldier under Cromwell. John and Ann had 10 children. 
John Holcomb gravesite at the East Granby Cemetery.

  • Daughter Martha Holcombe (b.1682, d.1717) married Daniel Hayes (b.1686, d.1756), the son of George Hayes and Abigail Dibble in 1716. Martha’s nephew, Nathaniel III would marry Daniel’s sister, Thankful Hayes. Daniel was taken prisoner by Indians in 1707, carried to Canada and kept in captivity for five years. He earned his own ransom, for which he was reimbursed by the colony. His future sister-in-law, Martha Buell (Nathaniel II’s wife), witnessed Daniel’s capture as she was walking to get cows at the bottom of a far hill. Martha and Daniel had one son after which Martha died. He remarried and had 11 more children. His son Ezekiel would be the grandfather of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
  • Daughter Hester Holcombe (or Esther) (b.1684, d.1760) married Ensign Brewster Higley (b.1679, d.1760), the son of Captain John Higley and Hannah Drake in 1708. John Higley came from Frimley, Surrey, England. It is noted that all of Hester and Brewster’s eight children lived to old age (averaging 80) and had numerous descendants, many of which settled in Vermont, Central New York and the Ohio counties of Meigs and Windham.
    • A famous descendant was the Reverend John Brown (b.1800, d.1859), the abolitionist. President Lincoln said he was a "misguided fanatic" and Brown has been called one of the most controversial of all 19th-century Americans. His attempt to start a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans in Harpers Ferry, Virginia electrified the nation. He was tried for treason against the state of Virginia, for the murder of five pro-slavery Southerners and for inciting a slave insurrection and was hanged. Southerners alleged that his rebellion was the tip of the abolitionist iceberg and represented the wishes of the Republican Party. Historians agree that the Harpers Ferry raid in 1859 escalated tensions that a year later led to secession and the American Civil War.
    • Another notable descendant was Doctor Brewster Higley VI (b.1822, d.1911), who penned a poem in Kansas in 1872 which he called “My Western Home.” He later turned it into the song “Home on the Range.” Still popular, it serves as the official state song of Kansas.
Brewter Higley and Hester Holcombe tombstones at Hop Meadow Cemetery at
Simsbury, Connecticut. The inscription on Hester's marker has all but wore away.

  • Daughter Elizabeth Holcombe (b.1685, d.1700), lived to the age of 15.
  • Daughter Margaret Holcombe (b.1687, d.1777) married Nathaniel North, who is likely a descendant of John North and Hannah Buell (?) in 1704. Margaret and Nathaniel had eight children.
  • Daughter Catherine Holcombe (b.1689, d.1769) married Joseph Messenger (b.1687, d.1763), the son of Nathaniel Messenger and Rebecca Kelsey in 1707. Catherine and Joseph lived near Raven Swamp south of the south branch of Salmon Brook (now the west branch). Catherine and Joseph had nine children.
  • Daughter Sarah Holcombe (b.1691, d.1787) married Samuel Barber (b.1673, d.1725), the son of Lieutenant Thomas Barber II and Mary Phelps in 1712. Samuel’s grandfather, Thomas Barber I was from Stamford, Lincolnshire, England. He first came to Windsor in 1635 with the advance party and was also known to have been a soldier in the Pequot War. Sarah and Samuel had six children.
  • Son Benjamin Holcombe (b.1697, d.1758) married Hannah Case (b.1698, 1769), the daughter of Samuel Case and Mary Westover in 1727. Samuel’s father (John) sailed from Gravesend, England in 1635 on the ship Dorset and landed at Newport, Rhode Island, but settled first in Windsor, then Newton, Long Island and finally, in Simsbury. There would be many Case/Holcombe marriages including two of Hannah’s cousins, who would marry children of Nathaniel Holcombe II. Benjamin and Hannah had two known children.
Mary Bliss would die around 1722 at the age of about 70. After that, Nathaniel would marry Sarah Owen. Nathaniel would live another 18 years and die in 1740 at the age of 92. His long life would stretch from the early days of the colony to a time of almost complete settlement of Connecticut and greater New England.

The next generation, Nathaniel II, would stay-on in Salmon Brook. You can read about his story in Part 3 of the report here . . .

For additional information: One of the best on-line sources about the Holcombe family can be found at Holcombe Family Genealogy. For a great source of information about Salmon Brook and with some information about the three Nathaniel Holcombes that resided there, read: "The Brittle Thread of Life" by Mark Williams (2009).


  1. Where did you get your maps from ? I have ancestors that settled in Springfield and Salmon Brook ! Your map shows the land of my Samuel Adams !

    1. Lonnette,

      Sorry or my late reply. Can you be more specific on which map you are referring? Hit one of my contact buttons and that will send me an e-mail, then we can talk more - thanks for reading . . .