Among the hundreds of ancestors I’ve tracked down thus far, only one was born on my birthday, and as it happens we also share the same name. I had to go back eight generations to find Elizabeth. From the descendancy chart shown here, you can see that the links between Elizabeth and I are primarily through the men in our family tree. This is appropriate, seeing as it is pretty much only through the men in Elizabeth’s life that I know anything about her.
Elizabeth Fifield was born July 7, 1757, in the seacoast Colonial settlement of Hampton, New Hampshire. Her parents were William and Mary Fifield. William Fifield has been researched by others and a sketch of him is included in The Great Migration Study Project. He arrived first in Newbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony, aboard the ship Hercules which sailed from London in April 1634. Most sources are unable to pin down his exact birth date, but as one researcher puts it, “a variety of depositions [i.e. court proceedings in which he was deposed as a witness] give him in round number ages” from which we can estimate his birth to about the year 1615. As to his place of birth, I’ve only found one hint. In the book, Topographical Dictionary of 2885 English Emigrants to New England, 1620-1650, the author lists William Fifield’s “English parish name” as Littleton.
In 1638, the Rev. Stephen Bachiler and a group of men from Newbury received permission from Gov. John Winthrop and the General Court to remove to an area along the coast and establish a plantation there. The place was known as Winnacunnet which translated from the Indian meant “pleasant place of pines.” Within a year, the settlement grew to about 60 families and in June 1639, the General Court allowed the residents to incorporate as a town. Soon after, the place was renamed Hampton.
Sources differ as to whether William Fifield came with the Rev. Bachiler’s group in 1638 or arrived in Hampton in 1639. What we do know is that in June of 1640 he was among a group of over 50 men receiving land grants in Hampton. William was initially granted 5 acres for a house lot and 5 acres of fresh meadow near the beach. Later that year he was granted 20 acres of upland. Subsequent land grants included: 5 acres of salt marsh in 1642; 20 acres in 1644; and two shares in the town common in 1645. He also purchased a house lot in 1644 and more marsh land in 1648.
About eight years after arriving in the wilderness of Hampton, William took a wife. In 1646, he married a woman named Mary. Researchers are unable to determine the identity of Mary’s parents. At the time of their marriage, William was around 31 years old — practically middle aged for those times! — and Mary was 25 years old. Mary was kept plenty busy after marrying William; she gave birth to nine children over the next 15 years: John (b. 1646); Benjamin (b. 1648); Mary (b. 1650); William (b. 1651); Sarah (b. 1653); Lydia (b. 1654); Elizabeth (b. 1657); Hannah (b. 1659); Deborah (b. 1661).
William Fifield was appointed to various town offices over the years: timber surveyor (1653); selectman (1659); constable (1662); deputy constable (1669). He served on numerous juries and chosen to serve on various town committees. He was apparently an esteemed member of the community, having been assigned to act as attorney for the town in various law suits and as an agent to the General Court. (History of the Town of Hampton).
From what we know about William, it can be inferred that his wife and children were materially well provided for and were a typical family for the times. They worked the farm and attended the meeting-house on the Sabbath. The children, both the boys and the girls, attended school. Being close to the shore, it’s impossible not to envision William and Mary’s children frequently exploring the beach. The family endured the loss of one child, Hannah, who lived only 20 days after birth.
Meeting-house gatherings were the center of social life at the time. William and Mary were active members, being among the list of member in full communion. An amusing excerpt involving William Fifield, and his children no doubt, is found in History of the Town of Hampton:
The arrangement of the seats in the meeting-house did not allow of families being seated together. A large number of children occupied seats in the gallery, and these must be cared for. Accordingly, in town meeting in February, 1664, it was ordered, “that two of the inhabitants of the town should sit in the gallery, to keep the youth in order in the time of the public exercises, that they keep their places and sit orderly and inoffensively.” Under this arrangement, Thomas Sleeper and John Redman were to sit in the gallery the first Sabbath, and they were to give notice to John Brown and William Fifield for the next Sabbath, “and so to take their turns about the town successively.”
Kids will be kids! When this action was taken, William & Mary’s children ranged in age from 4 to 18 years old. Sadly, the eldest son, John, died the following year. We know not of what. Elizabeth was a child of 8 at the time. After this sorrow, the family continued on with the business of life until the children came of marrying age. Elizabeth began to see her siblings move out to establish their own families beginning in 1670 when Benjamin married (Elizabeth was 13 years old), followed by Mary in 1672 (Elizabeth was 15) and then Sarah in 1673 (Elizabeth was 16).
Finally came Elizabeth’s turn to leave the nest: she married John Tidd of Woburn, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1678. One source has them married in Hampton:
Other sources show the couple were married in Woburn. My money is on them being married in the bride’s home town.
The question that first occurs to me is: how did these two young people, living some 50 miles apart, come to know each other? The answer to this question involves an issue that has not been settled by those researching William Fifield and an apparent relation of his, Giles Fifield. While no family link between the two men can be verified, it’s quite probable that they were related in some way. William was about 15 years older than Giles, so it’s doubtful they were brothers. William may have been Giles’ uncle or cousin.
In 1652, Giles Fifield was wed to Mary Perkins in Hampton. Mary died in 1670 and two years later, Giles was recorded living in Charlestown, MA, where he took a 2nd wife. He remained in Charlestown until his death in 1676. Charlestown was settled in 1629 and by the early 1630s the town sought to expand. The area they expanded into became known as Woburn. So, for some time we find people being said to come from “Charlestown/Woburn.”
John Tidd was born in Woburn in 1654. John was a 2nd generation Colonist; his grandfather, also named John, immigrated from England in 1637 at the age of 19.
John Tidd served in King Philip’s War in 1675/76, just a few years before marrying Elizabeth. As it happens, Giles Fifield was living in nearby Charlestown at the time and he also served in the conflict. Being close in age and living in proximity of one another, it’s very likely that John and Giles met up either before the war, during it, or after.
Thus, it could be that John Tidd accompanied Giles to Hampton on an occasion where he met up with Elizabeth. Or, Giles may have mentioned his unmarried cousin Elizabeth to John. We can’t know, of course, but that Giles brought the two together seems the most probable answer to the puzzle of how they met.
It was early summer when Elizabeth left her seaside home in Hampton to settle with her new husband in the town of Woburn, located about 12 miles from Boston. She was 21 years old; John was 24. It was not an ideal time to be living in Woburn. The area was just coming out of the terror of King Philip’s War only to be visited with the scourge of smallpox, which was raging at the time of Elizabeth’s arrival there and continued for another year. Miraculously, Elizabeth not only gave birth to her first child during this perilous time, but her daughter survived.
Elizabeth gave birth to six children, all of whom survived to adulthood:
- Elizabeth (b. 1679)
- John (b. 1681)
- Joseph (b. 1684)
- Rebecca (b. 1687)
- Mary (b. 1690)
- Ebenezer (b. 1693)
Compared to other families of this period that I’ve studied, Elizabeth’s pregnancies were a bit more spread out, there being about 3 years separating them, with a span of 14 years separating her oldest child from her youngest. Elizabeth was 36 when her last child was born.
Woburn was a pretty small town at the time, there being only 100 families living there in 1685. The Tidd family was settled on the edge of town. In Abstracts of Early Woburn Deeds, there appear few land transactions under the name Tidd, This suggests that John Tidd, who had followed his father into cooper trade, had sufficient income from this to support his family; their farm lands served to provide the household with vegetables, fruits, herbs, milk, eggs, meats, etc.
Living on the edge of town, somewhat isolated, may have been a concern for Elizabeth, even if her husband were a military man. The nearby river presented a danger to her children. But even more threatening was that of Indian attack. While it had been 10 years since the Woburn family of Samuel Richardson had been killed by Indians, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of her abduction and 11-week ordeal was published in 1682. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God was very widely read and, as her husband had fought in the War and remained a member of the militia, I have to think Elizabeth read the book.
John Tidd continued his military service as sergeant of the militia for over 40 years. He also served as constable. On occasion, he was tapped for services he was able to duck out of:
A memorable instance of [seating the meeting-house] occurred in 1710. The work of repairing and enlarging the house of public worship the year before having been completed, it became necessary to seat it anew. Accordingly, at a general meeting, December 9, 1709, John Brooks, Sergeant Eleazar Flegg, Sergeant John Tidd, Sergeant George Read, and James Fowle were chosen a committee for this purpose. But so irksome was this office accounted, and at the same time so thankless and invidious, that two of the persons nominated for it on this occasion, Mssrs. Tidd and Fowle, immediately declined. (The History of Woburn)
Smart man! Apparently, when it came to dealing with the petty issues like seating the meeting-house, John wisely judged his time could be better served. Yet when more weighty issues were laid in his lap, he took them up and executed them with success. In 1716, Sgt. Tidd and Ensign John Peirce were selected to represent the town before the Massachusetts General Court to petition for a renewal of the town’s 2000 acre land grant. The grant was renewed.
In 1692, the population of Woburn had grown to 550, and it continued to grow through the early part of the new century. By 1708, it was 4th in the county of Middlesex for wealth and population. A school was built in 1713. In 1717, The Great Snow hit, covering the area with 20-25 feet of snow and 1727 was the year of “the great earthquake.”
Some of John and Elizabeth’s children grew to marry and begin families of their own:
- Elizabeth Tidd m. Joseph Stevens on 24 Sep. 1701
- Ebenezer Tidd m. Martha Wyman abt 1715
- John Tidd m. Abigail Gould on 6 Nov 1729
- Joseph Tidd m. Martha Pierce on 22 Nov 1732
- Rebecca Tidd never married
- Mary Tidd never married
John and Elizabeth sadly saw the death of their youngest child, Ebenezer, in 1725. He died shortly after his 31st birthday, leaving behind three boys. Did John and Ebenezer take in their widowed daughter-in-law and grandsons? It may be so, for when John passed away he greatly favored them in his will. Elizabeth was 68 years old when her son Ebenezer died, and one can imagine her happiness at having the home come alive again with the presence of her grandsons: Samuel (9), Ebenezer (7) and baby Jonathan (1).
Elizabeth passed away in 1732 at the age of 75. Her husband, John, went on to live another 11 years, so that when he died in 1743, the passing of “Old Mr. Tidd” was noted in the town record. We don’t know where Elizabeth and John were laid to rest in Woburn, but it is likely that they are in the Old Burying Ground.
In reflecting on the life of Elizabeth Fifield Tidd, I envision a child growing up in a large family that maintained a farm along the New Hampshire coast. Her father provided well for the family and was held in esteem within the town. To have spent 8 years forging a homestead and a farm from a wilderness before taking a wife and starting a family suggests that William Fifield was a practical and responsible man.
It appears that in John Tidd, Elizabeth found a husband much like her father. John provided comfortably for Elizabeth and their children. He was their protector during a time when the threat of Indian attack was fresh in everyone’s memory. Together, they raised a family, endured the trials and enjoyed the benefits of a long life.