John Bacheller of Reading, Massachusetts (1745-1817)

I have to go back to the American Revolutionary War to find the Bacheller name in my family tree. That was my 5th great-grandmother, Margaret “Peggy” Bacheller, who married Revolutionary War veteran, John Norton. Peggy was the oldest child of Capt. John Bacheller, also a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

The Bachellers came to America during the period of the Great Migration (1630s), as related in the Batchelder Genealogy, beginning with the noted clergyman, Stephen Bachiler. The name appeared under a variety of permutations down the years, but as my 6th great-grandfather is primarily found in the historical record as Bacheller, that’s the version I’m sticking with.

John Bacheller was the 2nd son of the Rev. Samuel Bacheller (1707-1776). Samuel was a graduate of Harvard, the first person from the town of Reading, MA, to obtain a college degree. Samuel served variously as a school master, church pastor and representative to the General Court. He married Hannah Boutwell in 1734. Hannah gave birth to 5 children, all born in Haverhill, MA. Only 4 of the children survived: Hannah, (b. 1741), Samuel (b. 1744), John (b. 1745) and William (b. 1749).

The Rev. Samuel stirred up some controversy while serving as the first minister of the West Parish Congregational Church in Haverhill. In 1758, the church authorized the printing of a pamphlet defending him against 20 charges of heresy. It seems some members of the community vehemently argued against Rev. Samuel’s saying that Christ’s “work of Redemption was finished when Christ uttered the words, ‘It is finished.'” (The Congressional Quarterly, Vol. 6) One source recounts the controversy which eventually led to his removal from the West Parish (A Historical Sketch of Haverhill, in the County of Essex).

It was a whole lot of drama and in reading the account I cannot help but imagine the Bacheller household during this trial, and how the children, including the teen-aged John, may have been affected. What did the impressionable youth think of his father’s  doctrinal stand, so at odds with others in the community? Did John face repudiation from his peers? How did he respond? Was he proud of his father and defend him, or was he embarrassed and ashamed by the notoriety?

I love to ponder these things because they help me form a character portrait of my ancestors. My own conclusion is that father and son were simpatico. Like his father, John became a leader among men. After the death of his wife Hannah in 1779, Samuel left his home in Haverhill and moved to Royalston, where John had taken his family at the outbreak of the War.

In researching the Rev. Samuel, I came across an unsavory item: apparently, he was a slave holder. In the book, History of Essex County, Massachusetts, I discovered that “in 1761 Rev. Samuel Bacheller and Joseph Haynes, of the West Parish [Haverhill], bitter and life-long opponents, owned slaves.” Joseph Haynes was the guy who filed heresy charges against Samuel and led the cause for his removal.

Rev. Samuel Bacheller saw to the education of his children, especially his sons. His youngest son, William Bacheller (1750-1823) became a doctor and served as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War. I haven’t uncovered what John Bacheller did to support himself and his family, but in census records and elsewhere he obtained the honorific “Esq.” This may have been due in part to his War service, or because of his civil service as selectman and assessor in Royalston. But whether he held a profession or trade, or supported his family through farming (like most men of that time), has yet to be uncovered.

In 1767, John Bacheller married Margaret Swain in Reading, MA. Margaret was the daughter of Dr. Thomas and Hannah Appleton Swain. In family genealogies, a rather big deal is made of the fact that Margaret descended from the Appletons of Ipswich, who were noted hemophiliacs. It is written that two of Margaret’s brothers died of the affliction and  three of John and Margaret’s sons inherited the disease – Thomas and Benjamin are named. The third may have been Samuel and he may have died as a result, since no record of him can be found other than his birth.

John and Margaret remained in Reading (just north of Boston) through 1775-1776. Town records show that their first four children were born in Reading: Margaret “Peggy” (b. 1767), Samuel (b. 1769), John (b. 1771), Thomas (b. 1773), and Hannah (b. 1775, d. 1777 in Royalston). Hannah was born in Reading in September of 1775, which is important in establishing the location of the family home in that critical year marking the beginning of the American Revolution.

The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, called forth John Bacheller to march against the British, as noted in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (Vol. 1, p. 400).

There are numerous men named John Bacheller/Batchelor/Batchelder/Batchellor/etc. listed in MA Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, but this entry is the only one listing him with the correct name spelling and place of residence. That John held the rank of captain at the outbreak of the War evidences that he was already a member of the militia. Before the War, local militias defended against Native Americans, the French, and other opponents.

By 1777, the War still on, John Bacheller moved his family to Royalston, some 75 miles west of Reading. (Read about my impressions of Royalston in this post.) Being farther away from the Boston area at that time was a prudent measure, as the British threatened to destroy the city. Town record books show his 2 year old daughter, Hannah, died in Sep. 1777. Two months later, John and Margaret welcomed another daughter into the family and named her Hannah. (Here’s a bit of family weirdness: John’s mother had also given birth to a daughter, Hannah, who died in infancy, and then named her next born daughter Hannah.) Other children born in Royalston in that period were Sally (b. 1779) and Benjamin Brown (b. 1782).

In 1779, John was appointed the town tax assessor. He went on to hold various offices in the town, including selectman and town clerk. He also served as a member of the school board.

For unknown reasons, John took his family from Royalston to Albany, NY, in 1784. His eldest daughter, Peggy, was wed to John Norton in Albany on Oct. 14, 1784. While in Albany, Margaret gave birth to William (b. 1785) and Polly (b. 1786). Sadly, little William died barely before reaching the age of 2 months.

By 1789, the Bacheller family was back in Royalston, where the youngest child, Lucy, was born in October. By that time, Margaret was 42 years old.

In 1790, John was appointed town clerk. The family is shown on the 1790 Census;  John Bacheller Esq is the last entry in the snippet below. Note that his son-in-law, John Norton, is listed directly above, by that time father to two daughters, Peggy and Polly.

In April 1795, John and Margaret lost their two youngest children, Polly and Lucy, when the town of Royalston, MA, suffered an outbreak of diphtheria. It took the lives of 66 people in the small town of about 1130 inhabitants. Polly was only 8 years old and Lucy was just 5 years old. Of the 11 children Margaret gave birth to, she saw 4 of them die in childhood. Her granddaughter, 8 year old Peggy Norton, was also lost in that terrible Spring of 1795. While I have been able to trace some John and Margaret’s children after their birth, others have eluded me. It’s possible that their son Samuel (b. 1769) and daughter Sally (b. 1779) also died young, perhaps even due to hemophilia (as mentioned above).

The following year, 1796, the Rev. Samuel passed away in Royalston. John was administrator of the estate. The image below, from the probate papers, bears John’s signature (and preferred spelling of his surname).

John and Margaret continued to live in Royalston, watching their surviving children grow to marry and begin families of their own. Some moved away from Royalston to lead lives elsewhere.

In 1810, Margaret passed away. John Norton, town clerk, recorded her death in the town record book.

The Batchelder Genealogy states that after his wife’s death, John went to live with his son, Thomas, in Warwick, Franklin County, located about 11 miles west of Royalston, and died there in 1817 at the age of 72.

Unlike some of the ancestors I’ve researched, I don’t have a real feel for who John Bacheller was. Some questions about him remain unanswered, like his use of the title “Esquire,” his reasons for taking his family to Albany for a brief period during the War. The best picture I can develop of his character is that he was a strong military leader and very civic minded. The Batchelder Genealogy claims he was a deacon of the church and a prominent citizen. Though I have not been able to locate an obituary, or probate record, or any newspaper item naming him, I will continue to look for new records which may reveal more about Capt. John Bacheller, Esq.


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