JOHN SWETT OF NEWBURY (1580? - 1652)

Ben H. Swett
Colonel USAF (Retired)
6 Apri 2018


Just where John Swett of Newbury came from has not been learned. He brought a wife and four sons with him. He was admitted to the freedom of Massachusetts Colony, 18 May 1642, and was one of the grantees of Newbury, Mass., 7 December 1642. He must be carefully distinguished from John Sweet of Boston about the same time. John Swett of Newbury had wife, Sarah, who died 11 Dec. 1650. He may have had a second wife, Phebe, who died, a widow, 6 May 1665. He lived on the first lot east of the old landing, on the north side of Parker's River. He died 13 June 1651-2. The monument erected on the lower green at Newbury, to the memory of the first settlers, does not bear the name of John Swett, but of Stephen, his son, it being then supposed that Stephen Swett was the first one of the family to settle in Newbury. The children of John Swett were,

2. John, Jr., b. about 1603; m. Mercy Rouse, (2) Jane (Hodges?).
3. Joseph b. ----; m. Elizabeth Taylor, (2) Mrs. Mary Buttolph.
4. Stephen b. about 1620; m. Hannah Merrill, (2) Rebecca Smith.
5. Benjamin b. about 1626; m. Hester Weare.

John Swett of Newbury [Stackpole #1] has been the subject of much speculation. He is said to have come from Devonshire, in the west of England. [John Wingate Thornton, "Mementos of the Swett Family," 1851] He is also said to have come from the Isle of Guernsey, in the English Channel. [Simeon L. Deyo, "History of Barnstable County," 1890] Efforts have been made to link him to the Sweet families who settled in Rhode Island. [Trella Hall Manuscript Collection at the New England Historic-Genealogical Society] However, none of these secondary sources refers to primary sources that could prove where John Swett came from.

In 1990, I rediscovered a note I had copied from the Massachusetts Bay Colony records in 1964: "John and Benjamin Swett sailed from Wymondham Parish." A quick look in an atlas found Wymondham in county Norfolk, in eastern England. I contacted the Norfolk Records Office, learned they had the Wymondham Parish records on microfilm, and contracted with Miss C. Entwistle for research among those records. Her letter report dated 26 June 1991 was most gratifying.

1. Dorcas Swett [not in Stackpole], daughter of John Swett, was baptized 31 May 1618 in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England. 

2. Stephen Swett [Stackpole #4], son of John Swett, was baptized 18 April 1620 in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England. 

3. Joseph Swett [Stackpole #3], son of John Swett, was baptized 21 January 1621 in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England.

4. Robert Swett [not in Stackpole], son of John Swett, was baptized 20 July 1623 in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England. 

5. Benjamin Swett [Stackpole #5], son of John Swett, was baptized 12 May 1624 in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England. 

John Swett, Jr., [Stackpole #2] isn't in the Wymondham Parish records, because they only go back to 1615, but his baptismal record in New Buckenham (see 2021 Update below) shows he was born in 1608, not in 1603. Stackpole says that he died in 1693 "aged 90" but the vital records of Charlestown, Mass., have "near 80."

Robert Swett [not in Stackpole] baptized 20 July 1623 hasn't been confirmed. Another researcher who studied the LDS microfilm said the last name was Sewell, but Miss Entwistle had added a note, "The handwriting for these entries is very small and hard to read. I do not think that photocopies from the microfilm would be legible at all," so the other researcher may have been mistaken. This Robert Swett doesn't appear in any of the New England records, but he may have been the Robert Swett who arrived in James City, Virginia, in 1638 aboard the ship Guiding Star. [Foley, Louise Pledge Heath, "Early Virgina Families Along the James River: James City County-Surry County" (Genealogical Publishing Company reprint 1990, p. 21) If so, he was the immigrant ancestor of many Swett and Sweat families across the southern United States.


2021 Update: The following new records were posted at in 2020.

1. John Swett [Stackpole #1] married Phoebe Benton in New Buckenham, Norwich, on 24 April 1604 (source: Norfolk Banns and Marriages).

2. Phoebe Swett [not in Stackpole], daughter of John Swett, was baptised in New Buckenham, Norwich, on 30 December 1604 (source: Norfolk Baptisms). She does not appear in other records and may have died young.

3. John Swett [Stackpole #2], son of John Swett, was baptised in New Buckenham, Norwich, on 10 June 1608 (source: Norfolk Baptisms). This would make him 84 when he died in 1693.

4. Sara Swett [not in Stackpole], probable daughter of John Swett, married Robert Keyes in New Buckenham, Norwich, on 8 April 1632 (source: Norfolk Banns and Marriages).

These new records confirm that Phoebe was the wife of John Swett [Stackpole #1] and provide her maiden name, add two previously unknown daughters (Phoebe in 1604 and Sara circa 1609-1615), and establish that John Swett [Stackpole #2] was born in 1608.

Since John [Stackpole #1], John, Jr. [Stackpole #2], and Stephen [Stackpole #4] all worked in the leather trade later in New England, it is interesting to read this extract from the New Buckenham Archive (emphasis added):

By the 1600s New Buckenham was small but moderately prosperous. The main trades were cloth finishing, butchering, tanning and associated industries, and inn keeping and brewing. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was also a number of grocers and apothecaries. There was a very large butchery on the market place - thirty stalls in 1542 - and there were leather-workers’ stalls and a poultry market. Cloth stretching frames, tenters, were on the edge of the common where there was also a game place, an area set aside for sports and plays. Inns on or near the market place included the Bull, the Crown, the White Hart, the Three Feathers and the George. The King’s Head, originally in the Broadgate, followed in the 18th century. There was a tollhouse or market cross, rebuilt in its present form, probably in the 1690s. The tanneries lay mainly on the eastern and southern sides of the town where they could make use of the water from the town ditch, and the number of inns reflected the importance of the Norwich road, which was turnpiked in 1779.


It is not certain whether John Swett lived in Wymondham or lived somewhere else and brought his children there to be baptized. After a considerable amount of research, I have found no other record of this family in Wymondham, or Norfolk. Further research in the Wymondham Parish records found no Swett marriages or burials during the period 1615-1650. There was no reference to Swett or Swet or Swete in the personal names index for Norfolk, or Walter Rye's Norfolk Families; no entry in the wills index, or in the records of manors overlapping Wymondham Parish (Ruston, Stanfield Hall, Hethersett, Cromwells, of the Queen, Guishaugh, Choselye), and nothing in the county enrolled deeds 1536-1650. [Letter reports of research by Miss C. Entwistle, 26 June 1991 and 5 August 1991]

Search of the Lay Subsidies (tax records) for county Norfolk at the London Records Office found no mention of Swett in Wymondham, but "Mathew Swet, gentleman" was taxed for lands in Mitford Hundred, Hockering, 1603-1613. Antepas Swett was taxed for lands in St. John's Sepulcher, Norwich, 1625. [Letter report of research by Mrs. Dorothy M. Clarke, 14 December 1992]

Additional research at the Norfolk Records Office found no entries for Swett in the parish records of Hockering or St. Johns Sepulcher. No manor court books were available for St. Johns Sepulcher. There were manor court books for Hockering from 1624 onwards, but they were "too fragile to be used by the public." [Letter report of research by Miss C. Entwistle, 23 January 1993]

A fire at the Norfolk Records Office destroyed much of their holdings in 1994, but fortunately the Wymondham Parish records had been photocopied by the Mormon Church earlier that year and are available through their Family History Centers. [Film Number 1911510 Items 5-10 Parish registers, 1615-1900 Church of England. Parish Church of Wymondham (Norfolk)]

To test the possibility that John Swett may have been a religious dissenter who fled to the Netherlands to avoid persecution (as many did), I searched the civil records of Amsterdam (1601-1630) and Leiden (1600-1640), but found nothing there.

Continuing research in Norfolk has found more people named Swett (or variants), including a John Swete of Wymondham who died in 1479 leaving bequests to sons of Thomas Swete and Henry Swete, to the Church of St. Margaret at Tetyshale "for my ancestors," to the Church of St. Peter at Multon "likewise," and property at Swetescroft in Wattlefield. All these places are a few miles south of Wymondham.


1635 May 6: The Rev. Thomas Parker and his friends from Wiltshire, England, having spent the previous winter in Ipswich, Massachusetts, received permission to begin a plantation on what is now the Parker River. It was named Newbury. [Winthrop's History, 1853 edition, vol. i, p. 191. Mass. Colony Records, vol i, p. 146]

1635 June 3: The ship James arrived at Boston from Southhampton, England. [Winthrop's History, 1853, vol. i, pp. 191-192] It has been published that John Swett came to New England on the James in June 1635, but that is a misquote from a parenthetical clause in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register that actually refers to John Emery:

John Swett, admitted to the freedom of the Massachusetts colony, 18th of May, 1642, was one of the grantees of Newbury, as early as December 7th 1642, when "it was declared and ordered according to the former intentions of the towne that the persons only above mentioned are acknowledged to be freeholders by the towne and to have propertionable right in all waste lands, commons, and rivers undisposed of." Among these, ninety-one in number, were John Swett, Mr. John Woolbridge, Henry Lunt, whose grand-daughter Mary Lunt married Col. Joshua Wingate of Hampton, N.H., John Emery, brother of Anthony, who came to Newbury in the ship "James," in June, 1635, from Romsey, then a busy village near Southampton in England, was for a while, a leading townsman at Dover, and finally settled and died in Kittery leaving a family, -- and Nathaniel Weare, himself an honorable man, of note in New Hampshire history, and the founder of an influential family. -- Coffin relates no particulars of Mr. Swett's subsequent life or death, but we can safely conjecture from the fact of his emigration at this period, that he was, like his associates, a devout low-churchman, a republican, and a man of thought and action. [New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 6, pp. 49-50, emphasis added]

There are no indications of any early or "leading" Swett families in Dover, but there are numerous references to John Emery. Thus, it was John Emery, and not John Swett, who came to Newbury on the ship James in June, 1635.

1637 June 6: The wolf-dog incident:

A Quarter Court houlden at Boston the 6th Day of the 4th Mo @ 1637: John Sweete being p'sented by the grandjury for shooting a woolfe dog of Colonell Endecots, in Colonell Endecots owne yard was fined 5Pound & to bee emprisoned dureing the pleasure of the Courte. [Register, Vol. 2, p. 66]

This was John Sweet, son of John "Isaac" Sweet. His fine was remitted to him on 6 September 1638. [Trella Hall Manuscript Collection, at NEHGS]

A note in Massachusetts Bay Colony records reads: "John and Benjamin Swett sailed from Wymondham Parish" but there is no indication of the date or the ship.

1642 March 12: An agreement entitled "The Stint of the Ox and Cow Common" divided public pasture among the freemen at Parker River as their "propriety and inheritance". Of the 92 proprietors listed, only Mr. Miller and John Swett received no allotted number of acres. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 1, p. 55]

The Stint of the Ox and Cow Common is the earliest record we have of this family in New England. John Swett was probably about 52 years old, and his children were: John (29), Dorcas (24), Stephen (22), Joseph (20), Benjamin (18).

The frost was so great and continual this winter, that all the [Boston] bay was frozen over, so much and so long, as the like, by the Indians' relation, had not been these 40 years, and it continued from the 18th of the 11th month [January 1642] to the 21st of the 12th month [February 1642]; so as horses and carts went over in many places where ships have sailed. [John Winthrop, vol. 2, p. 54.]

From the foregoing, it looks as though John Swett may have sailed in 1641 and arrived at Parker River between 21 February and 12 March 1642. And perhaps not coincidentally for a man who had four military-age sons, the last half of 1641 was the beginning of the English Civil War, which broke out in January 1642.

1642 May 18: John Swett was admitted to the freedom of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. [Register, Vol. 43, p. 193] Because this normally was done soon after the head of a household arrived in the colony, it suggests that he had not been there very long.

1642 December 7: John Swett was one of the signers of a proposal to move Newbury from the Parker River to the Merrimack River, and was included among the 91 "Grantees of Newbury" when it was approved by the court. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 1, p. 84]

Of the ninety-one grantees of Newbury, two were clergymen, eight were 'gentlemen', two or three had been bred as merchants, one maltster, one physician, one schoolmaster, one sea-captain, one mate of a ship, one dyer, one glover, three or four tanners, seven or eight shoemakers, two wheelwrights, two blacksmiths, two 'linnen weavers', two weavers, one cooper, one saddler, one sawyer, and two or three carpenters. Of the remainder, only a few are styled yoemen. [Coffin's Newbury, p. 368]

1644 January 10: The freeholders of Newbury voted: "Every house lot shall be four acres ... He that hath the least land in the New Town shall have 8 acres, except John Swett, Thomas Silver & Jo Russe." Each man was alloted land for a home, planting and pasture, the size of same based on how much he had contributed to the venture. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 1, p. 85. Currier, p. 85. Coffin, p. 38. Northern Essex County Map, Newburyport Press, Inc., 1985] Thus, exclusion of John Swett from apportionment of farm land may indicate that he was a recent arrival, or a poor man, or not a farmer. He seems to have been a recent arrival, and later records suggest that he was a leather-worker, probably a shoemaker.

1645 January 11: House lots and farm lots were laid out in the new settlement and assigned to freeholders of the town of Newbury: "Beginning from the farthermost on the south street thence running threw the Pine Swampe then up the high street numbering the lotts in the south street from the first to John Bartlett's lott the 27th." John Swett received house lot # 26, between those of Richard Bartlett (#25) and John Bartlett (#27). [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 1, p. 88]

1646 March 27: John Swett was a witness to the will of Samuel Scullard. [Essex County Probate Records, cited in the Research Notes of Mary Adams Rolfe, p. 1]

1647 May 24: Stephen Swett married Hannah Merrill, daughter of John Merrill. [Stackpole and several other sources. Newbury VR has May 24, 164-?]

1647 November 1: Benjamin Swett married Hester Weare, daughter of Nathaniel Weare of Hampton, a town in the northern part of Massachusetts Bay Colony that later became New Hampshire. [Stackpole and several other sources. Newbury VR has Nov. __ 164-?]

1648 June 17: Hester Swett was born in Newbury daughter of Benjamin Swett and Hester Weare. [Newbury VR] She married Abraham Green, 5 September 1688.

1648 October 20: John [6] Swett was born in Newbury son of Stephen Swett and Hannah Merrill. [Newbury VR] He married Mary Plummer, 7 December 1670.

1649: John Swett, Jr., son of John Swett of Newbury, was living in Charlestown, Mass.. He was a shoemaker. Constable in 1650. [Stackpole copied this from "The Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629-1818" by Thomas Bellows Wyman, published in 1879, Vol. II, p. 926]

1649 April 19: The minutes of a meeting in Newbury to choose town officers such as constables, wardens and surveyors include: "John Swett, leather searcher." We would call this office a "leather inspector" which suggests he had been a leather-worker, probably a cordwainer (shoemaker) as several of his descendants were. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 1, p. 109. Currier, p. 109]

1650 August 20: Stephen Swett was born in Newbury son of Stephen Swett and Hannah Merrill. He died young, probably 24 September 1650. [Newbury VR]

1650 November 7: Sarah Swett was born in Newbury daughter of Benjamin Swett and Hester Weare. [Newbury VR] She married Morris Hobbs in 1678.

1650 December 11: "Sarah, __ John Swett, died at Newbury." [Register, Vol. 13, p. 272] The source of this statement is an undocumented pedigree. The published records of Newbury give only the date of her death and nothing that indicates any relationship, or even her age at death. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 2, p. 733] Photocopies of the original records have "[---]ra Swett, Dec. 11, 1650." Thus, the widespread assumption that John Swett of Newbury had a wife named Sarah is not supported.

1651 October 7: Hannah Swett was born in Newbury daughter of Stephen Swett and Hannah Merrill. [Newbury VR] She married John Badger, 23 February 1671.

1651 October: Joseph Swett married Elizabeth Taylor. [Stackpole] Other records confirm that her first name was Elizabeth. Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 2, p. 473, have "Swett, [Joseph. T.C.], and [torn] [16__ ?]." I have not been able to find when or where she was born or who her parents were.

1652 January 7: Mary Swett was born in Newbury daughter of Benjamin Swett and Hester Weare. [Newbury VR] She died young.

1652 January 13: Died at Newbury, "old" John Swett. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 2, p. 732. Quotation marks in the original. Stackpole has 13 June 1651-2 in which June is obviously an error because it doesn't require double-year dating.]

1665 May 6: "Phebe Swett, widow" died. [Newbury Vital Records to 1850, Vol. 2, p. 733.] She probably was the wife of John Swett of Newbury. A thorough study of the "Early Vital Records of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to about 1850" (nine compact disks) finds no indication that any other man named Swett (or variant spellings) died in any town in Massachusetts prior to 6 May 1665.

Summary (updated based on new 2020 records):

Research among primary records indicates that John Swett of Newbury was probably born in county Norfolk, England, about 1580, not in Devonshire or the Isle of Guernsey. His wife was Phoebe, not Sarah, and they were married in New Buckenham, Norfolk, England, in 1604. His children Phoebe and John were baptized in New Buckenham, Norfolk, England, in 1604 and 1608. His daughter Sara was married in New Buckenham, Norfolk, England, in 1632, and was probably born between 1609 and 1615. His children Dorcas, Stephen, Joseph, and Benjamin were baptized in Wymondham Parish, Norfolk, England, 1618 to 1624. He was in Newbury on 12 March 1642, and died in Newbury on 13 January 1652.

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