Friday, January 30, 2009


While researching the posts on Simon Willard, I found this posted on the
Willard Family Genealogy Forum on by Lynnea Dickinson.
Since then I've found it posted on other sites. It's purported to be a letter
from Simon Willard to his descendants, but reading it, I got the feeling that
it was not written by him at all.

"To my children, for so I call you, though belonging to different generations, -
listen to my words of instruction, warning, and advice.

It is my privilege and my duty to hold converse with you, as I have been
constituted by our heavenly Father, the founder of a numerous race on these
Western shores. Born before the settlement of Jamestown and Plymouth,
and of an age to remember the voyage of the 'Mayflower,' - the news whereof
was brought even to my retired village of Horsmonden, - I was permitted
to live through an important epoch, when great principles were in discussion,
the settlement of which would affect future generations in the establishment
of justice and right, or the perpetuation of wrong under the forms of law.

The death of my mother, of blessed memory, when I was too young to know
the extent of my loss, and that of a father in my early youth, not, indeed, before
remembered words of counsel and affection, but when I needed his protection
and guidance, left me exposed to the temptations which invade the humble
village as well as the larger resorts of men.

But, though assailed, through God's mercy I was saved from falling; and trusting
in Him whom I had been in youth taught reverence, I was brought safely through.

My early training was in the church of England; and in the ancient parish church
I received in my infancy, the waters of baptism by the hands of the rector, Rev.
Edward Alchine, from whose instructions and catechetical teachings, when I came
of age to understand them, I trust that I received spiritual benefit. But my
religious preferences were in another direction, and I yielded to their persuasions.
I well remember, even with the dawn of reason and reflection, the great controversy,
which was then beginning to range with unwonted heat, even to the dividing of

I had none to aid me in shaping my future course; and though I was prospered in
business and very happy with the wife of my choice, and might have borne my part
in my native village, the feeling increased, that this was not my proper sphere.
Neighbors and friends, the men of Kent, in various quarters, were preparing to
remove to the New World, where success had attended the Plymouth settlers, and
the larger and more imposing colony composed of those who lined the shores of
this beautiful bay. I was in sympathy with these Christians, while still loving the
church from which I had separated, and the 'tender milk' drawn from her breasts.

I saw the day approaching when sharp trials would begin, and I should be excluded
from the few religious privileges which remained for those who already were
stigmatized as schismatic. I determined to join those who were seeking a home in
the wilderness, where we might worship God in a way which we thought was of his
appointment. But how was this to be accomplished with a young family? Measures
of detention, which had now well-nigh reached their culminating point, were daily
becoming more stringent, requiring certificates of uniformity, and oaths of allegiance
and supremacy, of all who purposed embarking for the New World. Vessels were
carefully watched; and none could leave the realm, and take passage for New England,
without special permission, and having submitted to various orders exacted by authority.
I closed up my business in Horsmonden, made my preparations diligently and silently
in connection with a married sister and her husband, and bidding an affectionate adieu
to those of the family left behind, reached the coast in safety, where we found a boat
in readiness to take us to the vessel which was to bear us to our coveted retreat.

I cannot describe to you my sensations on forsaking my native land. Scarce ever beyond
the bounds of my little village, I was leaving home, with all its fond ancestral
associations, never to return. My emotions, on taking the last view of dear Old England,
were such as almost to over power me. All of love, all of memory, returned; and I felt
for the moment a doubt, whether I was in the way of duty in my removal. But it was
only for a moment. When the last speck of Kentish shore disappeared below the horizon,
I girded myself to the undertaking; cast no more lingering looks behind, but looked
forward over the wide waste of waters towards my detained abode; addressed myself
to all that belonged to its duties and obligations; and never at any one moment afterwards,
until the day that God called me hence from earthly scenes, did I regret the resolution I
had taken. We were favored in our passage, and our little fleet reached these shores in the
beautiful noontide of May, when all nature was bursting into life, as if to give us a glad
and smiling welcome to the new home of our pilgrimage.

I look around me; but all is changed that is under the power or control of man. In the
populous towns and cities which have sprung up, I cannot recognize the little hamlets,
once my familiar acquaintance. Even my ancient dwelling places - peaceful and humble
abodes in Cambridge, Concord, Lancaster, and Groton - can no longer be traced or
divined, except by those marks which God himself has established in the flowing waters
of the Charles, the Assabet, and the Nashaway. Strange sights and sounds salute my
mysterious agencies of motion on land and water are all around me; and I
almost feel as
if man was in communion with forbidden spirits.

Descendants, - Here I planted my stakes; here I made my home, nor wished to return to
the scenes of my youth. My venture here in new and untried existence, and I loved it.
God favored me with health, friends, and beloved children; while, by his will and the
love of the brethren, I trust I was helpful to the Commonwealth, at least in some humble
measure, in military, legislative, and judicial service, through a long period, until my death.
For all that I was enabled to do I was truly grateful, while conscious of my shortcomings,
and lamenting that my success did not equal my intentions.

It was my earnest wish to train up my children to walk in paths of virtue and usefulness,
and to educate them in human learning according to their capacities, that they might serve
their generation with fidelity. Herein I was aided and blessed in the schools, open to all,
which our honored magistrates and deputies caused to be established, that 'learning might
not be buried in the grave of our fathers, in church and commonwealth; 'and by the
and instructions of worthy Mr. Bulkeley and Mr. Rowlandson. By their regular attendance on public worship, by observing the ordinances, by worship in the family, my
sons and
daughters were in the sure way of preparation for good service in life and
examples to their own children.

And now, if, in the day of small things, when we were few in number and weak in power,
surrounded by the savage, with none under God to help us save our own right arm, I was
of any service to church or commonwealth, I desire to first of all thank God, and give
him praise. I will not offer myself as an example for imitation, or commend myself for
having done aught, but only say that I have endeavored.

Consider what God has done for you. The wilderness and the solitary place have been
made glad for you; and the desert rejoices, and blossoms as the rose, as in the days of
Isaiah for the chosen people. Indeed, the little one has become a thousand; and the smal
beginnings, which I witnessed, have widened out to a powerful commonwealth, filled
with comforts, privileges, and blessings, countless in number and leaving little to be
imagined or desired. Think not that your own right hand has wrought out this your happy
condition; but give thanks to Him to whom they belong, and believe that never was a
people more highly favored.

You would honor my memory, and are very free in expressing veneration: but if you
would honor me aright, if you feel the veneration you express, show it by your deeds;
by reverence of that which is higher and holier; by doing all your duty actively and earnestly
in your generation; by adhering to the old paths of justice, faithfulness, and holy trust;
by sincerity in belief, abandoning all Antinomian heresies as you would the other extreme
of dead formalism; by being bold for the right, modestly and firmly maintaining your
opinions, whether called to public station or in the more private walks; following no
man and no cause because of popularity, shunning no man and no cause you believe to
be right because of unpopularity or reproach; but avoiding the parasite and self seeker,
and standing bravely by your own convictions. Thus did my son, even Samuel, in the
time of his pilgrimage, when he set himself in opposition to the greatest delusion that
ever visited this land, subjecting himself to great trial in the coldness of friends, and
the harsh judgment of an entire community; but, unmoved in his purpose, sustained by
his conscientious view of the right, calmly awaited that revolution in sentiment which at
once was the earnest and reward of his long and patient suffering.

Farewell !
Simon Willard
[Born 1605 Died 1676]"

One of the things that caught my attention was the reference to the trials of his
son, Samuel Willard, and a quick look up on Wikipedia showed that the Rev.
Samuel Willard had strongly opposed the Witchcraft trials. But the "greatest
delusion" had taken place nearly twenty years after the death of Simon Willard!

With a bit of digging I found "The Willard Memoir: Or, Life and Times of
Major Simon Willard " written by Joseph Willard in 1858. The full text was not
available on Googlebooks. I did, however, find the table of contents for the
book on Digital Editions and found my answer . There, listed under the Conclusion,
was this:

"The Voice of Warning and Instruction in the supposed Words of the
Subject of this Memoir, addressed to his Descendants, pp. 441-452."

Joseph Willard had imagined and written a letter from his ancestor. no doubt
to express his own view, but also unintentionally misleading future generations of
Willard descendants into thinking it had really been written by Simon Willard!


Apple said...

Great find! I imagine it will forever be out there as Simon's own words but at least you have shared the truth with some of us.

Tessa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I will forever be proud to be one of the many descendants of Simon Willard and his family. My great grandparents on my father's side were levi and lucy Willard of Mendon, MA.

Evelyn Jean Foley Macomber

Unknown said...

The full Willard Memoir is online now as a pdf; I believe it was on google books that I found it.
When I read the letter I too noticed the issue with the mention of Rev. Samuel and the witch trials. Also, if you read the beginning of the biography and then read the letter you'll notice a lot of the same language repeated. So, apart from quite a lot of what must be Joseph's own interpretation and values, the letter is not a bad condensed version of the biography, with all the biographer's best rhetorical flourishes.
Much of what's in the book seems to be good research. The thing with the letter is unfortunate, as I found myself wondering what other liberties Joseph might have taken. Still, the "memoir" is more than worthwhile.
13th-generation descendent of Maj. Simon here. Thanks for the blog posts!

Jaimie Fenn said...

Also willard descendant. .and very interested in learning more.