By: Ken Rockwell, Director
Rockwell Family Foundation
28 Jan 1998
In the early days of research on the Rockwell family in America, a
theory arose that all the Rockwells in the New World descended
from a single immigrant, one William Rockwell, who lived at Dorchester, Massachusetts, and Windsor, Connecticut. Over a century of work has disproven this theory. There are at least
four, quite possibly more, separate immigrants who left progeny to carry on the name. Some of them are, however, probably closely related.
Rockwells have been found in different parts of Great Britain historically, but the best known region is southwestern England, particularly the counties of Somerset and Dorset. Northwest of Taunton, co. Somerset, is the village of Fitzhead, with its parish church of St. James and St. Mary. In early records we find record of a William Rockwell, his wife Miriam (nee Wyke), and their son John, baptized in 1563. John Rockwell married Honor Newton on 19 July 1585. They had several children, including:
- Richard (d. 1637)
- John (bapt. 5 July 1588)
- William (bapt. 6 Feb. 1590)
- Roger (bapt. 31 May 1594)
- Jane (bapt. 6 Feb. 1596)
, the father, was buried at Fitzhead on 23 Feb.
1636, and his widow, Honor, was buried there on 21 Aug. 1637. But
she left behind a remarkable will, penned at Dorchester, co.
Dorset, and dated 19 July 1637, in which she leaves 12 pence
apiece to "...all my
grandchildren in New England, both sonnes and daughters of
Richard Rockwell, William Rockwell, and John Rockwell."
This wording definitely ties the
family of Fitzhead to some of the immigrants to America; but it
also raises questions. Richard died before his mother wrote her
will, and there is no evidence that he emigrated to America. So
it is supposed that some of his children went there as minors in
the care of others, perhaps with their uncle John. As they seem
to be absent from the colonial records, they may not have stayed
in New England.
(bapt. 1590) married Susannah
Capen on 14 April 1624, at Holy Trinity Church in
Dorchester, co. Dorset, where John and Honor Rockwell
lived for a time. William and Susan emigrated to the New
World on the ship Mary
as part of a group of southwestern England Puritans. The
ship sailed on 20 Mar 1630 and reached Massachusetts
after a ten week passage. The group established the
settlement and church of Dorchester, and William was
chosen as a deacon. For that reason, researchers often
refer to him as "Deacon William", although he
didn't retain this church office after moving to Windsor,
With William and Susan were their
children John and Joan. A son Joseph was buried at Dorchester on
14 June 1630, just after the migration, perhaps left behind with
the grandparents due to frail health. Four more children were
born in Massachusetts. Of their remaining children:
- Joan (b. 25 Apr. 1625),
married in 1642 to Jeffrey Baker.
- John (b. 17 July 1627)
married (1), in 1651, Sarah Ensign, who d. 1659; and (2),
in 1662, Deliverance Hawes.
- Samuel (b. at Dorchester on
28 Mar. 1631), married Mary Norton in 1660.
- Ruth (b. Aug. 1633) married
Christopher Huntington in 1652
- Sarah (b. 21 July 1638)
married Walter Gaylord in 1658.
- Mary (b. ca. 1639) may have
married Jeffrey Mahon.
In 1637, the Rockwells moved to
the new settlement of Windsor, CT,recently established by a group
from Dorchester, MA. William died there on 15 May 1640; his widow
married Matthew Grant in 1645 and died on 14 Nov. 1666.
John Rockwell (bapt. 1588) married
Wilmot Cade at Fitzhead on 20 Feb. 1619. They had the following
- John bapt. at Fitzhead on 22
- Mary, bapt. 21 Feb. 1623-4
- Anna, bapt. 9 Dec. 1627
- Simon, bapt. 7 Nov. 1630
"John Rockwell and family" are listed as passengers on the Hopewell, which sailed from Weymouth, Eng., on 8 May, 1635, bound for Massachusetts. John soon appeared in Windsor, CT, along with William. John died there in 1662 and wife Wilmot died soon after, in the same year. Both left wills that name three children: Mary, Anna, and Simon. As son Simon never married, it was long assumed that no Rockwells descend from this family. But researchers have recently been considering the son not mentioned, John.
Another John Rockwell appeared in Stamford, CT, receiving 2 acres plus woodland on 7 Dec., 1641. Stamford was established the previous summer by a group migrating from Wethersfield, CT, which lies down theConnecticut River from Windsor. Early researchers speculated that this John was the son of William of Windsor, but that John died at Windsor in 1673; or else William's brother John, who, as we have seen, died at Windsor in 1662. The best remaining candidate for the Stamford settler is the son of John, bapt. at Fitzhead in 1621. He would have been 20 in 1641--a reasonable age to be starting out on his own. It was common for parents to give a departing child his inheritance and then to not mention him in their wills. This is the working hypothesis of recent Rockwell researchers, including the late Shirley Brown and Margaret R. Price.
John of Stamford married, sometime in the 1650s, Elizabeth Weed,daughter of Jonas Weed, an original
settler of Stamford. The marriage date has been given in some accounts as ca. 1658, but no actual record exists, and it was probably earlier due to the record of Rockwell children being
born or dying in Stamford before 1658. There is always the possibility that John had a first wife who died, but there is no evidence for this. More likely, he married Elizabeth Weed (born in 1638 in Wethersfield) in about 1654, when she was about 16.