Appendix A The Backus Family

William Backus I

(Information from "The Backus Families of EarlyNew England", byReno Warburton Backus, 1966. pages 4-9.)

Factual details on the life of William Backus are few.  He is usually said to have been born inNorwich,England, but clear proof of this is lacking.  He was established inSaybrook, CT, by 1637, shortly after the founding of that settlement in 1635, probably having enteredAmerica through aMassachusetts port.  Whether a wife and family accompanied him, or whether he married after his arrival, is not known.

Several authors state that he came to this country on the sailing ship Rainbow, 250 tons burden, of which Captain Haskins was master.  Col. Banks, in his Topographical Dictionary gives a list of emigrants from various cities and villages in the several counties ofEngland in that period; among those coming from thecounty ofYork appear the names of Francis and William Backus, but without place of origin or any other data.  It is assumed that this William is the one who settled at Saybrook.  But what relationship did Francis bear to William -- father, brother, cousin? We do not know.

The story of Saybrook is that of a seacoast village, now old, still small, on theConnecticut shore ofLong Island Sound, at the mouth of theConnecticut River. The actual site of the settlement was a broad peninsula or lip on the west bank of the river, measuring about a mile in length, connecting with the mainland by a narrow neck.  Convenient for defense against marauding Indians, it did not lend itself to large development.

Records of the early personal happenings at Saybrook are sparse indeed.  In a town meeting of January 1648, however, an account is given of plans for development of outlying lands around the original settlement.  In this, William Backus is found among twelve men assigned land across on the east side of theConnecticut River, in that area which later became known as Lyme.  Whether this was William's homestead, or was in addition to a home in the town, is not indicated.  There is no reference in the town records to his work, activities, station in life, or when or whom he first married, the dates or order of birth of his children, or when their mother died. 

By 1659 William Sr. had taken as his second wife a widow, Mrs. Anne Bingham, variously recorded by earlier writers as Anne Stenton Bingham, or as Anne Stetson Bingham.  She was the widow of Thomas Bingham, they having been marriedJuly 6, 1631 inSheffield,England.  "FFenton" with the double "F" is given in the English records as Anne's maiden name.  Thomas and Anne had one son Thomas, recorded inSaybrook,Connecticut, alsoNorwich, and laterWindham, where he was known as Thomas Sr. Curiously and confusingly, two children of this stepson of William Backus Sr., later married grandchildren of William.

In time, some of the Saybrook settlers became desirous of moving to better soil.  An opportunity to improve their lot came in the form of warfare between two of their neighboring Indian tribes.  Mohegans under a sachem, Chief Uncas, occupied the valley of theConnecticut.  To the east lived the Narragansetts, a related tribe, but one with whom they were frequently on bad terms.  During this new conflict, the home stockade of the Mohegan was surrounded and placed under siege for some days.  A plea to the English colonists from Chief Uncas for help against the Narragansetts caused a relief party to set out from Saybrook, breaking the siege and turning the battle.  For this act, the Mohegans later granted the English a generous tract of land "nine miles square" around the head of theThames River.  A settlement, first occupied in the fall of 1659, was more firmly settled in the spring of 1660, and became the town ofNorwich.  Thirty-five families (or thirty-eight according to another authority) moved to the new location as original settlers.

Our William Backus Sr. was one of those founding settlers, but he did not survive long after the transfer and his share of the new land descended to his younger son, Steven, presumably just coming of age, while his elder son, William Jr. (our ancestor) had a share in his own right.  The names of the two sons appear on the records among the 20-some original proprietors ofNorwich, but William Sr., does not. He apparently died sometime betweenJune 12, 1661 (the date of his will) andJune 21, 1665 (the date the will was probated in theNew London Court.)

A copy of the will is filed in the records ofNew London Town, Book 1646-66, pp. 143-4, a transcript of which is included in the "Backus Families of Early New England" book.  In it, William determines that his widow will live with his son Steven and be provided for by him.  If the arrangement does not work out "by reason of his undutifull cariage towardes her or any other was of Discouragement proceedings from him which may occasion her departing from him," then Stephen shall provide her twenty bushels of corn a year (12 bushels of Indian and eight bushels of wheat), plus a third of the milk of the cattle and one-sixth of the squashes, pumpkins and turnips from the garden.

However, if it is the widow who causes the split, Stephen is only obliged to provide his mother four bushels of wheat and six bushels of Indian corn a year during the time of her life.  She also gets to keep the bed and bedclothing, except one pillow for Steven, and her wearing clothes.

After willing his mother to Steven, William provides for his other children and close friends.

William's estate was valued at 102 pounds.  It is his specific bequest to his son William Jr., "all the tools belonging to the trade of a smith and cutler", along with a bellows and a stock of ivory, which is of interest as being the first indication we have as to his trade. Beyond this, however, we may assume that the family income was amplified more or less by farming, gardening, stock-raising, and perhaps other pursuits, in accordance with the custom of the time.

Lt. William Backus

(Information from "The Backus Families of EarlyNew England", byReno Warburton Backus, 1966. pages 9-13.)

William Backus Jr., son of William Sr. by his first wife, was name as one of the original band of Saybrook men who purchased the town site of Mohegan (laterNorwich) from Chief Uncas in 1659, and is so recorded on theFounders Monument.  He is therefore accepted as having reached his majority by that year, perhaps before.  One researcher estimates he was born about 1635.  If that is correct, he presumably was born in England, for there is no evidence that his father reached the colonies that early.  He is often shown as Sergeant, Ensign, or Lieutenant William, on the basis of the positions he held in the Norwich "train band", or local militia; perhaps this was also to distinguish him from the elder William.  William Jr. referred to himself in deeds simply as "yeoman."

Apparently by 1659 he had taken as his first wife Sarah Charles, born October 1637 inNew Haven, and baptized there in October 1640.  She was daughter of John Charles, a resident ofNew Haven and later Branford.  Their first child, William, was bornMay 11, 1660, probably in Saybrook, the parents awaiting the birth before moving to the new settlement at Mohegan.  Two other children, John and Sarah, were born to the couple later, apparently followed soon by the death of Sarah (Charles) Backus, whether from childbirth or other cause is not known.

By 1664, William had taken as his second wife Elizabeth Pratt, daughter of Lt. William and Elizabeth (Clark) Pratt.  They had six more children.

The specific occupation of William Backus Jr., is nowhere mentioned, but that he was well respected is amply clear. At a session of the General Assembly atHartford, October 1663, he was "accepted to be made free", that is, granted full political privileges, and was listed as one of but 25 such persons inNorwich in 1669.

He is shown to have filled various official and community posts -- as Marshal of a Norwich Court of Commission; as Townsman (Selectman) during several periods from 1679 to 1686; as member of church committees, on church construction, selection of a pastor, plan for seating of the congregation; as member of a committee to negotiate a dispute with Uncas, the Mohegan Chief, in 1683; and as Deputy for Norwich to the General Court at Hartford in May and October, 1680, October and November, 1683, October, 1684, and October, 1689.  The patent of the Town ofNorwich, dated 1685, shows Ensign William Backus as one of twelve patentees of the town.

He accumulated a sizeable amount of property before he died. What he may have possessed as a young man in Saybrook is not known.  His original allotment of land in the new settlement ofNorwich is given as six acres.  OnAugust 31, 1682, Chief Uncas and his son Owaneco deeded a further 150 acres of land to him, possibly "in connection with the settlement of the estate of Lt. William Pratty," his father-in-law.  William was also a member of the group of 13 men to whom, in February 1675/76, Attawanhood, also known as Joseph Uncas, another son of the old chief, made over a large tract of land situated northwest ofNorwich.  This transaction was further confirmed by a will of Joseph Uncas, but which William is said to have received three shares of 1,000 acres each.  This jointly held tract eventually became the site ofWindham.  William continued to live inNorwich, but later deeded part or all of this land to his two elder sons, William and John, apparently receiving in return their property inNorwich, in March 1691/1.

William obviously believed in preparedness.  His will datedFebruary 8, 1693, long antedated his death, but was never changed.  He must have been a sturdy man, for his length of life became noteworthy.  In 1702 he was mentioned as one of the few surviving founders ofNorwich; he died early in 1721, having outlived all the rest.

William's will, on file among theNorwich probate records in the Connecticut State Library, makes reference to his older children's "Grandfather Charles", proving that Sarah Charles was his first wife and mother of William, John and Sarah.

William andElizabeth's children were Samuel, Joseph, Nathaniel, Elizabeth, Hannah and Mary.

The Backus book specifically states that Sarah, born at Norwich June 14, 1663, married January 15, 1681/2, Lt. Edward Culver, who was born at New London about 1654, died at Litchfield April 7, 1732, son of Edward and Ann (Ellis) Culver.  Moved toLebanon, 1696, to Litchfield about 1723.

The Backus author, however, had no record of Edward and Sarah (Backus) Culver's children.  We do.    There were ten children, the third of whom was Samuel, born11 February 1691 atNorwich, Connecticut.

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