Sketches of the Early Settlers:
The ancestor of the numerous family of this name
on the Vineyard was born about 1610 [He testified that he was
aged sixtysix years in 1676. (Dukes County Court Records,
Vol. l)], probably in England, although the place of his nativity
is not known. [There is a will of Robert Norton of Wells, Somersetshire,
dated Sept. 29, 1590 who mentions his nephew Nicholas. (17, St.
Barbe.) This is too early for our settler, but may be a clue to
the family.] It will probably be found upon investigation that
he emigrated from Somersetshire, and perhaps came from the vicinity
of Batcombe or Broadway in that county, and there is some reason
for inferring that he was one of the party of colonists accompanying
the Rev. John Hull in 1635 to New England. [Rev. Mr. Hull brought
twenty families from the vicinity of Batcombe and Broadway, and
in 1639 Nicholas Norton had some business dealings with one Standerwyck,
a clothier of Broadway in the County of Somerset. In 1640 he had
a suit at law with Parson Hull.] He first appears at Weymouth,
Mass., in 1637, where he married his wife Elizabeth, and in which
place he maintained a residence for twenty years prior to his
removal to the Vineyard.
That he was of a social station somewhat above the
average appears from the fact that he kept a servant, whose "miscariages"
brought the subject of this sketch into trouble in 1658 with the
magistrates of Massachusetts. The following petition explains
the case as related by Nicholas Norton himself to the General
To the Honord Genll Court now assembled the Petition of Nicholas Norton humbly Sheweth:
That whereas yor poore peti'or stood engaged to the Treasurer in the sume of five pounds to bring in his servant to a County Court held at Boston to give answer for sume miscariages Comitted, which accordingly he did, at which Court yor poore peti'ors servant was also pr'sented by the grand-Jury either for the same or for some other offenses, the Court was then pleased, to deferre the Issue of the Case, & to require the Coutynuatio of the sd bond of yor poore peti'or, where upon he did agayne engage himselfe in the foresd sume to bring in his sd servant to the last Court of assistants, but in regard he was under a pr'sentment, expected to have him sent for by warrens & that wittnesses should also have bin sent for to prove the same as is usueall in case of pr'sentments, where upon vor poore peti'r, through Ignorance of the manner of Courts p'ceedinges in such Cases hath forfeited his foresd bond.
Now although yor peti'r cannot blame any but himselfe, vet is bold to Crave the favour of this Honrd Court, that the forfeiture may not be required of yor poore peti'r, but short you would be pleased (out of yr woonted tendernes in offenses which p'ceed meerely out of Ignorance, to remits the same or so much of it as in yr wisdome you shall thinke meet, hopeing you will the rather be moved hereunto considering the great loss yor poore peter hath sustayned in the service of the Country in Collecting of the Country rate which he hopes is vet in yor mynds, & that the delinquent is ready when required suffer the Just sentence of the Court according to the merritt of his offenses, which if the Lord move yr harts to grannt it will abundantly engage yr poore pet'r ever to pray. [Mass. Archives, XXXIX, 39.]
The Court granted his petition providing he should
bring his servant to bar.
Of his life in Weymouth but little is worthy of mention.
He shared in the division of lands in 1651, and was constable
in 1657, an office of some distinction in those times. Two years
later he was still called "of Weymouth," and in the
same year his name first appears in the records of Edgartown.
This may be taken as the probable date of his removal to the Vineyard.
He was chosen a referee to represent the town in its controversy
with John Daggett respecting his farm at Oak Bluffs.
On Aug. 22, 1659, "Goodman" Norton was
granted "a Lott of forty acres of Land" and on the same
day it was" ordered by the town that Goodman Norton shall
have Liberty to make use of any Pond about the Ox Pond for his
Trade, except the Great Ponds." It does not appear what trade
Nicholas Norton followed, but the use of ponds suggests that he
may have been a tanner. Before the end of that year, he was engaged
in two lawsuits as a plaintiff and a defendant. He was sued by
Henry Goss in that year and was mulcted in the sum of five shillings
"for charges about the cure of Mr. Gousse's child: to pay
one half in Wampam current and halfe in come and five shillings
to the constable for the Tryall about the abuse of Mr. Gousse's
child." The exact nature of this suit at law is not clear
from the records. In that same year he sued the Rev. Mr. Cotton,
missionary to the Indians. In 1661 he was one of a committee to
buy land of the Indians for the use of the town. In 166263
and 1669, he again appears in litigation with various townsmen,
and if not a pattern in this respect, his fence was deemed the
pattern and lawful standard to which others were required to conform
in the maintenance of boundary fences in the town. [Edgartown
Records, I, III, 138.] In 1666 he was forbidden by the proprietors
of the fish weir from taking any fish at Mattakeesett Creek, the
right to which he claimed by purchase from the sachem Tewanticut,
"contrary to our patent," upon a penalty of £5
yearly so often as he disobeys the order. [Ibid., I, 144.] In
1673 he joined in the " Dutch Rebellion " with others
of his townsmen, and when it had collapsed he was tried and convicted.
The following is the record in the case.:-
Whereas Nicolas Norton upon Commission from the Right honorable Sr Edmond Andros Knight Governor of New York &c hath beene before the Court legally convicted of oppugning the Government established here under his Majestie wherein he acknowledgeth that he is ashamed and Sorry in his heart that he was Misled therein and hopes he shall be more careful for the future: The Court by virtue of the said Commission do adjudge the said Nicolas Norton to make a publique acknowledgment of the same at this Court and at the next quarterly Court holden at 'Marthas Vineyard: or to pay the summe of fifty one pounds as a fine to the Country. [Dukes County Deeds, I, 65.]
In 1685 he was one of a committee "chosen to
make the Govenors Rate" and this is his last appearance on
the town records before his death. [Edgartown Records, I, 39.]
There is no consolidated record of his real estate
holdings such as was entered by others proprietors. He lived on
his fortyacre grant situated north of the Great Swamp and
south of the present road to West Tisbury. He was an early owner
of land at Sanchacantackett in the vicinity of Major's Cove, where
his descendants for two centuries resided and improved that beautiful
estate. These purchases were made of the Indians Wampamag or "Sam"
and Thomas Sisseton, both of which are unrecorded, though it is
said that the original deed from "Sam" was in existence
in recent years in the hands of a descendant. It is not believed
that he ever resided on this property. He also held the usual
proprietor's shares in the various divisions of town lands, besides
a plot of meadow land at Aquampache. At the ripe age of four score
years Nicholas Norton died, leaving four sons and six daughters,
at least two of whom were born in Weymouth. Following is a copy
of his will dated April I7, 1690:-
[Court Records, Vol. I, 1690.]
The last will and testament of me Nicolas Norton Being very weak in body but of perfect understanding and Souend memory After my death and desent Christian burial: I give and bequest my worry good as foloeth:-
Iprimes: I give my Son Izak Norton on half Comminig as also fouer Small Shares of medow
Secondly I give my Son Benjamin Norton all my medow at Saniacantick as also my medow at Morthals neck beach from the Crick dug into the Great pond westward as also my now dwelling hones and all my land aioyning to my Sayd houes after the deces of my wife Elizabeth Norton as also my lots at quompasha with all my devided land Elsewhere: provided my Sayd Son Beniamin deliver up his now dweling houes to my now wife Elizabeth Norton with the land aioyning to the Sayd houes: to be at my Sayd wifes sole will and pleseuer to dispose of at or before her desese, as also all that medow I have from a Creek to Izak Norton Medow
thirdly. I give Moses Cleveland the Remaynder of the Sayd medow to joyne with Weeks medow also on halfe Commonidg with all prevleges belonging there untoo
fourthly I give my Son in law Thomas Wolling on halfe Commonidg with all prevelidges belonging to it with a pese of medow from Izak Norton's medow to the Creeke abofe named.
fifthly I give my Son Joseph Norton a tract of land lying at Saniacantacket joyning to the mill Creke which I bought of Mr Sam.
Sixtly I give that whole Commonidg which was Arys to my aforeSayd Son Beniamin Norton
Seventhly I give to Elizabeth Norton my wife all my Catle Coues oxen Steeres & Sheepe also all my hors kind & furder I give my Sayd wife Elizabeth Norton all my houeshold goods Beding pewter bras Iron tin wood wood as Chests trunks tables Chayers and all other things not named, also all plowes Carts Chayns yoks and all other utensells with all lumber: furder I leve my Sayd wife to give my dafter pese and my dafter wil (Wollong or Williams) and my dafter Stanbridg & my dafter Butler Something to Every one of them as much as shee sese cause: as also my dafter huxford to her my wife knows my mind
Eithly, my medow at the neck Caueled the Manado I leve to my wife Elizabeth Norton
Ninthly I doe apoynt my Sayd wife Elizabeth Norton to be my Sole Execitor and to performe my will as abof whritin.
The mark of N Nicklis Norton
His widow did not long survive to carry out the provisions
of her husband's will. She died a few monthes after him, between
June 8, the date of her will, and Oct. 8, 1690, when it was proven
in Court. The following is a copy of her will:
[Court Records, Vol. I, 1690.] Edgartown in Marthas Vineyard June 8, 1690
The Last will and testament of me Elizabeth Norton widow I doe give to my fouer dafters named in my husbons will, five Shillins to Each of them.
I give that houes & land to Ester huxford that my Son Benjamin Norton lives in and to be delevered before his Entering into mine I dwell in acording to my Said husbons will & mind he left with me to performe & I give my Sd dafter Ester huxford that pese of medow laying between Izak Nortons meadow and the medow of Moses Cleveland nere Mortols Neck. Then my will is after my death Christian buryall & funeral! Rights be performed first I give that pese or parsoll of medow laying at a place Caueled Manadoo to my Son Joseph Norton
Secondly I give to all and Every on of my granChildren on Shillin in money to Every one of them and to be payd wthin ten days after my buriall
thirdly I give all my lands houeses medows fences Commons Cattle Sheep horses and horskind & monys with all my household goods as beding & bed furnyture with all my Chests trunks tables Chayers with all my pewter bras Iron and tin vesels with all my plews Carts Chayns yoks wedges Siths with all other things and goods that is mine to all my Sons and darters to be Equally devided amongst them to Every on alick Equall portion and skier
fourthly I doe apoynt my Son Joseph Norton to be Exe citor to this my will to pay all my depts and delever out all my legasys treuly and faythfullv acording this my mind and will.
fifthly I doe Request Richard Sarson to be overser to see this my will performed soe far as he is able: and in witnes to this my will I have put too my hand and Sele the day and yere abof whritin
Sixtly doe Request my beloved son Izak Norton to be overser with Richard Sarson to this my will
The mark of U Elizabeth Norton
Witness here untoo
The mark of X Johnnathan danham
This abof mentioned will be profed in Coart is Exepted
Court held Octobr the Eight: 1690
pr Curiam Tho Butler Clarke
Whereas by the last will and testament of Elizabeth Norton is mentioned as bequeathed to hester huxford an hous and land according to the will of Nicolas Norton left with his wife sd Elizabeth Isaac Norton
The maiden name of his wife is not known. He married
her probably in Weymouth, and she must be sought for in that locality.
Their descendants have constituted one of the largest families
on the island from the earliest times. [A century ago there were
thirtythree separate families bearing this name on the Vineyard,
the second largest numerically at that time.]
Are you descended from this family? Do you have additional information that should be
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