John Coggeshall was born about 1591 in Essex or Suffolk, England to John and Ann (Butter) Coggeshall. His father was referred to as John Coggeshall, the younger, indicating that his father was also John Coggeshall.
In her will dated April 16, 1645 our subject’s mother Ann, willed to her son John Coggeshall, “now dwelling in New England my house and lands now at Sible Hedingham, together with the legacy given him by his uncle, John Butter.” She also named his children in her will, John, Anne, Mary, Joshua and James, leaving them an inheritance. At the time of the date of her will, she was living at Castle Hedingham, a village northeast of Essex.
John was a successful merchant in the silk trade in England. John and his wife Mary with their children sailed for New England on June 23, 1632 on the ship “The Lyon”, arriving in Boston almost three months later, on Sunday, September 16th. Three more children would be born in New England.
They originally settled in Roxbury where he became a freeman and was elected as a member of the church at Roxbury.
Roxbury was one of the several towns, settled by the “Winthrop Fleet,” upon their arrival. Eleven ships, of about 1000 Puritans, (not Separatists) led by John Winthrop came to New England during the summer of 1630. This group of Puritans formed the nucleus of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which John Winthrop became Governor. The Massachusetts Colony, probably by simply sheer numbers, absorbed the previous colonies, such as Salem and Plymouth under their jurisdiction. They incorporated their strict religious beliefs into their system of government and ruled with the same oppressive authority that so many had sought to escape in England. Many Separatists who came for religious liberty fled or were driven from Massachusetts Colony’s jurisdiction.
The Coggeshalls later moved to Boston and became neighbors with William and Anne Hutchison. John also became a supporter of Ann Hutchison who did not adhere to the religious doctrine of the Puritans and believed in a covenant of grace, not of works. The Hutchison’s were expelled from Massachusetts as was John, not long after. Like others, they removed to what became Rhode Island.
William Coddington, John Clarke, William and Anne Hutchison, along with John Coggeshall and others purchased Aquidneck Island from the Indians, facilitated by Roger Williams. They initially settled at Pocasset (1638) which later became Portsmouth. They set up their government according to the law of Moses, and it seems William Coddington had the greatest influence over the group. He was named as judge and John Coggeshall was one of the named elders. Although little is written of John Coggeshall, William Coddington’s name appears in a number of histories.
Samuel Gorton had also been exiled from Massachusetts Colony with great threatenings, including death. He came to Portsmouth and there he again met with a government similar to the one he had just left. There was much dissension and the administration of Coddington was ousted and a civil government based on English law was formed with the influence of Samuel Gorton, who although self-taught, was well versed in English law. Samuel Gorton and many others did not believe government had the right to “dictate man’s conscience.” William Hutchison was appointed chief magistrate with Gorton as assistant. It was a government similar to our republic today.
John Coggeshall along with the other appointed elders followed the ousted William Coddington to another area and formed a new colony which they called Newport. John Coggeshall was involved with the government of Newport. There were years of strife and trouble between the colonies of Rhode Island and also Massachusetts Bay Colony, which is discussed at great length in Adelos Gorton’s book, “The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton,” an excellent history of the founding of Rhode Island.
In 1647, John Coggeshall served briefly as the President or chief magistrate of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, which included the four colonies/towns of Newport, Portsmouth, Providence and Warwick. He died while serving in that capacity on November 27, 1647 at 48 years of age.
John’s son Joshua was born in England and came with his parents to New England. He also served in public office for many years. Joshua married Joan West and their daughter Humility married Benjamin Greene. It is through Humility and Benjamin, that Doyle Davidson traces his ancestry to John Coggeshall.
Compiled by Kathryn Currier
Sources: Family History of the Coggeshalls; Rhode Island Vital Extracts (Ancestry); The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton (1907).
You can watch and listen to Doyle Davidson and Paul Peters read and discuss John Coggeshall here:
"Rhode Island Founders" Page
"A Nation Bringing Forth Fruit" Page