William Nickerson was the founder of Chatham, then called Monomoit, Monomoy and other various spellings, on Cape Cod.
|Vintage Chatham postcard|
William was born 1604 in Norwich, Norfolk, England. He probably belonged to the Weaver's Guild of Norwich. Before that he was apprenticed to his father as a tailor. Some say his father was Robert, but no proof given.
William married Anne, daughter of Nicholas and Bridget (Cocke) Busby, in about 1630. She was baptized St. Mary Coslany, Norwich, 2 Feb 1607/8.
He was admitted as worsted weaver and freeman in Norwich, England 18 May 1632.
The examination of William Nickerson of Norwich in Norfolk, weaver, aged 33, and Anne, his wife, aged 28, with four children, Nicholas, Robert, Elizabeth, and Anne, are desirous to go to Boson in N.E. there to inhabit. 8 April 1637 (Holten's History of Immigrants).
During this time Matthew Wren, the Bishop of Norfolk, was persecuting non-conformists to the King's religion. In the two years he held power, approximately 3,000 English citizens and tradesmen left England for Holland and New England.
The family sailed from Yarmouth 15 April 1637 on the ship John and Dorothy, Capt. Wm Andrews, master. Anne’s parents were on the same voyage.
The family arrived at Salem on 20 June 1637. In 1638 William took the freeman's oath in Boston, probably living in Watertown with Anne's family, who came there after a brief stay in Newbury. In 1640 William was proposed as freeman at Plymouth Colony Court. He took the oath of fidelity there on 1 June 1641, same date he was on a grand jury. He was declared a freeman at the next court, being described as of Yarmouth. The famly moved to Yarmouth around this time, their home near Follands/Follins Pond, then called Little Bass Pond, at head of Bass River. When they moved to Chatham, William sold his farm to James Matthews.
The couple had five more children in America: Samuel, John, Sarah, William, and Joseph.
William had a tendency to go against the grain.
One 1 March 1641, there was a complaint against him that he was a "scoffer and jeerer of religion." His trouble with the church probably led him to go to Monomoy (later Chatham).
Trouble with local minister in Yarmouth did not seem to affect his standing as a citizen.
He was on the list to bear arms at Yarmouth; served on a committee headed by Capt. Standish to settle boundary disputes; received 16 acres at Little Bass Pond in Yarmouth (now Dennis).
Around 1656 he bought a large amount of land from Indian Chief Mattaquason and son John Quason in Monomoy without consent of the colony’s authorities, contradicting a 1643 law. He then moved to Boston to care for in-laws.
That same year William was at court for "buying lands of the Indians and for selling them a boat" and was disenfranchised.
In 1661-2 he was back in Yarmouth with his family. Apparently unconcerned about breaking the law, he built his home in current Chathamport. He lived near the Indian chief and they were good friends, although William later sued him. On 4 July 1663 he presented a petition to settle township at Monomoyick. In 1664 William, at age 60, left Yarmouth with his wife and all of his children, except Nicholas, for Monomoy. He must have been confident the dispute would be settled as his children all cleared land and built farms. At this age, he cleared land for his new home, showing his iron will and restless energy. The location of his house is not certain, but some say it was near the old burying place near the head of Ryder's Cove.
In 1665, he was charged with "illegally purchasing lands of the Indians," but was allowed 100 acres near his house, with the rest granted in equal portions among eight men, including my ancestor Thomas Howes Sr. There was also controversy over town boundaries and the court found that "Mannamoit (Chatham) be within the liberties of Yarmouth, as Bound Brook and Stoney Brook are, until otherwise ordered." He received a penalty of five pounds for every acre illegally purchased.
In 1667 Mr. Nickerson was called to answer for words spoken against preaching. The previous year he and his sons were arraigned for scandalously reproaching the court, in a letter to the Governor of New York, and were put under bonds of 500 pounds (William must have been angry about having his acreage reduced and being considered part of Yarmouth—requiring him to pay taxes to the town he had left).
When constable Thomas Howes of Yarmouth came to Monomoit to collect tax rates in 1667, he was met with a hostile reception. That same year William and some of his sons were set in stocks for resisting the constable in performing his duty. William was committed to prison and remained there three days. Nothing except religion excited so much feeling as the acquisition of lands!
In June 1668 the area was ruled to be a village of Eastham. It seems the authorities didn’t know what to do about the situation! On 13 July 1671, Goodman Nickerson was chosen at town meeting as rate maker (assessor) of Eastham, re-elected in 1672-3.
In 1674 the Indian title to land was extinguished and a title from British Crown legally established title of 50 acres to each of William’s children.
In 1678/9 and 81 William purchased more land from Indians, totaling 4,000 acres. Few, if any, colonists owned as much land.
In 1675 William requested his land to be a township, which was denied, but he was okayed to be deputy constable and grand jurymen from the village. He also served as deputy to the court.
|Map of Chatham|
The family had to travel 7-8 miles for public worship, so instead William read scriptures to his family on the Sabbath. He became the spiritual leader of the village. He wanted to build a meeting house when he bristled at being taxed to build one in Eastham. In 1679 he received approval to be an independent constablewick, but not a town because they could not support own minister.
Monomoit was slow to settle because of lack of a church and susceptibility to Indians. For nearly 20 years after William moved there, there were hardly any other families. Early people were farmers, produced tar and had small whaling business.
On 12 Feb 1686 William conveyed to his daughter (widow) Sarah Covell all remaining property--she must have been living with him. His wife Anne died soon after, at about 75 years of age. He then conveyed all land, except farm for Sarah, to son William.
William died between 30 Aug 1689 and 8 Sept 1690, at about 86 years of age. No will for him is found. He was buried with his wife on a little hill south of his house. Sarah later deeded the burial plot later deeded to the town. The only slate stones standing are of the Ryder family. A memorial tablet was placed there in 1915 to honor William. It is called Burial Hill or Pleasant Hill.
|Memorial plaque for William and Anne (source: Nickersonassociation.org)|
Smith calls him a man of large enterprises, honorable intentions and strong religious conviction. Kittredge writes he was the greatest speculator in wild lands the Cape ever saw and had the soul of a pioneer and the tenacity of a bulldog.
I have multiple Nickerson lines, through Nicholas 2 Nickerson’s children John and Sarah and Sarah 2 Nickerson’s children Joseph and Elizabeth Covel and William 2 Nickerson’s son William.
There is a family association for descendants of William Nickerson:
|How beautiful is the home of the NFA in Chatham?|
Nickerson Family Association, The Nickerson Family: The Descendants of William Nickerson 1604-89, First Settler of Chatham, MA, Part 1, first Four Generations with vital statistics of 5th Generation, pub by Nickerson Family Assoc. 1973.
James W. Hawes, Nicholas Busby, Cape Cod Library, 1911
James W. Hawes, Children of William Nickerson,” Cape Cod Library, 1912
Charles Swift, History of Old Yarmouth, 1884
William C. Smith, A History of Chatham, Mass. Formerly the Constablewick or village of Monomoit, FB and FP Goss, publishers, Hyannis, MA, 1909
Henry Kittredge, Cape Cod Its People and Their History, 1930