James Skiffe was born about 1610
in England, possibly in Kent. His
surname is also seen as Skeff and Skiff. He is my 10th
great-grandfather on my grandfather Arthur Washburn Davis’ side of the family. He
served in various public offices, clearly an important citizen of the town of
Sandwich, and was a cooper by trade. My favorite thing about James is that he
wasn’t involved in persecuting Quakers, and seems to have risked his own
reputation in doing so.
James was one of the early European
settlers of Sandwich in the 1630s. He married a woman named Mary, whose surname
isn’t known with certainty (I’ve seen it as Reeves but without sources). Author
RA Lovell refers to him as one of the hardworking business-like settlers who
kept Sandwich going during its early years through continuous public service.
James and Mary had nine children whose births are listed in the Sandwich Vital
Children of James Skeff listed,
no wife's name:
James Skeff 12 September 1638
Steven 14 April 1641
Nathanniell 20 March 1645
Sare 19 October 1646
Bathshua 26 April 1648 (shown as
21 April in PCR V8:6).
Mary 25 March 1650
Pacience 25 March 1652
Beniamine 15 November 1655
Nathan Skeff and son of James
born 27 May 1658
I descend from his daughter
Patience who married Elisha Bourne. I wrote about that couple here. His five sons and
four daughters all survived to adulthood and married; several removed to
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. James' son Captain Stephen (1641-1710) was the
only son to remain in Sandwich and he continued his father's tradition of local
civic and military duties and became a county magistrate. James Jr. married
Elizabeth Neighbor in 1659, but after 11 childless years he sued for divorce,
as Elizabeth had run off to Virginia with another man. James remarried, lived
on Nantucket and had six children with his second wife.
According to the 1667 house
survey, James Skiff lived in the central village while his son Captain Stephen
built on what is now Route 6A opposite Chipman Road. In RA Lovel's book, a depiction of a 1667 map of the village and Spring Hill shows James
Skiff's home on what is now Main Street, between Thomas Tupper Sr. and William
Bassett, who are also my direct ancestors. The so-called "Skiff
House" in Spring Hill has no early connection with the family, but was
built by a son of John Nye.
|James Skiffe home is no. 9 source: Sandwich A Cape Cod Town|
In 1638 Henry Ewer and his wife were ordered to depart
from Sandwich for some violation of law, and "Mr. Skeffe is required to
send them back because he encouraged their coming."
Richard Handy was apprenticed to
Skiffe to learn the trade of cooper. He transferred to Plymouth in 1639.
James was on the 1643 list of Men
Able to Bear Arms.
James Skiffe had a great interest
in serving his community. In 1658 he was an administrator in town before there
was a Board of Selectmen. James Skiff was appointed Deputy to the General Court
and served for 13 years. First mention of selectmen found in records was in
1667 when Thomas Burgess, James Skiff and Thomas Tupper Sr. were serving. He served for 9 years. In 1672 both he and
his son Stephen were Selectmen.
At the 23 June 1651 Town Meeting,
James Skiff and four other men were chosen to make a levy of six pounds for the
payment of the Clerk and the Committees. On the first of March 1654/5 James
Skiff and three other men agreed with the town to build a mill, after the
original grist mill became inoperable. Skiff and another signed their names;
other two used a mark.
In 1653 James Skiff was engaged
to buy "Pistols Powder Bullets Drum Cutlass and Half Pikes" for the
Sandwich militia. James Skiff and Richard Bourne were appointed to lay out land
to townspeople to plant at the Common for six years, 22 Jan 1657/8.
John Ellis, William Swift, William Allen, and James
Skeff were engaged to build a mill, the town of Sandwich paying £20. This sum
was subscribed by 22 of the freemen and the mill was completed early in 1655.
In September 1673 Richard Bourne
and James Skiff were appointed to lay out lands they think necessary and to lay
them out near the Town House, some of the land to lie above the House and the
rest below the House, and as much of the swamp which lies by the ford as they
shall think good for to belong to the House for the use of the Ministry.
James Skiff Sr. is on the 1675
list of Sandwich men allowed to vote at town meeting and who would be fined for
In June 1676 a special committee
of four, including James Skiff, was formed to take an account off what ought
justly to be satisfied and...all the town's debts that appear justly due to be paid.
The resulting taxes were not recorded.
In 1658 James Skiff of Sandwich,
was summoned to court for criticizing the law concerning the oath of fidelity.
This was during the time of punishment of the Quakers in town, something he
didn’t personally participate in.
James Skiff, the deputy to
general court in 1659, was rejected because he was friendly to his neighbors
holding other than orthodox ideas, meaning Quakers.
Transcriptions of multiple land
deeds concerning James were published in various issues of The Mayflower Descendant.
On 14 January 1636 Court of
Assistants granted James Skiffe 10 acres next to land granted to Thirston
Clarke, between the lands of Phineas Pratt and widow Billington, five acres of
this due to him for his serve to Mr. Isaack Olverton and the other five are in
the right of Peter Talbott for service by indenture to Edward Doty.
On 3 June 1650 James Skiffe paid
30 pounds to William Wood for land in Sandwich, including a dwelling house,
barn, stalls for cattle, upland, meadows.
Plymouth Colony Records of 1654,
mention five freemen of Sandwich, including James Skiffe, who desired some
several parcels of land by Marshpee Pond and 10 acres of meadow; 100 acres at
Santuit Pond; a neck of land by Cotuit River to keep cattle; certain meadow at
Mannamuch Bay. No further mention of these desired land grands.
A July 1655 deed mentions James Skiffe
for his former service to Thomas Burgis, granting him a small parcel of land at
Monnomett, directly over the land of Thomas Burgis, which was formerly the
company's where they had a trading house (probably Apucxtet), with all the
meadow bordering the said neck or lying on the skirts there, to James Skiff,
his heirs and assigns forever.
On 3 July 1656, the court gave
liberty to James Skiff to purchase the land granted to him at Manomet of the
He purchased land that was
recorded years later, in 1657, from Nicholas Wright sometimes of Sandwich,
house and 8 acres of upland with orchards, bound to the south by William
Bassett Jr., and on the other side by Thomas Launder, as well as two acres of
meadow in the Common Field.
James Skiffe’s name is often
found in records for witnessing wills and conducting estate inventories. John
Green’s 1659 will mentions James Skiffe Sr. being given power of attorney to
recover debts to the estate and was made sole executor.
Because of dissension in the
Sandwich church by 1688 James Skiff was one of only five active male members
Mary Skiffe the wife of James Skiffe
Sen died the 21 of September 1673 (Sandwich Vital Records). James
died about 1685.
I read a book called Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language,
Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard, by Nora Ellen Groce. She wrote that a name
that appeared in 63 of the pedigrees of 72 deaf individuals she investigated was
James Skiffe, a hearing man who settled in Sandwich, Massachusetts, with his
family in 1633. Skiffe himself never moved to Martha's Vineyard but a number of
his children eventually settled in Tisbury and Chilmark. It is likely that Skiffe
carried the gene for deafness. They were from the Weald in Kent, lived in Scituate
from 1634-44, then to Sandwich, then some to Martha's Vineyard. Once the
initial deafness gene occurred, it was perpetuated by the ingrown nature of
rural English villages, particularly in the Weald of Kent.
Sources Not Listed Above:
RA Lovell Jr., Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town, 1984
Deyo, Simeon L., editor, History
of Barnstable County, Massachusetts," HW Blake & Co., New York, 1890