29 March, 2015

Col. John Thacher of Yarmouth and Family Lore

Below is a biographical sketch of Colonel John Thacher of Yarmouth, Massachusetts (my maternal 7th great-grandfather) and a bit of family lore related to his long and fruitful life.

Col. John Thacher

John Thacher was born 17 March 1639. His parents were Antony Thacher and Elizabeth Jones, who had come over from England on the James in 1635 with four of Antony's children from his previous marriage. The Thachers had suffered an unimaginable tragedy in that same year when, on an ocean voyage from Ipswich to Marblehead, a horrific storm had smashed the ship to pieces. All on board were drowned except for Antony and his new wife, including the four young children. Antony and Elizabeth had washed up on a rocky island, still known as Thacher Island today, where they were eventually rescued by a passing fishing boat. (their story here)

The grieving couple lived for a time in Marblehead, Massachusetts colony, where they struggled to put the pieces of their lives back together. Surely the birth of a healthy son early in 1639 gave them a sense of optimism. Antony was one of three men who obtained permission that year from the King to settle the area of Cape Cod known as Mattachee. The three families made their homes there and named their new town Yarmouth.

As a young man, John was appointed an officer in the town militia, eventually rising to the rank of colonel, and soon after began his service as town selectman. In 1668 he became representative of Yarmouth to the General Court, and in 1681 he was chosen to the council of war. In addition, John Thacher was elected a member of the provincial council, so he certainly performed well in terms of his civic duties to the town his parents had founded.

But John was prolific in other ways as well, namely as a producer of new citizens for Yarmouth! He would father a total of 21 children between two wives. He first married in 1661 to Rebecca Winslow. There is a charming anecdote that has been passed down in the family regarding Rebecca and his future second wife, Lydia Gorham.

He and Rebecca Winslow married at Marshfield. On their return trip back to Yarmouth, they stopped at the home of friends, the Gorhams, for rest and refreshment. 

There was a new baby girl in the family, and she was proudly shown off to the newly married couple. It was remarked that the baby had been born on the same day as John Thacher and Rebecca had married. That being said, John took the child in his arms and said to his new wife “Here, my dear, is a little lady born on the same night that you and I were married. I wish you to kiss her, as I intend to have her for my second wife.” Rebecca laughed and kissed the baby, adding that she hoped that would be many years in the future, if at all.

Sadly, Rebecca did die at a young age in July of 1683. Later that summer, as legend has it, John was riding past the home of the Gorhams, when he spotted the horse belonging to his son Peter tied up outside. He stopped and went up to the house to see what he might have stopped there for and found him paying court to Lydia Gorham, the baby of that night many years ago, now grown. 

John had not forgotten his pledge to make Lydia his second wife. It is said that he offered his son Peter 10 pounds and a yoke of black steer if he would relinquish his claim to the young lady. And so he did. 

Whether due to the clandestine “deal” or because John won out over his son on his own merits we will never know, but John Thacher and Lydia Gorham were married on New Year's day 1684. John was 45 years old and Lydia was 22. The couple raised a large family and John Thacher died in 1713 at the age of 82 years.

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