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THE UNCERTAIN ANCESTRY OF REVEREND JAMES KEITH

(AND THE UNCERTAIN FATE OF KING PHILIP’S SON)


Reverend James Keith is widely known as the first minister of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Arriving there from Scotland in 1662, he was introduced to the Bridgewater church by Dr. Increase Mather. His house, built that same year, is said to be the oldest existing parsonage in America. And although his tombstone notes that he was born about 1643 and educated in Aberdeen, his Scottish ancestry is uncertain. Joel Keith says that ....”his supposed parents are Alexander & Christian (Kempt) Keith. There is a baptism record in the St. Nicholas Church in Aberdeen dated 1645, when a child named James was baptized, and the parents were Alexander & Christian (Kempt) Keith. This is the only shred of evidence to suggest parentage for James...The oral history says that Alexander & Christian were killed in the British Civil War (c. 1645) and James was sent to live with an aunt in Aberdeen. This "dowager" Aunt raised James, and saw to his schooling. He attended Marischal College, the educational institution founded by the Clan Keith, in Aberdeen. He studied divinity. About 1661, when the ascension of Charles II struck fear in the hearts of the non-conformist clergy, James was thrust into the midst of religious persecution. Fortunately, the noted Puritan divine Dr. Increase Mather, was traveling in the land and meet James in Aberdeen. James joined Mather in his voyage back to Massachusetts. Mather recommended him to the infant town of Bridgewater in Plymouth Co., MA. In 1664, he was ordained as the towns first minister.” Unfortunately no records have emerged to support or to disprove this oral history. Nor have any good sources been cited for some “One World Tree” pedigrees which assert that James was the son of a Robert Keith in Aberdeen.


Whatever his ancestry in Scotland may be, Reverend James Keith is also remembered as the person who saved Metom, the nine year old son of “King Philip, ” from execution in 1676 at the end of ’King Phillip’s War. ”“King Phillip” was the English name of Metacom, the grandson of Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief who befriended the English pilgrims after their 1620 landing at Plymouth.


Native Americans remember Metacom as a great chief who led a strong confederation of Indians in a bloody war against the colonists. On July 20, Captain Benjamin Church’s expedition attacked Metacom’s camp near Bridgewater. Metacom escaped but his wife, Wootonekanuske, and their 9-year-old son, Metom, were captured. After much debate, the colonists decided to spare their lives by selling them into slavery in the West Indies for a pound apiece. When Metacom heard of their fate, he is reported to have said: "My heart breaks. Now I am ready to die." He was killed less than a month later.


Wootonekanuske, and Metom were held in protective custody within the fortified parsonage of Reverend James Keith while their fate was debated. Many of the colonists demanded immediate death to the little boy son of King Philip, so that never again would they be threatened by the blood of King Philip’s lineage. Reverend James Keith was the only clergyman known to have pleaded for mercy In a letter to Cotton Mather, he referred to Deuteronomy 24:16 which says that children should not be put to death for their parent and that only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. Probably as a result of this plea, Metom’s life was spared. Most authorities say that he and his mother were then sold into slavery and probably sent to Bermuda. However there are some who believe otherwise.


Lee Sultzman says that ... “ Philip's wife and son were reportedly sold as slaves to the West Indies, but it appears they were instead exiled from Massachusetts and joined the Sokoki at Odanak”. The fate of Wootonekanuske and Metom is further explored by Sue Martin who argues as follows: ..... “According to all of our written history books, King Philip's wife and son were sold into slavery in Bermuda, the Bahamas or the West Indies, "thus ending his bloodline." Yet there doesn't seem to be any record of them actually boarding a ship, nor any record of their sale. Considering the amount of hatred towards this boy, it seems pretty strange that nobody seemed to have kept track of him after his departure. My grandfather, on his deathbed, told me that the boy survived, or I wouldn't be here. He said that his great-grandmother, Lucretia Phillips of Ashfield MA, was a direct descendant of King Philip. For 45 years I have tried to find out how that could be possible. Here is what the Old Bridgewater Historical Society, on their brochure, has to say on the subject:"Interesting is that according to Wampanoag oral history, Rev. Keith deceived the other colonists by telling them that he had sent the mother and child to Bermuda. In actuality, he secretly boarded them onto a ship in Barnstable, and they sailed to Nova Scotia and their freedom! There is said to be Wampanoag descendants using the surname of 'Philip', living in Nova Scotia today. These families firmly believe that they are direct descendants of King Philip's son.”......... “Another interesting rumor is that King Philip, while wintering at Hoosic NY or a little later at Squawkeag near the MA/VT border during the war, left 2 or 3 daughters with some of his allies for safe-keeping. That would likely have been the Pocumtuc of Deerfield, the Nipmuc or the Odanak, and I would venture to guess that he would leave them with Wannalancet. I have received a number of queries from people who claim to descend from these daughters, according to their family traditions. Other rumors state that his son did go to Bermuda, served his time and returned to the states, as did other Indian slaves of that time. Some correspondence found in the Bermuda archives does seem to suggest that he was there, but much more research is needed”





















REFERENCES FOR

THE UNCERTAIN ANCESTRY OF REVEREND JAMES KEITH

(AND THE UNCERTAIN FATE OF KING PHILIP’S SON)


Keith, Joel. <joelk300@hotmail.com> Message dated 6 June 2002 in the Clan Keith Archives 2002-01 > 1010375812 relates the unproven oral tradition that James Keith was the son of Alexander and Chrisitan Keith Copied from the Internet on July 19, 2007.


One World Tree” includes a few references stating that Rev James Keith’s father is Robert Keith of Aberdeenshire. However I have not found any related user submitted trees which provided any good sources..


Keith, Ziba. “A Genealogy of the Descendants of Benjamin Keith”. This article includes transcriptions of the tombstones of Rev. James Keith and his wife, Susanna. Copied from the Internet on July 19, 2007.


Metacom’s wife and son are identified in the official home page of the Pokanoket/Wampanoag. (www.geocities.com/pokanoket_tribe/WHOSWHO.html This source and many others report that Metacom was killed near Mount Hope, in what is now the Township of Bristol, R.I., Aug. 12, 1676.- Copied from the Internet on July 19, 2007.


The account stating that Wootonekanuske and Metom were sold into slavery for one pound apiece is from “King Philip's War: Indian Chieftain's War Against the New England Colonies” by Glenn W. LaFantasie Found on HistoryNet.com (Copied on July 19, 2007) http://www.historynet.com/wars_conflicts/17_18_century/3033296.html?page=3&c=y


Reverend James Keith’s letter to Cotton Mather (October 30, 1676), arguing mercy for Wootonekanuske and Metom, is reproduced in “History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater” by Nahum Mitchell (page 44).


In a 1719 sermon following the death of Reverend James Keith, Cotton Mather praised him as a source of strength for the inhabitants of Bridgewater during King Philip’s War. (“Extracts from Sermons by Cotton Mather - On the Death of Rev. James Keith” - http://newenglandancestors.org/nehgsr)


Sultzman, Lee “ Wampanoag History” From “New England Indians” by Susan Martin http://www.tolatsga.org/wampa.html


Martin, Sue. “New England Indians” <footprints@rcn.com>