Jonas & Mary (Batson) Clay: 1st New England Clays

Sects and the Settlement, Cape Porpoise, Maine

Batson River, Cape Porpoise, Maine

By Sharon Cummins

The beautiful Batson River has always captured my imagination.  I can almost see the settlers of Cape Porpus working in the marsh and weathering the winters that had scared away so many before them.  I determined to learn what motivated the fortitude to face such challenges.  The story that emerged was shocking but it ultimately deepened my appreciation for the independent spirit that prevailed. 

Bourne, in his History of Kennebunk credits Stephen Batson for being the first to live at Drake’s Island.  A neighbor in Wells was the charismatic Antinomian Reverend John Wheelwright.  Antinomian (anti, against, and nomos, law) was a label assigned by detractors to those whose beliefs and teaching encouraged religious dissention. They believed that Gods grace could not be earned by good deeds but rather that God existed in every believer.

Wheelwright had been suspended for nonconformity to the Church of England.  He immigrated to New England in 1636 and became a pastor in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.  By 1638 he had been banished by the Church of Boston for publicly supporting the views of the much-maligned Anne Hutchinson, his sister-in-law.  Exeter, NH was Wheelwright’s next home where he formed a settlement beyond the reach of Massachusetts.  When in 1643, Exeter was claimed to be within the limits of Massachusetts, Wheelwright and followers of his ministry moved to Wells.  When he left Wells in 1647 to preach in Hampton, NH Batson moved his family to Cape Porpoise.

Stephen’s daughter Mary married Jonas Clay.   Clay is first found in Wenham, Mass.  In 1643 he is before the courts in Essex and before the courts again in Dover (population 47) in 1648.  Others who lived in Dover at the time were swept up in the Antinomian frenzy.  In 1652 he had gone from Wells to Sagamore Creek with wife Mary Batson.  They had a son Jonas who was raised by Richard Tucker, partner to George Cleeves of the Lygonia Patent.

Mary’s rap sheet in Saco reads like a trashy novel and for that I apologize but history isn’t always pretty.

June 28, 1655 Mary, wife of Jonas Clay, was before the court facing charges the she had been keeping company with Robert Cooke in a suspicious way day and night even though neighbors of Cooke had offered him another place to stay.  Separation was demanded.  On the same day she was charged with daily frequenting of the company of John Davis the smythe of Winter Harbor.  The court demanded separation.

In August of 1655 she charged William Battine for spreading rumors about her activities with John Davis. Davis, previously from Sagamore Creek, was a Blacksmith, a Doctor and Later a Preacher who was often chastised for interrupting the accepted church meetings with his ranting.

The next court session was held June 30, 1656.  Robert Cooke was convicted of breach of court order to stay away from Mary Clay. He received 30 lashes.  The court further states that if he does not comply with the new separation, they will sell him to Barbados as a slave.  Mary escaped the lashes for this charge because her father Stephen Batson paid her fine.  Stephen Greenum was presented for keeping disorders in his house at the neck of land & at Winter Harbor and for entertaining James Harmon, Robert Cooke, Mary Clay, John Davis, and Elizabeth Trott.  Elizabeth was the wife of Simon Trott of Trott’s Island and she was Mary Clay’s sister. 

During the same court session the town of Cape Porpus was ordered to see that a woman live with Mary Clay for preventing any future injury to Mary Clay relating to her disease (convulsive fits) which do frequently seize upon her.  Could they have meant Quaking?

On July 3, 1660 Mary Clay was presented for her “uncivil carages in suffering James Harmon and his wife to ly in bed with her.  Witness Miss Spencer and Sarah Harmon”. 

James Harmon was charged with stabbing and cutting his father-in-law Edward Clarke with his knife and swearing and being drunk.  Twenty lashes given him on the bare skin.  He was also required to pay the court a fine of twenty pounds, which was covered by John Davis and Richard White.  The next entry is “Whereas the suspicious word and carages of James Harmon before this court do seem to declare his intentions to depart speedily out of this country, whose estate as we are informed lyeth in the hands of Stephen Batson and others.”  The court orders that all of Harmon’s estate be turned over to Edward Clarke on behalf of his daughter Sarah Harmon and her child.

In October of the same year Mary Clay and James Harmon were again separated by the court.

The court ordered that Elizabeth Batson, wife of Stephen must apologize at open meeting in Cape Porpus for slandering her husband and her daughter Mary Clay.  Her answer was: “Whereas I Elizabeth Batson before the last court was legally convicted for very scandalous and unnatural accusations in defaming my husband Stephen Batson and my daughter Mary Clay of charging Mary Clay to be my husbands hoore.”

In March of 1661, Goodwife Batson the Elder refuses to relinquish the 2 pigs that used to belong to James Harmon but were awarded to his wife and child when he threatened to flee the country.  The following July Plaintiff Morgan Howell charges Stephen Batson for refusing to turn over the estate of James Harmon as the court ordered the previous year.

Between 1659 and 1661, four Quakers were executed in Massachusetts for openly expressing their faith.  Another Quaker, Edward Wharton helped bury one of the bodies.   He and many others were imprisoned in Boston.  When they were finally released they were banished and forbidden to stop at any house.  People who gave them shelter were brought to court themselves and accused of being Quakers.  Many headed for Hampton, NH where the Reverend Wheelwright had gone after leaving Wells and many to Casco Bay having heard of a tolerance for Quakers in those places.  Quaker records indicate that Stephen Batson and his wife gave shelter to Edward Wharton in their home.

Mary Clay, widow of Jonas Clay married William Brockus/Brookhouse.  In 1670 they sent word from Barbados to Richard Tucker of Sagamore Creek, guardian of Jonas, Jr., to sell the Sagamore Creek land of Jonas Clay, Sr.

In 1695, Captain of  “The Happy Jane”, Jonas Clay, Jr. was arrested in Barbados for leaving without permission of the British authorities and for trying to outrun them in his ship.

Sagamore Creek, presently called Little Harbor, is at the mouth of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Richard Tucker and Jonas Clay both owned land at Sagamore Creek as did Famlilist founder of Hampton, NH, Rev. Stephen Batchiller who immigrated to the Colonies as the Pastor to the Lygonia Patent of 1630.  This Patent was issued by Gorges himself.  The Lygonia Patent aka The Plough Patent was to be in Maine and may have included Cape Porpus.

We know that “The Company of Husbandmen” sent three ships to the Colonies to settle that Patent.  They were “The Plough”, “The William and Francis” and “The Whale”.  In Winthrop’s diary he says that the Lygonia Patentees on the first ship, “The Plough” did not like the land that they found there and so came to Salem.  He also said that they all turned out to be Familists and disappeared.  Familists were based on the teachings of Dutch spiritualist, Hendrik Niclaes. Like the Antinomians they believed in a natural state of Grace without Sin in the true believer. Some historians believe they were a Sect of Anabaptism.

During the mid seventeenth century the Puritans of Salem had little tolerance for religious beliefs that differed from their own.  Maine became a place of refuge for many religious Sects.  Among them were Quakers, Antinomians, Anabaptists, Familists, Diggers, Levelers, and Ranters.  These Sects all had in common the belief that God is in every man and therefore no authority has greater rights to his teaching.  In fact, authority in general was in direct opposition to their religious beliefs and as every parent can understand, the more extreme the opposition they encountered the more extreme their rebellious behavior became.   Some followers had interpretations that were more liberal than others.  These included cursing, drunkenness, nudity and sexual freedoms that rivaled the Haight-Ashbury hippie’s of 1967.   They also believed in the equality of all, be they man, woman, black white or red and they often lived in a communal fashion.  Eventually many of these Sects were absorbed by the Quakers and the Baptists and adapted a more socially acceptable form that we know today.

In 1665, the British began shipping Quakers to Barbados to rid themselves of the malignant scourge.  In the name of God, Puritan leaders conspired to dispose of heretics in Barbados.  By 1671, there was a huge community of Quakers in Barbados.   They were one of the first Christian churches to encourage the slaves to join them resulting in the legislation of 1676 that made it illegal for blacks in Barbados to attend a Quaker meeting. 

Whether you believe that Mary was a bad seed and was guilty of the crimes of which she was accused or that an unfamiliar communal lifestyle was confusing and threatening to her neighbors, the persistence of this group of people to be together is striking. I am touched by some tolerance shown by the courts in Saco.  In fact at one point the court seemed almost protective of Mary with regard to her “convulsive fits”.   The offenders paid their fines, took their lashings and went about their business.

The records we have in our collection of court proceedings were a valuable resource for this story.  I offer a special thanks to Adalaide Day and to Ruth Landon for the fruits of their years of labor.  The resulting research gives dimension to the flat and incomplete picture we have of the first settlers of Cape Porpus from surviving town records.  They were but two of a long list of dedicated lovers of history who have quietly created a legacy for historians of the future. Perhaps, you.

Sharon Cummins

This article was originally published in The Log, Kennebunkport Historical Society’s quarterly publication.  Copyright 2001-2007 Sharon Cummins