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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Apple Orchards, the Reverend John Eliot and 1633 Roxbury, MA

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

It is hard to overestimate how important seeds, tree grafts, and plant specimens were to the Puritans who came to Massachusetts Bay colony during the Puritan Great Migration from 1630-1640 (roughly). Margaret Barrett Huntington came on the Elizabeth Bonaventure in June of 1633. As a widow of "means" with five children to feed and clothe, she and her (recently deceased on shipboard) husband of ten years, Simon, probably would have been well outfitted for this incredible move to New England as Puritan colonists. Surely seeds and specimens would have been carefully stowed with their other goods.

Apples and fruit trees were all the rage in late 16th and early 17th century England as the merchant class continued to thrive. An apple orchard would have been part of most early American homesteads.

By 1635, the town of Roxbury (where Margaret and Simon had planned to live), had "Roxbury Russet" apple saplings growing. A delicious sweet and hearty apple that keeps fresh longer than others, it was perfect for cider-making, eating, and pies. Roxbury was known for its many orchards. Unfortunately many of these apple and other fruit trees would be felled during the American Revolution for firewood.

Roxbury Russet

Sharp dressed 17th or 18th century man making cider using a press.

Roxbury was a rural plantation adjacent to Boston and Dorchester. Even by 1634, it was becoming crowded with homesteads, farms, and livestock. It was a very hilly area and covered with a magma-like "puddingstone." Hence, the name Roxbury or "Roxborough."

The first settlers built smalls homes and rude shelters on what was to be known as "Meetinghouse Hill." The Reverend John Eliot preached to Margaret and meetings probably happened on Thursdays and Sundays. The first meetinghouse would have been small with possibly a thatched roof. It is not known if Margaret and her family had their own house built or roomed with other residents, especially that first year.

John Eliot's, leader of the First Church Roxbury, entry for Margaret Huntington 1633 or 1634.

Replica of the first meetinghouse (in Hartford, CT). Many first generation meetinghouses resembled this crude structure.

The hilly topography of Roxbury is evident here. The Fourth Meeting House (1744) in the distance. Notice the lack of trees, all would have succumbed during the Siege of Boston in 1775.
"Meetinghouse Hill Roxbury, MA" (1799) by John Ritto Penniman. Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago
Present day: First Church, Roxbury, (fifth meetinghouse (1804). Now home to the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry

The Reverend John Eliot, British missionary and first preacher (in New England) to Margaret Baret Huntington.

John Eliot memorial on Meetinghouse Hill in Roxbury. Visited by this blogger in late May 2020.

Margaret and her family would only stay 2-3 years in Roxbury. She would remarry, at age 40 (in late 1634 or early 1635) a Mr. Thomas Stoughton II of Dorchester, MA. Stoughton was the son of the Reverend Thomas Stoughton (who remained in England silenced as a Puritan preacher), brother of the more famous military guy Israel Stoughton, and uncle to the infamous Salem witch trial judge, William Stoughton. More on Thomas coming soon!


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