July 20, 1636|
|Other names||"Mad Jack"|
|Known for||Founder of Wethersfield, Connecticut|
|Children||Richard, Mary, John Jr.|
John Oldham (July 1592 – July 20, 1636) was an early Puritan settler in Massachusetts. He was a captain, merchant, and Indian trader. His death at the hands of the Indians was one of the causes of the Pequot War of 1636-37.
Oldham was born in Derbyshire, England in 1592, and was baptized at the Church of All Saints (now Derby Cathedral) in Derby on July 15, 1592. He was a follower of the Puritans from an early age, and emigrated to Plymouth Colony with his sister in July 1623 aboard the Anne. His sister Lucretia Oldham Brewster was married to Jonathan Brewster, son of William Brewster, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.
Oldham is proof that relations were not always harmonious among the Pilgrims. Over half of those who sailed on the Mayflower had come for economic opportunity rather than religious motivations. In 1624, Rev. John Lyford came over to America and was welcomed at first, but soon Plymouth residents gravitated to him who did not share the Puritans' viewpoints. Lyford gave them encouragement and met with them in secret. Oldham was a supporter of Lyford, and the two of them stirred up dissension and trouble in Plymouth, according to the accounts of Pilgrim leader William Bradford.
Oldham and Lyford secretly wrote letters back to England disparaging and slandering the Pilgrims. Bradford intercepted some of these letters but did not mention it immediately to Oldham or Lyford. Oldham next refused to stand his scheduled watch (a communal duty expected of all the men) and began to be insolent to the Pilgrims' military advisor Miles Standish. He then drew his knife on Standish unprovoked, and angrily denounced him as a "beggarly rascal". Lyford and Oldham were put on trial for "plotting against them and disturbing their peace, both in respects of their civil and church state," and they were banished from Plymouth.
Oldham recovered and prospered from coastal trade with colonists and with the Indians. He became a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts from 1632 to 1634, and was the overseer of shot and powder for Massachusetts Bay Colony.
As a trader, Captain Oldham sailed to Virginia and England, but by 1630 he was back in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He took up residence on an island in the Charles River and was a member of the church at Watertown. He represented Watertown in the colony's first General Court or assembly in 1634. He continued in the Indian trade, sailing the coast from Maine to New Amsterdam.
In 1633 or 1634, Oldham led a group of ten men (which included Captain Robert Seeley) along the Old Connecticut Path to establish Wethersfield, Connecticut, the first English settlement on the Connecticut River.
In July 20, 1636, he was on a voyage to trade with Indians on Block Island. His ship was boarded by American Indians, probably Narragansetts. He and five of his crew were killed, and his two young nephews were captured. The ship's cargo was looted. A fishing vessel rescued the nephews and tried to tow his sloop to port, but adverse winds affected them. They scuttled the ship but brought home the two boys.
The Narragansetts convinced the colonists that the Pequot people were responsible for killing Jack Oldham. Oldham was known for his difficult ways and may have provoked the fight that killed him, but ministers across Massachusetts condemned the murders. Massachusetts Governor John Endecott was ordered to retaliate. The Bay Colony was outraged at this latest incident, and sent John Endicott to Block Island.
Family records: The two young boys captured with John Oldham by the Indians off Block Island were his nephews, John and Thomas Oldham. Thomas Oldham Jr. stayed in Massachusetts. John migrated to the Virginia colony and became a significant land owner. His descendants subsequently settled in North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. They were some of the original settlers of Kentucky. Jessie Oldham came through the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone and helped him blaze the Wilderness Trail and plot and build Ft. Boonesborough. He was also cred with being one of the first white men to plant a crop in Kentucky.