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Capt. John Underhill, privateer, (c. 1608-72)
John Underhill came to the Americas with the Winthrop
Fleet in 1630. At first, he was a captain of the Boston militia and fought in the Pequot
War of 1636. However, he fell out of favor with Puritan government in the midst of the Ann
Hutchison religious controversy of 1638 and was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay colony.
His post-Boston wanderings challenged him to reinvent himself and his career several times--as
governor of Dover, sheriff of Flushing, and various turns as a military commander for both
English and Dutch forces.
On June 3, 1653, he was commissioned by Rhode Island as a privateer
with the charge to seize any Dutch properties claimed by the English. One writer, sympathetic
to the Dutch, referred to Underhill and his associate Capt. William Dyre as
"loose fish of
thievish proclivities" with license from "that disreputable colony" (Rhode Island) to "take
all Dutch ships and vessels as shall come into their power."
Capt. John acted quickly! His
most notorious raid was up the Connecticut River on the trading post "House of Good Hope"
(June 27, 1653) where he seized the goods of the Amsterdam-based West India Company.
Whether on land or sea, Capt. John Underhill was a success, and secured his wealth any
way he could. He retired to Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY where he died in 1672.
"... I, John Underhill, do seize upon this house and land
thereunto belonging as Dutch goods claimed by the West India
Company in Amsterdam, enemies to the Commonwealth of
England, and thus remain seized till further determined by the
said State. Hartford this 27th of June 1653..."
--Proclamation by Capt. Underhill nailed on the door of
the trading post, "House of Hope."
The Two Wives & Children of Capt. John Underhill
Wife 1: Helena de Hooch, b. ca. 1608 at Gorinchem, the Netherlands; d. ca. 19 Aug 1658 at Southold, Long Island, NY. Marriage: 12 Dec. 1628, in the Kloosterkerk, the Hague, the Netherlands.
Note on Helena: The Underhills were living in the Netherlands prior to their departure for the New World in 1630. Young Capt. John had served with Dutch forces in the continental wars before being hired by John Winthrop and the Puritans as their first military commander and protector.
Deborah, b. ca. 1629; d. ca. 1659
Elizabeth, bap. 14 Feb 1636 in Boston, MA
John Jr., b. 1642; d. 1692; m. 1668 Mary Prior (1652-98)
Wife 2: Elizabeth Feake, b. ca. 1633 at Watertown, Massachusetts Bay Colony; d. ca. 1675 at the Underhill estate, "Killingworth," Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY. Marriage: late 1658 at Flushing, NY.
Note on Elizabeth: The daughter of Robert Feake and Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake, the latter being the basis for the Anya Seton novel, "The Winthrop Woman."
Deborah, b. 1659; d. 1698; m. ca. 1676 Henry Townsend (c. 1649-1718)
Nathaniel, b. 1664; d. 1710; m. Mary Ferris
Hannah, b. 1666; d. 1757; m. 1685 Richard Alsop (1660-1718)
Elizabeth, b. 1669; m. Isaac Smith (b. 1657)
David, b. 1672; d. 1708; m. first UNKNOWN, second Hannah ___
Note on Nathaniel Underhill: This is the g-grandfather of the contributor of this article, John F. Crossen, member of the Underhill Society. Date: April 2, 2006
An Underhill Bibliography
Deats, Edwin R., comp.; Macy, Harry, ed. Underhill Genealogy vol. V (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1980). Volume 6 contains a comprehensive surname index.
Effingham, L & DeForest, Anne Lawrence, Captain John Underhill: Gentleman-Soldier of Fortune, a number of the Bulletin of the Underhill Society of America, New York, 1985. Excellent account of the Captain's life with index.
Greninger, Dorothy M., John Underhill Revisited, Bulletin of the Underhill Society of America, New York, Feb. 1983. Includes letters to the Winthrops and the Captain's last will and testament, dated 1671.
Shelley, Henry C., John Underhill: Captain of New England and New Netherland, New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1932. A somewhat reverential and overly apologetic account of the Captain's exploits. However, the details on his society (both European and colonial) are worth the read. This book includes several excerpts from the Captain's letters and various writings.
Underhill, Capt. John, Newes from America, London: Peter Cole, 1638. The Captain's own book! He writes primarily about his campaigns against the Native Americans of New England. Gives a view into his mind and helps one to grasp his martial spirit. He was truly a man of his age! Available in facsimile form or annotated transcription through the Underhill Society.
For brief but excellent bios of Capt. John, check out the following encyclopedia entries:
"The New Encyclopaedia Britannica," (2002) v. 12, p. 126. Sums up his career as follows: "British-American colonial military officer, privateer, and magistrate."
"The Encyclopedia Americana," v. 27, p. 360.
"In the Lord I take leave and remain yours to command
as I am able..."
- John Underhill (letter to John Winthrop, 1664)
Check out the following link to more great Underhill related genealogy:
Underhill Society Webpage
Genealogy contributed by Rev. John F. Crossen
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