The Rev. Peter Bulkeley (1583–1659) was an influential early Puritan preacher who left England to find greater religious freedom in the American colony of Massachusetts. He was a founder of Concord, sat in judgment at the trial of Anne Hutchinson, and was named by his descendant Ralph Waldo Emerson in a not very flattering poem about the founders of Concord, Hamatreya.
Born to wealth in Odell, Bedfordshire, Bulkeley was a fellow at St. John’s College in Cambridge before succeeding his father, Edward, as rector at St. Odell, from 1620 to 1635. He also picked up his father’s nonconformist beliefs and got in increasing trouble with Anglican authorities. Finally, when he refused to wear a surplice or use the Sign of the Cross during a visit by the Archbishop, he was kicked out of the church.
He emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 on the Susan and Ellen, along with a fur trader named Simon Willard, 12 other families, and (we think) his second wife, Grace Chetwood and three of his then 12 children, all by his late first wife. He and Grace had four more children together in Concord, and we are descended from their eldest, Gershom Bulkeley. In 1659, Gershom married Sarah Chauncy, daughter of the Rev. Charles Chauncy, the second president of Harvard College.
Bulkeley was ordained at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in April 1637, and having brought all those families with him into the woods, formed a church and became the first minister in Musketaquid, later named Concord. The trader Willard spoke the Algonquian language and had gained the trust of the Indians; together they negotiated the purchase of the town from the remnant of the local tribe.
Bulkeley not only served as minister to the new town, but also invested in Concord’s development. He paid for and owned the town grist mill, built on the pond created by damming the Mill Brook for power.
Concord was the first town in the colonies that settlers truly carved out of the wilderness. Every other town in America had been close to the ocean or a tidal river, where goods could be transported by boat and natural features would mark the bounds with a minimum of exploration. There was a constant shift in the population of Concord as newly-arrived immigrants came, stayed a while, then went to Connecticut or returned to the coastal towns, where those with a trade but no knowledge of farming could hope to make a living. Almost every deed to land in Concord listed the buyer as yeoman, except for the few gentlemen, whereas in coastal towns like Charlestown the identifying word would be that of a trade: glover, tanner, brickmaker, mason, etc.
According to historian Moses Colt Taylor, Bulkeley was “noted even among Puritans for the superlative stiffness of his Puritanism.”
He was highly respected both locally, in Concord, and more widely in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He corresponded with his colleagues in the colonial clergy, and gained a reputation for his Gospel Covenant, first published in 1646. This book was a collection of sermons that Bulkeley had preached on the controversial issue of the relationship between works, grace, faith, justification, and salvation.
Bulkeley served as moderator at a 1637 synod called in Cambridge due to the “Antinomian errors” of Anne Hutchinson. She was convicted and banished, moved to Rhode Island with a bunch of our Vail ancestors as followers, and then moved to the Bronx, where she and her large family were massacred by Siwanoy Indians (along with another of our Vail ancestors who happened to be visiting that month). On hearing the news, Rev. Bulkeley charmingly wrote:
Let her damned heresies, and the just vengeance of God, by which she perished, terrify all her seduced followers from having any more to do with her leaven.
In 1644 there was a split in the church at Concord. John Jones (the other minister in addition to Peter Bulkeley) took his family and 15 Concord men to Fairfield, Connecticut.
Peter Bulkeley is an ancestor of John Magoun Pearson.