The man who bought Nantucket

Richard Swain (1600-1682)  and his family emigrated to New England in 1635, taking three different ships as a precaution against loss. Richard sailed on the Truelove; his wife Elizabeth (Basselle) and three young children on the Planter; and their two older sons in care of friends on the Rebecca. The family first settled in Rowley, Massachusetts, then followed the charismatic Rev. Stephen Bachiler (a Vail ancestor) to New Hampshire in 1638, where they founded the town of Hampton.

Swain was a leading citizen of Hampton but left twenty years later after a series of difficult events. In 1657 his wife Elizabeth died, and that same year his son William was lost in a tragedy that affected the whole town. The Ghost Ship, newly built and on its maiden voyage to Boston, went down just outside of port and lost everyone aboard. Eight residents of Hampton died. Swain married a neighbor, widowed by the same event, and took in her five children. The following year he was fined and disenfranchised for harboring Quakers. By 1660 he had turned his property over to his daughters and moved with his two remaining sons, his new wife, and stepchildren to Massachusetts, where he and his son John were two of the ten original purchasers of the island of Nantucket from Thomas Mayhew. The purchase price was thirty pounds silver and two beaver hats.

First nautical chart of Nantucket, J.F. W. Des Barres, London, 1776

The original Nantucket settlers were somewhat clannish and left themselves open to lampooning by later arrivals, as illustrated by this doggerel:

The Rays and Russells, coopers are,
The knowing Folgers lazy,
A lying Coleman very rare,
And scarce a learned Hussey.

The Coffins noisy, fractious, loud,
The silent Gardners plodding,
The Mitchells good, the Barkers proud,
The Macys eat the pudding.

The Swains are swinish, clownish called,
The Barnards very civil,
The Starbucks they are loud to bawl,
The Pinkhams beat the devil.

Richard Swain is an ancestor of John Magoun Pearson.

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