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William French (abt. 1604 - 1681)

Lt. William French
Born about in Bures Saint Mary, Suffolk, Englandmap [uncertain]
Ancestors ancestors
Son of [uncertain] and [uncertain]
Husband of — married [date unknown] (to 31 Mar 1668) in Englandmap
Husband of — married 6 May 1669 in Billerica, Middlesex, Massachusettsmap
Descendants descendants
Died at about age 77 in Billerica, Middlesex, Massachusetts Bay Colonymap
Profile last modified | Created 6 Jan 2010
This page has been accessed 12,702 times.
The Puritan Great Migration.
William French migrated to New England during the Puritan Great Migration (1621-1640). (See The Great Migration (Series 2), by R. C. Anderson, vol. 2, p. 588)
Join: Puritan Great Migration Project
Discuss: pgm




William French is believed to have originated from the area near Earls Colne, Essex, England. (He is listed as a servant of Roger Harlakenden of Earls Colne on the Defence passenger list). The most recent research (NEHGR Winter 2023) has concluded that William was probably the son of William French and Elizabeth Newes who married 3 July 1603 in Bures St Mary, Suffolk, England (about 6.6 miles from Earls Colne). William was likely born there about 1604. (Unfortunately, the baptismal registers for Bures St Mary do not exist for that year).[1]

On page 593 of Great Migration, Vol 2, in a bibliographic note, Anderson states "In 1911 Elizabeth French published information from English records which demonstrated that the William French baptized at Halstead, Essex, on 15 March could not have been the immigrant to New England [NEHGR 65:284-86]."


At the age of 30, William French embarked on the ship Defence in 1635 to make the journey to America.[2] William and his fellow travelers initially set out for New England in the winter of 1634 from Harwich, but due to adverse weather conditions, they were forced to turn back. However, they made a second attempt and successfully arrived in Boston on October 3, 1635. Subsequently, the congregation moved to Cambridge, where William French decided to settle.

Life in New England

Upon his arrival in Cambridge, William French established his residence on the westerly side of Dunster Street, positioned between Harvard Square and Mt. Auburn Street. In 1639, he purchased this estate, which he later sold to William Barrett on June 10, 1656. William French became one of the original proprietors of Billerica, receiving lot 24, encompassing 150 acres, in the Shawshine grant of 1652. Eventually, the Shawshine Plantation was transformed into the town of Billerica following a court order on May 23, 1655.

William made his living as a tailor.[3][4] Also active in the community, William French assumed various roles. He took the freeman's oath 3 March 1635/6.[5]He served as a captain in the militia, attained the position of deacon in 1659, and contributed as a commissioner to establish country rates. Elected as a Selectman in 1660, he remained in this role for nine years. Furthermore, in 1661, he participated in a committee tasked with assessing the reading, religion, and catechism skills of children and servants. Notably, William French held the distinction of being the first Deputy from Billerica to the General Court.

It should be noted that William had a brother named John French, who resided in Cambridge. Like William, John French was also involved in tailoring. William French of Billerica administered his brother's estate and subsequently sold the family home to Robert Browne in 1657. Another potential brother, Richard French, lived in Cambridge with his wife Martha and their son Samuel, who was born on July 13, 1653. Richard purchased land in January 1651-2 and sold it in October 1654, after which no further records pertaining to him are available.

Marriage and Children

William French was married at least twice. He married his wife Elizabeth, with whom he immigrated sometime before 1625 or 1629 (depending on whether Francis, passenger on the Defence was their child, or another relation, or from a previous wife). She died 31 March 1668 in Billerica. They had eight (possibly nine) known children.

He married second 6 May 1669 in Billerica, Mary (Lothrop) Stearns, the widow of John Stearns.[6] After William's death Mary remarried to Isaac Mixer as his third wife 29 June 1687 in Billerica.[7]

Children by Elizabeth ___________:

  1. (possibly) Francis b about 1625, passenger on the Defence in 1635, no further information. (Not Francis French of Derby, CT. See Research Notes
  2. Elizabeth, b. abt. 1629, m. Dedham, MA 19 Sep 1650 Richard Ellis, d. Dedham 21 Oct 1694
  3. Mary, b. abt. 1633, d. Cambridge 27 May 1672, m. Jonathan Hyde, b. abt. 1626, d. Newton, MA 5 Oct 1711
  4. John, b. abt. 1635, d. Oct 1712, m(1) 21 Jun 1659 Abigail Coggan, d. 5 Apr 1662, m(2) 3 Jul 1663 Hannah Burrage, d.7 Jul 1667, m(3) 14 Jan 1667-8 Mary Rogers, d. 16 Jun 1677, m(4) 16 Jan 1677-8 Mary (Littlefield) Kittresge, d. 1719
  5. Sarah, b. Cambridge, MA 1638, d. 1694, m. Roxbury, MA 15 Aug 1660 Jonathan Peake (son Jonathan Peake and Dorcas French), b. 17 Dec 1637, d. Roxbury 2 Jun 1700
  6. Jacob, b. Cambridge 16 Jan 163940, d. 20 May 1713, m(1) 20 Sep 1665 Mary Champney (dau Richard Champney), d. 1 Apr 1681, m(2) 30 Jul 1685 Mary Convers, d. 18 Jun 1686, m(3) Mary ____, d. 9 Jun 1709, m(4) Ruth ____, d. 6 Nov 1730
  7. Hannah, b. Cambridge 12 Apr 1641, d. 20 Jun 1642
  8. Hannah, b. Cambridge 16 Feb 1644, m. Billerica, MA 6 Sep 1661 John Brackett. Died Billerica 9 May 1674.[8]
  9. Samuel, b. Cambridge 3 Dec 1645, d. 15 Jul 1646

Children by Mary Lothrop:[9]

  1. Mary, b. Billerica, MA April 3, 1670, m. ____ Sharp
  2. Sarah, b. Billerica Oct. 29, 1671, m. May 6, 1691 Joseph Crosby
  3. Abigail, b. Billerica April 14, 1673, d. April 13, 1674
  4. Hannah, b. Billerica, MA Jan. 25, 1676, d. Jan. 2, 1766, m. Sept. 5, 1693 John Child, b. Watertown, MA April 25, 1669, d. Waltham, MA before 1748

Death and Probate

William French passed away on November 20, 1681, in Billerica at the age of 78. His death record refers to him as Lieutenant. On June 5, 1679, he drafted his will, identifying himself as aged abt. seaventy & six years at the time. Prior to executing his will, William had already made arrangements for his children. However, he did bequeath certain items to his grandchildren. His wife and son Jacob were appointed as executors, with the will being witnessed by Samuel Whiting, Jr., and Jonathan Danforth, Sr.

Jonathan Danforth Senior and Patrick Hill conducted an inventory of Lieutenant William French's estate, which amounted to £231.12.10. The estate was divided among his widow and his daughters, namely Mary French (now Sharp), Sarah French, and Hannah French.[10]

William French was born in about 1604 in England . This would have made him 30 years old when embarked on the ship Defence in 1635 (and that is exactly the age that is recorded on the passenger list). His age was inflated about 3 years over his actual age when he made his will much later in life. His mother (first wife of William French Sr.) is unknown, but is sometimes said to be Elizabeth. Source:

(from French Page ) William French was married in England where four of his children were born. He emigrated to America in the summer of 1635 in the ship Defence. Mr. Shepard, in his autobiography, says he set out for New England with a group "in the year 1634, about the beginning of winter" and embarked at Harwich. They were driven back by stress of weather and the voyage was abandoned. However, they embarked again on August 10, 1635 "and so the Lord after many sad storms and wearisome days and many longings to see the shore, brought us to the sight of it upon Oct. 2, 1635". They landed at Boston on the third. Two days later the congregation moved to Cambridge where they found many empty homes and people willing to sell because of the exodus of Reverend Hooker's flock to Hartford. The Cutter family may also have been among this group especially based on their stories of a difficult voyage. William first settled in Cambridge, where he resided on the westerly side of Dunster Street about midway between Harvard Square and Mt. Auburn Street, which estate he bought in 1639 and sold to William Barrett June 10, 1656.

William French was one of the original proprietors of Billerica and was granted lot 24 of 150 acres in the Shawshine grant in 1652. He was referred to as Liet. William French. The Shawshine Plantation later became the town of Billerica, the name change coming by order of the court on May 23, 1655. He settled there early and was a captain in the militia. He became a deacon in 1659 and was also a commissioner to establish country rates. In 1660 he was elected a Selectman, a seat which he held for nine years. In 1661 he was one of a committee to examine children and servants in reading, religion, and catechism. William French was the first Deputy (i.e. representative) of Billerica to the General Court.

William died in Billerica on Nov. 20, 1681 in his 78th year. His death record lists him as Lieutenant. His will was dated June 5, 1679 at which time he called himself "aged abt. seaventy & six years". William had already provided for his children prior to the time of writing his will. However he did make bequests to his grand children. These bequests were: "to the eldest son of John French to Wm the son of Jacob French to Elizabeth ye Daughter Richard Ellis to Jonathan ye Son of Jonathan Hides, to ye Eldest Daughter of Jonathan Peake, to Marah ye Daughter of Jno Brackett, which are all my grand children". His wife and son Jacob were made executors. The will was witnessed by Samuel Whiting, Jr. and Jonathan Danforth, Sr.. "Inventory of the Estate of Lt. Wm French of Billerica who deced. 20 November 1681 being in his 78 year of his age" was taken by Jonathan Danforth Senior and Patrick Hill and amounted to 231.12.10. Division of the estate was made to the widow and to daughters Mary French (now Sharp), Sarah French, and Hannah French.

William had a brother John in Cambridge who was buried Feb. 16, 1645-6. John's wife Joanna was buried Jan. 20, 1645-6. They had children born from about 1635 through 1643. John was also a tailor. William French of Billerica administered upon the estate and sold the homestead to Robert Browne in 1657. Richard French of Cambridge was probably also a brother to William. His wife was Martha, and they had a son Samuel, born July 13, 1653. He bought land on Jan. 26, 1651-2 and sold it Oct. 8, 1654, after which time there is no further record of him.


“French, Capt. William, 1604-1681, Cambridge and Billerica, Mass. Lieut., 1647. A. & H. A. Co., 1638. Junior Sergt., 1643. First Sergt., 1646. Ens., 1650. Representative, 1660-’63. Capt. Of Art. Co., 1681."[11]

In 1639, member[11] of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts[12]

Research Notes

Updates Needed This profile needs to be updated with the latest research: Winter 2023 NEHGR includes an article The English Origins and Family of Brothers William1 French and John1 French of Cambridge, Massachusetts by Kory L. Meyerink. The article reviews previous research and makes a case that William and John were the grandsons of Jacob French (abt.1553-1615) andSusan (Warren) French (abt.1554-1613) of Bures St. Mary, Suffolk, through son William and his wife Elizabeth Newes. The editor states: "Despite many gaps in early seventeenth-century parish registers, the author builds a convincing case for the brothers’ origins in the parishes of Assington and Bures St. Mary, Suffolk, based on family associations, geography, naming patterns, and most importantly, -Y-DNA research."[13]

Disputed Daughter: Rebecca French (1630-1647) was previously attached as a daughter. The connection was severed as no reliable sources could be found that suggested William French had a daughter Rebecca.

Francis French of Derby, CT is not related: Recent Y-DNA evidence has shown that Francis French is probably not related to William and John French of Cambridge, nor is the same Francis who came on the Defence with William.

Who was Francis French, age 10, Defence Passenger? There are several theories He is sometimes said to be William's son, although Anderson points out that if the age 10 is accurate, he only would have been about twenty when Francis was born which is not impossible, but younger than most men of the time. Another theory is that he was his youngest brother, a half-brother (to account for the age difference), and that his stepmother died in childbirth, with William adopting Francis into his family.[14] This is possible, although there is nothing to support it. [Note that the French Family Association specifically mentions Elizabeth Symmes as the step-mother, which seems unlikely as the introduction of "Symmes" into the French tree would be related to William's wife, not his mother]. Yet another theory proposes that he is the child of Francis Scargill and Elizabeth Godfrey, but this has been disproven. Additional speculation can be found here:

Possible Matching Records:

Notable Descendants:
William French is related to US President George Bush. Here is the trail.

William French is the direct ancestor of Presidents George W.H. Bush and George W. Bush.


  1. Meyerink, Kory L. "The English Origins and Family of Brothers William1 French and John1 French of Cambridge, Massachusetts." The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Vol 177 (Winter 2023), pages 31-44. link for subscribers
  2. Hotten, John Camden. The Original Lists of Persons of Quality (J.W. Bouton, New York, 1874) pp 99-100 Internet Archive.
  3. "Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986"
    Catalog: Record books of the registry of deeds, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1649-1900; indexes: grantee (1639-1905) and grantor (1639-1950) Deeds, vol. 1-3 1649-1670
    Image path: Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986 > Middlesex > Deeds 1649-1670 vol 1-3 > image 176 of 645. Vol 1, page 205. "William French, of Cambridge,....taylor, to William Barrett"
    FamilySearch Image: 3QS7-99Z7-GCDB (accessed 9 July 2023)
  4. "Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986"
    Catalog: Record books of the registry of deeds, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1649-1900; indexes: grantee (1639-1905) and grantor (1639-1950) Deeds, vol. 1-3 1649-1670
    Image path: Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986 > Middlesex > Deeds 1649-1670 vol 1-3 > image 425 of 645, Vol 3, page 38. ""William French, of Cambridge,....taylor"
    FamilySearch Image: 3QS7-L9Z7-G8HZ (accessed 9 July 2023)
  5. Shurtleff, Nathaniel. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (William White, Boston, 1853) Vol 1, p 137. Internet Achive.
  6. Billerica. F. Apthorp Foster, Ed. Vital Records of Billerica Massachusetts to the Year 1850. (Boston: NEHGS, 1908). p 259. Internet Archive. "FRENCH, William, Lt., and Mary Stearns, wid., May 6 1669."
  7. "Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001"
    citing Marriage, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, British Colonial America, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, Boston; FHL microfilm 004198966.
    FamilySearch Record: FCSH-GX6 (accessed 9 July 2023)
    FamilySearch Image: 3QS7-L9QY-H3XW Image number 00240
    Mary French marriage to Isaac Mixar on 29 Jun 1687 in Billerica, Middlesex, Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  8. Vital Records of Billerica, p. 345. Internet Archive
  9. French, Mara. "Chart #2, William French, 1605 Billerica, MA" French Family Association website. Last updated 5/19/10.
  10. * Probate records 1648--1924 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts): "Probate records 1648--1924 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts)"
    Catalog: Probate records 1648--1924 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts) Probate records (originals) v. 4-6 1672-1705
    Film number: 007554514 > image 313 of 616
    FamilySearch Image: 3QS7-89D5-YVWF (accessed 9 July 2023)
  11. 11.0 11.1 General register of the Society of colonial wars, 1899-1902; Society of colonial wars. New York: H. K. Brewer & co. 1902. p. 573.]
  12. Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. Roll of Members of the Military Company of the Massachusetts: Now Called the Ancient And Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, With a Roster of the Commissioned Officers And Preachers, 1638-1894. Boston: [Press of A. Mudge & son], 1895. p 6. HathiTrust.
  13. Meyerink, Kory L. "The English Origins and Family of Brothers William1 French and John1 French of Cambridge, Massachusetts." The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Vol 177 (Winter 2023), pages 31-44. link for subscribers
  14. French Family Association Website
  15. Baptismal Record, Essex [(]

See also:

  • General register of the Society of colonial wars, 1899-1902; Society of colonial wars. New York: H. K. Brewer & co. 1902. [1] “French, Capt. William, 1604- 1681, Cambridge and Billerica, Mass. Lieut., 1647. A. & H. A. Co., 1638. Junior Sergt, 1643. First Sergt., 1646. Ens., 1650. Representative, 1660- '63. Capt. of Art. Co., 1681.”
  • Marshall, William T. Title: Marshall Family Abbreviation: Marshall Family Publication: RootsWeb/4 Jan 2008 Note: For info on French family, author cites: French, John M, "Lieut. William French and his Descendants" [1890]; and Hazen, Henry A,, "History of Billerica, with Genealogical Register" [Boston, MA: A Williams, 1883].

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Comments: 27

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I'm going to attempt to update the bio with the latest research from NEHGR winter 2023. (See Research Notes). I've added a new origins section that briefly cover the parents which have been switched out. I'll also need to work on a full bio as currently its mostly cut and paste, and not fully sourced. If anyone would like to help in this effort let me know!
posted by M Cole
William French-20 and William French-2080 are dupes and should be merged. Hope the England project and the Puritan Great Migration can pull this off :) have entered sources on Elizabeth Symmes Unknown-202689 and Symmes-114 (dupes also) to help
posted by Clint Stewart
Hi Clint. William French-20 is the son of William French-2080 (so don't think they should be merged). It is difficult when the names are repeated in the generations (i.e. William's married to Elizabeth's.

We're actually in the process of revising that based on newly published research. The new father will be French-1789 (And he is not the same person as French-2080).

posted by M Cole
French-41 and French-20 do not represent the same person because: wrong dates and places
posted by Edwin Reffell
The Meyerink article cited above includes two additional children: French-15908 and French-15907

The Meyerink article does not include a child with the name Rebecca. "Vital records of Cambridge..." does not list a child by the name of Rebecca with a death date given in her profile. Rebecca's profile is currently unsourced and should probably be removed as William's child.

posted by Rick Pierpont
I posted to Rebecca's profile and received no reply. I've disconnected her profile and left Research Notes on the affected profiles.
posted by M Cole
Please remove his second Samuel as son - that Samuel belongs to Richard French: French-6658 and Martha Beare: Bear-794 - thanks
posted by Patricia (Long) Kent
Thanks, Patricia. That checks out with the French Family Association and the latest NEHGR. I've moved Samuel to the correct parents.
posted by M Cole
The latest NEHGR includes an article that proposes a different ancestry for William and his brother John: "The English Origins and Family of Brothers William1 French and John1 French of Cambridge, Massachusetts by Kory L. Meyerink" I've added a research note with some details.

Is anyone interested in reviewing the article and updating the profile (and possibly the parents, if there is agreement)? These aren't my descendants, but I found the argument to be quite convincing, or at least stronger than the current theory. If you're not an NEHGS member and need a copy of the article, please pm me! Thanks.

Also looks like the children for William need to be reviewed as they don't fully match the article, so it would be great if that could be looked at also!

posted by M Cole
French-2051 and French-20 appear to represent the same person because: It is generally accepted that William French-20 of Cambridge and Billerica, was the brother of John French-742, and the half brother of Francis French-1835. French-3509 and French-2080 each have a son William (French-20 and French-2051).

I am recommending that French-3509 and French-2080 be merged, and then that their duplicate sons William, French-2051 and French-20 be merged.

This will have the net effect of making William French-20 the brother of John French-742 and half brother of Francis French-1835

posted by Kay (Johnson) Wilson
Just adding a note here, that recent DNA research published in NEHGR suggests that Francis of Connecticut was not the same Francis related to John and William. See The English Origins and Family of Brothers William1 French and John1 French of Cambridge, Massachusetts by Kory L. Meyerink" NEHGR 177.
posted by M Cole

The origins of William French are unknown. I quote another researcher: "There are so many discrepancies and suppositions concerning the English ancestry of William FRENCH that it is best to omit all references to possibilities until such time as the conflicts are resolved." He definitely was not the William French reported in earlier genealogies as baptized in Halstead, Essex, England, on 15 Mar 1603; as a 1637 London, England, will for another William French has been found and proved to be the one born in Halstead. See NEHGR 65:284-86 and TGM.

posted by Steven Losey
edited by Steven Losey
Baptism record if someone would like to add it. Essex, England. rather than Essexshire. Son of William.

Halstead : St Andrew : Register of unspecified type : "Parish Register" database, FreeREG ( : viewed 14 Mar 2021) baptism William French 06 Apr 1606

posted by Michael Christmas
Done. Thanks Michael !

Possibly 'Essex' location is contemporary to the record, and 'Essexshire' was of the Baptismal time?

posted by Norm Davis III
Essex has never been a "shire"; Wikipedia has a very good overview and explanation of shires and non-shires at .
posted by Christopher Childs
Please mark daughter Mary French-176 as PGM, she emigrated 1635 on the "Defense" with her parents Em & Elizabeth as per GM book Vol II page 588
posted by Beryl Meehan
done, thank you Beryl........................ :-)
Two FAG Links William French and also here Captain William French

One is sponsored the other isn’t and no gravestone photo unfortunately

posted by Andrew Simpier
edited by Andrew Simpier
No photo so really cannot be used as source, unfortunately.
Jill—in the absence of any new information, I do not believe a change is in order. Your comment can stand as a sign that the information on this profile may be incorrect, which was already noted before you made your suggestion.
posted on French-2051 (merged) by Bob Nichol
Anderson states that Richard "was probably related to William and John in some way." I think he should be detached until further evidence is obtained.
posted on French-2051 (merged) by Jill (Neibaur) Olson
Someone did post this on French-742, which makes a good case for William being the father of both, but not of Richard. (DNA results are different.)

posted by Cathy (Kies) Bennett
There is a WikiTree profile for William French's brother John: French-742. But the two men have different fathers. According to Anderson's Great Migration Directory, page 122, the origins of the 2 men are not known. Should we remove William's "parents", French-3509 and Unknown-349728, and add Unknown French-2080 as his father, in order to show that the two men are brothers?
posted by Kay (Johnson) Wilson
Thanks Cathy. What's your source for this info ?
posted by Jillaine Smith
I believe that the Sarah that married John Trull was actually born in Oct 1637 and was the daughter of William's brother John.
posted by Cathy (Kies) Bennett
William French is said to have been born in 1605 or early 1606 and baptized on 06 April 1606, Halstead, Essexshire. His mother (first wife of William French Sr.) is unknown. Source:
posted by Kenneth Kinman

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