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Captain John Luther of Taunton, Massachusetts 2021 Research

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Date: 1638 [unknown]
Location: Taunton, Massachusetts Bay Colonymap
Surname/tag: Luther, Luter
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Current research on John Luther, early immigrant to Taunton who was killed in 1644. His origins may have been in Bridport, Dorset, England. Supplements earlier research on this man. The text below represents the "article style" research done by Larry Luther, wikitree member and descendant of John Luther. The attached pdf is the article in it's original format as written by Mr. Luther.


This profile is part of the Luther Name Study.

The life and descendants of Captain John Luther have been extensively studied.1 He was probably born between 1596 and 16162 in Dorset County, England.3 His actual last name may have been originally Luter, although he seems to have used the name Luther.4 He was a seaman, who just before the end of his life served as a master (captain) of a bark or pinnace in Massachusetts.5 Although we do not know When Captain John Luther first came to New England, he likely emigrated from England to Massachusetts between 1630 and 1638.6

He married a woman called Elizabeth,2 whose maiden name is not known. There are no marriage records or other probative evidence in New England as to where or when that happened.

*Supplemental note: The profile of the wife of this John Luther, Elizabeth Unknown contains information presenting the idea that she may have been Elizabeth Addams, daughter of Henry, born about 1603 in Abbotsbury about 10 miles from Bridport.

In 1638, John Luther was one of the 46 initial land owners and residents ("the ancient purchasers") of Taunton, Massachusetts, who acquired parcels within a tract of land sold by Great Chief Massasoit Ousamequin of the Pokanoket Indian Tribe.8 The location and size of his Taunton property is in question.9 In 1643, Luther was not listed as a male in Taunton subject to military duty, indicating he no longer lived there.10

Between 1639 and 1642, Luther probably acquired a parcel of land along the harbor front in Gloucester, Massachusetts.11 This land was sold to John Collins, likely in 1642, but same was recorded in the land records in 1649.12

On March 7, 1644, the General Court of Massachusetts granted seven Boston businessmen the right to establish a company of adventurers to engage in trading, presumably including furs.13 In the fall of 1844, Luther served as the Master (Captain) of a bark or pinnace employed by that Boston company in fur trading in Delaware Bay. There are two accounts of his death on this trip, both of which appear in Volume II of Winthrop’s Journal.14

The first account in 164415 appears at page 204, as follows:

"A bark was sent out from Boston with seven men to trade at Delaware. They staid in the river near the English plantation all winter, and in the spring they fell down, and traded three weeks, and had gotten five hundred skins, and some otter, etc., and being ready to come away, fifteen Indians came aboard, as if they would trade again, and suddenly they drew forth hatchets from under their coats, and killed the master and three others, and rifled the bark, and carried away a boy, and another man, who was the interpreter; and when they came on shore, they gave him forty skins, and twenty fathom of wampom, and other things, and kept them till about six weeks after. The Swedish governor procured another sachem to fetch them to him, who sent them to New Haven by a bark of that place, and so they were brought to Boston (5) 14, 45, (July 14, 1645) the man as a prisoner."

The second account in 1645 appears at page 236:

"The merchants of Boston sent a pinnace the last winter to trade in Delaware Bay. She traded upon Maryland side, and had gotten a good parcel of beaver; at last the Indians came aboard, and while the English (who were about five and a boy) were trading with some of them, others drew out hatchets from under their coats, and killed the master and three others, and took the other and the boy, and carried them on shore, and rifled the pinnace of all her goods and sails, etc. Soon after, other Indians came upon these and slew the sachem, and took away all their goods they had stolen. There was one Redman suspected to have betrayed their pinnace, for he being linkister (because he could speak the language) and being put out of that employment for his evil carriage, did bear ill will to the master, and the Indians spared him, and gave him a good part of the spoil, and he lived among them five or six weeks, till the Swedish governor procured other Indians to go fetch him and the boy to his fort, from whence they were brought to Boston, and the said Redman was tried for his life, and being found guilty by the grand jury, was deferred his farther trial in expectation of more evidence to come from Delaware."

The two versions are very similar in substance and detail, but there are minor variations. Where they are in conflict, the second version might be preferred, being later in time and containing details of the interpreter (Redman) who was charged with murder and the disposition of his case, which was not included in the first version. The voyage apparently began in the fall of 1644, Captain Luther and crew (including young son Samuel) spent the winter in Delaware Bay and he was killed by Indians there in the spring of 1645.16

On or about May 6, 1646, Elizabeth Luter, widow of Captain John Luther/Luter filed a petition with the General Court of Massachusetts claiming payment of the wages owing her late husband by his employers for his ill fated trip to Delaware Bay.17 On May 22 1646, the General Court decreed that the Widow Luther should have the balance of her husband's wages according to sea custom and justice, after the merchants had been reimbursed for expenses incurred in redeeming her son Samuel Luther18 from the Indians who had custody of him.19


John Luther (by wife Elizabeth) had only two known children:

  1. Samuel, born about 163620
  2. Hezekiah, born about 1639 to 164021

Note: This biography does not incorporate the New Research on Captain John Luther/Luter from 2020 about the possible origins of Captain John Luther, as represented by John Luter Jr., his wife Elizabeth Addams, their son Samuel/Samuell and other children, who were from Bridport, Dorset, England, which research was submitted to Wikitree by Larry Luther in 2020, particulars of which appear in this profile.

A previous version of this profile, citing only online trees, claimed additional children for whom there is no evidence; they are being detached:

Sources and Footnotes

1) Genealogical research on Capt. John Luther is known to have began by Sylvester Marble Luther in 1864 and has been carried on by his successor genealogists and family members until the present time. The Luther Family Association (“LFA”) was formed in 1937 and continues today to continue the research and compilation of the descendants of Captain John Luther and to study his origins and life.

The most extensive genealogical source about Captain John Luther and his descendants is ”The Luther Genealogy, A History of the Descendants of CAPTAIN JOHN LUTHER Who Arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony 1630 – 1635” (the “Luther Family Genealogy”), edited and compiled by George A. Luther and published under the patronage of LFA in 2001. There were predecessor versions of this publication published in 1955 and 1976, both written and compiled by Leslie L. Luther, under the patronage of LFA.

2) This is an estimated range of his birthdate, based on Luther being between 20 & 40 years old on the est’d. birthdate of his son Samuel. The best evidence in Massachusetts of Samuel’s birthdate is his grave stone in Kickemuitt Cemetery, Serpentine Road, Warren, Rhode Island, which contains the following inscription: “HERE LYETH Ye BODY OF ELDER SAMUELL LUTHER, AGED ABOUT 80 YEARS, & DIED DECEMBER Ye 20th 1716.” This indicates that Samuell Luther was born about 1636.

The Luther Family Genealogy indicates on page 30 that the birth date of Captain John Luther is circa 1595 to 1605, presumably an estimated birthdate range.

3) The Luther Family Genealogy also indicates on page 30 that “It was the final conclusion of both Joseph Gardner (JGL) and Sylvester Marble Luther (SML) (two prominent Luther Family Genealogists) that Capt. John Luther came from Dorset. On pages 30 & 31 thereof, the reasons for Luther potentially having origins in Dorset are set out, namely the presence of Dorset residents in the Great Puritan Migration from England to New England, including the Dorchester (Dorset) Company and the followers of Elizabeth Pole/Poole, the presence in Dorset of families with the name Luther, its proximity to the sea & the influence of the charismatic Rev. John White of Dorchester, Dorset, who encouraged many Dorset people to emigrate to New England. This supposition in the Luther Family Genealogy, while having some logic and merit, is not based on any parish, governmental, land or other documents or records directly pertaining to Captain John found by George A. Luther or his predecessor LFA genealogists.

In the summary table for Captain John on page 30 of the Luther Family Genealogy, the place of birth of Captain John Luther is stated to be “prob. (probably) Great Canford, Dorsetshire, England c. 1595/1605”. The mention of Great Canford as a probable place of birth is seemingly in large part based on a letter received by Lt. John Turner Luther (a great grandson of Capt. John Luther) dated February 11 1726 from one John Luthear/ Lothear from Great Canford, (set out & discussed in Luther Family Genealogy at page 25). He claimed “a large estate fallen to me” presumably in New England of which had apparently heard. He said that “I think I may make bowl to call you kin- though unnone” (unknown). This potential inheritance in fact did not seem to have existed and the original of the letter appears to have been lost. Since the letter writer says he is some 80 years old, he would have been born about 1746, shortly after Capt. John’s death. There has been no evidence found of Luthers in Great Canford in the life time of Captain John Luther/Luter or earlier or of Luters there at all up to 1700. Parish records are unavailable for Great Canford prior to 1656. This letter alone hardly seems to be enough to conclude that Capt. John was from Great Canford, absent other compelling evidence. But it does support parish records that there were Luthers/Luthears/Lothears ) living in Great Canford and in Dorset after the death of Captain John. Parish and other records also verify that there were several Luthers living in Corfe Castle, Dorset after the death of Captain John Luther.

4) Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1629 – 1799, vol. 30, p.22 (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9Y5-XKBS?i=960&cat=1055547) contains a Petition dated May 22 1646 to the General Court of Massachusetts (the “Elizabeth Luter Petititon”), whereunder one Elizabeth Luter claimed compensation arising from the murder by Indians while fur trading in Delaware Bay of her husband, who has been identified by historians and New England records as Captain John Luther/Luter, The fact that this legal document showed her last name as Luter in two places, indicates that this was her legal last name & that of her husband. It is probable that they adopted the last name Luther, as that appears in most historical references to Captain John, and his sons used the last name Luther.

5) Winthrop’s Journal 1630-1649, edited by James Kendall Hosmer and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1908 at pages 210-11 & 246-7 (“Winthrop’s Journal”) mentions the murder by Indians in 1645 of a master and the kidnapping of his son by Indians while fur trading in Delaware Bay. According to the Elizabeth Luter Petition, the master was her husband Captain John Luther/Luter..

6) See footnotes 8 & 9 for the first mentions of John Luther’s presence in Massachusetts.

7) See Elizabeth Luter Petition in foregoing footnote 4.

8) Samuel Hopkins Emery, “History of Taunton, Massachusetts”, published by D. Mason & Co. 1893, pages 28-30 & 62. (information obtained by the author from a document setting out the first purchasers presented to a town meeting in 1680 and transcribed by John Wilborne, Proprietors’ Clerk, Town of Taunton).

Also see Francis Baylies, “An Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth”, published by Wiggin & Luant, Boston, 1866, Volume 1, page 286, showing John Luther as one of the first proprietors holding 6 of 424 shares of the parcel of land Also see page 279 being a 1675 list in the Taunton town-book of the proprietors of the Town of Taunton indicating that certain land was owned by James Walker on his own rights, on that which was Mr. John Browne’s and on the rights that was John Luther’s, meaning John Luther was the first owner of the property.

9) Luther Family Genealogy, p 31: “The records show that Capt. John Luther was a member of her (Elizabeth Pole/Poole’s) company, 27th on the list of 46 purchasers, that he paid his part, and was assigned 6 shares. The total purchase was about 640 acres, and by totaling the number of shares recorded in 1639 it appears his purchase consisted of slightly over 9 acres.” This calculation does seem to be mathematically correct and is consistent with the findings of Baylies, see footnote 8 above.

The Luther Family Association Newsletter (“LFA Newsletter”), Number 95 dated August 2010 at pages 5 to 8 contains an article entitled “Captain John’s Property”. As a result of a visit by LFA Genealogist George A. Luther and his wife to Taunton’s Old Colonial Historical Society (“OCHS”) in 2006, an examination of maps at OCHS led George A. Luther and his wife led to conclude that a 9 acre plot on the Three Mile River near where it joins the Taunton River was likely John Luther’s Taunton property. But some time later, when George A. Luther visited Taunton, the director of the OCHS presented him with a map and letter with “a clearly drawn plot sketched in and labeled “John Luther’s Taunton property, 1637-1642”. This plot appeared to be of about 1,400’ frontage on the west bank of the Taunton River and 654’ deep which would equal 21 acres. We feel that this map, apparently the result of research by Old Colony, combined with the fact that the Taunton is much wider than the Three Mile River prompts us to accept the OCHS specification as the best.” (foregoing quotation at p. 8). This may well be the location of the Luther Taunton property, but there is no indication in this article of the source of the latter map and identification of Luther’s property. Also, the 21 acre area is inconsistent with the calculation set out in the first paragraph of this footnote.

Samuel Hopkins Emery, “History of Taunton, Massachusetts” at p. 31 also indicates that the initial land owners held from six to twelve shares and that there was a total of 424 shares.

10) Francis Baylies, “An Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth”, Volume I, p.267

11) James R. Pringle, “History of the Town and City of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts”, published by the author 1869, p. 37:”Settlers named Ashley…Luther and several others lived along the harbor front. These were here before 1642 and may have been members of Mr. Thompson’s company.“ Note that Mr. Luther’s first name is not specified. Also see pp. 23-24 for more information about Thomson’s fish plantation. Although Mr. Pringle extensively researched the history of Gloucester, the source of his information about John Luther is unclear..

12) Luther Family Genealogy, p. 32: “John Luther sold his property to one John Collins probably about 1642, title to which was not recorded until 1649 thus giving the impression that he was alive at that time. The record is as follows: “John Collins 4Ackers of upland bought of Will Browne and John Luther together with 3 Ackers given by the Town Running from his house to the harbour…high water mark northerlie unto the north-east end of … swampe at the head of the Lotts.(First volume of Gloucester records, p. 24, personally copied 10 Aug 1931 by CFL)” Note CFL is LFA Genealogist Clair Franklin Luther. See also, History of Taunton, Massachusetts (footnote 8), p. 47: “JOHN LUTHER is mentioned once as disposing of land in the harbor to John Collins in 1649” See also p. 42: “JOHN COLLINS was in Salem in 1643, but came to Gloucester a short time afterwards, taking up his residence near the harbor.”.

13) Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Vol. II, printed by order of the Legislature, edited by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, M.D., published by the press of William White, printer to the Commonwealth, 1853, p. 60

14) John Winthrop, Esq., “The History of New England from 1630 to1649”, transcription and notes by James Savage, member of The Massachusetts Historical Society, published by Thomas B. Wait and Son in 1826. Winthrop’s Journals, the journals of The Governor of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, is one of the prime sources of early New England history. Volume I & III are in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Their librarian James Savage was permitted to review the original journals for his transcription, when unfortunately Volume II was destroyed by a fire at his office.in 1825. As a result, Savage’s transcription of Volume II is the only available text of same.

15) There is confusion about the timing of this account, since it occurred in Winthrop’s 1644 Journal, yet it refers to the interpreter (Redman) having been brought to Boston at a later date in 1645. In a foot note to this paragraph, Savage observes that in the margin of the original document which he examined was written “Luter killed by Indians” and a pen has been drawn twice across the paragraph and “See after 35” is added. This has been interpreted as a reference to the later 1645 Winthrop description of the Luther/Luter murder. Either Winthrop or someone having examined the manuscript prior to 1825 identified the master as having the last name “Luter”.

16) If Captain Luther’s death occurred in the spring prior to March 27, 1645, under our current Gregorian calendar, it would have been still 1644 under the Julian calendar, which was in effect in England at that time.

17) Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1629 – 1799, vol. 30, p.22 (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9Y5-XKBS?i=960&cat=1055547)

18) The son who accompanied Capt. Luther was very likely their eldest son in Massachusetts, Samuel, estimated to be about seven or eight years old when he went with his father on his last voyage, rather than their youngest son Hezekiah, who would have been about four or five years old.

19) Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Vol. II, p. 160 (see footnote 13). Note this record of the decree shows the widow’s last name as Luther, rather than Luter, which she used in the Elizabeth Luter Petition.

20) The Luther Family Association has never been able to identify with certainty the date or place of birth of Samuel Luther. The 1971 edition of their Luther Family Publication shows his birthdate as “MA 1636” (at page 38). This book, at page 71, has the following commentary: “Samuel Luther (#2), the elder son of Capt. John, was born according to an invariable tradition at Yocumtown (Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, Vol 1 (sic), p. 1001). No locality of this designation is known in Colonial history. The settlements were so few in 1636 and so well marked that this designation might be regarded as fictitious. However, one correspondent claims to have found evidence that this was an early Indian name for Taunton.” Having examined the source publication cited, published in 1908, the birth year cited stated therein (actually in Volume II) is 1638, not 1636, as indicated by the LFA History Book. In New England Families - Genealogical and Memorial, published 1915, Vol 2, p. 630 Samuel is also said to have been born in Yocumtown, about 1636-1637. None of the three above publications could assign an exact date to Samuel’s birth. As a result, one can only conclude that they are estimating his year of birth. Neither of the last two publications describes Samuel’s place of birth as an ”invariable tradition”. The best evidence in Massachusetts of Samuel’s birthdate is his grave stone in Kickemuitt Cemetery, which contains the following inscription: “HERE LYETH Ye BODY OF ELDER SAMUELL LUTHER, AGED ABOUT 80 YEARS, & DIED DECEMBER Ye 20th 1716.” The gravestone wording indicates that the exact birth date of Samuel was unknown, but would be estimated to be 1636.

21) There are no known official records of Hezekiah Luther's birth, but by Luther Family Association tradition he is thought to have been born in 1639 or 1640 1639 in Boston Massachusetts (as per Luther Family Publication, page 82). Some have thought that he could have been born in Taunton, Mass., where his father Capt. John purchased real property in about 1638 as one of the first founders of the town. Captain John only owned this property for a short time, but it was around the time Hezekiah was likely born. However, Captain John also lived in Gloucester Mass. before 1642, so it is possible that Hezekiah could have been born there.

22) It has been suggested that Captain John’s wife Elizabeth Luter/Luther remarried Francis Weeks/Weekes after her husband’s death, but no proof of that occurrence has been established.

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