Rev Richard Denton
Richard Denton and his family would become pilgrims, choosing to escape the religious constraints of their time and to take their chances in the New World. Son to another Richard Denton and Susan Sibella.
Richard Denton was clearly a driven man. Born in Warley in Yorkshire, to a father of the same name and his mother may have been Jane Harclaye. He was baptised in April 1603 at the parish church of Halifax.
Denton graduated at twenty years olf from St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained as a Deacon in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire on 9 March 1623 and as a Priest on 8 June 1623. He married Lady Helen Windebank the same year.
By 1628 he was the pastor at the Chapel of Turton, just north of Bolton in Lancashire (today it is St Anne’s). He then became the curate at Coley Chapel back near Halifax, Yorkshire. Thus at this stage he was still an establishment religious figure.
It is not recorded when or why Richard became a non-conformist Presbyterian but these were trying times for religion as the king and parliament were about to spark the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, one of these better known as the English Civil War.
Presbyterians believed that the church should be run by a council of church elders, not the parishioners (Congregationalists), not the bishops (Episcopalians) and certainly not a pope (Roman Catholics).
Charles I and Archbishop Laud were at odds with their subjects in the three kingdoms (England [and Wales], Scotland and Ireland) and, frustrated by his parliament, the king did not permit its assembly for eleven years (from 1629-1640), he unilaterally re-introduced a host of old feudal taxes and levies which further raised tension. Charles I had taken a Roman Catholic wife and many of his and Laud’s religious reforms appeared to many to be a return to ritualistic Catholicism.
Richard’s Presbytarianism may have had something to do with the ‘Book of Sports‘ controversy. It had long been a custom in England that Sunday mornings were dedicated to Christian worship, and were then followed by sports and games on Sunday afternoons. The Puritans objected to the practice of Sunday sports, believing that playing games on the Sabbath constituted a violation of the Fourth Commandment.
One of the ‘Great Migration’ ships of the 17th century
This was one of the issues that led to the ‘Great Migration’ of Puritans to New England, Jamaica and Barbados during the 1620s and 1630s. It had however been underway for several years when Richard Denton and his young sons led a large group of Presbyterians to Massachusetts in the 1630s. Their four-month voyage would have been arduous. I have identified various ships on which he is said to have sailed (the James, the Arabella…) but as yet can find no manifest that actually lists him and his family. But he certainly arrived there on some boat or other.
The first fleet to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony was led by John Winthrop from Suffolk who was elected governor of what he described as a ‘city upon a hill’. Winthrop led the colony’s development for its first twelve years.
Reverend Richard Denton proved restless upon arrival, moving between the early religious communities until he eventually founded his own on Long Island.
Richard went first to Watertown, Massachusetts, initially known as the Saltonstall Plantation. He taught at the church there from 1634 but he arrived after most of the land had already been claimed and soon ended up at odds with the church leaders, or as they called themselves, the ‘oligarchy of the divines’. He did not stay there for long.
A group had explored the Connecticut River, and it was here that Richard established the Wethersfield community with himself as its leader. It makes claim to be Ye Most Auncient Towne in Connecticut.
Richard took twenty-five families with him and was personally allocated a house plot close to the church, indicating his significance. However, factional disputes, more political than religious, came to a head and Richard and his supporters chose to leave the community.
By 1638 a further group had established the New Haven colony and in 1641 Richard was an early settler in one of its six towns, Stamford in Connecticut.
[ASIDE: When I visited Stamford and stayed there in the 1970s it proudly proclaimed itself as the ‘Insurance Capital of the World’, it does not appear to be used as a term today, though it was the home to nine Fortune 500 companies in 2019.]
Clearly Richard was persuasive, as eighteen of the twenty-five families that followed him to Wethersfield also followed him on to Stamford. Here he was allocated fourteen acres as part of an initial twenty-eight family community. Their first church meeting was held on 19 Oct 1641. However, Richard stayed there for just a short while. Further disputes arose when he apparently opined that only church members should be permitted to vote in town meetings.
He charged two of his followers, Rev Robert Fordham and John Carman, to cross the Long Island Sound and to investigate moving on to what was then Dutch-controlled Nassau Island (today it is Long Island). The pair negotiated with the local indigenous American Indians – Marsapeague (Massapequa), Mericock (Merrick), Matinecock and Rekowake (Rockaway) – acquiring 64,000 acres in exchange for items that would not fetch $100 today. However, the trinkets had symbolic and spiritual importance to the indigenes.
This transaction is depicted in a mural at the Hempstead Village Hall, it was reproduced from a poster commemorating the 300th anniversary of Hempstead Village.
A subsequent deed dated 13 December 1643 was obtained from Dutch Governor Kieft who agreed they could create a town. This was named Hempstead, perhaps because Richard’s colleague John Carman had been born in Hemel Hempstead in the UK. [Hempstead today is a town, consisting of 22 villages and 38 hamlets with some 800,000 population.]
As early as 1644, Denton had relocated his congregation to Hempstead, Long Island, situating themselves within Dutch rule and law. All inhabitants were allowed to vote in New Netherland, and the Denton congregation made it a requirement to do so; they were likely barred from voting in Puritan territory.
However, this was not the end of Denton’s interactions with his own people, for he is said to have preached to English soldiers at the military fort in New Amsterdam during the Indian wars.
Richard managed to keep his community neutral in the first Anglo-Dutch War (1652-4), earning the praise of the local leader of New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant (later to lend his name to the cigarette brand!). Local Dutch churchmen declared Richard to be sound in faith, of a friendly disposition, and beloved by all. They described his congregation as both Presbyterian and Congregationalist.
The church was troubled by friction in the congregation between Independents and Presbyterians/ Puritans. In 1657 Governor Stuyvesant visited Hempstead, and used his influence to persuade Rev Denton to continue his ministry there, his own Church affinities inclining him to favour the Presbyterian form of government. But the Independents gained control. These continued dissensions need to be considered against the background of an increase in Quakerism, and the establishment of Episcopacy under the English rule, the Presbyterian Church gradually declined and passed out of sight as an organised body.
In 1657 Richard, fell out with the community ostensibly over his salary and moved off to Virginia. But he didn’t settle there either, and had returned by 1658.
However, in 1659, when he was left a legacy of £400 by a friend in England, he used this to sail back to England and based himself in Essex, where he died in 1663.
His tombstone in Dulverton Somerset says, in Latin, Here lies the dust of Richard Denton. O’er his low peaceful grave bends the perennial cypress, fit emblem of his unfading fame. On earth his bright example, religious light, shown forth o’er multitudes. In heaven his pure rob’d spirit shines like an effulgent star.
Cotton Mather, a famous preacher with whom Richard worked, said in his memoirs, Rev Denton was a highly religious man with strong Presbyterian beliefs. He was a small man with only one eye, but in the pulpit he could sway a congregation like he was nine feet tall.
Several sources today suggest that all the Dentons in the United States are descendants of the Rev Richard Denton. There are several instances of other Dentons who lived in America but none of these appear to have left descendants named Denton. Even so this is quite a bold claim!
These American Dentons may appear to be rather remote relatives but let’s first try to contextualise the Rev Richard Denton and his lineage:
|John Denton, 1445-1497 (an alternative GGF13)|
Born in Amersden, Buckinghamshire and died in
|wife: Isabell Denton (Brome/Purefoy) 1436-1470,|
her father was John Brome, 1410-1468
children: they had three sons:
John Denton 1458-1498. my GU13
Thomas Denton of Fyfield 1464-1560 my GGF 12
James Denton LLD, 1474-1533, mu GU13
|James Denton LLD|
1474-1533, born in Halifax Yorjshire
died in Ludlow Salop
|wife?: Sarah Jane Webb, 1468-1560|
children: James Denton of Ovenden (below).
|James Denton of Ovenden|
1492 – 10 Sep 1548
born and died in Halifax, Yorkshire
|wife: Margaret Spencer, c1492-?|
children: they had four sons:
Sir Richard Denton of Calderdale,
1517-10 Aug 1561
Thomas Denton 1517-1548 (a twin?)
Gilbert Denton, 1520-1583
Henry Denton, ?
|Sir Richard Denton of Calderdale,|
1517-10 Aug 1561
|wife: Gennett (or Jenetta) Banyster |
1507 – 3 Aug 1561,
born and died in Halifax Yorkshire
John Denton, 29 Sep 1548 – ?, Halifax Yorks
Janet Denton, 1549 – ? Halifax Yorks
Richard Denton, pre-17 Sep 1557- 9 Dec 1619
Samuelis Denton, 1561-?
|Richard Denton, pre-17 Sep 1557 – 9 Dec 1619|
Worley Halifax Yorkshire England
|first wife: Jane Harclaye. ? – c1590?,|
no data on birth location
married: 21 October 1577
– John Denton, Warley, Halifax, Yorks
16 Jul 1582-1633
– Thomas Denton, 1584 – ?
– Alice Denton, St Albans, Herts
14 Nov 1584 – 14 Nov 1585
– Susan Denton, St Albans, Herts
22 Oct, 1588
– Margaret Denton, St Albans, Herts
10 Jan 1590 –
second wife: Susan Sibella, 2 Mar 1563 – 1655,
born and died in St Albans, Herts
married: 2 Mar 1590 in Warley, Halifax, Yorkshire
– Abraham Denton, Halifax Yorks, 1600-?
– Richard Denton (Reverend), Warley Yorks
19 Apr 1603-1663
– William Denton, 1605-1691
|Reverend Richard Denton (below) 10 Apr 1603-1663|
born in Halifax, Yorkshire. England,
died in Essex England, yet is reported to have been buried in Dulverton, Somerset, England
|wife: an unknown first wife is surmised, with whom he probably had John William, Richard and Sarah (see below) |
Lady Helen Windeback, 1 Feb 1594-1656
born in Hurst, Berkshire, England, died in Dorset. There are alternative suggestions as to his wife, but we concluded it was Lady Helen.
married: 16 November 1623 at St Saviour, Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral), London
born while living in Halifax were:
with first wife?
– John William 1618-1664
– Richard 1620-1658
– Sarah 1623-1681
with Lady Helen:
– Daniel 1625-1703
born at Bolton Priory Turton Lancashire:
– Timothy pre 23 Jul 1627 – 28 Jul 1631
– Nathaniel 9 Mar 1629 – 18 Oct 1690
– Samuel (Admiral) 29 May 1631 – 20 Mar 1713
born in Coley, Yorkshire or Stringston, Somerset:
– Phebe (or Phoebe) 30 Nov 1634 – 18 Oct 1658
born in Hempstead, New York:
– a second John 1636-1664
This simple family tree hopefully indicates how our Denton family connects with Rev Richard.
|Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB:|
– GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
– GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
– 1C3 – means first cousin three times removed