Hi Mike.Yea, Major General Humphrey Atherton was quite a character it seems.His history is a bit sketchy prior to his arrival in Dorchester, Massachusetts; with various sources telling different stories that at times conflict with each other.
He was supposed to have arrived in Boston in 1653 aboard the emigrant ship “James of England,” along with his brother James from Briston, England.Some sources say that another brother, Joshua, was on board; while others say that Humphrey and James were half-brothers.There were about a hundred people on that ship; but there are no passenger lists that survived.
“The Memoir of the Honorable Joshua Atherton (1852),” was written by Joshua’s son, Charles Humprhey Atherton (1773-1853), a Congressman from New Hampshire from 1815 to 1817 and Senator from 1823 to 1839.His grandfather was James Atherton, who he says “was probably the brother of Humphrey Atherton,” and “it is believed that he arrived with Humphrey at Boston on the 17th day of August, 1635, in the ship James, from Bristol.”The full text is available online here:
The author gives, as evidence, the family tradition of naming their children Humphrey among other things; and mentions that Humprey Atherton was “admitted as a member of Rev. Richard Mather’s church in 1636, and as a freeman in 1637.”Mather was one of the few names to have been verified to have been on the ship “James,” from journals of others onboard.He goes on to outline his military career in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company where he was a commander from 1650 to 1658, the commander of the Suffolk Regiment, and as commander of the military forces of the Colony as Major General.
In “History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts,” by Ebenezer Clapp (1809-1881), published in 1859 by the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society, the first reference to Humphrey Atherton is in the Church Records of 1636, where it is said “he arrived in Boston in the ship James, Capt. Taylor, August 7, 1635,” and acknowledged his service in the Narraganset country.Upon his death, Humphrey Atherton is mentioned, saying that “there is no doubt his death occurred on the 17th of September, instead of the 16th, as incribed on his monument -- probably soon after 12 o’clock at night on the 16th.”He was “killed by a fall from his horse at ye south end of Boston, as he was coming homewards, his horse either running over a standing cow that lay down in ye way.”
An interesting story is told of how Humphrey Atherton was instrumental in bringing about the execution of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft in Boston on June 19, 1656.Hibbins was later fictionalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”There’s an account of it in “Epitaphs from the Old Burying Ground in Dorchester, Massachusets,” by Harlow Elliott Woodward, published in 1869.
“Atherton, as a believer in witches, felt it to be a duty which he owed to God and to his Country to mete out to the poor creatures, against whom accusations were brought, the punishment, which, in his opinion, they so richly merited.”
In this book, Humprey Atherton’s death is described quite graphically by Quakers, who thought that it was a visitation of wrath from God because of his persecution of Quakers and his responsibility in murdering those who he believed to have been witches.
My opinion is that because of his military accomplishments, Major General Humphrey Atherton was awarded by being chosen as town selectman, town treasurer, deputy to the General Court, and speaker representing the town of Springfield; as well as being picked by the colonial government for service in both civil and military affairs.As to his connection with the Athertons of Winstanley, it’s all speculation.As far as I know, there are no records of Edmund Atherton having a son named Humphrey.In researching the Athertons of Lancaster, Massachusetts and their subsequent move to the Fredericton, New Brunswick area and eventually into Maine and then back to Massachusetts where my friend Carol’s family lived, I am convinced only as far back as James Atherton who helped to establish the town of Lancaster, Massachusetts with his wife Hanna.
Wilfred Paul Morrissette, Newburyport, Massacusetts.