Henry Burt: from Devon Clothier to Colonial Farmer

When Springfield, Massachusetts pioneer Henry Burt died in 1662, an inventory of his estate showed that his belongings included a suit of clothes, a hat, a pound of hemp and flax, his house in the town and 14 acres of farmland nearby, livestock, three blankets and a rug, a brass pan and kettles, a chest and two guns.1 That list suggested Henry had lived a simple, but comfortable, life.

Henry probably brought his family to New England in 1638. Prior to that, he had been a successful clothier in Harberton, Devon, in southwest England, where he had inherited property from his father.2 At the time they immigrated, he and his wife, Ulalia March, had seven children ranging in age from an infant to 18 years old.

England was going through political turmoil in the 1630s, and the textile industry was in decline. Over a ten-year period, some 80,000 people left England for Ireland, the West Indies, Virginia or continental Europe. Between 1630 and 1640, some 20,000 people, many of them members of families with children, went to New England.

Henry Burt and many other migrants also left for religious reasons. In England, members of the Congregational church were persecuted for their beliefs. In New England, where they were known as Puritans, they could worship as they pleased and build a new society based on their religious values. Henry was undoubtedly a Puritan since records show he became a deacon, or lay leader, of the Congregational church in Springfield.

Congregational Church Springfield cr
Congregational Church, Springfield, around 1908

Henry was born around 1595, the son of clothier Henry Burt sr. and his wife Isett. Henry sr. died in 1617, leaving his son an orchard and gardens, a mansion house and several other houses that were rented out. 

He married married Ulalia (sometimes spelled Eulalia) March on December 28, 1619, in the parish of Dean-Prior.3 Ulalia had been born about 1600 to Richard March and Joan (Martyn?) of Sherford, Devon.4

Before they left England, the Burt family probably sold or rented most of their possessions to help raise money for the trip. They had to take along enough food to feed the family for a year, as well as clothing, tools, livestock and other basic supplies.

The average transatlantic voyage took eight to 10 weeks in a ship that carried about 100 people and their supplies. Most new immigrants stayed in the Boston area until they got their bearings, and the Burts were no different, settling in nearby Roxbury. Perhaps they wondered whether God had sent them a message when the Roxbury house in which they were living burned down in September, 1639.5

The following year, they settled in Springfield, on the Connecticut River. The land was fertile there and, like his new neighbours, Henry became a subsistence farmer. My eight-times great-grandfather, he eventually became one of the town’s leading citizens.

Henry first appeared in the town records when he was allotted a planting lot in 1641. He acquired further agricultural land grants in 1642, and in later years. The family home was on the town’s main street, and Henry acquired farmland on both sides of the river.

In 1644, Henry Burt and three other men were elected as selectmen, or town officials.6  Serving as a selectman for ten years between 1644 and 1655, he was responsible for handling local issues such as taxation, land distribution, fencing regulations and road building. When Henry became a freeman in 1648, he became eligible to vote.

In 1649, Henry became Springfield’s first Clerk of the Writs.7  This was an elected position that involved issuing summonses and recording births, marriages and deaths. He held this position continuously until his own death in 1662. He was also a deacon of the church and, for several years in the 1650s when the First Church of Springfield did not have a minister of its own, he was one of several men chosen to conduct services.8

Besides these activities, Henry had a large family to support. He must have been a hard worker, raising his own crops and livestock and, like many other Springfield inhabitants, working for merchant William Pynchon or his son John. Pynchon owned the only store for miles around, and he also owned the mill and the blacksmith shop. Pynchon generally paid employees in store credits, and Henry purchased precious nails, a pane of glass and the occasional treat, such as sugar.

Henry and Ulalia had a total of 13 children, nine of whom were born in England, and two of whom died there. Daughter Hannah, the first of their children to be born in New England, married John Bagg in 1657. She was my direct ancestor.

When Henry died on April 31, 1662, he left part of his estate to son Nathaniel and the rest to his widow. His possessions were valued at 181 pounds, while his debts, primarily to merchant John Pynchon, came to 50 pounds.

Ulalia lived another 28 years, dying Aug. 29, 1690, but she prepared her will six years before her death. She listed individual bequests including a heifer for daughter Mary, two cows for daughter Sarah and, to daughter Abigail, a cloak, a green apron, a coat and a shift. Daughter Patience received her red stockings. Ulalia divided her land, cattle and kettles between her sons and requested that the rest of her estate be divided according to the needs of her survivors.9

Ulalia’s will did not mention daughter Hannah Bagg or Hannah’s husband John because both were already deceased, but she did want granddaughter Abilene Bagg to receive two yards of cloth.

This article is also posted on https://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “John Bagg of Springfield, Massachusetts,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 22, 2018, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2018/02/john-bagg-of-springfield-massachusetts.html


I was able to find an amazing amount of detail about Henry Burt’s life, thanks to the careful record-keeping of the early settlers of Springfield, and to the fact that, 120 years ago, another Burt descendant used those records to write two books about the Burt family and the town of Springfield.

For background on New England’s Great Migration, see https://www.greatmigration.org/new_englands_great_migration.html. You can find details on the individuals who moved to New England between 1620 and 1640 in the multi-volume study of the Great Migration published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and members of the NEHGS can access the society’s extensive online database.

The children of Henry and Ulalia Burt were:10

Sarah, b. Harberton 1620/21, m. 1. Judah Gregory of Springfield, 2. Henry Wakley of Hartford and Stratford, Ct.  Sarah was living in 1689.

Abigail, b. in England about 1623, m. 1. Francis Ball of Springfield, Mass. In 1644 2. Benjamin Munn of Springfield in 1649, 3. Lieut Thomas Stebbins, in 1676.

Jonathan, bapt. Harberton 1624/25. d. 1715.  m 1. Elizabeth Lobbell, in Boston, 1651, 2. Deliverance Hanchet, 1686.

Samuel, buried Harberton, 1625.

David, bapt Harberton, 1629, d. 1690. moved to Northampton. m. Mary Holton, 1655.

Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1632, buried there 1634

Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1635, d. 1689; m. William Brooks in 1654 of Springfield and Deerfield, Mass.

Nathaniel, bapt Harberton c. 1637, d. 1720; m. Rebecca Sikes, 1662.

Elizabeth, bapt. Harberton, 1638, m. 1. Samuel Wright Jr. of Springfield and Northampton, 2. Nathaniel Dickinson of Hatfield, Mass.

Hannah, b. Springfield, 1641 m. 1657, John Bagg of Springfield.

Dorcas, b. New England, 1643?, m. 1658, John Stiles of Windsor, Ct.

Patience born Springfield, 1645, m. 1667 John Bliss of Northampton and Springfield.

Mercy, b. 1647, Springfield, m. 1. 1666/7 Judah Wright of Northampton and Springfield.


  1. Henry M. Burt, Silas W. Burt. Early Days in New England. Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants, Springfield: Clark W. Bryan, printers, 1893, Google Books, p. 92-93.
  2. George Skelton Terry, “Genealogical Research in England: Burt-March” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1932, vol. 86,Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-, p. 218. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)
  3. Terry, Ibid, p. 83.
  4. Mary Lovering Holman, Ancestry of Colonel Harrington Stevens and his wife Frances Helen Miller, compiled for Helen Pendleton (Winston) Pillsbury, 1948, privately printed, p. 365.
  5. Terry, Ibid, p. 219.
  6. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 85.
  7. Henry M. Burt, The First Century of the History of Springfield. The Official Records from 1636 to 1736, with an historical review and biographical mention of the founders. Volume 1. Springfield, Mass: Printed and Published by Henry M. Burt, 1898, Google Books, p. 45-46.
  8. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 87.
  9. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 93.
  10. Terry, Ibid. p. 219.

11 thoughts on “Henry Burt: from Devon Clothier to Colonial Farmer”

  1. I am a descendant from Henry and Eulalia, but I do not know from which child. Also, I am the last of two people named Burt in our family, as I married, taking my husband’s name of course, and my brother only has a daughter. My sons have their father’s last name. How can I find out my line?
    Also, I have a problem with the date Henry & Eulalia allegedly arrived in the New world and were located in Plymouth Colony. My family tradition said 1639, but they were Puritans, and Puritans did not go to Plymouth. They went either to Roxbury or another colony (Duxbury?) Recently found out their house burnt down in 1637–2 years before they allegedly came, and “the Colony reimbursed them,”–that colony being Roxbury. So that makes sense location-wise, but why would one colony “reimburse” them if the house burned down in a different colony? Clearly, it would not. Secondly, they were reported to have crossed the Atlantic in the ship Mary & John. That ship made its final reported crossing in 1636, possibly earlier. I really want to clear up these mysteries, and would appreciate any help. Thank you!


    1. Hi Lynn, I can’t give you much help. I am just finishing a book about my father’s side of the family and haven’t looked at any of my Massachusetts ancestors for a long time. But I suggest you look at my footnotes and then check out the sources I mentioned. The Great Migration books, published by the NEHGS, are very solidly researched and you can either check them out online on the American Ancestors website (you would have to become a member), or find these reference materials in a good library. I suggest you either print this material or photocopy it so you can underline and circle stuff. That makes it easier to sort out the information in your head. Family stories tend to have their facts mixed up. Good luck.


  2. Love this write-up. I am descended from Abigail Burt and Benjamin Munn and would love to add this to my ancestry info for Abigail, with your permission. Thanks, Annette


  3. I was always told our Burt family came to what is now New England in 1639. Obviously, that is incorrect. We were here earlier. How else were their children baptized in Harburton in 1624, etc.? Thank you.


  4. I’m a 11th great Grand Daughter of Henry Burt. I’m daughter Dorcus’s 10th-great grand daughter. I love what you have found on our family. I would love to know more. I have our family tree as far as the Bolyens. If you’re wondering yes, those Bolyens. Mary is my 17th great grandmother. Please if you have anymore information I would love to see it.


    1. Hi Nicole, thank you for the comment. The Springfield settlers kept amazingly good records, and it was fun to write about them. I loved the idea of red stockings. So much for our up-tight Puritan ancestors. Lucky you to get back to Bolyens. Except for my colonial Americans, all my Brits and Scots run into brick walls in the 1700s.
      I have my own family history blog, https://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com. I didn’t write any more articles about the Burt family, but between February and November 2018, I did a series of articles about my colonial ancestors in Connecticut and western Massachusetts including the Bagg, Moseley, Phelps and Stanley families. If you go to my blog, either search for these names in the top right search box or scroll down the right-hand column until you reach the Archives and then search by date. You can go backward to “older posts.”
      Take a look at all the notes and footnotes. I found some great books (mostly available online) such as town histories and family histories. Join the NEHGS, They have a lot of wills and other documents online, vital records and their own publications about what they called the Great Migration. It is all there, waiting to be found.


  5. Dear family members. My Great Grand father was Charles Franklin Smith Burt, born in Northampton. Mass in 1843 to Eli and Keziah Burt. Eli’s parents were Joseph and Eliza Burt.
    C F S Burt travelled out to new Zealand in 1864 as the ships carpenter aboard the Betsy Perlbach bringing stud cattle from franc to Australia and NZ. He married the daughter of one of Wellington’s early settlers and remained in NZ.
    I have a copy of Eli Burt’s birth certificate showing his parents to be Eli Burt and Eliza.
    Would appreciate any family member providing me with Eliza’s maiden name in order that I can continue with our branch of the family tree.


  6. Thank you for these details on Henry’s life! I’m a descendant through his daughter Patience who married John Bliss. I’ve also found a little bit about Henry in the book “The Ancestry of Dr. J. P. Guilford, Vol. 1”, by Joan S. Guilford, Ph. D.


  7. Hello cousin! I am descended from their son David who married Mary Holton. There are probably thousands of us out there! You did a great job telling the details of their lives. I enjoyed your post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.