We have a right to be proud of those whose search for individual freedom and whose patriotism made possible the founding of our nation. We can speak with pride of our humblest immigrant to whom we trace our origin as American citizens.
As a kid I was not particularly fond of my last name. Although I never thought it that hard to pronounce, many other pronunciations came about. I didn't question the history of the name, but instead wished I could have had a normal name like Jones or Smith!
I now find it amazing that I was 26 before I first questioned who Grandpa Swesey's parents might have been and where they came from. After 10 years of research my focus has expanded to include the whole history of the United States. Through all the time spent studying American history in school it never once occurred to me that my forefathers had been there experiencing what I was reading about. With John Swesey and his two sons coming from England to America in 1629, we didn't miss much of that earlier period.
Through the facts I have been able to gather of their lives I take pleasure in visualizing my ancestors and of trying to make them live again.
I believe that heredity is a strong influence on our actions, whether we are aware of it or not. The past, musty records, vanished figures and silent voices, this past in which we had no voice nor action has for all of time determined the present.
This has been an enjoyable quest that has opened up a heritage that I would not have guessed existed. Swesey sounds a lot better to me now than Smith or Jones.
Through my research I've discovered that most of the Swesey, Swasey's, Sweesy's. Swezey's etc. trace their ancestors back to the same John Swesey and his two sons. They just couldn't seem to be consistent in the spellings. In the same will, land record, etc. I might find the name spelled 3 different ways. It wasn't as important back then to get the correct spellings on the records. Having corresponded with different Swesey's, Swasey etc. around the country, I find it interesting how each believes they have the true spelling of the name. I am no different and believe Swesey is the original spelling for the first John Swesey in America.
The Swesey name seems to be of Franco-German-Swiss origin. A similar spelling of the name is found in Holland and still further back it is traced to the Norseman whose army pounced upon devastated England in 800 A.D. One theory is that they migrated from Switzerland to Normandy, France. Variants of the name in Swiss include Swisse.
The Swesey family can be traced back to the 15 th century in the province of Normandy France. John Swesey. who was born in 1474 was the first of the name according to the historical records that I can find. John and his son William, born 1496. with their families left Normandy in 1524 and crossed the English channel to the county or Dorsetshire.
In 1544 they were both granted denization in the city or Weymouth, Dorsetshire. A denizen was a person who occupied an intermediate position between an alien and a native born subject. The record of denization is still in existence and shows that William spelled his surname 'Swesey' and that he had a wife and 6 children.
They may have left Normandy for religious reasons, for the first quarter of the 16th century saw the beginning or the Protestant Reformation. In 1517 Martin Luther had defied the authority of Roman Catholic church, thus causing the Reformation to get underway. Soon after, John Calvin, a French Priest, fled from France and established a new religious sect in Geneva Switzerland. His followers later crossed into France and became the French Huguenots. The name Huguenot became popular from about 156o, so it would be historically inaccurate to refer to the Sweseys' as Huguenots, as they had actually left France before that time.
In 1521, Luther's doctrines had been formally condemned in France and King Francis 1 (1515-1547) had begun to suppress the Protestant movement. By 1525 the persecution of Protestants was raging with intensity in France. The Sweseys' had left France at the same time that the French government was attempting to destroy the budding Protestant group. It seems very probably therefore that they left Normandy for religious reasons.
After John and William received denization in 1544 in Weymouth, Dorset, the surname appears in the town of Bridport, Dorset. from 1576 and continuing through the 18th century the surname and its variants appear in the records of the county of Dorset, England. The majority of the entries are recorded in the town of Bridport and especially in the parish registers of St. Mary's church.
Bridport was the center of the thriving rope and netting industry middle ages (1211 A.D.) to the 19th century. The main customer was the Royal Navy. The industry also provided employment, for the country people around Bridport who grew hemp, the main ingredient in rope making.
John Swesey and his two sons Joseph, and John were probably born in Bridport, Dorset and came to America in 1629. They probably traveled down the Dorset coast to Weymouth (15 miles) in order to board a ship to the new world. Weymouth was a major port in the 1600's and also a port of exit to the British colonies in America. The Rev. John White of Holy Trinity Church in Dorchester, Dorset was personally responsible for sending several shiploads of people from Dorset and the neighboring county to the new world.
An entry in the Parish registers of St. Marys in Bridport shows that Margaret, wife of John Swasie, was buried January 19, 1624. This could be the John Swesey that took his two sons to America.
In the spring of 1629, 400 immigrants and four nonconformist clergymen arrived from England and it is supposed John and his two sons came with them. They settled in Salem. The first house in Salem was built by Roger Conant who came there in 1626 with a few farmers and fishermen from Cape Ann. In 1628 Capt. John Endicott with a hundred adventurers with a charter from England settled there. The sun dial and sword of Governor Endicott a still preserved among the many relics of this old historic town, in the Essex Institute.
A church was soon organized and a house of worship, 20 by 17 ft. was built, with Rev. Francis Higginson as pastor and Samuel Skelton as teacher. The oak timbers of this ancient building are still well preserved.
Parliament in England in 1593 had made it unlawful for any person to worship in any church except the Church of England. Through most of Europe the pattern was one nation, one church. Toward the close of the 16th century there were many critics of the Church of England. They called themselves Puritans and they were persecuted for their beliefs. In 1629 and 1630 several thousand settlers sailed to the Salem area many of which were Puritans. The Puritan colonists of this Great Migration, especially their leaders were well educated and proven business ability. A group of London merchants and Puritans had obtained the grant to this land from the king before they left England. It was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
At the start in Massachusetts only company stockholders were freemen and sat as the General Court. Soon other colonists demanded reclassification as freemen and a voice on taxes and new laws. The established leaders made concessions, and in 1631 they admitted 118 colonists as freemen. They required however that freemen be members of the Puritan Church.
In 1632 John's son Joseph took the freemen's oath. John, being a Quaker could not take the oath and it would be contrary to his beliefs to do this.
Quakers accepted the Bible, but believed that every Christian could learn God's will from the Spirit within him. That meant that priests and ministers were not necessary. The Quakers had meetings in which they sat in quiet thought, unless some person was moved to speak. They held that all persons were equal in the site of God. Women therefore should have the same privileges as men, among them "speaking out" in meeting. Pressing the point of equality, Quakers would not bow to anyone, or take off their hats in the presence of a high official. Because the Bible ordered that no blood be shed they opposed war. They refuse to take an oath even in a court of justice, but they will affirm or sanction a binding obligation. As citizens they were models of uprightness and integrity. In England and in the early settlement of this country they suffered many cruelties. In 1657 and 1658 Massachusetts passed a law to prevent the introduction of Quakers, and it was enacted that on the first conviction one ear should be cut off, on the second the remaining ear and on the third conviction the tongue should be burned with a hot iron.
Return to Swesey Document Page