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Robert Reynolds came to the New World in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet. The fleet was made up of 11 ships and about 700 people and set sail from England in the spring of 1630. A list of passengers in the fleet includes Robert Reynolds and wife Mary along with children Nathaniel, Ruth, Tabitha and Sarah. The ships landed in Salem, Massachusetts and by September 1630 many of these settlers were in Boston. Due to the time of year, the settlers didn’t have time to grow crops and lack of supplies probably played a factor in the estimated 200 deaths that occurred by December of that year.
Robert is assumed to have been among this first group to move to Boston as he was allotted a large home-lot with a good location (and a short distance from the house of Gov. John Winthrop himself). The first mention of Robert in the Boston records is when he gained membership to the First Church of Boston on August 10, 1634. On September 3, 1634 he was made a Freeman of Boston (a privilege he wouldn’t have received if he wasn’t a member of the church).
It is possible that Robert was in Watertown for a short time as records show him receiving land there and his name appeared among those who set out to start a new church in Wethersfield. If this was the same Robert Reynolds, he did not remain there long as records soon have him in Boston.
It’s assumed Robert was born in England and there is evidence that he was well educated as he wrote his own will. Robert was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, a skill he probably practiced in England as well as in Massachusetts. He and his wife, Mary, had at least 5 children, 4 born in England and one in the new world. The marriages of all of Robert’s children can be found in the Boston records and there are also several records showing Robert buying and selling land.
As was common in that time, children and grandchildren were often named for family members. Robert’s family was no exception. His grandchildren included: 4 Nathaniels, 3 Johns, 2 Phillips, 2 Josephs, 2 Benjamins, 4 Marys, 4 Sarahs, 3 Elisabeths and 2 Ruths. I wonder if that made for confusing family gatherings!
Robert was included in the will of Captain Robert Keayne in which he was given 20 shillings as Captain Keayne said that he had not forgotten “a word he spake, publicly and seasonably, in time of my distress, and other men’s violent opposition against me.” This time of distress for Keayne may have revolved around a pig and although the story isn’t directly connected to Robert, it gives an interesting glimpse into the life of early Boston.
|Robert Reynold's property in Boston|
From "The History of One Line of
Descendants of Robert and Mary Reynolds"
It seems that Captain Keayne was brought a pig that was wondering around town. The captain attempted to find the owner of the pig and was unable to do so. He kept the pig for a year when he then killed a pig (whether it was one of his own pigs or the wandering pig is up for debate). It was at this time that a Mrs. Shearman claimed that the lost pig was hers and that Keayne had killed her pig. The matter was brought before the court and the whole situation caused such a divide among that people that it led to the split of the General Court. One author wrote, “Thus the Senate was the idea of a pig - the direct result of a pig’s whimsical notion to go sight-seeing in Boston.” Robert took the side of Keayne in the argument and was apparently rewarded for his actions.
Robert’s lot in Boston was quite large and measured 85x220 feet. It was located on the south-east corner of Milk Street and Washington Street. After Robert’s death, the land was left to his son Nathaniel. Sometime in the late 1600s, Josiah and Abiah Franklin rented part of this land from Nathaniel and it was here, on January 6, 1706, that Benjamin Franklin was born. The land remained in the Reynolds’s family until 1725.
The exact burial place of Robert and Mary Reynolds is uncertain, although it is thought that they may be buried in King’s Chapel Cemetery as it was the only cemetery in Boston as the time of their deaths. Robert died in Boston on April 27, 1659. He wrote his will on April 20, 1658 and was proven 2 months after his death.
In his will, Robert gave his widow his home “with all my house hold stuff” and the remaining money. After her death, the home and orchard was to go to their son, Nathaniel. After the death of Nathaniel and his wife, if they didn’t have any legal heirs, the property was to be divided between Robert’s 4 daughters, Ruth, Tabitha, Sarah and Mary. The daughters were also to receive £20 each.
The inventory of his estate was estimated at a value of over £335, a significant estate for the day. The inventory included everything, including common household furniture and utensils, linens, food items, clothing, books, sword and musket. No livestock was mentioned in the inventory, but there was good amount of leather, which may indicate that Robert was still involved in his shoemaking trade.
Sources: Massachusetts vital records, Bigelow-Howe Genealogy, Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston, The History of One Line of Descendants of Robert and Mary Reynolds of Boston, Descendants of Robert and Mary Reynolds, New England Historical & Genealogical Register