John Preble of Machias and the Collins Ancestry
Whatever the mystery connected with the parents of John Preble,
of Machias, there is a great deal of certainty connected with the antecedents of
his "better half," or to be more accurate, his "better halves," and their
The exact date of the birth of John Preble of Machias is uncertain. As generally
stated it was about 1771, because when he died in 1841 he was seventy years old,
and that would make the time of his birth either 1770 or 1771. Where he spent
his boyhood and young manhood, as we have already seen, is a matter of doubt.
Brought up in the family of the Brigadier and apprenticed to a carpenter, he
must have been in and about Portland, building houses or barns or perhaps ships,
possibly also following the sea for a while as most of the boys did at that
period, with some experience at farming, till he finally arrived in New
Gloucester. One of the family traditions that his grandfather, the Brigadier,
bought for him the farm in New Gloucester, I cannot credit, for the reason that
the Brigadier died when John of Machias, the grandson, was only thirteen years
As far as we know, his family life was all spent in that town. His first wife
was Sarah Collins, daughter of Ebenezer Collins, of New Gloucester, whom he
married June 16, 1794. The Collins clan, like several other of our ancestral
families, were among the early settlers of the town, which was founded and named
by families who had migrated from old Gloucester on Cape Ann.
There were two children by the first marriage: John, who was born September 9,
1796, and Sarah, who was born the following year and died in infancy. Shortly
afterward the young mother died. For his second wife he married on December 27,
1798, her sister Esther, who was born in 1773. Esther bore him five sons and
four daughters. She died at New Gloucester, February 5, 1835. The husband
survived her six years, dying July 13, 1841.
From Charles P. Holmes, a great-grandson of John Preble of Machias and a
resident of New Gloucester for most of his life, I learn that the John Preble
house is still standing and is in a remarkable state of preservation,
considering its age and the number of different families that have occupied it
during the last thirty years. The house is little more than half a mile from
Upper Gloucester Village on the main road to East Poland. About 300 yards from
the house, and close to the road, is the old "Gully Brook Spring," so-called,
the waters of which are icy cold even on the hottest days of the year. This is
the spring where John Preble and his family obtained their water during the long
years that they lived here. The water is still pure and is used by many of the
neighbors and other people traveling that way.
Ebenezer Collins, the father of Sarah and Esther, died about 1804. His father
was also Ebenezer Collins and was born in 1698. The father of the elder Ebenezer
was Ezekiel Collins, born in Salem, February 23, 1665, married Elizabeth Riggs
in 1692, and died December, 1744, nearly eighty years old. Ezekiel's father was
John Collins, junior, who was born in 1636, probably in Salem; married March 9,
1659, Mehitable Giles. The marriage ceremony was performed by Major Hathorne, a
name which has a peculiar Salem significance. Mehitable was then about 22 years
old, she having been baptized in the First Church of Salem April 2, 1637. For a
period they lived in Gloucester, but later, I believe, returned to Salem, the
husband dying in 1677.
Mehitable Giles was the daughter of Edward Giles by his wife Bridget, the widow
of (???) Very, whom he married about 1634-5 and who brought into the new family
several children by her first husband whom she married about 1619. Edward Giles
arrived in this country about 1633, was admitted a freeman of the colony of
Massachusetts Bay, May 14, 1634, settled later in Salem, where he received a
grant of land in 1636. He died previous to 1654. His widow Bridget lived till
1680, dying at the age of four score.
The parents of John Collins the younger were John Collins, born in England in
1604, and his wife Johanna. They came with other early settlers to Salem, where
he had a grant of land, in 1643. He was made a freeman in 1646, served as
selectman several years and removed to Gloucester in 1658, and died March 25,
1675. Thus we have in brief the Collins line back to the immigrant ancestors.
As New Gloucester, Maine, is one of our ancestral homes, so old Gloucester on
Cape Ann was the home of many of our still earlier ancestors, who lived there
for several generations. From Old Gloucester a number of Cape Ann families in
the middle of the eighteenth century sailed across the bay to the Maine coast,
pushed their way inland through the wilderness and established a new town which
they named in honor of their former abode.
Elizabeth Riggs, the wife of Ezekiel Collins, was a native of Old Gloucester.
She was born April 22, 1672, daughter of Thomas Riggs, an early settler of
Gloucester, and Mary Millet, who was born at Dorchester, August 21, 1639,
married June 7, 1658, and died January 23, 1695. Thomas Riggs was town clerk of
Gloucester for fifty-one years, and died February 26, 1722, at the age of
ninety. He was a scrivener by occupation, and was an exceedingly valuable man in
the town, more than half of whose male inhabitants and most of the female
inhabitants at that early period could not read or write.
Mary Millet's father was Thomas Millet, who came to New England in the ship
Elizabeth and first settled in Dorchester in 1635 when he was 35 years old. Her
mother was Mary Greenaway, who was 29 years old when she came with her husband
to Dorchester. They removed to Gloucester in 1655. Thomas Millet died about 1676
and his wife on September 27, 1682. Thomas Millet was the ancestor of the famous
American painter Millet, who went down with the Titanic after striking the
iceberg in midocean in 1912.
Mary Greenaway, the wife of Thomas Millet, was the daughter of John and Mary
Greenaway, who came several years earlier to this country.
John and Mary Greenaway or Grenoway--there were various spellings of the
name--by one of those strange coincidences of nomenclature, came over in the
good ship Mary and John, a vessel of 400 tons. This ship, which was a very large
one for the time, sailed from Plymouth, Eng., and was the first of the fleet to
reach the Massachusetts coast in the great Puritan migration of 1630. After a
passage of 70 days she arrived off Nantasket Point, now Hull, on May 30, old
style, two weeks before Governor Winthrop arrived off Salem. From one of the
passengers we learn that "the word of God was preached and expounded every day
during the voyage. The number of passengers was 140." A day or two later the
passengers and their "famished cattle" were landed at Rock Hill (Savin Hill),
Dorchester. This was more than three months before the founding of Boston
proper, which by the present style of dates was September 17, 1630.
John Greenaway was past the prime of life when he came to the new country. "He
was a millwright by trade and was much respected by his fellow townsmen,"
according to the "History of the Town of Dorchester." He was the first person
admitted a freeman in that town.
"Besides the right of suffrage," says William Dana Orcutt, in his book entitled
"Good Old Dorchester," "the freemen enjoyed advantages in the division of the
lands, and were members of the General Court, until the representative system
It must be remembered that the settlement of the new colony was by a specially
chartered company and only the stockholders at first had the right to vote. This
privilege was soon afterward extended to the freemen, who of necessity were also
church members, and thus early in the history of the colony there was a
semblance of our modern popular government. The first application for the right
of freeman was made October 30, 1630, and twenty-four of the 108 were settlers
in Dorchester, John Greenaway heading the list of twenty-four.
Freemen were required to be church members by the passage of an order, May 18,
1631, at the second General Court held after the arrival of Governor Winthrop
and the transfer of the charter to New England, which provided that "to the end
the body of the commons may be preserved of honest and good men, no man shall,
for the time to come, be admitted to the freedom of this body politick but such
as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same."
One of the early settlers of Dorchester and supposedly a fellow-passenger on the
same ship with John and Mary Greenaway, was Bernard or Barnard Capen, the
ancestor of Miss Bessie T. Capen, late of Northampton, the lifelong friend of my
mother, Ellen F. (Preble) Jones. He was described as "an old man on his arrival,
and died November 8, 1638, aged 76 years."
Many other interesting details could be related of our ancestral history on the
Collins side of the Preble-Collins family, some of which will be given in a
later chapter. A few of them are briefly set forth here in order to place in a
more permanent form valuable material which I have gathered in past years and
which hitherto has existed only in scattered memoranda; and also to suggest a
few of the ancestral names to those of our relatives who may be interested to
pursue the study further.
By way of illustration it might be stated here that one of the descendants of
Nathaniel Tilden, whose daughter Judith was the wife of Abraham Preble, was the
late Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York, founder of the Tilden library and in
1876 the Democratic candidate for the presidency.