Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett – You would naturally assume that with a name like that she’d have to be an interesting person, and you would, in fact, be correct. As a matter of fact, she’s probably in the top five of my own personal “Favorite Ancestors Hall of Fame”. The niece AND the daughter-in-law of one of the founding fathers of Massachusetts (John Winthrop), Elizabeth was by all accounts a feisty woman with a strong will, hell-bent on having things her own way. In other words, she was a woman ahead of her time by about four centuries or so.
I’m genealogically connected to Elizabeth through three different ancestors (no shock, considering the fact that she was married three times). I’ll show you how at the end of this post, but first, let me share with you just a few details of this amazing woman’s life story.
My source for most of this information is the historical fiction novel The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton, based on the life of Elizabeth Fones. I just ordered another (non-fiction) book covering Elizabeth’s life by Missy Wolfe, titled Insubordinate Spirit: A True Story of Life and Loss in Earliest America 1610-1655. When I’ve finished reading this second book, I’ll post a summary.
Elizabeth was born in Sussex, England, in 1610 to Thomas Fones and Anne Winthrop. The Winthrop family apparently disapproved of Anne’s marriage to Thomas, who was a London apothecary, and not considered a social equal to themselves. If the name Winthrop rings a bell with any of you colonial American history buffs out there, it should. Anne’s brother was John Winthrop, who would eventually become the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
John Winthrop – a staunch Puritan – had become increasingly obsessed with leaving England altogether, and following in the wake of his fellow countrymen who had sailed to America on the Mayflower (via Leiden, Holland) in 1620.
Elizabeth and Henry Winthrop
Not surprisingly, John Winthrop was properly horrified when his second eldest son, Henry, began showing a romantic interest in Elizabeth. “The Winthrop Woman” paints a slightly scandalous scene in which, after an all-night date, Henry is forced to marry Elizabeth for propriety’s sake. I suppose we will never really know how it transpired, but they were indeed married on April 25, 1629, at the Church of St. Sepulchre at New Gate, London.
This prejudice against the Fones family and the hasty marriage between Henry and Elizabeth really sets the tone for John Winthrop’s harsh attitude towards Elizabeth in later years.
Elizabeth and Henry were married just long enough for her to conceive; about a year after their marriage, Henry sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the ship Talbot, leaving Elizabeth behind due to her pregnancy. Unfortunately the pair would never see each other again. In July of 1630, Henry died in a drowning incident shortly after arriving in Massachusetts, after taking an impromptu swim in the North River. Author Anna Seton paints a picture of a young man who was just a wee bit too fond of his ale. We all know that swimming and alcohol don’t mix.
By this time, Elizabeth had given birth to Henry’s daughter, Martha Johanna Winthrop. In 1631, she sailed with her father-in-law, uncle, and now guardian, John Winthrop, to Massachusetts, aboard the ship Lyon.
Elizabeth and Robert Feake
In 1632, in a marriage arranged by John Winthrop, Elizabeth was married for the second time. Her new spouse was a wealthy landowner named Lt. Robert Feake. The couple had five children together, but it was an unhappy union, due to Feake’s frequent prolonged absences and unstable mental condition. Sadly, by all accounts, Robert Feake is considered to have gone insane, and he abandoned his wife and family, leaving Elizabeth once again in a vulnerable position.
One gets the feeling at this point in the story that Elizabeth – having gained some measure of autonomy and independence due to Robert’s absences – would just as well have remained a single woman. She was fairly independent in practice, having conducted much of Robert’s business on her own. She had purchased large tracts of land in Connecticut, with some of it actually being deeded in her name, which was highly uncommon for that time period. She is today considered one of the founders of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The flip side of this was that her independent spirit caused no small amount of embarrassment and consternation to her uncle, Governor John Winthrop. Her views on women’s rights and religious freedom were centuries ahead of their time, and were a constant thorn in Winthrop’s side. The two of them clashed frequently. Women in this time period had little or no legal rights, generally were expected to keep their opinions to themselves, and definitely were expected to bow to the wishes of their spouse, or the leaders of the community. Elizabeth, on the other hand, didn’t seem capable of agreeing with John Winthrop and her fellow Puritans on anything.
Elizabeth and William Hallet
As much as Elizabeth may have wanted to remain single, it simply wasn’t an acceptable option during this point in history, and besides, she had very inconveniently fallen in love with Robert’s business manager, William Hallett. The couple wanted to get married legally, but unfortunately Robert was insane and AWOL. History offers different accounts regarding what happened next…
They were in fact married, in 1649. This fact is not disputed. What is disputed is whether or not Elizabeth was legally divorced from Robert at the time of her marriage to Will. Some researchers say that she was, and others say that she wasn’t – what really matters is what her fellow colonists believed. Unfortunately, most of them believed that Elizabeth was committing adultery, a crime for which she could be put to death. She narrowly escaped hanging only due to her blood ties with the governor; she and Will were forced to flee Massachusetts and seek refuge in another, more tolerant colony.
After spending time in Connecticut and being forced to leave there as well, the couple ended up in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands (New York), then led by the “Director-General” Peter Stuyvesant. Elizabeth befriended Stuyvesant’s wife, Judith, and it was perhaps due to this friendship that her marriage to William was eventually recognized as a legal union. They settled on the extreme western tip of Long Island, on the shore of the East River, in the area which is today known as Astoria, but was for centuries known as Hallett’s Cove.
Will and Elizabeth had two sons, William and Samuel.
Elizabeth died at the age of 62, in 1673, in Queens County, New York. There are many interesting side stories associated with her, which I will add to the blog over time. I’m fascinated by her character and the setting in which her story took place.
If you zoom in on the map below you can see the geographic landmark on Long Island, still known as Hallett’s point. If you zoom out you can see Greenwich, Connecticut, and Greenwich Point, which was once known as “Elizabeth’s Neck”, in her honor.
Connection via William Hallett (relationships 7 – 12 are proven via DAR documentation):
Name: Elizabeth Fones (1609 – 1672)
Parents: Thomas Fones and Anne Winthrop
Spouse: William Hallett
Relationship to SK Roots: 9th Great Grandmother
Connection via Robert Feake (relationships 9 – 14 are proven via DAR documentation):
Name: Elizabeth Fones (1609 – 1672)
Parents: Thomas Fones and Anne Winthrop
Spouse: Robert Feake
Relationship to SK Roots: 11th Great Grandmother
Connection via Henry Winthrop:
Actually this was a trick. I don’t really have a direct ancestral tie to Henry. But there is a connection. Elizabeth Fones and Henry Winthrop had a daughter, Martha Johanna Winthrop, born in 1630 at Groton Manor in Sussex, England. Martha married someone named Thomas Lyon; however, Martha died young, sometime around 1653, when she would have been only 23 years old. Thomas went on to marry a second time, and he and his second wife had children. It is through their line that I’m descended, not Martha’s. But still, it’s an interesting connection.
(Relationships 5 – 13 are proven via DAR documentation.)
Name: Thomas Lyon (1621 – 1690)
Parents: Richard Lyon and Margaret (Unknown Surname)
Spouse: 1) Martha Johanna Winthrop, 2) Mary Hoyt (Mother of offspring below)
Relationship to SK Roots: 10th Great Grandfather