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Lineage: Sarah3, William2, William1

  BACKUS, c.1612-aft.1723
Related Families:  Charles | Culver | Everett

Migration: England>Saybrook, CT>Norwich, CT


        (1)  William Backus is usually said to have been born in Norwich, England, but clear proof of this is lacking. He was established in Saybrook, Connecticut, by 1637, shortly after the founding of that settlement in 1635, probably having entered America through a Massachusetts port. Whether a wife and family accompanied him, or whether he married after his arrival, is not known.
        Several authors state that he came to this country on the sailing ship Rainbow, with 250 tons burden, of which Captain Haskins was Master. Col. Banks, in his "Topographical Dictionary" gives a list of emigrants from various cities and villages in the several counties of England in that period; among those coming from the county of York appear the names of Francis and William Backus, but without place of origin or any other data. It is assumed that this William is the one who settled at Saybrook, however his relation to Francis is unknown.
        The story of Saybrook is that of a seacoast village, now old, still small, on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The actual site of the settlement was a broad peninsula or lip on the west bank of the river, measuring about a mile in length, connecting with the mainland by a narrow neck. Convenient for defense against marauding Indians, it did not lend itself to large development.
        Records of the early personal happenings at Saybrook are sparse. There are accounts of John Winthrop, The Younger, first "governor" of the settlement, and references to Lion Gardiner, the engineer engaged by Winthrop to construct fortifications. There are references also to the three chief patentees of the land grant, Lord Say and Seal, Lord Brook, whose names are commemorated by the town, and Colonel George Fenwick, who visited the settlement in 1636 and 1639 and remained several years on the latter occasion. Beyond these items, little remains of the early local history. In a town meeting of January 1648, however, an account is given of plans for development of outlying lands around the original settlement. In this, William Backus is found among twelve men assigned land on the east side of the Connecticut River, in that area which later became known as Lyme. Whether this was William's homestead or was in addition to a home in the town is not indicated.
        There is no reference in the town records to his work, activities, station in life, or when or whom he first married, the dates or order of birth of his children, or when their mother died. Older accounts incorrectly show his first wife to have been Sarah Charles; but the probate records demonstrate clearly that Sarah Charles was the first wife of his son William, Jr., not of the senior William. By 1659 William, Sr., had taken as his second wife a widow, Mrs. Anne Bingham, variously recorded by earlier writers as Anne Stenton Bingham, or as Anne Stetson Bingham. She was the widow of Thomas Bingham, they having been married 6 July 1631 in Sheffield, England. A record in the "Parish Register of Sheffield, cy York, Part 1, Baptisms and Marriages, 1560 to1634-5", p. 247, under the year 1631, is that of the marriage of "Tho'Bingham et Anna FFenton", the F being repeated in FFenton, just as L is repeated in Lloyd up to the present time. The same book has a complete index with many Binghams, many Fentons, but not a single Stenton. The obvious conclusion is that William Backus had a second wife named Ann Fenton Bingham, not Anne Stenton Bingham. Thomas Bingham and Anne Fenton had a son Thomas, recorded in Saybrook, Connecticut, also Norwich, and later Windham, where he was known as Thomas, Sr. Two children of this stepson of William Backus, Sr., later married grandchildren of William.
        The records of Saybrook indicate that the shoreline soil was thin and unproductive. In time, some of the Saybrook settlers became desirous of moving to better ground. An opportunity to improve their lot came in the form of warfare between two of their neighboring Indian tribes.  Mohegans under a sachem, Chief Uncas, occupied the valley of the Connecticut. To the east lived the Narragansetts, a related tribe, but one with whom they were frequently on bad terms. During this new conflict, the home stockade of the Mohegan was surrounded and placed under siege for several days. A plea to the English colonists from Chief Uncas for help against the Narragansetts caused a relief party to set out from Saybrook under Lieut. Leffingwell, breaking the siege and turning the tide of battle. For this act, the Mohegans later granted to the English a generous tract of land "nine miles square" around the head of the Thames River. A settlement, first occupied in the fall of 1659, was more firmly settled in the spring of 1660, and became the town of Norwich.  Thirty-five families (or thirty-eight according to other authority) moved to the new location as original settlers, including the Backus family.
        William Backus did not long survive the transfer, his share of the new land descending to his younger son, Stephen, presumably just coming of age, while his elder son, William, Jr., had a share in his own right. In this manner the two sons appear on the records among the thirty-some original proprietors of Norwich, but William, Sr., does not. Older accounts show him dying in 1664. There is good reason for believing he died between 12 June 1661, the date of his will, and August 28 of that same year, since an official record of property transfer indicates that Stephen had already succeeded to his father's estate by the latter date. With the colony still in the early stages of governmental organization, legal matters sometimes suffered delay. It was 21 June 1665, before the will of William, Sr., was allowed in the New London Court. A copy of the will is filed in the records of New London Town, Book 1646-66, pp. 143-4, a transcription of which is:

"This may Certifie whom it may concerne That I William Backus Senior being now alive and in memory Doe ordain this my last will and testament wherein my mynd is Declared concerninge the ordaining (or ordering?) and Disposing of my estate whereunto I Doe hereby constitute and appoynt my trustid and welbeloved sonn Steevin Backus Heier, Executor and Administrator of my whole estate to Dispose thereof according to the order of my will.
And first of all for my wife who hath beene both loving unto me and carefull of me it is my will to provoide as comfortable for her as I can, that after my Decease she might be supplied as may be needfull and convenient for her which I conceive might be best attained by her abydeing with my sonn Steeven in the house and soe to partake with him of the estate soe far as shall be needfull and convenient for her according to what shall arise both from the grounde and stock, but if Steeven and she shall part and the occasion thereof Doe arise from Steeven or then (?) by reason of his undutifull cariage towardes her or any other way of Discouragement proceeding from himwhich may occasion her departing from him, Then my will is that Steeven shall provoide for her Twenty bushells of corne a yeere that is Twelve bushells of Indian and eight of wheate as also a Third part of the milke of the cattle and a sixt part of garden stuff as squashes and pumpkins turnips and the like During the tyme of her life if she change not her condition, but if my wife shall volluntarily part from Steeven without any just occasion from him my will is notwithstanding that Steeven should provoide for her fowre bushells of wheate and sixe bushells of Indian a yeere Dureing the time of her life as aforesaid if she change not her condition. The which if she shall Doe my will is that Steeven shall be cleere of all these ingagements Also my will is that my wife should have the bed and bedclothes (except one pillo for Steeven soe long as she lives although she staynot in the house provided she stay in the Towne, and at her Decease all shall returne to Steeven except her wearing clothes and one pillo; And concerning my sonn William it is my will that he should have all the tooles belonging to the trade of a smith and cutler and what Ivory there is with the bellowes, And concerning all the rest of my children as John Renalds and his wife, and Beniamin Crane and his wife and John Bayly and his wife wth all there children which are now liveing and also Thomas Bingham XXX XXX XXXX (three words crossed out, probably 'and his wife') my will is that they should all have three bushells of Indian corne a peece and this corne to be paid wthin the space of five yeers by the Heire and executor. Last of all my will is that my loveing freinds Thomas Leffingwell and John Birchard should see this my will performed according to the true intent thereof. witness my hand this 12th of June Anno Dom. 1661
Witness. Thomas Tracy                        The marke X of John Poast
                                                                William X Backus

            Extracted out of the will as returned under the hand of William Backus and allowed in New London Court held June 21st 1665 by me Obadiah Bruen Recorder"

        An inventory of William Backus' estate, dated 7 June 1664, listed and signed by neighbors Thomas Leffingwell and John Birchard, is filed in the Connecticut State Library at Hartford in Hartford Probate, v. III, p. 49.  William's estate was valued at 102 pounds. It is his specific bequest to his son William, Jr., "all the tools belonging to the trade of a smith and cutler", along with a bellows and a stock of ivory, which is of interest since it is the first indication as to his trade.
The Norwich Vital Records (153, v.1, p. 8) list William's wife Anne, "Mother of Thomas Bingham, Sr.", as dying in May 1670.

Children of William Backus, Sr., and his unknown first wife:

  1. William, mentioned below
  2. Sarah; married John Reynolds of Saybrook, later one of the Norwich proprietors.  He was made a freeman in October 1663. He died 22 July 1702.
  3. Mary, born about 1633; married 23 April 1655 Benjamin Crane, born about 1639 in England, died 1693 at Wethersfield, Hartford Co., Connecticut
  4. Lydia, born about 1637, died between 1674 and 1696; married before the move to Norwich, John Bailey, who died 1696 at Haddam, Connecticut.
  5. Samuel, "died young"


        (2)  William Backus, was named as one of the original band of Saybrook, Connecticut, men who purchased the town site of Mohegan (later Norwich) from Chief Uncas in 1659, and is so recorded on the Founders' Monument.  He is therefore accepted as having reached his majority by that year. Jacobus estimates he was born about 1635. If that is correct, he presumably was born in England, for there is no evidence that his father reached the colonies that early.  He is often shown as Sergeant, Ensign, or Lieutenant William, on the basis of the positions he held in the Norwich "train band", or local militia; perhaps this was also to distinguish him from the elder William. The Colonial Records of Connecticut (82) show him confirmed as Ensign in May 1680, and as Lieutenant in May 1693.  Caulkins notes however that though military titles were highly respected and generally coveted among the colonists, he "styles himself in deeds simply yeoman".
        Apparently by 1659 he had taken as his first wife Sarah Charles, born October 1637, in New Haven, Connecticut, and baptized there in October 1640. She was daughter of John Charles, a resident of New Haven and later Branford.  Their first child, William, was born 11 May 1660, probably in Saybrook, the parents awaiting the birth before moving to the new settlement at Mohegan.  Two other children, John and Sarah, were born to the couple later, followed soon by Sarah's death, whether from childbirth or other cause is not known.
        By 1664, William had taken as his second wife Elizabeth Pratt, daughter of Lt. William Pratt and Elizabeth Clark. Her father was an original proprietor of Hartford, Connecticut, a man of considerable standing, and for years a Deputy to the General Court of the colony.  Elizabeth bore her husband six children. Though commonly shown as surviving until 1730, it is more likely that she died in 1703 or thereabouts; this is deduced from details in an acknowledgement by Joseph Backus in 1704/1705 of property deeded him by his father, William Backus, Jr.
        The specific occupation of William Backus, Jr., is nowhere mentioned, but that he was well respected is amply clear. At a session of the General Assembly at Hartford, October 1663, he was "accepted to be made free", that is, granted full political privileges, and was listed as one of but 25 such persons in Norwich in 1669. The patent of the Town of Norwich, dated 1685, shows Ensign William Backus as one of twelve patentees of the town.  He filled various official and community posts: Marshal of a Norwich Court of Commission; Townsman (Selectman) during several periods from 1679 to 1686; member of church committees, on church construction, selection of a pastor, plan for seating of the congregation; member of a committee to negotiate a dispute with Uncas, the Mohegan Chief, in 1683; and Deputy for Norwich to the General Court at Hartford in May and October 1680, October and November 1683, October 1684, and October 1689.
        William accumulated a sizable amount of property before he died. What he may have possessed as a young man in Saybrook is not known. His original allotment of land in the new settlement of Norwich was six acres. On 31 August 1682, Chief Uncas and his son Owaneco deeded another 150 acres of land to him, possibly "in connection with the settlement of the estate of Lt. William Pratt", his father-in-law.  William was also a member of the group of thirteen men to whom, in February 1675/6, Attawanhood, also known as Joseph Uncas, another son of the old chief, relinquished a large tract of land situated northwest of Norwich. This transaction was further confirmed by a will of Joshua Uncas, dated 29 April 1684, by which William is said to have received three shares of 1000 acres each. The jointly held tract eventually became the site of Windham, Connecticut. William continued to live in Norwich, but later deeded part or all of this land to his two elder sons, William and John, receiving in return their property in Norwich, in March 1691/1692.
        William 's will, dated 8 February 1693, long antedated his death, but was never changed. He must have been a sturdy man, for his length of life became noteworthy. In 1702 he was mentioned as one of the few surviving founders of Norwich; he died early in 1721, having outlived all the rest.(147).
His will, on file among the Norwich probate records in the Connecticut State Library, is of interest, giving, as Jacobus has noted, the proof that Sarah Charles was his first wife, and not the wife of his father. The major portions read as follows:

"I William Backus of the town of Norwich Being in my perfect understanding and memory doe make this my last will and testament....I give and bequeath unto my deere and Loving Wife Elizabeth one-third part of the profiett of all my Reall part of all my personall Estate to be att her Despose.....unto my son Nathaniell, all my home lott in Norwich with all the houseing upon it....all my Land on the East side of the Street, where his house standeth, ......unto my two Sonns Joseph and Nathaniell...all my Lands within the Bounds of Norwich that I stand possessed of att my Death... as also....all my Land Lyeing neere the Great Pond at the corner of Norwich Grounds, with all my Interest of Land within the township of Saybrook in Pottapauge be Equally Divided between them for quantity and quallety.....unto my Son John andto my Grand Son William....all my Interest of Lands in the Township of Windham to be Equally Divided between them for quantity and Quallety...unto my son John all my Interest of Land which I bought of Mr. James Fitch Senior as may appeare by Deed......unto my Daughter Sarah thirty pounds - with that which she hath already received as may appeare by my Booke...unto my Daughter Elizabeth Thirty pounds....unto my Daughter Hanah Thirty pounds....unto my Daughter Mary Thirty pounds......all that doth remayne of mypersonall Estates, my will is it shall be Divided Equally among all my children, The Reason why in this my will I have not given to my Son William any Lands is because before this I have Given him Lands as may appeare by Deed of gift; and therefore my will is, that with respect unto my two Sonns William and John, and also with respect unto my Daughter Sarah, what I have given them formerly with that which I Doe give them in this my will, shall be the whole of their portions of my Estate, anything that I received of their Grandfather Charles, his Estate notwithstanding, - I Doe ordaine and appoint my Deere and Loveing Wife Elizabeth with my two Sons Joseph and Nathaniell to be Executors, to pay both Debts and Legacies; and to performe all that is contayned in this my will: -

Signed and sealed in presence of us -- Richard Bushnell Elizabeth Bushnell Further I Do Desire my Trusty and faithfull friends, Solomon Tracy and Richard Bushnell to be overseers with respect to this my will: - And that this the above written is my Declared will in Witness where of I have hereunto sett my hand and Seale this the 8th day of February anno 1693
                                      :4                       William Backus"

Children of William Backus and Sarah Charles:
  1. William, born 11 May 1660, died 25 January 1742; married first Elizabeth Royce; married second Mary Benton
  2. John, born 9 February 1661/1662 at Norwich, Connecticut, died 27 March 1744; married Mary Bingham
  3. Sarah, born 14 June 1663 at Norwich, Connecticut; married 15 January 1681/1682 Lt. Edward Culver, born about 1654 at New London, died 7 April 1732 in Litchfield, Litchfield, Co., Connecticut.  They moved to Lebanon, Connecticut in 1696, then to Litchfield about 1723.
    1. Sarah, born 1694 in Norwich, Connecticut; married in Lebanon, New London Co., Connecticut, Israel Everett, born 8 April 1681 in Dedham, Norfolk Co., Massachusetts, died 6 February 1751 in Windham, Windham Co., Connecticut

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