Some researchers have suggested that Thomas Caswell was a native of Wales (or that the name Caswell, at least, is Welsh), and some would like to claim that he had a distinguished background in London. Still others allude to a family tradition that he came from Somersetshire in England. The last appears to be the most plausible origin. The name Caswell is uncommon in Wales, but is common in Somersetshire. A large number of families from Somersetshire did settle in Taunton and, in fact, the principal community in Somersetshire is called Taunton, for which the colonial town was obviously named.
Thomas Caswell first appears in New England in Taunton in the Colony of New Plymouth where the name "Thos Cassell" is found on a list of those males aged 16 to 60 able to bear arms in August 1643, just four years after the incorporation of the town. He apparently came to the New World as an unmarried man and married, probably in Taunton, ca 1648, Mary (____). The identity of his wife is unknown.
Thomas Caswell joined with eleven other of his townsmen in 1651 on a panel of inquest into the drowning death of ten-year-old William England, servant to Joseph Wildbore of Taunton, who accidentally fell out of a canoe on the Great River (now Taunton River) on September 6 of that year, and he signed his name "Thos Caswell" to the verdict. In 1657 he took the Oath of Fidelity in Taunton; in 1662 he served on the "Grand Enquest" for the Colony of New Plymouth; and in 1667 he once again was called upon to serve with eleven of his townsmen on a panel of inquest into the accidental drowning of Timothy Poole, November 15, 1667, to which he signed his named "Thomas Caswell".
In 1675 he and his son, Thomas, were listed as heads of families in Taunton when King Philip's War began. Thomas Caswell's name appears on a rate list dated October 16, 1683 to defray the expenses of plastering the meeting house, his comparatively large assessment being one shilling eleven pence.
Though not an Original Proprietor, he did became a proprietor of the Town of Taunton and as such took part in both the South and the North Purchases, the South Purchase being now within the bounds of Berkley. On March 23, 1682/3 Thomas Caswell and Mary, his wife, sold four acres of land east of the meeting house on the east side of the Great River to Shadrach Wilbore; in 1695 they sold a tract of land in the North Purchase to their son-in-law, William Hoskins. An examination of the language of surviving deeds, and a close look at the property boundaries, as well as the details of his will, show that he lived near the Common and the meeting house in Taunton. While he owned property in both the North and South Purchase, he seems to have always resided in the town of Taunton.
A literate man himself, all of Thomas Caswell's sons (but Samuel) appear to have been literate as well, while Thomas Caswell's wife and daughters were typically unable to write even their names, except Esther.
On September 28, 1691 he made his will, to which he attached a codicil on 15 March 15, 1696/7, by which time he could only print his initials. He died, undoubtedly in Taunton, that same year, for on September 14, 1697 one of the witnesses swore that he was present when Thomas Caswell signed his original will. The original papers have not been preserved, and only the probate copy book versions survive, while the original executor's bond is on file, as well as the copy thereof. Thomas Caswell's will and inventory reveal that he was a farmer of substance with a respectable estate consisting of considerable land holdings sufficient to set up his sons on farms of their own, a valuable farm that was his homestead, and many useful articles. But the inventory also shows that the family was able to enjoy certain luxuries, such as books, bedding with linen, and considerable wearing apparel. The burial place of Thomas, and that of his wife, Mary, are unknown.
The will of Thomas Caswell reads:
In the Name of god amen
I Thomas Casewell Senr of Taunton in the County of Bristoll and in the Colony of Plimouth in New England being of sound Memory thanks be to the lord, Do make this my last will & Testament, first I bequeath my spirit to god that gave it me, and my Body to be Decently Buried, by my Executor hereafter named, and for my worldly goods that god hath given me I Dispose of as followeth --
Imprs I give & bequeath unto my Edest Son Stephen Casswell the Land where on his house now Standeth & my land yt lyeth at Skunk hill, to be to him & to heires and Assignes for Ever
Item I give & Bequeath unto my Second Son Thomas Casswell my Six accers of land in the great plaine and other lands of mine that are now in his Possession to be to him & to his heires and assignes for Ever, and allso one halfe quarter part of my Share in ye North purchass (so Called) to be to him & to his heires & Assignes for Ever --
Item I give & bequeath unto my third Son Peter Casswell Sixteen accres of land on the Southerly side of the High way opposite where his house now standeth to be to him and to his heires & Assignes for Ever --
Item I give and bequeath unto my fourth son John Caswell a pond Called the stage pound and allso one half quarter part of my Share in the North purchase (so called) to be to him & to his heires and assignes--
Item I give & Bequeath unto my fifth Son William Casswell the land whereon his hous now Standeth, & the land Called the Neck and allso ten accres of land lyeing at a place called the Thinn Swamp to be to him & to his heires and assignes for Ever, and allso three acres of Swamp lyeing at the old Beaver Dam, to be to him and to his heires & assignes for Ever
Item I give & bequeath unto my Sixth son Samuel Caswell my house wherein I now Dwel with my orchard & Meadow and other land, all my land on the North side of the High way as far as to james Bells land from the aid High way to the great River so Called to be to him & to his heires & assignes for Ever, only Excepteing a little peice of land where my son Peter Caswells house Now standeth, which I formerly gave to my said Son Peter allso I give & bequeath unto my son Samuel Caswell Six & forty acres of my fifty acres Divission Lyeing in Cotly between the land of Isacce Dean & Shadrach wilbors land to be to him & to heires & assigns for Ever
Item I give & bequeath unto my loveing wife Mary one quarter of my Share in the North purchass (so Called) to be to her & to her Assignes for Ever and allso the use of all my Moveables within my house, and the use of the westerly lower Room in my house wherein I now Dwel, Continueing the time of her widowhood and allso my will is that my said son Samuel Caswell shall be my sole Executor to this last will and Testament to whom I commit & leave in Charge to take Care of and provide for his Mother and Maintaine her all the time of her widowhood, and Likewise my will is that my Executor shall Receive all Debts that are Oweing to me payeing all the Debts that I doe owe--
Item I give & Bequeath unto my Executor all that my Purchase Right in the town so Called & my two Oxen & my Horse & two Cows & Cart and Trucles, & plow and plow Tacklin--
Item I give & bequeath unto my Daughters Mary, Sarah Hannah Elizabeth Abigale and Hester, the one halfe of my Share in the North Purchass (so Called) to be Equally Divided amonst my said Daughters to be to them & to their heires and Assignes for Ever--
Item I Give & Bequeath unto my Daughter Hannah the wife of Daniel Ramsdell on heyfer of one year old & the vantage--
And to this as to my last will & Testament I have put to my hand & seale this Eight & Twentyeth day of September in the year of our lord one thousand Six hundred Ninety one
Signed & sealed in ye presence of us
Postscript Whereas my share or Right in the North Purchase is Given among Diverse of my Children in my will above written - which share in the North purchase is Since that time sold for the sum of twelve pounds the which money my son Samuel made use of My will is that my son Samuel Do pay the Sum of twelve pounds to those of my Children to whom my Share in the North purchass is above Mentioned to be Given that is to say to Each of my said Children such a part or proportion of the sd Sum of twelve pounds which is Equivalent or proportionable to such a part of the North purchass which is Given to them in my above written will--
Witness my hand and seale the fifteenth Day of March 1696/7
Bristoll Septber 14th 1697 then the within Named Joseph wilbore apeared before John Saffin Esqr. Judge of probate of wills &c within the County of Bristoll and made oath that he was present & Did see ye within Named Thomas Caswell late of Taunton Decd. Signe seale & Declare the within written Instrument as his Last will & Testament & that he was of a Disposeing mind when he so Did to the best of his understanding.
Taunton October 9th 1697 then Did Shadrach wilbore make oath to the Tenr: and Effect of Joseph Wilbore his oath: and that Samuel Wilbore was prsent and Did Signe as a witness at the same time: Since Deceased:
Taunton the Ninth Day of October 1697 Mr: Samuel Danforth & Eliza: Briant the within Subscribeing witnesses Made oath to the truth of ye last to the & yt according to their apprehensions he was of a well Desposeing Mind and that they sett their hands as witnesses thereunto
Memorandum That all the above Named witnesses at the Severall times and placces there Mentioned Did personally appeare before me John Saffin Esqr. Judge of probate of wills &c: and made Oath to the truth of what is above Exprest Touching & Concerning the within written will:
Thus Entered Octobr 30th: 1697 By John Cary Registr:
true Inventory of the Estat of Thomas Caswell Senr.
Entered & Engrossed Octobr 30th: 1697 by John Cary Registr:
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