Plymouth County Biographies

Part of the Massachusetts Biographies Project

John Tomson

John Tomson was one of the "First Comers," a name given to those who came over in the "Mayflower," "Fortune," and "Anne." As he was a man of prominence in the community, performed notable military service, was a skilled artisan, helped found one of the towns which sprang from Plymouth, and left a worthy posterity, he becomes a fitting example to take as a type and show how the "First Comers" proceeded to take advantage of the rights and privileges "to which nature and natured God entitled them," under the rules of the colony.

One of the first sellers of Halifax was John Tomson who arrived at Plymouth in August, 1623, on "The Little James and Anne," with fifty-nine other passengers. Some writers say that a Mr. Sturtevant had already settled in the town and it it possible that there were a few others who were seized with that wanderlust which seems to have inspired many of the "First Comers" in Plymouth to take up land sufficiently far from the meeting-house in Plymouth to make it very inconvenient, to say the least, for them to participate in the services and meetings.

We of the present day wonder why, when the woods were filled with Indians, from whom all kinds of evil was expected and sometimes received, that the early settlers of Plymouth did not form a community for common defense, with houses near enough together to enable them to act as a body at short notice. But Winslow's home was a dozen miles from Plymouth in Marshfield; John Alden, after his marriage to Priscilla Mullens, lived in Duxbury, some ten miles from Plymouth Rock; Captain Myles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrim Army, in South Duxbury; Elder Brewster, Governor Bradford and Francis Cooke in Kingston, and others were equally scattered. John Tomson (the spelling is the same as he used in signing his will, although he is said to have employed other ways on other occasions) lived two miles from the center of Plymouth. He had married the daughter of Francis Cooke, one of the "Mayflower" passengers.

Halifax was, in the days of John Tomson, a part of Plymouth, as were most of the towns in Plymouth County now bearing separated names. It was incorporated as a town July 4, 1734. The previous year a meeting-house had been built. The first settlers were, in most instances, direct descendants of the first Plymouth settlers, and the names of most prominence were Thompson, Waterman, Bosworth, Briggs and Sturtevant.

As the name Thompson, the most common spelling at present, occurs so many times, it is well to explain that John Thompson was born in the northern part of Wales in 1616. In the southwestern part of England the name was spelled Tompson. Rev. John Tompson, who settled in the ministry at Berwick, on the Piscataqua River, was descended from this family. In Ireland the spelling was Thompson. In the south of Scotland it was Thomson, and of this family was James Thomson, the poet, and Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress in the days of the American Revolution. Since the early settler of Halifax was born in the northern part of Wales, in the vicinity of Scotland, he is usually considered a descendant of the Scottish Family, although in his will he spelled his name differently from any of the branches which have been mentioned. the letter p was not introduced into the spelling by any of his descendants until a century and a half had passed. Rev. John Cotton, the first minister in Halifax, spelled the name Thomson in some of his writings which have been handed down since his ministry in the meeting-house erected when George Washington was one year old. The tombstones of Thompsons of the fourth generation usually have the h and p.

In the court records it appears that John Tomson and Mary Cooke were married December 26, 1645. He was at one time one of the selectmen of Barnstable, constable and highway surveyor of Barnstable, constable at Plymouth and held civil offices in Barnstable, Plymouth, and Halifax at various times. His name is found with five others who refused to serve on the Grand Enquest June 3, 1657, but there is a record dated June 8, 1664, when he and twenty others were sworn as "the Grand Enquest"

When the court at Plymouth declared war against the Dutch, among those who bestowed a halberd was Sergeant Tompson. The pay of a sergeant was three shillings per day.

In an exact list of all names of the Freemen of the jurisdiction of New Plymouth, there were forty-three in Barnstable, including John Tompson, under date of May 29, 1670. Under various dates he appears referred to as one of the selectmen during a part of the time that the Halifax farm was included in the territory of Middleborough.

John Tomson made a will dated July 8, 1696, which was executed before Judge William Bradford, from which it appears that he was a carpenter and had not only built his own house, half of which he bequeathed to his wife to use "during her widowhood," but he built houses for his sons John and Jacob and bequeathed to the latter the house he built for him. He built, with Richard Church, brother of Colonel Benjamin Church, the Indian fighter, the first framed meeting-house in Plymouth, in 1637. For a few years he lived as a farmer in Sandwich. The land in Halifax he purchased from William Wetispaquin, sachem of the Neponsets, and the purchase was approved by the court at Plymouth. It is recorded in the Registry of Deeds at Plymouth, Book 4, Page 41. His farm consisted of about six thousand acres of land, commencing at the Herring brook in the northern part of Halifax, and extending south into Middleborough nearly five miles. His first house in Halifax was built of logs and was burned by the Indians. It was located near a spring of water on the farm now owned by Jabez P. Tompson, on of the Halifax town officials for many years.

Shortly after building this log house, Tomson and Jabez Soule, who lived about three miles away over the Indian trail, induced Pringle Peter, a young Indian to live with them and learn to work like the English. The Indian divided hs time, two weeks with each one. When the Indians plotted war against the white men this Indian would steal away and join them and when peace was made he would return, so his disappearance was equivalent to a warning, and the Tomsons and Soules would take refuge in the garrison house at Middlebororugh. There is a tradition that one day Tomson said to Pringle Peter: "I wonder the Indians never tried to kill me."

"Master," said the Indian, "I have cocked my gun many times to shoot you, but I loved you so well I could not."

One day when Mrs. Tomson was alone some Indians came into the house, pulled a fish which she was cooking from the kettle, and upset the rude furniture. She reprimanded them and one of the Indians brandished a knife in a threatening manner. She drove them out of the house with a splint broom. This occurrence and many others convinced her husband that "There is trouble ahead; we must pack up immediately and go to the garrison."

A portion of their furniture was loaded on wagons, and valuables secreted in the swamp near at hand. they started about nightfall and had not proceeded more than two miles when they saw the light of their burning house. They passed the house of William Danson in Middlebourough and urged him to accompany them, but he decided to wait until morning. His decision cost him is life as he was shot while watering his horse at a stream, which has since been called Danson's brook.

John Tomson was chosen to command the garrison. There were sixteen men with him capable of bearing arms. He applied to the governor and council for a commission and was given a general commission at Lieutenant Commandant of the garrison and its sixteen men, and in the field and at all posts of danger. This was a sort of roving commission, such as was later given to Colonel Benjamin Church, who was destined to put and end to the King Philip's War by bringing about the death of the sachem.

Tomson's arms consisted of a long gun, brass pistol, sword and halberd. The length of the gun, including stock and barrel, is seven feet, four and one-half inches. It is of 12 caliber, and weighs twenty pounds and twelve ounces. The sword is also a formidable weapon.

There were thirty-five families in the old fort at Middleborough at the beginning of King Philip's War. The Indians would appear on the south side of the Nemasket river, opposite the fort and make insulting gestures and perform antics of defiance. Lieutenant Tomson ordered Isaac Howland to take the old Tomson gun and shoot one of the insulting Indians as a warning to the others. the distance was nearly half a mile away but the bullet from the long gun found it's mark.

At the close of the war in 1677, John Tomson built a frame house near where the former house of logs was burned by the Indians. In it he lived the remainder of his life and it was occupied by members of the family one hundred and sixty years, until it was taken down in 1838. The land where the house stood has never been out of the Thompson family ownership.

Source: "History of Plymouth, Norfolk and Barnstable Counties Massachusetts; Volume I" by Elroy S. Thompson. Pub. 1928. Pages 107-111