My Ancestor William Durkee – First Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts

My more recent immigrant ancestors were from in and around Gort and Peterswell Parish in Galway, Ireland, and from Klingenmünster in the Südliche Weinstraße (Southwest Wine Route) district in Germany. I have to go back an additional eighty-five years to find my next immigrant ancestors, they were Kennedy and Murray Scots-Irish that came to British Colonial America about 1770 from Ballintoy, Antrim, Ireland. I do have a few German ancestors that came from Germany in the 1750’s. And I have several additional German ancestors that came to British Colonial America via England in 1710. The English transported nearly 3,000 German Palatines in ten ships to New York in 1710. However, I have a huge amount of Colonial American ancestors that were here even earlier, including a few Mayflower Pilgrims. Although many of my Colonial ancestors were from England, I also have some that were from Scotland, Wales, Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Switzerland. But . . . my earliest Irish Catholic ancestor was William Durkee. He was sent into servitude in Barbados and then came to British Colonial America. He was born in Ireland about 1636, possibly in Drogheda. He is believed to be the first Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts. ☘️☘️☘️ 💚 💚 💚 ☘️☘️☘️

To understand his plight, I need to give some historical background. “In 1641, Ireland’s population was 1,466,000 and in 1652, 616,000. According to Sir William Petty, 850,000 were wasted by the sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment during the Confederation War 1641-1652. At the end of the war, vast numbers of Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the American colonies by the English government. These people were rounded up like cattle, and, as Prendergast reports on Thurloe’s State Papers. “In clearing the ground for the adventurers and soldiers (the English capitalists of that day)… To be transported to Barbados and the English plantations in America. It was a measure beneficial to Ireland [according to the English], which was thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters; it was a benefit to the people removed [again according to the English], which might thus be made English and Christians … a great benefit to the West India sugar planters, who desired men and boys for their bondsmen, and the women and Irish girls… “To solace them.”” (2)

In Barbados the Irish Catholics constituted the largest block of servants on the island. It is estimated that in 1652 Barbados had absorbed no less than 12,000 of these political prisoners.

William Durkee was sold into indentured servitude and was sent to Barbados. The price was 1500 pounds of sugar each and the term of service was seven years. “They were treated no better than the African slaves, sometimes worse, for out of fear of insurrection, they were treated with great severity. Accustomed to the moist climate of Ireland, their half-naked bodies suffered terribly in the hot sun of the tropics. Consequently they were dubbed “Red Legs” by their cruel masters.” (4)

In Barbados the authority was not established until 1663, when all the Irish slaves were released and left stranded without friends or money. Many of them sold the only thing they had that was salable, namely, their services, and by this means reached the New England colonies.

William came from Barbados to the British American Colonies as a indentured servant in the household of Thomas Bishop of Ipswich, Massachusetts. His arrival in Massachusetts is documented in early Massachusetts records and he came in 1663, and he is listed as William Durgie.

I need to point out here that many think because the Puritans came to America for reasons including religious freedom that they were tolerant of others of different religions, but this is not true. It is known as a fact that William Durkee was Irish and was a Catholic, and many believe he was the first Catholic Irishman to settle in Massachusetts. “This made him a target for the fanatical Puritans. They fined him for not attending Church, the fine being paid by Thomas Bishop. He was sentenced to receive 25 lashes or pay a fine of five pounds for running away. Bishop pays again.” (4)

The following is from The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross at the Historic Ipswich on the Massachusetts North Shore website:

“Thanks to the existing Massachusetts court records of the time we are able to know more about him than most other ancestors. In the same household of Thomas Bishop was a servant (she was not an indentured servant, but a local girl working as a servant) named Martha Cross, she was the daughter of Robert Cross and Anna Jordan. Martha was born in Ipswich, MA and was of a family considered upstanding and church going.

When Martha became pregnant by William, they were presented for fornication; the court ruled that they be punished and be married. They found themselves back in court when Martha’s father refused to comply and Durkee had his own misgivings.

The Essex Co. MA court records provide a detailed account of the case, where gossip and hearsay from their neighbors were presented as evidence. The court clerk recorded William Durkee’s name with several different spellings in the same document:

William Dirkey, presented for fornication, was ordered to be whipped not exceeding twenty stripes, and to put in security of 20£ to save the town of Ipswich harmless from the charges of keeping the child, or else go to prison….Martha Crosse, for fornication, is ordered to be whipped unless she bring a note from the treasurer, of threes £s paid to him.”

Thomas Bishop provided the surety, but after the birth of the child, Durkee filed a suit against Robert Cross when he refused to allow his daughter to marry Durkee.

“Margrit Bishop testified that being asked by Martha whether she should go home to her father, deponent told her that it was best for her to do so. At that, William being discontented, she desired me in the presence of God to bear witness that she would have no other man but he. Furthermore, she said ‘why will not you trust me as well as I have trusted you hitherto?’ And hereupon she went away to her father.

“Grace Searl testified that she heard Martha Crosse say, when her friends came for her, that she told William that if she went away she would come again and would not forsake him.

“Thomas Bishop testified that Martha Crosse desired him several times to speak to her father, that she and William Durgy might be married …

“Mary Bishop testified that Martha said it was her greatest comfort that her father had given his consent to her marriage, which was to take place on the nineteenth of the present month.”

The court ruled for the plaintiff, that Robert Cross must give his daughter in marriage or pay 5£s damages. Cross agreed to the settlement:

“Honored Sirs, you may Easily understand how the Case stands concerning my daughter, and I give them leave to marry, Your servant Robert Crosse.”

Cross also addressed a letter to Thomas Bishop:

“Neighbor Bishop, to you & your wife this is to let you understand our minds, the Case standing as it does: we leave your servants to your disposal…and we shall no ways hinder it. —Your much Respected Friend, Mr. Robert Crosse at Ipswich in New England, the 12 of the 7th month 64.”

But by now, William Durkee was having second thoughts about the marriage, and Robert Cross filed charges against Durkey for “abusing his daughter.” Cross frequently appeared in court, suing John Fuller in 1642; Joseph Fowler in 1649; Cornelius Waldo in 1651; William Durkee in 1664; Thomas Wells in 1668; and in 1670 Nicholar Vauden and Lawrence Clinton, two of his servants who had run away.

Back to court they went:

“Goodman Story deposed that Martha Crosse conceived she had been cast out of her father’s favor and family and was sore horrified and distressed in mind, and that her Sister Goodey Nelson came with tears to hear her: ‘Woe, said I,’ I thought my Sister would have died tonight: but she thought she could not live another day in that Condition: I being much affected with their Condition, said, ‘Why doe you not go to your Father & make your Condition known unto him? To which she answered, ‘Oh, I dare not go to speak a word in her behalf.’ Then I said, ‘will you go if I go down with you?’

“Then Goodey Nelson said, ‘I with all my heart,’ so we went down to Goodman Cross, and there we found them in a sad and sorrowful Condition very much horrified in their spirit, not knowing which way to turn or what to say, & as my apprehension then led me, I did treat with them about suffering them to marry, which he did, & that was the way then what we thought to be the best.”

“William Nelson deposed that William Durken said, at the deponent’s house, after Goodman Story had been at his father’s, that he wished he had never spoken as he had, owning the child to be his, but he had eighteen meals a week and would spare six of them to keep the child.

“John Bishop deposed that he heard William Durgee say that he had rather keep the child than keep her, but he presently said if he kept one he would keep the other, and they agreed to be married the next day.”

William Durkee married Martha Cross, daughter of Robert Cross, December 20, 1664 and they established their residence in Chebacco Parish.” (1)

“Life was very difficult for William and Martha. Even after William worked off his indenture to Thomas Bishop, he could not own land. This was because he refused to renounce his Catholicism and those that did not belong to the official Protestant Church in good standing could not be a land holder. It appears that his attitude may have changed, I would think out of desperation and frustration, for later there is a record of William‘s purchasing 1/4 acre of land from the town of Ipswich in 1693. Also, several of his sons were deacons in the church, so in the next generation they all joined the Puritan church.” (4)

William apparently remained in Thomas Bishop’s employ and lived in one of his houses. He is later reported to be working on the highways.

According to the Ipswich, Massachusetts Town Clerk, William Durkee Sr. had a seat appointed on one of the short seats in the meeting house in 1700. His name appears on a deed as late as 1713.

Known children of William Durkee and Martha Cross:

  1. John Durkee, married/1 to Elizabeth Parsons and married/2 to Hannah Bennett.
  2. Martha Durkee, married Thomas Fuller.
  3. Dr. Thomas Durkee, married/1 Elizabeth Lord and married/2 to Rebecca Lamb.
  4. Elizabeth Durkee, married George Martin, Sr. (II) as his second wife.
  5. William Durkee, married Rebecca Gould.
  6. Jane Durkee, married John Martin.
  7. Mary Durkee, married Joseph Peck.
  8. Ann Durkee, married Samuel Palmer.
  9. Henry Durkee.
  10. Mercy Durkee, married George Martin, Jr (III).

☆ My ancestors are Mercy Durkee and George Martin, Jr. (III). George Martin, Jr. (III) just happens to be the grandson of George Martin (I) and Susannah Goodwife “Goody” North 👩‍🦳 who was hanged as a witch during the 🧹 Salem Witch Trials! I will be posting about my ancestor Susannah Goodwife “Goody” North Martin 👩‍🦳 in a future blog post.

My direct line:

  1. William Durkee and Martha Cross (daughter of Robert Cross, Sr. and Anna Jordan).
  2. Mercy Durkee and George Martin, Jr (III) (son of George Martin, Sr. (II) and Hannah Green).
  3. Mercy Martin and Amos Leach (son of James Leach and Mary ____ ).
  4. Jemima Leach and David Prindle (son of Daniel Prindle and Phoebe Marie Fed).
  5. Amos Prindle and Esther Canfield (daughter of David Canfield, Sr. and Sarah Gray).
  6. David Prindle, Sr. and Hannah Elizabeth Kritsinger/Greatsinger (daughter of John (Johann) Greatsinger and Lea Litts).
  7. Daniel Prindle and Sarah Jane “Jennie” Doman (daughter of Jacob (Johann Jacob) Doman and Mary Ann Chamberlain).
  8. Anna “Cora” Prindle and Joseph Edward Cole (son of Lorin Richard Cole and Nancy M. Losure). – my great-grandparents.


1. Historic Ipswich. The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross. Historic Ipswich on the Massachusetts North Shore (website).

The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross – Historic Ipswich

2. West, Robert E., England’s Irish Slaves. EWTN [website]

England’s Irish Slaves | EWTN

3. The Irish Times. Red Legs in Barbados, Jan. 17, 2009 [online]

Red Legs in Barbados (

4. Bishop, Bonnie. My Genealogy Home Page: Information about William (DURGY) DURKEE [website]

Bonnie-J-Bishop – User Trees –

🌟🌟🌟If you use any information from my blog posts as a reference or source please give credit and provide a link back to my work that you are referencing. Unless otherwise noted, my work is © Anna A. Kasper 2011-2021. All rights reserved. Thank you.🌟🌟🌟

About Lady Anna K

I am an avid Genealogist. I am currently a student at Phillips Theological Seminary (one of the few Catholics!) In community college, I majored in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies when at university.
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