Captain John Putnam1,2

b. 27 May 1627, d. 7 April 1710
Captain John Putnam|b. 27 May 1627\nd. 7 Apr 1710|p9469.htm|John Putnam|b. 17 Jan 1579/80\nd. 30 Dec 1662|p9900.htm|Priscilla (—?—) (Putnam)||p9901.htm|Nicholas Putnam|b. c 1540\nd. 1598|p9933.htm|Margaret Goodspeed|b. 16 Aug 1556|p9934.htm|||||||

7th great-grandfather of Ruth Minerva Fairfield.
9th great-grandfather of Laura Jane Munson.
Family Background:
Fairfield and Allied Families
Appears on charts:
Pedigree for Ruth Minerva Fairfield
     Captain John Putnam was baptized on 27 May 1627 in Aston Abbotts, Buckinghamshire, England.2 He was the son of John Putnam and Priscilla (—?—) (Putnam).3 He married Rebecca Prince 3: 7 m: 1652 (3 September 1652) in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts.4,2 He died on 7 April 1710 in Salem Village, Essex County, Massachusetts.2
     Captain John Putnam was made freeman in 1665. He was constantly to the fore in all matters relating to town or church government. In 1668 and 1670, he with both his brothers signed a petition to be allowed a minister at the "Farms." On 10 November 1689, twenty-five members of the church at Salem were set off to form the church at Salem Village, now the North Parish in Danvers. Of those, twelve were Putnams or Putnam wives, John and his wife included. The following is quoted from Eben Putnam's A History of the Putnam Family in England and America, Volume I:
Summing up the connection of John Putnam with church affairs we have the following: He was not connected with the church in any official capacity except as occasion might arise when his influence was needed to collect rates, etc., for the minister; he himself was generous in providing for the wants of the minister and church. He was a man of decided opinions, naturally supported Bayley, who was the brother of his son-in-law, opposed Burroughs bitterly, accepted Parris.

     His house was occasionally the meeting place for the church meetings. He did not hesitate to invoke the law where the affairs of the church were concerned.

     In his business career we find many interesting facts. Under date of 1678, John Putnam testifies to having heard a conversation in 1643 between Governor Endecott and one of his men, the deponent being then on the Endecott farm, and in 1705 he testifies that he had fifty years before been a retainer on Governor Endecott's farm and was intimately acquainted with the Governor. It is evident that his father had sent him to the Governor's farm to learn the science of agriculture, as this farm was known throughout the colony as a model place, where the latest and most approved theories were in practice. From this school of agriculture he seems to have gone forth well prepared to clear a farm for himself, for in 1658 he deeds some twenty acres of meadow land on north side of Ipswich river to Robert Prince, styling himself "Planter." As he was married in 1652 he probably remained with Endecott some time between his fifteenth and twenty-first years. From this time to his death he was constantly acquiring property, following the calling of a farmer of the highest and most intelligent class. He also entered more or less into the speculative enterprises of his time.

     In 1674 at Rowley Village (now Boxford) Simon Bradstreet, Daniel Dennison and John Putnam established iron works. These were constructed and carried on upon a large scale, on contract, by Samuel and Nathan Leonard.

     In this connection the following extract is interesting: "John Gould his book of accounts 1697 an account of the weaight of the iron plates that cozen Putnam had. Thomases waighed 260. Samuell weighed 330. Samuell Smiths waighed 170."

     That John Putnam was successful in the management of his affairs is shown by his tax rate. He paid œ8 in 1683 and until a few years before his death was among the heaviest tax payers in the Village. Some years previous to his death he gave his property to his children, always with reservations as to his maintenance, and the last year of his life his property was rated only for a few shillings.

     It was in the military affairs and witchcraft delusion that his character is best shown. In 1672 he is styled corporal; on the 7 Oct., 1678, he was commissioned lieutenant of the troop of horse at the Village; after 1687 he is styled "Captain." As late as 1706 "Capt. John Putnam in company with Capt. Jonathan (his son) was empowered to settle town bounds." He served in the Narragansett fight and retained his military manners throughout his life. In 1679 and later he was frequently chosen to present Salem at the General Court to settle the various disputed town bounds. He was selectman in 1681.

     He was deputy to the General Court in May, 1679, to succeed Mr. Bartholomew Gedney and again for the regular terms of 1680-1686-1691-1692, previous to the new charter. On the 12 May, 1686, he received the following order from the town of Salem: "In case Mr. Dudley &c. said to be nominated & authorized by his Majesty to Edict another Government here, do publish a Loyal Nullification of our charter and a commission from the King for their acceptance of the Government. Here then our instruction to you is-- That you give no countenance to any resistance, but peasably withdraw yourself as representing us no longer." This was just previous to the Andros administration. It is seen above that he was returned to the General Court again in 1691, after the Revolution, but of the part that John Putnam played during the intervening time we know nothing.

     That he was alive to the needs of education among the growing generation while absorbed in military and political affairs and his own business, the following entry shows: Jan. 24, 1677, "ordered and empowered to take care of the law relating to the catechissing of children and youth be duly attended to all the Village." He is desired to have "a diligent care that all the families do carefully and constantly attend the due education of children and youth according to law."

     We come now to the part he took in the witchcraft delusion; the same causes alluded to under Nathaniel were active in his case. Family pride, the strong feeling of kinship, his stern education, quick temper and obstinate nature, all tended to influence his action which was excusable according to the ignorant and narrow superstitions of the times. One side of his character is known by the following extract from Upham:

     In 1683, the Court order Rev. George Burroughs to settle with the parish at Salem Village. This settling was interrupted in a most arbitrary manner, as the following deposition shows:

["County Court, June, 1683--Lieutenant John Putnam versus Mr George Burroughs. Action of debt for two gallons of Canary wine, and cloth, &c. bought of Mr Gedney on John Putnam's account, for the funeral of Mrs Burroughs."]


     "We whose names are underwritten, testify and say, that at a public meeting of the people of Salem Farmes, April 24, 1683, we heard a letter read, which letter was sent from the Court. After the said letter was read, Mr Burroughs came in. After the said Burroughs had been a while in, he asked 'whether they took up with the advice of the Court, given in the letter or whether they rejected it.' The moderator made answer, 'Yes we take up with it;' and not a man contradicted it to any of our hearing. After this was passed, was a discourse of settling accounts between the said Burroughs and the inhabitants, and issueing things in peace, and parting in love, as they came together in love. Further we say that the second, third and fourth days of the following week were agreed upon by Mr Burroughs and the people to be the days for every man to come in and to reckon with the said Burroughs; and so they adjourned the meeting . . . . . We further testify and say, that, May the second, 1683 Mr Burroughs and the inhabitants met at the meeting house to make up the accounts in public, according to their agreement the meeting before: and just as the said Burroughs began to give in his accounts, the marshall came in, and after a while went up to John Putnam, Sr, and whispered to him, and said Putnam said to him 'You know what you have to do; do your office' Then the marshall came to Mr Burroughs and said 'Sir, I have a writing to read to you.' Then he read the attachment and demanded goods. Mr Burroughs answered 'that he had no goods to show and that he was now reckoning with the inhabitants, for we know not yet who is in debt but there was his body.' As we were ready to go out of the meeting house, Mr Burroughs said, 'Well, what will you do with me?' then the marshall went to John Putnam Sr. and said to him 'What shall I do?' The said Putnam replied, 'You know your business.' And then the said Putnam went to his brother Thomas Putnam, and pulled him by the coat; and they went out of the house together, and presently came in again. Then said John Putnam 'Marshall take your prisoner, and have him up to the ordinary [that is a public house] and secure him till the morning.'"

     (Signed) "Nathaniel Ingersoll, aged about fifty
          Samuel Sibley, aged about twenty four."

     "To the first of these, I, John Putnam, Jr. testify, being at the meeting."

     Again--Thos. Haynes testified, "after the marshall had read John Putnams attachment to Mr Burroughs, then Mr Burroughs asked Putnam what money it was he attached him for. John Putnam answered 'For five pounds and odd money at Shippen's at Boston, and for thirteen shillings at his father Gedney's and for twenty four shillings at Mrs Darby's;' then that Nathaniel Ingersoll stood up and said, 'Lieutenant, I wonder that you attach Mr Burroughs for the money at Darby's and your father Gedney's when to my knowledge, you and Mr Burroughs have reckoned and balanced accounts two or three times since, as you say, it was due, and you never made any mention of it when you reckoned with Mr Burroughs.'"

     John Putnam answered "It is true and I own it." John Putnam as chairman of the Committee the previous year represented the inhabitants. "As there was really no case against Burroughs and as there was even while these proceedings were taking place, a balance due Burroughs, the case was withdrawn."

     From the above we learn the obstinate character of John Putnam and those who sided with him.

     Upham says, writing of the scene at the above described meeting, "We can see the grim bearing of the cavalry lieutenant, John Putnam, and of his elder brother and predecessor in commission . . . . . But the chief figure in the group is the just man who rose and rebuked the harsh and reprehensible procedure of the powerful landholder, neighbor and friend though he was. The manner in which the arbitrary trooper bowed to the rebuke, if it does not mitigate the resentment of his conduct, illustrates the extraordinary influence of Nathaniel Ingersoll's character and demonstrates the deference in which all men held him." Burroughs lived with John Putnam nine months in 1680 after his first coming into the settlement.11

     Another trouble in which John Putnam took a leading part was the matter of the bounds between Salem and Topsfield. There was a strip of territory claimed by both towns. This land had been granted to settlers by Salem who had taken up their farms in good faith. Topsfield claimed these lands, unimproved and improved, as part of its commons and refused to acknowledge the titles given by Salem. There were many fights in the disputed territory between the people of the two towns and much bad feeling existed.

     John Putnam with two of his sons had land there and had two houses, orchards and meadows in the disputed territory. He maintained his ground throughout the dispute, resisting force with force. The records are full of this dispute; it was finally settled by a separate township being formed, called Middleton. The action taken by John Putnam in these matters shows him to have been a man without fear and tenacious of his rights.

     His opponents in both of these cases were, however, among the accused during the witchcraft delusion, but I do not think that John Putnam used his influence against them. He does not seem to have appeared as a witness of any moment during the proceedings, although he was more or less prominent as shown above, in the quarrels immediately preceding the trials. That he did not believe in all of the statements of the afflicted children is evident, as his name, with that of his wife, occurs on the document testifying to the good character of Rebecca Nurse, and on testimony favorable to others of those accused, but he seems never to have spoken out in open opposition, as did his nephew, Joseph Putnam.

     The will of John Putnam is not on record; he seems to have disposed of his property by deed to his children. As early as 1690 he deeds one hundred acres to Jonathan and to James, and in 1695, ninety acres to John.

     His residence was on the farm originally occupied by his father, now better known as Oak Knoll, the home of the poet Whittier.

     Rev. Joseph Green makes the following note in his diary:

     "April 7 (1710). Captain Putnam buried by ye soldiers."

     The graves of both Captain John and of his father are unmarked. The present Wadsworth Cemetery was originally the Putnam burial place and in some of the many unmarked graves probably their remains lie. Here are buried the families of his sons James and Jonathan and many others of his descendants in later generations. The oldest stone is dated 1682, and is that of Elizabeth the first wife of Jonathan Putnam. All of the graves seem to have had at some time head stones and foot stones but most are now broken off level with the ground. Many of those still standing are broken. Although the cemetery was presented to the parish by Rev. Mr. Wadsworth, no care is taken to preserve the ancient memorials of the dead. A shameful state of affairs, indeed!5

Children of Captain John Putnam and Rebecca Prince


  1. [S852] Essex Institute, Vital Records of Salem, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849 (Salem: Newcomb & Gauss, Printers, 1916-1925), 2: 216.
  2. [S901] Eben Putnam, A History of the Putnam Family in England and America, Volume I, Recording the Ancestry and Descendants of John Putnam of Danvers, Mass., Jan Poutman of Albany, N.Y., Thomas Putnam of Hartford, Conn. (Salem: The Salem Press, 1891), 29.
  3. [S901] Eben Putnam, Putnam Genealogy, 3.
  4. [S852] Salem VR (published), 4: 231.
  5. [S901] Eben Putnam, Putnam Genealogy, 30-36.
  6. [S852] Salem VR (published), 2: 217.
  7. [S852] Salem VR (published), 2: 213.
  8. [S852] Salem VR (published), 2: 212.
  9. [S852] Salem VR (published), 2: 211.
  10. [S852] Salem VR (published), 2: 207.