Cliff McCarthy, 2016
Last Updated 17 December 2018
David Atwater and his brother Joshua were among the first planters of New Haven. David, our ancestor, settled, lived, and died in the district now known as Cedar Hill. Edward E. Atwater wrote, in his History of the Colony of New Haven:
“Joshua Atwater, the elder of the two, had established himself as ‘a mercer’ [a dealer in textile fabrics, especially silks, velvets, and other fine materials] at Ashford [Kent, England]. David Atwater, from whom all in America who bear that family name are descended, had not completed his twenty-second year when he landed in America. They had buried their father in November 1636 and their mother in the following January, and being thus liberated from filial duties, joined the expedition with their sister, the only surviving member of the family besides themselves.”
Francis Atwater wrote in Atwater History and Genealogy:
“The colonial history of Connecticut would not be complete if the names of Joshua and David Atwater were omitted. We find them enrolled among the earliest settlers, Joshua being one of seven pioneers to visit New Haven, and subsequently, under the greatest privations, to spend the winter there, while David is credited as being the first signer of the planters’ agreement. We may suppose they took part in the first public worship in New Haven, conducted by Rev. John Davenport under an oak tree, April 26, 1638. They also, no doubt, assisted in the erection of the first house of worship, ordered by vote, November 1639, and completed July 1640. ‘It probably stood a few yards in front of the present meeting house.'”
While it is likely that the Atwaters arrived in Boston on the Hector or its consort ship with Rev. Davenport and Mr. Eaton, there is no passenger list to prove that claim. (For a detailed examination of the mythology around the passengers on the Hector, see:
Joshua was one of the members of the party that spent the winter of 1638 clearing and preparing the land for the new colonists’ arrival the following year. In spite of Francis Atwater’s presumptions, I do not find the names of either Joshua or David Atwater attached to the Fundamental Agreement signed in June 1639, although there can be little doubt of their early settlement at New Haven. While Joshua Atwater appears as #11 (in 1639) in the list of admissions to the First Church at New Haven, David’s name doesn’t appear until about 1646, as #122.
Francis Atwater continued with this a few pages later:
“David probably became a proprietor of land at a later date than most of the early settlers of New Haven, and to have received his whole allotment, except a town lot, in the third division. His residence in New Haven was at his farm, between East Rock and the Quinnipiack River, which has remained in possession of his descendants to this day . Tradition says that for two miles on what is now State Street, but formerly called Fleet Street, leading from New Haven to North Haven, every house was owned and occupied by an Atwater. The land in this section was divided into tillage, pasturage and salt meadow, the latter yielding abundant fodder without delay and without labor, which of course made it eagerly sought for by the pioneers.
We may presume David was content to support himself and family by tilling the soil and living the life of a farmer, while Joshua was inclined to political and mercantile pursuits. After removing from New Haven, where he had been treasurer of the colony for several years, we find his name appearing often on the public records in Boston, sometimes as the purchaser of lands and at other times as administrator of estates. He, no doubt, was one of the leading merchants of that town and of his time. This same spirit of enterprise and ambition which actuated Joshua, must have been a family trait, as some of the children of David immediately engaged in business when age would permit, and four or five generations later his descendants became pioneers in opening up the Western Reserve, the same as the two brothers did in New Haven colony…”
In her History of Hamden, Connecticut, Rachel M. Hartley wrote:
“These earliest landholders were not settlers at the beginning, and it is not certain when the farms were actually occupied. David Atwater was probably the earliest to live on the land, and he may have been Hamden’s earliest settler. His farm included East Rock and the surrounding region between the two rivers. He appears to have been on the ground by 1645, although he also possessed a houselot in town and may have lived for part of the year on each place.”
David Atwater married Damaris Sayre, daughter of Thomas Sayre of Southampton, Long Island, NY. The marriage occurred sometime before 10 March 1646/47, when the name of “David Atwater’s wife” was read before the general court in the seating of the meetinghouse. Damaris Sayre was born 1625 in Leighton, Bedfordshire, England.
Thomas Sayre, father of Damaris, was among those who immigrated to Lynn, Massachusetts sometime before 1638, at which point he and his brother Job first appear on the town records as proprietors of 60 acres each. In 1639, Thomas and Job and six others, undertook to form a new colony on Long Island. By May of 1640, they had sailed down Long Island Sound and landed at present day Manhasset, at the head of Cow Bay, or Schout’s Bay, as the Dutch called it. It seems that the pioneer Puritans had little regard for the Dutch at New York, and their landing at Schout’s Bay was seen as a challenge. So after being deported by the government at New Netherlands, the small band of Puritan colonists sailed back out Long Island Sound, around the eastern end, settling near present day Southampton. In 1648 Thomas Sayre built a house on the town lot apportioned to him, and that house stayed in the family until 1892. Thomas Sayre went on to be a prominent man in the early history of Southampton.
William Richard Cutter wrote this odd note about the Atwaters:
“Witchcraft made little impression on the steady going inhabitants of New Haven; but it is stated that, in 1654, the Atwaters, the Lambertons and even Mr. Hooke, the colleague of Davenport, attempted to effect the death of a woman whose sharp tongue had rendered her obnoxious, and therefore suspicious to her acquaintances; but their combined influence effected nothing, and she died peacefully in her bed some years later.”
There is an account of what is probably this same incident in Jon C. Blue’s informative and, at times, amusing book about early New Haven court cases, called The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity. In his chapter called “The Reputed Witch,” Blue describes a sad situation in which a woman called Elizabeth Godman, likely with some degree of mental illness, sought redress from the court from those residents of New Haven that had accused her of being a witch — among them the Atwaters, the Lambertons, the Goodyears, and the Hookes. Though there were many examples given of malicious gossip on the part of those families, there was nothing in this case summary that mentioned of an effort to “effect the death” of the woman. The court held lengthy hearings and took lots of testimony, including the reading into the record of an earlier report on the matter by a magistrate who investigated Mrs. Godman’s claims. Mrs. Atwater (presumably Damaris, though her first name was not used) gave lengthy testimony. In the end, the court ruled that there was no basis for Godman’s claims for redress and that she had, in fact, become suspicious in the eyes of the community and therefore she should watch her future behavior. At least she wasn’t hanged.
Upon the union of the New Haven and Connecticut colonies, consummated on 11 May 1665, David Atwater was the first person from New Haven sworn a freeman of the united colony.
David Atwater, Senior (also David Atwater, Junior) is listed among the proprietors of New Haven in 1685.
Damaris (Sayre) Atwater died 1 April 1691 in New Haven, Connecticut. David Atwater died on 5 October 1692 in New Haven, leaving a will dated 14 April 1691 with a codicil added 9 December 1691.
Children of David & Damaris (Sayre) ATWATER
DAVID ATWATER was born Bef. 8 October 1615 in Lenham, Kent, England, and died 5 October 1692 in New Haven, New Haven, CT. He married DAMARIS SAYRE 10 March 1646/47 in New Haven, New Haven Co., CT, daughter of THOMAS SAYRE. She died 1 April 1691 in New Haven, New Haven, CT. The Children of DAVID ATWATER and DAMARIS SAYRE are:
i. MERCY ATWATER, b. 29 February 1647/48; d. Bef. 14 April 1683; m. JOHN AUSTIN, 5 November 1667, New Haven, CT; d. 22 February 1689/90.
ii. DAMARIS ATWATER, b. 2 November 1649, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; d. 14 December 1711, New Haven, CT; m. JOHN PUNDERSON, 5 November 1667, New Haven, CT; b. Abt. 1643, New Haven, CT; d. 23 January 1729/30, New Haven, CT.
iii. DAVID ATWATER, b. 13 July 1651, New Haven, CT; d. 10 January 1735/36, New Haven, CT; m. JOANNA; d. 5 December 1722, New Haven, CT.
iv. JOSHUA ATWATER, b. 11 January 1652/53, New Haven, CT; m. LYDIA ROCKWELL, 24 June 1680, Wallingford, CT; d. 27 November 1681, Wallingford, CT.
v. JOHN ATWATER, b. 1 November 1654, New Haven, New Haven, CT; d. 1748; m. (1) ABIGAIL MANSFIELD, 13 September 1682, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; b. 7 February 1663/64, New Haven, New Haven, CT; d. 24 September 1717, Wallingford, CT; m. (2) MARY, 27 November 1718, Wallingford, CT.
vi. JONATHAN ATWATER, b. 12 July 1656, New Haven, CT; d. 3 June 1726, New Haven, CT; m. RUTH PECK, 1 June 1681, New Haven, CT; b. 3 April 1661, New Haven, CT.
vii. ABIGAIL ATWATER, b. 3 March 1659/60, New Haven, CT; m. NATHANIEL JONES, 7 October 1684, New Haven, CT.
viii. MARY ATWATER, b. 31 March 1662, New Haven, CT; d. 1700, Durham, Middlesex Co., CT; m. (1) ICHABOD STOW, 22 October 1688, Middletown, Middlesex Co., CT; b. 20 February 1652/53; d. 25 January 1694/95, Middletown, Middlesex Co., CT; m. (2) DAVID ROBINSON, Aft. 1694.
ix. SAMUEL ATWATER, b. 17 September 1664, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; d. 17 September 1742, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; m. SARAH ALLING, 7 July 1691, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; b. 25 November 1666, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; d. 26 September 1742, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT.
x. EBENEZER ATWATER, b. 13 January 1666/67, New Haven, CT; m. ABIGAIL HEATON, 9 December 1691, New Haven, CT; b. January 1673/74, New Haven, CT; d. 19 November 1731, New Haven, CT.
- Atwater, Edward Elias, Genealogical Register of the Descendants in the Male Line of David Atwater, (J. H. Benham: New Haven, CT, 1851).
- Atwater, Francis, Atwater History and Genealogy, (Meriden, CT: Journal Publishing Co., 1901).
- Cutter, William Richard et al., Genealogical and Family History of the State of Connecticut, Vols 1-4, (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., New York; 1911).
- Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Historical Catalogue of the Members of the First Church of Christ in New Haven, CT, (New Haven, CT, 1914).
- Hartley, Rachel M., History of Hamden, Connecticut, 1786-1936, (Hamden, CT; 1943).
- Jacobus, Donald Lines, Families of Ancient New Haven, (Genealogical Publishing Co.; Baltimore, MD, 1981).