SPERRY, Richard & Dennis

Cliff McCarthy, 2017
Last Updated 21 November 2017

Richard Sperry was baptized on 16 February 1606/07 at Thurleigh Parish in Bedfordshire, England. His parents were John Sperry, Jr. and Mary (maiden name unknown).

It is believed that Richard Sperry immigrated to New England in the late spring and early summer of 1637 on the ship Hector, which carried the original party of colonists organized by Rev. John Davenport and Mr. Theophilus Eaton, however, there is no passenger list to confirm this. After wintering in Massachusetts, the party reached Quinnipiac, later renamed New Haven, on April 24, 1638.  The name of Richard Sperry does not appear on lists of the free planters who signed the Fundamental Agreement the following June. Also, he was not included in the first division of land.  This suggests that, if he was residing at New Haven, his status was relatively low — perhaps an indentured servant.  Alternatively, he may not have immigrated in 1637, but may have come to the colony a few years later.

The first reference to Richard Sperry at New Haven appeared in January of 1643/44, when he was fined one shilling for possessing a defective firearm. Richard Sperry was admitted as a freeman in 1644. This date might be significant, since the period between 1637 and 1644 was exactly seven years — the usual period of indenture. This suggests that by 1644, Richard had discharged any obligation for his transportation and, thus, was able to become a freeman of the colony.

Tradition says that Richard Sperry was “head farmer for Stephen Goodyear,” who was a prominent colonist and Deputy Governor of the colony. A relationship between Richard Sperry and Stephen Goodyear is evidenced by a record of 1648 in which Sperry was accused of not showing up for his turn on watch. Stephen Goodyear spoke in his defense, testifying that Sperry had to tend to a sick animal on the “farme.” According to Atwater’s History of New Haven, “Mr. Goodyear’s farm was north of the town, and in the neighborhood of Pine Rock.” Further, Dr. Stiles writing in the 1790’s, wrote that Goodyear owned about twelve hundred acres of relatively level ground lying west of the West Rock and installed Richard Sperry as his tenant. Pine Rock and West Rock are separated by less than half a mile.  This land was left to Richard Sperry by Stephen Goodyear upon his death and was known as “the rich plains of West Rock.” Stephen Goodyear had built a house near West Rock on this land for Richard Sperry. Stiles also stated that, “this farm Sperry afterwards owned and now, above a century has been known as Sperry’s farm.” The Sperry family lived at or near this location for several generations.

Outstanding Mystery: Richard married Dennis (sometimes Dennes; perhaps Denise?), probably at New Haven.  The identity of Dennis Sperry remains a mystery. It has been widely speculated that Dennes was the daughter of Stephen Goodyear, his employer.  In addition, it has been stated, presumably from a corresponding parish register, that she was born (or baptized) on 9 March 1624/25 in Monkleigh, Devonshire, England.  Although this is plausible, there is no credible documentary evidence that she was our Stephen Goodyear’s daughter.  Indeed, Stephen Goodyear was from the vicinity of London, which is quite distant from Devonshire. No one has ever shown that our Stephen Goodyear had a daughter named Dennis.

However, it does seem that Richard Sperry was about twenty years older than his wife. Since, there is no indication that he had been married previously, such a late marriage supports the idea that he had been a servant and, consequently, did not have the financial means to marry earlier.  Indeed, this was not an unusual situation for early American colonists.

Judges Cave

Judges’ Cave at West Rock Ridge State Park, Connecticut, USA

“The most famous incident involving Richard Sperry concerns the regicide judges, Edward Whalley and William Goffe,” writes David R. Evans, on the “Evans Family WebPage.” “They had been denied amnesty for their part in the execution of Charles I and were being pursued for retribution by agents of  his son, the restored King Charles II.  New Haven was, perhaps, the most Puritan of all the colonies and, accordingly, Whalley and Goffe fled there for protection in the late spring and summer of 1661.  In the period between May 13th and June 11th, they hid in the ‘Judges’ Cave’ near the West Rock.  Atwater’s history states that this was located about a mile from Sperry’s farm and that he and his family provided them with shelter in inclement weather as well as food, which it is told they left on a nearby stump.  From a tradition handed down in the family, it has been said that Whalley and Goffe left the cave on June 11th because they had been frightened by a wild animal (supposedly they saw the “glaring eyes” of a “panther” at the entrance of the cave).  However, this is probably merely a legend since Atwater makes no mention of it and indicates that they left their hiding place and showed themselves openly so that Davenport and others who might have been thought to be concealing them would be relieved of suspicion.  It is not known where Whalley and Goffe went between June 11th and the following 22nd, however, on the latter date they returned openly to New Haven.  At this time, they considered surrendering to the authorities, but by June 24th on the advice of friends they had changed their minds and, again, went into hiding at the Judges’ Cave.  Undoubtedly, as before, the Sperry family provided sustenance for the regicides.  Atwater reports that they remained in secret at the West Rock until August 19th ‘when the search for them being pretty well over,’ Whalley and Goffe went to Milford where they stayed two years and afterward went to Hadley, Massachusetts.  They were never captured by royal agents.”

Richard Sperry is named among the list of freemen in New Haven in 1669. In the Third Division of land in 1680, “Richard Sperry, Senr.” received 46 3/4 acres of land on the “western side of the towne.” He was listed as head of a household of 8 persons. His name also appears among the list of proprietors in New Haven in 1685, along with his sons, Richard, Jr., John, Nathaniel, and Thomas.

Richard Sperry made his will April 18, 1693. The exact date of his death is not known, however, according to Jacobus he survived until 1698.  Throughout his lifetime Richard Sperry was a husbandman and farmer and appears to have remained illiterate, since he signed his will with a mark.  Richard’s widow, Dennes, apparently died in February or March of 1706/07.

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Children of Richard & Dennis SPERRY

RICHARD SPERRY died Abt. 1698.  He married DENNIS (poss.. GOODYEAR).  She died 1707. The Children of RICHARD and DENNIS SPERRY) are:

i.    JOHN SPERRY, b. 9 January 1648/49, New Haven, New Haven, CT; d. 1692, New Haven, New Haven Co., CT; m. ELIZABETH POST, 1 September 1676, New Haven, CT; b. 22 February 1654/55, Saybrook, Connecticut; d. 1715.
ii.    MARY SPERRY, b. 14 March 1650/51; m. BENJAMIN PECK, 29 March 1670, New Haven, CT.
iii.    RICHARD SPERRY, b. 20 January 1652/53, New Haven, CT; d. 1734; m. MARTHA MANSFIELD, 16 December 1680, New Haven, CT; b. 18 April 1660, New Haven, CT; d. Aft. 1730.
iv.    ESTHER SPERRY, b. September 1654, New Haven, CT; m. (1) DANIEL HOTCHKISS, 21 June 1683, New Haven, CT; b. 9 March 1656/57; d. 10 March 1709/10; m. (2) STEPHEN PIERSON, Aft. 1683.
v.    NATHANIEL SPERRY, b. 13 August 1656, New Haven, CT; d. 1735; m. (1) ESTHER WINSTON; b. 11 November 1662, New Haven, CT; m. (2) SARAH DICKERMAN, 2 October 1683, New Haven, CT; b. 28 April 1663, New Haven, CT.
vi.    THOMAS SPERRY, b. 13 July 1658, New Haven, CT; d. 1722; m. ELIZABETH FARNES, 18 November 1684, New Haven, CT; b. 7 December 1665, New Haven, CT; d. 22 April 1718, New Haven, CT.
vii.    child SPERRY, b. 1661, New Haven, CT.
viii.    EBENEZER SPERRY, b. July 1663, New Haven, CT; d. 1738; m. ABIGAIL DICKERMAN, 21 January 1689/90, New Haven, CT; b. 26 September 1670, New Haven, CT; d. 1752.
ix.    DANIEL SPERRY, b. Abt. 1665, New Haven, CT; d. 24 April 1750, New Haven, CT; m. (1) DEBORAH PECK, 3 April 1694, New Haven, CT; b. 31 July 1672, Lyme, Connecticut; d. 16 December 1711, New Haven, CT; m. (2) SARAH WILMOT, Abt. 1713; b. 8 March 1662/63, New Haven, CT; d. 1731; m. (3) SARAH CLARK, 7 February 1732/33, New Haven, CT; b. 24 October 1671, New Haven, CT; d. Aft. 1747.
x.    JOSEPH SPERRY, b. 24 July 1668, New Haven, CT.

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SOURCES:

  • 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, Ancient Town Records, Vol. II — New Haven Town Records, 1662-1684,  (New Haven, CT: New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1919).
  • “Evans Family WebPage” by David R. Evans, (website at: http://web.pdx.edu/~davide/gene/Sperry_Richard.htm, 2016.)
  • “History of Richard Sperry, Sr. (1606-1698),” by Garry Bryant, (website at: https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/10665801, 6 October 2014), “Electronic.”
  • Jacobus, Donald Lines, Families of Ancient New Haven, (Genealogical Publishing Co.; Baltimore, MD, 1981).
  • Lawrence, Ruth, Colonial Families of America, (National Americana Society: New York).
  • Pagliuco, Christopher, Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe, The, (History Press: Charleston, SC, 2012).
  • “Pedigree Chart of Sperry Family,” by Mrs. Fred McLaughlin, Santa Monica, CA, 1949.
  • Roberts, Gary Boyd, Notable Kin, Vol. 1, (Santa Clarita, CA: Carl Boyer, 3rd, 1998).
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