The home of Samuel Simmons

Samuel Symonds’ house

The land and marsh on the east side of Labour-in-vain Creek were controlled by Sagamore Masconomet, who made terms with the Colonists and sold the land to their leader John Winthrop Jr. :

I doth testify that I Maskonomet did give to Mr. John Winthrop all that ground that is between the creek commonly called Labour in Vaine Creek & the Creek called Chebacco Creek, for which I do acknowledge to have received full satisfaction in wampampeage & other things and also for the sum of twenty pounds to be paid unto me by the said John Winthrop, I do fully resign all my right of the whole town of Ipswich as far as the bounds thereof shall go, all the woods, meadowes, pastures & broken up grounds, unto the said John Winthrop in the name of the rest of the English there planted.”

In 1638, Masconomet deeded the balance of Agawam, from Salem to the Merrimack River, to the colonists for an additional £20.

In 1636 Winthrop accepted a commission to begin a plantation in Saybrook Connecticut. Hoping to change his mind, on Jan. 13, 1637, the Town of Ipswich granted to Mr. John Winthrop “Castle Hill and all the meadow and marsh lying within the creeke, provided he lives in the Towne.” Notwithstanding, Mr. Winthrop sold the farm to his relative Samuel Symonds in February, 1637-8, and moved in 1639 to Connecticut. Deeds shown an additional hundred acres on Castle Hill was sold to Symonds on Jan. 1, 1645, and the remainder of the estate on Aug. 20, 1645. The Town, resenting Winthrop’s departure as a betrayal, unsucessfully challenged his title. The house was constructed near the present Argilla Farm at 107 Argilla Rd. “The Bridge over the Creek near to Mr. Symonds his house,” is alluded to in 1647and is instructive regarding its location. Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that the foundation was not far from the present house and could still be found at the turn of the 20th Century.

Symonds’ instructions to John Winthrop

When Mr. Samuel Symonds (1595 – 1678) purchased the land, he was still residing at “Olivers” on Great Halstead Rd. in Toppesfield, Essex, England. There were no buildings in his purchase from Winthrop, and his first desire was to erect a fine and comfortable house for himself in advance of his upcoming relocation from England to Ipswich. While Symonds was still in England, he sent the following letter to Winthrop, describing how he wished his new home on the lot to be constructed. The house described is one or two rooms wide and one room deep, two stories in height, with a full cellar, central doorways and stairways, and wood chimneys on either side. (Archaic spelling is corrected below.)

To the Right Worshipful his much honored brother John Winthrop of Ipswich, Esq: speed this I pray.

Good Sir—

I have received your letter, I thank you for it, it hath bin my earnest desire to have had an opportunity long ere this to have been with you again, but was hindered by the weather, and still my desire lasts, but now I cannot, by reason that my wife her time draweth very near.

Concerning the bargain that I have made with you for Argilla, my wife is well content, & it seems that my father Peter hath imparted it to the Governor, who (he tells me) approves of it very well; also, so I hope I shall now meet with no rub in that business, but go on comfortably, according as I have & daily do dispose my affairs for Ipswich.

Concerning the frame of the house, I thank you kindly for your love & care to further my business. I could be well content to leave much of the contrivance to your own liberty upon what we have talked together about it already.

I am indifferent whether it be 30 foot or 35 foot long ; 16 or 18 foot broad. I would have wood chimneys at each end, the frames of the chimneys to be stronger than ordinary, to bear good heavy load of clay for security against fire. You may let the chimneys be all the breadth of the house if you think good; the 2 lower doors to be in the middle of the house, one opposite to the other. Be sure that all the doorways in every place be so high that any man may go upright under.

The stairs I think had best be placed close by the door. It makes no great matter though there be no partition upon the first floor; if there be, make one bigger than the other. For windows let them not be over large in any room, & as few as conveniently may be; let all have current shutting draw-windows, having respect both to present & future use.

I think to make it a girt house will make it more chargeable then need; however, the side bearers for the second story being to be loaded with corn, etc., must not be pinned on, but rather ether let in to the studs, or borne up with false studs, & so tendoned in at the ends. I leave it to you & the carpenters.

In this story over the first, I would have a partition, whether in the middest or over the partition under, I leave it. In the garret no partition, but let there be one or two luthrn (gable) windows, if two, both on one side. I desire to have the spars (*rafters) reach down pretty deep at the eves to preserve the walls the better from the weather. I would have it cellared all over, & so the frame of the house accordingly from the bottom. I would have the house strong in timber, though plain & well braised.

I would have it covered with very good oak-heart inch board, for the present to be tacked on only for the present, as you told me. Let the frame begin from the bottom of the cellar, & so in the ordinary way upright, for I can hereafter (to save the timber within ground) run up a thin brick work without. I think it best to have the walls without to be all clap boarded besides the clay walls. It were not amiss to leave a doorway or two within the cellar, that so hereafter one may make comings in from without, & let them be both upon that side which the lucorne window or windows be.

I desire to have the house in your bargaining to be as completely mentioned in particulars as may be, at least so far as you bargain for, & as speedily done also as you can. I think it not best to have too much timber felled near the house place westward etc. Here are as many remembrances as come to mind. I desire you to be in my stead herein, & whatever you do shall please me. Yours ever, S. Symonds

Samuel Symonds house
Artistic rendition of how the Symonds house may have looked

Comments by Fiske Kimball

Architectural historian Fiske Kimball wrote about Symonds’ house in the book, “Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic“:

“We are so fortunate as to have in 1638 most detailed prescriptions for the house of Deputy-Governor Samuel Symonds, at Ipswich, in a letter to John Winthrop the younger. If we read this without merely fitting it to our preconceptions, we will find every sentence full of illumination on unfamiliar points:

  • The house, it will be observed, was one room deep but was two stories and a half in height besides a cellar, which was framed like the rest instead of having masonry walls.
  • It is interesting to note that it had chimneys at both ends, and thus furnishes an early example of a type usual in Virginia, but not reputed to have been common in New England until a later time. We may surmise that the reason lay in the use of the wooden chimneys, and that the practice continued in New England during their persistence.
  • Many (17th Century) houses had one or more “lucome windows,” mentioned by Symonds. The word, with many variants, is derived from the French Iucarne, dormer; but gabled dormers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance rose over the face of the wall below, and thus the term was applied to a gable also.
  • Symonds told Winthrop the inch board were “to be tacked on only for the present as you tould me” which might suggest that this covering was an addition recommended by experience during the first eight years of the colony. A reason for such an addition, besides the greater severity of American climate, may well have lain in the great difficulty of securing lime for the finishing coat of the filling.
  • In the seventeenth century, in the colonies and even in England, glass windows were by no means so universal as may be supposed. The “current shutting draw windows” of Symonds’s house in 1638, “having respect both to present and future use,” were doubtless sliding panels of board, closing windows which were later to be provided with glass.

Samuel Symonds

Samuel Symonds was born on June 9, 1595 at Earl’s Colne, Essex, England. He was a Cursitor (clerk) in the Court of Chancery, and married at Great Yeldham, 2 April, 1617, Dorothy, eldest daughter of Thomas Harlakenden, of Earl’s Colne, Essex. He owned and resided in the estate of Olivers in Toppesfield, next parish to his birthplace Great Yeldham, for twenty years. They had twelve children born at Toppesfield, four of whom died there young. His wife was buried there 3 August, 1636. The following year he moved to Ipswich, and was made Freeman in March, 1638.

His first wife, Dorothy, who was related to John Winthrop, died in 1636, and he married second, Martha, widow of Daniel Epes, who was also sister of the second wife of John Winthrop, Jr. In May, 1638, soon after he settled in Ipswich, he was chosen Deputy to the General Court. The following month, he was appointed a magistrate of the Ipswich Court, in which he served for four years. He was Town Clerk from 1639 to 1645, and served the town as Selectman. In 1643, he joined the Court of Assistants, composed of the Governor, Deputy Governor and seven magistrates, which was the Supreme Court of that day. He became deputy governor in 1673 and died in office in October 1678.

Five years before Deputy Governor Samuel Symonds died on Oct. 13, 1678, his estate was valued at £2534 sterling which he conveyed to his son-in-law Daniel Epes. The western part of the Argilla farm came into the possession of John Baker, whose descendant, Allen Baker built the substantial hip-roofed farm house nearby at 107 Argilla Rd. in 1785, known as “Argilla Farm.”

Symonds was a member of the landed elite, which included Rev. Hubbard, Daniel Denison, the Winthrops, Appletons and others. Well before settling in Ipswich, he and John Winthrop Jr. were granted large farms in New Meadows, the western section of Ipswich that soon became Topsfield, which both sold for a sizable profit. Said to be “a man of sympathetic spirit, thoughtful and reverend mind,” he was also a slave-holder. In 1654, Samuel Symonds bought two Irish children\ who had been kidnapped from their bed’s by Cromwell’s forces, Philip Welch and William Downing who were “indentured” for ten years. After working on Symonds’ farm for seven years they demanded their freedom, and Judge Symonds had them arrested and brought to trial. During the Indian wars, Native American captives were apportioned among the soldiery as the spoils of war. In Captain John Whipple’s estate, inventoried in 1683, among the items listed was a slave, “Lawrence, ye Indian, at £4. Major Appleton bought three captives, and Samuel Symonds, Esq, paid £5 for an Indian boy and girl. Symonds wrote that he “could go singing to his grave,” if the Indians could only be won to Christ.

Sources and further reading:

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