The Suckling House in 1935, former home of Margaret Barrett in Norwich, England. Photograph by George Plunkett and used with permission of Jonathan Plunkett georgeplunkett.co.uk.
In continuing our Founders’ Series, we decided to examine the life of one of Windsor’s founding women. Studying women from this early period can be challenging because it is often difficult to find evidence of them in the historic record. Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton’s life, however, is surprisingly well-documented and full of quiet drama.
Margaret was born in the late 1590s to a family of some means in Norwich, England. Her father, Christopher Barrett, was a well-respected grocer who served as sheriff of Norwich in 1615 and Mayor in 1634. He was a man of property. For at least part of her childhood, Margaret lived at Suckling House, a fine merchant’s house on St. Andrew’s Street in Norwich. Part of that home survives today and has been re-purposed as a cinema. The house gives a sense of Margaret’s material life before she married and came to America.
Margaret married her first husband, Simon Huntington, at their home church, St. Andrews, Norwich on May 1, 1623. Together, they had five children, all born in England between 1624 and 1631. By 1629, church records indicate that Simon Huntington had become a Puritan, as did many other St. Andrews congregants. Simon was brought before the Bishop’s Visitation of the Diocese of Norwich “for that he doth not use to stand up at the Creed, nor bow at the name of Jesus.” These deviations from expected church behavior were common among adherents to Puritanism.
In 1633, spurred on by their religious beliefs, Margaret and her family set sail for Roxbury, Massachusetts. Simon Huntington did not survive the journey. He is said to have died of small pox and was probably buried at sea just before arriving in America. It is easy to imagine how frightened Margaret must have felt, arriving on a new continent with her four surviving children to care for, but no husband. Back home in England, Margaret’s brother Thomas was left to wonder about her fate. In 1671, nearly 40 years after Margaret left, he wrote a statement of pedigree to Sir Edward Bysshe, saying, “Margaret who married to one Symond Huntington who carried her to New England & had several children by her; but we can give no account of her or them, yet think that she & several of her children are living there.” Margaret must have felt isolated, unable to correspond with her family.
A little over a year after Simon Huntington’s death, Margaret married Thomas Stoughton. In December 1634, James Cudworth, nephew of Thomas Stoughton, wrote a letter to another family member, saying, “my uncle Thomas is to be married shortly, to a widow that has good means and has five children.” By 1635, their newly-formed family had settled in Windsor.
Thomas Stoughton was born in Manchester, England but had come to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1630 following the death of his first wife. He became a freeman there in 1631, and seems to have been a respected member of the community. He served numerous stints as an assessor once he moved to Windsor. According to land records written in 1640, Thomas owned a homelot with fifty-two acres of meadow here, where Margaret is thought to have remained until her death. Margaret herself passed away in March of 1665/6, after John Winthrop Jr. treated “Mrs. Stoughton, Margaret of Winsor” for her final illness.
Margaret’s life was one of change. Though she married men who, like her father, were respected property holders in their communities, the difference between her childhood as the daughter of a wealthy businessperson in Norwich and her life as a farmer’s wife in the new settlement at Windsor would have been vastly different experiences. Her children embraced change as she had done, and went on to become prominent citizens themselves and founders of settlements at Saybrook, Norwich, and Windham.
By Kristen Wands, curator