History loves a bad boy, mostly because folks who are in court a lot or who generate scandal leave more records behind. Thomas Holcombe, it would seem, was a good boy. There is no record that he ever caused any trouble. Most of what we know about his life comes from his estate inventory and some land records. We know that he settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1633. Before that, it is unclear where he came from; his birthplace, birth year, and parentage are all matters of dispute among genealogists.
Logically, it makes sense that he was born in England and that at some point there, he came into contact with the Puritan group that later settled Dorchester. He married a woman named Elizabeth (maiden name unknown), probably after he arrived in the New World. By May 14, 1634 he had been admitted to the church in Dorchester and become a Freeman. In December of that year, he was given eight acres of land, Lot #65 in Dorchester, and an additional 3 acres of meadowland. In August of 1635 he sold all of these landholdings and his house to Richard Joanes and afterward he and Elizabeth settled in Windsor.
Historian Henry Stiles tells us their Windsor home lot was outside the Palisado on Main Street, just a few doors down from The Old Stone Fort.1
Thomas again sold his landholdings in December of 1640 and resettled in the Poquonock section of Windsor, becoming one of the first families to live there. We don’t know why he moved. Was he looking for a bit of adventure? Did he want a bit more space? The Holcombes’ neighbors there were the families of John Bartlett, and Edward, Francis, and George Griswold. According to Stiles, they settled north of the point where Stony Creek crossed the highway, with Holcombe’s lot second along the brook after Griswold’s. Because of the Poquonock residents’ “remote living from neighbors and nearenes to the Indians,”2 they were allowed to keep one man among them home on militia training days to protect their families. This duty was rotated among the men, although there is no evidence to suggest that the sentry was ever called to action.
In his lifetime, Holcombe fathered a total of 10 children, eight of whom were born in Windsor. Prior to his death in September of 1657, he amassed an estate valued at 294 pounds 10 shilllings, the bulk of which was land. According to his estate inventory, his home lot in Poquonock at the time of his death included 11 acres and an orchard, but with the included woodlots he had been granted and his other landholdings, he owned more than 200 acres of real estate. He was a man of learning and owned books, tables, dishes, pewter, and other trappings of refinement, along with two swords. Notably, the inventory indicates Thomas also owned joinery tools, suggesting that he could make furniture.
Joshua Lane, Eric Gronning, and Robert Trent, three scholars of American furniture, assert that Holcombe had trained as a carpenter in England. He worked to forge strong social and business relationships with the Griswold and Eno families in Windsor, thereby strengthening his family’s ties to the closely interrelated network of woodworking families in the region. Two of Holcombe’s four daughters married woodworkers, and it is possible that their husbands had previously been apprenticed to Thomas. If these assertions are true, Holcombe played a key role in the formation of the group of woodworkers featured in the exhibition The Woodworkers of Windsor.3
Today in Windsor, we are indebted to Thomas Holcombe for his role in the settlement of Poquonock, and his contributions to the region’s unique woodworking traditions. He was a person who didn’t rock the boat, but who was steady, reliable, and built strong foundations that have endured in our community for generations.
- The most reliable source of information on Holcombe’s life is found in Robert Charles Anderson. The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Vol. II. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995, pp. 964-967.
- J. Hammond Trumbull, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, Hartford: Brown & Parsons, 1850, p. 196.
- A complete discussion of Thomas Holcombe’s woodworking ties is found in Gronning, Erik K., Joshua W. Lane, and Robert F. Trent. “Dutch Joinery in 17th-Century Windsor, Connecticut.” Maine Antiques Digest. August 2007, pp. 8D-13D.