January 8, 2013

George Felch/Felt Gave Heirs a Strong Start in a Free Land

George Felch/Felt Gave Heirs a Strong Start in a Free Land

By Melanie Jensen Johnson
George Felch probably would not feel comfortable being labeled a hero.  He probably felt like a complete failure.  After all, at the end of his life, he and his wife relied on the kindness of strangers for their support.  They were effectively beggars.  But I believe he was a hero, at least to me and all of his other descendants.  Let me explain.

George Felch felt stifled in England.  He had ambition—he wanted to make more of his life than what he could in England.  He refused to do what generations of working-class Felch’s had done before him in Bedfordshire, England—rent.  He wanted his own land to farm and improve, so he could pass it down to his descendants and change the future.  His hunger drove him to do something crazy.  He sailed for America.

It was risky and George knew it.  As a trained Mason, he probably wasn’t sure he could fight American Indians, hunt wild animals, live in a cabin, or clear forests for farmland.  He had heard stories of the difficulties.  But he knew he could build homes and farm the land.
George joined Captain John Endicott’s company and landed in 1628 in the New World.  After a while in Salem, George settled in Charlestown where other Bedfordshire natives had come to live.

Newly chartered Charlestown officials gave out 5 acre plots of land to eager settlers.  George happily accepted his first acreage, right next to Widow Wilkinson’s acreage, on the ‘Mystick Side’ of Charlestown (now Everett.)  Soon he was keeping company with the widow’s daughter Elizabeth and the couple was married around 1633.  

All places are approximate.  Thanks to Google Maps for template to draw map.
George built a home, probably more like a cabin,[1] on his property in Charlestown, cleared the land and planted crops.  He learned to trade with the Native Americans, and he bought more land.  By 1638, he and Elizabeth were the proud owners of his original 5 acres in Charlestown, 20 acres of forested land in modern Malden and 38 acres of wetlands in modern Woburn.  The family even had a milk cow.  George had the land he wanted and a family with whom to share it.  His family grew quickly—6 or 7 children were born to the couple between 1634 and 1651.  

George learned to trade with the Native Americans—alcohol, blankets, gun powder and beads for valuable furs and fish. (Corey)  Trading with the Native Americans made George wealthy.  George built a larger home on another 5 acres in modern Everett.[2]  And he put his wealth into land.  He bought 300 acres in Casco Bay, Maine, looking to relocate there eventually.   He built a small stone house on that land, making a trading post for his interactions with the Native Americans during trading season.

When George Jr. married in 1662, George made a gift of 40 pounds to his son.  And he followed that up with a signed deed confirming his intent to leave George Jr. 60 more pounds in his will.  George must have felt the full extent of his hard work and enterprise.  He truly had broken free of the constraints placed on peasants in England.  And he promised to share this wealth with his kids.

Now that he was trading so far from home, George and Elizabeth planned to move to Casco Bay.  In 1664, they sold all the lands they had so carefully gathered in Charlestown.  They moved to Casco Bay that year, bringing the younger children along.  Their son George Jr. also settled there with his family.

With the American Indians a constant threat, the homes were built so as to allow the settlers to keep an eye out for each other.  George built his newest home near what were called ‘Felt’s Falls’ right on the coast in Broad Cove.   It must have been a beautiful place for a home, the falls having been described as where ‘the creek at Cumberland Foreside come tumbling into the sea.’  The creek was large enough to power a mill in subsequent years.  It must have been a fantastic property upon which to retire.

George bought another 2000 acres in Casco Bay he wanted.  He said he lived on it for 3 years before paying 60 pounds for it in 1670.  Life went on pleasantly for George until 1675, when American Indians attacked the settlers in the area.  George and Elizabeth fled to safety, as did George Jr. and his family, having seen the smoke from neighboring homes as evidence of the invasion.  For three years, the ‘savages’ destroyed all the hard work of these early settlers was gone.  And George Jr. died at their hands.  

George and Elizabeth had lost their home, their farm, and their oldest son.  A developer claimed their 2000 acres, and sold it to new settlers.  With 200 acres of raw land, but too old now to redevelop it, they gave it to their son Moses and grandson George 3rd.   They moved to Malden where daughter Mary lived with her husband James Nichols.  But Nichols didn’t want to care for ‘ould ffelt;’ instead Nichols petitioned the town to pay for their support as they lived with other families.  

In another plea of support, George wrote to the town of Malden,
…Some time after the late Indian war it was withheld from me by some of the inhabitants of said Town of Caskoe Bay and being by said war much impoverished I could not recover it out of their hands.  I also am now forced to suffer for want of convenient care taken of me in my present distresse being about eighty seaven year’s old and very crasy and weak.

Although the couple was new to town, and destitute, the town of Malden supported the old couple off and on for 11 years until their deaths in 1693-1694.  They were among the earliest citizens that became town charges of Malden town.  

George came to America to build a future for himself and his posterity.  Land in America was the key.  Although he was amazingly successful at creating this wealth in his lifetime, King Phillips War and a developer’s claim stripped him of this wealth.  Although things didn’t work out the way he had planned, he still passed on to his posterity a toe-hold in a free country, where his heirs could build a wealth of their own.  That makes him a hero in my book.  

Disclaimer:  This was written using the information available at the time it was written.  The author did her best in good faith to represent George and Elizabeth Felch accurately and kindly.  Author is solely responsible for the content.

Works Cited

Corey, Deloraine Pendre. The History of Malden, Massachusetts, 1633-1785. Malden, Massachusetts: Self Published, 1899.
Johnson, Melanie Jensen. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 22 Jan 2013. 22 Jan 2013 .

[1] The home was described as located on the south west of the mill hill, butting southward upon the Charles river. 
[2] This home would have been at the corner of Ferry and Chelsea street in Everett.  This home stood over 200 years, having been owned by Revolutionary War Patriot Daniel Waters.  It had been enlarged by subsequent owners, but George handcrafted the core.  It was demolished in 1850.  

Updated 22 Jan 2013

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