The Drew Archives has many wonderful holdings, but the oldest by far is a letter written on July 24, 1662 to Experience Mitchell, one of Duxbury’s earliest settlers. The letter, written in iron gall ink on wove paper, measures 8.5″ x 12″. It has been conserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA. and can be viewed if you happen to be traveling through Duxbury.
Experience Mitchell (born about 1603-1609) was a member of the English Separatist community in Holland. He came to Plymouth Colony in 1623 aboard the ship Anne, possibly with his sister Constant. His first wife was Jane Cook, the daughter of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke. Experience moved his young family from Plymouth to Duxbury in the 1630’s where he became civically active, serving on a number of juries and as the surveyor of highways. In 1650 he purchased the Paybody farm on what is now the north side of Harrison Street. When Henry A. Fish wrote his Duxbury Ancient and Modern in 1923, the cellar-hole of Experience Mitchell’s house could still be seen (during the early part of the 19th century the same farm, with an enlarged or completely different house, was owned by shipbuilder Samuel Delano, Sr. and so was the residence of Duxbury’s most famous son, Capt. Amasa Delano). After the death of his first wife, Experience married a woman named Mary and continued to reside in Duxbury. Eventually he moved to Bridgewater, MA where he died between 1684-1689.
With his first wife, Jane Cooke, Mitchell had three children: Elizabeth, Thomas and Mary. By his second wife, Mary, it is believe he had his other five children: Sarah, Jacob, Edward, John and Hannah.
The letter to Experience Mitchell was written by his nephew, Thomas Mitchell. In it, Thomas relates the sad news of his mother’s death. He also congratulates his cousin, Elizabeth, on the birth of a daughter, and his cousin, Sarah, on her marriage [to John Hayward].
The handwriting is extremely difficult to decipher, and I would be lying if I told you I could read the letter word for word. Luckily, there is an early 20th century transcription which I have copied here:
Loving and kind uncle my hearty love and kind salutation. I do here desire unto you hoping and wishing you and yours wellbeing both in Soul as in body. I shall here communicate unto you a sad dispensation of the Lord toward me in the taking away from me out of this life my most dear and tender Mother the which unto me indeed is a great loss not only missing her most tender affection to me and over me (the which is very much) but also the most sweet and Godly example of piety by the which as by her Counsel Godly persuasions she did labor to bring me and us all here with her to see and experience more & more the sweetest of walking in the ways of God in obeying of him and in keeping close unto him the missing of which you may easily judge cannot but be sad unto us here. Nevertheless we do desire seeing it this is the will of our God to administer unto us having appointed unto us all to die, to labor to be contented and submit unto the will of our God. Considering the goodness of Almighty even in this providence the which had it been long afore would a have been more sad in respect of my minority and young years it being always her desire to see me to come to age afore she should depart this life the which mercy the Lord hath granted unto us for I am now about 23 years of age and able sundry years ago through the mercy and goodness of the lord my God to subsist in the world by my fathers trade the which is indeed a good consideration and give me occasion to awaken my soul and yet to be thankful to God especially when I mind the sadness the which she was in of late being very weakly out of which the lord has delivered her having taken her out of this sad and toilsome world a world of misery and has brought her to the kingdom of his dear son to an inheritance immortal in light. Thus most loving uncle I have communicated the sad. Received a letter from you bearing date 23 April 1661 in the which I understand concerning all your healths at the hearing of which I am very glad. I do also wish my cousin Elizabeth much joy with her daughter that God has given her to her 6 sons. I do also wish my cousin Sarah much joy in her married estate and as touching your enclosed letter for Mr. Preserved May I have delivered it and do return an answer and now as touching my two sisters and their husbands and children they are well and do most heartily remember their love unto you and unto their cousins and I pray remember me most kindly to your wife and unto all my loving cousins the which to name I cannot. Also I pray you uncle do so much as to present my respects and my sisters and their husbands to my Aunt and my Cousin Joseph and acquaint her concerning my dear mothers departing. I would have written to her also but I wanted time the ship being to go away pray my Aunt and Cousin to write and not fail and I pray do you also no fail to write and so commending you all to the Lord I shall remain where I am
Your very loving cousin
In Amsterdam 24 July 1662
Uncle yet a word the which perhaps you have not heard of, the which is the decease of Mr John May and Uncle Dickens which died both about half a year since.
For to be delivered unto his very loving Uncle Mr. Experience Mitchell dwelling in Duxbury Town in New England. To be sent.