William Kerley’s sons William and Henry

Research by Jim Mau

William Kerley (1583-1670) had two sons, William and Henry. The records for Henry are generally (but not always) clear. However, there are two younger William Kerleys in the records and they have caused considerable confusion. One died in 1684 and one died in 1719. Which one was the son of the William who died in 1670?
(These men are often referred to as Senior and Junior. But something we should keep in mind is that one generation’s Junior could very well be the next generation’s Senior. Therefore, to minimize confusion, I will identify these men by the year of their deaths unless the records identify them specifically as Senior or Junior.)

Perusing family trees and reading compiled family histories adds to the confusion. The two younger Williams have obviously been difficult to differentiate. Depending upon the author, one or the other married Anna King or Jane Unknown, or even married both of them, sometimes in an illogical sequence. The known children have been attributed to both men. All of the men involved left wills, but these have been poorly analyzed or interpreted to fit preconceived notions.

William Kerley (died 1684) was born about 1621. This is calculated from his own testimony when he provided his age while appearing as a witness in court in the years 1666 and 1667. (Ages from Court Records, 1636-1700, Volume 1, Middlesex County Court Folios 41 and 44, by Malinde Lutz Sanborn, 2003 – viewable on Ancestry.com.) This is probably the William Kerley who immigrated in 1638 on the ship ‘Confidence’ which carried many passengers destined to settle in Sudbury. (The History of Sudbury, Massachusetts, 1638-1889 by Alfred Sereno Hudson.)

William Kerley (died 1719) was born about 1633. This is calculated from his tombstone, “Mr. William CARLEY, d. 13 May 1719, ae abt. 86 yrs.” (Extracted from Epitaphs in the Old Burying Ground of Lexington, Massachusetts by Francis H. Brown, M. D. 1905.)

What do the records of the period actually tell us?

The Sudbury Archives tell us that William Kerley, Senior (died 1670) was in Sudbury by 18 Nov 1640 when he appeared on a land transaction. (Record #152, http://sudbury.ma.us/archives/. Transcripts of these records can be viewed and/or downloaded.) He may have been in Sudbury as early as 1639, but the record stating this was not created until 1718. (Record #2284, List of Proprietors of the Common Land, http://sudbury.ma.us/archives/) He regularly continued to appear in Sudbury records for land transactions, town meetings, and his oath of loyalty (taken in 1645, Record # 15). After 1643 he is referred to either as “Senior” or “the elder”.
The Sudbury Archives also tell us that a younger William Kerley was in Sudbury by 1 Apr 1643. “Granted to William Kerley the younger eleven acres of upland.” (Record #180, http://sudbury.ma.us/archives/) This William Kerley also appears steadily in the Sudbury records of the 1640s – land transactions and town meetings. He is mentioned in the record of a Sudbury town meeting (9 Feb 1647) thus – “William Kerley junior is acknowledged to be a free townsman by virtue of the first grant in his commonage to the towne.” (Record 221, http://sudbury.ma.us/archives/) Most historians incorrectly have attributed this freeman status to William Kerley Senior. The exception was Sumner Chilton Powell in his Puritan Village, The Formation of a New England Town, 1963 – a brilliant study of the origins of Sudbury, winner of the 1964 Pulitzer Prize in history.)

This younger ‘William Kerly’ married Hannah King in Sudbury on 6 Oct 1646. (Vital Records of Sudbury – http://ma-vitalrecords.org/MA/Middlesex/Sudbury/)

The references in the above paragraph must refer to William Kerley (died 1684) because of his age at the time the records were created. He would have been about 22 when he received his first land, about 25 when he got married, and about 26 when he became a freeman.

The William Kerley who died in 1719 would simply have been too young (born about 1633, so between 10 and 14 years old) to be the one who participated in any of the events in Sudbury.
However, William Kerley (died 1684) being ‘the younger’ or ‘junior’ only suggests that he was the son of William Kerley (died 1670). It is possible he was a nephew or even an unrelated man who just happened to share the same name. To resolve the question we must examine the wills of William Kerley (died 1670) and William Kerley (died 1684).

William Kerley (died 1670) made his last will and testament on the 26th of the 5th month of 1669. It is enlightening to read an actual transcript of his will and not have to rely on the interpretations of others. The will mentions “my sonne William, my sonne Henry, & John Devall”. Notice that William is given precedence over Henry. (Notice also there is no ambiguity about the status of John Devall.) The will continues “that my Eldest Sonne William shall be sole executor of this my will & testament.” (A transcript of the will can be seen at http://carley.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Will_of_Wm_Kerl….) First, this indicates that William and Henry were brothers. This also indicates that his son William was older than his son Henry, who was born in 1632. It was not an indication that William (died 1670) had more than one son named William. Much has changed in the use of language since that era – the spelling, the grammar, and the punctuation. We would write ‘son’ not ‘Sonne’. We would write ‘elder’ not ‘Eldest’ (as he only had two sons). We would put ‘William’ within commas (“that my eldest son, William, shall be”) and thus eliminate any confusion. Their language was not quite our language. (See ‘1603’ by Christopher Lee for more details and examples of how our language has evolved.)

William Kerley (died 1684) states in his will “I give unto Anna my loving wife all the lands which I am now possessed of in the Towne of Marlborough … And after her death my will is that my loving Brother Henry Kerly shall enjoy & hold all my lands …”

His will also states “my sword & belt & all my other Arms & military books I give to my brother Henry Kerly, except my cutlash which I give unto William Devoll”.

The following quote from 1684 Massachusetts Records confirms this brotherly status. “Henry Kerly. Heretofore leifteiint at Lancaster, now removed, & married at Marlborow, is appointed ensigne to the train band there in ye roome of his brother, deceased there.” This can be found in The Early Records of Lancaster, Massachusetts: 1643-1725 by Henry S. Nourse, 1884.

William Kerley (died 1719) was too young to be “the younger” in the Sudbury Records. He was also too young to have been Henry’s older brother. Nor did Henry mention a surviving brother in his last will and testament, written in 1708. No records exist to indicate that William Kerley (died 1719) was a son of William Kerley, Senior.
Logic dictates we must accept that William Kerley (died 1670) knew who his sons were. We must also accept that William Kerley (died 1684) knew who his brother was. The colonial government of Massachusetts recognized the brotherly relationship between William Kerley (died 1684) and Henry Kerley. Now we can identify William Kerley (died 1670) as William Kerley, Senior and William Kerley (died 1684) as William Kerley, Junior.

Where does this leave the William Kerley who died in 1719?

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