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On the Hazards of Seeking Religious Freedom in the Land of Puritans

Nicholas Upsall (1596-1666) and

Dorothy Capen (1602-1675)

Nicholas Upsall and Dorothy Capen are my 10th great grandparents by the following path:  RWA → Fred Pemberton Abbott → Arthur Merrill Abbott → Ellen Janet Wilson Abbott → Rachel Mansfield Wilson → Lydia Mansfield Mansfield → Rachel Roby Mansfield → Rachel Proctor Roby → Joseph Proctor → Elizabeth Cocke Proctor → Susanna Upsall Cocke → Nicholas and Dorothy Capen Upsall.  They are also my 10th great grandparents through a second path through their daughter Elizabeth Upsall Greenough.

We were taught that Puritans came to the New World seeking religious freedom, but that is not accurate. Puritans sought freedom for their own idiosyncratic beliefs. Believers of other types were persecuted by fining, banishment, imprisonment, or death for the incalcitrant. One of those executed for her Quaker beliefs was Mary Dyer who was hung in Boston on 1 June 1660 (pictured to the right).

Although Nicholas Upsall did not suffer the fate of Mary Dyer, he was a Quaker in Boston during the height of the persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans, and he received severe punishment for professing beliefs that differed from Puritan beliefs.

Nicholas and Dorothy were born in Dorchester, Dorset, England where they married in 1630.  Shortly after their marriage in 1630, they sailed on the Mary and John to the colonies settling first in Dorchester and moving to Boston in 1644.  They had five daughters and two of them (Susanna and Elizabeth) are my direct ancestors.

Things seemed to go well for Nicholas and Dorothy.  They were successful innkeepers, proprietors of the Red Lyon Inn built in 1654 on the corner of North and Richmond Streets.  Nicholas, however, became interested in the Quaker movement, and for this he suffered 10 years of persecution beginning in 1656 and lasting until his death in 1666.  The General Court passed the first law against the Quakers 14 October 1656.  Nicholas spoke out against this as he did look at it as a sad forerunner of some heavy judgment to follow upon the country.  The following day he was taken to court for the offense of speaking out against the law.  He was fined for this offense, and in early 1657 was in court again for meeting with other Quakers to the dishonor of God.  He was banished to Sandwich and later went to Rhode Island.  His wife remained in Boston caring for the youngest children and running the inn.  Nicholas returned to Boston three years later and was almost immediately put in prison where he remained for two years.  He was then on a sort of house arrest, being sent to live with John Capen in Dorchester provided the said Upshall do not corrupt any with his pernicious opinions, or admit Quakers or other heretical persons to have communion with him or recourse to him.  He was essentially confined at the home of John Capen, believed to be a relative of his wife, for the remaining four years of his life. 


The family record for Nicholas Upsall and Dorothy Capen can be seen here:



Anderson, Robert Charles. (1995). The Great Migration begins:  Immigrants to New England 1620-1633. Boston, MA: Great Migration Study Project.

Moore, William W. (1880).  Friends’ Intelligencer, vol 36, pp 269-271.  (accessed on Google Books)


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