Yesterday I was thinking about posting a few recent pictures taken on another walk with Bernie when a morning thunderstorm came through, kind of unusual for these parts. Off went the computer and off I went to enjoy the storm while paying bills – ugh – and finishing reading The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. The book was set in Provincetown, and although the story took place in a time period previous to our days there, it was enjoyable reading a book and being able to picture so clearly the streets and the dunes and the fishermen…
A few years ago while researching my ancestors, I came across a story about the sudden death of one of my 8th-great-grandfathers, William Shurtleff, who was born in 1624 in England, and died on 23 June 1666 at Marshfield, New Plymouth Colony, now Massachusetts, age 42. Whenever there is a thunderstorm I think of him, and his wife Elizabeth, who lived on to marry two more husbands. To me, the story illustrates how precarious life is, and that people in other generations have also had strings of incredibly bad luck. Helps to keep life’s annoying chores in perspective…
When William came to America he was apprenticed as a carpenter, and later became a surveyor. Early in the year 1666, William & Elizabeth’s house was destroyed by fire. Their neighbor, John Phillips, gave the couple and their two sons, William and Thomas, shelter in his home. Elizabeth was pregnant with their third son. According to Benjamin Shurtleff, in his book, Descendants of William Shurtleff of Plymouth and Marshfield, Massachusetts, Vol I:
While [William Shurtleff] was partaking of the hospitality of Mr. Phillips, it appears that one of those dreadful droughts occurred which were so very distressing to our early planters and which threatened to destroy all the the fruits of their spring labor. On this account the good people of several neighboring congregations observed a day of fasting and prayer as they were wont to do in those days when suffering afflictive dispensations. Soon after this, on June 23, 1666, happened the terrific thunderstorm which is so graphically described in a letter of Rev. Mr. Arnold. At the time of this storm there were fourteen people in the common sitting-room of the house of Mr. Phillips. … They were mostly seated around the room. Mr. Shurtleff was sitting beside his wife, holding her hand in his and having one of their children in his arms, the other being between him and a table, under which was a dog. The storm of rain came on with great violence and Mrs. Phillips requested to have the door closed. Whereupon a stroke of lightning passed down the chimney, which it rent to pieces, smote down most of the people if not all, instantly killing Mr. Shurtleff, Mrs. Phillips and Jeremiah Phillips, and then passed out through the door, splitting it into fragments. This occurred on Saturday and they were buried on the following day, being the twenty-fourth, according to an entry made in the Marshfield town records.
The third son, Abiel, was born soon after this tragedy.
Abiel Shurtleff was born soon after the untimely death of his father and there was a considerable debate as to what his name should be. By some it was thought that he should be called after Boanerges (Children of Thunder), as mentioned in the New Testament; but the difficulty of converting the plural name into the singular number fortunately prevailed against the infliction of an appellation which was far from being euphonious. The scriptural name Abiel, which interpreted into English from the Hebrew, signifies ‘God, my father,’ was adopted as the most satisfactory, since it was sufficiently indicative of his posthumous birth.
William lies buried in the Old Winslow Burying Ground in Marshfield, Massachusetts.
So the bills got paid and the ancestors were remembered by this descendant… Thank you, Mother Earth, for your electrifying reminders.
Last Revised: 3 May 2020