Philip English

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Philip English

English home.jpg

The English "great" house

Many Jerseymen emigrated to the United States, and a favourite destination was Salem, Massachusetts. One of the first to settle there was Philippe Langlois, born in Trinity in 1651 and baptised in the parish church on 30 June that year. He was the son of Jean Langlois, who was clearly well connected because his son's godparents were Sir Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, and his wife

Philip English's signature

Name change

Philippe crossed the Atlantic at the age of 19 and promptly changed his name to Philip English when he joined a group of Jerseymen who had already settled in Salem. He took lodgings with a merchant, William Hollingworth, and married his daughter Mary on 1 September 1675 and from 1676 to 1692 he traded with Bilboa, Barbados, St Christophers, Jersey and French ports. She died in 1694 and he died on 13 March 1736. They had eight children: Mary, born 21 February 1677, married William Brown; William, born 23 May 1679, died young; Susanna, born 5 July 1682, died young; Philip, born 4 September 1684, who was owner of the Blue Anchor Tavern on the corner of Derby and English streets and married Mary Ellis; Susanna, born 11 February 1686, who married John Touzel; William, born 7 April 1690, who followed his father as a mariner and died in 1716; John, living in 1746 and also a mariner; Ebenezer, born 21 April 1694.

Philip snr built a house on the corner of Essex and English streets in Salem in 1683. It was popularly called English’s “great” house and remained in the family until 1749. A family tragedy gave him a good start to his career as a merchant because he inherited his father-in-law's substantial fortune when he was killed fighting Indians.

Cod trade

He became one of the first Jerseymen to be involved in the cod trade, because he used William Hollingworth's money to build ships and in 1676 he returned to Jersey in his ketch Speedwell with a cargo of cod and returned with a shipload of Jersey boys and girls to be his 'apprentices' in America. The girls were tied to him for seven years and became domestic servants; the boys were indentured for four years and were hired out as seamen.

Ralph Delahaye Paine, in his Ships and Sailors of Old Salem describes Philip English as "a commanding figure in the seafaring history of his time".

"A native of the Isle of Jersey he came to Salem before 1670. He made voyages in his own vessels, commanded the ketch Speedwell in 1676, and ten years later had so swiftly advanced his fortunes that he built him a mansion house on Essex Street, a solid, square-sided structure with many projecting porches and with upper stories overhanging the street. It stood for a hundred and fifty years, long known as 'English's Great House'. In 1692 Philip English was perhaps the riches man of the New England Colonies, owning 21 vessels which traded with Bilboa, Barbados, St Christopher's, the Isle of Jersey and the ports of France. He owned a wharf and warehouses, and fourteen buildings in the town".

One of English's bills of lading, dated 1707, shows the kind of commerce in which he was engaged. it reads in part:

"Shipped by the Grace of God, in good order and well conditioned, by Sam'll Wakefield, in and upon the Good sloop called the Mayflower whereof is master under God for this present voyage Jno Swasey, and now riding at anchor in the harbor of Salem, and by God's Grace bound for Virginia or Merriland. To say, 20 hogshats of Salt... In witness whereof the Master or Purser of the said Sloop has affirmed to Two Bills of Lading .... and so God send the Good Sloop to her desired port in Safety. Amen"

Paine's account continues:

"To Virginia the clumsy, little sloops and ketches of Philip English carried 'Molasses, Rum, Salt, Cider, Mackerel, Wooden Bowls, Platters, Pails, Kegs, Muscavado Sugar and Codfish and brought back to Salem, Wheat, Port, Tobacco, Furs, Hides, old Pewter, Old Iron, Brass, Copper, Indian Corn and English Goods'. The craft which crossed the Atlantic and made the West Indies in safety to pile up wealth for Philip English were no larger than those sloops and schooners which ply up and down the Hudson River today. Their masters made this way without sextant or 'Practical Navigator', and as an old writer has described in a somewhat exaggerated veiin:'Their skippers kept their reckoning with chalk on a shingle, which they stowed away in the binnacle; and by way of observation they held up a hand to the sun. When they got him over four fingers they knew they were straight for Hole-in-the-Wall; three fingers gave them their course to the Double-headed Shop Key and two carried them down to Barbados.'
The Salem witch trials


Philip English's world was brought tumbling down in 1693 when his wife was accused of witchcraft. This was the time of the notorious Salem witch trials and anyone who upset their neighbours for whatever reason, resulting in an accusation of witchcraft, found themselves in very serious difficulties.

Ralph Delahaye Paine wrote:

"The witchcraft frenzy invaded even the stately home of Philip English, the greatest shipowner of early Salem. His wife, a proud and aristocratic lady, was 'cried against', examined and committed to prison in Salem. It is said that she was considered haughty and overbearing in her manner toward the poor, and that her husband's staunch adherence to the Church of England had somethig to do with her plight. At any rate, Mary English was arrested in her bedchamber and refused to rise, wherefore guards were placed around the house and in the morning she attended the devotions of her family, kissed her children with great composure, proposed her plan for their education, took leave of them and then told the officer she was ready to die.
"Alas poor woman, she had reason to be persuaded that accusation was equal to condemnation. She lay in prison for six weeks where her firmness was memorable. But being visited by a fond husband, her husband was also accused and confined to prison. The intercession of friends and the plea that the prison was overcrowded caused their removal to Arnold's jail in Boston on the same day with Giles Corey, George Jacobs, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator and Bridget Bishop, all of whom perished except Philip and Mary English. Both woulod have been executed had they not escaped death by flight from the Boston jail and seeking refuge in New York."

The Rev Samuel Williard

In his diary for 21 May 1793, the Rev William Bentley, pastor of East Church in Salem from 1783 to 1819, wrote:

"Substance of Madam Susannah Harthorne's account of her grandfather English, etc. Mr English was a Jerseyman, came young to America and lived with Mr W Hollingsworth, whose only child he married. He owned above twenty sail of vessels. His wife had best education of her times. Wrote with great ease, and has left a specimen of her needlework in her infancy or youth. She had already owned her Covenant and was baptised with her children and now intended to be received at the Communion on the next Lord's Day. On Saturday night she was cried out upon. The Officers, High Sheriff, and Deputy with attendants came at eleven at night. When the servant came up Mr English imagined it was upon business, not having had the least notice of the suspicions respecting his wife. They were to bed together in the western chamber of their new house raised in 1690 and had a large family of servants.
"The Officers came in soon after the servant who so alarmed Mr English that with difficulty he found his cloathes which he could not put on without help. The Officers came into the chamber, following the servant, and opening the curtains read the Mittimus. She was then ordered to rise but absolutely refused. Her husband continued walking the chamber all night, but the Officers contented themselves with a guard upon the House till morning. In the morning they required of her to rise, but she refused to rise before her usual our. After breakfast with her husband and children, and seeing all the servants, of whom there were 20 in the house, she concluded to go with the officers and she was conducted to the Cat and Wheel, a public house east of the present Centre Meeting House on the opposite side of the way. Six weeks she was confined in the front chamber, in which she received the visits of her husband three times a day and as the floor was single she kept a journal of the examinations held below which she constantly sent to Boston.
"After six weeks her husband was accused, and their friends obtained that they should be sent on to Boston till their Trial should come on. In Arnold's custody they had bail and liberty of the town, only lodging in the Gaol. The Rev Moody and Williard of Boston visited them and invited them to the public worship on the day before they were to return to Salem for Trial. Their textg was that they that are persecuted in one city, let them flee to another. After Meeting the Minsiters visited them at the Gaol, and asked them whether they took notice of the discourse, and told them their danger and urged them to escape since so many had suffered. Mr English replied, 'God will not permit them to touch me.' Mrs English said, 'Do you not think the sufferers innocent?
"The gentlemen of the town took care to provide at midnight a conveyance, encouraged by the Governor, Gaoler, etc and Mr and Mrs English with their eldest child and daughter, were conveyed away, and the Governor gave letters to Governor Fletcher of New York, who came out and received them, accompanied by twenty private gentlemen, and carried them to his house. They remained twelve months in the city. While there they heard of the wants of the poor in Salem and sent a vessel of corn for their relief, a bushel for each child. Great advantages were proposed to detain them at New York, but the attachment of the wife to Salem was not lost by all her sufferings, and she urged a return. They were received with joy upon their return and the Town had a thanksgiving on the occasion. Noyes, the prosecutor, dined with him on that day in his own house.

Paine reflected:

"That a man of such solid station should have so narrowly escaped death in the witchcraft fury indicates that no class was spared. While his sturdy seamen were fiddling and drinking in the taverns of the Salem waterfront, or making sail to the roaring old-time shanties, their employer, a prince of commerce for his time, was dreading a miserable death for himself and that high-spirited dame, his wife, on Gallows Hill, at the hands of the stern-faced young sheriff of Salem.

Philip English eventually returned to normal life in Salem and completed 50 years in his shipping career. In 1722 he wrote to one of his captains, John Touzel, perhaps the same who married one of his daughters:

"Sir, you being appointed Master of my sloop Sarah now riding in ye Harbor of Salem, and Ready to Saile, my Order is to you that you take ye first opportunity of wind and Weather to Saile and make ye best of yr way for Barbadoes or Leew'd Island, and there Enter and Clear yr vessel and Deliver yr Cargo according to Orders and Bill of Landing and Make Saile of my twelve Hogsh'd of fish to my best advantage, and make Returne in yr Vessel or any other for Salem in such Goods as you shall see best, and if you see Cause to take a freight to any port or hire her I lieve it with your Best Conduct, Managem't or Care for my best advantagbe. So please God to give you a prosperous voyage, I remain yr Friend and Owner, Philip English."

George Balleine, in his Biographical Dictionary of Jersey records that Mary English died while in prison in New York, and that Philip was forced to return to Salem without her. This version is contradicted by other biographers, but even more so by the fact that the couple's last child was born in 1694 and that Mary died shortly after. Philip's dispute with the church lingered on and he was again imprisoned in 1725 for failing to pay to support the Minister of Salem. He claimed in his defence that he worshipped in Marblehead as a member of the Anglican Church.

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