Thomas Willett

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Thomas Willett
1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by Thomas Delavall
In office
Preceded by Thomas Delavall
Succeeded by Cornelius Van Steenwyk
Personal details
Barley, Hertfordshire, England
DiedAugust 29, 1674(1674-08-29) (aged 68–69)
Swansea, Plymouth Colony (now approximately Bristol, Rhode Island)

Thomas Willett (1605 August 29, 1674) was a British merchant, Plymouth Colony trader and sea-captain, Commissioner of New Netherland, magistrate of Plymouth Colony, Captain of the Plymouth Colony militia and was the 1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City, prior to the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898.

Merchant businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others

A merchant is a person who trades in commodities produced by other people. Historically, a merchant is anyone who is involved in business or trade. Merchants have operated for as long as industry, commerce, and trade have existed. In 16th-century Europe, two different terms for merchants emerged: meerseniers referred to local traders and koopman (Dutch: koopman referred to merchants who operated on a global stage, importing and exporting goods over vast distances and offering added-value services such as credit and finance.

Plymouth Colony English colonial venture in America (1620–1691)

Plymouth Colony was an English colonial venture in America from 1620 to 1691 at a location that had previously been surveyed and named by Captain John Smith. The settlement served as the capital of the colony and developed as the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. At its height, Plymouth Colony occupied most of the southeastern portion of Massachusetts.

New Netherland 17th-century colony of the Dutch Republic that was located on the East Coast of North America

New Netherland was a 17th-century colony of the Dutch Republic that was located on the east coast of America. The claimed territories extended from the Delmarva Peninsula to southwestern Cape Cod, while the more limited settled areas are now part of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut, with small outposts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.



The fourth son of English clergyman Andrew Willet, he was born in August 1605, in the rectory-house of Barley, Hertfordshire, and was baptised on the 29th of the same month. He was educated at The King's School, Ely. His father dying when he was only 16 years of age, he appears to have continued to reside with his widowed mother and maternal grandmother till he came of age.[ citation needed ] Shortly after he went to Leyden, and then in 1629 to the new Plymouth Colony where he gained the trust of Governor William Bradford.

Andrew Willet English theologian

Andrew Willet was an English clergyman and controversialist. A prolific writer, he is known for his anti-papal works. His views were Calvinist, conforming and non-separatist, and he appeared as a witness against Edward Dering before the Star-chamber. Joseph Hall eulogised Willet in Noah's Dove, and Thomas Fuller modelled 'the Controversial Divine' of his Holy State on him.

Barley, Hertfordshire village and civil parish in the district of North Hertfordshire, England

Barley is a village and civil parish in the district of North Hertfordshire, England. According to the 2001 census, it has a population of 659, increasing to 662 at the 2011 Census. The place-name refers to a lea or meadow and not to the grain-producing plant. Coincidentally to the southwest lies the village of Reed. The Prime Meridian passes to the west of Barley, which is located on the Royston to Saffron Walden road, as well as the medieval London to Cambridge road.

Willett was placed in charge of the Plymouth Colony's trading post with the Native Americans at Castine in what is now Maine, and there developed the skills in trade and native language which would serve him well. The French forced Plymouth to abandon their operations at Castine in 1635. [1]

Willett married Mary, daughter of John Brown(e), Sr., a leading citizen of the Plymouth Colony. He moved with the Brown(e) family from Plymouth westward to the eastern shores of Narragansett Bay to Wannamoisett, near present-day Barrington, Rhode Island, and became a major merchant, trading with New Amsterdam. [2] He was elected one of the assistant governors of the Plymouth colony, and acted as arbitrator in disputes between the English and Dutch colonies. He eventually became the Plymouth Colony's chief military officer. [3]

New Amsterdam historical Dutch colonial settlement that became New York City

New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch settlement established at the southern tip of Manhattan Island that served as the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland. The factorij became a settlement outside Fort Amsterdam. The fort was situated on the strategic southern tip of the island of Manhattan and was meant to defend the fur trade operations of the Dutch West India Company in the North River. In 1624, it became a provincial extension of the Dutch Republic and was designated as the capital of the province in 1625.

Accompanying the English commander Richard Nicolls, he contributed to the peaceable surrender of New Amsterdam to the English on September 7, 1664.

Richard Nicholls was the first English colonial governor of New York province.

When the colony received the name of New York, Willett was appointed the first mayor (June 12, 1665) and a commissioner of admiralty on August 23, [4] with the approval of English and Dutch alike. The next year he was elected alderman, and became mayor a second time in 1667.

Shortly after he withdrew to Swansea, and here, after having lost his first wife, he married Joanna Boyse, the widow of clergyman, Reverend Peter Prudden. He was a member of the New York governor's executive council from 1665 to 1672 under Richard Lovelace. He retired in 1673, and died in 1674, at the age of sixty-nine. He was buried in the Little Neck Cemetery at Bullock's Cove, Riverside area of East Providence, Rhode Island. In his religious views, Willett was an independent.[ citation needed ]


Willett was connected by marriage to the family of John Brown(e), shipbuilder, perennial political office holder, founder of several towns, and one of the wealthiest men in the Plymouth Colony. Although Brown(e)'s origins are uncertain and subject to present debate, he was evidently very well connected in England, as near the end of his life he returned there for several years as executor of the estate of Sir Henry Vane the Elder; the Sir Henry Vanes, elder and younger, played major roles in England at the time of the English Civil War. The Brown(e) family also had ties to earliest Plymouth through the marriage of John Brown(e)'s son, James, to Lydia Howland, daughter of John Howland, one of the Mayflower passengers; Howland collaborated in Willett's early fur-trading efforts. [5]

Willett's son, Thomas Willett, was a major in the militia of Queens County and a councillor under Governors Sir Edmund Andros and Henry Sloughter. Mary Willett, eldest daughter of Capt. Thomas Willett and his wife Mary, married in 1658 Rev. Samuel Hooker, son of Rev. Thomas Hooker, Puritan divine and founder of Hartford, Connecticut. [6]

Some have claimed that his great-grandson was Marinus Willett, who also served as Mayor of New York, from 1807-08. This claim has been refuted by E. Haviland Hillman in an article published in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 47 at 119, published in April 1916. [7]

The descendants of Thomas Willett were numerous. The 'Dorothy Q.' of the poem of Oliver Wendell Holmes was Thomas Willett's great-granddaughter, and the great-grandmother of Holmes. Another of Thomas Willett's descendants is American musician Parthenon Willett Miller Huxley. [ citation needed ]

The Fire Department of New York operated a fireboat named Thomas Willett from 1908 to 1959. [8]


  1. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 168.
  2. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 185.
  3. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 200.
  4. Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. (1999) Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 . New York: Oxford. p. 78.
  5. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin.
  6. The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker, 15861908, Edward Hooker, Margaret Huntington Hooker, Rochester, N.Y., 1909
  7. E. Haviland Hillman, "Ancestry of Colonel Marius Willett" The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 47 at 119 (April 1916)
  8. Clarence E. Meek (July 1954). "Fireboats Through The Years" . Retrieved 2015-06-28.

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New title Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Thomas Delavall
Preceded by
Thomas Delavall
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Cornelius Van Steenwyk