The first of this Byram family to appear in America was Nicholas Byram, who was recognized as a “freeman” of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1638. His wife was Susannah Shaw who came to Massachusetts with her parents in 1636. They lived in Weymouth and then Bridgewater, Massachusetts where Nicholas was a physician and a substantial landowner.
Nicholas was probably born in England about 1610 and arrived in Massachusetts before 1638, perhaps as early as 1632. His origin and the circumstances of his emigration are uncertain and subject to legend (See "Discussion of Evidence" below). He apparently arrived with some financial means as he had accumulated enough land to be made a “freeman” of the settlement of Wessagusset (later called Weymouth, Massachusetts) on May 2, 1638. Freemen were a sort of colonial aristocracy in New England (in 1670 were only 1,100 Freemen in a population of some 25,000). Freemen were required to have a certain amount of land or equivalent income and they were the voting members of the community. They received the title “Mister” and could wear ornaments of gold, silver, and lace in the generally austerely dressed Puritan community.
Susannah Shaw was born about 1617 (one source cites her christening as March 24, 1617) in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, the daughter of Abraham Shaw and Bridget (Best) Shaw. Abraham Shaw brought his family to New England aboard the ship, Ann, in 1635 or 1636. They settled in Dedham in Norfolk County, Massachusetts.
Nicholas and Susannah were married, apparently at Dedham, between 1635 and 1639 (sources differ). They lived in Weymouth for many years -- records indicate that Nicholas was a “physician” in Weymouth from 1638 to 1662. In 1660, Nicholas began to purchase land in the “Duxbury Plantation”, which later became Bridgewater in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. He moved his family to Bridgewater in 1662 and became the second settler in the area that would become East Bridgewater. By the time of his death in 1688, Nicholas had accumulated nearly 500 acres by purchase and grants of “proprietor’s rights”. Nicholas apparently took an active part in the government of Bridgewater. He was elected a member of the “grand inquest” in 1664 and was appointed as one of the “selectmen” of Bridgewater in 1666. He was appointed a “War Councilor” of the town in 1667 and probably had some part in directing the defense of the town from warring Indians during “King Phillip’s War” (so called from the colonists’ name for the enemy leader) in 1676.
Nicholas Byram died in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts on April 13, 1688. His will (dated January 13, 1687 and proved June 13, 1688) confirms his children in land “I formerly gave to them” and leaves the rest of his property to his wife Susannah.
Susannah (Shaw) Byram died in East Bridgewater in 1699. Her will (dated September 7, 1698 and probated December 18, 1699) provides for her son Nicholas, his wife Mary, and two of their children, Nicholas and Mehitable. She also mentions daughters Abigail Whitman, Deliverance Porter, Experience Willis, and Susan Edson and other grandchildren, Ebenezer Whitman, Mary Leach, and Mary Willis. She granted freedom to two slaves, a maid and a man servant.
* * * * * * * DISCUSSION OF EVIDENCE
Nicholas Byram has apparently not been located among the existing lists of passengers on ships to New England, so his arrival is something of a mystery.
According to a frequently quoted family legend, he was the son of an English (or Anglo-Irish) gentleman, who is called William Byram in some versions. In this story (with variations of detail in different versions), Nicholas was robbed of money provided by his father, by a man entrusted with his care and, at about age 16, was sent to Barbados (or somewhere else in the West Indies) where he was sold as a servant to pay his passage. When he was freed, in about five years, Nicholas used gold sewn into his clothes, and kept hidden all that time, to make his way to New England.
Young men certainly were shipped to the colonies as indentured servants, sometimes no doubt against their will, and the story could be true, or have some truth in it. Planters in Barbados apparently did import indentured servants in this era, freeing them in five years with a small amount of money and land. The difficult part to believe is that he kept enough wealth hidden to not only get to New England, but to set himself up there as a substantial landowner and citizen. And if he had that kind of money, why didn’t he buy himself free in the first place?
Another version of Nicholas’ origins and emigration has been put forward by a researcher who believes he is the Nicholas Byram who came to Virginia as a servant in 1637. This researcher speculates that he moved to New England because he preferred the “religious climate” and sold the 50 acres he received for emigration to establish himself there. It appears, however, that the 50 acres was granted to the sponsor, Thomas Edgehill, and not to his servant, Nicholas Byram. The same researcher believes that our Nicholas was the grandson of one Nicholas Byrom (sic), a Cheshire barrister, and traces this line back to the Normans and the year 1066.
Evidence for any of these stories is very slight indeed. At this stage of research, the best we can document is that Nicholas Byram was settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts by May 1638.
* * * * * * * SOURCES
Abby Byram and Her Father, The Indian Captives by John M. McElroy (1898) [MN Historical Society, St. Paul] p 19
Byrams in America by John Arnold Byram (2nd Ed., 1996) [KY Historical Society, Frankfort] pp 1-10
Genealogical Register of the First Settlers of New England by John Farmer (1829) [Allen Co Library, Fort Wayne IN] p 52
Genealogy Outline of the Descendants of Nicholas Byram by Thomas L. Byram (1970) [Allen Co Library] p 1
History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater by Naphum Mitchell (1840) -- transcription on the internet: http:// www.rootsweb.com/~mabridge/hisofbri.html
“Family Group Record – Nicholas Byram” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=5810006
“Family Group Record – Thomas Whitman” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=4283774
“Family Group Record – Thomas Whitman” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=7331202
“Family Group Record – Thomas Whitmond” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=5544596
“Family Group Record – John Porter” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=1626931
“Family Group Record – Samuel Edson” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=1627070
"Family Group Record – John Jr. Willis” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=1605124
“Family Group Record – Samuel Leach” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http:// www. familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/family_group_record.asp?familyid=7558384
“Individual Record – Mary Porter” Family Search - Ancestral File -- on the internet: http://www.familysearch. org/Eng/Search/AF/individual_record.asp?redid=6987243