Following is the story of John Vargason, who lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts 1650-56. He may or may not be the progenitor of this Vargason family in America, although the story is compelling. To add him to the family tree, it will be necessary to fill in the next 70 years to discover whether or not the following generations connect him to John Vargason of Norwich, Connecticut, and his descendants as described in the Vargason Lineage from 1726 onward.
John Vargason was a lad in Scotland, born perhaps around 1630-35. Between 1642 and 1651, the British Isles were enmeshed in three English Civil Wars, pitting royalists against parliamentarians. “Following Parliamentary victory in the first and the second Civil Wars, Charles I had been executed in January 1649 and a Commonwealth declared in England. In June 1650 his son landed in Scotland, where he was proclaimed King Charles II. In July the English Parliament, expecting Charles to initiate a Scottish led campaign for the English crown, launched a pre-emptive invasion of Scotland.” (UK Battlefields Trust. UK Battlefields Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/medieval/battleview.asp?BattleFieldId=61, 8 May 2014.)
Cromwell at Dunbar by Andrew Carrick Gow.
Under the command of Oliver Cromwell, an army was sent from England to Scotland, crossing the border July 22, 1650. The Scots had hastily raised an army commanded by professional soldier and excellent strategist Sir David Leslie. John Vargason was a soldier in this army. Commander Leslie avoided conflict and led Cromwell’s army around Scotland. He used a “scorched earth” policy, which forced Cromwell to obtain his supplies from England. By early September, Cromwell’s army, demoralized and suffering weakness and illness, withdrew to Dunbar, the port to which their supplies were delivered. The Scots had a commanding position atop a hill overlooking Dunbar, but, the story is that, because it was a Sunday, church officials told Leslie not to break the Sabbath with battle. So, he waited and began moving his army down the hill on September 2, losing his advantage. On September 3, Cromwell attacked and won an overwhelming victory in this Battle of Dunbar.
Over 3,000 Scots were killed, and 10,000 were taken as prisoners. “Of the 10,000 captured, half were released immediately due to their wounds or sickness. Not wanting the others to join up with Leslie and rearm, the rest were marched 118 miles south to Durham with the aim of sending them to the American colonies as labour. Given little food or medical help, and prisoners who tried to escape offered no quarter, only 3,000 staggered into Durham on the 10th of September. Once there, the food intended for the prisoners was stolen and sold by their guards so that two months later, only 1,400 were still alive. Of these, 900 were sent to the colonies and 500 indentured to fight in the French army.” (Beck, Steve. The Battle of Dunbar. Military History Online. Retrieved from http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/2ndenglishcivilwar/ dunbar.aspx, May 9, 2014.)
The first group of 150 prisoners of war sent to the American colonies was deported on November 11, 1650, on the ship, Unity. They arrived in Massachusetts Bay in early 1651. Although there was not a list made (at least, not one that remains) of the Scottish prisoners aboard this ship, the following website contains solid research piecing together their names: http://scottishprisonersofwar.com/battle_of_dunbar_pows_america/. I believe that John Ferguson on this list is John Vargason of Ipswich. (We know that the Gaelic Scottish burr, unfamiliar to English ears, caused their names to be Anglicized. In addition, remember that spelling was phonetic and not standardized until about 1755, so don’t be thrown by the various spellings of Vargason throughout this post.)
About 60 of the 150 prisoners were put to work in the Saugus Ironworks in Saugus, Massachusetts. Another group of about 25 was sent to Berwick, Maine, to work in the sawmills. The rest were sold for 20-30 pounds apiece to anyone willing to pay the price.
We know from the following Ipswich Court Records and Files from 1654 that John Vargason/Vargison was indentured to (probably Richard) Jacob, an early settler and wealthy landowner who often retained servants.
Photo by B. Sugden
Richard Jacob arrived in America in 1634. In the 1650’s, he had a houselot in town on Bridge Street, 40 acres of upland and meadow on the northwest side of the river, 12 acres of meadow at the West Meadows, 10 acres of upland at the Reedy Marsh, and one other houselot near Mill Street. The photo to the left shows one of the parcels lying just outside Ipswich, as it looks today. It is supposed that John Vargason worked as an indentured servant on this or similar property.
By 1656, John Vargason/ffargason had a contract with the Village of Ipswich as “one of them that keep the cow herd on the north side of the river.” The meeting notes appear on page 102 of the Massachusetts Town and Vital Records in handwriting that is unfortunately difficult to read.
I decipher the notes as follows:
13 March 1656 (27 April 1656)
Agreed with John ffargason for one of them that keep the cow herd on the north side of the river to have 12 s per week for his wages to begin the keeping the 27 of April to go out with them at half an hour after sunrise and bring them in at half an hour before sunset to have 12 s per head at their going out and 6 s per head at the latter end of June in butter or wheat and the rest of their pay at the end of their time whereof 1/2 peck of wheat for every head and for all those cows that go above one m? to pay half and above two m? the whole pay provided always they approve themselves to the yeomen to the faithful discharge of their trust and if any shall not pay within 6? days after demand to pay 6 s in every head more the demand being at the house for keeping in the Spring and on the Lord’s days as form only to take the cows at Mr. Robert Paynes. The mark of John ffargason
Agreed with Marke Quilhers? to join with John forrgason in keeping the herd on the north side of the river on like terms. Indian corn to be paid at 2 s.
By July 1656, it appears that young John, as was the case for many of the Scottish indentured servants by now, turned to thoughts of love. Just two doors away from Richard Jacob on Bridge Street lived Thomas French and his family. His daughter Sarah played a major role in the next, and last known, phase of John Vargason’s life.
From the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, Volume II, 1656-1662, are the following entries:
While whipping seems like harsh punishment, it was the norm of the day, and the court records are full of similar incidents. Nothing more is known of Sarah French, and she does not appear in her father’s will in 1680, possibly indicating that she had died or been disowned! I have found no further information in the Ipswich records concerning John Vargason, and it is likely that, at the conclusion of his indenture, soon to be completed, he moved onward. The search continues.