General James Cudworth: A Man of Conviction

We honor him as a lover of religious freedom, a brave and able commander, and a true patriot.

Men of Kent Cemetery, Scituate, Massachusetts

General James Cudworth was a humble man of conviction, a man who longed for peace, and a man who longed for tolerance among all people. Because of his beliefs, his kindness towards others, and his own acts of civil disobedience, he was relieved of his civic and military duties for nearly 16 years. However, on July 4, 1673, he was once again reinstated as a freeman, and his life as a public servant and military officer once again took center stage in his life. 

St Andrews Church, Aller, Somerset, England
James Cudworth ~ Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812

James Cudworth was born on August 2, 1612 in Aller, Somsert, England. His father was Reverend Ralph Cudworth, and his mother was Mary Machell. Both of his parents were involved with the royal family of King James I. The Reverend became a personal chaplain to the king while Mary was a nurse to the king’s oldest son, Prince Henry.

Windsor Castle

James met Mary Parker who was born about 1615 in Axminster, Devon, England. On February 1, 1633, the couple married in Northam, Devonshire, England. Two days after their wedding, the newlyweds sailed to the colonies on the Charles, and arrived in Salem, Massachusetts on April 6, 1633.

In time, the couple settled in Scituate, Massachusetts. During the month of January 1634, James became a freeman, and on January 18, 1634, the two joined the Scituate Massachusetts Church. The couple had seven children: James (1635), Mary (1637), Jonathon (1638-1638), Israel (1641), Joannah (1643), a son (1644), and Jonathon (1648).

For a time, the family moved to Barnstable. During this time, James pursued his interest in raising sheep. In addition, he also became a salter. In later years, he returned to Scituate and continued his professions.

In the fall of 1636, James Cudworth and several other leading citizens were appointed by the Plymouth General Court to serve as a special committee to aid the governor and his assistants in reviewing laws. In 1649, he served as a deputy to the General Court, and in 1652, he was captain of the militia in Scituate. He also served as an assistant to the governor in 1656-1658.

While many of the Puritans left behind their old life in order to maintain religious freedom, many did not offer religious tolerance in return. The colonies handed out harsh punishments to those who did worship as they did, for they did not want other religious groups to live among them. One group in particular, the Quakers, often found themselves at odds with their Puritan neighbors. Some in the colonists pushed for religious freedom for all. My grandfather, James, also believed that religious freedom and acceptance were necessary in the colonies. As he witnessed the intolerable acts against those who did follow the Puritan form of religion, James and several other leaders of the community decided not to enforce such practices on those who worshipped in their own way. He could not tolerate the horrible treatment of the men and the women who were Quakers.

Soon word spread that James was defying the laws. True to his own convictions, he practiced charity and opened his home to the Quakers. Some in the community of Scituate complained, and a petition was sent to the Plymouth Colony Court about 1657/58. The petition stated:

Whereas this Court received a petition from sundry person of the town of Scituate, both of the military company and others, therein expressing sundry grievances relating unto some late carriages of Capt. James Cudworth, a commission officer of the military company of Scituate, in reference to entertaining of some person as are commonly called Quakers, by suffering them to meet in his house, and others with them…do order as followeth, viz: that the said Captain James Cudworth by the court is discharged of his place as captain of the military company of the town of Scituate; the said Capt. James Cudworth also desired the same (The Great Migration 252).

In letters written to England in 1658, James wrote:

The anti-christian, persecuting, spirit is very active. He that will not lash, persecute and punish men that differ in matters of religion, must not sit on the bench, nor sustain any office in the commonwealth…..I signified to the court; but told them withal, that as I was no Quaker, so I would be no persecutor…And give me leave to acquaint you a little with their sufferings, which saddens the hearts of the precious saints of God (Giddings 145).

Although he lost his military position, in 1659, the town of Scituate once again elected him as deputy to the Plymouth Courts. The courts rejected this recruitment and refused to let him serve. On June 6, 1660, my grandfather was stripped of certain freedoms. According to the history of The Great Migration,

 Captain Cudworth being found a manifest opposer of the laws of the government, as appears by sundry expressions in a letter directed by him to the Governor and otherwise, is sentenced, according to the law, to be disfranchised of his freedom of the corporation (249).

Overtime, the views of the courts softened towards my grandfather. In 1675, Major James Cudworth was in charge of the Plymouth Colony Militia, and he commanded one hundred men from Plymouth and two hundred men from the Massachusetts Bay Colonies. On October 4, 1675, he was selected as general, and he led troops in King Phillip’s War. By 1681, he served as a Deputy Governor for the Plymouth Colony.

In 1681, the governor, Thomas Hinckley, asked the general to serve again. This time, James was sent on an assignment to the King’s Court in England. The general never appeared before the court, for shortly after his arrival, James contracted smallpox.  He died in London sometime after September 15, 1681. Since he died of small pox, he was most likely buried in an unmarked mass grave. However, in the Men of Kent Cemetery in Scituate Massachusetts, a marker was placed to honor General James Cudworth. The memorial reads:

A memorial to General James Cudworth. We honor him as a lover of religious freedom, a brave and able commander, and a true patriot.

After reading about this man, I feel blessed to have him as a grandfather. What a precious legacy this man has left for the generations that follow him.


Family Tree

James Cudworth (1612 – 1681)
8th great-grandfather
James Cudworth (1635 – 1697)
son of James Cudworth
James Cudworth (1665 – 1729)
son of James Cudworth
David Cudworth (1694 – 1777)
son of James Cudworth
Jesse Cudworth (1739 – 1830)
son of David Cudworth
Amy Cudworth (1779 – 1831)
daughter of Jesse Cudworth
John Andrews (1820 – 1893)
son of Amy Cudworth
Amy Andrews (1855 – 1938)
daughter of John Andrews
Florence Katherine Knacker (1895 – 1943)
daughter of Amy Andrews
Harold LeRoy Reeder (1932 – 2004)
son of Florence Katherine Knacker
Ann Marie Reeder
daughter of Harold LeRoy Reeder


 Works Cited

  • Giddings, Edward J. American Christian Rulers, or, Religion and Men of Government:Comprising Sketches in American History of Men of Christian Faith and Experience, Who Have Had Connection with the National and State Governments and the Judicial Department: Embracing Colonial, Revolutionary and Later Periods: Alphabetically Arranged, with Chronological Index of Early State Governors. New York, Bromfield, 1890.
  • Shurtleff, Nathaniel Broadstreet, and David Pulsifer. Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England. Boston, The Legislature, 1855.
  • Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. Plymouth Colony, Its History & People, 1620-1691. Salt Lake City, UT, Ancestry Pub., 1986.
  • Walt English. Family. Lulu Press, Inc, 2015.

13 thoughts on “General James Cudworth: A Man of Conviction

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ann Marie! Thanks for adding the ‘pingback’ to my new blog. I had so much to do on my last trip to Boston and the surrounding area. I completely bypassed the Men of Kent cemetery! Oh well, maybe next trip! I was a scout too but I was never PREPARED! Love your website. Enjoy the day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James is also my 9th great grandfather. Great history I started researching for my SAR membership and never realized my family’s history. The Whitcomb family in Scituate is very interesting and can’t wait to visit

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You did a very good job at writing the history of General James Cudworth. His mother, Mary Machell, was a descendant of the Plantagenet family so we have a few kings in our ancestry who were buried at Westminister Abbey. My maiden name is Cudworth, and I’m the 12th generation of American Cudworth’s. When I was a kid, I got to meet Arthur Cudworth, the author of the Cudworth Genealogy Book that was published in the 1970’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann, Thank you for such a clear and concise biography of our ancestor General James Cudworth! He is my 10th great grandfather and though my father lives in Scituate, MA, I had no idea I was directly descended from the famous Cudworths until I became in researching my ancestry because I inherited a portrait mini of a Revolutionary War artillery captain. I still can’t prove who is in my portrait mini but I am definitely descended of Sgt James Cudworth through his son Lemuel and granddaughter Azarmy “Susan” Cudworth who married my ancestor William Hull Tourtellotte. On this website, I thought I once found a very interesting tale of how James Cudworth befriended the Pequot Chief (a woman?) and with his militia attended a feast with the Pequots. If on your website, can you direct me to it? I can’t seem to find it now.

    Thank you and best regards!
    Charles L. Waitt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by, cousin! I love genealogy, and I am glad you found you connection to our xgreat grandfather. I did not write about the Pequots, but when you find it again, could you send me the link? Thank you, Leander.


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