English Religious Dissent and the Saunders Surname

WHB -The following excerpt from a historical treatise of Sarah Saunders Smith, centered on the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is arguably relevant to the study of 17th century emigrants to Virginia surnamed Saunders, Sanders or Sandys:


From Founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Sarah Saunders Smith (beginning at page 17)

“Weeke” simply signified a place of residence and comprised a tract of many acres. This tract, or a portion of it, was in possession of the family of John Sanders, and through the marriage of Thomas, second son of Thomas Duncombe, to Isabel, daughter of Thomas Saunders of Amersham, Bucks County, and the marriage of Wiliam Duncombe, son of Thomas Duncombe by second wife, to Ellen Sunders, daughter of William Saunders of Peltesgrave, County Beds, became in possession of the family of Duncombe, of whom Anthony, Lord Feversham, was a descendent.

“In the last century it was purchased of the trustees of this estate by Jacob, Earl of Radnor, and is now the property of the present earl. “”Weeke” formerly possessed a chapel subordinate to the mother church, but no part of it remains now.

Thus we find the family of Sanders, Saunders, one of importance and position in the Parish of Downton, County of Wiltz, in old England in the years 1500-1600. John Saunders, the ancestor of this genealogy, came to New England 1620, returned to England 1623. Revisited the colony 1630-1633-1636. He remained in New England as a place of residence, though often visiting the mother country, until his death, in 1670, at 98 years of age.

His will, probated 10-2-1670, mentions himself as “I John Sanders of Wqeeke, in ye parish of Downton, in ye county of Wiltz, in Old England.

“His will was sealed with the crest of the Saaunders arms, the impress of which is still visible, vis: an elephant’s head, side view.

“Four miles from Northampton, on the turnpike road to Leicester, through Wilford, is the Priory of St Andres, which was acceeded to Sir Thomas Arundel and Sir Henry Sanders. The principal land  holders in 1533 were: –

– Patrons

– John de Monseacuto

– Prior Hospital St John Jesus

– Laurence Saunders

– Principal Landholder or Tenant in Caivete

– Dean Robert Dryer Capt February 20 1533

“Thus we find at the Priory of St Andres Rev Laurence Saunders, on e of the principal Land owners and tenans in right of (probably) his ancestor Henry Sanders.

“The descendants of Capt. Robert Dryer sought refuge in the new world, at the large time that a large family of Saunders also emigrated. It does not seem amiss to place here a short sketch of what perhaps may have been the original cause of the immigration of so large and influential a family to America.

“In searching for facts concerning the history of the Saunders family in England, the life and martyr do of Laurence Saunders has impressed me with the fact that he was the most closely connected with the family of the Bishop of York. For in his history of Englis Marytrs describes him “as of St Andrew Priory, where his mother, a widow of gentle blood had possessions.” From this history we quote the following.

“Laurence Saunders came of a family , influential, and of gentle blood. He was born about the year 1515, was one of a large family, receiving a most liberal education. He was first sent to Eaton, and from there, according to the rules of the foundation, he was sent to King’s college at abridge, where he studied very hard for three years, making great progress in the different branches of learning, then taught in the schools. At the end of three years he fancied he would like a commercial life; and his mother, then a widow, was prevailed upon to place him with a friend of hers, Sir William Chester a rich merchant of London, and who was afterwards sheriff of that city. Commerical life in London was not to his taste after all;   he became so weary of it and his despondency was so noticeable, that Sir William became very solicitous for his health; and soon learning th e cause, kindly gave him his liberty and he returned to his other.

“He soon returned to Cambridge again and so devoted himself to scriptural studies, that, in the beginning of King Edwards reign, when the true  religion began to be countenanced, he entered his orders, and preached with great success. He was first appointed at Frothesingham and afterwards became a preacer at Litchfield. He was much loved and respected, not only for his sweetness of temper and knowledge of his professions but also for his eloquent manner of addressing his  hearers, and the honesty he displayed in his sincerity of throught.

“His next call ws at Allhallows in Broad street, London. King Edward died, and Mary becoming Queen issued a proclamation, “commanding all subjects to attend mass”. Many pious ministers refused to obey, and none were more pronounced that Rev. Lawrence Saunders. Soon however, his subornation became marked, and he was privately advised to flee; this he would not do.

“During a conversation with John Mardant, privy counciller to Queenhe was asked ‘where he was going’. His reply was “to Broad street to instruct my people” and when being advised not to preach, his reply was ‘how then shall I be accountable to God?”

The following Saunday he preached to his people upon the errors of Popery. He exhorted them to hold themselves steadfast in the truth. His discourse was eloquent and impassioned, but he felt hiws doom through the morning passed without arrest; but int he afternoon an officer apprehended him and Sir John Mordant gave evidence against him. This was in the second year of the reign of Queen Mary, A. D., 1555.

He was examined by the Bishop, and ehorted to retract his assertions, but he ws firm, and steadfast in his belief, and was remanded to prison after a short examination, being told that he was a mad man without reason.

He remained in prison a year and three months; during this time he wrote many letters to devine persons, who later suffered martyrdom like himself. To his wife he wrote “that she must not consider him any more longer as her husband in this world, but that he hoped to spend an eternity with her in Heaven. That the blessing of everlasting covenant could only be insured to believers in consequence of the death of Christ, and that the firm persuasion of the resurrection of our Redeemer was the means contrived by infinate wisdom in order to bring us to a state of happiness.”

He was confined in Marshalsea prison. No one was allowed to converse with him, though his wife was permitted to enter the prison, and his child Samuel suffered to be placed in his arms. Mr Saunders rejoiced in seeing his child, and said to the by-standers, “what man fearing God would not lose his life sooner than have it said, that the mother of such a child was a  harlot.”

He was again given an emination, but had fortitude to declare himself against Popery, for which offence he was ex-communicated. Later he was given to some officers, with orders to convey him to Coventry to be burned at the stake.

Upon their arrival at Coventry, a poor shoemaker said, “oh my good master, may God strengthen you.” “Good shoemaker, replied the Rev. Mr Saunders, “I beg you will pray for me for I am in a very weak condition, but I hope my Gracious God will give e strength.”

In speaking of his people he says, “and although I am not so among them, as I have been to preach to them out of a pulpit, yet doth God now preach unto them by me, by this y imprisonment and captivity, which now I suffer among them for Christ’s sake, bidding them to beware of the Romish Anti-Chrisitan religion, and Kingdom requiring and charging them to abide in the truth of Christ, which is shortly to be sealed with the blood of their pastor.

Be not careful my good wife, writes he, “cast your care upon the Lord, and commend unto him, in repentent prayer, as I do, our Samuel.

“Fare you well, all in Christ, in hope to be joined with you in joy everlasting. This hope is put up in my bosom. Amen. Amen. Amen”

The next day, 8th of February , 1555, he was led to the place of execution, falling by the wayside however – as he was so exhausted.

He was led to the place of execution barefooted and allowed but an old gown and a shirt. When brought to the stke, his last words were “Welcome, the cross of Christ, welcome everlasting life.” Thus suffered one of the many martyrs of Queen Anne’s [sic!] reign: among whom were Taylor, Farrer, Marsh, Latimer, Cramner, Hooper, Rogers and Bradford. Descendents of which, bound together by one bond of sympathy and Christly love, were the first to seek peace and comfort in the Puritan religion.

Descendents of these martyrs were the founders of the Plymouth Colony, having previously fled to Holland as a temporary refuge from persecution.

Samuel Saunders, son of Laurence Suanders, the martyr, may have been ancestor to the manhy members of the Saunders family who sought refuge in the colonies in the early part of the 16th century. [sic!].

From the Colonial Records also from deeds and wills, we find the family of Sanders who came to America were from Wiltshire County, England, as also were many of the organizers of the Plymouth Colony. . .

There were fifteen distinct parishes of Wiltshire.

I have previously mentioned by that the Priory of St Andrews was granted to Sir THomas Arundell and Sir Henry Sanders in the thirty-six years of the reign of Henry VIII. In Maryland, one of the counties on the Chesapeake shore was settled by Arundell and is still named Ann Arundel County.

1620 – In the Virginia records is noted the arrival of Rev David Sanders, in charge of Cap[t Samuel Mathews’ colony of one hundred at Hoggs Head. Henry Sanders was one of that company, travelling in the country. He did not remain, as in the Colonial Records at London is recorded the return of “Capt Henry Sanders at Southampton, 1623.”

The early ministers, appointed by the home government, were men of influence, birth and education. They were to act in the capacity of advisers, magistrates, and judges; and their influence was felt to a great degree both in the colony and abroad, as many of the organizers of the plantation did not accompany them, and the prosperity and success of the enterprise depended greatly upon the good government and adviceof the ministry. I find no note of the return to England of Rev. David Sanders of Vriginia, and it is supposed that he is the ancestor of the brand of the Sanders family who are descendants in Virginia today.

The name of Sanders, or Saunders, is most conflicting, as in the early records of the clerks and correspondents abbreviated the word. In our ealriest records of grants it is frequently spelt Sandys, or Sanders.

During the organizaiton of the Plymouth Colony we find Sir Edwin Sandys, Biashop of York and afterward Lord Mayor of London. His ancestral estates were at Wiltshire County. Many records of his family are to be found at Salisbury, the county town. We quote from history and these records the short account of George Sanders, brother of Sir Edwin.

George Sanders was born 1577. After passing some time at Oxford in 1610 he travelled over Europe to Turkey; visited Palestine and Egupt. He published his travels at Oxford 1615, and they recewived great attention. The first poetical production in Angel’s Amerian Legislature, was published by him, while acting in capacity of Secretary of the Virginia Colony and in the midst of the confusion which followed the massacre of 1622.

Sier Francis Waytt of Allington Castle, Boxley Abbey in 1618, married Margaret, eldest daughter of Sir Samuel Sandys (Sanders) of Ombersley, Worcester –

(Was Sir Samuel the same Samuel whom Laurence Sanders blssed in Marshalsea prison? the dates and circumstances correspond.)

In 1621 Sir Francis Wyatt received the appointment of Governor to the Virginia Colony, and departed in the “George in 621” for that Colony, with his young wife, Margaret Saunders, and her uncle Goerge Sandys (Sanders) as his secretary (so written and spelt.)_

At this time came also the colony of Capt. Samuel Mathews, accompanied by Rev. David Sanders, as overseer. This latter colony arrived at James City, Virginia, in the “Bonaventure”. In a few months after the massacre of 1622 George Sandys (Sanders), was sent to England by the colony to look after their interests, but in disregard to their wishes he introduced into the house of comons a bill, asking a restoration of the old London company and all the privileges of the original charter.

This was obnoxious to the colonies, and they entereste d aprotest; but when the protest had been received, the King was in Yorkshire, and the civil war had begun in England. We find that he did not return to the colony nor very much advance their interests.

He died, as before mentioned, at the home of his niece, Margaret, wife of GOvernor Wyatt, in 1643.

After the charter of Virginia had been dissolved by James first, Sir James Wyatt continued governor. He returned to England, where he died, and was buried at Boxley Abbey, August 24, 6143. “His wife, daughter of Sir Samuel Sandys (Saunders) who passed some time in Virginia, was a gentle woman of much tact and cheerfulness and willing to accept the hardships of a new settlement” _ (History of Virginia.)

She died at Boxley Abbey, May 27, 1644.

Hoar’s History of Wiltshire.

Colonial Records at London.

History of Virginia.

Private papers of Sir Francis Sandys.





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