by Rita Jacobs



I find our immigrant Cole ancestor to be one of the most colorful characters I have found in my family tree. In reading the second-hand accounts of his appearances in public records I would characterize James Cole of Plymouth, Massachusetts as intelligent, respected, prominent, business-oriented, politically astute, and notorious.

James Cole arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1633. Although some published accounts of his arrival in the colonies place him first in Saco, Maine, later published records show that a different James Cole most probably settled in Saco, Maine.

The most comprehensive information on the descendants of James Cole is found in an extensive genealogy, The Descendants of James Cole of Plymouth 1633, by Ernest Byron Cole, published in 1908. Several later published articles have corrected and amplified Ernest Byron Cole's work.

Although an early "myth" about James Cole claimed he married the daughter of a famous botanist, whose surname was Lobel, more recent published information cites records from Barnstaple, Devonshire, England that identify Mary Tibbes as the wife of James Cole. His first two children, James and Hugh, were likewise baptized in Barnstaple, Devonshire.

James Cole had at least two more children for whom records can be found: John and Mary.

Of particular interest is James Cole's apparent lack of church membership among the scores of early prominent settlers whose places of prominence in the community were usually parallelled by leadership roles within the church. Not only did James Cole appear to avoid church, but also operated a rather rowdy tavern - almost reminiscent of those which gave the old west a notorious flavor.

James Cole became a freeman in Plymouth about 1634. He obtained from the colony a license to operate a public house, and by 1637 his first violation of the liquor control laws was recorded in the court records. A later account describes the throwing of stools and general disturbance until early morning hours. By 1640 the court withdrew James Cole's license to sell liquor, after which he was fined for selling liquor without a license. His license was not restored until 1645.

James continued to operate an inn even without his liquor license. He was apparently financially successful and acted as surety on bonds at various times and loaned money. He undoubtedly won the respect of the townspeople. He was elected constable in 1641/2 and again in 1644. He was also appointed highway surveyor several times beginning in 1642.

James Cole, as well as his wife, continued to experience problems in operating the tavern within legal boundaries after his license was restored. James and Mary were fined for allowing drunkenness in the tavern, selling liquor on Sunday, and selling liquor to Indians. In 1652 one of his tavern patrons was up all night drinking in Cole's house before he went out fishing and accidentally drowned.

James himself was cited three times by the court for being drunk, the last time in 1671. In defense of his third offense he claimed to have an infirmity which caused him to appear drunk, and was not fined. He was also charged with battery in 1650, but cleared of the offense.

Despite the rowdy reputation of Cole's tavern, the court in 1653 decided to pay James Cole for his expense of operating an "ordinary," and provided him with "necessaries" for entertaining strangers. In 1659 the court again paid Cole 10 pounds for improvements in his "ordinary."

James Cole also appeared numerous times in court records as either plaintiff or defendant in various actions involving business contracts and debt collections.

In 1670 the operation of the tavern succeeded to James, Jr., who was not charged the excise tax that year because he was beginning a new business. The operation of the tavern went smoothly after James, Jr. took it over, and there were no more fines for license and liquor violations, although one of the patrons was charged with "drinking, gameing and uncivil revelling" in 1671 when he brought a mare into Cole's parlor. Although James, Jr. was not held responsible he was cautioned to "keep good order in his house . . . " with "no revelling there."

There apparently is no record of the deaths of James and his wife Mary.


Hugh Cole was baptized on 29 June 1628 in Barnstaple, Devonshire, England. He moved with his family at age five or six to Plymouth, Massachusetts. The early records of Plymouth show him on a 1643 list of men able to bear arms. He was also paid 50 bushels of corn by the town of Plymouth in 1634 for tending the cows of the townspeople - bringing them up every morning to be milked, taking them to feed, and bringing them home at night.

In contrast to his parents, Hugh Cole had fewer encounters with the courts for violating the laws, became a prominent citizen and founder of a new town, and also became a prominent church leader. He married Mary Foxwell on 8 January 1654/5 in Plymouth. Despite a later showing of good character, Hugh was fined 20 shillings in 1655 when he and his wife were found guilty of "keeping company each with other in an undecent manner, at an unreasonable time and place, before marriage."

Hugh Cole's first seven children were born in Plymouth. In 1668 he moved his family to Swansea and built a home on the west bank of the Mattapoisett River, now called Cole's River. His brother John also moved with him to Swansea.

Hugh Cole negotiated land purchases with the Indians and was also an experienced surveyor. He was active in the management of the town, being chosen surveyor, serving as a selectman from 1672 to 1675, deputy to the Plymouth Colony General Court in 1673, 1674 and 1675, and a member of the Swansea Prudential Affairs Committee in 1672. He also served several times as a juror.

Various accounts have been written concerning Hugh's relationship with the Indians. Although he was a frequent visitor to the Indian camp and had peaceful dealings with King Philip, Philip was charged with incivility toward Hugh in 1671. Hugh also sued King Philip for 200 pounds for breach of a land sale agreement which he later settled. Hugh warned Plymouth Colony leaders in 1671 that he had observed the Narraganset Indians repairing guns and making weapons. Subsequently Hugh was asked by colony officials to visit the Wampanoag Indian camp and report back to them concerning the activities there. Hugh observed a number of strangers at the Indian camp and reported this back to colony officials.

Several published sources give various accounts of the kidnapping of two of Hugh's sons by the Indians shortly before the outbreak of King Philip's War. Supposedly King Philip ordered members of his tribe to return the children to their home. Legend also reports that King Philip warned Hugh of the impending attack by the Indians at the outbreak of the war, enabling Hugh to remove his family from Swansea before the Indians attacked. Hugh's home was one of the first burned in the attack.

Hugh's family remained in Portsmouth during the war. Although Hugh Cole's record of military service during King Philip's War is unknown, he was frequently recorded as Sergeant Hugh Cole afterward.

Upon his return to Swansea Hugh rebuilt his home at a new location. He was again elected selectman and deputy and resumed his active role in town affairs.

Hugh and Mary Cole had twelve children. The date of Mary's death is not known. Hugh married twice after Mary's death and he died in Jan 1699/1700. He was buried in Tyler Point Cemetery in Barrington, Rhode Island. There is no marker on his grave.

Hugh's brother John, born 21 November 1637, was also one of the original proprietors of Swansea, but was not as active and prominent in town affairs as his brother. He Married Elizabeth Ryder, daughter of Samuel Ryder of Yarmouth. They had four children. John died in 1677 in Swansea. His daughter Elizabeth married our ancestor William Hammond of Swansea on 10 Jan 1695.


At the present time I have little information about Hugh Cole's son John. He was born at Plymouth 15 May 1660. He married Susanna (maiden name unknown). His second wife was Sarah, widow of Zacheus Butts, whom he married 15 August 1712 in Swansea.

The part of Swansea where John Cole lived later became part of Warren, R.I. John had at least six children, all with wife Susanna. His fifth child, Hannah, born 4 February 1698, married Gideon Hammond in Swansea on 13 December 1722. Hannah and Gideon were second cousins - she being a granddaughter of Hugh Cole, and he being a grandson of Hugh's brother John. Our later Hammond descendants are all equally descended from these two lines in the Cole family.

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