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Alexander Ennis 1632 – ~1679 : I00160

databaseflagAlexander Ennis is the first of the Ennis line, a Scot who came to the British Colonies as a prisoner of war and went on to found a family.  He has thousands of direct descendants, among them Benjamin Westfall Ennis, my maternal grandfather.

There is a significant body of research about his experiences as a soldier and his life in the colonies, which are summarized here.

Sources marked * are especially useful and reliable. If I have extracted from a source it is marked ^ 

  • ^American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “Saugus Ironworks.” web
  • Bell, Dennis. 1998. The Battle of Dunbar. web
  • ^Boyd, Michelle. “Alexander and Catherine Innes.” Boydhouse: web
  • Brigham, Clarence S. 1901. Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth. Providence: E.L. Freeman & Sons.
  • ^*Carlson, Stephen P. 1976. The Scots at Hammersmith. Saugus MA: Eastern National Park & Monument Association.
  • ^*Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England. Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass., 1650-1685 (inclusive). A Finding Aid. Baker Library. Harvard Business School. Mss:301 1650-1685 L989: web
  • Dow, George Francis, ed. 1920. The Probate Records of Essex County, Massachusetts, Salem MA.
  • Dun, Richard S.  1972. Sugar and Slaves.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Emmet, Thomas Addis. 1903. Ireland Under English Rule. NY & London: Putnam.
  • ^“Following the trail of the 1650 Scottish Prisoners. A Summary of the Battle of Dunbar and the Scots of Berwick.” Old Berwick Historical Society: web.
  • ^*Prendergast, John P. 1865.  The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland. New York: Haverty. Entire text online at web
  • Rapaport, Diane.  2009. “Scots for Sale, The Fate of the Scottish Prisoners in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts.” Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
  • ^*Saxbe, William B., Jr. 1998.  “Four Fathers for William Ennis of Kingston: A Collective Review.” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. 29:4 227-238.
  • Scottish Prisoners of War (A website dedicated to the study of the fate of the captured at Dunbar and transported to the New England colonies).
  • ^Scots Prisoners and their Relocation to the Colonies, 1650-1654. Geni family tree project: web
  • State Papers, 1654: March (2 of 5), in A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 2, 1654, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), pp. 140-151. British History Online 
  • Walker, James Bradford. 1861. Memorial of the Walkers of the Old Plymouth Colony, embracing genealogical and biographical sketches of John Taunton, Philip of Rehoboth, William of Eastham, John of Marshfield, Thomas of Bristol and their descendants, from 1620 to 1860. Northampton MA.
  • ^*West, Robert E. “England’s Irish Slaves.” web
  • *Williams, Joseph J. 1932. Whence the Black Irish of Jamaica, New York.  New York: Dial Press.

Alexander’s documented life begins as a soldier in the English Civil Wars.

Civil War

The English Civil wars (1642 to 1651) were a series of armed conflicts between Roundheads (also called Parliamentarians), who rebelled against Charles I of England and his Royalists supporters.  At issue was the divine right of kings and absolute monarchy, which the Roundheads wanted to abolish in favor of a Parliament with supreme control over executive administration. Oliver Cromwell was the central figure in the Civil War; it was Cromwell who signed the execution order for Charles I in 1649. With that act of regicide the war came to an end, and Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.1The Commonwealth began in 1649 with the trial and execution of Charles I and ended in 1660 when the monarchy was restored by the return ...continue

Cromwell was the figurehead of Puritanism, with an unquenchable distrust and hated of the Roman Catholic church. He vented his rage  in acts of violence toward Catholics in Scotland and Ireland. Wikipedia provides an interesting summary:

Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles, considered a regicidal dictator by historians such as David Sharp, a military dictator by Winston Churchill, but a hero of liberty by John Milton, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Rawson Gardiner, and a class revolutionary by Leon Trotsky. In a 2002 BBC poll in Britain, Cromwell was selected as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time. However, his measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland have been characterized as genocidal or near-genocidal,  and in Ireland his record is harshly criticized.

Battle of Dunbar

Alexander Ennis was a Scot, a Roman Catholic and soldier at the Battle of Dunbar during the third and final  civil war. On 3 Septemer 1650, the British under Cromwell defeated the Scots. Historians estimate that there were 4,000 dead, 10,000 captured, and 4,000 who escaped. Alexander was among the captured, and with that group he was marched  from Durham to Newcastle on starvation rations in what would come to be called the Durham Death March. Battle wounds, disease, exposure and the lack of basic provisions killed off a large percentage of the prisoners. Some 5,000 prisoners began the march, and as many as half  died underway.

The survivors presented a security problem for England. Prisoners were put to work, but the government was still ill at ease about the possibility of another uprising. On 18 September 1650, 150 Scots who were reportedly in good health were sold to John Becx and Joshua Foote to be shipped to New England. Becx and Foote would be allowed to sell or consign the Scots in America at a cost to them of about 5 pounds per man. The Scots were to be indentured for a term of seven years. These men were mainly between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five in 1650, according depositions made during their lifetimes.


In November the ship Unity sailed for Lynn, Massachusetts and arrived in December.  Becx and Foote consigned seventy-seven to eighty-seven men to two businesses in Maine and Massachusetts in which Becx had interest. The rest were sold to local residents for 20-30 pounds. Sixty-two of the consigned men, including Alexander Ennis, were sent to the Saugus Ironworks at Lynn, Massachusetts.

The Saugus Ironworks

The following text is extracted primarily from Wikipedia and the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site.

In the 17th century the production of iron required a complex manufacturing process that could only be done by an industrial enterprise. This process was not available in North America during the early years of English colonization, which meant that all iron goods had to be imported. As it took at least two months to sail to the nearest foundry, iron goods were very expensive.

Saugus Iron Works 17th-century house restored by Wallace Nutting. Source: Wikipedia. Photo: Daderot

Saugus Iron Works 17th-century house restored by Wallace Nutting. Source: Wikipedia. Photo: Daderot

John Winthrop the Younger believed that because the colonies had a cheap and abundant supply of raw materials, an iron works in Massachusetts could produce goods that could be sold profitably in the New England and Chesapeake Colonies as well as in England itself. After he secured funding Winthrop selected a site in Braintree, Massachusetts (now part of present-day Quincy, Massachusetts) as the location of the first Iron Works. Construction began in 1644 and was completed in 1645.   In 1645 Richard Leader, a merchant from Salehurst who was familiar with the iron making process, replaced Winthrop, who had not performed well  as manager of the Iron Works.   Leader selected a location in Lynn, Massachusetts (now part of present-day Saugus) on the Saugus River. The river was navigable for shallow draft vessels and could be dammed to power machinery. The surrounding forests could be used to make charcoal. Bog ore could be mined from nearby ponds, swamps, riverbeds, and bogs. Limestone, which was normally used for flux, was not available, but through trial and error it was found that gabbro, which could be mined in nearby Nahant, would work as a flux.

Hammersmith, the new iron works, began operations in 1646. It consisted of a blast furnace for producing pig iron and gray iron (the later of which was poured into molds to make firebacks, pots, pans, kettles, and skillets), a forge where pig iron was refined into wrought iron and a 500-pound hammer was used to make merchant bars, which were sold to blacksmiths for manufacture into finished products, and a rolling and slitting mill where flat stock that could be used to manufacture nails, bolts, horse shoes, wagon tires, axes, saw blades, and other implements was produced. At the time, it was one of the most technologically advanced iron works in the world.  Once functioning, the Iron Works ran for thirty weeks of the year and produced one ton of cast iron a day.

Skilled workers were brought over from England to ply their trade at the iron works. These emigrants did not fit in with the local Puritan society and often ran afoul of its laws. Many ironworkers were arrested for crimes such as drunkenness, adultery, gambling, fighting, cursing, not attending church, and wearing fine clothes.  The less experienced local men who worked at the Iron Works met with frequent and sometimes fatal accidents

The Scots prisoners, brought in as indentured servants, worked at the Iron Works for  seven years and received no pay. They did receive food, clothing, housing, and other necessities. After arrival some of the prisoners were sold off, but Alexander Ennis remained at Saugus and  was listed on an inventory of the iron works dated November 1653. The inventory was a result of lawsuits resulting from financial difficulties.

The Scots were assigned many different kinds of work: making charcoal, record keeping, working forges, blacksmithing, mining, shepherds and farm workers.

Most of the Scots stayed at The Scot Boardman’s house in what is now the Oaklandvale area of Saugus. The building had been framed by Samuel Bennett, a master carpenter who also worked on constructing the Iron Works. This house is believed to have had two rooms around a central chimney with a cellar oven. There were eleven beds and bolsters there and twice that number of coverlets and blankets, suggesting that the Scots slept two to a bed. Others lived with non-Scottish workers, although there is some indication that the company may have had other quarters built for them beside the house.

The Scottish workers were not isolated from Lynn’s community. Many married local women both before and after their indentures were finished. In addition, “all Scotchmen, Negroes, and Indians inhabiting with or servants to the English” were to be included in military training, by the order of the colony’s General Court in May 1652.2Dow 1920.

Saxbe notes that relations with the Puritans could be difficult. He quotes a bystander:

At the Iron Works wee founde all the men wth smutty faces and bare armes working lustily…The headmen be of substance and godlie lives. But some of the workmen be young, and fond of frolicking, and sometimes doe frolicke to such purpose that they get before the magistrates. And it be said, m(u)ch to their discredit that one or two hath done naughtie workes with the maidens living thereabouts.’

Financial difficulties at the iron works led it to be handed over to creditors. The Scots were transferred over along with all of the iron works’ property.


Plymouth Colony

Taunton in relation to the Plymouth Colony

Details of Alexander’s marriage are few beyond his wife’s name (Catherine) and the fact that she was originally from Ireland. Saxbe puts forth the theory that Catherine was taken prisoner and deported by Cromwell and sent with several hundred other Irish to Marblehead in 1654.3Michelle Boyd notes that similar theories have been put forth by other historians.

The fate of the Irish after Cromwell had finished with them was harsh.

From Williams, Joseph J. 1932. Whence the Black Irish of Jamaica, New York.  New York: Dial Press.

Those who fail to transplant themselves into Connaught (Ireland’s Western Province) or (County) Clare within six months… Shall be attained of high treason… Are to be sent into America or some other parts beyond the seas…’ Those thus banished who return are to ‘suffer the pains of death as felons by virtue of this act, without benefit of Clergy.’ 4J. Williams provides additional evidence of the attitude of the English government towards the Irish in an English law of June 26, 1657

Thomas Addis Emmet. 1903. Ireland Under English Rule, NY & London: Putnam.

More than 100,000 young children who were orphans or had been taken from their Catholic parents, were sent abroad into slavery in the West Indies, Virginia and New England, that they might lose their faith and all knowledge of their nationality, for in most instances even their names were changed… Moreover, the contemporary writers assert between 20,000 and 30,000 men and women who were taken prisoner were sold in the American colonies as slaves, with no respect to their former station in life.

Life among the Puritans

Taunton, Massachusetts was a secondary settlement of the original Plymouth Colony, a community ruled by very strict religious laws. It’s not surprising that Catherine (Irish) and Alexander (a Scot) were at odds with the Puritans of Taunton on multiple occasions.

From Saxbe:

an Irish woman named Katheren Aines’ was brought before the court at Plymouth in February, 1656/7, ‘vpon suspision of comiting adultery.

In a series of events reminiscent of The Scarlet Letter, Alexander and Catherine were brought before the law, and found guilty of serious crimes. Punishment was quick and brutal. Note that the scarlet letter was a B (for blasphemy) though given the charges,  it could have also been an A for adultery.

Att this Court, William Paule, Scotchman, for his vnclean and filthy behauiour with the wife of Alexander Aines, is centanced by the Court to bee forthwith publickly whipt…which accordingly was p(er)formed…Katheren Aines, for her vnclean and laciuiouse behauior with the abouesaid William Paule, and for the blasphemos words that shee hath spoken, is centanced by the Court to bee forthwith publickly whipt heer att Plymouth, and afterwards att Taunton, on a publicke training day, and to were a Roman B cutt out of ridd cloth and sowed to her vper garment on her right arme; and if shee shalbee euer found without it soe worne whil shee is in the gou(vern)ment, to bee forthwith publickly whipt…Alexander Anis, for his leauing his family, and exposing his wife to such temptations, and being as baud to her therin, is centanced by the Court for the p(re)sent to sitt in the stockes the time the said Paule and Katheren Ainis are whipt, which was p(er)formed…

Documentation of this event shows up in many places.

Rhode Island

Sometime after the Taunton debacle, Alexander and Catherine moved to Rhode Island.  In 1659 they purchased land.5Brigham 1901: 379.  In 1664, Block Island became part of Rhode Island and a group of Scots settled there. Robert Guthrie, whom the Scots saw as a leader, wrote a letter which is believed by Saxbe to have been addressed to Alexander (as it began with the greeting “Country Man” and was found in the New Shoreham (Block Island) Town Book with two deeds having Alexander as grantee; also a deed in 1678/9 with Alexander as grantor called his land “a gift from the Propriators & Inhabitants of Blockisland.”). In this letter, he promised six acres of free land and the option to buy 40 more and a home lot.6Michelle Boyd.

Alexander Ennis died in 1679 at the home of his daughter Elizabeth “Enos”, the wife of William Harris, on Block Island, Rhode Island. He made a will in the presence of Robert Guthrie and two others from Block Island, naming William Harris as his heir.7New Shoreham Town Book 1:52

The Ennis children

Saxbe suggests the following as the likely children of Alexander and Catherine.

  1. Elizabeth Enos, married 1) William Harris in 1672, 2) Richard Smith by 1694/5, and 3) Roger Alger in 1711-12, lived on Block Island, Rhode Island, then Lyme, Connecticut.
  2.  Mary (Innes?), married John Dodge in 1676, lived on Block Island, Rhode Island.
  3. Catherine Innis, married Dennis Manning by 1679, lived on Nantucket, Massachusetts, died after June 1739.
  4. William Ennis, married Cornelia Viervant by 1694, lived in Kingston, Ulster, New York, died between 1712 and 1717.
  5.  Thomas Ennis, married Jannetje Le Sueur by 1695, lived in Kingston, Ulster, New York.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Commonwealth began in 1649 with the trial and execution of Charles I and ended in 1660 when the monarchy was restored by the return of Charles II and his ascension to the crown.  The period that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was officially declared an Interregnum.  From Wikipedia with original links intact:  New England, with its Puritan settlement, had supported the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. Acceptance of the Restoration was reluctant in some quarters as it highlighted the failure of puritan reform. Rhode Island declared in October 1660 and Massachusetts lastly in August 1661.  New Haven provided refuge for Regicides such as Edward Whalley,William Goffe and John Dixwell and would be subsequently merged into Connecticut in 1662, perhaps in punishment.  John Winthrop, a former governor of Connecticut, and one of whose sons had been a captain in Monck‘s army, went to England at the Restoration and in 1662 obtained a Royal Charter for Connecticut with New Haven annexed to it.
2. Dow 1920.
3. Michelle Boyd notes that similar theories have been put forth by other historians.
4. J. Williams provides additional evidence of the attitude of the English government towards the Irish in an English law of June 26, 1657
5. Brigham 1901: 379.
6. Michelle Boyd.
7. New Shoreham Town Book 1:52

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