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Early Colonial History

When, why and how John settled in New England still remains a mystery. We do know that he left behind a nation that was being torn apart by religious and political unrest, resulting in armed conflicts, the execution of Charles I, and the replacement of the English monarchy by the Commonwealth of England until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.

There is an old family oral tradition that a member of the Northamptonshire Keep family had fled to America and had been murdered by Indians. John was purportedly an agent of the Parliamentarians who escaped to America in 1640, just before the English Civil War started, when an arrest warrant was issued against him by the Earl of Strafford. He was ardently opposed to the monarchy, and championed a call for an Independent State. According to the legend, John was a non-Conformist who had been baptised at Rothwell Chapel in Northamptonshire. It was also claimed that John’s death was the result of the British paying the Indians to kill him because of his involvement in harbouring and assisting the Regicides (Major-General Whalley, and Colonel Goffe). There is another school of thought that because of his activity in England his killers were actually the English dressed up as Indians.


If we examine the evidence, an arrest warrant was issued for a Mr. Kep of Hampton, dated Westminster 13 July 1640. See the copy of the manuscript from the House of Parliament Library in the Palace of Westminster reproduced here.


With regard to John being a non-Conformist and baptised at Rothwell Chapel, the institution did not exist in 1640. Rothwell Independent Church wasn't founded until 1655, and according to Thomas Coleman, "Memorials of the Independent Churches in Northamptonshire" 1853, the minister, John Beverly, arrived to preach in the town in 1654. The first church book of Rothwell dates from 1655, and the original is still held at the Rothwell United Reformed Church. Checks have been made at Rothwell United Reformed Church, but there was no reference to any Keeps in the early records; however, this may have occurred at some time before records were kept.

Northamptonshire has close ties with the early New World settlers. Jonas Weed of Stanwick emigrated with fellow Puritans in the Winthrop Fleet. He was also purportedly a joint owner of the flag ship, the Arbella. Other emigrants included six James from Earls Barton, the Dudley family from Yardley, the Belcher family from Guilsborough, and Zaccheus Bosworth. Several locations from where they came are near to where Keep family members lived at the time. Whilst possibly clutching at straws, it may well have inspired a fugitive or his family to consider the new settlements as a potential bolt hole. To appreciate what life was like in America when John arrived from England, consideration is now given to a brief history of New England, including early events of Longmeadow and Springfield,Massachusetts, and the King Philip's war.
Oral Traditions and Legends Continued Next Page



The migration to America by the Pilgrims in 1620 and by those who followed in the next 20 years is a story that is familiar to most school children and others who are interested in the subject.


The story involves the inland movement of settlers to the Connecticut Valley, especially to the Springfield area; the early days of Longmeadow, Mass.; and the causes and some of the dreadful events of King Philip's War. The year 1676 marked the end of that war, just after the death of John Keep of Longmeadow.


So far, records of John Keep's passage from England to America have not been found. There were some 300 ship landings in Massachusetts and elsewhere between 1620 and 1640--some had that location as the final destination; some had other destinations but dropped passengers off in Massachusetts. There was little emigration from England from 1640 until after the American Revolution. This Great Migration ended in the early 1640s at the outbreak of the English Civil War, and also it was affected by stories of intolerance that were carried back to England during that time.

This story will end with King Philip's War and the death of John, and it must begin with a brief examination of the people from whom King Philip, the Indian leader, was descended. Massasoit was sachem of the Pokanokets when the Pilgrims landed. The Pokanoket was a tribe of the Wampanoag peoples, and they lived in the Narragansett Bay area near present day Providence, R. I. Metacom (English name Philip) was Massasoit's younger son. (Image of Philip by Paul Revere)


Despite conflicts and frictions between the Natives and the new colonists, relations were relatively good between Massasoit and William Bradford, the Governor of the Plymouth Colony. Both men died around 1660, and that successful relationship between the Indian tribe and the colonists began to deteriorate. New leaderships began, which did not have the same understandings, and it culminated in a terrible and costly war both for Native Americans and the colonists.

If John Keep had been an early arrival, his experience would have been that of the rest of the Pilgrims--early hardships both with food, shelter, and cold weather. The story of hard work with help and purchases from the Indians is a familiar one, yet almost one-half died the first winter. In a surprisingly short time, though, the community grew and expanded.


While the relations between colonists and Indians were reasonably satisfactory to the 1660s, the colonists were at times insensitive and heavy-handed, especially about the price paid for Indian land. All Indians did not share the feeling of harmony as they saw their land disappear. Then Massasoit died, and his eldest son Wamsutta became sachem. Because of a land selling dispute, Wamsutta was taken into custody by the English and regrettably died during that time.


Philip then became sachem of the Pokanokets and brought to that position a hatred for the colonists for a number of reasons--the death of his brother Wamsutta, bad economic times, and the increasing land losses that were taking place without purchase or fair purchase. He felt that war was the only recourse, and despite opposition from his own people and other tribes, he made preparations.

In the meantime, 30 or 40 Puritan pioneers from Roxbury struck out for western Massachusetts to the Connecticut River Valley and Springfield, including the long meadow area in 1636.


“Reflections of Longmeadow,” published by the Longmeadow Historical Association, describes that area east of the Connecticut River as three types--floodplain, high plain, and the valleys cut by local streams. Before the appearance of man, the area went through periods of ice, inundation, land upheaval, and the depositing of sand and silt, which through the marvel of nature created an inviting place for settlement.


From the first, the relationship between the settlers at Springfield with the local Agawam Indians was marked by a fair and just land policy.

Besides, a smallpox outbreak had reduced the Indian population to an unthreatening 200. The Indians were more than willing to trade some land to the newcomers, such as the meadowlands that flooded now and then.


In 1636, the Agawams deeded the land on whichSpringfield was to be situated to the English, including the long meadow. (Document to the right.) The payment was lengths of wampum made of beaded shells, hatchets, coats, and knives. The Indians' right to hunt and harvest cranberries and corn there was maintained. While relations with the Indians were not perfect by any means for the next 30 years, the conditions for John Keep's arrival and for the beginning of his family were not at all bad.


By 1675, back in the south east of the colony, Philip and his people were experiencing harder economic conditions and felt hemmed in because of land loss. The colonists' treatment and insensitivity toward the Indians as well as the hostility of the Indians led to the horrifying war that followed. Philip's Pokanokets were not alone in the feeling of hostility, and other native warriors joined them.

The war began in June, 1675, with an attack on Swansea in the Plymouth Colony, which resulted in the killing of about 10 English by shooting and scalping. Soldiers in the nearby garrison were ineffective, and four of them were killed practically under the guns of the enclosure in a humiliating fashion, and more were killed later. Many Plymouth Colony settlements were attacked with loss of life and property. Middleborough, Dartmouth, and Mendon, near Boston, were burned. Of literary interest here is that Uncas and his Mohegans remained loyal to the English.


In another month, the war extended to the Connecticut Valley where more villages and settlements were destroyed by fire, during which time many Indians were killed or sold into slavery by their captors. In a two-day period, the worst to that point, 78 English were killed near Northfield and Deerfield.


While weakened by loss in fighting and desertions, Philip nonetheless continued to expand the war wherever he went from Connecticut to Maine by gaining the support of native tribes.


In October, 1675, Springfield was attacked and thirty-three houses were burned along with 25 barns, leaving 15 houses standing. The long meadow was not involved.


On December 19, 1675, one of the most terrible events of the war occurred when the Great Swamp Narragansett winter camp was attacked and hundreds of Indian women, children, and elderly were burned to death in their wigwams, along with many warriors. The English losses were as terrible as any time in the war.


In February, 1676, Philip's forces returned east and threatenedBoston itself. A bit past midyear, however, the condition of the Indians and the death of Philip ended the war, but not before the Indian related death of John Keep and part of his family.

Before describing John’s death let us consider the facts that we do know about his life in Longmeadow. According to “Reflections of Longmeadow,” in 1645, twenty-five plots of land were created in the low land of the long meadow, and John was one of the first to build a home there when a new road was built in 1647. However early maps of Longmeadow do not list John or his house during that period.

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The Town Records of John Keep
The earliest reference we have found in relation to John is dated 18 February 1660:

"ffebr: 18th 1660 - John Keepe desiring entertaynmt in this Town as an Inhabitant his desires were granted by the Select men ye day above said.”


Springfield was a closed settlement, and no one was allowed to settle there without permission, thirty-one days being the maximum time without such approval. At the same meeting where John was granted residential status, Quince Smith, who had been granted liberty of abode in the town for two months, was warned by the Selectmen to depart the town because his time had expired.


Various other references can be found in relation to John. During March 1660 he was granted five acres of meadow and at a meeting of the Selectmen on 6 January 1662 he acquiredfour acres of wet meadow on the back side of Longmeadow. On 5 January 1666, Nathaniel Burt, John Keep and George Colton were granted "ponds" adjacent to their lands.


From the “First Century of the History of Springfield: The Official Records from 1636 to 1736 with an Historical Review and Biographical Mention of the Founders” by Henry M. Burt, we know that John was a Fence Viewer:


"ffebruary the 11 1666: "John Kep & Samuell bliss veiwers ffor the long medo and the Home Lots of as ffar as the meeting house and downward."


John also served as a Selectman for Springfield during 1674, and 1676. Following John’s death Anthony Dorchester was elected in his place. This was five months after Springfield was burned by the Indians.



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