MAJOR-GENERAL DANIEL DENISON
For one who was so conspicuous in the early history of the colony of Massachusetts Bay as Major-General Daniel Denison, there is little left upon record. We glean the following from an article in the "Genealogical Register of New England," by Dr. Daniel Denison Slade of Boston, published in 1869.
" There is much uncertainty as to the origin of the family name. It is variously spelt Denison, Dennison, Denyson, Dennistown. It is unquestionably of ancient and probably of Norman origin. In the "Patronymia Britannica "is the following notice : 'The Dennistowns' of that ilk have an extraordinary way of accounting for their surname. * One Danziel, or Daniel (say they), probably of Norman extraction, settled in Renfrewshire, amid, calling the estate Danzielstown, assumed there from his surname. The family are unquestionably ancient, the name appearing in the Charter of King Malcolm I., who died in 1165, but the Norman Danziel is probably a fiction. The English Denisons are said to have sprung from a cadet of this ancient house, who went from Scotland in the time of Charles I., who fought at Marston Moor."
Burke's "Book of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain" gives this as true, and says the Norman's name was "Danziel." He called his place "Danzielstoun" and from this came Denison He was a full-blooded Norman.
Daniel, the oldest son of William and Margaret Denison, was born in England in 1612, and came to this country probably in the ship Lion in 1631, with his father, and brothers Edward and George, the Winthrops, and Rev. John Eliot being his fellow voyagers. Daniel was then nineteen years old. The following year, 1632, he removed from Roxbury to Newtown (Cambridge), his name being on the list of first settlers and church members. He there married Patience, the daughter of Gov. Thomas Dudley, who was at this time a resident of the place. At a general court holden "att Newtown, March 4, 1634," Mr. Denison was appointed to assist in setting out " the bounds of ground betweene Newtowne and Rocksberry." He took the oath of freeman, April 1st, 1634 ; and under the same date, the court grant him two hundred acres, "all lying and being about the falls, easterly side of Charles River."
With eight others, he is authorized by a general Court at Newtowne, Sept. 3, 1634, to " sett out the bounds of all towns not yet sett out, and to settle all differences between any towns." He is also, with N. Easton, to have charge of powder at Ipswich, which is the first allusion we find to his military predilections.
In the following year, land was assigned to him in Ipswich, with " a house lot of about two acres, which he hath paled in, and built a house upon." To this plantation he at once removed, and with its history his name is closely united during the remainder of his days. It is difficult to conceive why, after having connected himself with the church and town affairs of Cambridge, he should so soon have quitted them for another abode. The probability, however, is that the uncertainties which attended the project of establishing the capital at Newtowne, and the differences which in this matter sprung up between Gov. Winthrop and his father-in-law, Mr. Dudley, whose cause he would naturally espouse, and who removed to Ipswich in 1635, decided him to take this step. Whatever may have been the reasons for the course pursued, Mr. Denison at once commenced his public career of usefulness and honor in his new home. During the first year of his residence in Ipswich he was returned as deputy, in which capacity he served for three consecutive years, from 1635 to 1638. He was again elected in 1640, '44, '48, '49, '51 'and '52. As a member of the memorable court of November, 1637, he ordered those who had sympathized with Mrs. Hutchinson and Mr. Wheelwright to be disarmed, and among these were his father and brother, "their arms to be delivered to Gov. Johnson."
In 1636 he was made town clerk of Ipswich, "to have sixpence for every entrance of land." In the same year, by the General Court he is chosen captain of Ipswich ; with twelve others, he is deputed to assign the amount due from each town toward a sum to be levied for public uses. A quarterly Court having in 1636 been ordered to sit in Ipswich, Capt. Daniel Denison and Mr. Samuel Apleton were chosen to assist in these courts. Thus within the space of two years after becoming a resident of Ipswich, we find Mr. Denison serving his countrymen in offices pertaining to town affairs, and to those of the colony, as well as in a military capacity.
Sept. 6, 1638, Capt. Denison, with Mr. Bradstreet and ten others, was allowed upon their petition, " to begin a plantation at Merrimack," and to have "liberty to associate to them such others as they can agree upon." At the same session of the court he was appointed with fifteen others, "to consider of the manner and time of payment of a rate of £1200, and to lay it upon every towne pportionably" to be paid "at two months."
In 1641, he was one of a committee for furthering the trade of Ipswich. They were "to set up buoys, beacons, provide salt, cotton sowing hempseed, flax-seed and card wire." The town granted him, in 1643, 200 acres of land, "for his better encouragement to settle among us."
Great alarm having spread through the colonies, from a report that a general conspiracy existed among the native tribes, of which Miantonomo, the chief of the Narragansetts, was a principal instigator, a general training of troops and provision of arms were ordered, and Capt. Denison, with five others, was authorized at a session of the General Court, May 10, 1643, to put the country into a posture of war, and to see to fortifications.
On petition, several gentlemen of Ipswich, Beverly, and the adjoining towns, among whom was Capt. Denison, "out of care for the safety of the public weal, by the advancement of the military art and exercise of arms," were incorporated as a military company. The inhabitants of Ipswich agree to pay him £24 7s. annually as their military leader. In the year preceding, he had been chosen sergeant-major, which office he held until his election as major-general. Johnson, in his "Wonder-working Providence," thus speaks of him:
"The two counties of Essex and Norfolk are for present joyned in one regiment ; their first major who now commandeth this regiment is the proper and valient Major General Daniel Denison, a good soldier and of a quick capacity, not inferiour to any of these other chief officers; his own company are well instructed in feats of warlike activity."
The House of Representatives conferred the honor of speakership upon him during the two sessions of 1649, and again in the years 1651 and 1652. Mindful of the great importance of education and of the interests of his town, Major Denison was instrumental in establishing the grammar school of Ipswich, and was made one of the ffeoffers in 1651. He afterward gave freely for its maintenance. In 1651 he petitioned the General Court to confirm a grant of 267 acres, which had been assigned to his father, " and in consideration of the said grant and their favor to mee, they be pleased to grant to mee and my heirs forever 600 acres of land, where it may be found, according to law." After several years, the court granted his request, but the land was not laid out until July, 1662.
In the following year he was ordered to supply the place of Gen. Robert Sedgwick, who was absent. To the office of major-general he was appointed in 1653, and held it at different times until 1680. In this year he was chosen an Assistant, and thenceforward to his decease. In September he was elected Secretary of the Colony, in the absence of Edward Rawson. In May General Denison was appointed by the court one of a committee to join with the commissioners of the United Colonies to draw up the case respecting the "Dutch and Indians." A few years previous he had been placed on a committee, with the governor and two others, "for the purpose of ending differences, settling trade, &c., with the Dutch." Not coming to any agreement, Mr. Eaton, on the part of the commissioners, and Major Denison, on the part of the General Court, were instructed to prepare, each of them, a short draft to be presented to the court and elders. While Eaton was " clamorous for war," Denison did not advocate extreme measures, and it was undoubtedly greatly through his influence that the House of Deputies communicated to the commissioners their resolve "that according to their best apprehensions in the case they doe not understand wee are caled to make a present warr with the Dutch."
In the spring of this year intelligence was brought that thousands of Indians had assembled at Piscataqua. Accordingly General Denison ordered out a scouting party of twenty-seven men, "to make a true discovery, and to quiet the minds of the inhabitants, who were much distracted and taken of their employments." They were absent on service from Friday morning until Monday night, and were allowed as pay, for each private one shilling, and two troopers two shillings and six pence per day. The alarm was without foundation.
He was appointed, with three others, to keep the county courts at Salisbury and Hampton. In May, 1654, a committee of three was chosen, of which General Denison was one, "to examine, compare, reconcile, and place together, in good order, all former laws, both printed and written." Whether the committee performed this labor or not, is uncertain. At any rate, the following order was passed by the General Court four years afterward, May 26, 1658 : "That Major General Daniel Denison diligently peruse, examine, and weigh every law, and compare them with others of like nature ; and such as are clear, plain, and good, free from any just exception, to stand without any animadversion as approved. Such as are repealed, or fit to be repealed, to be so marked, and the reason given ; such as are obscure, contradictory, or seeming so, to be rectified, and the emendations prepared. When there is two or more laws about one and the same thing, to prepare a draught of one law, that may comprehend the same; to make a plain and easy table, and to prepare what else may present, in the perusing of them, to be necessary and useful, and make return at the next session of this court." The general entered upon this work with zeal, and in a few months produced the volumn, which was at once printed. Two copies of the volume are still in existence. As compensation "for his great paines in transcribing the laws," the court granted him "a quarter part of Block Island;" the remaining portions were granted to Endicott, Bellingham, and Hathorne. These in turn sold the island to John Alcock for the sum of £400, in 1660.
During the next month, by order of the court, he met Mr. Bradstreet and Mr. Symonds, at Ipswich, "about a narrative in way of remonstrance of all matters respecting that which is charged on the General Court concerning the breach of the confederacy, for the vindication of this court's actions in such respects." This meeting was in reference to recent dissensions in the confederacy, in which Massachusetts had, by her course of action, been accused by the other colonies of breaking the covenant. This narrative, together with answers to a letter received from the Lord Protector, were to be sent to Cromwell.
In 1655 he was on a committee appointed for the county of Essex, "for the procuring of suitable supplies," and "to consider of some such way as whereby both merchandizing may be encouraged, and the hands also of the husbandman may not wax weary in his employment."
Massachusetts, considering that she had a prior right to certain territory on the northeast, claimed by representative of Gorges & Rigby, the court, at its session, October, 1657, appointed Gen. Denison, with Mr. Bradstreet and Mr. Hathorne, as commissioners to proceed to Kittery, and to confer with the inhabitants, who were dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs under which they lived. After long delay, and much consideration, Kittery submitted to the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. The commissioners next proceeded to Agamenticus (afterward York), and to other places, which were received on the same terms as Kittery.
As one of the confederate commissioners, to which office he was called in 1654, and in which he served faithfully until 1663, he addressing a letter to the Governor of Rhode Island, respecting the Quakers :
"We therefore make it our request, that you, as the rest of the colonies, take such order herein that your neighbors may be freed from that danger; that you remove those Quakers that have been received, and for the future prohibit their coming among you. We further declare that we apprehend that it will be our duty seriously to consider what further provision God may call us to make to prevent the aforesaid mischief."
As commissioner, with Mr. Bradstreet he dissented from the message and instructions given by their fellow commissioners of the other colonies, to his brother, Capt. George Denison, and two others, by which they were to go to Ninigret, the Niantic sachem, amid to the Narragansett chiefs, and warn them to abstain from hostilities against Uncas and against one another. An expedition, the command of which had been offered to Gen. Denison and declined, had been sent a few years before, under Major Willard, against Ninigret. The result of this had been far from satisfactory. "There having been many messengers to this purpose," say the Massachusetts commissioners, "to the Indian sachems, but seldom observed by them, which now to renew again can in reason have no other attendance in conclusion, than to render us low and contemptible in the eyes of the Indians, or engage us to vindicate our honor in a dangerous and unnecessary war upon Indian quarrels, the grounds whereof we can hardly ever satisfactorily understand."
In 1660, Gen. Denison joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and the same year was elected commander, which was the first authentic instance of a person being admitted a member, and the same year admitted to its highest office .
"The monarchy having been now restored in the person of Charles II., the General Court of Massachusetts, apprehending difficulties with the throne, proceeded to take certain precautions. At the close of the session of 1661, Gen. Denison, with others, was appointed a committee to consider and debate such matter or thing of public concernment, touching our patent laws, privileges and duty to his majesty, as they in their wisdom shall deem most expedient, and draw up the result of their apprehensions, and present the same to the next session for consideration and approbation, that so (if the will of God be) we may speak and act the same thing, becoming prudent, honest, conscientious and faithful men."
"The king having made demands of Massachusetts, through Secretary Morrice, among which was one 'express command and charge that four or five influential persons to be chosen by the Governor and Council should be sent to England forthwith, to attend upon his majesty,' the General Court at its session, Sept. 11, 1666, appointed a committee to draw up a letter through Secretary Morrice, giving their reasons for not submitting to the mandates of the royal commissioners sent the year previous, and also replying at length to a proposal for an invasion of New France.
"In the debate, to which this letter gave rise, Gen. Denison and Mr. Bradstreet were much more compliant than the other magistrates, being confirmed in their views, perhaps, by the petitions which had come in from several towns, praying for submission to the king's demands."
"Major-Gen. Denison declared his dissent from the letter to be sent to Secretary Morrice, as not being proportionate to the end desired, and he hopes intended, and desired it might be entered, viz.: Due satisfaction to his majesty and the preservation of the peace and liberty of this colony." "The king's commands pass anywhere," says Denison "No doubt you may have a trial at law when you come in England if you desire it, and you may insist upon it and claim it. Prerogative is as necessary as law, and is for the good of the whole, that there be always power in being to act, and where there is a right of power, it will be abused so long as 'tis in the hands of weak men, and the less pious the more apt to miscarry ; but right may not be denied because it may be abused. If we shall refuse to answer here to commissioners, and in England also, what will the king say? Is it not plain that jurisdiction is denied to his majesty ? Though no appeal lies to his majesty so to stop justice but it may require an answer thereto, so that our absolute power to determine must not abate the king's prerogative."
"The capture of New York by the Dutch in 1673, created an alarm among the English colonies, lest their dominion might also be invaded. Accordingly the Federal commissioners met at Hartford and recommended to the General Court of each of the colonies to provide means of defence. The Governor and Council of Massachusetts, at a meeting August 4, 1673, ordered " that for defence against the Dutch, in case of their appearance before the harbor, endeavors be used to set the three principal forts in order."
"1st. That the honored Governor and Major-General shall be, and hereby is empowered, in case of any notice or appearance or assault of the enemy, to command such company of foot or horse as belong to the regiments of Suffolk, or Middlesex, to come in to the relief of the towns of Boston or Charlestown."
"6. That the Major of Essex regiment, Daniel Denison, Esq., shall and hereby is empowered and required to send relief into Salem and Marblehead."
"In the disastrous war with the Indians which broke upon the colonies in 1675, Gen. Denison, as might be supposed from his position, took an active part. There are several letters extant relating to this latter portion of his life. These for the most part are well preserved, and the handwriting, which is excellent, is as distinct as ever, although two centuries have fled since they were written. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts forces, June, 1675, as may be seen in the instructions given him by the Governor and Council; but as he was prevented by sickness from taking the field, Major Thomas Savage was substituted in his place.
"It would exceed the limits allotted to this sketch to give these official documents in detail. They serve to show that Gen. Denison was skillful with his pen, as well as with his sword, and that the authorities of the colony had the largest confidence in his abilities, and in his fidelity to public trusts."
"Oct.12, 1676. The court appointed Gen'l Denison to proceed to Portsmouth, and to take chief command of the forces there destined for the war at the eastward.
"He was authorized 'to impress men, horses, ammunition and provisions, and as shall to him seem mete.'"
'' In this connection, we extract the following from Hubbard's Present State of New England:
"The Governor and Council of the Massachusetts colony had at this time their hands full with the like attempts of Philip and his complices to the westward, yet were not unmindful of the deplorable condition of the eastern Plantations, having committed the care thereof to the respective regiments of the several counties on that side of the country, but more especially to the care and prudence of the honoured Major Daniel Denison, the Major-General of the whole colony, a gentleman who by his great insight in and long experience of all martial affairs was every way accomplished for the managing that whole affair."
"Active operations against the enemy at the east-ward were carried on until late in the autumn of 1676, under the direction of Gen. Denison. Magg, the Etechennie saehem, surrendered himself to the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, and was sent to Boston, where a treaty was concluded stipulating the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of prisoners, etc His state of peace continued, however only until the following spring, when hostilities were again commenced, and did not cease until the termination of the war in the spring of 1678. In the year 1677, Denison was not elected to the office of Major-Genera1, but during the remaining years of his life he filled that position. As one of the licensers of the press, with Bradstreet and Dudley, he authorizes the imprint and publication of Hubbard's Narrative, March 29, 1677. In May of this year, he is one of three to grant permission to Indians to carry arms."
"The General Court granted to General Denison, Oct.10, 1677, an island of 6 or 7 acres, opposite the middle of his farm for his distinguished services."
"Of the remaining years of Gen. Denison's life we know but very little. As he was chosen Assistant the very year his death occurred, we may presume that the distressing disease of which he died did not prevent him from performing the public duties to which he was called until very near the end. It is probable that he occupied the leisure moments of the latter portion of his active life in writing the treatise which he left at his decease, and which was published by his good pastor, Wm. Hubbard, two years after that event. The volume, which is entitled, "Irenicon, or Salve for New England's Sore," is exceedingly rare, and is a good specimen of the quaint language of the day.
" In this he considers. 1. What our present maladies are intended in this discourse. 2. What might be the Occasion thereof. 3. The danger. 4. The blameable causes. 5. The cure.
"Among the manifold symptoms of this disease, I apprehend none more threatening our dissolution than the sad and unreasonable divisions about matters of religion. A receipt of these five simples without composition, accompanied with fasting and praying, till they are well digested, with God's blessing, may bring about the expected cure ; for the Dose you need not trouble yourself, there is not danger of too much. And if this should fail, which I fear not, I have another receipt, but I fear it is somewhat corroding, which I hope I shall never have Occasion to use, my lenitives working according to my expectation. So I take my leave, committing you to God and a good Nurse."
"During the last month of his life he was called upon to give his opinion in matters relating to the church at Andover."
"Gen. Denison died at Ipswich, Mass., Sept.20, 1682. The death of so distinguished a public servant must have called forth expressions of grief not alone among his immediate family and townsmen, but throughout the colony.
"It is much to be regretted that we have neither portrait nor description of the person of General Denison; and of his private worth we glean our knowledge chiefly from the funeral sermon preached by his pastor."
"The greater is our sorrow, who are now met together to solemnize the funeral of a person of so great worth, enriched with so many excellencies, which made him live neither undesired nor die unlamented, nor go to his grave unobserved 'Is there not a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?' So, in a sense, it may be said here, a great man is fallen in our little Israel. Concerning the man whose funeral obsequies were lately celebrated amongst us, not to say more than is convenient, to prevent emulation in them that are surviving : His parts and abilities were well known amongst those with whom he lived, and might justly place him among the first three, having indeed many natural advantages above others for the more easy attaining of skill in every science."
"His military skill, some years before his death, advanced him to the conduct and command of the whole, which he was able to have managed with great exactness, yet was he not inferior in other sciences; and as a good soldier of Christ Jesus he had attained to no small confidence in his last conflicts with the king of terrors, being not afraid to look death in the face, in cold blood, but with great composedness of mind received the last summons. For though he was followed with tormenting pain of the stone, or strangury, that pursued him to the last, he neither expressed impatience under those grinding pains nor want of confidence or comfort from his first seizure. . . . So having fought the good fight, run his race and finished his course, he quietly resigned up his spirit to God who gave it. His last thoughts and endeavors were for the good of the public, as may be seen by the Irenicon, now lately found among his papers, which, it is thought, would be too much ingratitude to withhold from the view of all any longer."
That his funeral services were conducted in a manner worthy of his distinguished rank and of the high estimation in which he was held, may be judged from the following, copied from the Massachusetts archives:
"WHEREAS, It hath pleased the Lord, in his Sovereign Providence, to take away our honored Daniel Denison, Esq., and in regard to his long continuance a Major-General, it occasioned a very considerable charge at his funeral, and the annual income of his family being but small, the Magistrates judge meet that the Treasurer allow to his widow the full of this year's salary, until May next, and also twenty pounds in money, to be paid the said widow, in pay of her said funeral charges.
" The Magistrates have passed this, their brethren, the Deputy's, hereto consenting.
"Edward Rawson, Sec'y.
"Oct.18, 1682. The Deputys consent not hereto.
"William Torrey, Clerk."
"Mrs. Denison survived her husband eight years. Of her life and character we know nothing with certainty. They had two children, John and Elizabeth. John married Martha, daughter of Deputy Governor Symonds, and had three children ; one of whom, John, graduated at Harvard College, was chosen as colleague with Mr. Hubbard, at Ipswich, and was much beloved by his people. His life was short. John (senior) died Jan . 9, 1671. Elizabeth married Rev. John Rogers, President of Harvard College.
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