John Bonython

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John Bonython was an early settler of Saco and heir of Richard Bonython. He was also known as the Sagamore of Saco.[1]


Early Life

John was born "before 1620" to his parents, Richard and Lucretia.[1]

Marriage and Children

John married Agnes, with whom he fathered five children.[1]

John Bonython, Jr

John, "the eldest Sonne," b. 1654; selectman, 1685; removed to Newcastle, N. H., 1689, where he was living 1694. He had children : 1, Richard, of Newcastle, a cordwainer, who was living there in 1713, but died before 1732 ; 2. Patience, m. John Collins. She was the only heir of John Bonython, Jr., living in 1732, to take part in the division of the estate.

The Bonython Family of Maine, 1884.[1]

Elinor Bonython Churchwell

Elinor, m. Churchwell. This daughter inherited her father's moral proclivities. She was examined, 20 Sept. 1667, on a charge of bastardy. and being convicted was punished in the usual way by standing in a white sheet in public meeting, but her father paid the alternate of 5 pound fine.

The Bonython Family of Maine, 1884.[1]

Gavrigan Bonython

Gavrigan, In 1672, this son had a suit at law against George Norton in the New Hampshire courts. [2] The name [Gavrigan], like Reskymer, is a Cornish surname, and possibly gives clue to the maiden name of John's wife or mother. The Gavrigan family lived in St. Columb Major, where Capt. Richard Bonython was baptized.

The Bonython Family of Maine, 1884.[1]

Thomas Bonython

Thomas, "who then lay sick" at the date of his father's "last sickness." Presented to the court in 1669 with his brother John "for living in a disorderly family in the house of their father, a contemner of this (Massachusetts) authority."

The Bonython Family of Maine, 1884.[1][3]

Winnifred Bonython Nichols

Winnifred, m. [Robert] Nichols.

The Bonython Family of Maine, 1884.[1]


He died shortly after preparing his will on February 17th, 1676.

He was buried "at his own request near the river on the line separating one division of his estate from that of James Gibbins".[1]

Excerpts from The Bonython Family of Maine

The following passages are from his biography in a family history prepared in 1884.[1]

John Bonython (Richard, John, Richard, Ralph), born certainly before 1620, was the opposite of his father, for he lived a life of debauchery and outlawry during twenty years of his existence. The first court held at his father's house in 1636, brings him to view as the father of an illegitimate child, and his excesses developed to such a degree in 1645, that "threatening to kill and slay any person that should lay hands on him," the court, at which his father again sat, adjudged him "outlawed and incapable of any of his Majesty's laws, and proclaim[ed] him a Rebell." [4]

After Massachusetts assumed control of the government of Maine in 1652, he refused to submit to her government, and so far carried his guerilla warfare that the General Court proclaimed him an outlaw and offered a price upon his head to the person who would bring him to Boston alive or dead. This seemed to have the desired effect, and submitting to their authority in 1658, he behaved himself for a few years until the Restoration, when the Gorges party once more came to the front in Maine. Then he unloosed his bonds again, and defied his late political masters in an insulting letter to the Massachusetts magistrates. In 1668 the tables were again turned, and although Bonython remained recalcitrant, he found, after three more years of ineffectual opposition, that submission was the wisest course, and he wrote the magistrates a letter asking them to pardon his past offences, alleging that he "was blinded by a letter from Mr. Gorge." [5]

His offences were not always of a political nature, for he quarrelled with his brother in law, Richard Foxwell, in 1654, and tore down his house, for which he had to pay roundly when the court reviewed the case. In 1640 he was sued for libel by Rev. Richard Gibson (who had married Mary Lewis, the daughter of his father's partner), in that he had called him "a base priest, a base knave and a base fellow," besides slandering his wife. He was probably the instigator of the charges against Gibson's wife, recounted in the letter Winthrop, 14 Jan. 1678-9, and we may suppose that jealousy was the cause of the trouble. [6] The court gave the plaintiff a verdict of 6. 6. 8. and costs 12s. 6d. This is a record unusually crowded with the events of a disreputable career, and it is not at all certain that the story is complete. In 1683, as if to atone for his past misdeeds and secure the good will of the people, he gave the town twenty acres of upland for the minister.[3]

We are relieved, however, to learn that in 1666 he had so far obtained the confidence of his towns people as to be placed on a trial jury, but that is the extent of his public services, as far as can be learned. In 1665 the townsmen elected him constable, but he refused the honor and was fined 4s for not taking the oath of office.[3] At the outbreak of the Indian hostilities in Maine, 1675, his house was burned about September of that year, and with his family he fled to Marblehead for safety. There, 17 February, 1676, "in his last sickness," he made his will, from which we learn the names of his wife and children [7].

This date may be taken as the time of his decease ; but though dead, his fame will not only live in Whittier's "Mogg Megone," but in an epitaph still preserved, which sums up his life in expressive rhyme:

"Here lies Bonython the Sagamore of Saco
He lived a rogue and died a knave and went to Hobbowocko."

Hobbowoko is the devil of the Indians, according to Jocelyn, who says: "They acknowledge a God whom they call Squantan,... but Abborcocko, or Chepie, many times smites them with incurable diseases, scares them with his apparitions and panic terrors, by reason whereof they live in consternation worshipping the Devil for fear."

Folsom says "He was buried at his own request near the river on the line separating one division of his estate from that of [James] Gibbins. A man who lives near the spot informs us that having had frequent occasion to pass it when a boy, .... he was often told that the 'governor of Saco' lay buried there."[3] It is presumptious to offer corrections to Folsom's accurate work, but I suggest that the tradition of the burial place of the "governer of Saco" refers to Captain Richard, his father, who was in fact a magistrate of the place. John may have been buried near his father. His estate was not administered until 1732, when the property was found to consist of 5000 acres of land valued at 18 shillings per acre, which was divided among his heirs.

By wife Agnes he had issue [five children].

In Fiction

A fictionalization of John Bonython's life titled The Sagamore of Saco was published by Elizabeth Oakes Prince Smith in 1867.[8]

See Also

Division of the Pepperrell Property


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Banks, Charles E. The Bonython Family of Maine. Boston, 1884. Accessed 5/32/2019:
  2. Mass. Arch, xxxix. 413.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Folsom, George. History of Saco and Biddeford: With Notices of Other Early Settlements, and of the Proprietary Governments, in Maine, Including the Provinces of New Somersetshire and Lygonia. Saco: Printed by A.C. Putnam, 1830.
  4. York Court Records.
  5. Mass. Arch, xlviii. 108.
  6. 5 Mass. Hist. Coll. i. 267.
  7. ante, xxxiv. 99
  8. Smith, Elizabeth Oakes Prince. Bald Eagle: Or, the Last of the Ramapaughs : a Romance of Revolutionary Times. the Sagamore of Saco. New York: Beadle and Adams, 1867. Print.