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The Nicoll (Nicholls) family of Long Island

The Nicoll Family
The descendants of John Nicoll

    Beyond the fact that John Nicoll died in the year 1467,  that his wife was named Annys, that he had sons, one named Henry, and six daughters, nothing is known of him or his ancestry. He lived, as no doubt did his fore-fathers, at Islip, Northamptonshire, England. The family was one of consequence in the county. Its coat-of-arms was displayed on the windows of the Church of St. Nicholas, at Islip, where John Nicoll's body was buried.
     Northamptonshire is one of the inland counties of England; it was part of Middle Anglia, and was included in the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia. Islip, probably, never was a place of importance, but simply a small village or hamlet, at no time affected by the growth and material development of the country. It is still found on the County maps, and is situated on or near the river Nene, a stream which, in this country, would hardly be called a river, and not very far from the boundary line of Hertfordshire. There is another village called Islip, in Oxfordshire, which formerly was often mistaken for the home of the Nicolls. Some members of the family have even made a pilgrimage to it, in the expectation of finding traces of their ancestors there, who, it is needless to say, had no connection with that place.

    Much of the following information comes from a chapter in Along the Great South Bay : From Oakdale to Babylon, the Story of a Summer Spa, 1840-1940  (Amazon Web Link) by Harry W. Havemeyer.  This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the early history of this area.  It contains 522 pages of which over 64 pages are photographs and illustrations.  It can be purchased directly by clicking on the above link. (Copyright 1996, Amereon House, Mattituck, NY)

    The mid-fifteenth century was a particularly turbulent time in English history. The monarch, Henry VI (1422-1461), was the least competent of all the medieval kings. Meek, pious, physically awkward and mentally unstable, he was totally unfit to steer the ship of state in those troubled times. His reign was marked by the end of the Hundred Years War and the beginning of the War of the Roses. His father, Henry V (1413-1422), had died while his son was still an infant, bequeathing to him the thrones of England and France. It seemed as though a glorious future lay ahead for the child king, but as his reign unfolded it became apparent that its beginning would be the high point of the English conquest of France. In 1429 the tide had turned under the inspired leadership of La Pucelle, the maid, known to
history as Jeanne d'Arc, and by 1453 only Calais remained in English hands.
     Meanwhile, in England, Henry VI (of the House of Lancaster) had quietly lost his mind, creating a vacuum which culminated in rival quests for power between the Lancasters and the Yorks: the War of the Roses. Although King Henry was weak and at times mad, he had married, by arrangement, the strong-willed French princess Margaret of Anjou, and it was Queen Margaret who in reality carried the royal banner for the Lancasters both during her husband's reign and after his death.
     Contesting Henry VI's claim to the throne was Richard, Duke of York. He too was of royal blood and by the law of primogeniture descended directly from Edward III from a son older than Henry's forebear. Sides were taken by all the landed nobles, and civil war was under way.
     From 1450 to 1485 the Yorks and the Lancasters battled for the throne of England. In 1461 Henry VI lost his throne to Edward IV (1461-1483), the son of Richard, Duke of York who was killed in 1460. The Yorkshire party was in the ascendancy, but Queen Margaret fought on to restore her husband to his throne. Not until 1471 was Edward IV's reign secure. In May of that year he defeated, in bloody battle, an expedition sent by Margaret from France. Henry VI's only son was killed on that day and the father, the former monarch, was put to death in the Tower of London shortly thereafter.
     Edward IV reigned until he died unexpectedly in 1483; to be succeeded by his younger brother, Richard. Richard had seized the twelve-year-old son and heir of Edward IV together with his brother and put them in the Tower of London; they were never seen again. Their uncle declared himself Richard III, king of England. His reign was mercifully short, two years, for in 1485 he died fighting at the Battle of Bosworth and the crown fell to his opponent, the first Tudor king, Henry VII. The War of the Roses was over.
     It was during these turbulent years that John Nicoll and his wife, Annys, lived in the small village of Islip (sometimes spelled Islippe) in Northamptonshire. They raised a family of six sons. They were a family of consequence in the country and as such had a coat of arms which was displayed in their parish church. John died in 1467 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Nicholas Church. He was the earliest known ancestor of the family that was to come to the New World some two hundred years later. Little more is known of John Nicoll. Perhaps he was a wool merchant and a member of the market guild of the nearby town. Wool was the lifeblood of English trade in that era and cloth manufactured in English towns, such as Lavenham in neighboring Suffolk, was exported to many cities on the
Continent. A merchant's prosperity was recognized by his coat of arms.
     John and Annys Nicoll's immediate descendants remained in Islip. There was a son named Henry; a grandson, John; and a great grandson, William; all born in Islip. William, however, moved to the town of Willen in Buckinghamshire for most of his life. For some years the family lived in this part of England. This William had a son named John and a grandson named Matthias; Matthias became a clergyman in the Church of England. He moved his family back to Islip and it was there that his son, Matthias II, was born in about 1621, the seventh generation Nicoll from the original John of Islip.
     Matthias Nicoll II grew up in Islip and graduated from Cambridge University. As a son of a priest of the established church he had many educational advantages, and being an ambitious and adventuresome lad he was attracted to the law, becoming a member of the Inner Temple in London. During his formative years, England under Charles I (1625-1649) was for the first time challenging royal authority. The center of that challenge was in Cambridge University and the nearby shires of Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Northampton.
     After a series of confrontations the king prorogued Parliament in 1629 and ruled for the entire next decade without one. He was kept solvent by resorting to measures considered to be extortionate by the merchants and landed gentry, particularly those from London and the northeast shires. He might have survived, except for the misguided decision to revolutionize the Church of England, an act which alienated a huge majority of the people.
     In 1633 Charles I raised William Laud to the see of Canterbury and the new archbishop, together with those he appointed, moved Church doctrine and practice backward to the Roman Catholic practice that Elizabeth I had abandoned fifty years before. Puritan practices were to be abolished and the altar in the churches of the realm was to be moved to the east where it was to be placed on a dais and railed off. (It had usually been placed freestanding in the body of the church.) These acts seemed popish to many and dangerously weakened loyalty to the Crown. The Puritans were incensed.
     It was in 1633 that the Great Migration began from the northeast shires of East Anglia to New England in the New World. Most of these people were Puritans who found the "new" religious demands of Archbishop Laud unacceptable. They immigrated to the newly founded Massachusetts Bay Colony where they often persecuted each other in the name of Protestant purity. And they immigrated to New Haven, Connecticut, to parts of Long Island, and even to areas of New Netherland, controlled by the more tolerant Dutch.
     In the spring of 1635 several ships left England for the New World. The Elizabeth and Ann sailed for Boston carrying Robert Hawkins, aged twenty-five, and his wife, Mary. They would settle across the river in Charlestown, Massachusetts. In 1636, they were admitted to the First Church, and it was there that their second son, Zachary, was baptized on August 25, 1639.
     The ship Hopewell left London that same spring of 1635 for Ipswich, Massachusetts. Among its passengers were William Purryer, aged thirty-six, his wife, Alice, and their three children, Mary, seven years old, Sarah, five, and Catherine, one and a half. They had come from the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire. After five years in Ipswich they moved to Southold, Long Island, to be among its first and wealthiest settlers.
     The brothers Mapes, John, aged twenty-one, and Thomas, aged six, from Hingham in Norfolk had sailed the previous year (1634) on the ship Francis for Salem, Massachusetts. After Thomas had reached manhood he moved to Southold, Long Island, as well, where he and Sarah Purryer were married in 1650. Lastly the Lawrence brothers, John, seventeen years old, and William, twelve, embarked on the ship Planter out of London bound for Plymouth, Massachusetts. They had come from an important family of Great St. Albans in Hertfordshire. After ten years or so in Plymouth, they moved to Long Island where they purchased property in the settlement of Flushing, founded by Englishmen under Dutch auspices. A younger brother, Thomas, joined them later and by 1656 was listed among the landowners of Newtown, Long Island, also part of New Netherland. Descendants of each of these earliest immigrant families would play a large role in the development of the Great South Bay area as a summer colony some two hundred fifty years later.
     Tensions in England by 1642 had reached the breaking point Parliament had been called to sit again in 1640 to finance a war against Scotland. However, it only served as a platform for inflamed passions against the king. Archbishop Laud's changes had convinced many that the system of Church government must be overthrown, the office of bishop abolished and the Prayer Book suppressed. It was too late for compromise, and civil war broke out.
     The active military phase of the Civil War did not last for many years. The supporters of the king, the Cavaliers, and those of the Parliament, the Roundheads, clashed in a decisive battle in 1644 at Marston Moor. The forces of Parliament carried the day because of the charge of its well disciplined cavalry regiment under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. The most costly battle, in terms of human life, ever to take place on English soil, was over. The forces of Charles I never seriously threatened Parliament's and Cromwell's superiority again. In 1649 the king was beheaded and Cromwell was to rule England as the Lord Protector until his death in 1658.
     It is not known on which side of this conflict lay the sympathies of the young lawyer, Matthias Nicoll II. Most landowners, merchants and lawyers alike, sided with Parliament and Cromwell. But the loyalty and support he was to give to Charles I's sons after the Restoration could argue that he was recognized as a Cavalier although perhaps not a prominent one. During the years of the Protectorate he had married Abigail Johns, and they returned to Islip, where their son William Nicoll was born in 1657.
     In 1660 the crown of England was restored to Charles II, and a new age of prosperity and overseas settlement began. Early in his reign Charles II had aggravated the worsening relations between England and Holland by granting to his brother James, the Duke of York, the Dutch colony at the mouth of the Hudson River called New Netherland. The grant was accompanied by £4,000 for its conquest. War erupted at sea, and it went badly for the English at first. James, however, was made head of the Royal Navy and showed himself extraordinarily able at developing English sea power with a large assist from Samuel Pepys at the Admiralty in Whitehall. James also decided to secure possession of his newly granted territory in the New World, and commissioned an expedition to do this in 1664. The Duke of York's patent was "to visit the Colonies and Plantations known as New England," and he chose to head the commission a colonel, Richard Nicoll. Named as secretary to the commission was Matthias Nicoll II.
     It was intended before its departure that the commission would remain in the New World to establish England's claim on behalf of the Duke of York. Colonel Richard Nicoll was to become the governor, and Matthias Nicoll II was appointed secretary of the future province of New York. Several of the officers of the commission including Matthias Nicoll were accompanied by their families. Thus it was that Matthias's son, seven-year-old William, first went to the New World. Although he would return to England for education somewhat later, both William and Matthias became permanent residents of New York and never again returned to their family home in Islip, Northamptonshire.
     The expedition of only four ships sailed from Portsmouth in May 1664 for Boston, where it got very little help from the colonists there. Upon its arrival in New Amsterdam harbor, the Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, wisely decided to negotiate rather than fight. After receiving promises of free settlement and free trade for the Dutch residents, Stuyvesant surrendered control to Colonel Nicoll of all the Dutch settlements. New Amsterdam was thereafter called New York to honor the royal Duke of York, patron of the expedition. Stuyvesant and the other burghers were allowed to remain, their lives almost entirely unchanged.
     Because Colonel Richard Nicoll and Secretary Matthias Nicoll shared the same surname (sometimes spelled Nicolls, some historians have claimed that Matthias was Richard's nephew. Others have maintained that there was no relation between the two. Evidence appears to favor the latter assumption. There is no record of Richard or his immediate ancestors coming from Islip, and more important, he had an entirely different coat of arms from Matthias. However, Nicoll was a common name in England and it is possible that there was some distant relationship. Perhaps Colonel Richard was descended from another son of the first John Nicoll of Islip.
     Thus it was that some of the earliest English settlers left the turmoil and religious persecution in the land of their birth to venture across the sea and to establish new communities in a new land. They brought with them strong religious convictions, they were often led by ministers, and they established what have been called Puritan theocracies. Sometimes the lack of tolerance caused groups to break away and establish new settlements. Much of eastern Long Island was first settled by groups from New England searching for their own freedom to worship as they pleased. Matthias Nicoll with his family, coming to New York with the English establishment, not fleeing from it, was to look to parts of Long Island not already settled by earlier colonists. His son, William, was to acquire a large tract of land on the southern part along the Great South Bay, which he would call Islip after the English town of his birth.

Nicolls House: Historic House Worth Preserving - An interesting article concerning the home of Mattihas Nicolls  who was the first Secretary of New York and later Governor, he was an Islip Nicolls.