Who is Humphrey Atherton?
Major-General Humphrey Atherton, an early settler of Dorchester, Massachusetts, held the highest military rank in colonial New England. He first appeared in the records of Dorchester on March 18, 1637 and made freeman May 2, 1638. He became a representative in the General Court in 1638 and 1639–41. In 1653, he was Speaker of the House, representing Springfield, Massachusetts. He was chosen assistant governor, a member of the lower house of the General Court who also served as magistrate in the judiciary of colonial government, in 1654, and remained as such until his death." He was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts and held the ranks of lieutenant and captain for several years before rising to the rank of major-general. He also organized the first militia in Massachusetts.
It is unclear where and when Atherton was born. It is presumed he came from Lancashire, England. He was active in the governance of the colony, taking part in the acquisition of Native American lands, the persecution of Quakers, and the apprehension and convictions of heretics. His accidental death was seen by the Quakers as a punishment from God for his persecution of them, an idea repeated in a play by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was one of the most successful land speculators in the New England colonies. He and his wife, Mary, had a number of children and several New England families have traced their ancestry to them. He is interred at Dorchester North Burying Ground, one of the oldest cemeteries in New England.
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