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An Inquiry Into the Origins of Matthias Corwin
By Barbara Fricke

Two Henry Corwins
Was Matthias Brother of John, d 1623?
Margaret Shatswell
The Curwen Family According to Weis
The Paternity of John and Matthias
Conclusion and Remaining Questions


For the past year, I've been working to discover the truth abt. these people. I own a copy of A History of the Ancient House of Curwen by John F. Curwen, pub. 1928, but some of his information is incorrect, particularly abt. our line. Whenever possible, I've used original sources and am currently working with a brilliant researcher in London who has come up with much valuable information.

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Two Henry Corwins

There has apparently been a confusion on this forum between the Henry of Sibbertoft, Northants, and the Sir Henry of Workington, Cumb. -- both 1500s. They are definitely not the same people. Sir Henry did have sons Thomas and George, both nicely accounted for, but no son Matthew/Matthias. Henry of Sibbertoft is the one we're interested in and fr. whom I believe we descend.

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Argument that Matthias was brother of John, died Northants, England 1623

Here follows my reasoning:

A Further Look at Immigrant Matthew/Matthias Curwen/Corwin of Sibbertoft, Northants, England, and Southold, Long Island, New York -- Part 1

Among Curwen descendants, much dispute has arisen over whether Matthew/Matthias Curwen/Corwin who sailed to America (with his wife and her siblings) from Ipswich, England, in 1633 and settled in Salem, Massachusetts, was the son of or brother of John Curwen of Sibbertoft, Northants, England, who died there in 1631.

I believe he was John’s brother and feel the chronology supports this view.

NOTE: The names, Mathew, Matthew and Matthias as given in various records appear to be interchangeable.

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Reference to Spouse: Margaret Shatswell

That Matthew Curwen, the immigrant, married Margaret Shatswell before 1627 is apparently no longer in doubt, as it once was. The marriage was confirmed by a chancery suit Matthew brought in 1627 on behalf of his wife and her younger siblings against the man who handled the estate of her mother, Judith, who had died eleven years previously in Sibbertoft, Northants. Also, in his will (1647), John Shatswell (Margaret’s older brother) left his second-best “stufe sute” to “my brother Curwin,” i.e., Matthew. (I understand in-laws were often termed brother and sister in those days.)

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The Curwen Family According to Weis

Weis, Ancestral Roots of Sixty Colonists, Sixth Edition (line unchanged in the Seventh Edition), gives this descent for the Curwens, which ultimately derives from the Curwens of Workington in Cumberland, England:

Line 37:

37. Thomas Curwen of Sybertoft, Northamptonshire, will made 19 May 1557, pro. Jul. 1557, mentions son Henry Curwen. Also had daus, Margaret, Elizabeth, Ann, Sabyn and Eliza. (Curwen pedigree viii: Essex Institute Proc. 40: 299-304).

(NOTE: I have a copy of this will. No daughter Eliza is mentioned. Thomas requested his body be buried “in the churchyard of St Elyn.” A witness to the will was “Sr. John Lewyn,” vicar -- which may be a clue as to which church this family attended. See also NOTE under #39.)

38. HENRY CURWEN of Sybertoft, d. 1592, had sons John Curwen, d. 1931; and Matthew, fl. 1627, who m. Margaret Shatchwell). (Curwen ped. viii; Essex Institute Proc. 40: 299-304).

39. JOHN CURWEN of Sibbertoft, Northamptonshire, d. 1 Jun, 1631; will made 14 May 1631, pro. 15 Jun, 1631. (Children: Thomas, b. 1608; George, b. 1610; Mathew: Elizabeth; Sarah; John, b. 1616. Curwen pedigree viii; Essex Institute Proc. 40: 299-304).

(NOTE: I have a photocopy of this will. Sarah and John are not mentioned. Jane is given as a younger sister of Elizabeth. Mathew is mentioned obliquely after bequests to Thomas, George, Elizabeth and Jane: “I do give to my sonn Mathew his oldest daughter called Mary a calf of a year old to be truely and honestly delivered unto her at such time as she shall be twelve years of age.” Mathew himself was left out of the will. Perhaps he was deceased or out of favor with his father. In any case, John’s estate was not large. His inventory amounted to L57.16. Thomas and his mother, Margery, were named co-executors. Christopher Bagshawe, minister, witnessed John’s will, so whatever church he was minister of might have  graveyard with a stone. The parish registers of Sibbertoft did not exist before 1680.)

40. CAPTAIN GEORGE CURWEN, b. Sibbertoft, Northamptonshire, 3 Nov. 1610, d. Salem, 1685; m. (1) 1636, Elizabeth Herbert, d. Salem, 15 Sep. 1668, dau. of the Hon. John Herbert, mayor of Northampton, Eng.; m. (2) 1669, Elizabeth Winslow, d. 1694, dau. of Edward Winslow. Arms: Argent,
fretty, gules, a chief azure, with a crescent for cadency. (Curwen pedigrees v, viii, ix, x; J.G. Curwen: Castles and Fortified Towers of Cumberland; Essex Institute Proc. 17: 331-347, cf. 341, chart by Rev.
George Curwen , 1698, made during his father's lifetime; Shipton: Sibley's Harvard Graduates V 37; Essex Institute Proc. 40: 299-304; Putnam's Historical Magazine, vol. VI 97-101. Generations 25-34:
Jackson: Curwens of Workington Hall, pp. 1-21; Hutchinson: Hist. of Cumberland II 143; Generations 31-34: VCH Cumb, II 218-219).

NOTE: I don’t have access to some of these sources, especially all the ones for George.

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Issue of Paternity of John and Matthias

In question in this descent is Henry’s death date and his paternity of John and Matthias, particularly the latter. Also in dispute is the birth order of John’s children and the identity of Mathew.

If John Curwen married Margery and they had Thomas, who was b. 1608, then John could possibly have married as late as 1607. If he was 20-25 at the time of his marriage, then he was b. 1582-87 (though, of course, he could have been older). If his father, Henry really died in 1592, then Matthew would have had to be b. by 1592-3, which fits in well with his being a second son. Weis says Matthew "fl. 1627," so in 1627, Matthew would be at least 35 or older and about age 41 or 42 when he and the Shatswells went to America in 1633 -- old enough to have amassed the needed money for the trip to America and the purchase of land when he got there. (He bought 50 acres in Salem, Massachusetts.)

Much has been made of a hand-drawn genealogy chart found on the flyleaf of a book belonging to Rev. George Curwen. He was the great-grandson of George Curwen (b, 1610, Sibbertoft, d. 1685 in Salem, Mass.). The line chart had John Curwen at the top and underneath, in order, Thomas, Matthias, George -- and under George a several-generation array of his descendants. The conclusion has been posited that this chart PROVES that Matthias was George’s older brother. But all it really does is indicate that George had a brother named Matthias (or Mathew), which he did. But I think this “Matthias” was
Mathew, the father of Mary.

A Further Look at Immigrant Matthew/Matthias Curwen/Corwin of Sibbertoft, Northants, England, and Southold, Long Island, New York -- Part 2

Weis says Thomas was b. 1608 and George was b. 1610. At the time of John’s death in 1631, Elizabeth was unmarried, thus probably 16 or younger and b. 1615 or later. Jane was also unmarried in 1631, thus probably 14 or younger and b. 1617 or later. (Or they could both be somewhat older and unmarried for some other reason.) Then there’s Mathew’s daughter, Mary.

Mary was under 12 in 1631, so she was age 1 to 11 and thus b. 1620-1630. Mathew (married or not) could have fathered her probably not younger than age 16, and thus would have been 17 when she was born and probably 18 when she was 1 year old. If Mary was 1 (b. 1630), then Mathew would have been 18 (b. 1613) AT THE YOUNGEST. If she's 11 (b. 1620), then Mathew would have been 28 (b. 1603).


Thomas was b. in 1608 and George was b. 1610, so the earliest Mathew could have been born is ca 1612, so the oldest he can be in 1631 is 21, which makes Mary between 1 and 4 (b. 1626-30). But Matthew/Matthias the immigrant had already married Margaret Shatswell by 1627.

There's an outside chance that Mathew was the first born of John's children and deceased in 1631, but it doesn’t seem likely. It's more probable he was born third, fourth, or fifth -- i.e., ca 1612 or later.

Those who are pushing the Matthew son-of-John theory fail to take into account the following:

(1) John’s son, Mathew, had a daughter, Mary, under age 12 in 1631. There’s no record of such a daughter for Matthias the immigrant, whose children were named John, Martha and Theophilus. I have no firm birth dates for any of them.

(2) Mathew (if indeed alive in 1631) was left out of his father’s will. If he was the immigrant, where did he get the money for the trip and purchase of land -- and what happened to Mary?

(3) Margaret Shatswell was b. ca 1597/8 (proof of her age is indicated in the chancery suit). If Mathew was the third son of John (and thus born after George (b. 1610)), he’d be way too young to be her husband. If he was the second son, he’d have to be 10-15 years older than George, and so Thomas would be older still. But Thomas was reportedly born in 1608, so the supposition for an earlier birth for Mathew is untenable, because, if Mathew was feisty enough to bring suit on behalf of his wife, he would certainly have raised a fuss were he first born and left out of the will!

Thomas is the co-executor of John’s will, so he’s either the eldest or Mathew was the eldest and was deceased at the time of his father’s death. Also, a third son who was that young and was not left anything in his father's will and furthermore had a small daughter could not be considered likely to have enough money to pay his way to America, and buy land on his arrival.

A reasonable scenario is that Matthias/ Matthew went to America with the Shatswells in 1633 and wrote back to his nephew, George (also a second son), telling him of the opportunity to be had in this new land and persuading him to emigrate -- which he did in 1638. Later, George returned the favor by buying Matthias’s land when the latter removed to Southold, Long Island, New York, in 1640.

Matthias d. in Southold in 1658, which would make him at least 66 or more when he died, which seems reasonable for those times.

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Conclusion and Remaining Questions

All this is supposition and conjecture -- but it seems more plausible that Matthew/Matthias the son of Henry, rather than that Mathew the son of John and father of Mary, was the immigrant. The facts seem to bear out the supposition for two Matthews -- the younger the father of Mary who remained in England and may have died by 1631 and the elder who married Margaret Shatswell and came to America in 1633 and was the uncle of Thomas and George.

To prove the latter descent, knowing the answers to the following would be helpful:

(1) Did Henry Curwen of Sibbertoft really die in 1592?

(2) Was Henry the only Curwen in the area who could be the father of John and Matthew?

(3) Did Henry indeed have sons named John and Matthew? (No one has been able to determine whether he left a will.)

(4) Was Thomas really born in 1608 as Weis says?

(5) Was there a Matthew in the Sibbertoft area AFTER 1633 (which would at least prove the existence of two Matthews)?

(6) Is there any death record for a Mathew Curwen before 1631 (which might explain why he was left out of his father’s will)?

(7) Can birth dates of Matthew/Matthias the immigrant’s children be determined? (If any of them were born before 1631 and not mentioned in their supposed grandfather’s will, then that might possibly clinch the argument that John (d. 1631) wasn’t their grandfather.)

(8) Do any Northants families have records of daughters marrying Curwens in this time period?
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