John Keep of Longmeadow
by John Keep and Bob Warner
When, why, and how John settled in New England still remains a mystery. We do know now, through the Keep DNA Project, that he was indeed from England, and that he did leave behind a nation that was being torn apart by religious and political unrest, resulting in armed conflicts, the execution of Charles I, and the replacement of the English monarchy by the Commonwealth of England until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. More information can be found at www.keepdna.net.
A drawing of the homestead of Samuel Keep (#57), great-grandson of John Keep, in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. The drawing is by Helen Elizabeth Keep #1730, daughter of William John Keep #1026, some of whose descendents are current members of the Keep Family Society. Helen, who attended the Chicago Art Institute and exhibited her work in Detroit and New York, made this drawing while on a visit to Longmeadow. The house still stands, and members of the Keep Family Society have toured it during reunions held there. This drawing appears in both the original and updated Keep genealogy books.
(Books can be purchased by completing and sending the form that is available on this website.)
There is an old family oral tradition that a member of the Northamptonshire Keep family fled to America and was murdered by Indians. John Keep (or some say his father) was, according to this, purportedly an agent of the Parliamentarians who escaped to America in 1640 just before the English Civil War started, when an arrest warrant was issued against him by the Earl of Strafford. It was also claimed that John’s death later in 1676 was the result of the British paying the Indians to kill him because of his involvement in harbouring and assisting the Regicides (Major-General Whalley, and Colonel Goffe). There is another school of thought that because of his activity in England his killers were actually the English dressed up as Indians. Or all of this may be untrue. Much more DNA testing is needed to help trace his lineage back to Walter Kep, b. ca 1230, in Astwood, England.
In any event, records of John Keep’s passage from England to America have not been found. There were some 300 ship landings in Massachusetts and elsewhere between 1620 and 1640, or sometime before 1660 when he apparently appeared in Longmeadow, Mass. There was little emigration from England from 1640 until after the American Revolution. This Great Migration ended in the early 1640s at the outbreak of the English Civil War, and it was also affected by stories of intolerance that were carried back to England during that time.
If John Keep had been a very early arrival in Massachusetts, his experience would have been similar to that of the Pilgrims—early hardships both with food, shelter, and cold weather. The story of hard work with help and purchases from the Indians is a familiar one, but we know very many died. In a surprisingly short time, though, the community grew and expanded.
Before describing the sad story of John’s death let us consider the facts that we do know about his life in Longmeadow. According to Reflections of Longmeadow, in 1645 twenty-five plots of land were created in the low land of the long meadow, and John was one of two to first build homes there when a new road was built in 1647. However early maps of Longmeadow do not list John or his house during that period and efforts to resolve this date with Town records of 1660 have not been successful.
The earliest reference found in relation to John is dated 18 February 1660: “ffebr: 18th 1660 - John Keepe desiring entertaynmt in this Town as an Inhabitant his desires were granted by the Select men ye day above said.”
From the First Century of the History of Springfield: The Official Records from 1636 to 1736 with an Historical Review and Biographical Mention of the Founders by Henry M. Burt, we know that John was a Fence Viewer, a political appointment. John also served as a Selectman for Springfield during 1674, and 1676.
John married Sarah Leonard, daughter of John and Sarah Leonard, on 31 December 1663. Their children were:
Sarah, b. August, 1666, m. Benjamin Parsons
Elizabeth, b. 15 November 1668, d. 2 September 1675
Samuel, b. 22 August 1670, m. Sarah Colton
Hannah, b. 28 June1673, m. Ebenezer Miller
Jabez, b. 11 November 1675, killed by Indians
The danger from Indians in 1676, near the end of King Philip’s War between Indians and Colonists, was so great that all that winter no one at Longmeadow attempted to travel to Springfield to church; however, in early spring a party of sixteen men on horseback with their women and children riding on pillions started out from Longmeadow to attend church under the escort of Captain Nixon and a party of soldiers. On that fateful day, Sunday, 26 March 1676, while en route to church for the baptism of his son, the party was attacked by Indians.
Sylvester Judd’s account of the incident was recorded in the History of Hadley:
“On Sunday, the 26th of March, some of the people of Longmeadow, men and women, with children, ventured to ride to Springfield to attend public worship, in company with several Colony troopers. There were 16 or 18 men in all, but some had women behind them, and some had children in their arms, and when they were near Pecowsic Brooks 7 or 8 Indians in the bushes fired upon the hindmost and killed a man and a maid, wounded others, and took two women with their babes, and retired into a swamp. Six are said to have been slain or mortally wounded. John Keep, his wife Sarah, and his infant son Jabez are three of them. (The names of the others are not in the Spring Field records.) Those forward rode some distance towards Springfield, set down the women and maids, and then returned, but could not find the two women and children.” A letter from Major Savage [to the Governor’s Council] dated at Hadley, 28 Mar 1676, states “On the 26th inst. we had advice from Springfield that 8 Indians assaulted 16 to 18 men besides women and children as they were going to meeting from a public place they call Longmeadow, and killed a man and a maid, wounded 2 men and carried away captive 2 women and 2 children. In the night I sent 16 horse in pursuit of them, who met with some that were sent from Springfield, and overtook the Indians with the captives, who as soon as they saw the English, killed the 2 children and sorely wounded the women in the heads with their hatchets and so ran away into the swamp where they could not follow them. The scouts brought back both the women and the children. One of the women remained still senseless by reason of her wounds and the other is very sensible and rational.”
John, his wife Sarah, and their youngest son Jabez were killed and buried in Springfield, the grave no longer in existence. The settlement of John’s estate is held in the Probate records at Northampton. The inventory of his estate shows that he accumulated a very respectable property for the time—the total of the estate amounted to £329 11s 7d.