A treasure indeed

On the list of books of which you have probably never heard is Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England…, originally published in 1702.[1] Roughly translated as The Glorious Works of Christ in America, it might not sound all that interesting and certainly doesn’t sound like a genealogical resource, but it really is a rich treasure of biographical information for early New England ministers.

The Rev. John Ward (1606–1693) of Haverhill, Massachusetts,[2] who was in New England by 1639, was the son of Great Migration immigant Rev. Nathaniel Ward, who arrived with some of his family in New England in 1634.[3] Nathaniel, his son James, and daughter Susanna, with her husband Giles Firman, all returned to England in the 1640s.[4] John might have returned with them except his wife, Alice (Edmonds) Ward, whom he had married in London in 1636, was “utterly against” going back. John was willing to stay if he could find a place to preach and by 1645 he was the ordained minister at Haverhill, where he remained the rest of his life.

“He was a person of quick apprehension, a clear understanding, a strong memory, a facetious conversation; he was an exact grammarian, an expert physician…”

Cotton’s description of Rev. John Ward is, as would be expected with seventeenth-century prose, full of accolades: “He was a person of quick apprehension, a clear understanding, a strong memory, a facetious conversation; he was an exact grammarian, an expert physician, and, … a thorough divine [with] a most healthy, hardy, and agile constitution of body, which enabled him to make nothing of walking on foot a journey as long as thirty miles together.” He was “of a modest and bashful disposition, and very sparing of speaking, especially before strangers, or such as he thought his betters. He was wonderfully temperate, in meat, in drink, in sleep, and he always expressed – I had almost said affected – a peculiar sobriety of apparel.”

Cotton further described that although John Ward had plenty of offers to marry rich women in England “yet he chose to marry a meaner person, whom exemplary piety had recommended,” with whom he lived forty years “in such an happy harmony, that when she died, he professed that, in all this time, he never had received one displeasing word or look from her. Although she would so faithfully tell him of every thing that might seem amendable in him, that he would pleasantly compare her to an accusing conscience, yet she ever pleased him wonderfully….”

You can’t make this stuff up!

A quick way to find out if one of your early New England ancestors has a biography in Magnalia Christi is to check references given by Robert Charles Anderson in his Great Migration Study Project sketches, as well as in the Early New England Families Study Project sketches. These personal tidbits can be adorable additions to your ancestors’ portraits.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnalia_Christi_Americana.

[2] Magnalia Christi, I: 522. John Ward was born at Haverhill in Suffolk, England.

[3] Great Migration Begins, 3: 229–35.

[4] Susan Hardman Moore, Abandoning America, Life-stories from early New England (Woodbridge, Sussex, England, 2013), 107–10, 304–7.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

13 thoughts on “A treasure indeed

  1. I am at my wit’s end trying to build a plausible tree for my ggrandfather, Daniel D. Ward who married Harriet Newell Cook about 1840. According to census Daniel was b. 1804 PEI. He married Margaret Full in 1835 in Yaromough. He married Harriet about 1840 in Yarmough. I can track him after that until he died. I think his parents are Ebenezer Ward and Peggy Margaret Clark m. 1792 in PEI. I think Ebenezer could have been the Loyalist Ebenezer Ward Jr. who left N.Y. in 1783. If so, Peggy was his second wife. I had thought I had a good lineage but looking at it in the pedigree format, I’m very uncomfortable with the ages of each generation. My lineage today says Daniel son of Ebenezer son of Ebenezer son of Samuel son of Josiah son of George son of Stephen and Joice. The problem is, every Ward family had an Ebenezer! And the 2nd problem is documenting Loyalists. It seems like my family was written off/disowned because I can’t find anything.I need to know who the children were and the wives 1775-1783. The Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI archives and historical societies have been very helpful but of course they don’t have records of New Jersey, USA. American Ancestors has Ebenezer listed several times but none of it was helpful/right person. I’ve been working only on this person for 70 hours a week since November. I’ve reached the point where I don’t know anything for sure.
    Today you had an article on John Ward and Alice Edmonds. I’m sure I investigated them but it might be worth another look. Our family has been looking for Daniel’s parents for over a hundred years. Why can’t we find them?
    I’m waiting for a DNA result from a descendant of Phoebe Clark Ward Weeks who I think is Daniel’s sister. I have numerous matches with people who claim Ebenezer Ward and Mary Gray. I know for a certainty that they are not my ggrandparents. Time and location rules that out. Uncle? Nephew? Brother?

    1. Toni, sounds like you are in that proverbial “rock” and “hard place” situation. Might be a good idea to take a Summer vacation and come back to the problem “in a while.” Sometimes stuff pops out when reading something “cold.” Good luck.

      1. This is my 3rd “break”. I really, really want to make some progress! Even just one generation would break my wall! I think 😉

  2. I was surprised to see your reference to Magnalia Christi Americana after I read about it for the first time yesterday. It is referenced in the chapter Art and Science in Colonial America in the book The Puritan Experiment by Francis J. Bremer. The book is dense and rich in detail about the founding and evolution of Puritan society. I am fascinated by it.

  3. Would love to see more on this book. Cotton Mather was a 1st cousin (9X removed), so I’m always interested in his version of history. Rev John Cotton (7x, Seaborn 8x, John 9X g-grandfather).

  4. Good Afternoon Alecia. I really appreciate reading all of your postings and those of so many other friends re our Ancestry. I may have more links to the Ward Families as they have links to Royalty and to the Winthrop Family and to more folks that I need to confirm. There are lots of links to Haverhill, Mass where my Dad was born . The Lemuel Williams family is linked to my Archibald Family and to the Hilton Family as well It is amazing to locate the Genealogy of our family when we are not looking very hard. All the best to you and yours and to all of the great friends we have been able to connect to. Sincere Best Wishes, Paul Morris Hilton

  5. Alicia,
    I discovered MAGNALIA… several years ago when searching for information about Sarah Hunt and her husband Matthew Pratt. There was a story about them in a section dealing with the minister Thomas Thacher. As children both were struck by a disease that left them deaf. It occurred at about the same time, but Matthew was old enough to be able to speak, read, and write. Sarah was much younger and had little speech or language. Because she could not learn of the Deity by hearing or reading, it was expected that she could not be admitted to the Puritan Church. Somehow she was able to learn of God, communicate her knowledge to friends and family, convince the elders of the church, and be admitted to the church. Mather considered it something of a miracle and described her “carriage is that of a grave, gracious, holy woman.” Stories of real people (good or bad) like Sarah and Matthew are the impetus for my love of family history.

    Thank you for passing on this wonderful resource.
    JoAnn Lancaster

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.