My Ancestor William Durkee – First Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts

My more recent immigrant ancestors were from in and around Gort and Peterswell Parish in Galway, Ireland, and from Klingenmünster in the Südliche Weinstraße (Southwest Wine Route) district in Germany. I have to go back an additional eighty-five years to find my next immigrant ancestors, they were Kennedy and Murray Scots-Irish that came to British Colonial America about 1770 from Ballintoy, Antrim, Ireland. I do have a few German ancestors that came from Germany in the 1750’s. And I have several additional German ancestors that came to British Colonial America via England in 1710. The English transported nearly 3,000 German Palatines in ten ships to New York in 1710. However, I have a huge amount of Colonial American ancestors that were here even earlier, including a few Mayflower Pilgrims. Although many of my colonial ancestors were from England, I also have some that were from Scotland, Wales, Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Switzerland. But . . . my earliest Irish Catholic ancestor was William Durkee. He was sent into servitude in Barbados and then came to British Colonial America. He was born about 1636 in Ireland. ☘️💚 He is believed to be the first Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts. 💚☘️

To understand his plight, I need to give some historical background. In 1641, Ireland’s population was 1,466,000 and in 1652, 616,000. According to Sir William Petty, 850,000 were wasted by the sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment during the Confederation War 1641-1652. At the end of the war, vast numbers of Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the American colonies by the English government. These people were rounded up like cattle, and, as Prendergast reports on Thurloe’s State Papers. “In clearing the ground for the adventurers and soldiers (the English capitalists of that day) … To be transported to Barbados and the English plantations in America. It was a measure beneficial to Ireland [according to the English], which was thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters; it was a benefit to the people removed [again according to the English], which might thus be made English and Christians … a great benefit to the West India sugar planters, who desired men and boys for their bondsmen, and the women and Irish girls… “To solace them.” (2)

In Barbados the Irish Catholics constituted the largest block of servants on the island. It is estimated that in 1652 Barbados had absorbed no less than 12,000 of these political prisoners.

William Durkee was sold into indentured servitude and was sent to Barbados. In September 1649, he was taken to Barbados as slave labor for the sugar plantations. The price was 1500 pounds of sugar each and the term of service was seven years. “They were treated no better than the African slaves, sometimes worse, for out of fear of insurrection, they were treated with great severity. Accustomed to the moist climate of Ireland, their half-naked bodies suffered terribly in the hot sun of the tropics. Consequently, they were dubbed “Red Legs” by their cruel masters. (4)

In Barbados the authority was not established until 1663, when all the Irish slaves were released and left stranded without friends or money. Many of them sold the only thing they had that was salable, namely, their services, and by this means reached the New England colonies.

William came from Barbados to the British American Colonies as an indentured servant in the household of Thomas Bishop of Ipswich, Massachusetts. His arrival in Massachusetts is documented in early Massachusetts records and he came in 1663, and he is listed as William Durgie.

Durgie, William, came to Ipswich Nov 09 1663 and was then 33 years old. Had been in the West Indies and came here from thence.  (6)

I need to point out here that many think because the Puritans came to America for reasons including religious freedom that they were tolerant of others of different religions, but this is not true. William Durkee was a Catholic, and many believe he was the first Catholic Irishman to settle in Massachusetts. This made him a target for the fanatical Puritans. They fined him for not attending Church, the fine being paid by Thomas Bishop. He was sentenced to receive 25 lashes or pay a fine of five pounds for running away. Bishop pays again. (4)

Some historical perspective regarding Catholics in early Colonial Massachusetts:

Massachusetts was first settled by English religious dissenters. Quakers, Jews, and Catholics were not permitted in the colony. Catholics avoided Massachusetts during the colonial period after laws passed in 1647 and 1700 forbade Catholic priests to reside in the colony under pain of imprisonment and execution. (8) Because many of the British colonists, such as the Puritans and Congregationalists, were fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England, much of early American religious culture exhibited the anti-Catholic bias of these Protestant denominations. (9)

Near the close of the reign of Charles I (died 1649), however, the forced emigration of the Irish brought many of that race to these shores; their number is hard to estimate, first, because the law made it obligatory that all sailings must take place from English ports, so that there are no records of those who came from Ireland with English sailing registry; secondly, because the law, under heavy penalties, obliged all Irishmen in certain towns of Ireland to take English surnames–the names of some small town, of a color, of a particular trade or office, or of a certain art or craft. (9)

The Durkee surname:

His name is recorded with several difference spellings in various early records including: Dirkey. Dirkye, Durken, Durgee, Durgie, Durkee, Durgin.

The origins of Durkee surname are thought by some to be a variant of the Irish surname Durkin. Durkin is an Anglicized form of the Irish name Mac Duarcáin. Durgin is said to be from the Irish O’Duarcain. Others believe his surname was originally a variant of Darcy that comes from the Irish O’Dorchaide.

DURKEE: In the Gaelic, Duirche is the comparative of Dorch, dark, cloudy, hence dark-complexioned. It may come from Durga, Gaelic, surly, sour, repulsive Durgy, in the Cornish British, signifies a small turf hedge. (7)

Durkee is also an uncommon Russian and Ukranian surname that means the stupid or dull man. (11)

Durkee is also a variant of a Dutch surname with other spellings of: Dirk, Dirke, Dirkes, Dirks, Dirck, Durk, Durck, Durke, van Dirk, Dirike, Dierkes Some of the first settlers of this name or some of its variants were: Aeltje Dirck, who settled in New York, NY in 1658; Engeltie Dirkse, who arrived in New York sometime between 1677 and 1678; John Adam Durck, who came to London, Eng. in 1709. (10)

Although, I believe we can rule-out our William Durkee being of Russian or Ukranian origin! He also was not from one of the early Dutch families of New York. Durgy is a word in Cornish British, but it is not a traditional surname of Cornwall. We do know that he arrived in British Colonial America from the West Indies.

Some link him as the son of Sir William O’Durge. It is believed that the name Durge (or Durgee) was a substitute of the surname D’Arcy. Some attribute Sir William’s up bringing to Platten Hall (now Platin) in Drogheda, but the mansion known by that name wasn’t built until about 1700. However, there is evidence that a castle originally stood where the Hall was built and was the residence of Nicholas D’Arcy. Nearby is Plattin church, which may have been a private chapel for the original estate. (12)

A 19th-century representation of the massacre at Drogheda, 1649 by
Henry Edward Doyle – illustration from Chapter XXX from An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800, by Mary Frances Cusack, Illustrated by Henry Doyle.

The Siege of Drogheda:

In 1649, from September 3 to 11, Cromwell and thousands of English forces laid siege to the walled harbor town of Drogheda, which lies between Belfast and Dublin. Royalists (both Irish and English) had opposed his Parliamentarian rule in England and met there in August of that year in a war summit. After a week of unsuccessfully convincing them to surrender, Cromwell bombarded the walls, finally leading his men into a breach. Once inside, he is said to have burned the Catholic church with asylum seekers inside, murdered the priests, and massacred the residents — an approach he would repeat in other Irish towns before the Royalist rebellion is put down. It is thought that these tactics caused Irish Catholics to hate Cromwell. Even the English Parliament at the time questioned the necessity of his violence. (12)

Of the 3100 Irish in Drogheda, 200 were captured and 2800 were killed by the 12,000 English soldiers (only 150 English died during the Siege according to Encyclopedia Britannica). Among the dead was William O’Durge. Among the few survivors who were taken and sold into servitude in Barbados was his 16-year-old son William. (12)

In Ireland, the family is thought to have spelled the name O’Durge. As the descendants spread in America, some chose to keep Durge or Durgee, others adapted it to Durkee (from Durke). (12)

Today, most of those with the Durkee surname are found in the United States and Canada. Most are descendants of William Durkee and Martha Cross. A few are descendants of a much later German immigrant to America who settled in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s.

William Durkee’s most life-changing “offense” was marrying Martha Cross, the Protestant daughter of a highly litigious man. (12)

The following is from The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross at the Historic Ipswich on the Massachusetts North Shore website:

An Interior Of An Inn With An Amorous Couple At A Table, And Figures Smoking Near A Fireplace In The Background (1645)
by David The Younger Teniers. (Cropped). Public domain.

Thanks to the existing Massachusetts court records of the time we are able to know more about him than most other ancestors. In the same household of Thomas Bishop was a servant (she was not an indentured servant, but a local girl working as a servant) named Martha Cross, she was the daughter of Robert Cross and Anna Jordan. Martha was born in Ipswich, MA and was of a family considered upstanding and church going.

When Martha became pregnant by William, they were presented for fornication; the court ruled that they be punished and be married. They found themselves back in court when Martha’s father refused to comply and Durkee had his own misgivings.

The Essex Co. MA court records provide a detailed account of the case, where gossip and hearsay from their neighbors were presented as evidence. The court clerk recorded William Durkee’s name with several different spellings in the same document:

William Dirkey, presented for fornication, was ordered to be whipped not exceeding twenty stripes, and to put in security of 20£ to save the town of Ipswich harmless from the charges of keeping the child, or else go to prison….. Martha Crosse, for fornication, is ordered to be whipped unless she brings a note from the treasurer, of threes £s paid to him.

Thomas Bishop provided the surety, but after the birth of the child, Durkee filed a suit against Robert Cross when he refused to allow his daughter to marry Durkee.

Margrit Bishop testified that being asked by Martha whether she should go home to her father, deponent told her that it was best for her to do so. At that, William being discontented, she desired me in the presence of God to bear witness that she would have no other man but he. Furthermore, she said ‘why will not you trust me as well as I have trusted you hitherto?’ And hereupon she went away to her father.

Grace Searl testified that she heard Martha Crosse say, when her friends came for her, that she told William that if she went away, she would come again and would not forsake him.

Thomas Bishop testified that Martha Crosse desired him several times to speak to her father, that she and William Durgy might be married …

Mary Bishop testified that Martha said it was her greatest comfort that her father had given his consent to her marriage, which was to take place on the nineteenth of the present month.

The court ruled for the plaintiff, that Robert Cross must give his daughter in marriage or pay 5£s damages. Cross agreed to the settlement:

Honored Sirs, you may Easily understand how the Case stands concerning my daughter, and I give them leave to marry, Your servant Robert Crosse.

Cross also addressed a letter to Thomas Bishop:

Neighbor Bishop, to you & your wife this is to let you understand our minds, the Case standing as it does: we leave your servants to your disposal…and we shall no ways hinder it. —Your much Respected Friend, Mr. Robert Crosse at Ipswich in New England, the 12 of the 7th month 64.

But by now, William Durkee was having second thoughts about the marriage, and Robert Cross filed charges against Durkey for “abusing his daughter.” Cross frequently appeared in court, suing John Fuller in 1642; Joseph Fowler in 1649; Cornelius Waldo in 1651; William Durkee in 1664; Thomas Wells in 1668; and in 1670 Nicholar Vauden and Lawrence Clinton, two of his servants who had run away.

Back to court they went:

Goodman Story deposed that Martha Crosse conceived she had been cast out of her father’s favor and family and was sore horrified and distressed in mind, and that her Sister Goodey Nelson came with tears to hear her: ‘Woe, said I,’ I thought my Sister would have died tonight: but she thought she could not live another day in that Condition: I being much affected with their Condition, said, ‘Why doe you not go to your Father & make your Condition known unto him? To which she answered, ‘Oh, I dare not go to speak a word in her behalf.’ Then I said, ‘will you go if I go down with you?’

Then Goodey Nelson said, ‘I with all my heart,’ so we went down to Goodman Cross, and there we found them in a sad and sorrowful Condition very much horrified in their spirit, not knowing which way to turn or what to say, & as my apprehension then led me, I did treat with them about suffering them to marry, which he did, & that was the way then what we thought to be the best.

William Nelson deposed that William Durken said, at the deponent’s house, after Goodman Story had been at his father’s, that he wished he had never spoken as he had, owning the child to be his, but he had eighteen meals a week and would spare six of them to keep the child.

John Bishop deposed that he heard William Durgee say that he had rather keep the child than keep her, but he presently said if he kept one he would keep the other, and they agreed to be married the next day.”

William Durkee married Martha Cross, daughter of Robert Cross, December 20, 1664 and they established their residence in Chebacco Parish. (1)

Life was very difficult for William and Martha. Even after William worked off his indenture to Thomas Bishop, he could not own land. This was because he refused to renounce his Catholicism and those that did not belong to the official Protestant Church in good standing could not be a land holder. It appears that his attitude may have changed, I would think out of desperation and frustration, for later there is a record of William‘s purchasing 1/4 acre of land from the town of Ipswich in 1693. Also, several of his sons were deacons in the church, so in the next generation they all joined the Puritan church. (4)

William and his wife persevered, and they are said to be the origin of all the Irish American lines of the Durkee/Durgy family. They had nine children who settled in Massachusetts and Connecticut with families of their own. They were all raised Protestant. (12)

William apparently remained in Thomas Bishop’s employ and lived in one of his houses. He is later reported to be working on the highways.

According to the Ipswich, Massachusetts Town Clerk, William Durkee Sr. had a seat appointed on one of the short seats in the meeting house in 1700. His name appears on a deed as late as 1713.

Despite their rough beginning, William and Martha had several children over 20 years. By all accounts, they were married for nearly 50 years, until William’s death in 1712. (6) Actually, as noted above, his name appears on a deed as late as 1713. The circumstances and exact date of his death along with where he was laid to rest remain a mystery. But after his death, his wife Martha did migrate to Connecticut to be near her son. Martha Durkee died 11 January 1727 in Windham (the location of her death is now in the town of Hampton), Connecticut.

Known children of William Durkee and Martha Cross:

  1. John Durkee, married/1 to Elizabeth Parsons and married/2 to Hannah Bennett.
  2. Martha Durkee, married Thomas Fuller.
  3. Dr. Thomas Durkee, married/1 Elizabeth Lord and married/2 to Rebecca Lamb.
  4. Elizabeth Durkee, married George Martin, Sr. (II) as his second wife.
  5. William Durkee, married Rebecca Gould.
  6. Jane Durkee, married John Martin.
  7. Mary Durkee, married Joseph Peck.
  8. Ann Durkee, married Samuel Palmer.
  9. Henry Durkee.
  10. Mercy Durkee, married George Martin, Jr (III).
Susannah Martin House Marker. Salem Witch Musuem. Photo from:
Salem Girls are a Whole Lotta Trouble.

☆ My ancestors are Mercy Durkee and George Martin, Jr. (III). George Martin, Jr. (III) just happens to be the grandson of George Martin (I) and Susannah Goodwife “Goody” North 👩‍🦳 who was hanged as a witch during the 🧹 Salem Witch Trials! I will be posting about my ancestor Susannah Goodwife “Goody” North Martin 👩‍🦳 in a future blog post.

My direct line:

  1. William Durkee and Martha Cross (daughter of Robert Cross, Sr. and Anna Jordan).
  2. Mercy Durkee and George Martin, Jr (III) (son of George Martin, Sr. (II) and Hannah Green).
  3. Mercy Martin and Amos Leach (son of James Leach and Mary ____ ).
  4. Jemima Leach and David Prindle (son of Daniel Prindle and Phoebe Marie Fed).
  5. Amos Prindle and Esther Canfield (daughter of David Canfield, Sr. and Sarah Gray).
  6. David Prindle, Sr. and Hannah Elizabeth Kritsinger/Greatsinger (daughter of John (Johann) Greatsinger and Lea Litts).
  7. Daniel Prindle and Sarah Jane “Jennie” Doman (daughter of Jacob (Johann Jacob) Doman and Mary Ann Davison/Davidson).
  8. Anna “Cora” Prindle and Joseph Edward Cole (son of Lorin Richard Cole and Nancy M. Losure). – my great-grandparents.


  1. Historic Ipswich. The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross. Historic Ipswich on the Massachusetts North Shore (website). The courtship and marriage of William Durkee and Martha Cross – Historic Ipswich
  2. West, Robert E., England’s Irish Slaves. EWTN [website]. England’s Irish Slaves | EWTN
  3. The Irish Times. Red Legs in Barbados, Jan. 17, 2009 [online] Red Legs in Barbados (
  4. Bishop, Bonnie. My Genealogy Home Page: Information about William (DURGY) DURKEE [website]. Bonnie-J-Bishop – User Trees –
  5. Alicia M Prater, PhD, [Blog] A Forbidden Marriage in Colonial Massachusetts | GenTales (
  6. The New England Historical & Genealogical Register, Published Quarterly Under the Direction of The New England Historic, Genealogical Society, Rev. William Cogswell, D. D., Editor. Volume I., Boston, Samuel G. Drake, Publisher, 1847, Coolidge & Wiley, Printers, 12 Water Street, Boston, MA.
  7. Origin of the name DURKEE
  8. Massachusetts, Catholic Church in New Catholic Encyclopedia. New Catholic Encyclopedia January 1, 2003 | O’CONNOR, T. H.; LUCEY, W. L.
  9. “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Massachusetts”.
  10. Dutch Origins of Durkee Surname
  11. Durkee Surname Definition.
  12. Alicia M Prater, PhD, [Blog]. Two William O’Durges and the Battle of Drogheda An Irish massacre and unclear family origins.

Related links of interest:

Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts. pg. 189. William Dirkee v. Robert Cross.

Origin of the Durkee Family, The Society of Genealogy of Durkee website, archived at on 3 September 2013. The Society of Genealogy of Durkee supported the work of Bernice Gunderson, compiler and author of The Durkee family genealogy, published in 2 volumes, 2009-2012. The organization appears to be inactive, as of June 2020.

Butlers and kinsfolk; Butlers of New England and Nova Scotia and related families of other names, including Durkees, descendants of Lieut. William and Sarah (Cross) Butler of Ipswich, Mass. and Eleazer 1st and Lydia (Durkee) Butler of Ashford, Conn., and Yarmouth, N.S. by Butler, Elmer Ellsworth. [Full book is available to read via this link to the Internet Archive of original website]

How Roman Catholics Conquered Massachusetts: The Inside Story. GBH – PBS Boston

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century, Part 1. Library of Congress.

The Irish of Barbados – Irish America Magazine.

Oliver Cromwell’s war crimes, the Massacre of Drogheda in 1649. IrishCentral.

If you use any information from my blog posts as a reference or source, please give credit and provide a link back to my work that you are referencing. Unless otherwise noted, my work is © Anna A. Kasper 2011-2023. All rights reserved. Thank you.

About Anna Kasper, ACDP

I am an avid Genealogist. I am currently a student at Phillips Theological Seminary (one of the few Catholics!). I am an ACDP - Associate of the Congregation of Divine Providence (Sisters of Divine Providence of Texas). If you are unfamiliar with what a Religious Associate (also called an Affiliate, Consociate, Oblate, Companion) is exactly, visit my about me page for more information. In community college, I majored in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies when at university.
This entry was posted in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Catholic, Famous Kin, Genealogy, Religious and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Ancestor William Durkee – First Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts

  1. Anna Kasper says:

    Reblogged this on Anna's Musings & Writings and commented:

    This week in 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks, the prompt is “Favorite Find” – there are so many stories, photos, and other finds that I could use for this week, but I am deciding to reblog my post about my ancestor William Durkee, the first Irish Catholic to settle in Massachusetts. He is one of my favorite finds. His courtship and marriage to Martha Cross, the daughter of the very litigious and very Protestant Robert Cross, are chronicled in detail in Essex County, Massachusetts court records, which includes facts and lots of gossip as testimony!


  2. Ann says:

    What an impressively researched story!


  3. Pingback: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 8: Courting. My Ancestor Mary Wheldon Taylor. Her Life and Death. | Anna's Musings & Writings

  4. Margaret leffel says:

    I am descended from Sir William Durkee, Robert Cross and Martha Cross and Anna Jordan Cross through my Grandfather Robert Hibbard. I have found this family history fascinating and want to know more. Who was Sir William Durkee who was Lord Chief Justice of England and who was my ancestors mainly Sir John Durge (Lord Chief Justice) my family ended up in Manchester Kentucky around late 1700’s.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s