The Continuing Odyssey of William Eager, Scottish Prisoner of War

When the ship Unity arrived in Boston in December of 1650, the fate of each of the 150 prisoners was uncertain.  Most were slated to work at the Saugus iron works, since two of the principal investors of the operation, known as the Company of Undertakers, had arranged for their transatlantic voyage.  The Scottish Prisoners of War website details the eventual destination of the prisoners. “Thirty-six prisoners went to Saugus, and seventeen worked for manager William Aubrey in the company’s Boston warehouse. The remaining nine intended for the ironworks were sent to the Braintree forge or sold to local farmers and artisans soon after their arrival. Fifteen Unity prisoners went to the sawmills in Maine under the management of Richard Leader, the former manager of the Saugus ironworks, and his brother George. Fifteen more went to other mills in Maine and New Hampshire. The remaining men were sold to farmers and merchants in New England.”

It must only be assumed that William Eager was among the latter “remaining men”.  His age, only 20 or 21 at the time, may have been a factor.  The trail is taken up admirably by William’s descendant, Jennifer Ehle.  We find him first to be associated with Robert Long of Charlestown, a tavern owner and a man of wealth and prestige. Ehle notes that Charlestown was associated with numerous other Unity prisoners. 

More critical to William’s future was the connection between Robert Long and Abraham Hill  There was a long synchronous relationship between them, as they arrived in the colonies about the same time and were always associated with the town of Charlestown.  In 1640, Hill married Long’s daughter Sarah.  Shortly after they gave birth to their own daughter, Ruth.  Four sons would follow.

Four Massachusetts colonial towns associated with William Eager

Hill had settled on the “Mystic (river) Side” of Charlestown, which was to be made a separate town, Malden, in 1650.  He was a founding member of the town, and he and his brother Joseph were deeply embedded in the organization of both the town and church.  Abraham operated the local mill, but it seems from the History of Malden that he was the tenant rather than the owner.  Nonetheless, he had numerous business interests in the town including a tavern, and was also a man of respect and wealth.  To give an idea, the richest man in Marlborough was Edmund Rice whose personal fortune at his death amounted to over £743.  Robert Long was valued at £647 at his death and Abraham Hill at £633.  William Eager’s association with these men certainly went a long way to establishing his legitimacy and contributed to his wealth over time.

When William Eager arrived to Massachusetts in 1650, the town of Malden was just beginning.  Abraham Hill became more engaged in town matters and in 1658 opened a tavern.  It may very well have been that he would occasionally ‘borrow’ workers from his  father in law.  In any case, the young Eager appeared to become part of the Long/Hill family.  So much so, that in 1658, in a year that his period of involuntary servitude would have expired,  William married Ruth, Abraham Hill’s nineteen year old daughter.  At the time he would have been in his late twenties.  It may be presumed that he lived for a time beneath the sunshine of his new family.  The first four of his children were born at Malden, the last of these, Abraham, in 1670.  His father in law’s death in 1669 apparently signaled a change for the family as they were next found in Cambridge in June of 1672 at the birth of their son Zerubbabel.  Their final three daughters were born there as well, but William’s wife Ruth died in 1679 and more changes were in store.

King Philip’s War

When war first broke out with the Indians of Massachusetts in 1675, there were very few colonial men who had wartime experience.  The Scottish Prisoners of War, however, knew a little about soldiering.  It might certainly be imagined that they were sought out and engaged in the new crisis.  Living in Cambridge, William Eager would certainly be on their military’s radar.  As all colonial men, he would have been part of the local militia as well.  His age may have been an issue, however, as he was in his mid forties when the war broke out. 

In Soldiers of King Philip’s War, George Madison Bodge lists William Agur (a common alternate spelling) as having served at the first Mt Hope campaign in August of 1675 under Captain Thomas Prentice of Cambridge.  There is no further mention of William, and, except for some scouting assignments, Capt Prentice had little activity as well.

Nonetheless, the soldiers of the war were held in high esteem and, as in every war, soldiers in arms were able to make important connections. 


The death of Ruth created a crisis for William, as many of his children were young.  A twice widowed woman named Lydia Cheever Barrett Cole became his wife in 1680.  Her first husband, Thomas Barrett, holds some intrigue for our story.  Though not one of the original Marlborough grant holders, Ms Ehle asserts that he received a modest 10 acre grant in 1662.  He first appears on a petition to the General Court in 1664 taking the side of the Rice faction in the protracted land dispute that involved the entire town.  Although Charles Hudson’s genealogy claims that he was from a different family, his Last Will and Testament clearly shows that he was the brother of original Marlborough grantee John Barrett.  His probate places his death in 1672 wherein, according to Ms Ehle, Lydia relocated to Cambridge, delivered the third Barrett child after Thomas’s death in December 1672 and in November of 1673 married Mr. Arthur Cole.  He, in turn, died in September of 1676.  Lydia’s time in Marlborough would have been the most solid reason for her new family’s move there.  In any case, when the opportunity arose to purchase land of the recently departed Praying Indians, whose plantation was a casualty of the war, the Eagers moved to Marlborough.

Next, William Eager in Marlborough.

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