Thomas Willett

Thomas Willett
1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Thomas Delavall
In office
Preceded by Thomas Delavall
Succeeded by Cornelius Van Steenwyk
Personal details
Born 1605
Barley, Hertfordshire, England
Died August 29, 1674 (aged 69)
Swansea, Plymouth Colony (now approximately Bristol, Rhode Island)

Thomas Willett (1605 August 29, 1674) was a British merchant, Plymouth Colony trader and sea-captain, Commissioner of New Netherland, magistrate of Plymouth Colony, Captain of the Plymouth Colony militia and was the 1st and 3rd Mayor of New York City, prior to the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898.


The fourth son of Andrew Willet, he was born in August 1605, in the rectory-house of Barley, Hertfordshire, and was baptised on the 29th of the same month. He was educated at The King's School, Ely. His father dying when he was only sixteen years of age, he appears to have continued to reside with his widowed mother and maternal grandmother till he came of age. Shortly after he went to Leyden, and then in 1629 to the new Plymouth Colony where he gained the trust of Governor William Bradford.

Willett was placed in charge of the Plymouth Colony's trading post with the Native Americans at Castine in what is now Maine, and there developed the skills in trade and native language which would serve him well. The French forced Plymouth to abandon their operations at Castine in 1635.[1]

Willett married Mary, daughter of John Brown(e), Sr., a leading citizen of the Plymouth Colony. He moved with the Brown(e) family from Plymouth westward to the eastern shores of Narragansett Bay to Wannamoisett, near present-day Barrington, Rhode Island, and became a major merchant, trading with New Amsterdam.[2] He was elected one of the assistant governors of the Plymouth colony, and acted as arbitrator in disputes between the English and Dutch colonies. He eventually became the Plymouth Colony's chief military officer.[3]

Accompanying the English commander Richard Nicolls, he contributed to the peaceable surrender of New Amsterdam to the English on September 7, 1664.

When the colony received the name of New York, Willett was appointed the first mayor (12 June 1665) and a commissioner of admiralty on August 23,[4] with the approval of English and Dutch alike. The next year he was elected alderman, and became mayor a second time in 1667.

Shortly after he withdrew to Swansea, and here, after having lost his first wife, he married Joanna Boyse, the widow of clergyman, Reverend Peter Prudden. He was a member of the New York governor's executive council from 1665 to 1672 under Richard Lovelace. He retired in 1673, and died in 1674, at the age of sixty-nine. He was buried in the Little Neck Cemetery at Bullock's Cove, Riverside area of East Providence, Rhode Island.[5] In his religious views, Willett was an independent.


Willett was connected by marriage to the family of John Brown(e), shipbuilder, perennial political office holder, founder of several towns, and one of the wealthiest men in the Plymouth Colony. Although Brown(e)'s origins are uncertain and subject to present debate, he evidently was very well connected in England, as near the end of his life he returned there for several years as executor of the estate of Sir Henry Vane the Elder; the Sir Henry Vanes, elder and younger, played major roles in England at the time of the English Civil War. The Brown(e) family also had ties to earliest Plymouth through the marriage of John Brown(e)'s son, James, to Lydia Howland, daughter of John Howland, one of the Mayflower passengers; Howland collaborated in Willett's early fur-trading efforts.[6]

Willett's son, Thomas Willett, was a major in the militia of Queens County and a councillor under Governors Sir Edmund Andros and Henry Sloughter. Mary Willett, eldest daughter of Capt. Thomas Willett and his wife Mary, married in 1658 Rev. Samuel Hooker, son of Rev. Thomas Hooker, Puritan divine and founder of Hartford, Connecticut.[7]

Some have claimed that his great-grandson was Marinus Willett, who also served as Mayor of New York, from 1807-1808. This claim has been refuted by E. Haviland Hillman in an article published in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 47 at 119, published in April 1916.[8]

The descendants of Thomas Willett were numerous. The 'Dorothy Q.' of the poem of Oliver Wendell Holmes was Thomas Willett's great-granddaughter, and the great-grandmother of Holmes.

The Fire Department of New York operated a fireboat named Thomas Willett from 1908 to 1959.[9]


  1. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 168.
  2. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 185.
  3. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin. p. 200.
  4. Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. (1999) Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford. p. 78.
  5. Thomas Willett at Find a Grave
  6. Nathaniel Philbrick. (2006) Mayflower. New York: Penguin.
  7. The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker, 15861908, Edward Hooker, Margaret Huntington Hooker, Rochester, N.Y., 1909
  8. E. Haviland Hillman, "Ancestry of Colonel Marius Willett" The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 47 at 119 (April 1916)
  9. Clarence E. Meek (July 1954). "Fireboats Through The Years". Retrieved 2015-06-28.


New title Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Thomas Delavall
Preceded by
Thomas Delavall
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Cornelius Van Steenwyk
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