Peter Shumway - (1635 - 1695)


According to early and unanimous family tradition, Peter Shumway was born in France. Other traditions, not quite so strong, state he was a Huguenot. Apart from tradition, it is probable that he was a Huguenot because the great majority of French citizens emigrating during the 1600's were Huguenots escaping religious persecution under Louis XIV.

The Huguenots were French protestants, followers of Calvin. In Tours they used to meet at night near the gate of King Hugo, who was regarded as a spirit. A monk said they should be called "Huguenots" or fellow spirits of  Hugo, since they only went out by night like him. This nickname became popular from 1560 on. During the next century over 400,000 Huguenots left France, settling in England, Prussia, and America. The persecution is deemed one of the great blunders in French history.


The earliest trace of Peter Shumway in America is his service in the war against an Indian chief named King Philip in Rhode Island in 1675. Based on this service, his son Peter in 1749 petitioned the Governor of Massachusetts for a grant of land. Assuming Peter Shumway Sr. did not leave France until he was grown, and assuming he had been in America a few years before his service as a soldier in the Indian wars, the probable period of his arrival would be between 1655 and 1670. This would coincide with the renewal of persecution of the Huguenots, which began in 1661 and lasted until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

The name "Shumway" is obviously anglicized, and it is still not certain what the original French name was. The most likely contender is "Chamois". This is lent credence by the earliest form of spelling, The town records of Topsfield, Massachusetts on May 20, 1685, mentions Peter Chomway. Such transformations were not unusual for Huguenot names. But where in France did the young Pierre Chamois come from?

A possible lead is the mention of a "Chamois" family in a list of Huguenot fugitives from the neighborhood of St. Maixent at the period of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). The Shumway book does not give the source of this item. Peter obviously had emigrated somewhat earlier, since he was in Massachusetts in 1675, but the Chamois family mentioned could have been his family or relatives. In any event, they do not seem to have come to America, because all the Shumways here are descended from Peter.

St. Maixent is a small town in Western France on the Sevre River, about 50 miles from the Atlantic coast. It was in a region of Huguenot strength. Its population was 12,000 in 1685, but had dropped to 5,440 by 1946. Its medevil abbey church was partially destroyed by the protestants in the 1500's. Further research may yet pin down the Shumway connection to this tragic era in French history.

Peter was 40 years old and still unmarried in December, 1675, when a campaign was undertaken to destroy the Indian army of 3000 at Fort Narragansett in Rhode Island, where Philip was waiting until Spring to attack the colonists. The colonial army was drawn from all men of military age in New England at the time, and numbered 1100 men. Peter was one of the 527 soldiers from Massachusetts, which was the largest contingent. In a surprise attack followed by a 3 hour battle, the fort was destroyed and 1,000 Indians were slain with a loss of 80 colonial soldiers. King Philip lost his life the following year.

In 1681 Peter Shumway and James Waters were chosen by the town meeting of Topsfield, Massachusetts, to ring hogs for that year. The next mention of Peter is in 1695, when he died at the age of 60 and left his property to his wife Frances R. Shumway  and his children. At that time he was living in Boxford, near Topsfield. His will is signed,

Peeter X Showmway

This suggests he could probably not write, nor could his wife Frances who died in 1714.

A brief sketch of the life of Peter Shumway (1635 - 1695) by Bob Owens. From the "Charles Shumway Family 1806 - 1979" book.

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