Monday, January 13, 2014

A Lawsuit over a Carpet, 1675, Massachusetts

No, this is not the carpet from the lawsuit

There once was a rug that crossed the ocean in 1635,  survived a ship wreck and several lawsuits, and was passed on as a family heirloom for years and years.   This is the story of that carpet.

In 1675 John Cogswell sued his uncle, William Cogswell over his father’s estate.  A will could not be found, and the local Essex County, Massachusetts court decided in John’s favor for about 54 pounds plus court costs.  Uncle William appealed, and in 1676 the higher court in Boston reversed the judgement and charged John 13 pounds 4 shillings.  John refused to pay, and asked for a hearing.  On 29 May 1677 the whole case was heard again in William’s favor.

John Cogswell (1650 – 1724) is my 7th great grandfather.  His grandparents, John and Elizabeth (Thompson) Cogswell, were my 9th great grandparents.  They came to America with the Winthrop Fleet, on board the ship Angel Gabriel, which was wrecked in Pemaquid harbor, Maine during a big hurricane in 1635.  The carpet in question survived the voyage, the shipwreck, and the 40 years before the lawsuit.

Deposition by William Thompson, 1677, aged about 28 years, who lived with John Cogswell in Ipswich. 
“I did frequently see a Turkey-work carpet which my uncle and aunt had:  and I have heard them say it was theirs in Old England, and used to lie on their parlor table there; and I heard my father, Doctor Samuel Thompson, say that he did well remember that my uncle had a Turkey-work carpet, which used to lie upon their parlor table in Old England, and took it away with them.”

More depositions in the 1676 case can be read at this page:

Why was the Turkish carpet on the table?  Well, in the 17th century carpets were much too valuable to walk on, even in England.  They were usually hung on the wall like a tapestry, or hung over a table or bed.  Why was the original judgement overturned?  Someone must have been fibbing, since several witnesses mentioned the goods owned by Cogswell, as well as the carpet.   

Court cases such as this help fill out the story of our ancestor’s lives beyond birth and death dates.  Since the early colonial residents of New England were particularly litigious, there is a good chance you might find your ancestor mentioned in a court record, as a witness, defendant, plantiff, judge or juror.  This particular case is interesting because of the descriptions of the household goods owned by the Cogswell family.

John Cogswell of Ipswich, Massachusetts is also known for bravely signing a petition in favor of John and Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor during the Salem Witch Hysteria in 1692.  John Proctor was the witch trial victim immortalized by the play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.  John Proctor and his first wife, Martha Harper , are also my ancestors.   This was considered a brave act, because in 1692 many of the friends and family of the accused had the finger of guilt pointed back at themselves, especially if they tried to prove their loved one’s innocence.

You can still visit the Cogswell family land in the town of Essex, Massachusetts (formerly the Chebacco parish of Ipswich, Massachusetts).   Cogswell's Grant is now a museum home operated by Historic New England. 

For more information:

The Cogswells in America, by E. O. Jameson, published in Boston in 1884 (can be read online at

Cogswell Family Association

The Cogswell Family Association blog

Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts,  Volume VI, 1675 – 1678, page 156 mentions the “turkey work” carpet.  Available to view online at Google Book Search.

Cogswell’s Grant, a historic property managed by “Historic New England”.  It was first owned by John Cogswell (1592 – 1669), born in Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, England, who came to New England in 1635 aboard the Angel Gabriel with his family.  The Angel Gabriel was wrecked, and they lost 5,000 pounds sterling of property, but all survived.  He called his property in Essex, Massachusetts (Chebacco Parish), Westberry Lee” after his birthplace.   It was passed down in the Cogswell family from 1636 to 1839, when it was sold to Adam Boyd, a prominent shipbuilder.

The image above of the carpet is from Wikimedia Commons, Lotto Carpet design Usak 16th century, photographed at the Museum of Islamic Art, World Imaging, 2009. 

The URL for this post is 

Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Replies
    1. Ah, Marian, I wish I knew! It has been lost to the ages...

  2. Oh, wow, I hadn't heard this story about the carpet! John Sr. and Elizabeth Thompson were my 10x greats-- I'm descended from them through their daughter Sarah. Also descended from John Proctor's sister Mary (9th great-grandmother).

    What a shame we don't know what happened to the carpet... I'm guessing that it probably doesn't exist anymore, sadly. I sure wouldn't be walking on it if it did.