The CHENEY Family of Roxbury in Suffolk co., Massachusetts

Send comments and corrections to

WILLIAM CHENEY (1604 - 1667) of Roxbury m. Margaret Unknown
ELLEN CHENEY (c. 1626 - 1678) m. Sgt. Humphrey Johnson

First Generation

WILLIAM CHENEY (1604-1667) of Roxbury

Parents: Unknown

William Cheney was born about 1604. He died on 30 Jun 1667 in Roxbury, age 63. [Ref] He was buried there on 2 (5) 1667. [Ref cites church records] He married Margaret Unknown. She married second Unknown Burge. [Ref] He died before 1679. [Ref] Margaret was buried on 3 Jul 1686 in Roxbury. [Ref]

At the time of his death, William was a relatively wealthy man. His estate, inventoried on 10 Jul 1667, amounted to £886.11.4. [Ref] In addition to land, William owned his dwelling house and its contents, a house in Boston, five cows, two horses, a foal, a colt, two oxen and three pigs. The detailed inventory of his estate provides a glimpse at 17th century New England life. His house had two large rooms on the ground floor and two smaller rooms above. There was also an attic and a cellar. The main downstairs room was the parlor, which must have been sizable. In the parlor was a large bed and a trundle bed, along with an 'old chaffe bed'. The beds had bolsters, pillows, sheets, and blankets. There must have been two windows as there were two curtain rods, as well as curtains. On the floor were a red rug and a small carpet. There was a great cupboard, a little cupboard and two chests. Meals must have been set on the large table, but there were just three chairs, although one of them was 'great' and 'broad'. The other significant downstairs room was the hall. It appears to have been used for cooking and storage and must have had a fire place. In it were two tables, pewter and brass, irons and tongs, a grid iron, two trammels, an iron 'drypin', a pan, a spit, bellows, a chafing dish, a musket, iron tools, pails, and wooden ware and lumber. The two upstairs rooms were called the parlor chamber and the hall chamber in reference to the rooms below. [Ref] They were apparently used for sleeping as they contained beds; one had a spinning wheel and yarn. The attic was used for storing corn, rye, malt and rope; the cellar for storing barrels, old lumber, cart wheels, a part of a bed and plowing equipment. [Ref, transcript of inventory]

William was an important member of the community. In 1645 he was a voluntary contributor to the Roxbury free school and was chosen a member of the board of directors on 15 Feb 1663. [Ref] On 21 Feb 1648 and on 23 Feb 1652 he was appointed a rater. [Ref] He was one of two constables in 1654/5. [Ref] He was a selectman on 19 Jan 1656/7. [Ref] On 18 Jan 1663 he was on a committee to inspect Peter Gardner's lean-to and fence and ensure that they did not encroach upon the highway. [Ref] He was a freeman on 23 May 1666. [Ref] Despite holding offices that must have been typically held by men with some education, William appears to have been illiterate, using his mark, rather than his signature. [Ref] His interest in the town's affairs appears to have exceeded his interest in the church. He joined the Roxbury church late; being admitted to full communion on 5 (1) 1664/5. [Ref cites church records] Margaret joined before 4 (4) 1643, when her daughter Mehitable was baptised on her account. [Ref cites church records]

William may have made his money by buying and selling land. He acquired extensive and widely scattered lands in Roxbury. On 18 July 1639 William bought the dwelling house and home lot in Roxbury, along with forty acres of land and pasture, of Nicholas and Richard Parker of Boston. [Ref] On a 1634/43 Roxbury estate list; he is shown as having 24.5 acres. [Ref] On 2 (1) 1647, Humphrey Johnson of Roxbury granted William 20 acres of land in Roxbury. [Ref, transcribed deed] On 6 Jul 1658 William and Margaret sold John Pierpont a quarter share of a watermill in Roxbury and a quarter piece of the acre of marsh ground that went with it. [Ref, transcribed deed] An early description of his land says that his house, garden and lands near his house abutted William Parke's to the south and east and the highway to the north and west. He had 16 acres in the Great Lots, between John Johnson's to the west and the school lands to the east. He had 10 acres of swamp near the Great Lots, between those of Giles Pason, Ralph Hemingway and the heirs of Samuel Hagvorne. He had six acres of salt marsh on Gravelly Point and six acres of fresh meadow in the Great Meadow, between John Stowe's land to the east, Richard Sutton's land to the west and John Turner's land to the south. His land from the first land allotment in the last division was the fifth lot, lying between John Johnson's and that of the heirs of George Alcock. He had 24.5 acres in the 1000 acres near Dedham. He had about 20 acres in the Great Lots, lying between the way to the fresh meadow on the east, the land of the heirs of John Levens on the south, Richard Peacock's land to the northwest and Gile's Pason's land and the highway to the north. He had 3.5 acres of meadow in the fresh meadows, west of John Pierpont's land; an acre called Wolf Trap, lying to the north of John Gorton's land and to the west of the highway, that he bought from Humphrey Johnson; eight acres of woodland that had previously been Richard Sutton's and then John Johnson's. [Ref cites Roxbury records]

In his will, dated 30 Apr 1667, William demonstrates his devotion to his "deare & afflicted wife, Margaret". He left detailed instructions for her care and gave her the income and the residue of his estate. He left his son John about 20 acres in the Great Lots; two acres of fresh meadows and an acre of salt marsh that was formerly Isaac Heath's. He left his son William his land in Medfield on the condition that he and his wife Deborah be reconciled and live together (but not in Providence). He left his son Joseph 37 acres and £20. He left land to Thomas's sons, for Thomas to improve, and £10 each to his daughters Ellen, Margaret and Mehitable. [Ref]

Six years after William's death, his wife Margaret recovered from her affliction, which may have been depression. The church appears to have looked upon Margaret with more exasperation than her husband did; the 24 (3) 1673 church record says (my spelling and punctuation):

Margaret Cheney, widow, having been long bound by Satan under a melancholy distemper (above 10 or 11 years), which made her wholly neglect her calling and live mopishly, this day gave thanks to God for loosening her chain, and confessing and bewailing her sinful yielding to temptation. [Ref]

Margaret remarried, to an unknown man with the last name of Burge. But, in 1679 she was again referred to as a widow in a deed. [Ref] The last years of her life are mysterious. Her sons and daughters, Thomas and Margeret Hastings of Watertown, Thomas and Mehitable Wight and Joseph Cheney of Medfield sold her a parcel of land in Boston for £30. Her son Thomas Cheney consented. [Ref] She was dismissed from the church at Roxbury to the South Church in Boston on 9 Apr 1682. [Ref] Thomas agreed to become responsible if she became a burden on the town on 24 Apr 1682. [Ref] She wrote her will on 15 May 1686. The witnesses were Robert Sanderson, a wealthy goldsmith, and his third [handwritten 'third' over 'second'] wife Elizabeth. The will appears to be in Elizabeth's handwriting and is signed with Margaret's mark. She left her son Joseph £30, her daughter Mehitable all of her clothes, her grandson William five pounds and his two brothers 50 shillings each. [Ref] She died soon after and was buried next to William in Roxbury on 3 Jul. [Ref]

There was another early Cheney family in Roxbury: John, his wife Martha, and children Mary, Martha, John, Daniel and Sarah. It is not known if they are related. [Ref]

William Addams Reitwiesner [] provides an ancestry of Vice President Cheney. He is a descendant of William's son Thomas.

Children of William Cheney and Margaret Unknown: [Margaret did not mention Ellen or Margaret in her will; it seems possible that they could have been the daughters of an earlier wife.]

  1. Ellen Cheney was born about 1626. She died on 28 Sep 1678 in Hingham. [Ref] She married Sgt. Humphrey Johnson.
  2. Margaret Cheney married Dea. Thomas Hastings as his second wife in Apr 1650 in Roxbury. [Ref] He married first Susanna Unknown. [Ref] They were of Watertown. Thomas and Margaret had eight children. [Ref]
  3. Thomas Cheney died between 23 Oct 1693, when he wrote his will, and 6 Nov 1693, when it was proved. [Ref] He married Jane Atkinson on 11 (12) 1655 in Roxbury. [Ref][Ref 11 Jan] She died on 29 Jul 1724. [Ref] Thomas moved to Cambridge. On 26 Apr 1659 Richard Dana and his wife Ann sold their house on the south side of the Charles River, along with 13 acres and a landing place, to Thomas Cheney, husbandman of Cambridge. [Ref, transcript of deed] Thomas was a freeman on 23 May 1666 in Cambridge. [Ref] He was a soldier in Capt. Johnson's Roxbury company in King Philip's War. [Ref] He became a relatively wealthy man; his estate was valued at £1064. [Ref, transcript of inventory] He had 11 children. [Ref]
  4. William Cheney married Deborah Unknown. [Ref] William was a freeman on 23 May 1666 in Roxbury. [Ref] A William Cheney is on a 3 Oct 1690 list of soldiers from Dorchester under the command of John Withington in the Canada Expedition. [Ref] A Benjamin Cheney was admitted an inhabitant of Ashburnham on right of his brother William who had earned it by being a soldier in the Canada expedition. [Ref] His father's will suggests that at some point he was estranged from his wife. A story that appears frequently on internet sites is that William was hanged on 22 Sep 1681 for the rape of the servant girl Experience or Elizabeth Holbrook. It is said that his wife Deborah testified in his defence. The usually exhaustively thorough Cheney genealogy [Ref] has little to say about William.
  5. John Cheney was born on 25 (7) 1640 in Roxbury. [Ref][Ref says 20 Sep 1639; 25:7:1640 is the Court record] He is probably the John Cheney who entered Harvard in about 1655, just about the time his older brother Thomas moved to Cambridge. [Ref] It is not known if he graduated. [Ref] He accidentally drowned in the river; the jury ruled that his death was accidental, he had been trying to catch eels. [Ref]
  6. Mehitable Cheney was born on 1 (4) 1643 in Roxbury. [Ref] She was baptised on 4 (4) 1643 in Roxbury. [Ref cites church record] She married Thomas Wight of Medfield. [Ref] She had five children. [Ref]
  7. Joseph Cheney was born on 6 Jun 1647 in Roxbury. [Ref] He died 16 Sep 1704. [Ref] He married first Hannah, the daughter of John Thurston 1, on 12 Mar 1668. [Ref] She died on 29 Dec 1690. [Ref] He married second Mehitable (Plimpton) Hinsdale [Ref] on 21 Jul 1691 in Mefield. [Ref]
    Joseph was of Medfield. [Ref] He contributed a bushel of Indian corn to Harvard College in 1678. [Ref]
    some descendants of Joseph Cheney

Second Generation

ELLEN CHENEY (c. 1626 - 1687) of Roxbury and Hingham

Parents: William Cheney and Margaret Unknown. [Ref][Ref, p. 6]

Ellen Cheney was born about 1626. [Ref, p. 6] She died on 28 Sep 1678 in Hingham. [Ref][Ref says 29 Sep] Rev. Peter Hobart of Hingham wrote on that day that, "Humphery Johnsons wife dyed in the bed in the night by him." [Ref] She married Sgt. Humphrey Johnson on 20 Mar 1641/2 in Roxbury. [Ref][GMB]

Humphrey and Ellen were ancestors of Franklin D. Roosevelt. [Ref]


Anderson, Robert Charles, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, Vol. 1-3, Boston, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995.

Dean, John, trans., "Medfield's Contribution to Harvard College," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 10, 1856, 49-50.

Demos, John, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Editors, "Soldiers from Dorchester, Mass., in the Canada Expedition of 1690, with a List of Settlers or Grantees to the Town of Ashburn," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 16, 1862, 148 - .

Egan, C. Edward, "The Hobart Journal," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 121, 1967, 3-25, 102-127.

Ellis, Charles M., trans. "Early Records of Roxbury," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 2, 1848, 52-4.

Johnson, Paul Franklin and Frank Leonard Johnson, Genealogy of Capt. John Johnson of Roxbury, Massachusetts, Commonwealth Press, Los Angeles, 1951.

Massachusetts Vital Records

Paige, Lucius, R., "List of Freemen, " New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 3, 1849, 89-96, 187-194, 239-246, 345-352.

Pope, Charles Henry, The Cheney Genealogy, Boston, Pope, 1897.

Pulsifer, David, trans., "Records of Boston," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, various issues.

Richardson, Douglas, "The Heath Connection: The English Origins of Isaac and William Heath of Roxbury, Massachusetts, John Johnson, Edward Morris, and Elizabeth (Morris) Cartwright," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 146 (1992), 261 - .

Trask, William, "Abstracts from the Earliest Wills on Record in the County of Suffolk, Mass.," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, various issues.

Vital Records of Hingham, Massachusetts, ca. 1639-1844. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006.

Vital records of Roxbury, Massachusetts to the end of the year 1849, Salem, Essex Institute, 1925-1926.