A Puritan Escapes to New Amsterdam – John Sayles

B. about 1594 in Devonshire, England
M. (1) about 1625 in England
Wife: Phillipa Soales (or Sole)
M. (2) 21 Aug 1644 in New Amsterdam, New Netherlands
Wife: Maria Roberts
D. about 1645 in (probably) New Amsterdam, New Netherlands
Emigrated: 1630

John Sayles may have been a Puritan, but he didn't mesh well with their community. He was born in about 1594 in Devonshire, England. The name Sayles was also shown on various records as “Sales,” “Seals,” “Seales,” and “Celes.” In about 1625, John married Phillipa Soales (or Sole) and had two daughters with her. The younger girl may have died as an infant. The family lived in Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England until joining the 1630 Winthrop fleet that founded the Massachusetts Bay colony.

John settled in Charlestown and was listed there as one of the first members of the church. He and his wife had two sons born in the colony. But then things went downhill for him. In 1632, he was described: “The first known thief that was notoriously observed in the country, his name was John Sales who having stolen corn from many people in this scarce time was convicted thereof before the Court, & openly punished, & all he had by law condemned & sold to make restitution."

On April 1, 1633, the court records show he had gotten into some serious trouble:

"John Sayles being convicted of feloniously taking away corn & fish from diverse persons the last year & this, as also clapboards, &c., is censured by the Court after this manner: That all his estate shall be forfeited, out of which double restitution shall be made to those whom he hath wronged, shall be whipped, & bound as servant with any that will retain him for 3 years, & after to be disposed of by the Court as they shall think meet. John Sayle is bound with Mr. Coxeshall for 3 years, for which he is to give him [?] 4 per annum; his daughter is also bound with him for 14 years. Mr. Coxeshall is to have a sow with her, & at the end of her time he is to give unto her a cow calf."

John appears to have escaped; it's said that he ran off to the Indians, but he was caught and brought back to justice. On March 4, 1634, the court ordered "that John Sayles shall be severely whipped for running from his master, Mr. Coxeall." John was next mentioned regarding his daughter Phoebe and the fact that in 1637, John Coggeshall gave her up to another man, John Levins of Roxbury; he claimed "the said girl hath proved overburdensome to him." The following year, John Coggeshall joined a small group of men who became the founders of the Rhode Island colony. In 1647, Coggeshall was the first "President of all four towns in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."

By 1638, John and daughter Phoebe moved to New Amsterdam; by now his wife Phillipa had died. John took a Dutch variation of his name, Jan Celes, and received a lease, grant, or permission to occupy a plantation in lower Manhattan. The location on modern maps was about west of MacDougal St, its south line being 251 feet north of Canal St; and it extended as far north as the line of Clinton St., its westward boundary being "the strand of the North River." This later became known as "Old Jan's Land." The parcel was said to later become a part of the Trinity Church property.

John seemed to continue to have trouble getting along in the community. He was cited in New Amsterdam court records again and again for disputes involving such things as shooting other people's hogs. He married a second wife, Maria Roberts, on August 21, 1644. The following year, on April 7th he wrote a will and he must have gotten involved in some violence because he said he was “wounded and lying sick abed.” He probably died shortly after the will was written. His wife remarried a few months later.

John's two sons who were born in New England are a bit of a mystery. The younger one disappeared from the records and must have died young. But the older one, also named John, appears to have settled in Rhode Island because a man by that name turned up there connected to the colony founders; in 1650, he married the daughter of Roger Williams, the leader of Rhode Island. Possibly the connection to John Coggeshall, who was John Sayles Sr.'s "master" meant that his young son went to live in that community instead of going with his father and sister to New Amsterdam.

Famous descendants of John Sayles include Humphrey Bogart.

"The True Identity of John Sales alias Jan Celes of Manhattan," Gwen F. Epperson, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 1992
The Bergen Family; or the descendants of Hans Hansen Bergen, Teunis G. Bergen, 1876
Records of the Court of Assistants of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, 1630-1692, Vol. II, John Noble, 1904
Treatise upon the estate and rights of the corporation of the city of New York, Murray Hoffman, 1862
Council Minutes, 1638-1649, Vol. 4, New Netherland Council, Holland Society of New York, 1974