John Edminster

John Edminster was a young soldier in the English Civil War. He fought with a Scottish army allied with Charles II of England, against the English Puritan leader, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell won the war, and John was captured by the Puritans at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

Cromwell wanted to sell the prisoners as slaves. Some were sent to plantations in the Caribbean, where nearly all died of disease or ill treatment. Luckily, John was sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded by the Puritans. He arrived on the ship “John and Sarah” on May 13, 1652.

At this time, the Massachusetts Puritans were not fond of slavery. Instead, the Rev. John Cotton wrote Cromwell that “They (the Scots) have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude, but for 6 or 7 or 8 years, as we do our own.”

Thus, John was indentured to a mill owner in Durham, New Hampshire. Later, once freed, John became a shipwright in Charlestown, Massachusetts (now part of Boston).

Eventually, Charles II regained the throne of England and the Puritans were ousted. But John did not return home. Apparently, he was satisfied with his treatment by his Puritan “enemies” in Massachusetts. Indeed, he married a Puritan woman, as did the next seven generations in my line. John died in 1714, at about age 80.

A question remains about the “Edminster” surname. All Edminsters in the world today appear to be descendants of John. Historically, “Edminster” was not a surname in the British Isles or anywhere else. It is clear from the records that the English clerk who recorded the names of the Scottish prisoners had difficulty understanding their accent, which resulted in huge misspellings. John himself was illiterate, so he could not have helped. Historians believe it may have been the Scottish name “Edmonstone.”

Shared by:  Richard Edminster



  1. Thank you, cousin Richard!

    About a dozen years ago I drove a young relative from Wolfeboro to Durham, New Hampshire to pick something up from a music store. I too the opportunity to slow the car as I passed through downtown and called out, “Hey, everybody! I’m back! Did you miss me?” I mean, it was literally true, in the sense that I was carrying Old John’s DNA, very diluted. The streets were empty and nobody answered. No one seems to care after 300 years.

    According to _The Edminster Family in America_, by Frank Custer Edminster, Jr. (privately printed, 1965), “A boat named the ‘John and Sara’ sailed from London on or about 8 November 1651. Aboard were some 200 Scotch prisoners of the English consigned to a Mr. Charles Kemble of Charlestown. They arrived in Boston early in 1652 and among them was a John Edminsteire.

    “…it appears that these men were sent to the colony as ‘slaves…as a sort of banishment for their rebellion”. They had been taken prisoners at the Battle of Dunbar, near Edinburgh, Scotland, September 3, 1650 when Cromwell defeated the Scots and took 10,000 prisoners.”

    I see that you have an actual date for the arrival of the ‘John and Sara’, which Cousin Frank didn’t give. Do you, by any chance, have source material for your statement that the original John Edminster was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester rather than the Battle of Dunbar? It’s not terribly important to me, but I have all this mythology in my head about Dunbar and John’s subsequent imprisonment on Bass Island off the Scottish coast, and I’ll need to update it and move the scene to Worcester if your source material turns out to be right.

    In friendship,

    Your cousin John Jeremiah

    • Richard Edminster

      Hi John,

      Yes, “The Edminster Family” (red book) contains several understandable errors. In this case, the Scottish loss at Dunbar was on September 3, 1650. Prisoners from that battle were sent to Massachusetts on the ship “Unity,” which left England in November, 1650. The Scottish defeat at Worcester occurred exactly one year later, on September 3, 1651 and those prisoners, including our ancestor, were transported on the “John and Sara.” There are a number of sources including the books “Scots in New England, 1623-1873” by David Dobson (2002) and “Ship Passenger Lists” by Carl Boyer (1977). Also an excellent article titled “Scotch Prisoners Deported to New England by Cromwell, 1651-52” by Charles E. Banks in the Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 61 (October 1927).

      The “red book” also identifies the parents of Zebedee Edminster, Sr. as “probably” William Edminster and wife Mary. However, Freetown MA records show Zebedee to be the last child of James Edminster, Jr. and Mary Keen (being the final child may explain the choice of a name beginning with “Z”). [see the book “Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Vol. 20 (descendants of Henry Samson), compiled by Robert M. and Ruth W. Sherman (2000).]

      Also, the “red book” states that our great-grandfather William came to California with his mother after his father’s death in 1856. Actually, William’s mother Mary stayed in Vermont until 1865, taking care of her father, William R. Shafter, until his death. However, William was sent to California earlier, in 1862, to live with his uncle, Oscar Shafter. The Shafter family history is interesting. William R. Shafter was an abolitionist who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Vermont on the ticket of the “Liberty Party,” the first anti-slavery party. He also participated in the “underground railroad” carrying runaway slaves from his home in Townshend VT to Montpelier VT. His sons Oscar and James were prominent in keeping California in the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War. Oscar was elected to the California State Supreme Court and James represented San Francisco in the State Senate, where he served as Senate President.

      I find family history pretty interesting, especially when we can connect family history to national events. I did quite a bit of research when I first retired, tracing the ancestry of the women who married our Edminster forefathers. But now I seem to be “too busy” again, doing various volunteer activities, travel, etc.

      Hope all is well with you. I see from the “red book” that you are from the Pacifica branch of the family. As I don’t live far away (San Carlos), I occasionally run into people who ask if I am related!!

      Best regards,

      Dick Edminster

      • William Edminster

        This is all very interesting. Thank you for sharing. Most of my history of the Edminster family has come from the Red Book. Interesting that my name is William and I have a brother John as well as Richard JAMES Edminster and my father’s name was Oscar. I guess we are not too creative in our name selections.

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