James Ross of Sudbury

icon Back to all articles

A short account of the life of James Ross a prisoner from the Battle of Worcester who was sold at auction in Boston, New England, in 1652.

The Prisoner 

James Ross arrived in Boston New England on the ship 'John & Sara' in May of 1652 not as an immigrant but as a prisoner of war. He was one of the two-hundred and seventy-two soldiers onboard, mainly Scots, who had been taken captive at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Along with James the list of prisoners includes another eight men surnamed either Ross or Rosse, although impossible to prove, they are believed to be soldiers from the regiment of foot raised by David Ross of Balnagown. This is understandable as he took over four-hundred clansmen south to fight in the battle for King Charles II. Defeat there by Cromwell’s forces led to the capture of David Ross of Balnagown,  chief Clan Ross, and many of his men; and whilst he was taken as a prisoner to the Tower of London where he died in 1654, James Ross was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold in the English colonies.


Once in Boston James and the other prisoners of war were all sold as indentured servants to New England Colonists for periods of six to eight years. He was bought at auction by an immigrant from England John Rudducke who had a cattle farm at Sudbury just West of Boston. Little is known about James's first few years as a prisoner on the farm but in 1655 he appears before the Court for assaulting John Ruddocke. He was found guilty of "shameful abuse and violence towards his master" for which he was whipped 39 times whilst being imprisoned for just over three months. 

James next comes to the notice of the courts for a very different reason. In April of 1657, Mary Goodenow the niece and neighbour of John Ruddocke was convicted of fornication for having a child out of wedlock. The father of the baby girl Mary was an indentured servant named James Ross. He was again sentenced to a whipping, only 21 stripes this time, whilst he was also ordered to marry the seventeen-year-old Mary Goodenow. Shockingly she was also sentenced to "ten stripes" of the whip. Mary Goodenow initially refused to marry James but the couple eventually tied the knot in December of 1658, perhaps around the time James was released from his indenture. Soon after their marriage, Thomas Goodnowe moved west to the new settlement of Marlborough whilst James and Mary took over his farm at Sudbury. For the next seventeen years, there is little record of the couple but things seemed to have gone well for them as they managed to raise five more children; two boys Thomas and James; and three girls Dorothy, Sara and Elizabeth Ross. 

King Philip's War

In the summer of 1675, life in New England changed dramatically when Towns and villages came under savage attacks from the native tribes led by the chief of the Pokanokets tribe Metacomet who the colonists called "Philip." James' soldiering days were not yet over. In the spring of 1676, Mary Ross stated that her husband had gone on the Narragansett expedition with Capt. Mosley and she requested that James be released from service on account of his age. Captain Samuel Mosley led an independent company of volunteers made up of "apprentices or servants ... boys not yet enrolled in the militia... a sprinkling of Frenchmen... and ten or twelve [former] privateers." 

Mosley's Company were part of the colonist army that attacked the neutral Narragansett tribe driving them from their fort at Rhode Island during the 'Great Swamp Fight' in December of 1675. This attack only escalated the conflict early the following year but after a series of defeats from May to July of 1676, Metacomet's allies started deserting him and in August he was killed. His death practically brought an end to the war which had been devastating for the colony of New England and even worse for the native Wampanoags and their Narragansett allies who were almost completely destroyed. 

James' exact service during the 'Narragansett expedition' and the campaign afterwards has not come to light. Still, he did survive the war and eventually returned to Mary and their family in Sudbury. Over the next few years, James and Mary went on to have two more children, Hannah, and Daniel who was born in 1681 twenty-five years after his eldest sister Mary Ross. In 1689 thirty-seven years after arriving in America James died he left behind not only his wife Mary and eight children but also a new branch of Rosses in America.

(When was James born? Who were his parents? Where was he from? It is unlikely that we will ever know the answers to these questions but we do know he fought at the Battle of Worcester and his story is an example of what happened to the Scottish soldiers, including the Rosses, captured at the battle who were then sent to America.) 


Thanks to the Scottish Prisoner of War Society Website for their archive of links and information. 

All the details of James and Mary's court appearances are from- New England Historical Genealogical Society, Scots for Sale: The Fate of the Scottish Prisoners in Seventeenth-Century Massachusett by Diane Rapaport.

Soldiers in King Philip's war. Containing lists of the soldiers of Massachusetts Colony, who served in the Indian war of 1675-1677.


ROSS Alester --
ROSS Dan --
ROSS James --
ROSS James --
ROSS Jonas --