Coley curate’s American legacy

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What connects Coley Church, near Halifax, which is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, with John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State, who recently visited Britain?

The answer is that John Kerry’s mother, Rosemary Isabel Forbes, was directly descended from the Rev Richard Denton, who was curate of Coley in the 1630s and extended the old chapel there in about 1631.

Richard, son of Richard Denton, of Warley, was probably baptised at Halifax in April 1603. In 1621 he went up to Cambridge University, receiving his degree in 1622/3, the same year being made a deacon at Peterborough Cathedral and later a priest.

In 1626 he was appointed preacher at Turton, near Bolton, Lancashire, where his two older children were baptised in 1627 and 1629.

By 1631 he had been appointed preacher or curate at Coley. There John Kerry’s direct ancestor, Daniel Denton, was born, being baptised at Halifax in July 1632. The last of Richard’s four children recorded as baptised at Halifax, was Mary, in May 1638.

The intolerant spirit of the times led the Halifax Puritans to fear persecution and from 1635 a number of local families emigrated to New England.

In 1638 Richard decided to follow them, resigning his curacy at Coley. He and his family sailed for New England, settling initially at Watertown, Massachusetts.

Soon they removed to Stamford, Connecticut, and then, in 1644, to Hempstead, Long Island, New York, where Richard established what is usually described as the first Presbyterian church in America.

He had disputes with his congregation about the members’ failure to pay him for his services and around 1654 is thought to have travelled to Virginia to find other employment.

By 1657 he had returned to Hempstead and served the church there until 1659, when he returned to England.

He is thought to have spent the latter part of his life in Essex, where he is said to have died in 1662, yet no trace of his burial has been located.

The descendants of his sons remained in America.

David Glover