Robert Dible/Deeble

Father of Thomas Dible

Robert Dible or Deeble was born in England, probably the West Country (Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall). It is not known where, or when, but there are some theories at the bottom of this page. Robert travelled to America in 1632, and settled in Dorchester, next to Boston. His children, Thomas and Frances, followed him there two years later, but Thomas left to go to Windsor, Connecticut. Robert stayed behind in Dorchester, at least for a few years. Nothing is known about Robert after 1642. There are some theories at the bottom of this page.

Dates in this period are confusing. See discussion on dates.

The name Dible has many spelling variants. Below I have tried to use the spelling in the record given. I hope this is not too confusing!

Date rangeKnown informationTheories
? - 1633before 1633
1633 - 1642Timeline
Wife and children
Job of Bailiff
Land ownership
The new free school
The new church
1642 - ?after 1642
See also:
Settlement of Massachusetts Bay
Wars connected with the Dibblee family
Parish register entries from Glastonbury, Somerset
Passenger list of The Recovery - 1633
References to Deeble in Dorchester Town Records
About the early Dorchester Church
The first school in Dorchester
Signatures to Free School funding document, 1642
The job of bailiff in Dorchester
Early maps of Massachusetts Bay
Entries from Roger Clap's memoirs
Freemen in Massachusetts and Connecticut

Known information

Modern dateTimelineEvidence
31 Mar 1633Robert Dible is on the Recovery, which left Weymouth bound for New England. There are 26 people listed here, nearly all men.Passenger list
24 Jun 1633John Winthrop was founder of the colony of Massachusetts Bay. His journal says "A ship arrived from Weymouth, with about eighty passengers, and twelve kine, who set down at Dorchester. They were twelve weeks coming, being forced into the Westen Islands by a leak, where they stayed three weeks, and were very courteously used by the Portugals; but the extremity of the heat there, and the continual rain brought sickness upon them, so as [blank] died." This is likely to be the Recovery. It looks as if the original ship list only gave the heads of households, rather than the entire families, which explains the difference in numbers. The dates match, as do the start and end places of the voyage.Winthrop's journal
20 Mar 1635Thomas Dible and his sister Frances Dible are on an unnamed ship which left Weymouth bound for New England. There are 106 people listed here, including men, women and children, with their ages. Thomas is 22 and Frances is 24.Passenger list
6 May 1635Robte Dibell is made Freemen at the General Court.Freemen records
17 Dec 1635Land grants to Robert and his son Thomas Deeble in Dorchester. This is important, as it establishes that Thomas is the son of Robert. The Town Record consistently spells the surname as Deeble, while the passenger lists spell it Dible, but the sound is close enough. The land grant to Ronert describes it as an 'inlargement' which suggests that he already has land in Dorchester.Dorchester Town Record
4 Jan 1636Another land grant to Robert and his son (unnamed).Dorchester Town Record
23 Aug 1636Robert Deeble signs the new Dorchester Church covenant. Thomas (his son) does not sign.Dorchester Church Record
17 May 1637Thomas Dible (son of Robert) is made Freemen at the General Court.Freemen records
18 Mar 1638Another land grant to Robert alone. This suggests that Thomas has already left Dorchester for Windsor, Conn.Dorchester Town Record
18 Mar 1638Robert Deeble made bailiff.Dorchester Town Record
13 Feb 1639Robert Deeble reappointed bailiff.Dorchester Town Record
Jan 1640Another land grant to Robert Deeble.Dorchester Town Record
c. 1 Apr 1640Robert Deeble reappointed bailiffDorchester Town Record
7 Feb 1642Robert Deeble signed document setting up maintenance for a new free school in Dorchester.Dorchester Town Record
28 Feb 1642Goody Deeble signs the new Dorchester Church covenant. This could be the wife of Robert DeebleDorchester Church Record

Wife and Children

We know that Thomas Deeble is the son of Robert Deeble (see land grants), and that Thomas Dible (22 years old) and his sister Frances (24 years old) travelled from Weymouth in England to New England in 1635(see passenger list). This would make Thomas Dible born c.1613 and Frances Dible born c.1611. See theories as to where they were born.

Since the whole family sailed from Weymouth, we assume that they lived somewhere in the West Country. Robert must have had a wife there. He might have brought her with him to Dorchester. His ship is not a list of complete families, like Thomas' ship - it only contains heads of households. However, there is only one mention of Robert's wife, just called Goody Deeble, on 28 Feb 1642, when she signed the new church covenant. See the new church below for a discussion about here.

Job of Bailiff

Robert Deeble was baliff for three years in Dorchester from March 1638. This was an important job. Later records describe it as one of the officers of the town. The job description when Robert was first appointed says "He shall levy all fines, rates and amercements for the Plantation by impounding the offenders' goods, and then to detain them till satisfaction be made. If the owners of the goods shall not make satisfaction within 9 days, it shall be lawful for him to sell the goods and to return the overplus to the party offending, and to be allowed 12d for every distress, and 2d for every impounding of cow, horse or hog, and for every goat a penny. If said Bailif shall be negligent in discharging his office and delay the taking distress, he shall be liable to a fine as shall be thought fit by the 20 men. It shall be lawful for the said Baylif to recover any rates or amercements by way of distress on any goods." (I have tidied up the spelling and grammar.) The '20 men' are the people running Dorchester. They also are chosen on a yearly basis.

There are various references in the record to these misbehaving animals: "Unringed or unyoked regard of the sad experience we have of the hurt is done in and about the towne, and like to be it is to continue all the year" and "Diverse cattle that are unruly, not apt to be pounded, neither can be driven by on man" (the bailiff is allowed to get help!) It also says "It is ordered that if any break open the pound or take out cattle violently shall forfeit 5 pound sterling to be employed for general works in the Plantation, and if it cannot be proved who brake the pound then the party that is the owner of the cattle shall fill the pound again, or else he shall be taken to be the trespasser." Rather oddly to us, perhaps, is the idea that if animals break into crop fields, the fault lies equally between the owner of the animal, and the owner of the field (who should have fenced his land better). The record says "It is further ordered that what Tresspasses shall hereafter be done, the Tressepasser shall pay the one half of the damage, and he that is defective in his pale [fence] the other half; and this order to be general thorough the whole Plantation. Provided that if any cattle be knowen to be common pale breakers; they shall pay the whole Trespass." (Obviously one of those unruly cattle!)

The job of bailiff seems to require integrity, conscienciousness, an ability to deal with money and to handle all these misbehaving animals. Robert Deeble was first appointed in 1638, after the exodus to Windsor, Conn. Robert stayed behind, loyal to Dorchester, and as he had been there since 1633, before the influx of 1635, this may explain his appointment. Still, he was reappointed, twice, so must have done the job well. It also strongly suggests that he was a Freeman of the town, which meant that he could vote in the general meetings. These happened yearly. They made the important decisions, and appointed the 'select men' who ran the town between the general meetings.

For more entries about the job of the bailiff in the Dorchester Town Records, click here.


Robert Deeble, and his son Thomas, had several land grants from 1635 to 1640.

Modern dateToacresgoadsrods
17 Dec 1635Robert Deeble2
17 Dec 1635Thomas Deeble6
4 Jan 1636Robert Deeble and son30
18 Mar 1638Robert Deeble2
Jan 1640Robert Deeble1

See discussion on area. There are 640 acres to a square mile, so an acre is 4840 square yards. There are (I think) 4 goads to an acre and 40 rods to a goad.

I have given a total, but this makes several assumptions. The first land grant to Robert Deeble is described as "inlardgment of Two goad in length from his house vpward". That strongly suggests that he already had some land. I have also suggested that Thomas' land ended up belonging to Robert Deeble. The second land grant, to Robert Deeble and son, does suggest that their land was being treated together (and I wonder if this is why Thomas decided to leave, so he could become independent of his father!) However, land was allocated by the general meetings, and probably voted on by the Freemen of the town. There was a reasonaly large redistribution of land in January 1936, after the first exodus to Windsor, and a very large one in March 1938, after more people left, which suggests that land did get redistributed from time to time, and that may mean that people put their land into the 'pot' and got a more sensible allocation out. Also I do not know if all land allocation got noted in the Town Record. We are, after all, missing the initial land grant to Robert Deeble. Still, just looking at the numbers in the record, it looks as if Robert may have had nearly 40 acres of land.

The New Free School

Robert Deeble did not, admittedly, have much to do with this school. He signed a document which set up the initial funding of the school. Boston had set up a school in April 23, 1635, and Dorchester decided that they wanted one too! On 20 May 1639, it was decided that a "rent of 20 yearly imposed upon Tomsons Island" should fund this school. However, there seems to have been problems. In 7 Feb 1642, "Upon experience it is found to be a matter of great labour and difficulty to collect the rent from so many persons, being no less in number than 120. The rent of twenty pounds is not sufficient maintenance for a school. All the present inhabitants of Dorchester whose names are subscribed do agree that from henceforth the said Island shall be wholly and for ever bequeathed unto the town of Dorchester for the maintenance of a free school in Dorchester for the instructing and teaching of children and youth in good literature and learning." This is the document that Robert Deeble signed. He had been bailiff between 1638 and 1641, so I wonder if he was involved in trying to get these rents!

The subsequent entries in the Town Record give the initial school rules, which include how they will cope with conflict between the school master and parents (about beating the children!) and the hours of the school day, plus a little on the curriculum. There is a perpetual problem in trying to find a new school master, and they also give the salary (which is sometimes paid in wheat, peas, barley and Indian corn). The school children are told to bring "a load of wood" each, every winter, to help heat the school. For more details, click here.

Signature of Robert Deeble
Signature of Robert Deeble on the document about setting up maintenance for a new free school in Dorchester.
See References to Deeble in Dorchester Town Records for the document, and all the signatures.

The New Church

Roger Clap's memoirs state that the original church in Dorchester was organized by John Maverick and John Warham, in Plymouth, in England, on March 20, 1630. This congregation then immediately sailed on the ship Mary and John, with Maverick and Warham as pastors of their church. Part of the Church membership moved to Windsor, Conn., around 1635 with the Rev. John Warham. John Maverick died in 1636 and was succeeded by Rev. Richard Mather. This information was taken from a webapge The First Parish Church (Unitarian), Meeting-House Hill, Dorchester district is the descendant of this church.

Richard Mather seems to have required that the members of the church who still remained in Dorchester sign a new covenant, in 23 Aug 1636. It is given here, with the people who signed. Robert Deeble is one of the first group of signatures. It is noticeable that Thomas Deeble does not sign. Thomas left for Windsor, Connecticit at some point, but he was made Freeman of Massachusetts on 17 May 1637, which is later than this.

Another interesting signature is Goody Deeble. She signed later, on 28 Feb 1642. 'Goody' means goodwife - used of an older woman, probably wife. It seems reasonable that she is Robert Deeble's wife, since there are no other references to Deeble in the Dorchester records at this time (except Thomas, who had gone by this time). We know nothing about the mother of Thomas and Frances Dible. Perhaps she died before 1633, when Robert Dible left England for America. She might have left with him, since the passenger list does not seem to include wives. It would be lovely to think that here she was in Dorchester, with this single reference. However, if that was so, why did she not sign the convenant at the same time as Robert Deeble? I suspect that she did die in England before 1633, and this is a second wife, probably married late, in 1642, which is why she signed then. Perhaps she had only just arrived in Dorchester from England.


Robte Dibell was made Freemen in Massachusetts on 6 May 1635. Thomas Dible was also made Freeman in Massachusetts on 17 May 1637. This information is taken from List of freemen, Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1630 to 1691.

The Freemen were the only people entitled to vote. Click here for more information.


Before 1633 After 1642

Before 1633

Robert Dible (or Deeble) is well documented from March 1633 to February 1642 (see above). We know that in 1635, his son Thomas was 22 and his daughter Frances was 24. So presumably he was married before their births, before 1611. We know that they all left England from Weymouth, so presumably they lived in the West Country. Unfortunately, this family can't be found in its entirity in the English records. There are three theories:

First theory: There are parish records at Glastobury, which show that Robert Dibbell (or Dibbill) had three children, baptised as follows:

Modern dateNameFather
1605JohnesRobert Dibbell
16 Apr 1609JohanaRobert Dibbell
17 Feb 1611FrainciscaRobert Dibbill

Summary of Glastonbury Parish entries

The surname is close enough. The date for Fraincisca matches the age of Frances Dible that is given on the passenger list. Frances Dible is the sister of Thomas Dible, who is the son of Robert Deeble.

Another point in favour is that Joanna is a family name which used later. Names often ran in families (and still do, of course - I am called Joanna!)

Unfortunately there is no Thomas Dibbell. He would have been born around 1613. There is no entry of other children after 1611, so the family could have moved. Or perhaps, since we know that emigrants to New England at this time tended to be non-conformists, perhaps he refused to get his son baptised.

For the complete pages of the above entries, click here. They are held at the County Record Office at Taunton.

Second theory: This information is taken from Family Seach, a service provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are a collection of records from Saint Andrew, Plymouth, Devon:

Robert Deeble married Eliz Higge on 27 Apr 1612.

Modern dateNameFather
11 Apr 1613Thomasine DeebleRobert Debbell
04 Mar 1622Frances DebbellRobert Deeble
28 Jan 1616Robert DebbellRobert Debbell

Here, the surname is even closer to the Dorchester Town Record version of Deeble. We have a Thomasine and a Frances as children of Robert Deeble. Unfortunately there are two problems. Thomasine is the same age as Thomas Dible on the passenger list but Thomasine is the wrong sex! She is marked as female, and it's a female name. The other problem is that Frances Debbell has the right name and sex, but is the wrong age. This record would only make her 14 in 1633, not 24 as the passenger list shows.

I have not seen the original parish record, so I don't know if Thomasine is emphatically female in it. If it is a difference between 'filius' and 'filia', perhaps if it's a dirty register it might have been misread. Or perhaps Thomas was written in an odd way, or abbreviated, and a mistake made. Frances' age may also not be a problem. The passenger list is the only record of her age, and some of the numbers on the list are certainly sloppy - there is a 6 year old wife and a 3 year old husbandman (farmer) on it! A slip in writing the age from 24 to 14 seems possible. What's more, it is a little odd that Frances Deeble is unmarried at 24. But Thomas might well have decided to take his 14 year old sister with him to New England, especially if there was no other family left to look after her.

Another reason that I like this theory (yes - this one's mine!) is that it positions the Deebles in Plymouth. The church in Dorchester, Mass., was organized in Plymouth, March 20, 1630, before the first settlers of Dorchester left England in the Mary and John. This would tie the Deeble family to this church, and give a strong reason why they emigrated. They were following their own pastors, John Maverick and John Warham, who emigrated on the Mary and John. Robert emigrated to Dorchester in 1632, two years later, and Thomas and Frances followed in 1635. What's more, Thomas Dibble later followed John Warham to Windsor, Conn. around 1636.

But you may feel that this theory involved a little too much waving one's hands in the air!

Third theory: This was a long time ago. The relevant records may not have survived, or may not have been found yet.

Places in the West Country, England, relevant to sailing to New England Plymouth: Mary and John left here for Dorchester, Mass. in 1630 (see Roger Clap)
Exeter: Rev. John Warham lived here (see Roger Clap)
Weymouth: Two ships left here for Dorchester, Mass. in 1633 and 1635
Dorchester: Rev. John White lived here (see Roger Clap). Dorchester, Mass. is named after it.

Plymouth and Glastonbury are possible locations of the Deeble family (see above)

After 1642

Robert Deeble is well documented throughout 1633 to 1642. He is a bailiff, a land owner, a Freeman, a member of the church. Then suddenly he vanishes from the records.

The obvious answer is that he died in Dorchester, in 1642, or later. He must have been 40 years old or older in 1635, so perhaps even 50 in 1642 (getting a bit old to chase unruly cattle around the place!) The records are very poor on deaths. Only very important people are mentioned. Or Robert Deeble might have dropped out of public affairs in 1642. He would not want more land as he got too old to work it. So his death might have been well after 1642.

He might have moved elsewhere. He might have eventually followed his son Thomas to Windsor, Conn. even though there is no record of him there. Another possibility is that he might have returned to Britain. One of the main reasons for the Great Migration of the 1630's was the growing anger and resentment of many people at the behaviour of King Charles I, before the English Civil War. The English Civil War was 16421651. During this, and after, when Oliver Cromwell controlled Britain, many Puritans, who had emigrated to New England to make a new community there, decided to return to England to help the Parliamentarian cause. The dates are suggestive, but there is really no evidence. There was a Robte Deeble who was buried in Devon in 1645, but this cannot be considered proof. The West Country was littered with Dibbles of all sorts of spellings!