Judge Nathaniel Byfield

Inducted: 2007
Born: 1653
Died: 1733

Judge Nathaniel Byfield (1653-1733), the most important of Bristol’s original proprietors, was born in Surry, England, in 1653, the youngest of twenty-one children. He arrived in Boston in 1674 and soon gained wealth as a merchant. In 1680, the prosperous Byfield became one of Bristol’s four proprietors, acquiring title to all of Bristol and Mount Hope Points in the southern part of the new town, plus the northern portion of Poppasquash Neck.

During his long residency in Bristol, he and his wife Sarah Leverett, daughter of Massachusetts governor Sir John Leverett, had three children, who were raised at their Poppasquash home. In 1689, he wrote an account of the proceedings against Sir Edmund Andros and the aborted Dominion of New England that was published in London in the aftermath of the overthrow of James II and his Dominion in the so-called “Glorious Revolution.”

At various times in his career, Byfield held positions of influence both in Plymouth Colony and in Massachusetts when that colony absorbed Plymouth in 1691. His posts included that of chief judge of the court established in Bristol County. He also served as a five-time delegate to the General Court (the Massachusetts legislature), serving once as its speaker. During the thirty-eight years he presided over as chief judge in Bristol, Byfield also held the offices of judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Bristol County, judge of probate for Bristol County, and judge of admiralty for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. In addition, for many years, Byfield was a member of His Majesty’s Council for the Province of Massachusetts Bay. After the death of his first wife, Judge Byfield married Sarah Sedgwick in 1718. He died in Boston on June 6, 1733, at the age of eighty. Less than fourteen years after his passing, Byfield’s town of Bristol and its environs were transferred from the royal province of Massachusetts Bay to the colony of Rhode Island, becoming the seat of Rhode Island’s newly created Bristol County.

Judge Nathaniel Byfield was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2007.

For additional reading:
Rhode Island’s Founders: From Settlement to Statehood, by Dr. Patrick T. Conley.

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