John Underhill was born in Warwickshire, England, October 7, 1597, the son of Sir John Edward Underhill. As a youth, he was a cadet in the service of the Prince of Orange, who excelled in military strategy and tactics, and Underhill learned these skills well.
In 1630, Underhill was appointed Captain of the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia. Four years later, he was appointed to the General Court and elected a selectman for Boston but was removed from office and disenfranchised for failing to conform to Puritan practices in 1637. He was banished from the colony the following year, and moved to Dover, New Hampshire, where he became Governor. Later, Underhill settled in Stamford, Connecticut, where he became a Freeman in 1642, and a Deputy to the General Court of the New Haven Colony in 1643.
In October 1643, Director Willem Kieft recruited Captain John Underhill as a mercenary to fight for the Dutch in their war against the Indians. Underhill commanded the New Netherland force which, in 1644, destroyed the Indian encampment near Greenwich. Later that year, he led an attack on the Indians on Long Island. Director Kieft rewarded Captain Underhill with two parcels of land, one on Manhattan Island on the site now occupied by Trinity Church-yard, where he built a house. The second land grant was known as Bergen Island. In 1645, Underhill was selected as a member of the Eight Men, and in 1648 moved to Vlissengen (Flushing) when Director-General Pieter Stuyvesant appointed him Sheriff of that town. He became a magistrate of Vlissengen and held that office from 1651-1653.
In 1653, during the Anglo-Dutch war, Underhill wrote a statement denouncing Stuyvesant’s “iniquitous government” for its dealings with the Indians, unjust taxation, and other oppressive measures toward the English and concluded: “This great autocracy and tyranny is too grievous for any brave Englishman and good Christian any longer to tolerate. Accept and submit ye, then, to the Parliament of England.” He was charged with sedition and imprisoned briefly in New Amsterdam. Upon his release he went to Newport, R. I., where he offered his services to the Commissioners of the United Colonies in “the common cause of England against the Dutch.”
Captain John Underhill moved back to Long Island at the end of the first Anglo-Dutch war and settled in Oyster Bay. He was the Delegate from Oyster Bay to the Hempstead Convention of 1665 where he was appointed High Constable and Surveyor-General.
Upon his death on July 21, 1672, Captain John Underhill was buried in the Underhill Burying Ground in Locust Valley, New York.