29 March, 2015

Col. John Thacher of Yarmouth and Family Lore

Below is a biographical sketch of Colonel John Thacher of Yarmouth, Massachusetts (my maternal 7th great-grandfather) and a bit of family lore related to his long and fruitful life.

Col. John Thacher

John Thacher was born 17 March 1639. His parents were Antony Thacher and Elizabeth Jones, who had come over from England on the James in 1635 with four of Antony's children from his previous marriage. The Thachers had suffered an unimaginable tragedy in that same year when, on an ocean voyage from Ipswich to Marblehead, a horrific storm had smashed the ship to pieces. All on board were drowned except for Antony and his new wife, including the four young children. Antony and Elizabeth had washed up on a rocky island, still known as Thacher Island today, where they were eventually rescued by a passing fishing boat. (their story here)

The grieving couple lived for a time in Marblehead, Massachusetts colony, where they struggled to put the pieces of their lives back together. Surely the birth of a healthy son early in 1639 gave them a sense of optimism. Antony was one of three men who obtained permission that year from the King to settle the area of Cape Cod known as Mattachee. The three families made their homes there and named their new town Yarmouth.

As a young man, John was appointed an officer in the town militia, eventually rising to the rank of colonel, and soon after began his service as town selectman. In 1668 he became representative of Yarmouth to the General Court, and in 1681 he was chosen to the council of war. In addition, John Thacher was elected a member of the provincial council, so he certainly performed well in terms of his civic duties to the town his parents had founded.

But John was prolific in other ways as well, namely as a producer of new citizens for Yarmouth! He would father a total of 21 children between two wives. He first married in 1661 to Rebecca Winslow. There is a charming anecdote that has been passed down in the family regarding Rebecca and his future second wife, Lydia Gorham.

He and Rebecca Winslow married at Marshfield. On their return trip back to Yarmouth, they stopped at the home of friends, the Gorhams, for rest and refreshment. 

There was a new baby girl in the family, and she was proudly shown off to the newly married couple. It was remarked that the baby had been born on the same day as John Thacher and Rebecca had married. That being said, John took the child in his arms and said to his new wife “Here, my dear, is a little lady born on the same night that you and I were married. I wish you to kiss her, as I intend to have her for my second wife.” Rebecca laughed and kissed the baby, adding that she hoped that would be many years in the future, if at all.

Sadly, Rebecca did die at a young age in July of 1683. Later that summer, as legend has it, John was riding past the home of the Gorhams, when he spotted the horse belonging to his son Peter tied up outside. He stopped and went up to the house to see what he might have stopped there for and found him paying court to Lydia Gorham, the baby of that night many years ago, now grown. 

John had not forgotten his pledge to make Lydia his second wife. It is said that he offered his son Peter 10 pounds and a yoke of black steer if he would relinquish his claim to the young lady. And so he did. 

Whether due to the clandestine “deal” or because John won out over his son on his own merits we will never know, but John Thacher and Lydia Gorham were married on New Year's day 1684. John was 45 years old and Lydia was 22. The couple raised a large family and John Thacher died in 1713 at the age of 82 years.

25 March, 2015

Samuel Richardson of Woburn, Massachusetts

This is a short biography of Samuel Richardson of Woburn, Massachusetts Bay Colony - 
my paternal 8th Great-Grandfather

Samuel Richardson

Middlesex Canal, Woburn, MA (wikipedia)

Samuel Richardson Jr was born 22 May 1646 to Samuel Sr and his wife Joanna Thake. Samuel's parents were from the town of Westmill in Hertfordshire, England and they arrived in Charlestown, Massachusetts Colony about 1636. From there the family removed to Woburn. Along with two of Samuel Sr's brothers, Ezekiel and Thomas and four other men, they founded the town of Woburn. The area where they lived still has a street called Richardson's Row today.

Samuel Jr. was born in Woburn where he grew up and married a woman by the name of Martha. Samuel's life in Woburn was to be far from tranquil. Martha died in 1673 giving birth to their fourth child, which included a pair of twins named Samuel and Thomas. But that was just the beginning of Samuel's woes.

He remarried to Hannah Kingsley the following year and early in April 1676 she gave birth to a healthy daughter. One week later, on 10 April 1676, while Hannah nursed the newborn in bed, Samuel had his six-year-old son Samuel with him, carting manure to the fields. Suddenly they heard screams coming from the house, and saw feathers flying from the terrified fowl in the front yard. Samuel raced back with his boy to find his wife slaughtered in the bed. Their nurse who had been helping the new mother in her recovery from the recent birth had tried to save the infant, but had dropped her outside in her haste to get away. The pursuing Indians had dashed the baby's brains out. Dead too was little Samuel's twin brother Thomas, age 6.

First Burying Ground, Woburn, MA (wikipedia)
Samuel Richardson and a group of his neighbors went out to find the Indians who had massacred his family. They came upon a group of three Indians and there was a skirmish in which one of the Indians was killed and the other two fled.

This horror took place against the backdrop of the King Philip's war, which had begun in June of 1675 and would continue until late summer of 1676. During this armed conflict between the local Native Americans and the English, in which our Samuel served, many colonists were attacked in such a manner and even whole villages were wiped out, the English inhabitants slaughtered or driven away. A dozen villages across Massachusetts and Rhode Island were thus eliminated before the killing ended after “King Philip”, or Metacomet, the leader of the Indian faction, was killed in August 1676. However, the war continued with ongoing raids occurring, mostly in what is now Maine, until a treaty was signed in April of 1678.

The grievances of the Native American populations included the expansion of the English population along with the taking of more and more land. In addition, the Native American people had been ravaged by diseases brought by the English to which the Indians had no immunity. Finally, break-downs in diplomatic relations between the Indians and English, often having to do with alliances with rival tribes, contributed to the boiling over of the Native Americans' frustrations which led to attacks on the English and war.

The King Philip's war is considered by many historians to be the deadliest war in American history. In the short space of sixteen months, twelve towns were obliterated, and over half of all New England towns were attacked, sending the colonial economy into a tailspin. The English population was decimated. Nearly a tenth of all military service aged men were lost. 

The best book and reference that I have so far read about this tragic series of events in American history is Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War by Douglas Edward Leach.

Samuel Richardson survived this sad episode in history and remarried two more times, fathering a total of fifteen children. 

23 March, 2015

Tragedy in Plymouth

The citizens of early Plymouth Plantation were God-fearing, peaceful people, for the large part. Violence of any kind was uncommon among them. Though they were leery of the Native Americans that they met, they were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and relations were cordial, even friendly, between them.

However, as with any society, there will be aberrations; incidents that go against the grain of the norm, leaving shock and horror in their wake. Such was the case of Alice Martin Bishop.

There is some dispute as to Alice's parents. Some research points to her parents being Francis Martin and Prudence Deacon. Many believe her to have been the child of Mayflower passengers Christopher Martin and Marie Prower, and that she sailed with them to America at the age of 4 years. However, as she was not mentioned in Governor Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, the Mayflower Society does not recognize her as a passenger. 

Bradford's account, though, has been found to contain errors, written as it was from his own memory beginning ten years after the voyage. The portion containing the passenger list was written more than thirty years after the voyage, and it is quite possible that Bradford either neglected to include the child on his list by error, or decided not to include her due to her, by then, infamy in the colony. A third possibility is that he mis-remembered whose child she was, since she must have joined another family, probably the Churchills, who raised her, as she was only four when her parents both perished.

Whoever Alice's family of origin was, my Mayflower ancestors certainly were her neighbors and knew her well, at the very least. Whether or not she was the child of passenger Christopher Martin, who died along with his wife the first winter in America, she was my 9th great-grandmother.

Alice apparently married a man by the name of George Clark who died young, leaving her with a toddler, Abigail, and a new baby, Martha, in 1644. She married again quite soon after his death to Richard Bishop and had two more children in quick succession, the youngest, Damaris, having been born in 1646. (some sources have Abigail as the child of her second marriage and born in July 1648)

In the month of July 1648, tragedy struck. On 22 July, a friend by the name of Rachel Ramsden visited the Bishop home, when Richard was away from the house. Alice and Rachel chatted and at a certain point, Alice asked Rachel to take a vessel of hers and go and fetch some buttermilk from her house and bring it back for Alice's use. At that time, Rachel later stated that the four year old Martha was asleep in the loft just above their heads.

When Rachel returned with the milk, she noticed a large quantity of blood on the floor beneath the ladder that led up to the loft. Horrified, she asked Alice what had happened. Alice mutely pointed up to the loft. Rachel, too frightened to ascend, appears to have assumed the worst.

She ran from the home to summon her parents who came, quickly followed by others, all of whom, confirming Rachel's worst fears, witnessed the wounds to the poor dead child, including the slicing of her windpipe and several other slash and stab wounds.

Alice appears to have admitted her guilt immediately and been remorseful for her horrible deed. When asked why she had done such a thing, she stated that she had no recollection of perpetrating the crime at all. She was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. (Several of my ancestors were on the jury; Josiah Winslow, Anthony Snow and William Merrick.) Alice was hanged on 4 October 1648, aged 32 years. She was the first woman to be hanged in Plymouth Colony.

It is possible that Alice was suffering from a post-partum psychosis, since she had a toddler and there was no indication prior to this incident that she had been violent in any way. This is presumably the same condition that prompted Andrea Yates to drown her children in a bathtub in 2001. Naturally, no one at that time would have had any notion of such a condition and they must have been truly mystified at the motive for such a horrendous act against Alice's own innocent child. 

Of Alice's other children; little is known of Abigail and she probably died young. Daughter Damaris and son James both grew to adulthood, married, and had children.

Richard Bishop was, incidentally, a thief and general trouble-maker in the colony. He would be fined for theft of a neighbor's spade and, later, the sheep's fleece of another neighbor. He eventually joined his son-in-law William Sutton in New Jersey and died there.

We can be thankful that we live in the times that we do now. Had Alice Martin Bishop been alive today, symptoms may have been noticed and she might have been able to get the help she needed to avert the tragic fate of herself and her little girl.

Reference: Trial records of New Plimouth, 1648
                      Cape Cod History and Genealogy, C.W. Swift
                       Plymouth Colony, Its History and People - 1620-1691, Eugene Aubrey Stratton

11 March, 2015

Kissin' Cousins on Both Sides of the Aisle

I have already written of my "cousin" Abraham Lincoln and our common ancestors. I have not explored much about other presidents, though I wouldn't be surprised to find myself "cousins" with several more. There are two others who have come to my attention accidentally while searching for other things online. 

I will leave the reader to guess which of the following dismayed me and of which I was glad to learn!

Cousin G W
First, I discovered that I am related via several early New England settlers to George W Bush and, of course, father George Herbert. Second, I stumbled onto a genealogy of Barack Obama a few nights ago and discovered a pair of shared great-grandparents with him as well! 

The first ancestor that I found in common with GW Bush, again accidentally while researching this ancestor, was John Lothrop (b 1584 in Elton, Yorkshire, England) of Barnstable who was my 9th and Bush's 11th great-grandfather. John was a highly influential figure in early New England, in fact he was the founder of the town of Barnstable, MA. However, his fame, or perhaps notoriety, began in England.

Rev John Lothrop
He was a graduate of Kings College, Cambridge and was appointed curate at a local Church of England parish. However John's beliefs, which were considered heretical, were not compatible with the Church and he left his position to become minister to a group of Independents who, like him, wished to do away with the hierarchy of the church. They also believed in freedom of religion and were among the first to support a separation of church from government, a radical thought at that time. Lothrop and his followers had to meet in secret, and were eventually discovered and imprisoned. His wife, Ann Howse, died  in prison due to the deprivations she suffered there, leaving their nine children in a perilous situation.

Undeterred, John Lothrop accepted a deal that he leave England in exchange for his freedom. He left for Plymouth aboard the Griffin along with a group from his congregation and his children, arriving in Boston on 18 September 1634. He preached for a short time in Scituate, then removed to the wilderness of Cape Cod where the town of Barnstable was founded by Lothrop and his parishioners.

Lothrop Home, Barnstable, MA
John married again to Ann Hammond and had a further five children. It seems that this family did not suffer infertility problems, and most of his children had large families, creating a pathway for many tens of thousands of descendants who live today all over the United States. (I am descended from no less than six of John Lothrop's fourteen children.) Other presidents who can claim Lothrop as their ancestor are Fillmore, Garfield, Grant, and F.D. Roosevelt. In addition both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney are his great-grandchildren. In the entertainment arena, Lothrop descendants include Shirley Temple, Brooke Shields, Clint Eastwood, and Kevin Bacon. Literary figures that also descend from Lothrop are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendall Holmes, among dozens of other well known people through the generations.

In addition to John Lothrop, George W and I share several other great-grandparents, including Nathaniel Foote, Austin Bearse and Samuel Hinckley.

Hinckley (b 1589 in Tenterden, Kent, England) happens to be
Cousin Barack
the ancestor who also connects me to Barack Obama. He and his wife Sarah Soule are Obama's tenth great-grandparents and my ninth. I know much less about this couple, but they arrived the year after Lothrop aboard the Hercules in 1635. Sarah's uncle, George Soule, was a passenger aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and a signer of the Mayflower compact. 

The Hinckleys and their four children settled first at Scituate and were followers of Rev. John Lothrop whom we have already discussed. They moved after several years to join Lothrop's parish in Barnstable. Their eldest son Thomas became Plymouth Colony's governor from 1681 to 1692 and was an important asset to the Colony throughout his life.

Famous descendants of Samuel Hinckley and Sarah Soule include Sarah Palin (again), financier John Pierpont Morgan Jr, and John Hinckley Jr, the attempted assassin of Ronald Reagan.

So, Barack Obama is my 9th cousin once removed and George W Bush my 9th cousin twice removed. The two of them are 10th cousins, once removed. We are all one big happy family! 

10 March, 2015

Salem Witches and More DNA

Surely my ancestors who resided in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 17th century would have branded me a witch for claiming that information gleaned from my blood has helped me to name my ancestors! Yet that is what seems to have happened.

I do not claim to have definitively solved the mystery, but my dna evidence has provided some indication that I am on the right track in this instance. The question I was struggling with was an ancestor whose name was Elizabeth Walpee or 
Elizabeth Valpey/Valpy or possibly both names used interchangeably. 

Elizabeth was born about 1761 and married a man by the name of John Lilley in Marblehead (next door to Salem) in 1789. Their daughter Nancy Lilley married a Hersey, my maternal grandmother's family, and lived in Salem. Some on ancestry say that Elizabeth's parents were John Walpee and Mary __. Indeed there is a birth record of this Elizabeth born in Marblehead and the marriage record to John Lilley names Elizabeth Walpee as the bride. However, the daughter Nancy's death record has, in clear handwriting, the name Elizabeth Valpey as the mother.

To make a long story short, I came to the conclusion that this Elizabeth was not the child of John Walpee and Mary, but the daughter of Abraham Valpey and Lydia Clough, who also had a daughter Elizabeth in about 1760. She was presumably born in Salem as that was where the parents were born and lived. However, I had no records other than Nancy Lilley's death record to prove this identity of Elizabeth. Since Elizabeth's great x3 grandmother was the accused witch Elizabeth Carrington, I wanted to firm this link up, if at all possible.
Salem today

First, as to the name confusion, there are a few possible explanations to consider. Walpee and Valpey/Valpy are often found on the same document as alternate names for the same person. This indicates that the family probably used both surnames. 

There is something called a "dit" name (pronounced "dee" from the French word "to say") where a family takes on a second name or spelling to differentiate themselves from other branches of their family, or because it has been mis-spelled that way in records, or simply because it is a simpler spelling or pronunciation. For example, a document might say "Edward Walpee, dit Valpey" which would mean "Edward Walpee, aka Valpey".

These "dit" names were common among immigrants with French heritage. While I have seen the name Valpey as having derived from the Italian Volpi, it could very well have been a French name, such as Volpé or Volpée as well. A third possibility is that it was of German or Dutch origin, where the letter W has a V sound. This would explain the use of "Walpee" and transition to Valpy/Valpey. However, considering the other surnames associated with the Valpey family in England, and the fact that French Huguenots fled to the Channel Islands where these Valpeys lived, they were probably French. (associated surnames include Hamon, Coutanche, le Gallais)

I decided, after fruitless searches for records, to try another method. I went to my dna matches database and narrowed the list of matches by putting the various surnames of Elizabeth's parents, grandparents and beyond into the search box, ending up with lists of people whose dna matches mine AND who have these surnames on their family trees.

I found no people who are dna matches to me who have the name of Walpee on their tree. Although I also have not found any dna matches who share the Valpey/Valpy name, I have found dozens of dna matches who share common surnames in the right towns  and even exact individual ancestors belonging to Elizabeth Valpey's parents, grandparents and beyond.

Some of these include, from her mother's side, the names Clough, Page, Merrill, and Reeves, and from her father's side the names Hamon, Fowle, Paine, Ingersoll, Carrington, Thrower, and Felton. Again, these are not simply common surnames, but matches from the same towns and, in many cases, exact shared individuals in Elizabeth Valpey's line with lines from dna matches of mine.

It is unlikely that my dna would coincidentally be matched with so many others who have names and individuals in Elizabeth Valpey's ancestral lines in their trees without Elizabeth having been an ancestor of mine as well. So, while this does not conclusively prove that Elizabeth Valpey was the daughter of Abraham Valpey and Lydia Clough and the mother of Nancy Lilley, it does offer significant dna evidence that points in that direction. For now, it remains that way on my tree.

More about the "witch" in future post!

04 March, 2015

Beyond Great Britain

When my dna test came back, it indicated that a significant portion of my dna originated in Western Europe. Since what I know of my ancestors all come from Great Britain, I figured that result indicated the different Western Europeans who invaded the British Isles over the centuries. This is no doubt true, but I've recently found some direct ancestors who come from Western and even a few from Eastern Europe! This was exciting and fun for me, since so far they have all been from England, Ireland and Scotland and a few from Wales. And that's it!
Philip Lamoraal Von Egmont

This line is fairly strong, as there are many sources both older and more modern, that have traced this line. However, I always hold in mind that ancestral lines going back many centuries need only one link to be incorrect to invalidate the whole line. In this line there is a question as to the parentage of Marie Lamoraal von Egmond. Her father appears to have been Philip Lamoraal von Egmont b. c 1522 in North Holland. There is some confusion about this, but even if Philip Lamoraal is not Marie's father, it is certain that she was from this von Egmond family of Belgium/Holland.

In 1585 this Marie von Egmond married John Bouchier Sayer (jr.) in Amsterdam. John's father, John sr., was English and had fled to Holland due to religious persecution. John jr. was born in Amsterdam. The Sayer/Bouchier family had ties to the nobility of England, as Anne Plantagenet, granddaughter of King Edward III of England, had married William Bourchier ("r" later dropped) in 1405.

It is the family of Marie von Egmond, John Bouchier Sayer's wife, that brought me to many interesting people and countries in Western Europe. It would be their son, Richard Sears, who would emigrate to America.

Marie's paternal family were from the countries of North Western Europe: (what is now) Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland Germany and northern France. Her maternal family was mostly from Germany, with a notable exception. Her great x3 grandmother was Katharina von Habsburg, Grand Duchess of Austria whose brother, Frederick III, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1452. This places Marie as a descendant of the Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire.
Habsburg Crown

Just as fascinating, Katharina's ancestors come from such wide and varied places as (present day) Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania! More on the ancestors of the John Bouchier Sayer/Marie Lamoraal von Egmond union in later posts. For now, I am thrilled to find proof of other than the "generic" mix of British ancestors! 

Ref: - Americans of Royal Descent by C.H. Browning
       - Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of the State of Massachusetts, Volume 4                                      by William Richard Cutter, William Frederick Adams