Notable ancestors

These are a few of the interesting characters I've come across as I explore the roots and branches of our family trees. 

Mayflower passengers

Elder William Brewster (1566-1644)
Bingham Line

Brewster was a leader in the so-called Puritan movement of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. They sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.

The Puritans were English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.

Brewster joined other Puritans who moved from England to Holland. In 1619 Brewster and Edward Winslow published a religious tract critical of the English king and his bishops. King James ordered Brewster’s arrest and Brewster went into hiding while preparing to depart for America. He obtained a land patent from England and sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. 

After the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Colony, Brewster became the senior elder and the religious leader of the colony and later an adviser to Governor William Bradford. 

Wikipedia notes many famous descendants of William Brewster including Bing Crosby, Richard Gere, Julia Child, Ted Danson, John Lithgow, Howard Dean, Sarah Palin, Adlai Stevenson and Zachary Taylor. An episode of the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are” featured Ashley Judd tracing her ancestors back to Elder Brewster. A bad copy is on YouTube.

Richard Warren (1578-1628)
Stafford-Underwood line

Warren was among the few English merchants who signed on to make the Mayflower voyage as a member of the Pilgrim contingent from Holland. His reason for making the voyage has not been determined.

Warren was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, though he appears to have had played no major role within the colony itself. In one of his writings, Governor William Bradford assigns Warren the title of "Mr." which indicates someone of status, but does not mention him at all in his recording of Plymouth history. And except for a few mentions elsewhere, not very much is known about him in Plymouth.

Warren's descendants include such notables as Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant; President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. the first American in space and the fifth person to walk on the moon.


John Tower (1609-1702)
Stafford-Underwood line

John Tower was born on May 17, 1609, in Hingham, Norfolk, England.  John was the son of Robert and Dorothy (Damon) Tower. He was born in the parish of Hingham, county of Norfolk, in the eastern part of England, May 14, 1609. Records show that he was baptized May 17, 1609.

In 1637 John Tower and his friend Samuel Lincoln emigrated from Old Hingham, England to Boston on a voyage that took eleven and one half weeks. After disembarking in Boston, John and Samuel traveled together by horseback to Salem and then on to Hingham, Massachusetts, where they both settled. Lincoln was the first of Abraham Lincoln's ancestors to live in America.

Tower and his sons fought in King Phillip’s War against Indian tribes (1675-78). During his long life he filled many positions of trust and responsibility. including fence inspector, and became a man of considerable wealth for his time. In the 1640s, Tower was jailed for his part in a rebellion against Thomas Winthrop, the then-leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

He married Margaret Ibrook on February 13, 1639, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and died on February 13, 1702, in Hingham, Massachusetts, at the impressive age of 92.

Valentine Whitman Sr. (1628-1701)
Stafford-Underwood line

Valentine Whitman (aka Wightman) was was born at Burton-Upon-Trent, England, and died in Providence, Rhode Island. He married Mary Aldrich on 6 Oct. 1652. She had also emigrated from England.

Valentine was an Indian interpreter and could speak the language fluently which was put to good use in dealing with the early settlers and the Indians. He dealt as an interpreter in transactions between the Indians and land companies from Connecticut and Massachusetts leaders in 1658. 

In 1660 he was a witness to a contract between the Indian Chief, Ninigret and the United Colonies (Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, New Haven and Hartford). He was said to be a man of “tremendous activity.” In 1656 he was Surveyor of Highways, and in 1658 he served as a Commissioner in the General Court of Commissioners for Rhode Island. He was also a soldier in the Rhode Island Militia during King Philip’s War in 1676. 

Whitman may have been the son of Edward Wightman, the last martyr burned at the stake in England. [Wikipedia]

Samuel Gorton Sr. (1592-1677)
Stafford-Underwood line

Gorton was an early settler and civic leader of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and President of the towns of Providence and Warwick. He was also theologically active, and the leader of a small sect of converts who came to be known as Gortonists or Gortonites. He had strong religious beliefs that were contrary to Puritan theology and was very outspoken, and as a result he was frequently in trouble with the civil and church authorities in the New England colonies.

Randall Holden (1611-1692)
Stafford-Underwood line

Holden was an early inhabitant of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, one of the original founders of Portsmouth, and one of the co-founders of the town of Warwick. He came to New England from Salisbury, Wiltshire, England and is first recorded as one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact. Following a few years on Aquidneck Island (called Rhode Island at the time), he joined Samuel Gorton and ten others to establish the town of Warwick in early 1643 on land purchased from the Indian sachems.

Mary Metcalf (1618-1672)
Bingham line

Mary is believed to be the bride in the Brook Bride story. Mary lived in Saybrook, Connecticut and she planned to marry Jonathan Rudd in late 1646. But on their wedding day, a heavy snow fell, preventing the magistrate in a nearby town from making the trip. Friends contacted John Winthrop, son of the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, who was a magistrate in New London. Winthrop said he could not marry the couple because his authority was limited to Massachusetts. But he agreed to meet the wedding party at the brook that was the dividing line between the two colonies. He stood on the Massachusetts side while the couple stood on the Connecticut side.

The story was published in a book about the history of East Lyme, Connecticut. In 1925, descendants of the Rudd family erected a monument on the banks of the brook in East Lyme. The wedding was reenacted in 1935 and again at the New York World's Fair (which I attended) in 1964.   

Salem Witchery

Bingham line

Margaret was among the women who were accused of witchcraft at Salem Mass. Margaret was found guilty of witchcraft and was executed by hanging on September 22, 1692. She was part of the last group to be executed, which also included Mary Eastey, Martha Corey, Ann Pudeator, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Alice Parker, and Wilmot Redd. 

She was the only accused person from Rowley to be executed. As a lower-class, long-term widow, having lost several children in infancy, she was a prototypical witch candidate. When her husband, Benjamin, died, he left a very small estate and she, being unable to remarry, was reduced to begging, which invited resentment and suspicion. In this manner, her circumstances were comparable to fellow victim, Sarah Good. [Wikipedia]


Oliver Hopkins  (1756-1839)
Stafford-Underwood line

In the Revolutionary War, Hopkins enlisted into the Rhode Island Militia. In April of 1780 he enlisted in Capt. Bottom's Company, Col. Wells' regiment of the Connecticut Militia. He served as a volunteer except for two occasions that he served as a substitute. He is a 2nd cousin, once removed, to Stephan Hopkins, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Nathan Wood (1762-1832)
Stafford-Underwood line

According to pension records, Nathan Wood enlisted from Mansfield, Conn. and marched to Bennington in 1777. The following year he served in the Light Horse, Wales’ Company, Latimer’s Regiment.

Anthony Clark (1739-1827)
Woodfin line

Clark served in the Revolutionary War as a sergeant of Captian Elias Van Buntschotens Company, 3rd New York Regiment, commanded by Colonel James Clinton. His name appears on a muster roll for 15 November 1775 to 30 January 1776, dated Point Levi, 16 February 1776, which shows date of enlistment 15 November, year not shown. Family history says one of Anthony Clark's brothers was killed in the battle of Bunker Hill.

Nicholas Woodfin (1759-1832)
Woodfin line

Woodfin was an Indian spy during the Indian War of 1774 and again In the Revolutionary War. In the War of 1812, Nicholas served in an Ohio militia regiment under Gen. William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory who would later be the nation's ninth President. He was a private in Captain Joel Collins' Company of Riflemen, First Regiment (Suttons) Ohio Militia. His service commenced August 11, 1812 and ended February 11, 1813.

Isaac Miller (1755-1806)
Woodfin line

Miller was born in Ireland and emigrated to America about 1781. State and federal records list Miller as a private in the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment from August 1 to September 30 of 1781. His service at that time involved hauling stores to troops in Pittsburgh. He also appears as a private in John Clark’s company, 8th Pennsylvania Regiment, Continental Line, commanded by Lt. Col. Stephen Bayard for the months of February through April of 1783.

Family history says Miller had some part in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94. Throughout Western Pennsylvania counties, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting a federal tax on distilled spirits. When President George Washington called on the governor of Pennsylvania to enforce the tax, Miller moved to Virginia, then Kentucky and finally settled in Tennessee.

Johnson Bingham (1764-1843)
Bingham line

In 1776, at age 12, Johnson joined the American Revolution cause. According to family records, he enlisted in Connecticut Troops (1779-1780) as recorded in Rev. War Pension Claim 1895. He enlisted in the regular army in 1780 at age 16. He joined the Connecticut Militia in Capt. Bottom's Co. from Plainsville under Col. Wells' Connecticut Regiment. He served nine months at the rank of private.

Johnson was one of the original seven families to settle Cortland County in Upstate New York and among the first four families to settle the town of Solon where he served a time as a judge.

Jacob Spicer (1757-1824)
Harding line

Spicer enlisted in the Continental Army in March 1777 from Dutchess County and served until June 30, 1783. He first joined the 8th Regiment, New York Troops in Capt. Jonathan Titus’ company under Col. Livingstone. He also served in the 2nd Regiment with the same captain under Col. Phillip Van Cortland and later in the 4th Regiment. 

According to the Spicer Genealogy, he was with Gen. Sullivan in central New York in the Indian battles of 1779. He say the surrender of Burgoyne at Lake Saratoga in 1781 and the surrender of Cornwallis in Virginia in 1783.   

Ebenezer Mitchel Holden (1764-1875)
Harding line

Holden enlisted in Massachusetts as a private in Capt. Abner Wade’s company, Col. Michael Jackson’s regiment. [DAR Lineage book of charter members] He received a pension on a claim executed in 1818. Ebenezer Holden is also listed as a private in the War of 1812 serving in Capt. P. Bonner’s company, Col. D. Messinger’s regiment. 

French & Indian War

Capt. Obadiah Johnson (1702-1765)
Bingham line

Like his father, Obadiah was a leading man in church and town affairs, and his will shows that he was possessed of considerable wealth in notes and lands. He was lieutenant and later captain, and served in the French and Indian War; and he was a deacon in the Separatist Church.

War of 1812

Samuel Woodfin III (1789-1863)
Woodfin line

Samuel was among Rutherford County's first volunteers to follow fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson to fight the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Civil War

Orrin C. Reed, New York 185th
Bingham line

Reed’s entire time in the Union Army, less than a year, was spent in the siege of Petersburg near Richmond. When the Confederate line was finally breached in March of 1865 and federal troops went on the offensive, Reed was fatally wounded in a skirmish at Lewis Farm. Twelve days after Reed died, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

Samuel Chase Woodfin, Tennessee 18th 
Woodfin line

Woodfin and three brothers joined the Confederate Army not long after Tennessee left the Union. He fought at Stones River, where the youngest of the brothers died, and at Chickamauga, Atlanta and in North Carolina where Gen. Joe Johnston and the Western forces surrendered two week after Lee.

George Foster, New York 152d
Harding line

Foster was an 18-year-old orphan when he enlisted in the Federal Army on September 6, 1862. His regiment fought in the battles at Cold Harbor, The Wilderness, And Spotsylvania Courthouse. In the siege of Petersburg, Foster was captured in an attack at Weldon Railroad and spent 10 months at the notorious Andersonville prison camp in Georgia.

John Tipton Womack, Alabama 2nd
Womack line

Womack’s regiment guarded the Confederate Fort Morgan at Mobile Bay. He returned home in 1862 after his one-year enlistment expired and was not present when the Union navy took control of the bay. 

Brits & Irish

Thomas Egerton (1450-1617)
Stafford-Underwood line

Egerton, 1st Viscount Brackley, known as 1st Baron Ellesmere from 1603 to 1616, was an English nobleman, judge and statesman. He served under Queen Elizabeth I and King James and was Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor for twenty-one years. 

As Solicitor General, Egerton became a frequent legal advocate for the crown. He was one of the prosecutors at the 1586 trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Robert St. Lawrence (1431-1486)
Stafford-Underwood line

He was High Sheriff of County Dublin in 1456, Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland in 1478 and Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland). In 1474 he was chosen to be one of the thirteen Knights of the Brotherhood of Saint George, who were charged with defending the Pale against invasion by neighbouring Gaelic clans, and with keeping the peace in the Pale generally.

In 1483 Richard III chose him to be Lord Chancellor of Ireland, despite opposition from Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, who was then almost all-powerful in Ireland. His continued employment by the Yorkist kings after his second marriage in 1478 is perhaps surprising, given that his second wife Joan Beaufort was a close relative of Henry Tudor, who was to overthrow the House of York in 1485. 

The Scandalous Stepmother

Katherine Swynford (1350-1403)
Not directly related. 

Robert St Lawrence (1431-1486) was a member of the family that has inhabited Howth Castle in Ireland since 1177. His son Nicholas St Lawrence, in my line, was the son of Alice White, Robert’s first wife. Joan Beaufort, his stepmother as Robert's second wife, came from a much more interesting family. 

Joan’s grandmother Katherine was the mistress and later the third wife of John of Gaunt (1340-1399), the fourth son of King Edward III of England, and Queen Philippa of Hainault.

Her life is the subject of numerous books, including a 2008 biography “Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess.” Anya Seton's fictional “Katherine." Though published in 1954, a 2003 survey by the BBC ranked it among the top 100 most loved novels in Britain.

John and Katherine’s four children, who were legitimized after their marriage (but prevented form succeeding to the throne), had significant roles in English history and the Tudor Dynasty. One daughter was grandmother to two kings and was related to Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. Katherine was sister-in-law to poet Geoffrey Chaucer and one of her biographers said she is related to all English kings since her time as well as to Winston Churchill and at least five US presidents including the three Georges: Washington, Bush and Bush.


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