Saturday, August 19, 2017

America's Revolutionary War Hero

John Paul Jones 

Born 1747, in a gardener’s cottage in Scotland, he took to the sea at an early age.  By the age of 21, John Paul had become a merchant shipmaster.  After he killed a mutinous crewman, he fled to America and added Jones as his last name.  He immigrated to Virginia and joined the fledging navy serving in the War for Independence on the flagship of its first fleet – the Bonhomme Richard.  On this ship, Jones took the Revolutionary War back to England with the fight against the HMS Serapis.  During this battle the Bonhomme Richard began taking on water and a fire had broken out.  When the British commander, seeing what problems Jones had, ask him to surrender.  Jones’ answer was his famous cry: “I have not yet begun to fight!”  In the end, it was the British commander who ended up surrendering!  Jones became known for having a strong will and a man who was averse to surrender when even a small hope of victory remained.

Coming home a naval hero, the Continental Congress assigned a new sloop of war for his command, the Ranger.  By July, 1777, he arrived in Portsmouth, NH
and rented a room from Widow Sarah Purcell, to be close to the building of the Ranger.  The sloop was under construction at John Langdon’s shipyard on Badger’s Island across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine.  He stayed until November, 1777 when he sailed for France on the new sloop.  Again, John Paul Jones came back to Portsmouth as a hero in 1781, and stayed at the Widow Purcell’s boarding house while his new ship, America was built at Langdon’s shipyard.  This time, he stayed about a year.

Today, this boarding house is now known as the John Paul Jones House.  It is located at 43 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH and has been revived as a historic museum and is considered the only known surviving structure in the United States with direct ties to the Revolutionary War’s naval hero John Paul Jones.  He stayed in this house a total of approximately 18 months while both the Ranger and America were being built.
John Paul Jones house located at
43 Middle Street Portsmouth, NH
The Georgian house is a 2 ½ story wood frame house built in 1758 by a well-known African American builder, Hopestill Cheswell for Captain Gregory Purcell and his wife Sarah Wentworth.  When the Captain died in 1776, it was suspected he had a lingering illness which left his wife and the surviving seven of their original 13 children with lawsuits and liens.
Although Sarah’s family was wealthy and well known, they were “royal” sympathizers and had been driven out of town at the start of the Revolutionary War.  This left Sarah with no visible means of support.  The only asset she had was her house to take in boarders until she died in 1783.  After her death, the house was sold to Judge Woodbury Langdon, the brother of John Langdon, owner of the shipyard where Jones’ ships were built.  Within the next 30 years, the house went through several owners and by the turn of the 19th to 20th century, the Portsmouth Historical Society was formed with its original intent to save the John Paul Jones house.

Honoring John Paul Jones
at Annapolis

By the time John Paul Jones died in France in 1792, he had been largely ignored by the country he so gallantly fought for.  It wasn’t until 1906 that President Theodore Roosevelt helped bring his body back to the United States when it was found in a leaden coffin buried under the streets of Paris. By 1913, he was re-interred at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  At this time, he was given the fame he so greatly deserved and became one of the most recognized names in American history.

Around this same time, Robert W. Traip Academy, the high school in Kittery, Maine was in its first few years of existence.  To honor John Paul Jones, it was decided the school’s nickname should be the Ranger, to commemorate the ship that was built no more than 10 miles from the school. 

During the 1970’s Sears had a television advertisement for famous American homes preserved with their paint.  The company painted the John Paul Jones house bringing it to national attention. 

In 1972, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places as well as National Historic Landmark. 

John Paul Jones is considered the Father of the American Navy.  It is very fitting that his memory should be kept alive and he should be honored as the hero that he was both at Portsmouth and Annapolis.
Crypt under the Annapolis Chapel

If you happen to be in the seacoast area and stop at Portsmouth, be sure to visit this house.  Its bright yellow stands out from everything around it. But if you can’t find it ask directions – anyone in the area can tell you where it is (as it should be). 

Sources: All pictures from Google images
Wikipedia. The John Paul Jones House
US Naval Institute Blog: John Paul Jones 266th Birthday July 5, 2013 As I Please by J. Dennis Robinson. May 20, 2000. The Many Stories of Paul Jones' House. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Greatness is in the Unselfishness of the Sacrifice

The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 was the final icing on the cake.  This symbolized the end of accepting years of tyranny under the British rule.  This is a time for us to reflect on the people who made this happen.  The farmers, merchants and everyday people who had the passion and the grit to stand up for what they believed in.  All through the generations, there has been people in all of our families who, at one time or another came to be an unlikely hero or inspired others to action.  They didn’t necessarily become the overall well known leader, such as General then President, George Washington.  They were people like Sam Adams and with his band of rebels had the passion and determination to rally others to action; Dr. Joseph Warren, who gave his life for his beliefs that fateful day at Bunker Hill; Paul Revere, who rode so long and hard that night.  They, among others, go down in history as leaders of the cause.

Grit and determination abounds

Each generation in our families has seen people who could be called small town heroes.  People that didn’t say, “No, I can’t do this”.  But people who acted on their beliefs and said, “Yes! Count me in” and didn’t think twice about the glory or the accolades but stepped up when they were needed.

I "blame" all the grit and determination on the early
comers, who instilled their passion for survival into future generations.  They came with nothing, having but the shirts on their back and what they were allowed to take with them into an already overcrowded 17th century ship sailing into the unknown.  The determination for survival was great. 
They had to protect themselves from the elements, learn how to grow food and adjust themselves to everyday life in a totally unknown environment.  But survive they did!  


There are two people in my family I would consider inspirations.  They gave of themselves without fear or expectation.  As it turns out both are descendants of the same immigrant, John Whitman a pious, everyday man who passed on his passions and his righteous beliefs to his children.

Westward bound

Statuary Hall
Washington DC
Marcus Whitman (1802-1847) is a collateral cousin, a brother to my 4th great grandfather.  He is seldom talked about today because of conflicts in political correctness but his actions are worthy of mention and at the very least inspiring.   Marcus’ grandfather, Samuel Whitman was a fire and brimstone preacher of the Second Great Awakening era.  He took Marcus under his wing when his father died.  Marcus’ desire was to be a minister.  As he got older, he studied medicine.  With both needed skills and education he joined the American Mission Society.  He and his wife, Narcissa joined another couple to travel west over the Rocky Mountains. They were to work with the Indians to bring religion and medical assistance.  This little party of four ended their journey in what is now Washington state, setting up a mission in the Walla Walla Valley.  By the 1840s, as the British were trying to take control of the Oregon area, Whitman went back to Washington, DC to meet with President McKinley.  This meeting resulted in Marcus Whitman leading the first wagon train over the Rockies in what history calls the “Oregon Trail” in 1843.  His unselfish actions saved many people’s lives and helped to develop the country.  He gave his life for his beliefs.  Today, the state of Washington honors him in the Hall of Statues in Washington, DC, dressed as the mountain man he was with his medical bag and Bible under his arm.

Onward to War

Sylvia Whitman (1923-1984) is my mother’s first cousin.  She, along with another woman, got on a steamer in 1939 to travel as missionaries to Japan and China. The war had already started in Europe and within a few years the Pacific would be
 engulfed as well.  Sylvia had a drive and a passion to help the orphaned children.  She served this area for over 30 years.  During WWII she took her children to the mountains for protection.  How traumatic it must have been to hide with her children, knowing that the bombs raining down were from her own country!  Years later, as Sylvia lay dying from a disease she contracted, she cried out to save the children.

Being a genealogist one learns much about the history of the times that the ancestors lived.  America has had war in its history since the beginning.  It’s not the war that should be celebrated nor the victory.  The celebration should be for the people who pushed forward to make their small sacrifices an inspiration towards the greatness of the whole. 

Whatever time period your ancestors came into the country, embrace their sacrifices.  For in the end, that’s what really has made America great!

pictures: Google images

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Banyan trees and Family trees have a lot in common, if they are like mine. One commonalty is the many branches that grow roots replant themselves.  Sometimes one cannot tell which is the main trunk.  The line I am researching is a good example of this concept.  Each one of the branches by itself seems quite right.  When you put them together and see the interaction between the lines, it might make you go umm…

This line is for my immigrant 9th great grandfather, Mark Parsons late of Kennebec, York, Maine with a little bit of Boynton, Gray and Savage thrown in.

Mark Parsons (1620/21- ca.1665) is a very elusive ancestor.  Only the bare facts have been found for him. There is another Parsons family in the Hadley-Northampton area of Massachusetts with many of the same given names. Please don't get them confused. There is no proof of a relationship to this family.

At least two of Mark's children, John and Anne (my 8th grandfather and 8th grandmother) were both born in England.  History tells us that Mark and his family did not immigrate to Maine until around 1665.  Mark was born about 1620/21 and married in England to Elizabeth in 1645.  Researchers have not found her maiden name, but it maybe Hardy. 

The Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder tells us
Fort Popham Kennebec River
that in the recorded deeds for that area, Mark’s son-in-law William Bordman and daughter Elisabeth bought Mark’s land from his widow Elizabeth.
  The deeds are dated September, 1666 and state that Mark was decreased.  The land is around the Bath, Maine area at the lower end of the Sagadahoc (now the Kennebec) River.  Mark’s widow, Elizabeth married John Spencer of Parker’s Island.

Anne Parsons (1646-1677) married William Hilton (1635-1699) of York, Maine.  He is the son of William Hilton, who with brother Edward Hilton, founded Dover, NH.   Their son Mainwaring Hilton marries
Elizabeth Thompson, the great granddaughter of my immigrant ancestor – Anthony Emery into the Emery line.  Mainwaring and Elizabeth's granddaughters through their son Ezekiel - Sarah and Mary Lord Hilton.  Sarah married John Boynton, the grandson of Caleb Boynton and Christian Parsons (Anne’s niece), their daughter Elizabeth married John Gray.   Ezekiel’s daughter Mary Lord Hilton married James Savage.   Their son Jacob married Hannah Gray, the daughter of Elizabeth Boynton and John Gray.  Now, without any more intermarriages this Mary Lord Hilton and James Savage marriage brings the ancestors directly down through the Gerrish line.

John Parsons (1650-1692) married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Hunkins and his wife Elizabeth.  John and Elizabeth had at least 7 children. Again, two children, Elihu and Christian are direct descendants in my lineage. Elihu and Christian being my 7th
Early Cordwainer
grandfather and 7th grandmother respectively.  

John resided in Portsmouth, NH and worked as a cordwainer during the 1674-1677 time frame for my 6th grandfather – Nehemiah Partridge whose mother was the sister of Captain William Gerrish of Newbury, MA, my direct ancestor! 

By 1687, John was in York, Maine.  The city had granted him 12 acres under condition that he apply his trade.  The land was at York Corner. After his apprenticeship with Partridge, John set up a tannery and  conducted business from his property in York until his death.  John was killed in the Candlemas Day Massacre, January 1692.  His estate was not settled until July 1705.  Bondsman was Thomas Trafton, my 7th grandfather, whose descendants married down into my Emery line through his son Zacchaeus.

John’s son, Elihu (1684-1730) married Ruth Wilson, daughter of Gowen Wilson of Kittery, my 9th grandfather.  Their son Joseph married Miriam Preble daughter of Joseph Preble. Joseph and Miriam had a son John, whose daughter Lydia (1783-1850) marries Jotham Trafton, my 4th generation grandfather.  Remember the bondsman for John Parsons’ estate in the second generation – Thomas Trafton?

John’s daughter Christian (1685-1766) married Caleb Boynton of Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts. Caleb was buyer and seller of land in and around the York area.  He died in Wiscasset, Somerset, Maine.  Their son, John was the descendant into the Gerrish line.

Truly, a generational version of ‘All in the Family’! I wonder how many degrees of Kevin Bacon this would be? 

Mark Parsons
John m. Elizabeth Hunkins
Anne Parsons m. William Hilton
Christian m.
Caleb Boynton
Elihu m.
 Ruth Wilson
Mainwaring Hilton m. Elizabeth Thompson
John m.
Sarah Hilton
Joseph m.
Miriam Preble
Ebenezer Hilton m. Mary Lord
Elizabeth m.
 John Gray
John m.
Mary Moore
Mary Lord Hilton m.
James Savage
Sarah Hilton m.
 John Boynton
Hannah m.
Jacob Savage
Lydia m.
Jotham Trafton
Jacob Savage m.
Hannah Gray
Elizabeth m.
 John Gray
John Gray Savage m. Sarah Oliver
John Trafton m.
Lavinia Chadbourne
John Gray Savage m.
Sarah Oliver
Hannah m.
 Jacob Savage
Patience m.
John Oliver Rattleff
John Frank Trafton m. Sarah Dixon
Patience m.
John Oliver Rattleff
John Gray Savage m.
Sarah Oliver
John Nelson Rattleff m. Lectina McKinney
Emma Trafton m.
George P. Emery
John Nelson Rattleff m. Lectina McKinney
Patience m.
John Oliver Rattleff
Ida Rattliff m.
Chester Gerrish
Forrest B. Emery m.
Ruth Whitman
Ida Rattliff m.
Chester Gerrish
John Nelson Rattleff m.
Lectina McKinney
Bertram L Gerrish m. Elinor Emery
Elinor Emery m.
Bertram Gerrish
Bertram L Gerrish m.
Elinor Emery
Ida Rattliff m.
Chester Gerrish

Bertram L Gerrish m.
Elinor Emery

Pictures courtesy of Google images

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lt. Thomas Leffingwell, a Founder of Norwich, Connecticut

The Name

In 1892 Leffingwell researcher Rev. E.B Huntington tried to follow the origins of the Leffingwell name back to England and Wales.  Although the Leffingwell name is English, he couldn’t find any trace of it.  It just seemed to have disappeared. 
This scenario illustrates what is known as “Grimm’s Law”.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the law was named for Jacob Grimm who studied the correlations between Germanic, European and Asian languages.  He discovered nine consonants that change sound as a regular phenomenon.  Depending on the cultural shifts of the area and time period, the consonants would determine how the original name changed or in this case, disappeared.
Leffingwell is not a common name but it is constant in spelling and pronunciation.  From the time it was originated as Leffingwell it had gone through several deviations.  By the late 1600’s when Thomas Leffingwell was appointed to the General Court in Hartford, the name had pretty much become standardized as it was back in the time of the Reformation and Columbus.

The Man

1637 sees Thomas Leffingwell, as a young hunter going through the forests in the wilds of Connecticut, similar to James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer.  It is tradition that Thomas was perhaps 14 years old when he came to Connecticut.  The thought is how did a young man of that age come to live alone in this area?  Could it be he was apprenticed to someone?  Hartford was settled only two years before and Saybrook and New Haven were both settled in 1637.  One theory is that he came into Massachusetts Bay with relatives.  A Michael Leppingwell was resident in Boston in 1636 and on the list as a founder of Woburn, Massachusetts and on the tax roll for 1645. Some researchers consider they were close kin.

However he got to Connecticut, Thomas lived in Saybrook with his family for approximately 30 years.  Tradition says at 21 years of age, he went back to England and married Mary (possibly White) bringing her to the Colony.  They had 6 children: 4 boys and 2 girls: all born in Saybrook between 1648 and 1656.  An unproved child, Samuel is assumed part of this family by some researchers, bringing the count to 7 with 5 boys.  During his time in Saybrook, Thomas established himself as a Christian citizen who was held in the esteem and confidence of his fellow townspeople.  He became the people’s public defender.

Celebrating 300 years of Norwich
He proved compassionate towards all who needed help.  In 1645, the Mohegan and Narragansett Indians were at odds with each other.  Uncas, the sachem of the Mohegan tribe, with a small band of his tribal members had encamped at a point of land surrounded by water.  The Narragansett were setting a trap to keep them at a disadvantage and force starvation on the Mohegan tribe.  Uncas knew he was in trouble. He sent word to his English friends at Saybrook for help.  History is conflicted as to whether Leffingwell acted alone or with a group of military men.  Either way, documents record Thomas Leffingwell, “an ensign at Saybrook,” loaded a canoe with beef, corn and other sustaining food and paddled to the Mohegan encampment.  Once the Narragansett saw that Uncas and his band were saved, they pulled back from their siege.  Uncas rewarded Thomas for his help and assistance by giving him a deed of most of the land for the current town of Norwich.  Several years later, in 1659, Uncas with his sons made a formal gift of the same deed to the 35 proprietors for the entire town of Norwich which was approximately nine miles square.

The 35 original settlers were: Deacon Thomas Adgate – Robert Allyn – William Backus Sr. & Lt. William Backus Jr. – John Baldwin – Deacon Thomas Bingham – John Birchard – Thomas Bliss – Morgan Bowers – John Bradford – Hugh Caulkins & John Caulkins – Richard Edgarton – Rev. James Fitch – John Gager – Lt. Francis Griswold – Thomas Howard – Christopher Huntington & Deacon Simon Huntington – Samuel Hyde & William Hyde – Lt. Thomas Leffingwell – Major John Mason – Dr. John Olmstead – John Pease – John Post & Thomas Post – Josiah Reed – John Reynolds – Jonathan Royce – Rev. Nehemiah Smith – Sgt. John Tracy & Lt. Thomas Tracy – Robert Wade – Sgt. Thomas Waterman

In 1667, twenty years after the incident, Leffingwell petitions the court to secure his gift of the claim.  The petition insinuates he was the sole participate in the rescue of Uncas and his band.  However, he recognizes that Uncas had deeded this same land formally to the 35 proprietors rendering Leffingwell’s claim void and by the tone of his petition, Thomas Leffingwell did understand that.  Thomas Leffingwell became a friend to the Indians and faithful arbiter who was well rewarded both by the Colony and the Mohegan tribe.  He was a bold and enterprising man who rose through the ranks with his military service from Sergeant to Ensign to Lieutenant.  The continued accolades for saving Uncas followed him throughout his life.  This act was instrumental in creating a good relationship between the colonists and the Mohegan people. 

Many of the original settlers of Saybrook including Thomas Leffingwell removed to Norwich in 1659. Norwich was destined to grow even further with the nine acres Uncas deeded the settlers in that year – the same deed as indicated secured in 1645 and 1659!  In June 1659, Major Mason the ruling military officer secured the deed for the town and in August secured by William Thompson, Thomas Leffingwell and Benjamin Brewster (grandson of Mayflower’s Elder William Brewster and my 7th great grandfather) was the deed which officially became Norwich.  It was not unusual for the Sachem to deed the same land more than once.  However, in this case Uncas did not give the deed as a symbol of love or gratitude but for the price (70 pounds) and the fact that the land was unusable.
By November, several of the original grants were assigned to Thomas Leffingwell.  He received more than 300 acres in different sized lots.  His house lot was in the most eastern point in the town, he took possession by 1660.

His Maturity

Thomas’ mild mannered personality ensured that he stayed close to his religious roots.  The good connection he had with Mr. Fitch, the pastor of the old Church in Saybrook helped Thomas stay close to his beliefs.  Mr. Fitch had removed to Norwich as an original settler.  In 1694, when Mr. Fitch was no longer able to fulfill his duties as the town clergy, Thomas was appointed chairman of the committee to plead with Mr. Fitch’s son Jabez to take over for his father.  Jabez Fitch declined the position.  He took positions in Ipswich, Massachusetts and later in Portsmouth, NH where he died in 1746.  Four years later, after the enlargement and repair of the Church, Thomas was appointed to direct seating of the members with regard to rank.

As he grew further into maturity, he developed into a good citizen both to the Colony as well as Norwich. He was a surveyor and selectman. His position of distributor of estates tells about his intelligence and business character. He sat on the Commissions Court and practiced as a fair and good judge. Thomas was one of the members of the 1st session of the State General court. He attended 53 sessions during his first year. From 1667 to 1675/6 the Colonial Records of Connecticut recorded many land grants, appointments, and other duties for Thomas.

During the time of King Philip’s War (1675-1678), Connecticut did not have as much trouble during the war as did other areas of New England.  The military banded and went to other area to help with the fighting. Thomas was an ensign when the war started.  An expedition was formed leaving Norwich in March 1765/6 returning by the following April with 44 natives killed or captured. 
This was within the same time frame King Philip was killed at Mount Hope and the first time Thomas was referred to as Lieutenant Leffingwell as was recorded in the Journal of the Council.  By the war’s end and resettling of the town, Lt. Leffingwell and several others were instructed to layout planting tracts.  But again by 1682, Uncas had become restless and troublesome.  He was making increasing demands about restoring his lands.  And again, Thomas Leffingwell is appointed chairman of the committee to help establish mutual satisfaction.   Thomas helped come to the resolution to deed back to him the very land that he had originally deeded to them several times over.
Thomas served his God, family, friends and colony well.   In 1704, Queen Anne authorized and appointed Lt. Leffingwell, Joseph Dudley, Thomas Hooker, James Avery, and John Morgan, (all called) Gentlemen to the office of Royal Commissioners to hear both parties with Justice and equity; to restore the Mohegans to their settlements.  Years after Thomas had died this was reversed and land wrested from the Mohegans.  While Lt Leffingwell had been a friend to the tribe and worked all his life to be Just and fair, it was all dissolved just a few short years after he died.

Lt. Thomas’ son, Thomas and Thomas Jr’s son, Thomas were often confused in historical documentation. The 2nd Thomas was designated as Sgt. Thomas Leffingwell while the 3rd Thomas was called “Deacon” . Until January 1715, Thomas (2nd) had always been “Jr.”. Although there is no documented date when Lt Thomas died, it is suspected that the date was about the time that Sgt. Thomas dropped the “Jr” from his name.

Lt. Thomas provided for his family.  In 1714 when Thomas the elder was about 92, he gave all his property to his children before his death.  His grandson, Samuel took possession of his house.  While Thomas the son, settled near his father’s property.

The Leffingwell Inn

Picture by Michael Herrick, March 3, 2017
In Dec 1679 Sgt. Leffingwell obtained a house from Stephen Backus built in 1675.  This house became the ordinary for the town as well as a munitions storage for emergency use.  Sgt. Thomas furnished this house with elegance and style.   By 1701, he was granted permission to open an ordinary (inn). This house stayed in the family to at least the Revolutionary War when Christopher Leffingwell, a man of high importance to the town, became a valuable supplier of provisions for the Revolutionary War and its soldiers.  The house is now owned by The Society of the founders of Norwich.  Which, if you can prove direct descendant for any of the founders, you can join.

My line from Lt. Thomas Leffingwell: 
Lt. Thomas Leffingwell (1624-1714) m. Mary (White?)
Ensign Thomas Leffingwell (16491724) m. Mary Bushnell
Deborah Leffingwell (1674-1733) m 2) Andrew Warner
Mary Warner (1703-1783) m. Capt. Samuel Storrs
Martha Storrs (1728-1808) m. Capt. Nathaniel Hall
Ruth Hall (1751 – 1832) m. Deacon Nathaniel Storrs
Rebecca G. Freeman (1810-1887) m Caleb Freeman
Levi Whitman (1842-1925) m 2) Fanny Ella Martin
Ruth Elizabeth Whitman (1898-1990) m Forrest B. Emery
Elinor F. Emery (1924-2004) m Bertram L. Gerrish

The Leffingwell Record: A genealogy of the Descendants of Lieut. Thomas Leffingwell, one of the founders of Norwich, Conn. Leffingwell, 1897
The History of Norwich, Ct: from its possession by the Indians to the year 1866. Caulkins, 1866

300th Anniversary of Norwich - By MoonWaterMan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,