Ghost Story of Murder

A Ghost Story of Murder

My 9th great grandfather on my maternal line is a man named Thomas Cornell.

He was born on 21 October 1627 in Saffron Walden, England. He was the 4th of 13 children of Thomas and Rebecca Cornell.

The Cornells emigrated to Boston when Thomas was just 11 years old and settled in Boston, where his father purchased Willam Baulston’s tavern.

Things did not work out in Boston for the family so they moved to Portsmouth in 1643, where Rebecca’s brother, John Briggs, was a founder of the city.

Coming of age in Portsmouth, Thomas Cornell established himself as a respectable citizen.

He was chosen as the town clerk and would later oversee construction of a local prison. He was a constable, a deputy to the high court and also a town councilman.

History does not always look kindly on the Cornell family.

My great grandfather Thomas would be accused of murdering his mother, Rebecca.

His famous trial and conviction would later be linked through one of his direct descendants in Lizzie Borden.

Throughout the centuries some histories cast dark aspersions on the Cornell family because of these famous murder cases.

But is that fair?

As usual, the devil is in the details. In Puritan New England they fought the devil pretty hard.

Cornell House

This is the home of Thomas Cornell where Rebecca died. It burned down in 1889. Rebecca’s room was on first floor just left of entry.

~ What Happened to Rebecca Cornell? ~

Rebecca Cornell was born in 1600 and married Thomas Cornell in 1620.

Her heritage has been in dispute by genealogists for centuries. There has been much conjecture about her maiden name being Briggs, because the tale of her murder includes testimony from a man named John Briggs, who is listed as her brother in court records.

In fact, it is the testimony of John Briggs that makes the murder case of Rebecca Cornell so important.

On the night of February 8th, 1673, Rebecca was not feeling well.

While Thomas’ family sat down to a supper of mackerel, Rebecca stayed up in her room complaining that the fish made her sick.

After supper, Sarah (Thomas’ wife) sent one of Thomas’s sons to ask if there was anything that Rebecca wanted.

Upon entering the room, the boy found Rebecca on fire — and she was already dead.

Thomas Cornell’s original statement, the statement of one of the farm hands and the first coroner’s inquest, were all taken the following day: February 9th, 1673.

After the local coroner took all the statements he concluded Rebecca’s tragic death was an accident.

Rebecca Cornell death notice

This is the death notice of Rebecca Cornell

~ Rebecca’s Story ~

At this point in her life she had lived quite long for a woman in the 17th century.

She was a mother of 14 and an owner of significant property in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Her husband, also named Thomas, died in 1655.

Both father and son had done well in their careers in Portsmouth and Rebecca chose to live with her son Thomas for her remaining years.

But all was not well between them.

According to neighbors, Thomas did not get along well with his mother Rebecca, who was critical of debts Thomas had run up to his parent’s estate.

It was said that Thomas and Rebecca were quite mean to each other.

These facts surfaced at the trial of Thomas Cornell for the murder of his mother, Rebecca.

The corner’s investigation was re-opened when John Briggs – described in court documents as Rebecca’s brother – claimed that Rebecca came to him after her death:

He was asleep in bed when “he felt something heave up the bedclothes twice, and thought somebody had been coming to bed to him, where upon he awaked, and turned himself about in his bed, and being turned, he perceived a light in the room, like to the dawning of the day, and plainly saw the shape and appearance of a woman standing by his bedside where at he was much affrighted, and cried out, ‘in the name of God what art thou?’

The apparition answered, ‘I am your sister Cornell,’ and twice said, ‘see how I was burnt with fire.’ And she plainly appeared unto him to be very much burnt about the shoulders, face, and head.”

Rebecca’s brother interpreted the vision to mean that his sister accused someone of burning her intentionally.

John Briggs Testimony

Testimony of John Briggs from his deposition

Rebecca’s body was inspected a second time, and this jury found a suspicious wound in her stomach.

The investigation turned to neighbors, friends and family members.

Slowly but surely, all fingers pointed to Thomas Cornell and the drama that had built up over the years between him and his mother.

~ A Trial and Conviction ~

At trial, witnesses painted an unpleasant picture of life in the Cornell home.

Rebecca Cornell had complained about her treatment. She had to work on the farm. She went to bed without her bed made up or warmed. And she complained that Thomas was skimpy in heating the home and would not provide a good fire.

Thomas declined to hire a maid to look after her. And she and Thomas argued over whether rent should be paid for staying at the house and whether he should pay her or vice versa.

Rebecca Cornell, two witnesses testified, had contemplated killing herself, either by stabbing herself or drowning herself.

Further, she had told some, she planned to leave Thomas’ house and move in with her son Samuel in the spring.

Another particular concern to Rebecca: Thomas’ second wife, Sarah, who she disliked.

Patience Coggeshall testified: “She was afraid there would be mischief done. Her daughter-in-law was of such a desperate spirit, for not long since, said she, she ran after one of the children of his first wife, with an Axe, into her house; but she prevented her striking the child. Yet she did not live with any of her other children because she had made over her estate to her son Thomas. If she had thought her son Thomas first wife would have died before her, she would not have made it over to him.”

To continue this bitter relationship, in Rebecca’s will, all of her estate was to be equally divided among her children, whom she listed by name. All of her sons and daughters received a part of Rebecca’s property, such as clothes, valuable objects, and even one of her daughters, Mary, inherited her mother’s gold ring. All the children except for Thomas was mentioned in Rebecca’s will.

Even Thomas’s first wife was mentioned in her will. This was because Thomas was the only son living with his mother, along with his first wife whom Rebecca loved.

Unfortunately, Thomas’ wife died a couple years after Rebecca signed her will. Thomas married Sarah and added to his family with her. Shortly after, Rebecca was asked as to why she did not live with any of her other children. She said that if she knew Thomas’ wife was going to pass, she would have left years ago. Rebecca and Sarah clearly did not care for each other.

The things Thomas and Sarah said immediately after Rebecca’s passing did little to help his case.

Thomas and Sarah reportedly declared in public that Rebecca’s death made them happy. Sarah supposedly called it “a wonderful thing,” while Thomas is said to have joked that his mother “always liked a good fire” and that “God had answered her ends, and now she had it.”The hearing began at the General Court of Trials at Newport on May 12th, 1673; Thomas pled not guilty.

But once testimony after testimony was presented talking about the strife between Thomas and his mother, it didn’t take long for the jury to present a guilty verdict.

He was among one of two men on trial for murder during the May trials of 1673.

Both men were found guilty and both sentenced to hanging. Thomas’s death may be the first capital punishment recorded in Rhode Island.

The jury convicted Thomas Cornell of murdering his mother with virtually no evidence that he had done so.

Two years after he died, his widow Sarah was charged with assisting in the murder, along with a local Indian, though she was not convicted and the case of Rebecca Cornell caused the people of Rhode Island to debate whether spectral evidence should be used in criminal cases at all.

Thomas’s execution is widely believed to be May 23, 1673.

It was Thomas’ desire to be buried next to his mother. This was not allowed.

Shortly after this date, Sarah Cornell gave birth to their last daughter together. She named the baby Innocent. Many believe that this was meant as a form of protest against the guilty verdict.

Innocent was the daughter who married into the Borden family, and it is her great-great-great-great granddaughter who was accused and acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother.

The descendants of Thomas and Rebecca Cornell would make all kinds of history in early America. We will detail some of these better stories in time.


Decisions and Consequences

When Gabriel and Joanne Westover of Taunton, England married in 1618 they likely had no idea how larger events would impact their family.

A son, John, was born in 1619. Then came a daughter, Johanne. Another son came in 1622, named Gabriel III, and another, named Richard, was born in 1623.

Then there is a gap in the ages of their children.

As Puritans, the Westover’s were embroiled in the overall conflict between the Crown and Parliament. Religion, theology and control of the Church of England was at the center of the conflict and it affected those who opposed the Crown.

In 1625 Charles I ascended to the throne and persecution of his enemies, which included the Puritans, intensified.

As with many other Puritan families, Gabriel and Joanne Westover reportedly took their young family to the Netherlands to escape the conflict. But it appears they soon returned to Taunton.

More children came to the family. Daughter Jane came in 1626 and Jonah was born in 1628. During the 1630s four more children would be born.

During these years the conflict escalated.

Charles I dissolved Parliament and persecution of Puritans powered what is called the Great Migration, where over a period of roughly ten years during the 1630s more than 80,000 people, mostly Puritans, sailed to the New World in order to “grow a society of Saints”.

During these years, right around the time their youngest child Joshua would be born in Taunton, Gabriel and Joanne made a fateful decision. They first sent Jane, believed to be about 14 years old, to the New World. Then they sent Jonah, age 11, in 1639.

Why these two children were sent is not known. It is written that the original intent was to migrate as a family but the Westover’s lacked the financial resources to do so. Perhaps Jane and Jonah were sent because they were old enough to be self-sufficient but young enough to have the best opportunities in the New World.

Regardless, Gabriel and Joanne would never see these children again.

Jane and Jonah stayed in America and built families. Gabriel and Joanne, like many other Puritans, decided to stay in England after civil war broke out and Charles I was defeated in 1645.

That decision, made under real world pressures, would have long-lasting consequences for the Westover family.

It is doubtful this ever crossed the minds of Gabriel and Joanne. They were concerned about just surviving.

Yet here we are, nearly 400 years later, exploring how this one decision has had a lasting impact on our family history.

There would be many others.

~ Personal and Sacred ~

When I was a teenager my Mom told me of a near death experience she had when I was very little. It was a story she would tell me at least four other times in my life.

As I work on the history of my parents I have struggled with whether or not to share this story. We are told to be careful in sharing sacred experiences and to me this was as sacred and as personal as a story can get.

But like the story of Gabriel and Joanne Westover of 400 years ago this story highlights a moment of decision that impacted our family history. It needs to be told.


Mom with the four of us not long before the ectopic pregnancy

My Mom had four of us in the span of five years. After my youngest brother, David, was born, my parents entered a period of transition that saw many significant life changes. My Nana, Mom’s mother, passed away. She was 49 and my Mom was just 25. My Dad graduated from college during these years, he started his career and we moved from the place we had first called home as a family.

During these years mom had an ectopic pregnancy resulting in a severe medical emergency.

One of the things to know about my mother is that she had some extraordinary spiritual gifts. Shortly after my parents married my mother converted, but only after having a vision related to the Book of Mormon.

She told me that story many times as well, and I’ve discussed that event with my Dad many times. It was the kind of revelatory experience I believe many of us hope for and the type you read about in books and in scripture.

Perhaps Mother was given such a gift because of her standing in her family, and the work of family history and temple that would later manifest itself in her life. Whatever the reason, Mom was prone to have connection with the other side. It was her gift.

I remember mom telling me of her severe pain and the operating room they rushed her to when this happened. They began to operate immediately and while they did Mom’s spirit separated from her body.

She looked down upon herself and witnessed no small amount of blood as they operated.

Mom described leaving the room, rising up very high and leaving the hospital altogether. She experienced what many others describe during near death experiences – a tunnel of light, a sensation of being surrounded by great love, and the presence of a Holy Being.

Mother was told she had a choice.

She could return to her body, and resume her life, being allowed to raise her children. Or, it was okay for her to stay where she was.

Mother told me it was not really a choice in her mind. She instantly asked to be returned to her body, and she was.

That was a moment of decision that impacted family history. If Mother decided not to return, how would my life be different?

While for many years I digested that question I got to see from my parent’s perspective how that decision impacted their lives as a couple.

Several years later, my folks were delighted to hear they were pregnant again. After Mom’s ectopic pregnancy she was told the odds of her having another baby were very slim.

The birth of my baby sister, Kris, came at an impactful time for me. I will never forget that day or that time of my life, it made such an impression on me.

But in discussing all this at length with both Mom and Dad individually I learned how they considered this whole event a faith affirming consequence of the choice my Mother made in coming back.

Mom was not given a knowledge of my little sister during her experience. While she and my father wanted another child – and particularly, another daughter – that was not something promised or foretold.


Dad, pictured here with the custodial crew at Mt. Diablo High School, where he was employed during these years.

Dad’s feeling about it was interesting. My parents married very young, and Dad in particular suffered with feeling qualified in being a husband, father and provider. He recalled to me a few times how as an 18-year old groom he was grilled by both of my grandfathers about how he expected to support my Mom in marriage.

Both pairs of grandparents had made significant sacrifices and contributions to set my parents up in a home for us and helped as my Dad worked several jobs to work his way through school.

After he graduated and we moved from that area, my parents experienced a kind of independence as a couple they previously had not known or felt. Having my little sister and adding her to the family was something of a certification of their union, they felt. They had finally grown up and were sitting at the adult table. That is how they felt and they were grateful.

Now that we are older the years are not the separation they once were for me and my little sister. But she was the baby, and is common with many youngest children, her growing up experience was different than mine and that of my siblings.

Dad with Kris and Debbie

That doesn’t matter now.

I know having spent time with my parents towards the end of their lives what Kris’ coming into the world meant to them. It was different and special for reasons the rest of us who didn’t walk their path can understand.

I think the natural inclination we have when we hear or read about the experiences, decisions and consequences of our ancestors is to say, “What would I have done?” or “How would I have felt?”

Those are impossible questions to answer.

But they remain instructive to us because it helps us to see their real struggles and desires.

Through knowing these things we come to appreciate their humanity, as well as their sacrifices.


A Family History of Thanksgiving

A family history of Thanksgiving is bound to be a bit different than the traditional accounts of Thanksgiving we read in the media and in general history books.

These days there is an effort to “correct” the historical teachings of Thanksgiving as it was once known.

Family history has a way of re-centering it because we know what we know from our own traditions.

~ Thanksgiving is a Multi-Cultural Experience ~

The media debates whether or not turkey was part of the first Thanksgiving 400 years ago in 1621. It is a silly argument because turkey is hardly the point and the Thanksgiving of 1621 was hardly the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated.

It was not even the first Thanksgiving in North America. The settlers at Jamestown was first reported some 11 years before in 1610.

That never gets talked about, mostly because Charlie Brown wasn’t there (okay, I’m kidding).

The idea here is that Thanksgiving was actually a very British and very Christian thing to do. In fact, it was a somewhat common practice that was held at any time of the year whenever a governing authority cared to call for it.

Thanksgiving Declaration

“Thanksgiving” was a general term to denote when a community would together celebrate some sort of good news.

It might be a victory in battle, the birth of a new prince, or simply a great harvest that would ensure survival through the winter months. When things like this happened, a public call to prayer and the recognition of God was made through a declaration of Thanksgiving.

It was hardly confined to British Christians. French explorers famously celebrated Thanksgiving in 16th century Canada.

Native American cultures also celebrated a form of Thanksgiving, often recognizing Deity and nature for their survival. Thanksgiving was, for them, a way to recognize they were stewards of the Good Earth who needed to care for it.

~ Mayflower and Puritan Ancestors ~

There is an image of Mayflower passengers as being a religiously persecuted bunch who came here to worship as they wanted.

That is partly true.

But it is also true it was the riches and freedom of the New World that enticed them.

But the greater story behind that “first” Thanksgiving in 1621 was a recognition they barely survived at all. And yes, the Native Americans not only participated in that three-day feast of Thanksgiving they were likewise instrumental in survival of that colony.

Our Westover ancestors certainly fit the mold of English Puritans. Gabriel Westover and family lived in Somerset, England, which was literally ground zero for the Puritan clashes against the Crown. Gabriel moved his family to the Netherlands, as many Puritans of that time and place did, just to protect them.

It was because of these conditions that Gabriel sent his teenage daughter, Jane, first to the New World and then a little later, he sent his son Jonah Westover, who would become the North American patriarch of the Westover family.

Jonah was very young when he arrived and the colony in Windsor was only a few years old. By then the traditions of Christmas and Thanksgiving were well established in Connecticut.

How do we know this?

The young media of the New World speaks of both celebrations. Much is made today of a proclamation in Boston banning Christmas but this did not actually occur until 1659. That happened nearly 40 years after the Mayflower.

So, what did they do during that time? They celebrated Christmas – albeit in a more devotional way than their English family was used to.

Christmas in England had become a raucous community event at the end of each year. It bled even into the Church of England where priests were guilty of role reversals, looking the other way at grievous sin, and participating in less-than-religious activities common to pagan celebrations of the solstice.

Christmas, in fact, was one of the reasons why the Puritans wanted out. They saw no Biblical justification for the celebration that Christmas was known as then.
But the Christmas they envisioned – one of worship, prayer and devotion – only became established due to one thing.

And that thing was Thanksgiving.

~ New England Traditions of Thanksgiving ~

Over the course of time after the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 there are recorded many events called Thanksgiving that happened up until about 1650.

It seems that around that time the end of November – harvest season – Thanksgiving found annual declaration by colony leaders.

This well-timed tradition for Puritan settlers gave them the more festive event they longed for. It was, in their own way, more like what Christmas was viewed as in Old England.
In other words, once the church meetings were over and the prayers were said, Thanksgiving was a time to party.

Well, as much as Puritans could party.

That meant gathering as family and feasting, playing games, enjoying music and other secular pursuits not commonly associated with the Church.

Hunting games were common and, yes, since turkeys were native and abundant, that is what they hunted.

But the Thanksgiving feast was never limited to turkey alone. Venison, chicken and even pork were prepared during periods of Thanksgiving.

Food then, as now, was central to festive times together as family. From 1630 comes this neat little poem, singing the praises of pumpkin, which has been linked to the Thanksgiving celebrations of New England from the earliest time:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we would be undoon.

It must be remembered that families were necessarily huge. A lot of children were born because survival was tough and required a lot of hands on the farm.

So an end-of-harvest event was a grand celebration in which family got together – perhaps for the only time during the year – and the duties of bringing and preparing food were shared.

These family gatherings were festive and could take several days.

It is important to note that Thanksgiving was considered a family event. Yes, a community might share a common date declared for Thanksgiving by a governor but rarely did one colony celebrate Thanksgiving at the same time as another.

But families got together when it best suited them – when all was safely gathered in and families were preparing for winter.

So the seasonal, end-of-harvest Thanksgiving was built on family tradition – not any kind of national calendar.

~ Thanksgiving during the 18th Century ~

While still a British territory in the 1700s the American colonies celebrated annual Thanksgiving “seasons” that were well noted in the local media.

A newspaper report from Philadelphia in 1754 estimated that the average family prepared at ate 10 pumpkin pies at Christmas. The same article said more than 2 million turkeys were consumed in a single day on the American Continent.


Such was the popularity and commonality of Thanksgiving during the pre-revolutionary years.

Ben Franklin had a lot to say about Thanksgiving. In fact, he is famous for once trying to electrocute a turkey for Thanksgiving.

For some reason, he believed a turkey killed with electricity would be tastier than one dispatched by conventional means: decapitation. As fellow scientist William Watson wrote in 1751, Franklin claimed that “birds kill’d in this manner eat uncommonly tender.”

Franklin set out to develop a standard procedure for preparing turkeys with static electricity collected in Leyden jars. One day, while performing a demonstration of the proper way to electrocute a turkey, he mistakenly touched the electrified wire intended for the turkey while his other hand was grounded, thereby diverting the full brunt of the turkey-killing charge into his own body.

Maybe this is why we roast turkeys in Franklin’s oven, instead of by electrocution.

Thanksgiving was declared a national observance by presidential proclamation from George Washington, John Adams, and even Thomas Jefferson.

It is important to note that Jefferson was uncomfortable with the whole idea of Thanksgiving. Not that he disagreed with the virtue of gratitude. His concerns stemmed from the idea of calling citizens to prayer and recognizing God.

As governor of Virginia and later as president he proclaimed Thanksgiving anyway, saying he was merely “recommending it”, not mandating it.

By Jefferson’s time Thanksgiving was a defacto national holiday. It was so engrained as an automatic thing there was no turning back from it.

That didn’t stop several from advocating for a national holiday known as Thanksgiving.

~ Thanksgiving in the 19th Century ~

The acknowledgement of Thanksgiving which would come later on a national scale was driven by people in the mid-19th century who grew up with those gathering traditions.

Such was the case of the creation of “Over the River and Through the Wood”, a popular Thanksgiving poem written in 1844.

Over the River

It was written by an extraordinary woman named Lydia Maria Child – decades before Christmas and Thanksgiving became recognized as official holidays. It is through her efforts and others that we know that Christmas and Thanksgiving were long traditions in North America.

Lydia Maria Child was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1802 she made her voice heard through the power of her pen. (Yes, we are related – she is a distant cousin, through the Snow line).

She was an accomplished writer, editor and civil rights activist – in the early 19th century. During her day she would be controversial and even daring in the eyes of some. In the 19th century man’s world she was a force that tackled the prickly topics of slavery, male dominance and white supremacy.

But while her individual story is fascinating, her simple poem teaches us much about what Thanksgiving was like in the early 19th century. It was, simply, the biggest family celebration of the year.

She is not the only American writer with an ancestral connection to Thanksgiving. Read this about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – and the common Alden ancestors we share through the Snow line.

Our pioneer ancestors in Utah adopted the same Thanksgiving celebrations they brought with them from generations before. The first “Thanksgiving” was held in August of 1848, though our Westover ancestors missed it by more than a month.

But Albert Smith was there and he had great reason to observe it. Albert famously recorded his efforts to farm on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley and he recorded the miracle of the seagulls that summer. His gratitude was well noted within the pages of his journal.

Utah didn’t recognize Thanksgiving until 1851, when Brigham Young, then-governor of the Utah Territory, declared Jan. 1, 1852, a “day of praise and Thanksgiving.”

We do not have any kind of family records (that we know about) that talk of celebrating Thanksgiving in those days.

But we know from tradition that spilled forward into the 20th century that the family had a long established tradition of gathering and feasting that continues to this day.


Westover Family History on the Mayflower

The year 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower. No doubt we will be hearing a lot of history related to this anniversary.

The pilgrim story of the Mayflower began in the summer of 1620. But after several false starts the actual voyage of the Mayflower did not get underway until September 6th. It took 66 days or until November 9th for the Mayflower to arrive.

Plymouth was never intended to be their destination. But given their late departure and the rough seas along the Atlantic coast of the New World they ended up deciding, on Christmas Day 1620, to make their Cape Cod landing site of Plymouth as the site of their permanent plantation.

Here are the direct line ancestors we can count who came on the Mayflower:

Will of William Mullins

The will of William Mullins

William Mullins (10th Great Grandfather) – via the Westover-Smith-Alden line

William was born in 1572. William brought his wife Alice and children Priscilla and Joseph on the Mayflower; he also brought over 250 shoes and 13 pairs of boots, his profession being a shoemaker. He died on 21 February 1620/1, during the first winter at Plymouth, as did his wife and son Joseph as well. His original will has survived, written down by John Carver the day of Mullins’ death. In it he mentions his wife Alice, children Priscilla and Joseph, and his children back in Dorking, William Mullins and Sarah Blunden.

Resolved White (10th Great Grandfather) – via the Westover-Riggs-Snow line

Grave Marker for Resolved White

Grave marker for Resolved White

He was born 9 September 1615 in England to William White (1590-1621) and Susanna Jackson (1592-1664.) He came to America on the Mayflower with his parents in 1620, being one of the children on board the Mayflower to survive.

The Whites are believed to have boarded the Mayflower as part of the London merchant group, and not as members of the Leiden Holland religious movement. He was raised by step-father Edward Winslow following the death of his father William and remarriage of his mother in 1621.

They moved to Marshfield in the 1630s and later moved to Scituate where he married Judith Vassall, the daughter of William and Ann King Vassal. Resolved White moved his family back to Marshfield in the early 1660s and Judith died and was buried there on 3 April 1670. Resolved then remarried to widowed Abigal Lord in 1674 in Salem. He was a soldier in King Philip’s War of 1676, and became a freeman in Salem in 1680, before moving back to Marshfield a couple years later. He married Judith Vasssal 8 April 1640 at Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts.

John Alden (9th Great Grandfather) – via the Westover-Smith-Alden line

John  Alden house

Marker on the John Alden house

John Alden was born in England about 1599 and died 12 September 1687 at the age of 88 or 89 Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts.. He was a cooper by trade and hired on as a “Mayflower” crew member in that capacity at Southampton. The conditions of employment permitted him to either remain in America or return as a crew member to England. He chose to remain in the New World. He was one of the forty one signers of the Mayflower Compact.

It is said that John Alden was the first Mayflower passenger to set foot on Plymouth Rock. He was also one of the founders of the Plymouth Colony and the seventh signer of the Mayflower Compact. Distinguished for practical wisdom, integrity and decision, he acquired and retained a commanding influence over his associates. Employed in public business he became the Governor’s Assistant, the Duxbury Deputy to the General Court of Plymouth, a member under arms of Capt. Miles Standish’s Duxbury Company, a member of Council of War, Treasurer of Plymouth Colony, and Commissioner to Yarmouth.

Priscilla Mullins (9th Great Grandmother) – via the Westover-Smith-Alden line

Priscilla Mullins was born probably near Guildford or Dorking, co. Surrey, England, to William Mullins. She came on the Mayflower to Plymouth in 1620 with her father, brother Joseph, and mother Alice. Her family, herself excepted, died the first winter. She was shortly thereafter, 12 May 1623, married to John Alden, the Mayflower’s cooper, who had decided to remain at Plymouth rather than return to England with the ship.They John and Priscilla lived in Plymouth until the late 1630s, when they moved north to found the neighboring town of Duxbury. John and Priscilla would go on to have ten children, most of whom lived to adulthood and married. They have an enormous number of descendants living today.

The romance of John and Priscilla Alden was made famous in later years. You can read about that here.

Edward Winslow (11th Great Uncle) – via the Westover-Riggs-Snow line

Edward Winslow

Edward Winslow

Almost everything we know about the first Thanksgiving comes from a letter written by Edward Winslow written in December of 1621.

Born in England in 1595 Winslow moved to Holland in 1617 where he united with John Robinson’s church at Leiden, and in 1620 he was one of the Mayflower pilgrims who emigrated to New England. His first wife, Elizabeth (Barker) Winslow, died soon after their arrival at Plymouth. In May 1621 he married Mrs. Susanna White, the mother of Peregrine White (1620–1704), who was the first child born among the New England colonists. Winslow’s marriage to Susanna White was the first in New England.

Winslow was delegated by his associates to deal with the Indians in the vicinity (the Wampanoag) and succeeded in winning the friendship of their chief, Massasoit. He served as a member of the governor’s council from 1624 to 1647, except in 1633–34, 1636–37, and 1644–45, when he was governor of the colony. In 1643 he was one of the commissioners of the United Colonies of New England and on several occasions was sent to England to represent the interests of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies.

Winslow was a figure that was featured prominently in William Bradford’s journal and there is much written history about the man to be explored.

The Westovers are related to Edward Winslow via his brother, Kenelm Winslow who didn’t come to Plymouth until 1632. He had been delayed in part because he was living in London learning a trade. He was a joiner, which means he could make cabinets, coffins and other furniture by cleverly joining the wood without the use of any nails. This was obviously a useful trade that could provide him an adequate living in the colony, especially as there were not many other accomplished joiners in the early years.

John Howland (11th Great Uncle) – via the Begich-Welty-Carson line

John Howland was born about 1599, probably in Fenstanton, Huntington. He came on the Mayflower in 1620 as a manservant for Governor John Carver. During the Mayflower’s voyage, Howland fell overboard during a storm, and was almost lost at sea–but luckily for his millions of descendants living today (including Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt) he managed to grab ahold of the topsail halyards, giving the crew enough time to rescue him with a boathook.

It has been traditionally reported that John Howland was born about 1592, based on his reported age at death in the Plymouth Church Records. However, ages at death were often overstated, and that is clearly the case here. John Howland came as a servant for John Carver, which means he was under 25 years old at the time (i.e. he was born after 1595). William Bradford, in the falling-overboard incident, refers to Howland as a “lusty young man”, a term that would not likely have applied to a 28-year old given that Bradford himself was only 30–Bradford did call 21-year old John Alden a “young man” though. Howland’s wife Elizabeth was born in 1607: a 32-year old marrying a 17-year old is an unlikely circumstance. Howland’s last child was born in 1649: a 57-year old Howland would be an unlikely father. All these taken together demonstrate that Howland’s age was likely overstated by at least 5 years. Since he signed the Mayflower Compact, we can assume he was probably about 21 in 1620, so the best estimate for his birth would be about 1599.
John Howland had several brothers who also came to New England, namely Henry Howland (an ancestor to both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford) and Arthur Howland (an ancestor to Winston Churchill).

Our connection comes from his brother, Henry Howland, my 11th great grandfather, who came to the Plymouth Colony with his brother Arthur either in the ship Fortune c.1621 or on the ship Anne with William Pierce as Master c.1623.

The earliest Massachusetts record for Henry Howland is in the allotment of cattle in Plymouth in 1624, where he appears as owner of the “black cow.” He was made a freeman in 1633. He was an early settler in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was one of the largest land holders in there, and was chosen constable in 1635.

In 1640 Henry purchased five acres of upland and an acre of marsh meadow in Duxbury, the price paid being “twelve bushells of Indian Corne.” For several years he was surveyor of highways in the town, and for nine years served on the grand jury, but in 1657 he refused to serve further on the grand inquest, apparently because he had become a Quaker and could not conscientiously perform the duties required of him.

The law against heretics in general was first enforced against the Friends, and then special laws were enacted against them. A fine of 5 pounds or a whipping was the penalty for entertaining them, and for attending their meetings one was liable to a fine of 2 pounds.

Thereafter he was persecuted by the authorities of the Colony. On the 3rd of June 1657, Ralph Allen, Sr. of Sandwich refused to serve on the grand jury, and at the next session of the court three days later he was brought before the jury for entertaining Quakers, fined and imprisoned. Within a few weeks Henry Howland, his brother Arthur, and his son Zoeth met the same fate. On 2 March 1657/58, the same day that his brother Arthur was fined £4 for permitting a Quaker meeting in his house and £5 for resisting the constable of Marshfield in the execution of his office, Henry Howland was fined ten shillings for entertaining a meeting of Quakers in his house contrary to court orders.

Henry owned land in Dartmouth in 1652. In the original purchase of Dartmouth, he is assigned one share with William Bassett. Henry was one of the original twenty-seven purchasers of what is now Freetown, Mass., and finally ended his days in Duxbury.

King Bluetooth of Denmark

King Bluetooth of Denmark

I am about to change your life.

Hence forth, every time you pair an earpiece to your cell or a Bluetooth speaker to your smart phone, you will think of your ancient Norse grandfather, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

King Harald Bluetooth of DenmarkYou can call him King Harald or, as many did in his time, simply, Bluetooth.

Our relation to King Harald comes though the Murdock line – which flows through Ruth Althea Rowe Westover, wife to our William.

King Harald was king of Denmark and Norway way back in the 10th century, some 34 generations along our family lines. He is most famous for uniting the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway and for bringing Christianity to those regions during his reign.

What might we find in common with a European king?

Both Harald and his father, known as King Gorm the Old, founded the Jelling Stones.

These large boulders reside in the Denmark town of Jelling, where Harald was born.

Jelling Stone

Carved upon these massive rocks is a monument to the history of Denmark, marking the conversion of Denmark from Norse paganism to Christianity.

The stone put up by Gorm the Old tells the story of conversion in Denmark and the stone put up by Harald commemorates his parents, Gorm the Old and Thyra, his mother.

Imagine that! Some 34 generations and better than a thousand years separate us but even back then we have family doing family history.

The conversion of Harald to Christianity is legendary and, of course, is accompanied by a minor miracle.

He was taught by a priest named Poppa who challenged Harald to prove his faith in Christ. This Harald did by carrying a “great weight” of iron heated by fire without being burned.

This event, coupled with his own baptism, led Harald to exhume the bodies of his parents, who were buried in large earthen mounds that contained worldly treasures, after the pagan practices of tradition in Denmark.

He had their bodies reburied next to a church and then had the runestone in Jelling carved in their memory.

Runestones are large rocks with runic inscription that memorialize an event or important people.

They were a tradition for the 4th to the 12th centuries in Scandinavia. It was a way of marking history in the most permanent way possible. (Runes are symbols or letters commonly used on runestones. They derived from ancient Germanic languages that pre-dates the Latin alphabet).

As with many European kings of these generations King Harald spent much of his time in battle, defending his kingdom.

It was there that he was more commonly known as King Harald Bluetooth. Historians surmise that Harald must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that gave him the nickname. Some think Harold’s blue tooth came from eating too many blueberries or licorice.

Whatever – he had a blue tooth and it set him apart.

bluetoothIn 1997 the Bluetooth wireless standard was named after King Harald Bluetooth.

The technology was designed to unify different kinds of devices, much as King Harald Bluetooth united Denmark and Norway.

The modern Bluetooth logo is a combination of the two runic symbols for Harald’s initials, H and B.

Below is how we trace our genealogy to King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark:

34. (911) Harald Bluetooth Gormsson of Denmark/Queen Gynrith of Sweden (Denmark)
33. (967) Thorgil Sprakling/Sigrid Haraldsdottir (Sweden)
32. (980) Ulf Thorgilsson/Princess of Denmark Estrid Svendsdatter (Denmark)
31. (1022) Roger II de Montgomery/Mabel Talvas Belleme (France)
30. (1030) Eadnoth the Constable/Rissa De Montgomery (England)
29. (1048) Harding Mayor of Bristol/Livida de Meriet (England)
28. (1095) Robert FitzHarding/Eva Fitz Edmund (England)
27. (1130) Maurice FitzRobert/ Alice de Berkeley (England)
26. (1170) Thomas de Berkeley/ Joan de Somery (England)
25. (1218) Maurice de Berkeley/ Isabella Dover (England)
24. (1245) Thomas de Berkeley/Joan de Ferrers (England)
23. (1271) Sir Maurice de Berkeley/Eva la Zouche (England)
22. (1298) Maurice de Berkeley/Margaret De Vere (England)
21. (1331) Sir Thomas de Berkeley II/Katherine de Bottelcurt (England)
20. (1358) Sir Maurice Berkeley/Joan Dinham (England)
18. (1400) Maurice Berkeley (England)
17. (1433) William Berkeley Sir Knight/Anne Stafford (England)
16. (1470) Sir Richard Berkeley/Elizabeth Coningsby (England)
15. (1505) Sir Knight Maurice Berkeley/Katherine Blount (England)
14. (1550) Sir Francis Berkeley/Catherine Cusack (England)
13. (1592) George Crofton/Elizabeth Berkeley (Ireland)
12. (1631) John Crofton/Sarah Crofton (Ireland)
11. (1660) William Knox/Elizabeth Crofton (Ireland)
10. (1691) William Knox/Elizabeth (Scotland)
9. (1719) John Knox/Rachel Freeland (Massachusetts, USA)
8. (1739) James Campbell/Jane Knox (Massachusetts, USA)
7. (1779) William M. Campbell/ Elizabeth Curry (Pennsylvania, USA)
6. (1800) Levi Murdock/Elisabeth Campbell (Utah, USA)
5. (1826) William Rowe/Elizabeth Murdock (Utah, USA)
4. (1861) William R. Westover/Ruth Althea Rowe (Idaho, USA)
3. (1895) Arnold R. Westover/Mary Ann Smith (Washington, USA)
2. (1915) Leon A. Westover/Maurine Riggs (California, USA)
1. (1943) Kyle J. Westover/Susanne C. Begich (Utah, USA)
0. (1963) Me (Utah, USA)