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.

Edward Griswold

Henry Wadsworth LongfellowLast year I shared with you a family history connection we have with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – great American poet and truly one of the “rock stars” of the 19th century.

We share with Longfellow the common ancestors of John and Priscilla Alden.

Another common ancestor we share is “The Deacon”, as Longfellow referred to him in his famous poem, The Birds of Killingworth.

Cousin Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is famous for a lot of things.

He was very educated. He spoke ten languages and studied dozens more. He was not only a poet but also a famous educator, teaching for a time at Harvard.

His published works not only showcased his knowledge of history and literature but they reflected well his sensitive nature about things as personal as love and family.

As an artist, both then and now, he has had to endure the barbs of critics who felt his works were frequently too romanticized and filled with fantasy.

I’m no critic. I’m also no expert on the high-minded world of poetry. I cannot write it, much less understand it well when I read it.

But in studying the life of Longfellow I do know this: he knew his family history, whether talking about John Alden or The Deacon.

The Birds of Killingworth is a poem set in the very real village of Killingworth, Connecticut – a very important place in early American Westover family history.

It was, for a time, home to Jonah Westover, the first Westover in the New World.

In the poem the story is told of a town meeting held in Killingworth where the farmers implore town leaders to do something about the birds that were feasting on the farmers’ crops.

Even as the songs of those same birds wafted through the windows of the old church where the meeting was held the argument was made to kill the birds.

The town elders were riled up. The Squire, the Parson, and the Deacon were there, which gave weight to the proceedings.

Of the Deacon, Longfellow described him like this:

And next the Deacon issued from his door,
In his voluminous neck-cloth, white as snow;
A suit of sable bombazine he wore;
His form was ponderous, and his step was slow;
There never was so wise a man before;
He seemed the incarnate “Well, I told you so!”
And to perpetuate his great renown
There was a street named after him in town.

Arguments were made in the debate from every side but for the birds, well, “Hardly a friend in all that crowd they found”.

The town voted to kill the birds and as the poet tells the story they came to regret it. Without the birds the worms took over the crops and the insects devoured most of the grain and the leaves on the trees, leaving the fruit to be scorched by the sun.

The farmers and the town indeed learned the lesson of that balance to nature that the birds provided.

Many interpretations of this famous poem do not recognize Killingworth as a real place.

But Longfellow did.

Killingworth was a stopping point for Longfellow in his travels when he wrote The Birds of Killingworth in 1863. Why was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Killingworth, Connecticut?

Because he knew it as an ancestral homeland.

If Longfellow knew anything, it was his family history.

His father was a lawyer and his maternal grandfather was a general in the American revolution as well as a member of Congress. Longfellow knew he was descended of at least four Mayflower Pilgrims.

When he was 15 he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – a college founded by his grandfather and his father was a trustee of the institution.

Longfellow was taught his family history and used his knowledge of his ancestors in many of his most famous works. They inspired him – even the Deacon.

The Deacon was Edward Griswold, town father of Killingworth, Connecticut and father to Hannah Griswold Westover, wife of Jonah Westover, the first male Westover in America.

Griswold was born in 1607 in Kenilworth, England, from which the name Killingworth is derived. He was born in a family rich in English history and famous for providing greyhounds for the King. He was educated and his family was connected.

Edward Griswold married in 1629 and with his wife Margaret had about five children before immigrating to the New World in 1639.

Edward brought with him younger brothers Michael, Francis and Matthew, all who would make historic contributions to the history of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Edward quickly became prominent in the affairs of Windsor, Connecticut. He served as Deputy to the General Court from Windsor and was also Justice of the Peace of Windsor prior to 1663.

He was granted land from the King in Poquonoc (now Groton), about 4 miles west of Windsor, in 1642, but he didn’t move there until after the Indians were gone from the area. When it was safe, they settled the area with the families of John Bartlett and Thomas Holcomb in 1649.

His brothers Francis and George came to settle there soon after. His homestead consisted of 29.5 acres, bounded at the east by the Poquonoc River, the south and west-northwest by Stony Brook.

The house stood on the hill just to the north of the main road. Because of the potential dangers of the wilderness, the families were relieved of military duty so long as there was always a man available to stand as sentinel.

In 1663 Griswold was appointed to a committee charged with developing a new area near a place called Saybrook.

KillingworthIt took some time but within a few years Griswold had moved his family there, including new son-in-law Jonah Westover and his family. He helped to charter the foundation of a Church there and was named Deacon. In 1667 he was named deputy of Killingworth, a position he held nearly up to the time of his death.

Over the course of his years there Griswold was influential in nearly every major civic action, collecting properties and settling claims with other area pioneers.

Edward and Margaret had at least a dozen children. As such, Edward sits as head of a very large family tree, with some 20 million plus people in his downline. As a prominent individual with fairly well documented history there literally thousands who have been working on his history.

I also believe, given his ties to the Puritan movement, that Edward Griswold had a very large influence upon the children of others.

I cannot prove it but I strongly suspect his ties to Jonah Westover pre-date the marriage of his daughter Hannah to Jonah. The year of their immigration and the year of Jonah’s ascension as a married man, a Freeman, and a property owner coincide very closely with the movements of Edward Griswold.

I believe Edward Griswold was as much a step-father and mentor to Jonah Westover as father-in-law. Their lives were that closely aligned. In both Simsbury and in Killingworth the Westovers were also neighbors to the Griswolds.

I don’t think Longfellow was plagued much by imagination in his poetry. I believe he educated himself on history of both places and individuals.

In fact, The Birds of Killingworth stirred the suspicions of experts long after Longfellow’s death. What was his inspiration?, they wondered.

“The Birds of Killingworth” is the only episode in Tales of a Wayside Inn that Longfellow had not adapted from an older textual source.

For many years readers suggested that Longfellow might have likewise based this tale, describing the massacre of pestilent birds by the citizens of the town in Connecticut, on some forgotten legend or historical incident.

Shortly after Longfellow’s death a literary sleuth wondered whether the tale originated on the other side of the Atlantic, since Killingworth got its name from Kenilworth, in England. One person even went to great lengths to write the town clerk in Kenilworth, England to see if ever there was a town vote about killing birds. None was found.

Nobody in the 19th century seemed to make the connection of Longfellow to Killingworth, though they never stopped trying.

In 1890 a publication called American Notes and Queries published a letter from Longfellow’s brother Samuel, who claimed that he found a newspaper clipping reporting a debate in the Connecticut legislature upon a bill offering a bounty upon the heads of birds believed to be injurious to the state’s farmers. It was from this not-so-famous debate that it was concluded that Longfellow had to have used it as his inspiration for the famous poem.

We know now that had little to do with it. Killingworth was a personal connection for Longfellow. While the story of the birds has no known basis in historical fact the characters within the poem were strikingly real when compared to what is known about Killingworth history — and Longfellow history (and, by extention, our history).

On Longfellow’s 100th birthday in 1907 journalist William E. A. Axon reported in The Nation that, a year before Longfellow died, he had written to him, asking “whether this narrative had any basis of fact or was merely the fantasy of a poetic brain”— and the great poet himself had replied:

The poem is founded on fact. Killingworth is a farming town, on Long Island Sound…of course, the details of the poem are my own invention, but it has substantial foundation of fact.

That fact was family.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family.

Today, the 9th of June, I received an email from FamilySearch.org reminding me that my 7th great grandfather, Jeremiah Drake I, would be celebrating his 312th birthday.

It is not often that I cannot immediately make the connection between myself and a name on our tree. But for the life of me I couldn’t remember which line the Drakes came through.

Confusing to me even more was a memory of someone telling me that we’re related to Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer of the oceans who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

DrakesSo I had to go look, if anything to properly celebrate the birthday of Grandpa Jeremiah. After all, he’s waited a long time, eh?

So I went to FamilySearch to look at his profile and to no surprise it is mostly empty – there is nothing there other than his June 9th birthday in 1707 and his death in 1759. He lived to be 52 years old, got married and had five kids. End of story, right?

Wrong. Catching my eye was the fact that Jeremiah was born in Piscataway, NJ. I had to laugh a little at that fact. In my present employment I manage a number of projects in New Jersey – Piscataway, Woodbridge Village, Rahway, etc. What are the odds that I would have a grandfather from there?

I began to wonder if the Drake family had anything to do with the founding of Piscataway. 312 years is a long time. Just how old is Piscataway anyway? And where did that name come from? And how am I related to Jeremiah Drake again?

I read this email from FamilySearch, by the way, at about 1 am.

Going down these paths to research a little family history is what makes for sleepless nights. Did I really want to do this?

Yeah, I did.

The first thing I did was to discover our connection. I was surprised to learn it came through my Westover line.

Ruth Althea Rowe Westover – wife of William Westover, born in 1861 – can claim Jeremiah Drake as her 3rd great grandfather.

That means all descendants of William and Ruth have Jeremiah Drake as a grandfather.

Ruth’s grandparents – David and Hannah Rowe – came from Ohio before heading west to Utah. While in Ohio, David and Hannah were strong Baptists. Hannah Rowe’s maiden name was Manning, which is quite a famous last name in the history of the Baptist church in the US. Hannah, coincidentally, was born in Piscataway.

Her father was a Baptist minister hailing from Piscataway. His name was Enoch Manning. Enoch was ordained a minister by his father, Joseph Manning, who was also from Piscataway. Joseph was married to Martha Drake, daughter to our Jeremiah Drake – also from Piscataway.

Martha was named after her mother, Martha Dunn. Remember that name, Martha Dunn. We’ll get back to her in a minute.

If you research the Rowe line on the tree on FamilySearch you will see names like Manning, Dunn, Martin, Fitz Randolph and Drake all tied together by one place: Piscataway, NJ.

In my mind the next question was this: Could it be possible that family would have something to do with the founding of Piscataway, New Jersey?

Um, yeah.

Piscataway, New Jersey is one of the first 50 towns established in the British Colonies.

In 1664 King Charles II (remember him?) gave his brother James, the Duke of York, the land that would later be known as Piscataway.

The Duke later gave that land to two of his friends and one of them appointed a cousin, Philip Carteret, as governor of New Jersey.

A grant was then given by the governor to settlers in New Hampshire, who were none too pleased with how they were being treated in the Puritan community they lived in there.

One of these settlers was a man named Francis Drake – grandfather to our Jeremiah Drake.

Who was Francis Drake?

No, he’s not Sir Francis Drake but he is Captain Francis Drake.

Our Francis Drake was born in 1615 in England to Robert Drake, a fairly wealthy and connected “sergemaker”.

Robert Drake was a contemporary to Sir Francis Drake’s brother, Thomas. Thomas was given the estate of Sir Francis Drake upon his death. Robert Drake is believed to be related to another Robert Drake, who was famously burned at the stake in 1556 for his religious defiance. When asked by a priest to renounce his faith Robert Drake of 1566 said, “As for your Church of Rome, I utterly deny its works and defy its power, even as I deny the devil and defy all his works”.

That passion for religion seems to be a family trait. The next several generations of Drakes were driven by their religion.

So how did Francis Drake come to America?

It appears he came to New Hampshire with his parents around 1640. They were Puritans.

His father, Robert, was a sergemaker – which is described as a kind of textile producer – who became a shop keeper in Hampton, New Hampshire, selling fabrics he brought over from England.

Robert Drake was father to many children.

It is said that two of his older sons – Nathaniel and John Drake – came ahead of Robert and his younger children, including Francis Drake. They settled in an area near Piscataqua River in New Hampshire.

Politically, this part of New Hampshire was part of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Company even though many of the early settlers in that area were Baptists and Quakers.

Those religious differences wormed their way into families – including the Drake family. While the Puritans fled England due to religious persecution it proved as well to be a challenge to them on the other side in coming to the New World.

As such, many living in this mixed religious base of New Hampshire felt harassed by the combined forces of Puritan church and state and began looking for a way out through a new frontier.

That new frontier came from the land grant by Governor Carteret given to four men disaffected in New Hampshire.

After a falling out with his Puritan father Robert over religion, new Baptist Francis Drake followed the original four settlers of what would come to be known as Piscataway, NJ and he was granted 245 acres there.

It was there that Francis married, raised a family, became a surveyor, opened a tavern and served in local government and as captain of the local militia (thus the name Captain Francis Drake that you see on FamilySearch).

The many children of Francis and Mary Drake were all Baptists.

In fact, they were prolific Baptists. Their names are associated with nearly a dozen Baptist churches in New Jersey and the most famous descendant of Francis ended up being Reverend John Drake, who founded the Stelton Baptist Church as the First Baptist Society of Piscataway.

The children and grandchildren of Captain Francis Drake also had huge families. And they served in the militia. Captain George Drake, the son of Captain Francis Drake, had 17 children. One of them was Captain Andrew Drake, who was married to Hannah Fitz Randolph and had 15 children, including our grandfather, Jeremiah Drake.

Not much is really known about Jeremiah – except that he was born in Piscataway, he was a Drake and he was very Baptist.

He married Martha Dunn. Who was Martha Dunn?

Martha appears to be a lot like Jeremiah. She was born in Piscataway, she was a Dunn, and she was very Baptist.

Martha was the fourth child of Hugh Dunn, Jr and Elizabeth Martin of Piscataway. Both the Dunns and the Martins had a big history in Piscataway long before Martha was born.

Her grandfather, also named Hugh Dunn, was famous for his piety and his singular devotion to the Baptist faith. Hugh Dunn Sr. was married to…Elizabeth Drake.

Elizabeth’s father was…Captain Francis Drake.

So our Jeremiah was a great grandson of Captain Francis Drake…and his wife Martha was a great grand daughter of Captain Francis Drake. Cousins!

So it was destiny, I suppose, that they would remain in New Jersey and raise their family among the Baptists.

They had a daughter, whom they dutifully named Martha Drake.

This Martha Drake would grow up to marry…a Baptist minister.

Joseph Manning was the son of a Baptist preacher and grandson to James Manning, who was president of a Baptist college in Rhode Island.

Hannah ManningThat brings us to Hannah Manning – born in Piscataway, New Jersey – grandmother to Ruth Althea Rowe Westover.

What does this late night adventure into the 312th birthday of an ancestor teach us?

It teaches us that we have a 500 year history through the Drake line of very real religious independence. It teaches us that the cords of religion and family both unite and divide. It teaches that faith is a dominating part of life.

It also teaches that faith stokes the fires of liberty. The Drakes, the Mannings, the Dunns, the Martins and all others associated with the broader family in New Jersey were patriots. They fought in the Revolution and they escaped the religious persecution in Old England.

Though we lack details of much of their lives we do not lack their lessons.

Christmas

In my world there are three seasons: baseball, Christmas and family history. These three things are a backdrop to my life as a husband, father, son, and grandfather.

It might be a bit unfair to call them seasons because for me none of them really begin and end. I always seem to be engaged in something connected to each of them. But rarely do those worlds ever collide.

Today they do in that I want to address Christmas of our forefathers and just what it was like for them.

My interest in Christmas is purely accidental. I was raised in a home where Christmas was grandly celebrated but it wasn’t until I became an instant father to the only 5 year old in the world who didn’t know of Santa Claus that I became something of a Christmas historian.

Knowing we wanted to have a large family, one of my first parental challenges was convincing Aubree that Christmas Eve did not mean opening presents. To me the future Christmas Eves of our family would be wrongfully spent if I didn’t straighten this out.

It took a letter to Santa, a response from an elf, and the daily magic of a dispatch from the North Pole via a fax machine to make that happen. Aubree ended up taking these faxes with her to school, spreading them around as kind of a jolly missionary and getting other kids to bug parents to call me so they could get the faxes for their children too.

Before long we were faxing all over town, then across the country, and later to different parts of the world every Christmas.

It was getting expensive until I discovered the Internet and put the effort online through a network of websites. Today MyMerryChristmas.com is one of the largest Christmas websites online and SantaUpdate.com is the oldest Santa tracking venue on the Internet.

Christmas brings people together. I was amazed in the early 1990s that people would fax Santa back sometimes to things that were mentioned in his updates.

They just wanted to share and they wanted to ask their own questions about Christmas. I learned long before social media ever came around how powerful the Internet could be in connecting people. I learned it through the backdrop of Christmas as we built our websites and developed our online skills.

As it has expanded I have had to continually study the history of the season. This did not begin as a joy to me but it became such when I saw that the work of being able to explain Christmas and share its history, traditions, legends and celebration would give me friends around the world.

This accidental endeavor has also given voice to my testimony of the Savior and an outlet to share the gospel of Christ in a different way.

It has given me as well a number of skills relative to research that has served other parts of my life, especially my work in family history. The ability to find facts, discover stories and present more in-depth information is vital to the work of sharing anything online.

Christmas, like most things, is different than people suppose because they are exposed to limited histories in school courses or agenda-driven history through modern media and movies.

For example, historians tell us that Christmas was dead in England before Charles Dickens produced A Christmas Carol. We know that is false.

Christmas was at the epicenter of debate for our Puritan Westover ancestors in Taunton, England in the 1500s and 1600s.

The dark ages has so corrupted the Church of England – and Christmas – that the season literally became a dangerous time to be on the streets.

Christmas was a free-for-all celebration by this point. It was a time where roving gangs had hijacked the quaint and neighborly tradition of wassailing and turned it into an opportunity to rob and plunder.

In many areas the priests of the church contributed to the misrule by allowing the pagan elements of winter solstice celebrations to continue. Role reversal was common as the “boy bishop” would take over the church and the priests would join the masses in the excess of partying.

These were seasons of riotous parties, widespread gambling and drinking, excesses in feasting, decorating and violence in the streets against non-participants, the aged and handicapped. There was widespread destruction of property and even sexual dalliances that would later be excused by the very priests who engaged in them.

The pre-Dickens Christmas was one of the many reasons for the Puritan uprising in England – and it had a profound effect on our family history.

When Jonah Westover began his family in Simsbury, Connecticut it is doubtful that he even celebrated Christmas. The Puritans of Boston very clearly banned Christmas for more than 50 years as the colonies of New England were established.

That is not to suggest, however, that Christmas was not celebrated at all.

While Governor Bradford himself recorded the story of chastising Puritan citizens found on the street on Christmas Day up to no good by playing games the fact of the matter was that while he could suppress the celebration of Christmas he could not entirely extinguish it.

Within the early American journals and media of the time there are evidences of family gatherings and private worship that occurred at Christmas even in Simsbury during the 1600s.

In fact, the idea of a “holiday season” was born of New England tradition. While Christmas may not have been a headline event Thanksgiving surely was.

It was our Puritan ancestors who developed the all American tradition of “pumpkin pye” and going over-the-river and through the woods to Grandfather’s house.

Thanksgiving then was a time declared by the governor or other royal authority. It usually came after a victory at war or some other great event that affected everyone. Thanksgiving could come at any time of the year and it was declared a time of public prayer and acknowledgement of God.

During these times there was no such thing as a “holiday” – or a day off.

That is why when the declaration of Thanksgiving went out by royal decree it became a big deal. Working for that day was out, worship was commanded and normal activity ceased to focus on whatever the reason.

Often the reason was a bounteous harvest.

The “first Thanksgiving”, as taught in grade school and on television in Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving, was definitely the real deal. It happened. Maybe it didn’t happen exactly as we have been taught with turkey and all but it definitely happened.

And it repeated itself as a societal tradition year after year.

The reason is quite plain. The end of the harvest meant the onset of winter. And winter brought a change in routine and a great increase of disposable time. It was the one time of the year when family could finally gather at all. It is no wonder that it became celebratory in nature.

Our New England ancestors of the Westover family surely engaged in the reveling of the pumpkin pie. Newspaper clippings from the 1700s suggest that it was common to bake and consume at least 10 pumpkin pies per household at Thanksgiving.

That’s a lot of love for pumpkin – and an indication of how large their gatherings were.

In 1630, a writer wrote:

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.

Nearly a century later, the now-established American tradition of gathering family and celebrating with pumpkin pie was written of in this way:

Ah! On Thanksgiving Day, when from East and from West,
From the North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the grey-haired New Englander sees round his board,
The old broken link of affection restored.
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin Pie?

Over time, as New England populated away from the busy centers of Boston, diversity fractured the Christian church landscape.

Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and Universalists all celebrated Christmas but did so in different ways. Almost all were very different from the Christmases of their grandfathers in merry old England.

But their religion melded with their lifestyle of survival. It was a life of farming and hunting, of building, gathering and forging with steel, copper and other metal.

Caught up in it all were the principles of liberty and the fierce American spirit of Independence. Jonathan Westover, brother to grandfather Jonah Westover, Jr, moved the Westover clan to Sheffield, Massachusetts.

As a founder of the community he played a part in the establishment of a church there. He took a dim view of a forced fee proposed for all town citizens in order to pay the priest of the Church. That was the tradition and he wanted no part of it. He would not do it by force, he claimed he would do it “in a gospel way”.

The early churches of New England varied widely from the churches known from the past. Even when John Westover, the son of Jonah, Jr, became the clerk of the Church of England in Sheffield what that church was in 1750 was far different than the Church of England his great-grandfather, Gabriel Westover, fought against three generations before.

The Church of England in Sheffield celebrated Christmas and the Westovers of the mid-18th century were big participants.

Religion was a contentious subject because the growing farming communities of western Massachusetts were continually infused with more people from different countries. It was the German farmers who brought the traditions of the Christmas tree to America in the early 1700s and this tradition was happily adopted by nearly all New Englanders over the next 100 years.

George Washington saw the first Christmas trees in his life when fighting Hessian mercenaries on Christmas of 1776.

Washington was a Southerner who very famously celebrated Christmas. As the heir of a large landowner Washington was land rich and as such was basically American aristocracy. His Christmas traditions included sending away to Europe for the latest in fashions for gifts and large holiday parties at Mount Vernon.

He saw a very different Christmas leading the American Revolution in areas north of his Virginia plantation. Amongst his many troops were the Westover brothers of Massachusetts.

It was Washington’s Christmas at Valley Forge that taught him the mindset of the Northern Christmas. It was clearly a tradition of his New England troops, one held in the highest esteem.

But if we’re looking for the details of our ancestral Christmas in abundance we need look no further than our family of the 19th century.

That will be discussed in our next post to come out later this week.

My great grandfather is Arnold Westover. He married Mary Ann Smith.

Both the Westovers and Smiths have great histories. You will learn a lot more about the Smiths in an upcoming video about another Utah pioneer named Albert Smith, of Manti, Utah.

But for now I want to focus on his great grandfather, a man with one of the great names in the family, Chileab Smith.

Albert’s history speaks of his Ashfield, Massachusetts roots and the strong religious history of the family in the Baptist faith.

Chileab was the man in Ashfield, hugely influential and a founder of the Baptist church there.

When he died at the age of 93 in the year 1800 he had at that time 145 living descendants – eleven of them were Baptist ministers and ten others had married ministers – at least when they stopped counting in the 1850s.

(Just one, our Albert Smith, was once a resident of Nauvoo, a member of the Mormon Battalion, and a temple pioneer. What a rebel).

Anyway, I was reading this morning yet another history of Sheffield, Massachusetts — looking for a little new information about our Revolutionary war generations of that area.

But in reading again of the founding of Sheffield – and the contributions there made by Jonathan, Nathaniel, Jonah and John Westover – I can across the name of another area settler in the 1730s.

His name was Chileab Smith.

Could it actually be possible that the grandfathers of Arnold Westover and Mary Ann Smith were actually neighbors in settling Sheffield, Massachusetts? Could they have possibly known each other?

The answers: yes and yes.

Chileab Smith and John Westover sat on a town council together, it turns out.

But wait…there’s more: Chileab Smith married a woman named Sarah Moody.

Where have we seen that name Moody before? Well…Moody was the maiden name of Electa Beal Westover’s mother.

(You following all this?)

So…is it possible that Chileab’s wife is related to Arnold Westover’s great-great-grandmother?

I haven’t solved this one yet. Sorting through all the Sarah Moody’s in New England of the 18th century is like trying to find a Wong in a Chinese phone book.

But nothing shocks me anymore.

This is a good genealogical mystery to solve. It all hinges on who the parents of Daniel Moody are.

Who is Daniel Moody?

He’s Electa’s grandpa.

Daniel and Rebeckah Moody were parents to Rebecca Moody, who married Obadiah Beal. Electa was their sixth child.

Oh…if you’re still following along with this…here’s another mystery to solve:

Obadiah Beal was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts (say that fast) but moved at some point to northern Vermont, not far from the Canadian border.

It was there, I believe, that the Beals and the Amos Westover family came to know each other. This was around the year 1800. Alexander was born in 1798 – likely in Canada – and Electa was born in 1802 in Bristol, Vermont (not far away).

Curiously, the Beals and the Westovers somehow both next appear near each other in Ohio – in about 1810 or so.

Alexander and Electa would marry in 1823. In Ohio.

Electa had several older siblings, including a big brother named…Daniel. His full name was Daniel Moody Beal. (Named after guess who?)

Just to add to your confusion…big brother Daniel married a girl named Olive Westover. Who was Olive? She was Alexander’s little sister.

Want more?

How about this one: Amos Westover – Alexander’s Dad – married Ruth Loomis.

Her parents were Timothy Loomis and Mary Morton.

Where have we seen that name Morton before?

Well, Amos’s mother – Rachel – her maiden name was Morton.

Yep – Rachel and Mary are sisters – making Amos and Ruth first cousins.

It’s a wonder any of us were not born with six heads.

(By the way, if you want to dig into the early history of Sheffield to see the link between Chileab and John, click here). It is “Western Massachusetts, a History 1636-1925” Volume II, published in 1926.