Earlier this year I was contacted by an individual working on a project related to the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike associated with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Her goal was to share the history of residents local to Cache Valley who worked the railroad after it was completed. One such individual was John Henry Westover, son of Ann Findley and Edwin R. Westover, and a brother to my grandfather William.

I was very familiar with John Henry. He’s one of my family history dead ends. This man is buried here locally and I was able to find a very, very brief obituary for him. And I even have a photo of him from his youth where he played in the band in Mendon, Utah. But that is where my knowledge of him ends. This great uncle is largely a mystery to me.

He came to my mind almost immediately this summer while in discussion with two men who have grown dear to me – Don Westover and Jason Walker. Like John Henry, Jason, Don and myself are all descendents of Edwin Ruthvin Westover.

We were at the Westover Family Reunion in Rexburg and engaged in conversation about Edwin. Together we openly mused about the possibility of holding a Edwin R. Westover family reunion.

Since that time I have been beset with these thoughts almost constantly. I know enough not to ignore such promptings. The idea is not really about a family reunion so much as it is a gathering Edwin’s family.

What’s the difference between a reunion and a gathering? Bear with me as I explain.

We know who Edwin’s ancestors are. There are many who have contributed to that effort over the generations. But a “gathering” of Edwin’s descendents has never been done.

As Jason, Don and I discussed this we agreed it was high time we bring the families of Edwin Westover together. Before we can do that we must gather them.

Edwin can rightfully be called the patriarch of the modern Westover family. He was the first male member of the family to join the Church and his pioneer story, and life of trial and tragedy, were a beginning to an incredible family legacy. While we can account (and have done so) for his life we cannot fully account of his family.

Edwin’s family was central to his life’s purpose. It drove him. He was promised in a blessing that his descendents would do the work of his family history and be present with him at a feast with the Savior.

Edwin was married three times in his lifetime. His first wife died shortly after the birth of his first child. He remarried on his way west to Sarah Jane Burwell and over the course of their life together they had 13 children. He took Ann Findley as a plural wife in 1856 and had five more children.

Altogether that’s 19 children. What happened to his children and how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren does Edwin have? What are their stories?

That is the gathering we want to do. We want to develop Edwin’s tree backward and forward. We do not want anyone to be unaccounted for.

So we have set a goal. We would like to hold an Edwin R. Westover family reunion in about five years — around the 27th of August in the year 2024 — Edwin’s 200th birthday. Between now and that time it will be our work to simply find and account for all of Edwin’s descendents.

I propose a yearly meeting, if possible, built around Roots Tech in Salt Lake City each winter. There may not be many of Edwin’s descendents who actually attend Roots Tech but the technology exists for us to connect online. That time of the year is an excellent time to gather those we can find to share and update information. If successful, we can arrange for a physical gathering for Edwin’s 200th when the time comes.

We will use this space to build the record of Edwin’s family. How we will do this and what information we will actually require will be discussed later.

What I believe is most important is that we attempt to do this. We, as his children, do owe it to him to make a family record with every name of every child born since Edwin lived. We are his family.

And this is a work of love that was dear to Edwin.

In his final blessing, it reads: “…Thy power in the priesthood shall enable thee to do all the good that is in thy heart, even to accomplish and fulfill all the blessings that have been sealed upon thee pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, or at least to lay the plan in which thy children shall labor to redeem they father’s house that not one be lost…”

“Not one be lost”, I believe is a worthy theme of this effort. Let’s find the families of Edwin R. Westover. Let’s put it together and share with every one of them. That is the goal.

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)

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.

Dear Granddaughter,

Here it is the night of July 4th, 2019, and outside my windows there are fireworks and explosions of my neighbors celebrating Independence Day.

Unlike most years, I’m alone this 4th of July.

Usually we have a gathering and all the family are here. There is food and fireworks and fun — the stuff of family.

But the stuff of family also creates lonely days like this, too.

I’m here alone because your Gram has gone out to Atlanta to be there for your birth. It has been 18 long months since she has seen your parents and your brothers.

That’s too long to be separated. Being here alone knowing that Gram is catching up, playing her roles as mother and grandmother, is enough for me to endure the solitude. You are worth it.

It’s not good to be alone. The Lord never intends us ever to be alone and that’s one reason why he put us in families.

It might seem weird for a man to write a letter to a yet-to-be-born granddaughter. But it’s not weird to me. I’ve written letters to my children – including to your father – every year on or near their birthdays. I just haven’t given the letters to them. I will someday.

But this one I’m putting out there now. I can’t help myself.

You must be someone special because you’re coming to a great family.

I don’t even know your name yet. I’m not even sure your parents know your name.

But I can tell you that you are very much anticipated.

Everyone is talking about you. You don’t know it yet but you’re making history. You are our fifth grandchild but our very first granddaughter. That makes you the first woman of a new generation in the family.

That is significant because the women who came before you in the family have been tremendous individuals. Some you will get to know in this life because they will share this space and some time with you here. But so many others you will only hear about.

I don’t know if it is so but in my mind’s eye they are with you now, in your final hours before you come to this world.

I know that not because I know you but because I know them. I know them to be women of great strength, power, authority, and deep, deep love.

Where else would they be right now than with you, the first woman of a new generation?

There are many things I want to tell you, Granddaughter. There are many things I want you to know.

But first and foremost, as your Grandpa, I would echo what your grandmothers are whispering into your ears right now: I love you.

We love you. Your parents and your brothers love you. And that is all that matters.

You see, when I walk through the cemeteries looking upon those names and dates – some from those very grandmothers and grandfathers you are with right now as I write this – I do not see teachers and farmers and construction workers and doctors and scholars.

I see only mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts, uncles and cousins. I see only family.

I see only the fruits of love.

The rest of that stuff is not really important. Granted, it might be interesting, in many respects, to learn the details of their earthly journey. In time I hope you come to gain an appreciation for those things and, like me and many others, take up the work of learning and honoring their history.

It is a worthwhile endeavor and one that will go far to helping you understand your identity, Granddaughter.

But Granddaughter, as you begin your life I hope your eyes reach far out to the horizon and long into the eternities. There is much more to this life than this life.

The world explains this life as ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I would explain it differently.

You are first a spirit child of God. You have been held in reserve to come forth at this time. You must therefore be someone very special.

Your presence here is merely a stopping point on a longer journey.

This is why love is your legacy – and my legacy – and the legacy of all who came before. It’s not who we are here, or what we accumulate, or what name we gain for ourselves here.

Love rises above the things of this world.

Of love you were created and of love you will be remembered.

In just a matter of days, maybe even hours, Little One, you will come into this world naked and probably crying.

In time, like all who have gone before us, you will likely leave this world the very same way.

It is what we all have in common, this thing called love.

You will spend your life trying to understand love, trying to define it, trying to convey it.

Some will accept it from you, and some won’t know how to accept it from you.

Love, you see, isn’t easy and it is not automatic in this world.

And yet, we are, in our physical state, the result of love.

Right now I would tell you that your Mom and your Dad are feeling a lot of anxiety.

I’m very proud of them.

Right on the heels of your birth they will celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary. Not many thought they would make it that far – me included, I was one of the doubters.

But here they are, welcoming you, their third child and their first little girl. Who would have known 7 years ago they would have you and your brothers?

That’s a miracle. That’s what love does. It produces miracles.

Mommy and Daddy are anxious right now because they have never had a daughter before. They want to do it well. I believe that with all my heart. I see them now, and how they work with your brothers, and I’m a believer in them. I’m proud of them.

You will not know or understand the anxiety they feel right now for many, many years. Probably not until you walk in those shoes yourself.

Anxiety is really just another expression of love, by the way. It’s a good thing.

They are worried about paying the bills. They are worried about giving you a name. They are worried about their other children, those fine grandsons of ours.

Your Mom and Dad are worried about how to dress you, how to feed you, how to make you feel safe and warm and loved. They are thinking of everything from teaching you to speak to giving you an education. They are thinking about how you are going to change the world.

No, not the big world outside — they will leave that to you.

They are worried about how you are going to change their world and believe me, Granddaughter, you have changed their world already.

You have taken them from four to five and you have already been the topic of many deep-in-the-night conversations between your Mom and Dad because you change everything.

You are their little girl and that’s new.

All that is love, Granddaughter.

Then there’s the rest of us. Your cousins, your aunts, your grandparents on every side…good grief, we’re a handful.

And we’re going to be all over you.

That’s love, too, by the way. It might be the kind that drives you crazy, but it is love nonetheless.

So too will your brothers drive you nuts and I guarantee you there is nothing but love behind them.

As of this writing they are ages 3 and 6. We have only known love from them. They are and will be outstanding men – because of love.

Your gender is important, Granddaughter.

It is unchangeable. That was written upon your soul long before you were etched as a reality in the hearts of your parents.

The world is going to try to convince you otherwise on this point. They will try to confuse you.

Out of an abundance of love I urge you to resist such foolish notions.

Your gender has a purpose. It is woven in your spirit, your intelligence, in all that you are — both for potential and for growing, ironically, in spirit and in intelligence.

Do not dismiss the gift that your gender is.

You will find, as you contemplate all those people before you who loved you without knowing you, that their gender went a long way in bringing you forth at this time.

Yup. You are not just a creation of your Mom and Dad. You are a child of God first. You are the fulfillment of every father and mother that make up your DNA. They are your family, your blood. They are all love.

I have written this and posted it here because you are making family history – just as they all did.

And someday, perhaps when you are a grandmother yourself and maybe after you have ended your mortal journey there will be others you call grandchildren who may read these words.

They will love you for being you, too.

You see, we are forever a part of each other – backwards and forwards in time. That’s what love does, too.

Now, as your Grandpa, I could go on and on.

But I am hoping to have time with you soon to peer into your eyes, to learn your little personality, to see and enjoy your light.

In time I hope to get to know your life, your little smile, indeed the very important things in your heart.

As I do I will try to say to you all the things I feel about you, and I want you to know I feel them already, even though you’re not here yet.

I want to tell you about your Mom and your Dad. I want to tell you about your cousins and your aunts. I want to give to you what knowledge I have of our ancestors going back hundreds of years.

I want to share all this with you because it’s all love and it will help you.

I cannot tell you all. And that’s because half of your story is written by your Mother’s side and I don’t know those stories.

You are going to have to seek them out, both for you and for the sake of your children and grandchildren.

I know you can do that. I expect you to do that.

Is that right of me to do, to place any kind of expectation on you at all?

Yes, it is and it is done out of love. The world condemns the Patriarchy but I still believe in it. The patriarchy is what got you here and the patriarchy is what will take you home. Never forget that.

The role of patriarch is sacred to me on every level. I take it very seriously.

Your family, from every side, will protect you.

The more you get to know them here, and get to know their past as well as their present, will serve you. I promise that if you seek them out they will be there for you.

This is your Grandfather not giving you a command, you see. I’m giving you the wisdom of my experience. That is part of my patriarchal role and it is one I learned from my father and grandfathers.

Without knowing your family past you deny yourself a gift of love that may just prove the difference in surviving the evils of this world.

I know that sounds dramatic, but I swear to you it is true.

I want you as well to know God. You are His child. That makes Him family. Do you see how this works? Your heritage is endless, just as is your potential. You are part of something great. You are glorious.

Granddaughter, as the fireworks in the sky explode outside my window, I feel cause to celebrate.

But the fireworks are gone from that sky almost as fast as they brilliantly explode.

They are a thing of this world. As such, they are too temporary, too ordinary, and much too insufficient to convey what it is I’m celebrating.

Now, the fireworks more appropriate for you are in the same night sky.

They are the stars – the brilliant artwork of God that sings forth praises.

They did that for another Baby born years ago and they do that now for you.

You are like they are: glorious in every way and a beautiful expression of celebration.

Until I can gaze into your eyes, and see once again the wonder of what God our Father does in bringing forth both Spirit and flesh, I will look at the stars – here by myself – and think about you.

When I do that, I’m not alone.

Your Mother and your Father and your brothers will see you first in this life. They are your family. You’re going to love them all.

Grandma will be there too, looking upon you for us both.

We love you so much. That is the first thing we want you to know.

That is what we always want you to know.

Love,
Grandpa

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.