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Posts Tagged ‘colonial history’

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot, or as one of the blog posts I’ve read today more delicately phrases it, “the 250th anniversary of the Liberty Tree protests in Boston.” Here in what were then colonies, this is considered one of the major events in the lead-up to the American Revolution. At HistoryCamp 2014, I attended a talk on the Boston bankruptcies of 1765 by J. L. Bell of the blog Boston 1775, wherein he said that in his opinion, the bankruptcy crisis occurring in Boston at the time the Stamp Act was passed probably contributed towards local hostility towards the Stamp Act, since it included court fees and so many people here in Boston were interacting with local courts at the time. I found this helpful in understanding why events occurred as they did, and as those of us with the benefit of hindsight know, it was part of a string of events that would lead to rebellion.

While some members of my own family had been early colonists in the Boston area, they had moved away by the time of the Stamp Act Riots and my folks still in New England at the time formed a crescent-moon shape around eastern Massachusetts, with families in western Connecticut and central and western Massachusetts, shortly to be joined by folks who moved up to western Vermont in the time between the Stamp Act Riots and the beginning of fighting in the Revolution. There weren’t too many newspapers yet, and some of these New Englanders likely read Boston papers, on a time delay that is probably unimaginable to many today. Perhaps they bought the papers themselves; perhaps their neighbors passed it on at one of their homes or in the local tavern. It is hard to imagine that the reactions flamed by many newspapers, such as this reprint of the New-York Gazette in the Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, went unremarked in these locations. With New England’s literacy rate so much higher at the time than in most of the American colonies, a large percentage of people could read and many of those could also write. But only with specific records can a researcher know for sure whether any particular person was literate, much less whether they read a newspaper article or what they thought of the contents or of the events that were occurring around them.

This, I think, has been one of the key differences historically between practicing historians and practicing genealogists – historians, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on larger trends and on people for whom a decent number of records are known to be extant and available to view, while genealogists, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on individual people, families, social networks, and communities, regardless of how many records there are for these smaller units. This has understandably led to historians sometimes expressing the opinion that genealogists are missing the forest for the trees and genealogists sometimes expressing the opinion that by focusing on the forest, an historian who wrote an overview work may have missed important information to be found by studying the individual trees. In my own opinion, anyone who wants to practice solid genealogical research will reach the point where they realize they need to look at more than the individual or the family – hence my including social networks and communities in the above list – and will look at the location in general and at scholarly works about that location and about topics that influenced the location and the lives of the people in it. However, the perception still persists amongst many outside of the genealogical community that American genealogists are all retirees from the ‘upper crust’ who are ‘just’ dabbling in their family’s history, and are probably doing so in the hopes of finding a famous relative or noble ancestor.

Earlier this year I attended the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s 2015 Annual Seminar, which was on “The Who, What, and Why of Early New England.” In one of the lectures, Robert Charles Anderson, director of the Great Migration Study Project, mentioned that he had come to decide on his master’s thesis topic over 30 years ago because he had noticed in his research that people in western Vermont tended to side with the revolutionaries while people in eastern Vermont tended to side with the Crown, and he wondered why. Having personally researched in western Vermont of that era but not eastern Vermont, I had not realized there was a strong geographical predictor of one’s likely overt sympathies until he mentioned it. I had used historical records to construct much of the lives and Revolution activities of my folks who were living in western Vermont at the time, and knew that according to surviving records, they were ardent supporters of the Revolution, including many of the men fighting in it. How much their geographic location influenced their actions, or whether it influenced them at all, is not clear from these records. As John Colletta said in his 2015 National Genealogical Society Conference lecture on researching the reasons why people did things, historians’ works are a great place to learn the reasons why a person, family, or small group may have done something, but any researcher of specific individuals, whether the research’s main focus is genealogical or historical, needs to utilize specific records to try to determine the reason(s) why people actually did something. This is how writing about any kind of research into the past moves from qualifiers like “may have” or “possibly” to qualifiers like “almost certainly” or “according to X’s diary, they…”

One of my posts on this blog, over four years ago now, was on using records to investigate a Revolution-era local history story on my own ancestor Gideon Ormsby of Manchester, Vermont. A few years before Boston’s Stamp Act Riots, Gideon and his family had moved from the disputed part of the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border to Amenia, Dutchess County, New York, as had Gideon’s relative Jonathan Ormsby and Jonathan’s family. I find it almost impossible to imagine that they did not hear about, and probably discuss, the Stamp Act Riots in Boston and in Newport, Rhode Island. But I do not know whether the Stamp Act Riots influenced their behavior, beliefs, or decisions.

Speculators had become proprietors of the area of land in Vermont that later became Manchester, but colonists had not yet moved there. The two Ormsby families’ move to Amenia would prove fortuitous for the family, as a group of travelers from Amenia were exploring this area of Vermont in 1761, saw the land, and expressed interest in it, leading them to become the new proprietors. Gideon and Jonathan were two of these new proprietors, and Jonathan was chosen proprietor’s clerk at their first meeting in Amenia in February 1764. At the same meeting, Samuel Rose was chosen moderator. The proprietors started laying out the lots shortly thereafter, and Gideon was one of the people appointed to lay out the highway. While local histories state that it is not clear whether families spent the first winter in Vermont, the births of Gideon and his wife Mercy’s children indicate that at least some of the families stayed in Amenia or returned to it over the first couple of winters.

The ripples sent out by events like the Stamp Act Riots would reverberate down the years and eventually tear apart cohesive groups like the proprietors of Manchester. That local history story I investigated in records was about the Rose family. The Roses had been the first white family to settle permanently in Manchester, but – bucking the geographic trend – Samuel Rose was believed to side with the Crown in the Revolution, and as part of Gideon Orsmby’s responsibilities as one of the higher-up Revolution-era militiamen in the area, Gideon was tasked with capturing Samuel and coordinating the guarding of him. Samuel was arrested and taken to Northampton’s gaol (jail), and his lands were confiscated by the Vermont government. Whatever Gideon and the other early colonists of the area may have thought, they showed no visible sentiment in this capture and confiscation, and some of them went on to buy Samuel’s lands at auction. When I first discovered this, it seemed like a conflict of interest; I have since discovered that this was rather common in many areas where land was confiscated, though it still seems like a rather dubious chain of events to me. When I wrote my previous post, I had not yet realized that Samuel Rose had been instrumental in the founding of Manchester, and to me it adds depth to the story. It is possible to write a local history without the details of this Revolution-era conflict – and indeed, many have already been written – and genealogical research that doesn’t include this level of detail could certainly be considered adequate. But to me, both historical and genealogical works really come to life when they go in depth about both the area and the people in it.

Over the time I have been doing research, I have come to believe that there is likely no such thing as an ‘average person’ or ‘ordinary person’ in any time period or place, and that conclusions to that effect are probably due more to a lack of extant records that flesh them out as people than because of any one person themselves. However, one’s loved ones, one’s social network, and one’s community at large greatly shaped one’s choices and the personas that one presented to others, and news events of a nearby town or a distant one often influenced people then as well as today, although of course news typically took much longer then to spread very far. Wherever your research subjects were living – whether they be your own families or your biographical subjects as an historian or biographer – it is interesting to contemplate what effect news of the Stamp Act Riots may have had on them, and perhaps to read newspaper coverage of how it was presented in the colony or country you are researching, if it was covered at all.

For those that live in this area today, there are several events this weekend commemorating the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot. If you are interested in history, please consider attending one or more of them, regardless of whether you had any family in Boston (or in the colonies at all) at the time, to help keep alive the collective memory of these events that were (literally and figuratively) so formative to this country.

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Sarah Lyman was part of the first generation of immigrants from England to the English colonies that became known as New England. Born to Richard Lyman and Sarah (Osborne) Lyman, Sarah was baptized in the parish of High Ongar, County Essex, England, on 8 February 1620, back when the English new year didn’t start until March. In August 1631, when Sarah was probably 10 years old, the Lyman family headed from Bristol, England, to the so-called “New World” on the ship Lyon/Lion.

This was the Lyon‘s third known trip to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Lymans were in rarefied company; Reverend John Eliot, who would make a name for himself in his soon-to-be home, was on board, as was Margaret Winthrop, the wife of Governor John Winthrop, and three of Margaret and John’s children, including John Jr. The Lyon arrived at Nantasket on November 2nd. The Winthrops were heading for New Boston, while the Lymans and the Eliots were heading for Roxbury. Now officially part of the City of Boston, in 1631 Roxbury was a distinct and relatively distant colonial settlement, and at the time both were young towns. The Eliots were from Nazeing, Essex, today a 12-mile drive from High Ongar.

While today many people think of people in the past as settling in one location for generations, that was the way only some colonists were. One of my friends was born in the same town where some of their lines had lived since before the American Revolution. The Lymans did not choose this kind of life. The family quickly moved again, one of many families to go with Reverend Thomas Hooker to Connecticut Colony to found the town of Hartford; in Roxbury’s records John Eliot referenced it as “the great removal.” Sarah’s father Richard died in 1641 and her mother Sarah died shortly thereafter. Around 1642, Sarah married James Bridgman, who had moved to Hartford shortly before Richard’s death and bought a lot very close to the Lymans’ home. By 1645 Sarah and James had moved to Springfield, which had started out as part of Connecticut Colony but had broken from it to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639.

A number of the families who had moved to Springfield moved again to Northampton when it was founded in 1654, and a number of families from Hartford moved to Northampton as well. Sarah and James moved from Springfield to Northampton, as did the family that Sarah and James disliked most, headed by Mary (Bliss) Parsons and Joseph Parsons. Joseph Parsons had steadily improved his status and financial state and would continue to do so over the course of his life. In the world of white colonial New England, your reputation was one of the most important facets of your life. Mary and Joseph had already developed a rocky reputation in Springfield; though Joseph had cultivated wealth and high status through what seems to have been a combination of hard work and savvy decisions, he appears from court cases to have been rather abrasive in many of his interactions, which may help someone be a more successful businessman but didn’t lend itself to positive interactions with neighbors and others in the community. After the families had resettled in Northampton, Sarah and James’s only surviving son became ill from an unexplained knee condition, and Sarah purportedly spread gossip blaming Mary for causing her son’s illness through witchcraft.

To a 17th century New Englander, it made perfect sense. For example, if someone had an argument or disagreement with you and then something bad befell you or one of your loved ones, the person who had been upset with you could have been trying to get even with you by using witchcraft against you. Things that today we would consider minor, like someone’s newly cooked food spilling before it could be eaten or one of their cattle getting sick, often caused people to become suspicious that a neighbor they disliked or thought was somewhat “off” was causing their trouble through witchcraft.

Since one’s reputation was so important and accusations of witchcraft in particular could potentially lead to serious legal trouble and possibly even a death sentence, it was common for someone who was being called a witch around town – sometimes after only one such instance – to file a preemptive slander suit against the gossiper(s), a tactic which many also hoped would nip any formal witch accusations in the proverbial bud before they could ever be officially filed. After Sarah started telling others that Mary had used witchcraft to cause her child’s illness in 1656, Mary’s husband Joseph filed a defamation suit against Sarah, and a warrant was issued to the constable for attaching Sarah to the slander case, requiring Sarah to give a bond of 100 pounds. Sarah had been supposed to appear in person in Cambridge, which is around a two-hour drive from Northampton today, but the constable appeared in Cambridge without her and said that since Sarah was with child it would be too difficult for her to appear.

The testimonies were taken in groups, which was common then. Particularly interestingly, most of Sarah’s initial supporters had moved to Northampton from Springfield, while most of Mary and Joseph’s initial supporters had moved to Northampton directly from towns in Connecticut Colony.

The first group of testifiers supported Sarah against Mary. William Hannum testified supporting his wife’s testimony that Mary had gotten into an altercation with their family about yarn, and also added that Joseph Parsons had beat his wife and at least one child; whether there is any truth to this latter claim it is difficult to say for sure, not least since he was testifying against Mary, but it is certainly possible. Sarah and her husband James testified that their son said he had seen Mary while she was not physically there and that Mary’s visage had threatened to further harm his knee. There is a modern tradition amongst Parsons descendants and in the Northampton area that the people who testified against Mary and the people who gossiped that she was a witch were envious of her. The term “jealousies” was used a lot in testimony against Mary, and I think this may be at least part of the cause of this tradition. The term “jealousies” then did not mean what “jealousy” as a synonym of “envy” means today. It was much more akin to the lengthy Webster definitions published in 1828; note that three of the four definitions include “suspicion” and two include “apprehension.”

Then a group of testifiers rebuffed the previous group, testifying such things as that Sarah had said her child had always been sickly, that the cow that William Hannum suspected Mary of killing through witchcraft showed signs of having been physically ill enough to die of natural causes, that Sarah and another woman had been heard discussing Mary being a witch, and that Sarah was so suspicious of Mary that she had demanded Mary repeatedly be searched.

Then additional testimony was collected on the previous groups of testimony. Amongst them, John Mathews testified that Joseph had told Mary she was “led by an evil spirit” and that Mary said that if so, it was because Joseph had locked her into the cellar and left her there; again, third-party testimony suggests that Joseph may have been abusive towards Mary. Some of the people who had initially testified for Sarah changed their testimony. Eventually Sarah admitted in court that she had told another woman about Sarah’s son saying Mary’s visage had appeared before him saying she would hurt him.

Mary Parsons requested that John Pynchon, then the magistrate of western Massachusetts, provide testimony supporting her, and on September 30th, he did so. The court sided with the Parsons, saying that Sarah “hath without just ground raised a great scandal and reproach upon the plaintiff’s wife” Mary and requiring Sarah to state so at public meetings at both Northampton and Springfield within sixty days. The court also said Sarah’s husband James had to pay ten pounds for damages and reimburse Joseph’s court costs.

Sarah died in Northampton, a long way geographically and culturally from the England of her birth. Her death is listed on the first page of recorded deaths in Northampton, a page titled “Record of Deaths in Northampton since the year 1654.” At the time of her death, Sarah and James were on the frontier of British colonization; an entry from the year before she died describes an inquest into how “Robin an Indian servant to Nathanell Clark” was “kild by the Indians.” (The term “servant” was used for both true servants and slaves then, so it is unclear from the entry which Robin was.) Sarah’s entry states with typical simplicity, “Sarah Bridgman wife of James Bridgman died 31 August 1668.” Sarah was probably 47 years old when she died, and was buried in the town burial ground; it would eventually become known as North Bridge Cemetery, and still exists today. But if Sarah’s family erected a gravestone or other marker for her, it has been lost to time; the oldest surviving gravestone is for someone who died nearly twenty years after Sarah.

The sour feelings between the Bridgmans and the Parsons continued after Sarah’s death. James Bridgman seems to have continued to believe that Mary (Bliss) Parsons harbored malevolent feelings towards their children that Mary used witchcraft to act upon. Sarah and James’s daughter Mary (Bridgman) Bartlett died suddenly from unexplained causes, and without Sarah there to act, Sarah’s and her daughter Mary’s widowers, James Bridgman and Samuel Bartlett, accused Mary Parsons of causing Mary Bartlett’s death through witchcraft. A suit was filed against Mary Parsons in 1674 and was heard in the regional court. The case was forwarded from the regional court to the higher court at Boston, known as the Court of Assistants, where Mary Parsons was indicted by a grand jury and tried on charges of witchcraft in 1675. Mary was acquitted of all charges. Sarah’s widower James died the following year.

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NOTES

High Ongar’s pre-English-Civil-War registers survived the ravages of war and time and are now digitized on Essex Record Office’s website. For a fee anyone can view Sarah’s baptism and her family’s other parish register entries from an internet-enabled computer/device anywhere in the world.

Northampton’s vital records are part of the Holbrook Collection, originally microfilm reels that were digitized by Ancestry a couple of years ago and retitled “Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988.” The indexing of this record set on Ancestry is not particularly good and is especially bad for the 17th century; if the town of residence is known, I generally recommend a search by hand as not finding an entry through a database search does not necessarily mean the entry isn’t there. The Holbrooks filmed three versions of Northampton’s records, the originals, an old handwritten copy of the originals, and a typed transcript where the two versions were compared and some additional notes were added by the transcribers.

Northampton’s vital records were also recently added to FamilySearch from the Family History Library’s microfilmed copies. Personally I find their film’s scans of the old vital records harder to read than the Holbrook Collection’s film’s scans; however, FamilySearch’s (currently unindexed) version is free. Also, FamilySearch has an additional register under its own category of “Franklin, Hampshire” [counties of Massachusetts] that includes some later copies of early materials pertaining to residents of a number of the area towns, including a record of people killed in what is usually called the French and Indian War here in the States (known as the Seven Years’ War in most of the English-speaking world) and of the massacre at Deerfield; while as yet unindexed on FamilySearch, the register contains a handwritten index at the front.

Springfield’s vital records are in their own database on FamilySearch, titled “Massachusetts, Springfield Vital Records, 1638-1887”; while indexed, I was told by someone who knew the indexer that the index FamilySearch put on the site had not yet been completed and proofed by the person who had been independently compiling it, so again, if you can’t find an entry I recommend a page-by-page search. Additionally, some of the very earliest vital records in the scans of Springfield’s register are written in handwriting that appears to date from a later time period; as yet, I have been unable to determine the provenance of these entries, and while they were most likely copied from deteriorating original pages, at this point I cannot say that for sure. Scans of films of Springfield’s vital records are also in FamilySearch’s unindexed Massachusetts town records collection.

The slander case testimony is in the Middlesex County Court Records [of Massachusetts] and copies of some testimonies are also at Harvard Law Library. The early colonial Middlesex County Court docket copies of a wide variety of cases are online (with a time gap) and unindexed at FamilySearch. Fascination with colonial witch trials and with Northampton’s history have continued to the present, and consequently there has been an awful lot written about the cases of the Bridgman family vs. the Parsons family, continuing to modern times.  Unfortunately the majority of the original material regarding the second trial, wherein Mary was indicted for witchcraft and then acquitted, has been lost. Following are some suggestions for others interested in reading printed works on the cases in this blog post and/or other witch cases:

Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638-1695, 2nd ed., edited and with an introduction by David D. Hall (USA: Duke University Press, 2nd ed. copyright 1999). Hall’s introduction is invaluable for anyone trying to place witch-hunting in New England in historical context and to understand the system in place for dealing with witch cases. The bulk of the book is Hall’s transcriptions of a variety of witch cases from around New England; transcriptions of testimony from the Parsons vs. Bridgman slander case comprises the majority of chapter 6, titled “A Long-Running Feud (1656-1675).”

Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639-1703): The Pynchon Court Record, edited with a legal and historical introduction by Joseph H. Smith (USA: The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation at Harvard University Press, 1961). William Pynchon and then his son John Pynchon served as magistrates for a swath of the geographical area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, based out of Springfield and including Northampton. This book is a mix of transcriptions, analysis, and information about the various legal procedures used at the time. There are a number of witchcraft-related cases included in the book.

“‘Hard Thoughts and Jealousies'” by John Putnam Demos, from A Place Called Paradise: Culture & Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004, edited by Kerry W. Buckley (USA: Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center in association with University of Massachusetts Press, 2004); originally published in Demos’s Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982). This essay consists primarily of background on the women’s lives and families of origins and an analysis of the cases involving the two families; the title is a quote from testimony. While I don’t think it is really very possible to draw conclusive findings about people’s internal states and emotional lives from third-party historical records and family traditions as Demos tries to do repeatedly in this essay (particularly in the background section), it is an interesting essay well worth the read. (After Demos’s essay was republished in A Place Called Paradise, a revised edition of his book Entertaining Satan was published.)

A side note regarding Demos’s essay: Modern readers may read John Eliot’s description of Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman’s father Richard’s state of “melancholy” after moving to Hartford and assume Richard was depressed; this may or may not have been the case. Melancholy, also called melancholia, was a very common diagnosis in 16th and 17th century England (New England’s early colonial medical practices were based upon England’s), and could be anywhere from a purely emotional issue to a completely physical one, though given the beliefs of the time, most illnesses fell somewhere in between the two extremes. Melancholia could be caused by supernatural forces, including witchcraft. An essay about Robert Burton’s popular 17th century compilation The Anatomy of Melancholy has been posted online, “Major Depression in Seventeenth Century England: A Brief Look at Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy,” and others interested in historical medical practices will likely enjoy reading it.

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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Thursday’s schedule was a bit slow-paced, but Friday’s schedule (Day 2) was jam-packed with activities.

On Friday and Saturday, the first lecture of the day started at 8:30. On Friday I first chose “Loyalist Migrations: Leaving & Returning to the States,” given by Chief Paul Bunnell, UE. For those that don’t know, Paul Bunnell has published several books on Loyalists as well as a number of other books. So far, my earliest immigrants to what eventually became the Canadian province of Ontario were Loyalists who left the rebelling Colonies behind. My family eventually came back to the States, but they left many of their relatives behind in Ontario, and most of the folks I’ve met through my research who are researching one or more of these same lines still live in Canada. Loyalists are still a hot topic here in New England after over two centuries, with some researchers whose family all stayed in New England and who believe all of them supported the revolutionaries becoming bitter any time any Loyalist who fought in New England is mentioned, so I had been pleasantly surprised to see on NERGC’s schedule that there was a talk on Loyalists.

I really enjoyed Paul Bunnell’s lecture. He started out with two statutes that were supposed to apply to Loyalists in the new States, one included in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and another passed in 1784. Loyalists were, for example, supposed to get their seized land and other seized property back. I knew from my research that this did not happen, and indeed, he pointed out that not a single state honored these statutes. Turning federal theory into local practice was apparently simply not possible for the young United States.

The thing that struck me the most was that though there were only approximately 3,000 Loyalist claims put in to the Crown, not all of which were approved, he mentioned that since he had started doing Loyalist research many years ago, the total number of Loyalists who left the American Colonies has been significantly revised upwards several times, to the point where it is now estimated to be around 150,000. With a staggering difference of 147,000, he advised that the some of the best ways to try to determine whether your research subject that moved to Canada was a Loyalist if there was no claim are to try to determine when they left the now-United-States, where they settled, and who settled in the same immediate area. He also suggested checking shares in ships as a possible record source for locating a Loyalist and finding associated people, as many times families and associates would all buy shares in one ship.

Paul Bunnell said that the fastest, easiest way to determine who settled in the same immediate area is through the maps of the initial land grants, but unfortunately, as he noted, these appear to primarily survive for New Brunswick. This is great for researchers of New Brunswick Loyalists, but many more people settled in Nova Scotia and the future provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Often people from the same original location in the Colonies and/or the same military regiment would settle in the same immediate area, and he has been able to use the New Brunswick maps to successfully track many people back to their origins in the now-States via their associates. As someone who tremendously loves maps anyway, I remain disappointed that there appear to be so few extant ones for the early European now-Ontario settlements.

Paul Bunnell stressed early and repeatedly that Crown land grants were not given out evenly nor fairly. The high-ranking military officials got by far the most land, and single white men and any black men (single or not, military or not) got the least, at only 50 acres per man, which was very difficult to successfully live off in most of the areas Loyalists settled. Due to this unfairness and other issues, there were a number of riots of white and black Loyalist settlers, especially in certain areas.

Paul Bunnell also noted that there were a number of Loyalists, especially elderly women, still alive in Canada in 1851, and should clearly be marked as “UE” (for United Empire Loyalist) on the 1851 census. After NERGC I tried this with the only one I personally knew was a possibility – the daughter of a UE who got a land grant for her family when the Crown started allowing children of Loyalists to apply – but her entry does not list her as UE. I don’t know if this is because technically it was her father who was UE, not her, or if it’s because the enumerator in this district seems to have been kind of phoning it in; for example, her birth place is only listed as “Cda” (standing for “Canada”).

Next up, I continued with the day’s “Military Track” by attending “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England,” by Craig Scott, CG; the conflict that we usually call the “French and Indian War” here in the States is known in Europe as the “Seven Years’ War.” For those that don’t know, Craig Scott is an expert on military records relating to American conflicts, including colonial-era ones. I am generally interested in the history of this war that so impacted the New Englanders and New Yorkers in my tree and have also accidentally found numerous casualties of the Native American raids on colonists’ settlements in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s in New England vital records of the time period [the latter, though more closely tied to the earlier war generally known as “King Philip’s War” than the French and Indian War, is the subject of another draft in my blog files, hopefully to be posted here someday soon]. Additionally, I have at least one ancestor that local histories state was a soldier in the French and Indian War, but I have done very little research on his possible service to date. Consequently, this was one of the lectures that I circled as a must-attend as soon as I registered for NERGC. It exceeded my expectations.

Craig Scott set the stage for his lecture by showing a French map of colonial North America followed by an British map of colonial North America. The differences in their views, including the way they colonized a place, were more starkly illustrated visually than they ever could have been in words, and just looking at the two maps, it was apparent that there was likely to be conflict over the places these views overlapped. Craig Scott expressed the opinion that in retrospect, there was no question at all which of the approaches to colonization would win, and which of the societies would consequently become the permanent new settlers of North America.

Craig Scott went on to discuss some of the colonial wars in North America, putting them into two categories – wars exclusively with Native Americans, primarily over land issues, and wars between colonial powers, most of them starting in Europe. He stated that the French and Indian War is an exception to the latter category; it started here and ended there. While it is commonly called the French and Indian War here in the States, he generally referred to it as the Fourth Anglo-French War, and stated that part of the issue was that the Third Anglo-French War had never fully ended here in North America; though the French had stopped fighting in North America, many of their Native American allies continued fighting between the two “official” wars. In North America, the Fourth Anglo-French War was fought from Acadia (now Nova Scotia) to Fort Niagara down the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers in Pennsylvania and the South.

In 1748 the British Crown approved a 200,000 acre grant near the forks in the river where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stands today. Craig Scott argued that the French built their fort at now-Pittsburgh in direct response to this. The fort became one of the issues that led to war. Despite the war so impacting North America, he pointed out that most of the colonial fighting took place in the British Crown’s top-priority colony of India and that the last battle of the war was fought in Manila Bay. He mentioned as an aside that this same prioritizing of India would stretch the British military thin, causing the Crown to not send enough troops to quickly quell the 1776 rebellion in North America.

Troops fighting on the British side in the French and Indian War/Fourth Anglo-French War included the British Army, the Colonial Forces, two types of militias known as the Colonial Militia and the County Militia, Sailors and Marines, and Native American allies. The Colonial Militia was generally tasked with protecting the home front and had “no great interest in wandering far away.” Many in the British Army treated the colonial soldiers poorly.

The general guideline Craig Scott suggested is to look for possible service of any North American man of British descent who was between the ages of 18 and 60 during the war. No New Englanders successfully obtained bounty land from service in this war, so that would be a fruitless search. Because so much of the war was fought by New Englanders in New York, Craig Scott recommended the New York Historical Society Museum & Library as a good resource for those of us researching New Englanders who served in the war, as well as mentioning multiple times that the National Archives [UK] has a good number of records since anyone serving at the time was technically serving in the British military. He also advised researchers “follow the money” by utilizing treasury records, including people being paid for military service and colonists being paid for logistical support. I can personally attest to this as an excellent strategy; I have utilized treasury records extensively in my research of the American Revolution in Vermont.

My Twitter friend Beverly Hallam (@Beverly_H_) is the volunteer research co-ordinator for the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) and did some follow-up when I mentioned Craig Scott’s comments on the impact the Crown’s heavy military investment in India had on their global interests at this time. On FIBIS’s Wiki, she found some internal and external links on the Seven Years’ War in and near India, which you can read here.

For those of you that have never attended an American genealogy conference before, there are typically conference-sponsored workshops, luncheons, and dinners that cost extra to attend beyond the conference price and generally have a limit, after which further people are placed onto a waiting list. The luncheons and dinners are typically sponsored by a genealogical society, genealogical company, or similar. The only one I attended at NERGC was next up on my schedule – the Friday luncheon sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) and featuring Laura Prescott giving a presentation titled “Jousting with the Gatekeepers” of records. MGC is an umbrella organization whose primariy mission is working to monitor records access on a state and national level and, if necessary, to mobilize genealogists and others that need to access American records to support or oppose specific legislation.

This luncheon was a bit different than ones I’ve attended at one-day events in the past; they waited until about everyone had finished eating before beginning the presentation. After a brief introduction on what MGC does, the first speaker introduced Laura Prescott. I didn’t really know what to expect from her presentation, but much of it consisted of specific stories regarding people having anywhere from an incredibly easy to extremely difficult time accessing records in specific locations. This wide mix reflected my own experiences, and I’d imagine that anyone who has tried to access records in a variety of different locations has probably had similarly varied experiences. The talk succinctly illustrated how important the “gatekeeper” is to our ability to access records. Laura Prescott ended with some steps we can all take to try to keep the best access to records possible, including being ever-vigilant towards proposed legislation.

Our table was a mix of people I already knew and ones that I had not known before sitting with them. The couple that sat down next to me turned out to live in a town in Vermont where one of my lines settled in the late 1700’s, which is also next to a town where another line of mine settled around the same time. They had moved there from elsewhere and were excited to meet someone who has an ancestor mentioned in the tome* on the history of the town, though I suspect I was even more excited than they were at meeting people who live somewhere of research interest to me! Since NERGC, we have been emailing. (*You probably think I’m exaggerating, but it’s one of the books I jokingly keep in mind at the library as a way to injure an attempted attacker if it’s ever necessary.)

As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vegetarian entree was actually good. As a vegetarian I often find that at catered genealogy events, non-vegetarians take most of the vegetarian choice(s), for whatever their reason(s) may be, and that the vegetarian choice(s) tend to be rather boring and sometimes not very tasty. Thankfully for this luncheon you pre-ordered your entree when you registered, and were served it by waitstaff rather than the much more common self-catering.

On Friday and Saturday, the afternoon contained three lecture time slots, as it had on Thursday. On Thursday I had heard reports from people I knew that they had been unable to attend the lecture they wanted to attend because the room was full by the time they arrived, so by Friday I tried to make it to a room quickly to reserve a seat even if I ended up temporarily leaving between my first arrival and the start of the lecture.

My first choice on Friday afternoon was Steve Morse’s “Genealogy Beyond the Y Chromosome: Autosomes Exposed.” The largest room was crowded for this talk on DNA, showing the great interest in the subject that was also reported by people who attended DNA sessions at RootsTech 2013. Steve Morse made it very clear at the beginning that he was not a genetics expert, but rather a layperson interested in explaining the science behind DNA tests to others. Thanks to his clear, concise, visuals-heavy explanations tailored for fellow laypeople, I felt like I finally fully understood the science behind the autosomal DNA testing my family had done.

At the end of his talk, Steve Morse recapped the different kinds of testing currently widely available to genealogists. According to him, Y-DNA tests can potentially find both recent and “deep” cousins, mtDNA tests are primarily for finding “deep” cousins, autosomal DNA tests are primarily for finding recent cousins and/or testing amongst potential recent-common-ancestor relatives, and the tests that tell you your percent of each ethnicity are junk science that doesn’t really tell you anything.

In the last part of his presentation and again in answer to some questions, he stressed that you are at the mercy of the statisticians to match you and/or interpret your results; for tests where you are matching to recent cousins, it’s much more difficult for the statisticians to make an error that will significantly impact your matches, but once you get back to deep ancestry or if you are taking a test to determine your ethnicity percentages, it is much easier for a statistician to interpret your results in a way that skews your results and/or your matches. He also stressed repeatedly that because autosomal DNA changes with every generation, with potential significant differences even between full siblings, it’s not very accurate beyond about 4-5 generations at the way the technology stands today.

Next I stayed in the large room for Lori Thornton’s “Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer.” While I thought the lecture was interesting, it wasn’t what I expected from the title and description. Most of the highlighted records were ones that could apply to people in a variety of occupations rather than specifically applying only to farmers.

For me, my best takeaway from the lecture had nothing to do with farmers. One of the example record sets she gave was the Vermont Religious Certificates, which early Vermont required of Christians who were of other denominations besides Congregationalist, what the Puritan denomination had become over time. I had forgotten this record set existed, as almost all of my New Englanders were Puritans/Congregationalists. I have been trying for some time to figure out what church my great-great-great-grandmother attended at the end of her life; she mentioned it in a letter to her grandson using a church name that appears to have been colloquial, as I have not been able to use the name to successfully determine the church. I was briefly hopeful that perhaps this could be a source to utilize in my search, but unfortunately I later quickly determined that the certificates had stopped being required decades before she would have switched churches, and also that they often don’t mention the specific alternate church the person is attending anyway. However, it is good that I was reminded of the record set and it will now stick in my head as a possible future source.

I was somewhat surprised that when discussing land grants and homestead applications, Lori Thornton only mentioned the low-information one-page land patents that have been scanned onto the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (BLM-GLO) site, but did not include information on ordering homestead or other applications, what the applications could contain, nor the survey maps that the BLM-GLO scanned onto their site a few years ago. I wondered if perhaps this was because it seemed from her presentation that almost all of her research was in the Deep South of the U. S., and in the federal land states in the Deep South the process was mostly a cash-entry land patent system rather than systems such as the land grants offered to veterans of the War of 1812 (or next-of-kin if they were deceased) starting in the 1850’s primarily in the Midwest and the homesteads primarily in the Plains and West that began via the Homestead Act of 1862. Cash-entry applications, such as those that were common in the South, typically are only a few pages long and typically contain almost no information on the research subject, though I have heard stories from other researchers about surprise gems found in those slim applications as well, a good reminder to never write off any record as automatically being useless in a search.

On the way home that night I asked the person with whom I was carpooling that day, who had been sitting with me at the farmer lecture, if they had checked whether their New Englanders who moved to the American Plains had taken out a homestead. They said they had not, and in response I detailed some of the information that can be found in the applications and they said that they had never realized how much information can be found in them and that they were going to investigate further. I readily admit that I am biased; homestead applications are one of my favorite American and Canadian record sets.

As my last lecture choice of the day, I continued with the previous lecture’s “Occupations Track” and went to Jayne Jordan’s “Indentured Servants in the New England Colonies.” She didn’t have enough handouts so I never received the handout of resources, and she had no working projector so we had no visuals for what she said was supposed to be a visual presentation. I left that talk not really having a better idea of how to research indentured servants than when I arrived. The primary benefit for me personally from that lecture is that one of the examples she gave was of a family that I’m as sure as I can possibly be from the given date and location was headed by a brother or first cousin to my direct line, but is a collateral line that I haven’t thoroughly researched so far. From the lecture I now know that at least according to her research, some of their children were removed from their home and placed into indentured servitude, which provides me with a place to start, even though I will have to figure out on my own how to do the research. She did not state whether she found the information on that family in original records or some other source.

I have had Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 by Christopher Tomlins (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2010) in my to-read pile for some time. Not having read it, I cannot tell you how good it is, but I can tell you that based on the index, there are many references to indentured servitude, including a number of specific references regarding the various English colonies, with the largest amounts being for Pennsylvania and Virginia.

After the last lecture of the day, I attended a private reception for alumni and teachers of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research program. It was nice to see a number of familiar faces and meet some new folks. Around 50 people attended, though I am sure that there were more program alumni present at NERGC than at the reception. The NERGC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were pushed back from their original scheduled start of 7:00 to starting at 7:30, so unfortunately I never made it to so much as the beginning of any of them.

………

My own experiences that day will probably go down as one of the strangest days of my life. We are of course always living future history, but at least for me, only occasionally does it really strike me that I am, at that moment, living history that will be remembered by many around the world.

I woke at 5:00 and turned on the news to discover that there had been a shootout the previous evening between the police and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Shortly after I began watching the news, the authorities announced that much of metropolitan Boston was now in “lockdown” and the entire public transit system had been closed. I live a little beyond the lockdown area – about a 15-minute walk from the border of the nearest locked-down town – but my friend with whom I was carpooling that day called at 6:00 to say they were on their way and would call back if they encountered any roadblocks or other problems. We were able to make it up to Manchester, New Hampshire, with no issues, though we did see a good number of speeding, siren-blaring police cars zip past going the other direction while we were leaving the metro area. I would subsequently discover that the BU staff member who had coordinated BU’s NERGC reception was not present at the reception because she did live in one of the towns in the lockdown, so I was lucky to have made it there.

When I arrived at NERGC many people who knew me expressed happy surprise to see me there, saying, “I didn’t know if you were going to make it.” I often responded, “I made it here, though I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll be able to make it home tonight.” This was true; I knew it was possible I would have to spend the night outside the metro area, depending on how events unfolded that day. NERGC volunteers had printed out stickers that said “WE ARE BOSTON” for attendees to put on their badges and had put them at the registration desk. Before the first session started and during every break, a throng of people clustered around the hotel lobby’s television, perpetually on a news channel on mute, to see if there were updates, and in the hallways people often asked me if I’d heard anything new recently.

On the car ride home we turned on the radio and discovered that the remaining suspect had been located but not yet apprehended. Shortly after I got home authorities announced that he had successfully been apprehended. I was so busy all day that I did not get the chance to check Twitter until I was home, and many of my Twitter friends had expressed worry over the day. (Thank you all for your concern.)

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