Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Search for William Grimes

While reading through my Facebook feed a few days ago I saw a notice about a new movie called “Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes” (*1). The link given was for a trailer and as I watched that short clip I was intrigued. William Grimes was a slave in the pre-Civil War south and Gina was Regina Mason, his great*3 granddaughter who was trying to uncover the story of his life.

I was intrigued because Regina was doing all her genealogical research in the days before the Internet, Google, and But in addition, William’s escape to the north had him in New Haven, CT, and Litchfield, CT, two places with which I am intimately familiar and where many of my ancestors would have been living. So, while I have no African blood in me and William is not one of my ancestors, would there have been connections between he and my ancestors? I had to find out.

The full-length movie is over an hour (1:22), but it was viewable via streaming video for free with Amazon Prime. Since I had purchased a subscription to Amazon Prime a few months ago, I decided to watch it.

The Movie

The story begins with Regina growing up in California during the time of civil rights and trying to discover her place in life as a somewhat light-skinned individual who nevertheless identifies as black. A fifth-grade assignment results in her asking her mother about their family history and she learns things about it that are new to her but which are very sketchy. She is directed to an aunt who is the family historian and gets a few more details, but no satisfactory answers. Gina mumbles her way through the presentation in school, but the many unknowns of her ancestry do not disappear.

Later, as a young mother, she begins to do some research about her ancestors and is quickly drawn in to this genealogical adventure. I did not begin my own adventure until later in life, but I could thoroughly identify with the drive that she experienced.

The movie then begins weaving together several related threads – (1) depictions of Gina and her efforts at doing research (remember that this is a time when looking up census record meant scrolling through microfilm at a major library, not sitting down at a computer); (2) depictions of some of the incidents in William Grimes life as a slave; (3) narrations by the present day Gina, and (4) narrations by William Andrews, a professor at UNC, Chapel Hill, and Gina’s eventual collaborator in getting this story published.

I quickly realized that this movie is really the story of how the book was written – a book that was 15 years in the making! What a tremendous labor of love from Gina as did all this research while her daughters were growing up – balancing taking care of her family, having to get a job when her husband was laid off, and spending untold hours in the library doing research into her elusive ancestor. I knew that I had to buy the book to read the results of her labors (*2).

As the story progressed and William escaped slavery by hiding between bales of cotton on a ship heading north, I leaned in to watch very closely. There were very few actual names given, but William was now living in New Haven and Litchfield – my own stomping grounds growing up. In the incidents in Gina’s life doing the research, she is invited to visit the Litchfield Historical Society where she goes through a copy of the history of the town (*3) and the movie shows a few pages from that book where William’s name occurs. Another book I needed to get my hands on! The hour+ of the movie went by very quickly, but I needed more! My fellow genealogists can appreciate how I felt – wanting to know the rest of the story!

History of Litchfield

The center of Litchfield is less than 20 miles from my family home in Wolcott and is roughly a 30-minute drive. But growing up we did not have too many occasions to go there. However, my grandfather was a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club which maintained a cabin on Bantam Lake and where we had occasional family get-togethers in the summer. Bantam Lake straddles the border between Litchfield and Morris, and Morris was a part of Litchfield before it was split off in 1859 (after the time that William Grimes lived there).

Before the advent of rail travel, when the primary means of transportation was horse or wagon, Litchfield was a much more important town than it is today as it stood at the intersection of the main east-west road between Boston and New York and the north-south road from New Haven to Albany. So William finding himself there in the early 1800s would have been natural if he was trying to get away from New Haven where there were too many chances of him being discovered as a runaway slave and being returned to the South.

I started my reading in the book (*3) which had been mentioned in the movie I had just viewed. William only shows up on two pages and just briefly, but there was much more history about the other men in the town and many of them were familiar to me because of my genealogical research. A list of the surnames of individuals who are relatively close cousins (but several times removed) included the following (presented here in alphabetical order, not in order of importance or chronology):

Beebe, Beecher, Beers, Bradley, Bushnell, Burr, Canfield, Catlin, Deming, Humiston/Humaston, Morris, Pierpont, Reeve, Sanford, Seymour, Strong, Tallmadge, Trowbridge, Wolcott, Woodruff

I have mentioned the names Beecher, Burr, Canfield, Wolcott, and obviously Pierpont in some of my prior blogs. But the others here are all descendants of my immigrant ancestors in either Boston or New Haven during the time of the Great Migration. It was fascinating reading. But, as one might expect, this book drew a lot of material from other sources, so I found myself also getting copies (online) of first a book from 1859 about Litchfield (*4), then a yet older book on the subject from 1845 (*5). I have not read these latter two in nearly the depth as the initial book which covered 200 years of the history of the town, as much of the material from them was incorporated in the later book from 1920. But many of the same family names occur in the earlier writings as well.

Seeing so many individuals who are related to me and all in interactions with one another in the 1700s and early 1800s made for several hours of interesting reading. And since I am so familiar with the geography of that part of Connecticut and the roads which connect Litchfield with the neighboring towns of such places as New Milford and Cornwall where other of my direct ancestors lived made it all the more interesting.

William Grimes

All the prior watching and reading had been done via the Internet while sitting on the sofa in the living room. But they were activities that helped to pass the hours while I waited for the arrival via UPS of my copy of the book that was the subject of the movie. Being a recent book, I had ordered a copy so I could read the particulars about which Gina had written. I was not disappointed.

The format of the book is interesting. After the typical preface and table of contents, there is a long introduction by William Andrews, Regina’s collaborator, which gives the historical context of the times in which William Grimes lived as well as puts his writing in perspective as not only one of the earliest books about slavery, but its importance as it was written without the collaboration of any white men (who would have put a slant on the writing that may have distorted it).

The center part of the book is from the 1855 version of William’s book which was itself simply a reprinting of the earlier 1825 version with several added pages giving a synopsis of what had happened in the intervening 30 years. The first 30 years of William’s life (1784-1815) were pretty brutal and give a first-person account of the beatings that he endured at the hands of his several masters in Virginia and then in Georgia. Having seen the depiction of these events in the movie the previous day, I knew what was coming, but it was still difficult to read.

After William’s escape to Connecticut in 1815, I was surprised by how much he moved around. He lived not only in New Haven and Litchfield, but in Bridgeport, Stratford, Norwalk, Fairfield, New London, Newport, Providence, New Bedford, MA, and Southington.

An incident from his time in Southington was particular intriguing to me as he wrote, “while I was living in Southington, Conn., I went up on a high mountain and prayed to the Lord to teach me my duty, that I might know whether or not I ought to go back to my master.” Knowing the geography of Southington, the “high mountain” which William speaks of can only be one of two places. One is the escarpment to the west, the top of which is the town of Wolcott where I grew up! The other is the outcropping to the southeast, the top of which is currently the site of Castle Craig which overlooks Hubbard Park in Meriden and which I have climbed myself on many occasions.

William does not mention a lot of names of other individuals from his time in Connecticut, but there were a few that I recognized as being related to me. These included Gov. Oliver Wolcott, David Sanford and Seth Beers from Litchfield, and Stephen Twining from New Haven.

The final part of the book is an afterward by Regina Mason which recounts her 15-year journey in gathering the information about William and all the documented evidence that supports the narrative of William as he was growing up, getting sold and resold by various masters, and then his life in Connecticut. This paralleled what had been in the movie.

The last few days have been ones of a lot of watching and reading as I have delved into the fascinating life of William Grimes and did a lot of introspection into the part that my ancestors played in it. While Connecticut was one of the first states to emancipate slaves in 1784, it was a gradual process and the process of arresting runaway slaves from other states and returning them to the south continued for several decades (as William could attest).

Closing Thoughts

I’ve written previously (*6) about my cousins Henry Ward Beecher and Harriett Beecher Stowe. They were both born in Litchfield (1813 and 1811 respectively) and lived there until 1826. Thus, they would have been children growing up during the years when William Grimes was living there (1819-late 1820s). He would have been one of the few [former] slaves that they encountered on a regular basis in what was not a large town (about 4500 at the time). Harriett later wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in 1852, and Henry became a well-known abolitionist preacher. I can only speculate that William Grimes may have been a part of the inspiration for both of them.

I did not expect that my interest in genealogy would get me so involved in the story of slavery. But I am grateful to Regina for the research that she has done and helping to open my eyes to a part of history that I had not fully appreciated until seen in this book at such a personal level. I heartily recommend both the book and the movie about how it came to be.


*2 – “Life of William Grimes the Runaway Slave”, 2008, Edited by William L. Andrews and Regina E Mason, Oxford University Press, 145 pages
*3 – “The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut 1720-1920”, 1920, available as a paid download (pages being quality photographs of the original with an extensive index of names appended), 472 pages
*4 – “Sketches and Chronicles of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut”, Payne Kenyon Kilbourne, 1859, 284 pages
*5 – “History of Litchfield, Connecticut”, George C. Woodruff, 1845, 70 pages

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Too Many Genealogical and Geographic Coincidences

I’ve posted here before how a large percentage of our church are related to each other (*1). Last fall I also gave some of the details about some of the connections that are direct cousin connections to myself (*2). And it was only a month after that where I discovered that someone who had only come to the church fairly recently was connected to me in more than two dozen ways (*3). But little did I expect that these would come together in what I can only call an amazing co-incidence!

Our church choir only sings once a month. Just before the service, we were out behind the sanctuary waiting until it was time to file in together. Three of us were in one of the small rooms there where there are a couple of pieces of soft furniture to sit on – myself, Ruth, and Joy – the latter two being two of the four altos in the choir. Joy had only joined the choir recently and this was the first time that she had been in a situation where she and Ruth could get to know each other. I mentioned to the two of them that they were both distant cousins of mine.

But Ruth was interested in getting to know Joy better and asked where she was from originally. Joy was a missionary in Thailand and then China for many years, but in her response she indicated that her family was in Vermont and that was her “home base” when she was not overseas. Ruth suddenly perked up and asked, “Where in Vermont?”

[I should add at this point that in my tracing the genealogical connections of our church members to each other that generally when I find one connection I document the connection and don’t bother trying to fill out that individual’s full family tree. But, in this case I should have definitely gone farther.]

Joy responded to Ruth that most of her family were in the Burlington area and started listing the small towns around there where her family members currently lived, first noting that her brother lived in the small town of Richmond, VT. Ruth, immediately stopped her and excitedly proclaimed, “my in-laws live in Richmond, and we go there on a regular basis!”

Richmond is a small town of about 4000 people and the “downtown” area has only a single traffic light and perhaps 400 people. Ruth then started describing where in the town her in-laws lived saying things like “turn left at the light”, “the last street before the train crossing”, etc. Joy mentioned that her brother was Uncle Sam on stilts at the annual 4th of July parade and Ruth said, “then I’ve seen him,” as that is one of the major events of town each year (*4).

What a spectacular co-incidence – that two people sitting next to each other in the choir of a church in PA are both connected to relatives in a small town in VT and they have so much in common! And both of them are my cousins as well!

[I have since gone back to do some additional research, especially now that I know how to find Ruth’s in-laws and can trace that side of her family tree. So, I can add two new facts to this connection.
·       Ruth shares at least 6 genealogical ancestors with me and Joy shares at least 24 ancestors with me (they are the two people in our church with whom I share the most connections. But two of the ones that I share with Ruth are in common with the ones I share with Joy. Thus, Ruth and Joy are cousins of each other as well (10th cousins, once removed).
·       Ruth’s husband is Aaron. His parents (Ruth’s in-laws in VT) are also connected to me. Even though most of Aaron’s ancestors are from other places (French-speaking Canada, Italy, Ireland), there is one line that has been in colonial New England (VT, NH, MA, CT) since the early 1600s.

What are the odds that three people sitting in a small room in a church in PA would all be distant cousins of one another, that two of them both have relatives in a small town in VT, and that both those families in VT are also cousins of mine? This is the kind of thing that I really enjoy about doing genealogical research.]


Friday, January 31, 2020

Why I Dislike Cities

I’m a country boy. When my parents married, he had recently been discharged from the Navy after serving in WWII. Using his separation pay as a down payment, they purchased a 23-acre piece of land in what at the time was a very undeveloped part at the north end of Wolcott, CT. (*1) There was a small pond and lots of woods. I’ve written about it before (*2), so I’ll not repeat it here.

Growing up that somewhat isolated area of town (*3), I enjoyed the relative isolation. There was very little truck traffic on Rt. 69 those days, so things were quiet. The loudest noises at night were the “peepers” (tree frogs). The night sky was filled with stars with no street lights to overwhelm the twinkling lights of God’s handiwork. Thus I really grew to enjoy the country.

After my own marriage we lived for a few years in the equally small town of Prospect, CT where we rented a house on a dead-end road. After we moved to PA in 1975 and could finally afford a house of our own, we went shopping for land in the country. We bought a 4-acre piece of land at the end of a dead-end road and down a private lane (which was just a dirt lane at the time). While the area has grown up in the 40+ years since then, when people or workers come to visit us, they still frequently comment how quiet and peaceful it is out here.

I have relatives who live in cities such as New York City or Chicago and they love the vibrant life there. But that’s not for me. Downtown Philadelphia is only an hour away, but in the 45 years I’ve lived in PA, I’ve visited it fewer than a dozen times.

But in this blog I’d like to recount an incident that happened over 50 years ago that impacted my views of being in large cities.

The year was 1969, the month was August, it was about 4:30 in the afternoon. I had turned 21 earlier that month. I had received my bachelor’s degree earlier that year and was getting ready to start graduate school right after Labor Day. I had been working for the summer for Uniroyal and writing a Corporate Funding Model for their international division. Although the corporate headquarters was in Oxford, CT, that division was headquartered in the Uniroyal Building in Rockefeller Center. Thus, the presentation of the system needed to take place in NYC.

I had purchased a train ticket to New York that would take me from Waterbury, CT early that morning and, not knowing how long the presentation would last, I had a return ticket for early evening. It had not taken as long as I thought it might to make the presentation (it was very well received), so I had a few hours to kill before going back to Grand Central Station for my train.

I wandered around the city for a while – Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza, etc. – looking at all the sights which were new to me. But it was a sultry August afternoon and so when I walked past Bryant Park on 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) which was right behind the New York Public Library, the trees, grass, and park benches looked inviting. I chose a vacant bench not too far into the park and sat down.

I hadn’t been sitting long when a lady wandered into the park from the nearby entrance. I could tell from her attire and very short dress that she was probably a prostitute and her invitation to me confirmed my suspicions. The most recent rush hour from men leaving work had just gone by and she had not found any “customers” so was looking for one in the park. I made it clear to her that I wasn’t interested and she moved on to another occupied bench to continue her search. I thought to myself, “that was interesting,” as I had never had that experience before.

But before I could even complete my thought on the matter, I looked up and an older man was approaching my bench and he sat down next to me. His clothing was pretty rough and he looked like he probably slept in them each night on the street. He began an immediate conversation talking about how he went to the library every day and was trying to improve his mind. I tried to be polite and respond appropriately, but, as he talked, he kept reaching for my hand which he wanted to hold. I kept withdrawing it from his grasp, making it clear that I was not interested in the type of relationship he was seeking, so he eventually got the message, got up, and left. I thought, “gee, another new experience, perhaps I should not be sitting here!”

But before I could act on those thoughts, I was again approached – this time by two teenaged black youth. One, carrying a brown paper bag, sat down next to me, and the other went around the back of the bench and stood behind me where I could only see him out of the corner of my eye. The one next to me started the conversation by saying, “do you know what I have in my bag?” I didn’t answer, so he opened the top of it so I could see a moderate-sized knife, partially concealed with some paper, and the blade pointed in my direction. He next said, “I’d like your wallet.”

By this time, I was pretty frustrated in my experience in Bryant Park, so I responded, “I like my wallet, too.” This was not the response that he was expecting and he was taken aback by it. He next said something like, “Look, I’ll just take the money and you can keep the wallet.” I replied, “I’m partial to everything in my wallet.” We went back and forth a few more times, with me noting that I had a train to catch and needed the money for it and he looking for ways to get me to give him my cash. Finally, I decided the conversation needed to end, and grabbing his hand (the one holding the paper bag with the knife in it), I shook it as I stood up and thanked him for the conversation as I quickly walked to the opening onto the street perhaps 10-15 feet away.

As I descended the steps to the street, I glanced down at my watch. I had been in Bryant Park for all of 10 minutes. In that short span of time, I had been accosted by a hooker, a homosexual, and two black teens with a knife!

That cemented my feeling that I am not fond of cities. I walked the few blocks to Grand Central Station where I spent the remainder of my time before the train arrived just walking and people watching.

Do you like cities? If so, then you are welcome to them. But for me, I’ll stay in the country where the stars shine at night and it’s quiet enough that I can hear the train whistles at the crossing in Macungie over 6 miles away.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Y2K Bites Again

My son recently sent me a link to an article ( titled, “A lazy fix 20 years ago means the Y2K bug is taking down computers now”. The first paragraph in this article read:

“Programmers wanting to avoid the Y2K bug had two broad option: entirely rewrite their code, or adopt a quick fix called ‘windowing’, which would treat all dates from 00 to 20, as from the 2000s, rather than the 1900s. An estimated 80 per cent of computers fixed in 1999 used the quicker, cheaper option.”

The article gave several examples of systems which failed during the transition from 2019 to 2020 because of the windowing code. I’d like to recount my own experience of dealing with the Y2K problem over 20 years ago, why our company had very few Y2K problems, and the various problems that we did experience.

Because of my membership in two professional societies (ACM and IEEE-CS), I had read articles about Y2K earlier than most people. In 1980, I designed and oversaw the creation of a standardized date subroutine that handled every type of date manipulation we could think of – date comparison, number of days between dates, date conversion from one format to another, etc. Since we had to be able to deal with dates with two-digit years, we did have to make assumptions about what century digits to assume and we chose 1940-2039 as our “window”. We chose 1940 since that was the year of the company’s founding and it would be unlikely that we would encounter any dates prior to that in most situations (the only exception was personnel because people had birth years prior to 1940, but those were stored as four-digit years).

We knew that by doing so we would have 60 years before our window would cause issues. But we took additional precautions, one being that we ensured that our object code could NOT be combined into any other program. This way, if we ever needed to update the subroutines, we could do so and ensure that no one was using an “old” version of the code.

We mandated that any program needing date manipulation use this subroutine. Thus, our main concerns were (1) programs which had been written before 1980 which would still be used after 2000, (2) purchased software, and (3) programs which did no date manipulation but still had dates in them.

About 10 years later, in 1990, with an increasing number of articles being written about the upcoming date rollover, I started asking that management address the problem. It took a few years, but eventually around 1996-1997 I received permission to investigate one system, make any necessary changes, and document what would have happened if the changes had not been made.

I chose our corporate accounts receivable system because is was in category (2), i.e. the original source code was a purchased package. After doing a thorough investigation and fixing any problems related to the year rollover, I presented my report to management. They were shocked!

Among the problems were (1) the balance on all accounts would be flagged as past due, interest charged, and past due notices mailed to every customer, and (2) any payments made would be rejected as having invalid dates. That got management’s attention!

In fairly short order we created a project team to address the issue. We purchased some software that could examine COBOL programs for any date usage and flag any potential issues. Then we fixed and tested everything that we needed to change. Programs written in other languages were scanned by hand. In the process we found that there were a couple of old programs where we no longer had the source code, so we tested the function of the program. I was responsible for checking all programs in our Gases Group as well as coordinating all the checking in our joint ventures and subsidiaries around the world.

On the night of the date rollover, I was on duty as the date change worked its way around the world. In every time zone we shut down our operating plants before midnight as a precaution, then restarted them after midnight and local operators called back to our headquarters to report any problems. I was also in charge of logging any errors both during the run-up to the date rollover (some programs do date lookahead), and in the weeks that followed (as some programs only ran monthly).

I logged over 60 errors during this period. All but two were fairly simple ones of just a few types. One type was where the output field for a date had a format code of “ZZ” or “Z9” so the leading zero was suppressed the date was printed as “_0” instead of “00”. Another type was where a “19” was hardcoded to print on a report so it printed “1900” instead of “2000”. There just a few where both types coincided and the report read “19_0”. These did not cause major issues and were easily fixed later.

There were only two errors where there was any significance consequence:

One of these was in our executive payroll system (yes, senior executives get special treatment). We had not been allowed to examine the source code in this system because it was labeled as company confidential. The person in charge of that system told us that he had tested it, but not being a part of the team working on the project he was not as thorough. As a result, during the date rollover the system took several payroll deductions twice and short paid all our executives. This was embarrassing as we had to credit the executives for the double deduction, but it only affected a few individuals and the credit was done before they received their checks for the pay period.

The other problem happened at one our locations in Liberal, Kansas. The US Government runs a helium extraction plant in the panhandle of Texas and runs a helium pipeline across the Oklahoma panhandle into Kansas. Our company took helium out of the pipeline and there was an IBM PC which monitored the flow and periodically calculated the amount of product taken over an elapsed period and billed the company for the helium. Because that PC was owned by the US Government, we not allowed to examine or test it for any Y2K issues. During the rollover period the difference between the date/time at the beginning of the period and the date/time at the end of the period was negative instead of positive. Thus, instead of billing the company for the helium taken, we were given a credit. The amount was relatively small, so the credit was processed as normal and no effort was made to correct the mistake.

Not too many years later the company moved to using SAP and all the old programs on our mainframe were eliminated, so there would not be any additional Y2K issues in code under our control. Thus, we did in fact eliminate all those old programs before the expiration of the 1940-2039 window. But there are still many companies running some old programs and their 1920-2019 windows are now giving them problems.

I know that the programmers working on these old systems that are now failing are not enjoying the problems that they have to fix. If they’d taken the time, as our company did, to fix them right the first time then they could have avoided these problems.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

King Philip’s War

In a previous posting I wrote about one of the earlier wars, the Pequot War, between the European colonists and the Native Americans (*1). This took place between 1636 and 1638. But this did not totally resolve the tensions between the colonists and the Native Americans. Nearly 40 years later, in 1675-1678, an even larger war broke out in New England, one that came to be known as King Philip’s War (*2).

Like the Pequot War, the historical context and the causes for this war were fairly complex:

·       While the Dutch had been forced to surrender their territory in New Netherlands in 1662 so there was no longer rivalry between the English and the Dutch, they had been supplanted by a government loyal to the Duke of York and New Netherlands was now known as New York. There was still tension between the governor of New York and the New Englanders with each claiming land rights that overlapped. So the governor was resistant to groups moving westward into “his” territory.
·       The epidemic that was a consequence of the Native Americans being exposed to new types of germs brought by the Europeans had continued, thus further reducing their numbers to approximately 10,000. (As noted in *2, this included 4,000 Narragansetts in western RI and eastern CT, 2,400 Nipmucks of central and western MA, 2,400 in the Massachusett and Pawtucket tribes around Massachusetts Bay and southern ME and fewer than 1,000 in the Wampanoag and Pokanokets of Plymouth and eastern RI).
·       The number of Europeans in New England had continued to increase during the intervening four decades. Where the number of colonists had been perhaps 10-15,000 in 1636 (there were roughly 20,000 who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the period 1628-1640), by the 1670s they numbered roughly 80,000. They had continued migrating out of the Massachusetts Bay into other parts of NE and had established 110 towns.
·       As I had noted in an earlier posting (*3), there were cultural differences in the understanding and meaning of “land ownership” and “treaty” between the colonists and the Native Americans. (See below footnote for some further information on this.)

It was into this historical context that King Philip’s War occurred. I won’t go into all the details of who attacked who when and for what reasons – you can read that in the referenced article (*2). But you can see the impact of the above factors in the number of colonists who took part in this war (over 1000), the way that they could overwhelm their foes, the rejection of Metacomet when he tried to escape to NY and being sent back to New England, etc. You can also read a short version of this in (*5). As noted there, “Thousands of Indians were killed, wounded or captured and sold into slavery of indentured servitude. The war decimated the Narragansett, Wampanoag and many smaller tribes and mostly ended Indian resistance in southern New England, paving the way for additional English settlements.”

There is an excellent reference book written in 1891 entitled “Soldiers in King Philip’s War” (*6). It lists many of the groups of individuals who enlisted and fought in that war. With so many participants, I do not have sufficient time to check each one out to see if they are one of my ancestors. (Since I have such deep roots in southern New England, I suspect that I could find over 100 of them if I had the time.) But I have found a few who are related to me just by looking for surnames that I am familiar with. These include such names as: Pierpont, Russell, Hartwell, Newell, Rogers, Johnson, Atkins, and Davenport.

This was one of the bloodiest times in the history of our country. While one can feel a certain amount of shame for the way that the colonists treated the natives, we also have to be aware of the historical context in which this war was fought and the fact that much of the initial aggression was not on the part of the colonists. It’s too easy for us, living in the 21st century, to project our own cultural context back to those times of 350 years ago and be critical of the actions of others. But we need to recognize that those were different times and, given the context of the time, we might have acted in the same way.

Footnote on Cultural Differences

The European colonists brought with them European value systems and concepts of things like land ownership and the meaning of treaties. But these values and meanings were not the same as those of the Native Americans.

As I noted in an earlier posting (*3) about the Tunxis tribe who had lived in my hometown of Wolcott, CT:

The Tunxis tribe were the ones who “claimed” the area in what is now Wolcott, although the word “claim” may be misleading. These tribes were essential communists in that all lands were held in common. It was because of this that the concept of buying and selling land was a difficult one for them to understand.

Nonetheless, in the late 1600’s (1674-1684) [the same period as when King Philip’s War was going on] a series of deeds were executed between some men who were living in Waterbury (then called Mattatuckoke which was the Indian name) and the Tunxis Indians. The sachem of the Tunxis, who primarily lived in the Farmington area, was Neashegon. The land was actually purchased multiple times over that period in order to satisfy the tribes. Even after this “sale”, the Indians retained their original rights to hunt on these lands.

The concept of a “treaty” is another cultural issue. In the mind of the colonists, this meant that the Native Americans would leave the colonists alone as they expanded their territory into what they viewed as unoccupied lands. But to the Native Americans, it was interpreted as we will leave each other alone and they would have viewed the expansion of the colonists into the interior of New England as a violation of their hunting lands. An interesting example is in the name for Lake Webster which is on the border between Massachusetts and Connecticut. As noted in (*4):

Late Webster, in Nipmuc [the language of one of the tribes mentioned above], is said to mean “Fishing Place at the Boundaries – Neutral Meeting Grounds”. A longer name is “Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg” which has been humorously translated, “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and no one shall fish in the middle”.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Pequot War

The early 1600s were a complex period in New England with the many dynamics of the time leading to what became known as the Pequot war (1636-1638) (*1). There were several factors leading up to this, including the following:

·       In 1609, Henry Hudson, looking for a Northwest Passage to Asia, sailed up the Hudson River (later named for him). This laid the foundation for the Dutch settlement of that area beginning in 1621. The Dutch claimed an area extending eastward all the way to southwestern Cape Cod (*2).
·       Meanwhile, the English began settlements, beginning in 1620 with the landing of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, then the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 (*3). They quickly began expanding to other parts of southern New England along the Connecticut River including Windsor (1632), Wethersfield (1633), Hartford (1635), and Springfield (1636).
·       A series of epidemics among the native American tribes in the area had severely reduced their population, creating a power vacuum in the area. The Pequots had begun moving into this vacuum and were contending with several other tribes for dominance.
·       A major hurricane in 1635 had reduced harvests, leading to increasing competition for food supplies during the following years, making for even greater tensions between the Pequots and the colonists.

Both the Dutch and the English were trying to establish fur trading colonies. The Pequots had aligned themselves with the Dutch and some of the other tribes had aligned themselves with the English. In 1634, John Stone and about seven of his crew were murdered by the Niantic tribe, clients of the Pequots. Then in July 1636, a trader named John Oldham and several of his crew were killed by Narragansett-allied Indians trying to discourage settlers from trading with their Pequot rivals. The murderers were given sanctuary with the Pequots.

In August, the English sent a party from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to exact revenge on the murderers. The English at Saybrook got involved, as did those from the Connecticut river towns. Skirmishes lasted about two years, not ending until September of 1638. There were fewer than 200 English involved in the various attacks, and perhaps 4 to 5 times that number of Pequots. But the English had the advantage of better weapons, so while not many of the colonists were killed, the Pequot casualties numbered about 700 or taken captive with others escaping to the west, or joining with other tribes and being granted asylum by the English. In addition humdreds were sold into slavery to the West Indies.

I’ve tried to find the names of the men who participated in the Pequot war and through the combination of two sources (*4 and *5), have identified 155 individuals. Of these 13 are my direct ancestors, one is a cousin, two are ancestors of my father’s step-father, and four more are ancestors of some of my cousins.

Direct Ancestors:

·       Thomas Barnes, great*9 grandfather
·       John Bronson, great*8 grandfather
·       Lt Thomas Bull, great*10 grandfather
·       Thomas Bunce, great*9 grandfather
·       Edward Culver, great*10 grandfather
·       Nicholas Denslow, great*11 grandfather
·       John Hall, great*9 grandfather
·       Nathaniel Merriman, great*8 grandfather
·       Sgt Thomas Munson, great*9 grandfather
·       Sgt Nicholas Palmer, great*10 grandfather
·       William Parker, great*9 grandfather
·       Lt Robert Seeley, great*10 grandfather
·       Samuel Smith, great*10 grandfather


·       Zachariah Field, great*4 grandfather of fourth cousin six times removed
·       William Hedges, great*2 grandfather of second cousin seven times removed
·       Thomas Hurlbut, great*3 grandfather of fourth cousin six times removed
·       Thomas Root, second cousin, nine times removed
·       James Rogers, step-great*6 grandfather of my father
·       Thomas Spencer, great*2 grandfather of sixth cousin five times removed
·       Thomas Stanton, step-great*6 grandfather of my father


*5 – Connecticut Soldiers in the Pequot War of 1637, James Shepard, 1913

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Pierpont Family Name

Recently I published a blog about my Russell lineage. In it I made a simple note about the family line on my mother’s side, Pierpont, where the name transitioned from de Pierrepont (France) to Pierrepont (England) to Pierpont (America) and there was also a branch in VA/MD where it was spelled Pierpoint. One of my cousins commented,

“I am glad to learn that Pierrepont was corrupted to Pierpoint (sic) before it left England so we don’t have to blame bad spelling of excess imagination on those of us that trace back to John and Robert.”

But it’s not quite that simple, in fact the John/Robert line had even more problems with spelling that one might imagine. Let’s look at some actual historic documents for illustration.

The first one I’d like to look at is the marriage record of the father of John and Robert, James. He was married in England, so one would expect to see his name recorded as Pierrepont. But as you can see here, the actual recording is Pirrepoynt!

[James Pirrepoynt marriage]

Then when John actually gets to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640, it seems that no one can agree on how to spell his name!

Here is record of his purchasing property in Roxbury where it is spelled Perpoint.

[John Perpoint land]

Then when he gets a letter from England informing him of the death of his mother in 1664 it’s Pierpointe.

[John Pierpointe letter]

When he is buried, his grave stone reads Peirpont.

[John Peirpont grave]

But the Massachusetts vital records have it as Peirpoynt.

[Pierpoynt vital records]

The Pierpont family became members of the First Church of Roxbury, so perhaps there we will find the correct spelling. While John, Robert, and many of their family members are mentioned prominently in the church records, it seems that no one there can get it right either. Here is the index from the book about the church where it is spelled variously as Pierpont, Pierpoynt, Pairpoynt, Pierrepoint, Peirpont, Pierepont, and Peirpoynt.

[Roxbury Church]

When John’s son, the Rev. James, moved to New Haven, things seem to finally settle down to the expected Pierpont, except for a couple of exceptions. First, James’ grandson Hezekiah changed his name back to Pierrepont to reflect his English roots and that name then proliferated in Brooklyn where it can still be found today. And a couple of generations later, James’ great-great-grandson, Austin, was buried under a gravestone in the East Farms cemetery under the last name of Pierpoint in 1848.

[Austin Pierpoint grave]

Spelling was definitely not the strong suit of the family back in the 1600s. Because it was a somewhat unusual name and because most transactions were oral rather than written, it was so often misspelled that the variation of Pierpont to Pierpoint seems almost trivial by comparison!