Monday, October 26, 2009

Origins of the New England, Westmoreland, NH, Brittons

Compiled and edited by Bill Newcomer, January, 1998.

(Originally published on Rootsweb. In going over this for publication here, I realized this may appear as a somewhat disjointed summery outline to someone not familiar with our Britton genealogy or New England genealogy. I apologize for that, but also believe this discussion illustrates some of the pitfalls of genealogical research.)

The following is a discussion of our Britton origins that took place via e-mail between Valerie Phillips Gildehaus, Donald Britton Miller, and Bill Newcomer. The discussion does not so much decide what our Britton origins are, but looks at three theories and why they are inadequate and we do not accept them. We recognize there are other theories regarding our Britton origins not discussed here.

Preliminary agreement

The parties to this discussion have not raised any question about the relationship of our New England Britton lines to William Britton and his wife, Mary Pendleton, through their son William (II) Britton and his wife, Lydia Leonard. The question and focus of this discussion of our Britton origins is:

"Who was the father of the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton?"

I. Theories of the Family Origins

"Exploratory Material on Britton Origins"; Elsie (Chickering) Brown; August 1976

This material by Elsie Brown does a very good job of setting forth the different theories of the family origins. The relative merits of these theories are discussed below in context of analysis of the sources. The main theories are as follows:

  1. The James Britton Origin: The family descends from one of the two James Britton's found in early records of Mass. The most probable candidate is the James Britton of Woburn who married the widow Jane Eggleston. This theory says James and Jane Britton are the parents of the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton, and there was another son named Peter.

  2. The Rhode Island Britton’s: There is record of a William Britton who was governor of the Rhode Island Colony in 1666-1668. This William was Elsie Brown’s favorite candidate for being the father of the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton.

  3. The Maryland William Britton: A William Bretton settled in Maryland in 1637 and had a young son named William. This theory speculates that the son, William was the William Britton that married Mary Pendleton.

II. The Sources & Analysis

Genealogical Dictionary: Vol I "A-C"; James Savage; (BFR 1868?) ; page 257

Lists two James Britton's in early 1600's Mass.

1) A James Britton was hanged for adultery on Mar. 21, 1644. (A vivid account of this is cited by Elsie Brown.)

2) The James Britton who died in Woburn May 3, 1655. No mention of wife or children.

"The History of Woburn, Middlesex County, Mass."; Samuel Sewall, Wiggin & Lunt, Boston; 1868

In Appendix No. I, pg 529 is a copy of the Orders for Woburn (1640) with James Britton listed as one of the subscribers. In the Appendix on Genealogical notices he mentions James Britton, the material is an almost exact copy of Savage who Sewall cites as one of his sources. He does mention James Britton's wife married Isaac Cole ABT 1658. No mention of any children.

Sewall must have had access to some of the early work of Savage. Indications are from a catalog listing noted by Donald B. Miller, that Savage's work was done over a time period from about 1860 to 1884.

Bill Newcomer's notes:

"...on page 183 Sewall makes a comment that I believe has direct bearing on our discussion of Britton origins.

He is speaking of a Major Convers and of his work as Town Clerk of Woburn. Here is a summery of what was said about Major Convers' work as Town Clerk.

He noticed his predecessors had recorded births, marriages, and deaths on various loose pages of paper that were in sad shape and about to perish. Convers at his own expense bought a blank folio volume, well bound, and transcribed the records, and doing a valuable service in preserving them for posterity. By this work and that of his successor some 50 years of records were preserved. To give time context, this in the latter part of the 1600's.

If a William or Peter Britton was born in Wolburn, we have some very good expectation that the record of that birth was preserved. It is possible there may have been a fragment Convers was not able to transcribe that may have contained records of James & Jane Britton's children, but I struggle with making any claim on the probability of that."

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus comments (Jan, 10, 1998):

"This is the kind of thing that has always bothered me about the James Britton theory. The Woburn History, written before Edward Britton's book in 1901, makes no mention of sons William and Peter.

The Peter issue has always bothered me, too. If Edward Britton just listed a son William, I would assume he just found a likely Britton of the right age, and declared him to be William's father. The addition of Peter makes me think he had some source for this - but what?? I have never found a Peter Britton in any other records."

Donald Britton Miller notes (January 10, 1998):

"I examined the Microfiche which came today and there is no record of births to a Britton in Woburn! [This is as we suspected from other sources.] There is only one marriage and it is Jane's to Cole."

Lewis Fales Britton Manuscript (1822 - 1902)

His great-grandfather was Ebenezer Britton (1715 - 1788). Lewis says Ebenezer's father's name was William. There is then a somewhat cryptic statement that appears to say that this William's father and grand-father were also named William. Taken at face value this means the father of the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton was also named William and not James.

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus comments:

"This may be confused with his maternal line which included 3 Wm.'s in a row prior to Lewis's gr. grandfather Robert Britton."

Bill Newcomer comments:

"Lewis's father and mother were third cousins; her maiden name also being Britton. The document is suggestive, but not at all conclusive due to the maternal connection as noted by Valerie."

Britton Genealogy as pub. by Edward Earl Britton & Caroline Amelia Parker, Jan. 1 , 1901

This work contains the earliest note of James and Jane (Eggleston) Britton having two sons, William and Peter. The son, William is identified as the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton.

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus said (December, 1987):

"In the section on James Britton, Edward cites two sources -Savage and Charlestown Genealogies. These do list James Britton and a wife, but do not mention any sons." (Our copy of the Savage citation confirms the first part. Moffatt concurs with Valerie regarding the Charlestown Genealogies.)

"Edward Britton was not even able to identify his own gr. grandfather, Luther Britton, correctly. He apparently just found a Luther Britton and assumed that was his Luther. Edward's Luther was not son of Ebenezer, but a son of John and grandson of Pendleton (brother of Ebenezer). Edward Britton's line appears to be correctly given in the Westmoreland History and in the computer printout Don sent."

Donald Britton Miller concurs regarding the Luther Britton error per his comments, citing Edward Britton's notes on Luther Britton:

"From this connection which is in direct conflict with the Westmoreland History & Genealogy [ as it relates to LUTHER, son of Ebenezer], his whole Britton line descends.] He claims that his Luther was the 11th son [I think 12th, D. B. M.] of Ebenezer Britton 1715-1788, my relative.

12/28/96 ...... I have found the source of the problem/conflict which made me think that Edward Earl had created a new wife for Luther to create a genealogical file. There is another Luther, son of John Britton and Phebe Hewitt, son of Pendleton and Hannah Sills. Pendleton was the son of William & Mary Pendleton and this William was the son of James Britton."

New England Families Genealogical, Vol III, (1915)

Page 1373, regurgitates the James & Jane, Peter & William connection, and apparently the Luther Britton error.

Donald Britton Miller's notes regarding the Edward Britton's Luther Britton error:

"I discovered the error in Edward's work and tried to inform people about it. The author of the David Freeman book also discovered the error about Luther's. But errors live on and get copied over and over. I informed NEHGS and put info on line about the error ... but no one cared!"

Lineage of Winchester (IV) Britton; Hereditary Member of the Plantagenet Society (Date not known)

Bill Newcomer's notes:

"This chart repeats the Edward Britton error connecting Sebra Winchester Britton to Luther, son of Ebenezer, instead of to Luther son of John Britton, son of Pendleton.

A preliminary analysis of that part of the chart dealing with generations before 1600 indicates data doesn't fit with data on Paul McBride's WWW pages on the English lines of nobility. The chart lists "Sampson Leonard" where we would expect "Henry Leonard" (See Daniel Britton Ancestry Chart.)

This chart is clearly based on the Edward Britton genealogy. Edward was Winchester Britton (III)'s brother. The chart appears to have been compiled by Edyth Clements (Shiply) Britton, Winchester (III)'s wife. She claims to be a "Magna Charta Dame". This is Moffatt's "Mrs. Winchester Britton" (Moffatt & Gilbert, page 38.)

This chart's intent is to show the Leonard connection to the Britton lines and doesn't have any Britton information earlier then William & Mary (Pendleton) Britton's son William who married Lydia Leonard. I am including the analysis of this chart here because I believe it reflects the somewhat casual attitude of the Winchester Britton family towards genealogical research, and thus reflects the relative lower degree of reliability to be given to Edward Britton's work."

"The Ancestors of Daniel Freeman Britton" by Eva L. Moffatt and Geoffrey Gilbert (1953)

Bill Newcomer's notes:

"Moffatt didn't realize there were two James Britton's in early Mass. Confuses the Woburn James Britton with the "hanged" James Britton.

She apparently did not have time to fully explore the Winchester Britton Chart that is mentioned on page 38. If she had, she would not have thought Mrs. Winchester Britton to be "an alert family historian,.." (See notes on Winchester Britton Chart above.) This false lead came from Mrs. Britton's being born in Baltimore, Maryland, and thus the Winchester Britton Charts being given to the Maryland Historical Society. Moffatt's preliminary thought was that maybe the Winchester Britton material might have information connecting the Westmoreland, NH Britton's to the Maryland James Britton.

Moffatt says regarding James Britton of Woburn (page 37):

"..A careful examination of the wills and deeds of Middlesex and Sussex counties, Mass., has failed to bring to light any son of James and Jane, and there is no record of any sons in the vital statistics of Woburn, Charlestown, or Boston."

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus agrees with Moffatt (December, 1997):

"I have found nothing published or written prior to 1901 that mentions anything about either of the early James Britton's having sons Peter and William. My cousin Linda and I spend quite a bit of time at Newberry Library searching for anything prior to 1901 that documents this. Everything published after 1901 that lists these sons has the same information that Edward Britton gave."

Moffatt says regarding the Maryland William Britton:

"A family record which has come down to Charles Ebenezer Shelley of Albany, N.Y.. states that the father of our William was also William." She then mentions the William Britton of Maryland as a possibility.

Bill Newcomer's notes regarding the Maryland Britton Theory:

"In reviewing the Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol 50, (1955) article on William Bretton of Newtown Neck, I find some of my initial reservations being reinforced.

The clue in this article is the account of William Bretton's devout Catholicism. Thus my reservations follow along two lines:

1. Is it reasonable to expect a son of a wealthy respected man in Maryland to leave the mild climate of Maryland for the harsher climate of New England and with no apparent evidence he took much, if any of his father's wealth with him? I suppose this is possible, but don't believe it probable.

2. Is it reasonable to expect a man brought up in a devoutly Catholic home to leave a place where Catholicism was more then just tolerated, (the Maryland colony was established for Catholics), and go to a Puritan Congregationalist New England that was very "anti-papist"? Possible? Yes. Probable? No. On top of all that is the acknowledged silence about William Bretton's son, William. No more is heard. The most probable conclusion is he died young.

On this basis I would respectfully suggest that, unless other evidence is found, the Maryland-Bretton theory of the origins of our New England Brittons, though possible, is very improbable."

Note from Donald Britton Miller, (January 1998):

"You have done a good job of stating the reasons for rejecting that theory. In talking with Dollarhid [who is the 'expert' on migrations to the Americas, he indicates that many could not stand the closed mindedness and rules of the New England pilgrims. They were evidenced by quickly moving out to new towns. This is what James did and evidence suggests he became a Congregationalist. In the Ebenezer era there is nary a mention of Catholicism."

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus said (January, 1998):

"I, also, agree with Bill's analysis of William Britton of Maryland and his son William. The odds are extremely high that William Jr. died young without issue. William Jr.'s being the originator of our line would be a definite long-shot, however, not impossible. If the son of a prominent Catholic family met and married a Protestant from New England, this would probably be sufficient reason to never mention him again - and to ignore any children of such a union. Not likely, but these things did happen."

"Exploratory Material on Britton Origins"; Elsie (Chickering) Brown; August 1976

Bill Newcomer's notes:

It is in Elsie's materials we find mention of the Rhode Island William Britton. She cites a "..History of Middlesex Co., by Hurd (under Groton) Vol ii.." where the name is spelled "Brenton" . She also notes at the time of her writing (1976), "As yet I have been unable to find out who his descendants were, but he is my favorite candidate as father of our ancestor William Britton."

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus said (January, 1998):

"I have looked up the Rhode Island line (very briefly), and the William Britton families for this time period appear to be accounted for, so this is unlikely to be our line."

"History of Westmoreland (Great Meadow) New Hampshire, 1741-1970, And Genealogical Data"; Westmoreland History Com., Westmoreland, NH; (1976); pgs. 348 - 355, (Cheshire Co., NH)

Corrects the Luther connection error. Keeps James and Jane, citing William and Peter as sons.

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus notes (October, 1997):

"I'm quite sure that the information about James from the 1976 Westmoreland History was taken from the Edward Britton book - it's virtually identical."

"A Short History of the Brittons in America" by Maynard H. Mires, MD, pub in 1976

Source cited by Donald Britton Miller. Mires repeats the James & Jane, William and Peter connection.

III. Conclusion

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus said (December, 1997):

" I always try to get as close to the primary source as possible. It's ideal to find the same information from two independent sources. So far, everything that I have found that says James BRITTON had two sons - Peter and William - was written after the Britton Genealogy by Edward Britton, 1901. The existence of two James BRITTONs in early New England seems to be well established, as does the material on one James's wife; however, I can find nothing written prior to 1901 that lists two sons for James BRITTON. I believe all the listings of the two sons originated with the Edward BRITTON book. The problem is: Where did he get this information??? On page 7 of his book he sites two sources: Savage; and Charlestown Genealogies p.229. These sources do document what Edward BRITTON says about James and wife, but neither mention sons Peter and William. My cousin and I searched at some length to find anything prior to 1901 that mentions any Peter or William BRITTON who could possibly be these sons. When I lived near Chicago, I was able to make frequent trips to Newberry Library where there is an outstanding collection of New England material. We could find nothing to document the existence of these two sons."

Bill Newcomer concludes:

"Serious doubt has been cast on the connection of our New England Britton lines to the James and Jane (Eggleston) Britton. Where we should be able to find evidence of this connection in the early records of New England, specifically the records of Charlestown and Woburn, it is not there. Edward Britton's approach to the early genealogy of the family is suspect.

The Maryland William Bretton theory also has some difficulties not easily cast aside.

The Rhode Island theory has more plausibility but again lacks evidence. Valerie's initial investigations along that line are not encouraging.

One possibility I've not seen seriously discussed is that the William Britton who married Mary Pendleton was himself a immigrant from the British Isles. But again that is only speculation without any evidence."

Donald Britton Miller notes (January., 1998):

"I am beginning to agree with you that we must begin our line with William Britton, Sr. 1650-1680 and recognize that the connection with James is improbable. I shall plan to do that with the inclusion of a discussion of the several theories that go before. I shall sit down with Savage sometime and go through it in detail on the outside chance he says something on a different page that sheds light. I too have been through the History of Woburn and wondered that it says nothing. I have ordered Microfiche on Woburn which should list all births, deaths, and marriages. When it comes it will probably confirm what we already suspect." [As noted above, Don confirms there was no record of William or Peter in the Wolburn microfiche.]

Relationship of the participants:

Donald Britton Miller is a 5th cousin, once removed, to Valerie Phillips Gildehaus through Ebenezer Britton, and a 6th cousin, once removed, to Valerie through William (II) Britton.

Valerie Phillips Gildehaus is a 7th cousin to Bill Newcomer through William (II) Britton, and a 6th cousin, once removed, through William (III) Britton.

Bill Newcomer is a sixth cousin, once removed, to Donald Britton Miller through William (II) Britton.

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