Welcome! I really enjoy exchanging information with people and hope this blog will help with that. I am not an expert and I consider most of my research as a work in progress. Some of the surnames I'm researching:

Many old Cape families including Kelley, Eldredge/idge, Howes, Baker, Mayo, Bangs, Snow, Chase, Ryder/Rider, Freeman, Cole, Sears, Wixon, Nickerson.
Many old Plymouth County families including Washburn, Bumpus, Lucas, Cobb, Benson.
Johnson (England to MA)
Corey (Correia?) (Azores to MA)
Booth, Jones, Taylor, Heatherington (N. Ireland to Quebec)
O'Connor (Ireland to MA)
My Mayflower Ancestors (only first two have been submitted/approved by the Mayflower Society):
Francis Cooke, William Brewster, George Soule, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, Richard Warren, Peter Browne, Francis Eaton, Samuel Fuller, James Chilton, John Tilley, Stephen Hopkins, John Howland.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Lost Hero of Cape Cod

I'm veering away from my typical blog entry today to talk about a book I just read, The Lost Hero of Cape Cod: Captain Asa Eldridge and the Maritime Trade that Shaped America, by Vincent Miles, published by the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth in 2015. I saw the book mentioned in a recent issue of the Dennis Historical Society newsletter and purchased a copy through Amazon. Having many mariners from Cape Cod in my ancestry, I'm always interested in learning more about what their lives were like. Although to be honest I'm never able to remember the difference between a bark and a schooner (my sister would cringe at this since the history of shipbuilding was a passion of hers!).
The Lost Hero of Cape Cod Book Review
Miles' book is about Asa Eldridge who was born 24 July 1809 in Yarmouth, Mass. He became a master mariner, as did his brothers Oliver and John. The book is also about the importance of the maritime trade industry in the history of our nation. Miles' knowledge of this history is impressive and very interesting to read. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in this subject matter.

Asa Eldridge holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a sailing ship, which is quite remarkable.

Having Eldridge/Eldredge/Eldred ancestors, I was interested to see how Asa fit in with my folks. Does everyone interested in genealogy do whacky things like this?! Miles mentions he was the son of John, grandson of Barnabas and that he descended from William 1 Eldred, an early Yarmouth settler. From there I was able to dig up Asa's line to William 1 Eldred/Eldredge: Asa>John>Barnabas>John>John>Samuel>William. This makes Asa a distant relation of mine (5th cousin 3 times removed).

Asa married Eliza Hallet in January 1835. She was a distant cousin of his from Roxbury, Mass. They did not have any children. Since Asa didn't have direct descendants, it makes me all the more appreciative that Vincent Miles told his story.

After an illustrious career, on 23 January 1856 Asa left Liverpool as commander of the steamship Pacific and was never heard from again. Miles gives examples of how treacherous the North Atlantic was that winter because of ice much further south than usual. It seems that a collision with a mass of ice is how the Pacific and its 45 passengers and crew of  141 met their end on or about January 28. A week after that the crew of the Edinburgh reported seeing floating debris in the area that would have come from a passenger vessel. A captain of another vessel that left Liverpool three days after Asa reported his vessel was damaged by heavy ice fields.

Steamship Pacific
The Pacific      Source: Wikipedia
In 1861 a message in a bottle was found from crew member Wm Graham, saying the Pacific left Liverpool and hit ice and was going down and there was no hope for his survival. Miles writes that these types of messages were sometimes hoaxes. The crew member was Robert Graham on the manifest but errors like that weren't uncommon. A London newspaper examined the note and found it was genuine.

In 1992 divers off the coast of North Wales, 60 miles from Liverpool, found a wooden wreck they believe is that of the Pacific, although Miles believes more information is needed to confirm the wreck's identity.

As I was writing this, I quickly looked up Eliza Eldridge's death. She died in Boston on 15 August 1895 at the age of 87 years, 6 months. She is recorded as Eliza Eldridge, maiden name Hallet, widow of Asa Eldridge, daughter of George Hallet and Eliza Gordon. Strange that I just mentioned my late sister in this post and as I was scrolling down the page looking for Eliza's name, I came across the name Mary B. Rollins who died the same day. That is also my sister's name.

Also tying in with mariner ancestors, I watched the 1939 movie Captains Courageous with Spencer Tracey. A great old movie about Gloucester fishermen that featured the Canadian schooner Bluenose, a vessel my sister was very interested in. It also has a scene at the famous Fisherman's Memorial in Gloucester where sadly one of my ancestors' name is inscribed on the cenotaph. It amazes me how studying my family history makes me see so many connections I would otherwise just pass by.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

James Skiffe ca 1610-1685 and his Wife Mary of Sandwich, Mass.


James Skiffe was born about 1610 in England, possibly in Kent.  His surname is also seen as Skeff and Skiff. He is my 10th great-grandfather on my grandfather Arthur Washburn Davis’ side of the family. He served in various public offices, clearly an important citizen of the town of Sandwich, and was a cooper by trade. My favorite thing about James is that he wasn’t involved in persecuting Quakers, and seems to have risked his own reputation in doing so.

James was one of the early European settlers of Sandwich in the 1630s. He married a woman named Mary, whose surname isn’t known with certainty (I’ve seen it as Reeves but without sources). Author RA Lovell refers to him as one of the hardworking business-like settlers who kept Sandwich going during its early years through continuous public service. James and Mary had nine children whose births are listed in the Sandwich Vital Records.

Children of James Skeff listed, no wife's name:

James Skeff 12 September 1638

Steven 14 April 1641

Nathanniell 20 March 1645

Sare 19 October 1646

Bathshua 26 April 1648 (shown as 21 April in PCR V8:6).

Mary 25 March 1650

Pacience 25 March 1652

Beniamine 15 November 1655

Nathan Skeff and son of James born 27 May 1658

I descend from his daughter Patience who married Elisha Bourne. I wrote about that couple here.  His five sons and four daughters all survived to adulthood and married; several removed to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. James' son Captain Stephen (1641-1710) was the only son to remain in Sandwich and he continued his father's tradition of local civic and military duties and became a county magistrate. James Jr. married Elizabeth Neighbor in 1659, but after 11 childless years he sued for divorce, as Elizabeth had run off to Virginia with another man. James remarried, lived on Nantucket and had six children with his second wife.

According to the 1667 house survey, James Skiff lived in the central village while his son Captain Stephen built on what is now Route 6A opposite Chipman Road. In RA Lovel's book, a depiction of a  1667 map of the village and Spring Hill shows James Skiff's home on what is now Main Street, between Thomas Tupper Sr. and William Bassett, who are also my direct ancestors. The so-called "Skiff House" in Spring Hill has no early connection with the family, but was built by a son of John Nye.


James Skiffe home is no. 9 source: Sandwich A Cape Cod Town


In 1638 Henry Ewer and his wife were ordered to depart from Sandwich for some violation of law, and "Mr. Skeffe is required to send them back because he encouraged their coming."

Richard Handy was apprenticed to Skiffe to learn the trade of cooper. He transferred to Plymouth in 1639.

James was on the 1643 list of Men Able to Bear Arms.

James Skiffe had a great interest in serving his community. In 1658 he was an administrator in town before there was a Board of Selectmen. James Skiff was appointed Deputy to the General Court and served for 13 years. First mention of selectmen found in records was in 1667 when Thomas Burgess, James Skiff and Thomas Tupper Sr. were serving.  He served for 9 years. In 1672 both he and his son Stephen were Selectmen.

At the 23 June 1651 Town Meeting, James Skiff and four other men were chosen to make a levy of six pounds for the payment of the Clerk and the Committees. On the first of March 1654/5 James Skiff and three other men agreed with the town to build a mill, after the original grist mill became inoperable. Skiff and another signed their names; other two used a mark.

In 1653 James Skiff was engaged to buy "Pistols Powder Bullets Drum Cutlass and Half Pikes" for the Sandwich militia. James Skiff and Richard Bourne were appointed to lay out land to townspeople to plant at the Common for six years, 22 Jan 1657/8.

John Ellis, William Swift, William Allen, and James Skeff were engaged to build a mill, the town of Sandwich paying £20. This sum was subscribed by 22 of the freemen and the mill was completed early in 1655.

In September 1673 Richard Bourne and James Skiff were appointed to lay out lands they think necessary and to lay them out near the Town House, some of the land to lie above the House and the rest below the House, and as much of the swamp which lies by the ford as they shall think good for to belong to the House for the use of the Ministry.

James Skiff Sr. is on the 1675 list of Sandwich men allowed to vote at town meeting and who would be fined for non-attendance.

In June 1676 a special committee of four, including James Skiff, was formed to take an account off what ought justly to be satisfied and...all the town's debts that appear justly due to be paid. The resulting taxes were not recorded.

In 1658 James Skiff of Sandwich, was summoned to court for criticizing the law concerning the oath of fidelity. This was during the time of punishment of the Quakers in town, something he didn’t personally participate in.

James Skiff, the deputy to general court in 1659, was rejected because he was friendly to his neighbors holding other than orthodox ideas, meaning Quakers.

Transcriptions of multiple land deeds concerning James were published in various issues of The Mayflower Descendant.

On 14 January 1636 Court of Assistants granted James Skiffe 10 acres next to land granted to Thirston Clarke, between the lands of Phineas Pratt and widow Billington, five acres of this due to him for his serve to Mr. Isaack Olverton and the other five are in the right of Peter Talbott for service by indenture to Edward Doty.

On 3 June 1650 James Skiffe paid 30 pounds to William Wood for land in Sandwich, including a dwelling house, barn, stalls for cattle, upland, meadows.

Plymouth Colony Records of 1654, mention five freemen of Sandwich, including James Skiffe, who desired some several parcels of land by Marshpee Pond and 10 acres of meadow; 100 acres at Santuit Pond; a neck of land by Cotuit River to keep cattle; certain meadow at Mannamuch Bay. No further mention of these desired land grands.

A July 1655 deed mentions James Skiffe for his former service to Thomas Burgis, granting him a small parcel of land at Monnomett, directly over the land of Thomas Burgis, which was formerly the company's where they had a trading house (probably Apucxtet), with all the meadow bordering the said neck or lying on the skirts there, to James Skiff, his heirs and assigns forever.

On 3 July 1656, the court gave liberty to James Skiff to purchase the land granted to him at Manomet of the Indians there.

He purchased land that was recorded years later, in 1657, from Nicholas Wright sometimes of Sandwich, house and 8 acres of upland with orchards, bound to the south by William Bassett Jr., and on the other side by Thomas Launder, as well as two acres of meadow in the Common Field.

James Skiffe’s name is often found in records for witnessing wills and conducting estate inventories. John Green’s 1659 will mentions James Skiffe Sr. being given power of attorney to recover debts to the estate and was made sole executor.

Because of dissension in the Sandwich church by 1688 James Skiff was one of only five active male members remaining.

Mary Skiffe the wife of James Skiffe Sen died the 21 of September 1673 (Sandwich Vital Records). James died about 1685.

I read a book called Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language, Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard, by Nora Ellen Groce. She wrote that a name that appeared in 63 of the pedigrees of 72 deaf individuals she investigated was James Skiffe, a hearing man who settled in Sandwich, Massachusetts, with his family in 1633. Skiffe himself never moved to Martha's Vineyard but a number of his children eventually settled in Tisbury and Chilmark. It is likely that Skiffe carried the gene for deafness. They were from the Weald in Kent, lived in Scituate from 1634-44, then to Sandwich, then some to Martha's Vineyard. Once the initial deafness gene occurred, it was perpetuated by the ingrown nature of rural English villages, particularly in the Weald of Kent.

Sources Not Listed Above:

RA Lovell Jr., Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town, 1984

Deyo, Simeon L., editor, History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts," HW Blake & Co., New York, 1890


Sunday, February 7, 2016

John Butler born ca 1651 and Priscilla Norton of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

John Butler was born about 1651 in Dorchester, Suffolk Co., Massachusetts. He was baptized on 6 July 1651 at Dorchester, the son of John Butler and Mary Lynde. His parents moved to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard when John was a baby. John is my 8th great-grandfather on my grandmother Milly (Booth) Rollins side. I haven’t done much research on this couple as of yet.

John Butler was called Gentleman and Captain in records. He was a leading citizen in the town and served as coroner for the county. In 1691 he was sergeant of the Militia and in 1692 was Constable. In a letter (I don’t find a date on the transcription) written to Governor of Mass Bay by Simon Athern about the boundaries of Martha’s Vineyard and towns within, he also discusses Militia Officers and suggests the best fit is Mr. John Butler as Captain of the Edgartown Militia. Clearly John was a leader in the community.

John married, in Edgartown about 1671, Priscilla Norton, who was born about 1655, the daughter of Nicholas and Elizabeth Norton of Edgartown. They lived on Great Neck.


John and Priscilla had 12 children: Henry, John, Thomas, Nicholas, Joyce, Samuel, Onesimus, Simeon, Zephaniah, Malachi, Priscilla, and Gamaliel. I descend from Priscilla who married Thomas Snow.

John Butler died between 1733 and 1738. His will was dated 10 November 1733, proved 3 October 1738, so he was at least 80 years of age at the time of his death. I have not yet seen his will. If anyone has a transcription they are willing to share, please let me know.


Sources Not Listed Above:

Charles Banks, History of Martha Vineyard Vol. II, III, 1911

William Richard Cutler, Genealogical and Personal Memoirs: Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, 1908