Anyone who lived in Fall River, Massachusetts more than fifty years ago would recognize the Brayton name as a power family from the city’s glory days. A block away from my childhood home, the boundary of the baronial John Summerfield Brayton estate was marked by a substantial granite wall with a pointed cap, stretching along Highland Avenue and bending the curve to New Boston Road. What a great place for kids to play, imagining we were behind a medieval fortification. Not even in my flights of fantasy would I have contemplated kinship with this wealthy family.
By the late 1950s, the Brayton mansion was razed to make room for the new Brayton wing of the Union Hospital. In those days before HIPA, my father—a staff physician at Union Hospital—would sometimes take me along on his rounds on Sunday afternoons. In the lobby of the hospital I encountered an imposing portrait of late hospital President John S. Brayton, Jr. (1895-1961), whose father had built the mansion. Then in the late 1960s, I had the opportunity to meet his son, Jack Brayton (1924-1997), when he served alongside my mother as founding trustees of the Marine Museum at Fall River. I was struck by how much he resembled the portrait of his father—it was like history coming to life!
It did not occur to any of us to search for common ancestors back then. The divorce of my mother’s parents in 1943, and her subsequent adoption by her stepfather, cut off access to her paternal ancestry. At 16, I met my grandfather Emory Morse, and the floodgates to learning about his forebears opened. Emory’s ancestors over two centuries never moved very far from Plymouth and Barnstable counties, Massachusetts. For a long time, I was able to ride on the coattails of earlier genealogists and published works. Then, I began to find the brick walls—such as those within the Wrightington family.
Elizabeth Wrightington was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on 16 September 1733, daughter of Thomas Wrightington and Sarah Dennis. Documenting this family opened new roads to early Rhode Island families, some of whom eventually moved to Fall River. With the collaboration of Cherry Fletcher Bamberg FASG, we published three articles on the Wrightingtons in Rhode Island Roots.1 I uncovered a record of the marriage of Elizabeth Wrightington’s parents at Trinity Church, Newport, but it offered no clues to Sarah’s parentage. From an incomplete sketch in Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, I surmised her parents were John Dennis and Ann Brayton, married circa 1710.
I was able to prove that connection with the help of an underappreciated source: Newport Town Council Records. In her will, spinster Mary Brayton, daughter of Stephen and Ann,2 left her “best riding hood” to her “cousin” Margaret Wrightington, elder sister of my Elizabeth Wrightington. 3 While Margaret was actually Mary Brayton’s grand-niece, this evidence cements the relationship between the Brayton and Wrightington families, through the marriage of Sarah Dennis to Thomas Wrightington.
Little did we know, as my mother and Jack Brayton stood side-by-side for this photo, that they were really seventh cousins once-removed. My now 88-year-old mother recently quipped, “Only you could have found something so far out.” I’ll take that as a compliment!
While the chart below outlines two lines of descent from Francis Brayton of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, it does not convey the tremendous divergence of wealth between these two branches, beginning at the end of the 18 th century. For example, comparing census data at generation 8: Thomas Pierce, sawyer of Wareham, held $700 worth of real estate, whereas Israel Brayton, farmer of Somerset, held $15,000 of real estate. The gap only widened with time. Though only 30 miles apart from one another, these two branches of Brayton progeny lived in different worlds.
Two lines of descent from Francis Brayton
- Francis Brayton, at Portsmouth, R.I., 1643, d. 1692
- Stephen Brayton, m. Ann Tallman, d. 1694
|3. Ann Brayton, 1683-1747||Preserved Brayton, 1685-1761|
|4. Sarah Dennis, b. ca. 1712, d. aft. 1781||Israel Brayton, 1727-1791|
|5. Elizabeth Wrightington, 1733-1827||John Brayton, 1762-1829|
|6. Betsy Gurney, 1771-1852||Israel Brayton, 1792-1866|
|7. Thomas Pierce, 1795-1860||John Summerfield Brayton 1826-1904|
|8. Anthony Pierce, 1843-1920||John Summerfield Brayton, 1864-1923|
|9. Myrta Pierce Morse, 1888-1958||John S. Brayton, Jr., 1895-1961|
|10. Emory Morse, 1907-1993||John S. “Jack” Brayton, 1925-1997|
|11. Marilyn Morse Dwyer, living|
1 Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, Michael F. Dwyer, “Margaret (Ward) (Bradley) Wrightington,” Rhode Island Roots 38 (2012), 169–83, 39 (2013), 1–14, 57–84.
2 Arnold, Rhode Island Vital Records, 1:1:8, 58.
3 Newport Town Council Records, 18:97, from a will proved ca. 1757. W
4 My mother first saw her original birth certificate only in 1974, when she changed the misspelling of her first name to Marilyn.