A friend relayed to me this episode: an older individual was leaving a research facility when security, per policy, asked to inspect their bag. The individual declared to my friend working at the reception desk: “I find it insulting that security asked to check my bag, because I’m a Mayflower descendant!”
Aware that one’s ancestry has very little to do with one’s potential to commit a crime, my friend wanted to know if there were any Mayflower descendants with a well-known criminal record who they could have brought up in response. Indeed, there are plenty!
The first ones to come to my mind are the man who assassinated John Lennon, Mark David Chapman (from passengers William and Susannah [Jackson] White and their son Resolved), and the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley (from passengers John and Elizabeth [Tilley] Howland, and John and Joan [Hurst] [Rogers] Tilley). There are even infamous Mayflower passengers—my own ancestor John Billington was the first Englishman executed for murder in New England!1
So, why I am writing this now? Having recently streamed the series Dahmer on Netflix, I couldn’t help but go down a rabbit hole researching the ancestry of the man who made headlines as a serial killer when I was in middle school. I wasn’t the first to get curious—there were already 160 trees for Jeffrey Dahmer on Ancestry, as well as a page on Geneastar by Tim Dowling. I immediately recognized descents from Mayflower passengers Richard Warren, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Fuller, and their son Samuel Fuller. All of these lines went through Dahmer’s great-grandfather, James Ernest Flint (1873-1942), son of Abner and Mary Sophronia (Gregory) Flint of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
My next step was to check our databases of individuals appearing in approved Mayflower Society applications. A third cousin of Dahmer joined the Wisconsin Society of Mayflower Descendants in 2006, through one descent from Richard Warren and three descents from Edward Fuller. This person descended from Abner and Mary Sophronia (Gregory) Flint through their older son James Abner Flint (1867-1949). Wait—Abner and Mary had two sons named James? I know that repeating names between siblings isn’t unheard of, but it prompted me to investigate further.
Per Abner’s Civil War pension record, he and Mary wed at Nights Creek, Allegheny County, New York in 1866. Their eldest child, James Abner Flint, was born in New York in 1867. The family is enumerated together in Cattaraugus County, New York in 1870 , and they moved to Wisconsin soon after, where their next two sons were born.
Abner notes in his pension that his wife Mary “ran away from me with another fellow about 1873.” In 1880, Mary was living with her second husband Thadeus Watts, by whom she had two more children. I cannot find Abner or his eldest son James Abner Flint in the 1880 census, but Abner and Mary’s younger two sons are no longer with either of their parents – their son Lucien Floyd Flint is living with an unrelated family, as is their youngest son, who is going by his adopted name Ernest Humphrey.
Mary Sophronia (Gregory) (Flint) Watts died in 1900, and her death notice partially explains what happened to her sons: “She was twice married, her first husband’s name being Flint. They were the parents of three sons, now grown to manhood. One of them, who goes by the name of Irving Altenberg, is quite well known in the city. The addresses of the other two could not be learned.” This notice was quickly corrected:
In 1897 in Wisconsin, Ernest Humphrey married his first wife Augusta10 Bradford (Burton Strait9, Levi DeWolf8, Joseph Reynolds 7, Daniel6-5, Gershom4, Samuel3, William2-1—you guessed it, a descendant of Governor William Bradford, as well as passengers from the Alden, Mullins, and Rogers families). Ernest and Augusta’s residence out west must have been short-lived, as they were back in Wisconsin by the time of the 1900 census. Their marriage did not last long—Ernest married his second wife Lottie May White in 1908, then began going by his birth surname of Flint, and added James to the beginning—making him James Ernest Flint, the same first name as his older brother.
Augusta continued using her married surname of Humphrey until her death in 1940 . James Ernest and Lottie May (White) Flint had four children together, including Floyd Leroy “Rocky” Flint (1911-1977), who was Jeffrey Dahmer’s maternal grandfather. In the 1920 census, James Ernest Flint was listed as a patient at the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane. It seems that Dahmer’s family may have experienced generational struggles with mental health, and it’s unfortunate that the treatment his great-grandfather received did not avert future struggles for his descendants.2
The chart below shows Jeffrey Dahmer’s Warren and Fuller descents, with the Mayflower passengers in bold:
But wait—my chart above shows two descents from Edward Fuller’s son Samuel Fuller, as well as two descents from Dr. Matthew Fuller (d. 1678). Isn’t Matthew also a son of Edward Fuller, as stated in Mayflower Families Through Five Generations?
For this, I will encourage our interested readers and Fuller descendants to check out the latest issue of the Mayflower Descendant, which has a lengthy article by Pamela R. Paschke and Raymond T. Wing, based a comprehensive Big-Y DNA study of 25 Fuller men. While Dr. Matthew Fuller is certainly related to passenger Edward Fuller, the analysis shows he cannot be Edward’s son. This article is followed by a short article by Donald G. Blauvelt on how Dr. Matthew Fuller might still be a Mayflower descendant, and another article by myself showing how this Big-Y Fuller study affects my past DNA study on the paternity of Lt. John Sprague, reducing the number of Fuller men that can be John’s father, and showing that John is also a descendant of Dr. Matthew Fuller, but not Edward Fuller or his brother Samuel Fuller. Subscribe today to get your copy and check out this exciting new research, affecting who might be a Mayflower descendant—famous and infamous alike!
1 If you’re interested in the ancestries of other historical figures with notable criminal records: I wrote recently on the blog about the kinships of Lee Harvey Oswald , and Katrina Fahy wrote about those of H.H. Holmes , who was known as one of America’s first serial killers. Additionally, contributor Rhonda McClure is the author of Finding your Famous (& Infamous) Ancestors: Uncover the celebrities, rogues, and royals in your family tree .
2 In fact, many of the treatments provided at mental health facilities in the early 20th century are now considered abusive by modern practitioners.