All posts by D. Brenton Simons

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About D. Brenton Simons

Currently piloting a groundbreaking $55 million “Connecting Families, Advancing History” capital campaign for NEHGS, Brenton Simons has led the Society to major growth in its national services and scope and to its pivotal role in the popular expansion of the genealogical field in America. A staff member since 1993 and President and CEO since 2005, he has developed several of the organization’s most popular services, including its website, member magazine, and special publications imprint. In addition, he is the author of several books, including “Boston Beheld: Antique Town and Country Views” and “Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem, 1620-1775,” winner of the 2006 Award of Merit from the Association for State and Local History. Most recently he produced with Atlantic Media a short film on NEHGS, “A Farseeing Vision,” recipient of the 2011 Silver Telly Award. His genealogical articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist, The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and elsewhere. A graduate of Boston University, he is a member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society, the Club of Odd Volumes, the Society of the Cincinnati, and is a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

A beautiful view

Belvoir Castle
Belvoir Castle, seat of the Duke of Rutland.

My Simons ancestors came from a picturesque region in England known as the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced “Beever,” and meaning “beautiful view,” from the French), found at the intersection of three counties: Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Lincolnshire. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Vale with my uncle, Herbert Simons, to become acquainted with the towns and villages where our paternal ancestors lived from time immemorial. Records of the Simons family (variously spelled Simon, Simond, Symonds, Simons, etc.) stretch back in the Manor of Langar as far as 1340, when it was noted that William Simond “has one messuage and one bovate for homage and fealty and pays five shillings at Saint Martin’s and Pentecost …” Continue reading A beautiful view

Witches Brew: Part Three

Witches Rakes and RoguesMemorable for her encounter with Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, Mistress Hibbins was not simply a figment of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination. Long a controversial woman in Boston, she was a real person who in May 1656 was sentenced to death for the crime of witchcraft. The widow of an affluent merchant and office holder, Ann Hibbins was, in the words of historian Samuel Adams Drake, a “person of superior quality in life,” and not, as the popular imagination conceives of a witch, a “wretched hag.” Continue reading Witches Brew: Part Three

Thomas M. Menino 1942-2014

Menino volume 2
The Ancestry of The Honorable Thomas Michael Menino, Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS

In April 2009, the New England Historic Genealogical Society presented Mayor Thomas Michael Menino of Boston (1942–2014) with a specially-bound book on his ancestry compiled by David Allen Lambert. The families of Mayor Menino’s parents – the Mennino/Meninno/Meninos of Grottaminarda (Avellino) and the Sacchettis of Roccagorga (Latina) – were traced back from Boston through Hyde Park and thence to Italy. David identified all of the mayor’s great-grandparents (Tomaso Meninno, Eleonora Del Grosso, Carmine Russo, Raffaela Uva, Stefano Sacchetti, Angela Materocci, Antonio Palumbo, and Tomasina Patrucci) and took the Del Grossos, the Palumbos, and the Patruccis back one more generation.

With Mayor Menino’s death this morning, I am reminded of the production of the book and the evening on which it was presented to Tom and Angela Menino. In the story of the Meninos and the Sacchettis there is much of the history of Italian families in Massachusetts: Continue reading Thomas M. Menino 1942-2014

Witches Brew: Part Two

Witches Rakes and RoguesAlice Lake of Dorchester became the second person tried and executed in Boston as a witch. While few details of her offenses survive – she was executed circa 1650 – she had two potent strikes against her: she had committed fornication prior to marriage, and she was reputed to have killed an infant she was carrying.

In 1673, Ann Martin Edmonds, a healer from Lynn with Boston associations, appeared before the Court of Assistants on witchcraft charges, but here the script changes. Continue reading Witches Brew: Part Two

Witches Brew: Part One

Witches Rakes and RoguesOvershadowed by the hysteria that gripped the townspeople of Salem in 1692, Boston’s considerable witchcraft record has received relatively little attention. From the late 1630s to the 1690s, the town intermittently fell into witch-hunting fervor as accusations coalesced around individual women. (Men in Boston were seldom the subject of witchcraft accusations.) In all, four local women were convicted and executed in Boston witchcraft trials. Their stories – and the stories of other accusations that did not end in execution – reveal aspects of long-forgotten Boston history and the perils of life in a puritanical society that believed in the possibility of such events. Continue reading Witches Brew: Part One

A considerable legacy in genealogy

Drake coverSamuel Gardner Drake was not a likely candidate to become the author of a multitude of historical works. Born on a farm in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, in 1798, he was not an eager pupil in his youth. “His aversion to school, when a little urchin,” as John H. Sheppard put it, “was particularly strong.” Drake recalled his initial dread of the school room: “My first impressions of that school were anything but pleasant. Being naturally very timid, I was sadly frightened at the stern look of the master. To learn my lessons seemed a desperate undertaking, and it was a long time before I could believe and feel I was not in danger of being annihilated.” Continue reading A considerable legacy in genealogy

The threat of witchcraft

Annals of Witchraft in New EnglandOur early New England ancestors were well acquainted with the threat of witchcraft. Dread of this phenomenon, and particularly of those in its thrall, was reinforced to them in warnings from clergymen about the dangers of falling in league with the devil. These fears were further punctuated by the occasional accusations or cases in various towns throughout the region. Authorities of no less stature than John Winthrop recorded such incidents in their diaries. Continue reading The threat of witchcraft