The upcoming summer issue of the Mayflower Descendant includes an interesting article by Mark Wentling entitled “Joseph Brownell (1699-ca. 1773) of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and Little Compton, Rhode Island: Corrections to the Identities of His Wives and Children.” The article examines conflicting claims in past genealogical literature and goes through numerous contemporary sources to show that one Joseph Brownell, a fifth-generation descendant of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke, was married five times and had eight children by his first three wives.
This past May, I taught a class on 18th century Pennsylvania and highlighted some documents I had discovered for my Pennsylvania ancestors. As I prepared for the class, I reflected on one of the biggest brick walls I had encountered in my own family research, and thought about what advice I’d give to someone researching their own colonial ancestors. After looking back at my own challenges and triumphs, I came up with three recommendations: don’t trust family lore or uncited published genealogies, consider various spellings of the surname, and visit the local historical society.
For years and years, I tried to breakdown a brick wall that seemed to plague every descendant of my 6th great-grandfather William Ashton of Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A quote from one of the many compilations by his descendants had this to say about William and his ancestry:
“The first Ashton, in this country, of our family was neither banished for crime nor traded for tobacco, but belonged to one of the oldest titled families of England. He was, as I understand, disowned because he espoused the Quaker faith. This Ashton family were related to the Hutchinson’s of England, one of whom, Thomas Hutchinson, was colonial governor of Massachusetts.”
On 11 October 1776, 23-year-old Jemima Wilkinson lay close to death in her bed in Cumberland, Providence, Rhode Island, suffering from a fever, possibly typhus. Much to her family’s relief, instead of dying, she awoke and rose from her bed, alive but forever changed. She announced to those around her that she was no longer Jemima Wilkinson, who had died. Her soul had gone to heaven, and in its place, God had sent down a divine spirit charged with preparing his flock for the coming millennium. This holy messenger, neither man nor a woman, was to be known as the “Public Universal Friend.”
The Public Universal Friend lived during a time of widespread religious fervor known as the Great Awakening, which began in colonial America in the early 18th century and continued in successive waves up to the late 20th century. In reaction to the ideas of the Enlightenment and Calvinist theology, the evangelical movement of the 18th century emphasized free will, the possibility of universal salvation, and a personal relationship with God. Continue reading The Public Universal Friend→