French In Name Only

A Genealogical Blog about the French and Grace Families

Month: November 2016

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Puritans + Thanksgiving

Fowler Family Post Card 1908

My two most recent posts highlighted relatives who lived in New England in the mid-1700’s.  They describe how my 8th great-grandfather Humphrey Atherton persecuted Quakers while my 7th great-grandfather’s step-brother, Benanuel Bowers, was persecuted for being a Quaker.  Researching and writing about the history of America through the lives of distant relatives is a great experience.  However, the posts about Atherton and Bowers illustrate the fine line between myth and reality and (for me) create a struggle on how to accurately portray these stories.  I always question if I am getting the historical context correctly.

On the day that I published the story about Humphrey Atherton, the Washington Post ran an excellent story by Lori Stokes about the Puritans.   I dropped her a note and she was kind enough to respond!

I visited your blog and it’s very interesting. Keep up the good work! Family histories and historians are invaluable to the body of research. Together, eventually we’ll get everyone in the record. Lori Stokes


Five myths about Puritans – Washington Post – November 20, 2016

As Thanksgiving approaches, Americans look back on the first English settlers in what is now New England. Since these Puritans fill the earliest chapters of the American story, they make plenty of appearances in our shared imagination. But debates over who the Puritans were, what they stood for and how they contributed to our sense of national identity are shrouded in misunderstandings.


© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Death by Cow – Humphrey Atherton

Boston CommonHumphrey Atherton is my paternal eighth great-grandfather.  At the time of his death he was considered a powerful leader who was very active in the political affairs of the colony.  However, through the lens of history, his persecution of Quakers, questionable acquisition of Indian lands and apprehension and conviction of heretics presents him in less favorable lights.

Humphrey Atherton was born in England in 1608 and arrived in Boston by 1635/36.  According to published accounts, he held the highest military rank in colonial New England, served as deputy governor, a representative in the General Court, Speaker of the House, representing Springfield, Massachusetts and as magistrate in the judiciary of colonial government.

Major General Atherton after a review of the troops on Boston Common, September 16, 1661, died as a result of being thrown from his horse, which stumbled over a cow lying in the road.

Persecution of Quakers – Mary Dyer and three other Quakers were hanged on Boston Common in 1660 for civil disobedience.  They were given the opportunity to leave, to agree to permanent exile from Massachusetts, and instead they chose to die.  Many view their act as a touchstone for the separation of church and state in America, the birth of our First Amendment rights. Humphrey Atherton, as the below quote attests, held a different view of Mary’s death.

dyer

Mary Dyer of Rhode Island: The Quaker Martyr that was Hanged on Boston Common 


A later play by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (John Endicott) portrays Atherton’s death, as seen by the Quakers, as a punishment from God for his persecution of them.

ENDICOTT.
And did not some one say, or have I dreamed it,
That Humphrey Atherton is dead?

BELLINGHAM.
Alas!
He too is gone, and by a death as sudden.
Returning home one evening, at the place
Where usually the Quakers have been scourged,
His horse took fright, and threw him to the ground,
So that his brains were dashed about the street.

ENDICOTT.
I am not superstitions, Bellingham,
And yet I tremble lest it may have been
A judgment on him.


In 1659, he (Atherton) began a land speculation venture called the Atherton Company, supported by influential shareholders in the colonies and at the metropole.  Hardly a model of ethical practice, the company was a method of gaining control over vast quantities of Indian land.  In 1660, Atherton was part of a scheme to defraud the Narragansetts of much of their territory and remove them from their land. (Yale Indian Papers Project)

Additional background: Profits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England


© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

John S. French – Korean War

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Ben and Jerry

 Benanuel and Jerathmeel Bowers (Ben and Jerry)


Warning: this story contains references to fornication, moonshine, corporal punishment and jail. (Good, now that I have your attention – Read on!)


My 7th paternal great-grandfather, Jerathmeel Bowers, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1650 to George and Elizabeth (Worthington) Bowers.  When Jerathmeel was six his father died and six months later his mother Elizabeth married Henry Bowtell.

The next mention of Jerathmeel in 1670 states that he “proved an outrageously insolent servant and was convicted of premarital fornication. (with Elizabeth Wilder)” (Sex in Middlesex).  Massachusetts law provided,“that if any man commit fornication, with any single woman, they shall be punished, either by enjoining marriage, or fine, or corporal punishment, or all or any of these, as the judge of the Court that hath Cognizance of the case shall appoint”

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-7-31-11-pmIn 1670, records show that Jerathmeel and Elizabeth were enjoined by the court and in 1671 had their first child, Hannah. Jerathmeel served in King William’s War and later as a captain in Queen Anne’s War.

Jerathmeel operated a still on the corner of his property and may have been the first man in Chelmsford to receive a license to sell liquor (“strong waters”). He was actively engaged in farming and became one of Chelmsford’s most prominent citizens, in addition to being a man of substantial wealth. His greatest distinctions came from serving the Town of Chelmsford as a selectman in 1690-92, state representative in 1697 and 1698.  (Groton’s Anonymous Mistress, Carl Flowers)


These documents offer additional information about Jerathmeel and Benanuel.


Benanuel Bowers – George Bowers by a previous marriage had a son who he named Benanuel (1627-1698).  According to published accounts, Benanuel and his wife Elizabeth (Dunster), due to being Quakers, both received “cruel whippings and imprisonment and the loss of part of their worldly substance” through “the outrage and violence of fiery zealots of the Presbyterian party.”

In one case, he came to the aid of a well known early Quaker by the name of Elizabeth Wooten.  From an account of her travels “So afterwards I returned to Cambridge, where they were very thirsty for blood because none had been there before that I knew of, and I cried repentance through some part of the town. So they took me and had me early in the morning before Thomas Danforth and Daniel Gookin, two of their magistrates who by their jailer thrust me in a very dark dungeon for the space of two days and two nights without helping me to either bread or water. But a Friend, Benanuel Bower, brought me some milk and they cast him into prison because he entertained a stranger and fined him £5.”

Other offenses of his are also documented – Benanuel Bowers appearing before the court and being convicted of absenting himself the public ordinances of Christ on the Lord’s days, by his own confession, for about a quarter of a year past, and of entertaining Quakers into his family two several times, on his examination he affirmed that the Spirit of God was a Christian’s rule. (Source)

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-25-33-pm screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-24-11-pmQuakers Benanuel Bowers and Elizabeth Dunster Bowers had twelve children.  One daughter, Bathsheba Bowers, become a well-known writer and speaker.


For further information about Colonial America read:

America’s True History of Religious Tolerance – The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record (Smithsonian Magazine, Oct 2010)


© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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