Friday, January 2, 2015

Foundation Found, Providence Provided

Map and inset made from Google maps and Wikipedia
On February 9, 1597, Mary, the wife of Sir Richard Greene, the Lord of Bowridge Hill, gave birth to a son they named John.  Bowridge Hill had been the birthplace of three generations of Greenes, starting with Sir Richard's grandfather, Robert. It was - and is - located about eight miles from the village of Gillingham in the English county of Dorset.

Mary's father was John Hooker, who had been a prominent historian and Member of Parliament. Coming from a family with rank and education, young John Greene grew up in a privileged environment, with titles such as "Mr." and "Gent" applied to his name on many of the records that refer to him. He trained as a surgeon, and moved to Salisbury, in Wiltshire, where he practiced his profession and lived for 16 years.

Around the time he moved to Salisbury, in 1619, on the fourth of November, John married Joanne Tattershall. It isn't clear how her family came by that surname (and the spellings do vary quite a bit), but it indicates some relationship to the town and castle of Tattershall located in Lincolnshire.

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire
Just through sheer coincidence, 379 years later, the 11th great-grandson of John and Joanne - yours truly! - was stationed at a Royal Air Force camp in Lincolnshire as a member of the United States Air Force. It is unlikely that Joanne or any of her immediate ancestry lived in the castle, since it had been sold to the Earl of Lincoln by her time, but it is exciting to find a connection to the place. We visited it several times while we lived in Lincolnshire, notably for a U.S.-UK 4th of July celebration in 1998.

On the 6th of April, 1635 at 45 years of age, John Greene registered for embarkation with his wife and six children on the James of London - William Cooper, Master. After a voyage of fifty-eight days, they arrived in Boston on 3 June. Their prospects seemed good - a surgeon in the colonies was a rare and valuable thing, and John joined the church at Salem, led by Roger Williams.

Sadly, things began to turn difficult almost as soon as the family settled in. In August of 1635, a hurricane swept through the young colony, drowning farms and wrecking houses. In October, Roger Williams was convicted of sedition and heresy, and he famously fled Boston in a blizzard in January 1636. Somewhere among these events, Joanne died. Most of the children were 10 or under, so John remarried to a widow named Alice Daniels in 1637, and the family acquired a home lot in Roger Williams's new settlement of Providence.

List of original 12 members, from
Henry Melville King's
Historical catalogue of the members of the 
First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island
The following year saw the establishment of the First Baptist Church of Providence, the first Baptist church in the Americas.  After meeting in Williams's home for the first year, the group of believers were baptized by Williams in the Seekonk river in 1638 - a group that included John Greene, surgeon.

In 1642 Samuel Gorton and Narragansett Indian Chief Sachem Miantonomi agreed to exchange 144 fathoms of Wampumpeague for what was known as "The Shawhomett Purchase" (also spelled "Shawomet"). However, the purchase was disputed by two other sachems of the area, Sacononoco and Pumham; they complained to the Massachusetts colony that Miantonomi had sold the land without asking for their approval. They took their case to Boston, where they placed their lands under Massachusetts rule, and in October 1643 Massachusetts sent a militia force of "forty mounted and armed men” from Boston to arrest Gorton and his neighbors. The militia fired over the houses, and the women and children fled to the woods.

Samuel Gorton wrote of this attack of the Massachusetts troops:
"Afflicting our wifes and children, forcing them to betake themselves, some into the woods among the Indians, suffering such hardships as occasioned the death of divers of them, as the wife of John Greene, as, also, the wife of Robert Potter."
After a tense standoff, all but three of Gorton's settlers surrendered to the Massachusetts force. This event prompted the other three towns on Narragansett Bay (Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport) to unite and get a royal charter allowing the towns on Narragansett Bay to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In 1648, Gorton was granted a Charter by Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, Lord Admiral and head of the Parliamentary Commission on Plantation Affairs. After this, the name of the settlement was changed from Shawomet to Warwick. While Massachusetts continued to lay claim to the area, it made no further effort to enforce it.

It isn't clear whether John Greene was part of the effort to obtain the royal charter, but he did sail back to England in 1644. There, he received a number of Latin books that had been willed to him by his brother, and he married his third wife, Phillipa, with whom he returned to Warwick in 1646. Upon his return, he became a leader of the community of Warwick, first being elected to the Town Council in August 1647, and later serving as town Commissioner from 1655-1657.

John Greene, surgeon, died in Warwick in January of 1659, a respectable 69 years of age.

His son, James, had married Deliverance Potter the previous year; her mother, Isabel, was the "wife of Robert Potter" who had died along with James's step-mother, Alice1, in the 1643 attack on Shawomet. They had two sons and two daughters (all under age 5) when Deliverance died in 1664. James remarried the following year to Elizabeth Anthony.

James and Elizabeth had 8 more children - including my ancestor, the John Greene known for building the estate, "Potowomut" - and the line continued until 8 generations later, when we arrive at my grandmother's grandmother, Florence Mabel Hart - one of "My Sixteen." That makes John Greene, the surgeon, and Joanne Tattershall my 11th great-grandparents.

1. Footnote: Some accounts say that it was Joanne, not Alice, who died in the 1643 event. I went with this version of the story for the sake of telling the story without a confusing debate in the middle, but I don't want anyone to think I claim to speak authoritatively as to which wife it was. If there is a real historian reading this who would like to set me straight, I'm happy to edit!

You might be excused for noticing my excitement at finding real knights and famous historical figures to write about, and thinking, "Ha! So much for his notion of 'Mighty Acorns'!" But when you stop and consider the probabilities involved in tracing any family, finding prominent people in your background is almost inevitable. To convey a sense of what I'm talking about, consider a few numbers:

  • John Greene and Joanne Tattershall are my 11x great-grandparents. If you start with me as "generation 0", they are the 13th generation back from me. They are 2 of 8192 people in just that generation who needed to meet and marry in order for me to exist. Each generation further back you go, you have to double the number of people you expect to find in that generation
  • John's great-grandfather, Robert, mentioned in the first paragraph, was my 14th great-grandfather - the 16th back from me, he is one of 65,536 people in that generation! 
  • Doubling the number of people involved with each generation means that if I successfully tracked down just my direct ancestors (parents, their parents, and their parents, and so on), for those 16 generations, I would have 131,071 people in my tree.

Obviously, gaps in my more recent history - such as the missing evidence for the parents of David and Mariann (Reynolds) Clark - means that I won't be able to find many of the 8,192 people that surely existed a few generations before they did. But if I keep digging and finding more connections and more detail, it stands to reason that the people who left records behind are going to be increasingly prominent the further back I go.

At some point, there won't be any records for people as humble and common as most of my ancestors would have been - but that doesn't mean they weren't important to the stream of history. Because without any one of those 131,070 other people, I wouldn't be here.

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