Things Aren’t Always What They Appear to Be: Context Matters and the Case of the Missing Record
Like most of my posts I use examples from my own research and genealogy to illustrate important lessons. Although the details are often important to me and those who may share ancestors or places the deeper lessons are intended to be educational for everyone at all levels of genealogical or historical research. We all make mistakes and some, I fear, deliberately mislead in order to foster their own ideas. This example I ran into very early on in my research—-I hope that it will foster skepticism when something doesn’t seem quite right.
Back in the 1970’s while researching the WHEATON origins in America, I came across a published genealogy which continues to unsettle me. William G Hill privately published his book in 1887 “Family Record of Deacons James W Converse and Elisha S. Converse including some Descendants of [among others] Robert Wheaton, of Salem MASS 1636.” Now there is some excellent information here that has proven to be correct however let me draw your attention to one statement on page 44:
“First. That Robert Wheaton came from the pure, unmixed, ‘native’ Welsh, or rather Cumry race, which was of Tartaric origin; which race though often driven to the mountain fastness of Wales by Angles, Saxons, and Normans was never subjugated. They never intermarried as did the Angles, Saxons, and Normans, and never since A.D. 180 changed their religion. They never gave adherence to Rome, and the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin came among them, they found nothing to reform.“
Where to begin? Robert WHEATON was not Welsh although it is likely his wife, Alice BOWEN, may have been and “if” he did live in Wales— WHEATON is not a Welsh surname. The rest seems fanciful at best seeing as we have DNA and archaeological evidence to the contrary.
“Second. Their religion, creed, church government, and mode of worship were and ever have been essentially like the Baptists of the present day. Their views were wholly unlike those held by the Puritans and Pilgrim Fathers in many respects. Robert Wheaton was in active sympathy with Obadiah Holmes and Roger Williams, the latter being banished from Salem and the Colony in the fall of 1635, by the Puritans.”
This is largely correct although we have no evidence of Robert WHEATON’s sympathies we do have some circumstantial evidence which is recounted by William G. Hill which is correct even if some of the surrounding material is false [not included here]. Robert WHEATON does remove from Salem to Rehoboth. “During the year 1643, the proprietors of Rehoboth were ‘required to give the value of their estates.’ There were fifty-eight in all returned; No 26 reads:
Mr Obadiah Holmes, formerly of Salem, now Robert Wheaton’s. Ł100:00:00″
So we know that once Robert WHEATON removed to Rehoboth, he held land previously awarded to Obadiah HOLMES, although this could be mere coincidence. Given that there were only 58 original proprietors and that Obadiah HOLMES and Robert WHEATON were in Salem at the same time and both had Baptist sympathies it seems likely they were acquainted. We also know that neither Robert’s marriage to Alice BOWEN, nor the baptisms of his children are recorded in Salem [although church records exist for this period] supporting the conclusion that he was not of the established church in Salem. But here is where it gets dicey. William G. Hill: “Who shall say that the influence of those early Welsh settlers for good upon destinies of the people our country was second to the Puritan or Pilgrim Fathers? The reasons therefore, apparent why Robert Wheaton ‘refused to be Inhabitant’ of Salem in 1636.”
Refused to be Inhabitant. Hmm. That always seemed quite a big deal. First a mystery detour. In February of 2013 I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and was able to examine a microfilm copy of the original Salem Town records. Strangely that did not include this text anywhere within ten pages before or after where this is supposed to appear? In spite of not being able to locate the original there are numerous transcriptions available of the early Salem Town Records including a microfilm transcription also from the Family History Library
And there are several print versions including this one from 1868!:
So it appears to me that sometime between 1868 and 1887 some of the pages of the Salem Town Records go missing! I followed up by contacting the Salem Town Clerk, a lengthy and frustrating process and the original was not found. [Anyone living near Salem wanting to go on a treasure hunt please contact me!].
Here is what the original microfilm looks like but it doesn’t follow the transcriptions.
Please note the second paragraph begins John Abby this appears on the transcriptions on page 11 [of the original Town Records] and the list seen above on page 14 of transcriptions with the Robt Wheato directly above. Whether this is just a microfilming error or something more sinister only an in person visit to the Salem Town Clerk’s office is likely to resolve this.
Refused to be Inhabitant. So what does this mean? Remember the title of this post “Things Aren’t Always What They Appear to Be: Context Matters.” So let’s dig a bit deeper. Robert WHEATON wasn’t the only one that Refused to be Inhabitant. And he was not the one doing the “refusing.” As it turns out this was not unusual at all. On the missing page 14 Edw. Beachamp is received as Inhabitant and granted ten acres. In 1637 a Geo Roaps [George Ropes] it is stated “cannot yet be recd becasue he hath a yr to serve. ” It seems that in April of 1634 the Salem fathers set the requirements for being an Inhabitant of Salem:
- 26 years of age
- permanent resident for 6 months
- must take the Oath of Residents
- not indentured
So when Robert WHEATON was refused as Inhabitant, he likely had not met all the requirements to become one. The Salem Town Meeting 26th of the 9th month 1638, Robert Wheadon granted 10 acres of land:
So it wasn’t that Robert WHEATON was an ornery Welshman that kept him from being a resident! I should note that this is a bit of my own detective work and I reached out in 2013 to David Allen Lambert at the New England Historic Society to see if they had any further information that might illuminate early Salem requirements. He thought my theory a valid one, but had no one with expertise in the Salem area that could help further. Subsequent inquiries with the Essex Institute and other repositories had not yielded anything further so for now I am sticking with Robert WHEATON had not met the requirements!
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