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Who Really Were THOMAS BENEDICT & MARY BRIDGHAM?

  
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In any discussion of Benedict family history and genealogy, it is imperative to introduce the two central characters pivotal to that discussion. They are Thomas Benedict and Mary Bridgham, his step-sister who would later become his wife. Together, they left England in 1637 and came to Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, to not only start new lives for themselves but also, probably without fully realizing it, to initiate an American family that has continued to expand to this day, a dozen or more generations later.

James Benedict's Genealogy of 1755

Until fairly recently, about the only source of information for the earliest generations of the new American Benedict family was from a "genealogy" set down by Deacon James Benedict, Thomas's grandson of Ridgefield, Connecticut, in 1755. This document stood for about 200 years without being questioned. However, it did manage to keep Thomas Benedict in somewhat distorted focus for later generations of the family.

Assumptions of History

Consequently, most of his present day descendants have little or no clear knowledge of Thomas, and may have little appreciation of our pioneer English ancestor. By the same token, Thomas himself may have been equally unaware of his own forebears, because he was of Norfolk yeoman stock. That earliest genealogy of the Benedicts, by Thomas's grandson, the aforesaid James, speaks of three legendary Williams said to be in his paternal line. This myth was later perpetuated by Henry Marvin Benedict's 1870 Genealogy of the Benedicts in America, amplified with rumors that Thomas's ancestors originated in the silk districts of France, that they fled to Germany because of religious persecution, and from there to Holland, settling finally in England. But these are only romantic rumors without real substance; we were never given any particulars of names, places or timeframes. And curiously, neither Thomas nor Mary themselves left personal records of their existence in their native England, even at their port of exit. While it may be reasonably conjectured that they sailed in May 1637 from Great Yarmouth on the ship "Mary and Anne" (or "Mary Ann"), through their known associations in America with persons listed as that ship's passengers, they themselves were not among those actually listed. In fact, the first mention of Thomas in public records of any kind does not appear until he is more than 32 years old.

Many Mysteries in Need of Resolution

Our immigrant progenitor pair has left us with a large mystery, actually a number of enigmatic questions. We shall try to answer questions such as: Who really were their parents? When did their households merge? What are some of the other relationships that we should investigate? It is of interest to know how long Thomas and Mary lived under one roof before deciding to go off on their great adventure. Recall that Mary was perhaps several years younger than Thomas, and he was under 21 years old when they left England. So, did they leave England in association with and under the wing of others they already knew or to whom they were perhaps related? And, prior to their leavetaking, were they already acquainted with Rev. John Youngs of Southwold, or Thomas Paine (Payne) of Wrentham, the weaver, both of whom are known to have sailed on the "Mary and Anne"? Could Thomazine "Goche" or "Gooch" have actually been Thomas's paternal grandmother, as has been suggested, (and perhaps even Thomas's namesake)? And, if so, was she related to William "Gooch" or "Goose," owner and captain of the ship "Mary and Anne," who was also (by coincidence?), the brother-in-law of Thomas Paine? This Captain Gooch appears to have had a close connection, too, to the Youngs family, for by May 1638 he had sold his ship to Joseph Youngs, brother of Rev. John Youngs, for the return trip to England, carrying beaver pelts from Plymouth. The implication here is that Thomas Benedict's family may have been much more extended than we realize.

These are some of the kinds of questions we have been asking and exploring. Yes, there may be truths hidden among the questions. And yes, we want to be able to demonstrate our relationship to these past generations by using some method that allows us to examine our lineage through the narrow focus of a few persons. If so then, as a device of convenience, our real point of reference for the Benedict Family shall always be anchored in the mystery surrounding the true origins of Thomas Benedict and Mary Bridgham.

A Chronology of Thomas Benedict's Life

While mysteries remain about his origins and early life, there are many facts about the later life of Thomas Benedict that are known. As an active, and apparently educated, spokesman for his neighbors and the towns and regions in which he lived, Thomas Benedict produced a significant volume of records. This body of work represents numerous legal documents and petitions, many in his own hand. As the first Town Clerk of Norwalk, as one well known throughout Connecticut and Long Island, he was sought after as a vocal representative to the councils of Dutch and English regional governments, acting as an arbiter of disputes between neighbors, Indian chiefs and towns. He was personally known to leaders like Gov. Winthrop, Gov. Richard Nicholls, Peter Stuyvesant, Pequot tribal chiefs Uncas and Mohansic. To help visualize the scope of his accomplishments, I have compiled a brief chronology of Thomas Benedict's life that is by no means comprehensive, but sketchs a picture of some of this admirable man's activities over 72 years of the 17th century.



 
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Revised: May 2011