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Thomas Benedict's Origins -- Updated!

  
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The First Benedict Genealogy and the Myth of the Three Nottingham Williams

In 1755, Deacon James Benedict of Ridgefield, Connecticut, a grandson of Thomas Benedict and Mary Bridgham, recorded the first known genealogical information of the Benedict family. These data were said to have been dictated to James by Mary, his grandmother, and by tradition, they are said to tell of three generations of men, all named William Benedict, prior to Thomas, our immigrant ancestor. All supposedly had lived in Nottinghamshire during the 16th century. Thus was born the "Myth of the Three Williams." And so, that story has been transmitted, basically unchanged and unquestioned, down to us from the 18th century, repeated countless times (as for example, in Henry Marvin Benedict's 1870 book Benedicts in America), before finally coming under closer scrutiny in the 20th and 21st centuries.

A "Benedeke" - Hunlock Marriage

In 1901, Henry Waters published, in Genealogical Gleanings in England, the will of one Henry Hunloke (Hunlock) of Wingerworth, Derbyshire, which lies five miles south of Chesterfield. Dated 1610, the will contains mention of bequests to "my loving son, William Benedeke and to my daughter, Ann Benedeke." Researches in 1905 by Robert P. Benedict into this possible parentage for Thomas Benedict were published in 1915 by Benjamin Lincoln Benedict of Burlington, Vermont. This document provides the basic details, as perceived at that time, concerning the Hunloke family and their possible relationship to the Benedict family.

Wingerworth is located less than six miles west of the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and about 20 miles from Nottingham, the county's largest city. Therefore, the Hunloke will reference and the proximity of Wingerworth to Nottinghamshire (Notts) has tended to reinforce James Benedict's legend, even though it lacks any mention of an actual connection to Thomas Benedict, who would not be born for another 10 years, in 1617.

And yet, there is the persistent question of Hunloke's will, with its reference to a loving son, William Benedeke/Benedict, that remains to be explained. And of the woman named Anne Benedict whom Hunlocke implied was, not only his daughter, but the wife of William, as well. The answer may now have been found.

A Benedict-Bridgham Marriage

Considering that the Benedict name, even in the 16th and 17th centuries, was rare in England, we can understand that the finding of the Benedict name in the Hunlock will certainly caused great excitement. However, fifty years after that announcement came another that should have created even more excitement. In 1957, John Insley Coddington published an article on the family of Henry Bridgham of Thelnetham, Suffolk, England (The American Genealogist, vol.33, April 1957) that contained a "Note on Bridgham and Thomas Benedict of Norwalk."

Coddington revealed that a church record found about 100 miles east of Nottingham, in Woolpit, Suffolk, (just east of Bury St Edmunds) presented the first actual mention of a Benedict-Bridgham marriage, that of the widow, Elizabeth Benedict, and one John Bridgham, that occurred in September 1629. According to the entry in the Woolpit parish register they "came both out of Norfolke." This was an important finding and carried the implication that Elizabeth and her deceased husband (a William?) might be the parents of Thomas, while John Bridgham might very well be the father of Mary Bridgham, by his first wife. A large number of Bridgham families had lived in several towns near to the Norfolk-Suffolk county boundary in the 16th and 17th centuries. This, plus the discovery of early records, from the 1200s onward, of the Benedict name in and around Norwich (the principle city of Norfolk) added more evidence. (Woolpit and Norwich are only 33 miles apart). The scales for Thomas's origins began to tip toward the vicinity of the Norfolk-Suffolk border in East Anglia.

Yet Another Mother for Thomas B.

In March 1953, Sidney Roby Sheldon published the "Ancestry of Eunice Fife Sheldon" (his wife) in the Bulletin of the Seattle Genealogical Society. He listed a line of seven Benedict generations for her, back through Thomas and two Williams. This "ancestry" is interesting because it contains two anomolous (and unsupported) statements: firstly, that Thomas Benedict had married Mary Bridgum [sic] in 1638 as his second wife; and secondly, that Thomas's father, William, had married an Anne Markham. Mr. Sheldon listed no locations or other data for these events and, unfortunately, he died before I could verify the sources of his information. Nor could either the Seattle Society or the Seattle Public Library (where the Society's records are archived) help me, so these statements have remained unclarified (to me) for about half a century.

Back to East Anglia

More recently, additional evidence for the Norfolk-Suffolk origin has surfaced. In April 1972, Dale Benedict of Tulsa, Oklahoma, consulted me for ideas on the whereabouts of Thomas Benedict's birthplace as he was leaving for England to continue searches he had previously made. He had already checked all the parish registers of Nottinghamshire, as well as tax records and records of conveyance back to the year 1300, without finding any reference to the name Benedict. He went back to England with some new clues and a detailed map of the Norfolk-Suffolk area that I provided to him. When Dale returned home in June 1972, he wrote to say: "I return from England entirely convinced that your hypothesis is correct, that the residence of Thomas Benedict was [in] Norfolk, and that Elizabeth Benedict, a widow from Norfolk was his mother, and that she married John Bridgham in September 1629." In searching records in the city of Norwich, Dale found reference to the "will of Thomas Bridgham of E. Bergholdt S, husbandman" dated 1630. He also found "a will of Jane Benedick of Hopton Norfolk a widow, "59 Stockee June 1578" wherin she bequeathed to George, June, Joelm and William Benedick." The reference to "Hopton" is probably a misreading of handwriting in the ancient manuscript. The county of Norfolk has two similarly named towns. Hopton is eight miles east of Thetford, 23 miles southwest of Norwich (in Bridgham country). Coincidentally, on a line between Norwich and Hopton lies Hapton, eight miles southwest of Norwich and only three miles west of Saxlingham Nethergate, a recently identified presumed home of the several William and George Benedicts now widely believed to be Thomas's predecessors. Hapton is most likely to have been the place where the widow, Jane Benedict, and her children lived. And in that will, either the child named William or the one named George was possibly to become Thomas's father or grandfather. We shall speak more about the Hapton-Saxlingham area shortly.

Two Competing Theories, One Clear Winner

To summarize, we currently have two strongly competing theories, each with variations, for Thomas Benedict's origins. Both theories (and their variations) name Thomas's father as William. But we have at least three possibilities for William's wife that include the earlier mentioned Elizabeth (family name unknown); Anna Markham, who is occasionally identified instead as William's mother, and who may be identical to the Anne Markham cited by Sidney Sheldon; and mentioned most often, Ann Hunloke (Hunlock).

Theory No.1 is the older one, related to James Benedict's Three Williams in Nottinghamshire scenario, but now updated with the Hunloke-Hunlock Connection. In some versions of this theory, there are four rather than three generations of Williams prior to Thomas, and generally all of these Williams are natives of Nottinghamshire but never in a specified hometown. This conveniently places the "William who shall become Thomas's father" in proximity to Ann Hunloke of Wingerworth, Derby, the most popular choice for Thomas' mother. Other variations, however, have this same William being born over 100 miles away in Saxlingham Nethergate, Norfolk, seven miles from Norwich; but his parents and grandparents must be from Notts. This seems a bit difficult to rationalize.

In Theory No. 2, Thomas's father is still called William, but he is preceded by two generations of George Benedicts. George, Jr. (William's father) was born in Saxlingham Nethergate, Norfolk, and was married to Thomasine (Tomazine, Tamsin) Goche or Gooch. George Sr. (George Jr's father) apparently was married to that Jane of Hopton or Hapton (mentioned earlier), whose surname may have been Boles or Holes (research now indicates that she was the widow of John Hales).

Where Theory and Reality Meet

While the travel distance between Norwich, Norfolk, and Wingerworth, Derbyshire, especially in times when long-distance travel was difficult, creates one sort of problem, a physical one, there remains a larger problem created by the distance between two classes of families, in other words, a social problem. I think of this as the Chaucerian question: How did a Benedict of the Norfolk (or the Notts) yeoman class become involved, to the extent of marriage, with someone of the family (Hunloke) of a baronet in Derbyshire? Especially to the extent of being called "my beloved son" in Hunloke's will. We are missing much information, but we shall clarify the Benedict-Hunlock connection.

The Present Dilemma

In the past two decades, some bona fide records searchers have continued their efforts to try to resolve the issues discussed above. Most others have simply overlooked, or not even recognized, that there are problems with their theories. Some simply haven't enough background or discernment to do more than to merely fill in spaces on their charts, whether the information is correct or not. The increasing availability of information-sharing via the Internet and other technological means, such as CDs loaded with often questionable data, has caused the fruits of this valid recent research to become widely distributed but also thoroughly muddled. The new flood of information availability would seem at first to be an ideal situation, if the data could be verified to be reliable and not be further misintrepreted. However, the frustration experienced in trying to analyze all of this information, both good and bad, and to distinguish what is true, is illustrated by the great confusion that has been generated, the blind acceptance and indiscriminate interweaving of disparate sets of data by unsophisticated contributors to public databases. The identification of the authentic research (and indeed, even of the competent researcher and their sources) has been very quickly and greatly polluted.

Five Generations from George Benedict, Sr. (c.1520)

Taking all of these thoughts into consideration, I have decided that it is important to cut through all the confusion created by family mythology and rampant, uninformed, "borrowing" of misinformation posted on the internet. To that end, we have prepared a basic summary of accurate, researched data covering early Benedict Family generations from George Benedict, Sr., born in England about 1520, to the family of Thomas and Mary Benedict, born in 16th century America. With this offering, we sincerely hope that the long-standing and nonfactual mythology related to this period may quickly be laid to rest.


From Where I Stand

I spent part of the Summer of 2003 in England, specifically in East Anglia, pursuing the theory that I've supported for at least forty years. I am strongly convinced that the origins of Thomas Benedict and Mary Bridgham lie in East Anglia, between Norwich, Norfolk and Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Walking the roads and flint-strewn fields of Saxlingham Nethergate, Hapton, Tasburgh, Thelnetham, Bridgham, East Harley and other villages, and visiting the ancient churches: in Saxlingham, in Woolpit and Tasburgh, you just know that this is where your heritage lies. And one must wonder: why would they ever want to leave? Collecting records in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, I was able to return with copies of 16th century wills and marriage records. So with this understanding, it is not difficult for me to decide whether or not the true origins of Thomas Benedict have been satisfactorily identified.

Robert A. Benedict

 
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Copyright © 2004-2007 R.A. Benedict (unless otherwise credited)
This Update: Apr 2005