Ellsworth Families in America
(c)T. E. McCarthy
While it is often possible to find good genealogical records of early immigrants after their arrival in America, tracing their ancestral lines back to their native country can be difficult. Frequently no record was preserved of where they had lived in their country of origin. Even with the records of today, finding the birthplace of an individual knowing only the name, approximate date of birth, and country of origin would be a challenge. Precisely determining the European background of a family such as the Ellsworth's whose progenitors arrived in America in the mid 1600s may not be possible. The detailed individual records maintained in England (or almost anywhere else in the western world) at that time were very poor. Censuses were not taken on any regular basis prior to the early 1800s. Births, deaths, and marriages were only recorded in the local parish church and then only if specifically reported there. Usually no records existed showing if a person moved from one locality to another.
One type of record that can often be found for persons of English ancestry is a family history which details some of the possible general origins of a particular name. One of summary found for the Ellsworth family is the following extract from the Genealogical and Historical Sketch Media Research Bureau in Washington D.C.:
"The name of ELLSWORTH is said to have been derived from the residence of its first bearers at a place of that name in Cambridgeshire, England. It was originally spelled EELSWORTH, meaning "Place of the eels," being situated on a stream which was at one time famous for its eels. The name is found on ancient records in the various forms of Eelsworth, Elesworth, Elsworth, Ellesworthe, Ellesworth, Elswort, Elesworde, Aylsworth, Ayleworth, Aylworth, Elworth, Ellisworth, Elsworthe, and Ellsworth. "Families of the name were to be found at early dates in the English counties of Cambridge, York, Kent, Glouster, Devon, Somerset, Essex, Oxford, and London and were, for the most part, of the landed gentry and yeomanry of Great Britain.
"Among the earliest records of the family in England were of Albin de Ellesworthe of Cambridgeshire in 1273, Samson de Ellesworth and Robert de Elesworde of the same country at a slightly later date. Thomas de Ellesworth of the same place in 1292, Sir John Ellsworth of the same line in the early fourteenth century (who is claimed by some authorities to have been an ancestor of the emigrant Josiah or Josias. Henry Ayleworth of Gloustershire in the early fifteenth century (who was the father of John, father of John and Walter, of whom the first had John, who had Anthony, who was the father of Richard, Mary, John, Francis, Edmund, Peter, Paul, and Frisroid, of whom the first had a son Edward who was the father of the early seventeenth century of Tracy, Richard, Gyles, Thomas, and several daughters), Johannes or John Aylesworth of the latter sixteenth century (who was the father of Ashton, Edward, William, John, Robert, Wilter, Anthony, and others, of whom the first made his home in Kent County and was the father of Thomas, John, Walter, Roger, and several daughters, and the younger sons also left numerous issue), and Robert Elesworth of London before 1668.
"It is not known definitely from which of the many illustrious lines of the family in England the first emigrants of the name to America were descended, but it is generally believed that all of the Ellsworth's were of common origin at a remote period. "One of the first of the family to emigrate to America is believed to have been Jeremiah Ellsworth, who is said to have resided at Rowley, Mass., sometime before 1650 ... "The before mentioned emigrant Josiah or Josias Ellsworth is said to have been the son of one John Ellsworth of Yorkshire, a descendant of the Cambridgeshire line, and to have come to Winsor, Conn., about 1646 or shortly thereafter. In 1654 he married Elizabeth Holcomb, by whom the was the father of Josiah, Elizabeth, Mary, Martha, Thomas, Jonathan, John, Job, and Benjamin, all of whom left numerous issue and have many descendants in America today. "One Christopher (some authorities say, Theophilus) Elswort or El(l)worth who came from Holland, where he is believed to have gone from England, to New York about 1655, is believed by some authorities to have been the brother of the emigrant Josiah or Josias of Windsor. He is believed to have been the father of among others, a son named Clement, who married Anna Maria Englebert and was the father of Theophilus and probably of others as well. "Arthur Ellsworth of Aylsworth of Kingstown, R.I. before 1679, is also said to have been the father of Robert, Arthur, John, Phillip, Chad, Mary, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Martha. "The descendants of these and possibly other branches of the family in America have spread to practically every state of the Union... Two of the many members of the family who have distinguished themselves in America at various times were Judge Oliver Ellsworth of Winsor, Conn., famous jurist, who was born in 1745 ... and Colonel Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth of New York and Virginia, noted military officer who was born in 1837 and died in 1861. "One of the most ancient and frequently recurrent of the several coats-of-arms of the English family of Aylworth or Ellsworth is described as follows:
ARMS - Argent, a fess engrailed between six billets gules. CREST - An arm habited sable issuing out of rays or, in the hand proper a human skull argent. from Burke's GENERAL ARMORY, 1884."
The variations in spelling of the Ellsworth name may or may not be significant. The literacy level before 1800 was very low; often people could not even sign their own names. Thus the spelling of a name on a written record depended on the hearing, patience, and interpretation of the person making the record. Records of the same individual will show substantial variation in the spelling of the name. Sometimes a name will change because a person moved from one locality to another. For example, many Puritans took refuge in Holland before coming to the New World. While they lived there, they often would "Hollandize" their names - Ellsworth might have become Elswort for members of the family who followed this route to America.
On the other hand, it should not be automatically assumed that all people with the same family name are related, despite the reference in the above extract. It is certain possible, even likely, that more than one family might have adopted the same last name when surnames first came into common use. Certainly the "eel's worth" origin discussed above is a likely one for some of the bearers of this name. However, another person might have taken on a surname because he admired a courageous warrior of that name (Traditional family histories invariably weigh military exploits heavily). It was not uncommon for a worker on a large estate to take on the surname of the master of the property. It appears to be a natural wish of human beings in general, and genealogical researchers in particular, to be able to trace back to the one single family ancestor.
Nowhere is this wish to tie all descendants of a given name to a common ancestor better illustrated than in some of the 19th century genealogical writings on the Ellsworth's. Consider the following quote from "Our Ellsworth Ancestors" - a book compiled by German E. Ellsworth and his wife Mary and edited by John Orval Ellsworth (Brigham Young University - Provo Utah):
"Having engaged in these family researches since early in 1908, the author concluded that Arthur Aylsworth must be a son by the first wife of Jeremiah Elsworth, who settled in Rowley, Massachusetts. Josiah Elsworth of Winsor, Connecticut - Theophilus of New York, and Jeremiah Elsworth of Rowley, Mass. were either brothers or cousins. The New York and Long Island records lend assurance to this belief when they are studied closely and consideration given to the customs of those days, and how important a part religion took in deciding their destination."
German Ellsworth further specifies the birth year of Arthur as being 1661 or 1662.
The main problem with this claim is that none of the specific evidence for this common ancestry is documented in these notes. Also, it conflicts with other contemporary tracts including the following from "A Register of the AYLSWORTH Family" by Sylvester Aylsworth, 1840:
"Arthur Aylsworth was born in England, about 1656, emigrated to America near 1681, being 25 years old. He married a lady in Providence, R. I., by the name of Mary Brown, they settled in North Kingston, Washington Co., at a place called Quitniseck Neck, where were born unto them the following children: Arthur John Thomas Elizabeth Philip Robert Jediah or Chad, Catherine, Martha
"His death occurred 1725."
If Arthur Aylsworth was born in England in 1656 (or in 1661, as claimed by German") , it would be hard for him to have been born the son of Jeremiah Ellsworth who was in Rowley Massachusetts in 1643, having been allotted seven acres of land in Bradford Streets Plain. However, Sylvester Aylsworth had his own ideas of the family ancestry as follows:
"In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne of Great Britain. Four years after in 1664, the 'Conformity Act' was established imposing fines, imprisonment, proscription, banishment and death for those not conforming to the Anglican faith.
"At this time, 1664, one of three brothers fled to Holland. He adopted the Dutch pronunciation ELSWORT. After a few years living there, he with his family emigrated to America, and settled in the city of New York where many of the descendants still remain. His name is believed to be Theophilus.
"He and his descendants professed their attachment to the Dutch Reformed Church. They spell their name ELSWORTH.
"Six years after, 1670, the persecution was again renewed with increased severity. "I believe" the second brother emigrated at this time. He settled in Connecticut and from him descended the family of that state who spell their names ELLSWORTH. To his family belonged Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth and William W. Ellsworth, Governor of Connecticut.
"The third brother who remained in Wales was Arthur who at the time was too young to excite suspicion. He was born about 1656, emigrated to America in 1681 and died in 1725, 69 years old. He settled in North Kingston, Rhode Island. His name was spelled AYLSWORTH.
"The descendants of these three brothers resemble each other in their general appearance and natural turn; having sandy hair, light skin, dark blue eyes and often red whiskers."
Even Homer Elhanan Ellsworth who reprinted this traditional family history (in "Descendants of Arthur Aylsworth", Narragansett Historical Pub. Co., 1887) questioned its veracity. He states that "Theophilus" should be "Christopher" and that both Josiah and Christopher were born about 1629. Furthermore, he points out that the dates 1664 and 1670 are wrong since historical records clearly place Josiah and Christopher in America at earlier dates, Josiah at Winsor, Connecticut, in 1646 and Christopher at New York in 1655. Homer Ellsworth further concludes that there is "Insufficient grounds to connect the Ellsworth's with this (Aylsworth) family."
Apparently no credible evidence was found by the most Harriet Ellsworth Siebert, perhaps the most thorough researcher of the Jeremiah Ellsworth line. In her typewritten manuscript of "The Descendants of Jeremiah Ellsworth of Rowley, Massachusetts", she gives no indication of possible relationships between Jeremiah and the other Ellsworth of Aylsworth immigrants.
Thus, it seems that there is no legitimate evidence at this time to conclude a common ancestry for the various American Ellsworth's. This is not to say that such a connection is impossible, however. The origin of Jeremiah Ellsworth is not known, nor has the route by which the various Ellsworth's made it to their first residences in America been identified. No Ellsworth is listed in the records of the original party of settlers of Rowley, Massachusetts, headed by Ezekiel Rodgers. Jeremiah first shows up in 1643, three years after the settlement of Rowley. Since he was not a freeman until 1654, it is possible that he (and perhaps other Ellsworth relatives as well) was omitted from such lists due to his young age or low social status. One interesting possibility is raised by the fact that the Rodger's party arrived in Boston in December of 1638 and spent the winter in Salem, before founding the town of Rowley in the Spring of 1639. Apparently, during this time, a few of the Rodger's party including one Captain George Lamberton left and settled in New Haven, Connecticut, during 1638. This presents a possible connection between the Rowley Ellsworth's and those in southern New England. Even if no under age Ellsworth's were in those first parties, they may have had friends and relatives who were, and correspondence and employment offers may have lead members of the family to go to separate destinations when they emigrated to this country.
The real truth of the Ellsworth common ancestry may never be known, but it will doubtless continue to be an intriguing area of investigation for genealogical researchers.
Aylsworth, Homer E.; "Arthur Aylsworth and His Descendants in America", 1887.
Ellsworth, German E. and Mary; "Our Ellsworth Ancestors", Brigham Young Univ., Provo, Utah.
Ellsworth, Homer Elhanan; "Descendants of Arthur Aylsworth"; Narragansett Historical Pub. Co., 1887.
Holmes, Frank R.; "Directory of the Ancestral Heads of N. E. Families 1620-1700"; Genealogical Pub. Co., Baltimore, 1984; Reprint of 1923 edition.
Jewett, Frederic; "History and Genealogy of Jewetts in America"; 1908.
Savage, James; "Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England"; Genealogical Pub. Co., Baltimore, 1986; Reprint of 1860-1862 edition.
Torrey, Clarence A.; "New England Marriages Prior to 1700"; Genealogical Pub. Co., Baltimore, 1985.
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15 Feb 1998