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  • Ancestral Hometowns II: Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1790

    Philip S. Thayer

    Published Date : June 1987
    Besides telling a family historian the location of a given ancestor at a certain point in time, a census record, if looked at more broadly, presents a snapshot of the ancestor’s neighbors and, augmented with other data, of their relationships.  In a previous article, the author attempted such a survey with the "census" of 1608 for Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England, the English hometown of the Thayers of America.  This article deals with Braintree, Massachusetts, their first major American home, as shown in the first federal census of 1790.  A subsequent article will deal with Enfield, Massachusetts, home of Reuben8 Thayer, in 1865.

    In 1790, Braintree was larger in area than it is today, since Quincy was set off in 1792 and Randolph in 1793 (when Randolph also included what is now Holbrook).  Its total population was 2771 persons, under 488 heads of families (HOF) in 420 houses.  There were 687 males over 16 years of age including HOF, 640 free white males under 16, 1426 females and 18 “other free persons.” (The last may be either Indians or freed slaves; they appear with white families, except for someone named “Abda.”)

    Seeing readily that there were many Thayers in Braintree, I counted them. reaching the amazing total of 59 families (HOF), or 12 percent of the total.  When individuals are counted, there were 334 persons in Thayer families (perhaps not all named Thayer, of course, allowing for mothers-in-law, orphans, etc.), which is again 12 percent.  Nearly one of every eight persons in Braintree was a Thayer.  This surpasses even the noted Lincoln family of Hingham. who with eight progenitors had risen to slightly less than 9 percent (36/411) of the families of that town.

    [129]

    Two other towns of similar size but different history have been examined as “controls” for the Braintree situation.  Lanesborough (Berkshire County, established 1763, population 2142) had only one surname with 10 HOF (Mason), accounting for only 3.5 percent of the population.  An older but inland town, Sutton (Worcester County, established 1714, population 2642) had three such surnames (Sibley, Chase, and Putnam), each with 20-23 HOF and 115-148 individuals, no one of them comprising more than 6 percent of the population.

    Were there other families in Braintree to challenge the Thayers numerically?  The answer, summarized in Table 1, is negative.  In fact, the three next largest surname groups (French, Hayden, and Hayward/Howard) together  total only 49 families and 253 individuals.  The 11 largest surname groups, with 10 or more HOF, given in Table 1 by name, account for 38 percent of the population.  A summary of the other townsmen by number of surnames vs. number of families with a given surname is provided in Table 2.  There are a large number of surnames (71), more than half of the total number of surnames in the town, represented by only one family each (i.e., HOF).  This result might be expected in a newer town with settlers coming from a wide geographical area, but it is surprising in an early-settled town such as Braintree.  Post-Revolutionary mobility and migrations may account for some of this pattern.

    Perhaps one reason for the large numbers of Thayers in their “hometown” is their relatively non-migratory nature.  There were 147 Thayer HOF in Massachusetts in 1790; the 59 in Braintree were 40 percent of the state total.  Many of the remaining 60 percent may well have been descendants of the third immigrant (Nathaniel of Taunton), or of Ferdinando Thayer (son of Thomas1 of Braintree) who went to Mendon before 1675.  As another measure of mobility, or lack thereof, the number of Thayers in Vermont was very small in 1790, perhaps 19 families, counting variant spellings, or 13 percent as many as the 147 Massachusetts Thayer families.  This percentage is conservative compared to some other Massachusetts families, e.g., Edsons of Bridgewater, whose Vermont “branch” was about one-quarter as large as that remaining in Massachusetts.  (Granted, the Edsons had Tory leanings and may have wanted to leave the state early.)  On a personal note, no Thayer in the author’s lineal descent left Braintree until Reuben of the sixth generation (Hezekiah5-4, Nathaniel3, Richard2-1) joined the westward migration about 1790, and went west (90 miles to Belchertown, Massachusetts).

    Of course, the Thayers had marriageable daughters, so that their influence is felt in most of the 10 major families of Braintree (Table 3). The source for this data is the magnificent compilation of genealogical data on most of the families of the town by Waldo C. Sprague (unpublished but available at the Society and on microfilm).  Presentation of degrees of cousinship will not be attempted here, but at least 55 percent of the members of other (non-Thayer) families were descended from the Thayers.  All members of some families, e.g., Hayward, Wild, and Penniman, were Thayer cousins, because of early marriages to Thayer women.

    Were the Thayers important in the town, one might ask.  The answer would seem to be only in proportion to their numbers.  Town records for 1790 show a dozen or so Thayers holding town office, among about a hundred town officers.  Preeminent were General Ebenezer Thayer, town clerk and treasurer; Major Samuel Thayer, an assessor; and Ebenezer Thayer, Jr., representative to the General Court.  The rest held relatively miiior offices including culler of staves, fence viewer, surveyor of highways (4 of them), tythingman, hog reeve, sealer of leather, herring committeeman (2), and field driver.  The moderator of the town meeting, also a selectman, was Major Stephen Penniman, whose grandmother was a Thayer.

    We see here perhaps an extreme example of the observation (quoted to the author by Gary Boyd Roberts) that a high percentage of the marriages in many parishes or towns of 17th and 18th century Old and New England were between couples who were third cousins or closer. Considering the number of Thayers in Braintree, such a pattern would be difficult to avoid.

    TABLE 1

    Eleven Major Families of

    Braintree, Massachusetts, 1790

    (Source: U.S. Census, 1790)

     

    Surname

    No. of families

    No. of individuals                 

     

     

     

     Thayer

     59

     334

     French

     18

     94

     Hayden

     16

     88

     Hayward/Howard

     15

     71

     Clark

     14

     70

     Hollis

     12

     71

     White

     12

     68

     Wild

     12

     64

     Holbrook

     11

     72

     Hunt

     10

     51

     Penniman

     10

     55

     

     

     

     Total

     189 (39%)

     1038 (38%)

     Town Total

     488

     2771

     

    *All are descendants of William1 Hayward, but spelling varies between branches. (Ironically, there is an intersection in Quincy where Hayward and Howard Streets meet.)

    [130]

    TABLE 2

    Other Families of Braintree, Massachusetts, 1790

    (Source: U.S. Census, 1790)

     

    No. of families with a given surname

     No. of  surnames

     Total  Families  

     Total Individuals

     8

     5

     40

     257

     7

     4

     28

     156

     6

     7

     42

     242

     5

     5

     25

     152

     4

     9

     36

     227

     3

     6

     18

     86

     2

     19

     38

     210

     1

     71

     71

     385

     

     

     

     

    Total

     126

     298

     1715

           

     

    Combined totals for Tables 1 and 2:

        Surnames: 11 + 126 = 137

        Families: 189 + 298 = 487 (+ 1 family of other free persons) = 488

        Individuals: 1038 + 1715 = 2753 (+ 18 other free persons) = 2771

    TABLE 3

    Thayer Relationships of Major Braintree Families

     

     Thayer Ancestry

     Thayer Ancestry

     No Thayer Ancestry

     No Thayer Ancestry

     Surname

     Total Families

     Fam.

     Indiv.

     Fam.

     Indiv.

     French

     16*

     8

     42

     8

     43

     Hayden

     11*

     6

     32

     5

     30

     Hayward/Howard

     15

     15

     71

     0

     0

     Clark

     14

     0

     0

     14

     70

     Hollis

     12

     6

     43

     6

     28

     White

     8*

     6

     35

     2

     12

     Wild

     12

     12

     64

     0

     0

     Holbrook

     11

     2

     18

     9

     54

     Hunt

     10

     0

     0

     10

     51

     Penniman

     8*

     8

     47

     0

     0

     Totals

     117

     63

     352

     54

     288

     Percent

     54%

     55%

     46%

     45%

     

     

                                                

    *Not all families listed in Table I are traceable.

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