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  • #47 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: The New England Ancestry of Baseball Icon Tyrus Raymond "Ty" Cobb: A Tribute to Correspondents and Visitors, and an Addendum to Notable Kin, Volume 2 (1999), Chapter 35

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : April 20, 2000

    Over 25 years at NEHGS I have developed a wide spectrum of visiting friends and correspondents who bring or send me items of considerable interest re: royal descents, presidential ancestors, notable kin, etc. Among the most recent of these is airline pilot Randall M. (Randy) Anderson of Stamford, Conn., who on first introducing himself asked if I was aware of the New England ancestry of Ty Cobb. I was immediately intrigued, and Mr. Anderson over several weeks provided me with a sizable quantity of supporting material and documentation, including a thesis prepared by his sister that used (for a study of black-white relations in antebellum Georgia) much primary data concerning Stephen Griffith, whose Pickens Co. will of 5 Dec. 1870 recognizes at least two illegitimate sons, including Caleb Chitwood (born 28 May 1832, son of Phebe Chitwood). Caleb Chitwood married "Cisily" Mize and left a daugher Amanda Chitwood (15 Jan. 1871-19 Oct. 1936), wife of William Hershell Cobb (28 Feb. 1863-8 Aug. 1905). Their oldest son was Tyrus Raymond Cobb (18 Dec. 1886-17 July 1961), the baseball player often thought comparable only to Babe Ruth.

    Ty Cobb's wives were Charlotte Marion Lombard and Mrs. Frances Fairburn Cass. Ty and his mother - who mistook her husband for a nighttime prowler, shot him, and was indicted for voluntary manslaughter but acquitted - both sometimes indulged in unsavory behavior, and Ty Cobb died mostly friendless but a philanthropist of note and one of the first millionaire professional athletes. As is well chronicled by Claudia Chitwood Weller in Descendants of Daniel Chitwood (Orlando, Fla., 1985), Stephen Griffith was the son of Caleb Griffith (Oxford, Mass. 30 May 1769-Pickens Co., Georgia 10 April 1859) and Juliann Little (N.C. 28 Sept. 1775-Pickens Co. 28 Aug. 1862). Caleb Griffith appears in About Towne: Quarterly Newsletter of the Towne Family Association 19, no. 2 (June 1999), p. 26, as a son of Daniel Griffith (1726-1814), of Rochester and Freetown, Mass., and Laurens, Otsego Co., N.Y., and his second wife Mary Aldrich, b. 8 May 1741 at Uxbridge, Mass.

    Daniel Griffith's brother Ephraim (1733-1823) married Mary Ellis and is treated on p. 65 of my Notable Kin, Volume Two (1999), as a great-great-great-grandmother of genealogist Mary Campbell (Lovering) Holman (1868-1947). I did not therein, however, note the descent for Mrs. Holman and - amazingly - for Ty Cobb, derived through Eleanor Eastey (b. Rochester, Mass. 5 March 1703/4), wife of Samuel Griffith and mother of Daniel and Ephraim. Eleanor's parents-in-law were the relatively obscure William and Mary (---) Griffith of Yarmouth and Rochester, and her parents were Joshua and Abigail (Stanley?) Eastey. Her paternal grandparents, however, were Isaac Estey of Topsfield and witchcraft victim Mary (Towne) Estey, the progeny of whose parents is a major subject of Notable Kin, Volume Two, Chapter 35. Therein and from the above we learn that baseball great Ty Cobb was a distant kinsman of architect Ithiel Towne, Mrs. David Gouverneur Burnet of Texas, First Lady Grace Anna (Goodhue) Coolidge, Congressman Patrick Joseph Kennedy of R.I., diplomat David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce (husband of Ailsa Mellon), Robert Maynard Hutchins (president) of the University of Chicago, Mrs. George Washington Vanderbilt (Edith Stuyvesant Dresser) of Biltmore, Peter Winston Pillsbury (president and CEO) of the Pillsbury Flour Company, comedienne Lucille Ball, novelist Kenneth Lewis Roberts (of Northwest Passage), and genealogists Walter Goodwin Davis, Jr., and Mary and Winifred Lovering Holman.

    Mary Aldrich (b. 1741), wife of Daniel Griffith and mother of Caleb of Pickens Co., was a daughter of Jonathan Aldrich (b. 1718) and Mary Wilson, and a granddaughter of Seth Aldrich (b. 1679) and Deborah Hayward, and most probably (according to Wilson scholar Ken Stevens of Walpole, N.H.) John Wilson (m. Mendon, Mass. 14 April 1719) and Abigail Harris. Seth Aldrich and his wife were children of Jacob and Huldah (Thayer) Aldrich, and of Samuel and Mehitable (Thompson) Hayward, and grandchildren of George and Katherine (Seald) Aldrich, Ferdinando and Huldah (Hayward) Thayer, William and Margery (Knight?) Hayward, and John and Sarah (----) Thompson, of whom Huldah (Hayward) Thayer was also a daughter of William and Margery, and John Thompson was a son of David and Amyas (Colles) Thompson. George and Katherine Aldrich are ancestors once, William and Margery Hayward are ancestors three times, and John and Sarah Thompson are ancestors twice over, of President William Howard Taft. Thus Ty Cobb, himself twice a Hayward descendant, was at least nine times related to the 27th president and his son, Republican leader and Ohio senator Robert Alfonso Taft. Via Thayers (Ferdinando was the son of immigrant Thomas and nephew of immigrant Richard), Cobb was also distantly related to a very large section of Braintree, Mass., where Thayers were an ur-family in the ancestry of many, perhaps most, 1790 residents. See Philip S. Thayer, "Ancestral Hometowns II: Braintree, Massachusetts in 1790," NEXUS 4 (1987): 128-30.

    I have not delved with care into the likely Wilson-Harris ancestry. Ken Stevens thinks this John Wilson was descended from a Salem family and Gale I. Harris might well supply the Harris descent. From the above, however, as from the ancestry of the late Princess of Wales and various others, one readily sees that a single pioneer (late 18th- or early 19th-century) ancestor from New England can connect a Southern, foreign, or other figure to thousands of New England-derived contemporaries, numerous notables, and usually a genealogically intriguing slice of Americana.

    Once more, my next column will be a surprise. As a further example of major discoveries sent by correspondents, however, I wish to acknowledge recent receipt of a chart from Theron Smith of Fort Worth, who has written me on presidential matters for many years. Theron charts a Borden of R.I. descent for actress Lana Turner and country music star "Willie" Nelson, citing a 1994 Cowan volume that is not (yet) at NEHGS. I shall look for it eagerly on my next trip to Salt Lake City or the New York Public Library, and may well report what I find in this column. Mr. Cobb is the first major baseball figure, other than the founding Spaldings, whose ancestry I have considered at length. If anyone has found colonial forebears for Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Mark McGuire, etc., I should be interested indeed. Twenty-plus years ago Robert Charles Anderson and David Curtis Dearborn traced Carlton Fisk, but I do not think the results were published.

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