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  • #66 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: New England Ancestors of Depression-Era Novelist John Steinbeck

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    The Californian John Ernest Steinbeck, Jr. (1902-1968), who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, with regard to both themes and his own most productive period, was undoubtedly the greatest writer of the American Depression of the 1930s. His works include Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Cannery Row (1945), and East of Eden (1952), most of which have been made into “classic” movies. The several biographies (Jackson J. Benson, The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer [1984], Jay Parini, John Steinbeck: A Biography [1995], and others) indicate that Steinbeck’s parents were John Ernest Steinbeck and Olive Hamilton, and his grandparents, the German John Adolph Grosssteinbeck/Steinbeck and Massachusetts native Almira Dickson, plus Samuel Hamilton and Elizabeth Fagen. Almira was certainly the Almira Ann Dickson born at Groton, Mass., October 2, 1828, daughter of Walter Dickson (III) and Sarah Eldredge; the former was also born in Groton, March 15, 1799 (son of Walter Dickson, Jr. and Anna Tufts), the latter in Dunstable, Mass., June 1, 1800 (daughter of [Dr.] Micah Eldredge and Sarah Buttrick).

    From the published Groton and Dunstable VRs, from the 1994 Eldred-Eldredge-Eldridge in New England by Bradford W. Luther (pp. W22-W23, etc.), from p. 34, #54-3, etc., of Herbert Adams, The Compendium of Tufts Kinsmen, 1st ed. (1975), and from Richard P. Butrick, Butrick, Butterick, and Buttrick, 1635-1978 (1979), pp. 20-21, etc., I was able to trace most of the patrilineal lines of Almira Ann’s grandparents. Using a variety of other genealogies – of the Cutter, Henry Adams of Braintree, Whiton, Thomas Hale of Newbury, Robert Harrington of Lancaster, Bucknam, Frost, Winship, Rolfe, Putnam, Sprague of Malden, Tower, Thomas Pierce of Charlestown, Whipple, Sparhawk, Ang[i]er (in the W.G. Davis volumes), Damon of Scituate, Howland, and Emery families, plus a few town histories (esp. Medford and Cambridge), I can readily trace distant kinships to twelve presidents. Steinbeck has no royal descent, a line from only the brother (Arthur Howland) of a Mayflower passenger, no ancestors in common with the late Princess of Wales, no 1692 witchcraft victim forebear, and among my own ancestors, only Henry and Margaret (----) Howland of Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (for whose notable progeny, to which Steinbeck is a first addendum, see column #55), and the above-mentioned Thomas Hale of Newbury, a likely first cousin of Thomas, Samuel, and (my) Martha (Hale) Peck of Connecticut. From each of Almira’s grandparents, however, the ancestry for three more generations (almost exclusively of Middlesex County), plus lines to Adams/Squire, Howland, Putnam/Goodspeed, Sherman, Whipple, Pierce, and Emery presidential forebears, can be readily outlined as follows:

    Walter Dickson, Jr.; Walter Dickson & Anna Cutter; John Dickson, Jr. & Mary Russell, Samuel Cutter & Ann Harrington; John Dickson & Margery Winship, Walter Russell & Elizabeth Winship, William Cutter & Rebecca Rolfe, John Harrington, Jr. & Hannah Winter.

    Anna Tufts; Timothy Tufts & Anne Adams; Peter Tufts & Lydia Bucknam, Joseph Adams (III) & Martha Frost; John Tufts & Mary Putnam, Samuel Bucknam & Deborah Sprague, Joseph Adams, Jr. & Rebecca Cutter, Ephraim Frost, Jr. & Sarah Cooper; Peter Tufts & Mary Pierce, Nathaniel Putnam & Elizabeth Hutchinson, Joses Bucknam & Judith Worth, Joseph Adams & Margaret Eames, Samuel Cooper & Hannah Hastings; Thomas Pierce & Elizabeth ---- (ancestors of Franklin Pierce), John Putnam (TP) & Priscilla Gould (TP), Lionel Worth & Susannah Whipple, John Adams & Anne ----, John Cooper & Anne Sparhawk; Nicholas Putnam & Margaret Goodspeed, John Whipple & Susannah ---- (Stacy or Clark), Henry Adams (TP) & Edith Squire (TP), Nathaniel Sparhawk & Mary Angier; John Goodspeed & Elizabeth ----, Matthew Whipple (TP) & Joan ---- (TP), Henry Squire (FP) & ---- (FP), John Angier & Anne Sherman; William Goodspeed & Anna ----, Edmund Sherman & Anne Pellatte; ---- Goodspeed (TP) & Alice ---- (TP), Henry Sherman (FP) & Agnes (Butter?) (FP).

    [Dr.] Micah Eldredge; Hezekiah Eldredge & Abigail Whiton; Mulford Eldredge & Abiel Purrington, Elijah Whiton & Priscilla Russ; Elisha Eldredge, Jr. & Dorcas Mulford, Hezekiah Purrington & Mary Scammon, Joseph Whiton & Martha Tower, Joseph Russ & Priscilla Moore; Samuel Tower & Silence Damon; John Damon & Martha Howland; Arthur Howland & ----; Henry Howland (FP) & Margaret ---- (FP).

    Sarah Buttrick; Tilly Buttrick & Abigail Hale; Joseph Buttrick & Sarah Brown, Ezekiel Hale, Jr. & Abigail Sargent; Jonathan Buttrick & Elizabeth Wooley, Ephraim Brown & Sarah Wilson, Ezekiel Hale & Ruth Emery, [Rev.] Christopher Sargent & Susannah Peaslee; John Emery (III) & Mary Sawyer; John Emery, Jr. & Mary ---- (ancestors of Franklin Pierce).

    Thus Steinbeck shares ancestry with the two Adamses, Fillmore, Pierce, Taft, Coolidge, FDR, Nixon, Ford, and the two Bushes. Most interesting, perhaps, is his kinship to Depression-era President F.D. Roosevelt, an eighth cousin twice removed via Howlands and a ninth cousin once removed via Whipples.

    The New England ancestry of Steinbeck, like that of Clint Eastwood, was first brought to my attention by the indefatigable Michael J. Wood, of London. In the next column, I shall treat an almost unbelievable set of Southern-derived figures descended, like Gail, Sir Robert, and Lizzie, from Richard and Joan (Fowle) Borden of Rhode Island.

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