Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nathaniel and John Merrill of Wherstead, England and Newbury, MA

earliest merrills
If you have seen genealogies for the Merrills that go back to a John Merrill 1400-1452 and his wife Katherine John 1402-1451, erase them from you database as they are fictitious. They can be found on many ancestry trees and other genealogy websites. 

Many websites claim that the Merrill family pedigree has been confidently traced directly back several centuries to Thomas Merrill b. 1444, this is not necessarily true.  The first Thomas Meriell  left a will dated January 1463, if he was born in 1444 he would have been only 19 years old.  Since Thomas left about 10 children, he must have been born much earlier. Thomas, or possibly and earlier ancestor started a family tradition which would and still does make life miserable for genealogist 400 years in the future. [1]

too many johns 
Cottage in Wherstead photo by Nigel Chadwick
How, you ask, did they do this?  Thomas had not only two sons, both living at the time of his will, named William, but also two sons who survived childhood named John. One of these two Johns is usually cited as the John Merrill whose will was dated 1528. There is a 65  year gap between the death of Thomas in 1463 and a John in 1528. If either of the sons of Thomas named John was this man, he lived to a great age. The more likely explanation is that there is a generation, or two missing.  [2]

To confound matters even more the John Merrill of the 1528 will also had two sons named John. A subsequent John, possibly one of his son, will dated 1551, continued with the two Johns tradition.  This makes it impossible to pinpoint which man was the direct ancestor of Nathaniel and his brother John. 

This leads us to the last John Merrill whose will was dated 1600. The problem with drawing a line from this John to Thomas is that there is no way to tell who his father was or who his father's father was.  Each of these men had sons with names other than John, any of which could have been the father of a John.   Oh, it's too confusing, but what I am trying to say is, despite seeing trees with each man directly linked to the next, there is nothing to back up their claims. [3]This argument for direct descendancy is also made by Mary Lovering Holman in her Pillsbury Ancestry book, but she does not offer concrete proof.[4]

thank you, john for naming your son nathaniel
Blessedly, the John of the 1600 will named one, and only one, of his sons Nathaniel. This John is Nathaniel the immigrant's grandfather, and this we can prove. We know that his wife was named Prudence, and they had at least three sons, John, of course,  Michael and Nathaniel. Some family history's claim Prudence's surname is Bird, I do not know what their source is for that.  See this page for the complete will of John Merrill proved December 1600.

St. Mary's Wherstead by Adrian S. Pye

Nathaniel, son of John and Prudence
On  27 Feb 1591/2 Nathaniel  married a Mary Blacksell at St. Mary's in Belstead. Her name is variously spelled Blackwell/Blaxell/ Blacksoll. Here is a link to the transcription on FreeReg.. The baptisms of Nathaniel and Mary's children are transcribed. John Merrill was baptized August 16, 1599 and his brother Nathaniel, baptized 4 May 1601 at St. Mary's Wherstead, a year after his grandfather passed away. [4]

Below is are a list of births/deaths in Wherstead and Belstead as found by Samuel Merrill. Notice that here Mary's name is Blacksoll.

1593/4 Jan.21 Merrell, dau. of Nath Merrell & his wife was buried.
1594/5 Feb.23. Mary Merrell, dau. of Nath Merrell & Mary his wife was baptised.
1596. Sep.21. Matthew Merrell dau. of Matthew Merrell & Mary his wife was baptised. (Sic.) 1598. ) Francis Merrell dau. of (???) Merrell & Mary his wife was baptised.
1599. Aug. 16. John Merrell son of Nath Merrell & Mary his wife was baptised.
1601. May 4. Nathanaell Merrell son of Nath Merrell & Mary his wife was baptised.
1602. Aug. 23. Rose Merrill dau. of Thomas Merrill & his wife was baptised.
1603. Apr. 3. Mychell Merrell, son of Nathaniel Merrell & his wife was baptised.
1605. Mar. 29. Elizabeth Merrell dau. of Thomas Merrell & his wife was baptised.
1628/9 Jan. 24. John Merrill & Anis Bishope married.
1595/6 Jul. 15. Thomas Merrill & Rose Pearson married.
1598. Aug. 1. Fraunces Merrell, dau. of Nath Merrell & Mary his wife buried.
1626/7 Mar. 17. Nathaniel Merrill buried.
1602. Oct. 10. Mary dau. of John & Susan Merrill baptised.
1603. Apr. 9. Elizabeth dau. of Nichaelis Merrill & Margaret his wife.
1604. Aug. 4. Francis Merrill, dau. of Michael Merrill & Margaret.
1607. Apr. 19. Michael son of Michael Merrill & Margaret.
1608/9 Feb. 19. John son of Michael Merrill & Margaret.
1610/1 Mar. 10. William son of Michael Merrill and Margaret.
1615. Sep. 10. Anna Merrill dau. of Michael Merrill & Margaret.
(Baptisms and burials, hiatus to 1653.)
1583. Sep. 15. Robert Andrew & Joane Morrell married.
1592/3 Feb. 27. Nathanaell Merrill & Mary Blacksoll married.
1601. Dec. 29. John Merrill & Susan Plumley married.
1602/3 Mar. 7. Michael Merrill & Margaret Scrivener married.
1637. Jul. 3. William Merrill & An. Bond married.
1608. Dec. 22. Prudence Merrill buried.
1609. 1616. Aug. 20. Michael Merrill buried.

Nathaniel Jr.
Nathaniel and his wife Susanna were married in England possibly at St. Mary's in Lawford, Essex.  Lawford is about eight miles due south of Wherstead. Three of their children: Susan, Abraham and John were baptised there. See this transcription. Daughter Susan was baptised in December of 1638, making it unlikely that Nathaniel immigrated prior to that date as is claimed by many people.

Susanna's last name at birth is unknown. A 2009 article in the Connecticut Nutmegger by professional genealogist Nancy L. Dodge lays out the case against her begin a Wilterton/Wolterton. Her second husband was a Jordan. She should be known as Susanna Unknown. 

Susanna is said to be the daughter of Susanna Unknown and unknown father.  Her mother remarried a Gregory Wilterton or Wolterton.  Susanna's maiden name is unknown. According to a Merrill Family Website, the the baptism of four of his children also took place at St. Mary's in Lawford.  The last record of this Merrill Family is the baptism of Susan Merrill, which took place on 12 December 1638. 

It is not clear to me exactly when the brothers arrived, whether together or separately or on which ship they traveled, but they were both settled in Newbury by 1639. Nathaniel was then a married man about 40 years old with four children.    He took the freeman's oath in 1640.  Not much else is written about him until his death in 1654/5.  

Children of Nathaniel and Susanna
Nathaniel, baptized 25 May, 1634 in Lawford, Essex, England d. 1 January 1682/3 Newbury, MA
John bapt. 16 Feb 1635/6 Lawford d. 18 July 1712 West Hartford, Hartford, CT
Abraham, bapt. 9 april 1637 Lawford, d. 28 November 1722.
Susanna, bapt 12 December 1638 Lawford d. 10 Oct 1690 Suffield, Hartford CT
Daniel born 20 August 1642 Newbury, MA d. 27 June 1717 Salisbury, MA. My ancestor
Abel born 20 Feb. 1643/44 Newbury, d. 28 Oct 1689 Newbury
Thomas, born 1648 Newbury, d. unknown

Nathaniel died March 16, 1654/5.  His estate,worth only 86 pounds, was to go to his eldest son Nathaniel. Susanna his widow had a lifetime interest in the estate.  On August 16, 1661 Susanna married Stephen Jordan.  She died Jan 25, 1672. 

Daniel Merrill married Sarah Clough, daughter of John Clough. See his bio here.

my descent from Nathaniel Merrill
John Merrill and Prudence Unknown
Nathaniel Merrill and Mary Blacksoll
Nathaniel Merrill and Susanna Unknown
Daniel Merrill and Sarah Clough
Martha Merrill and John True
Ruth True and Benjamin Baker
Benjamin Baker and Sarah Norris
Katherine Baker and Samuel Thornton
Samuel Thornton and Chloe Blanchard
John C. Thornton and Jennie Clover Rowell


[2] Merrill, Samuel, 1855-. A Merrill Memorial: an Account of the Descendants of Nathaniel Merrill, an Early Settler of Newbury, Massachusetts. Cambridge, Mass, 1917-1928.

[3] Samuel Merrill, A Merrill Memorial.

[4] Holman, Mary (Lovering), 1868-, and Helen Pendleton (Winston) Pillsbury. Ancestry of Charles Stinson Pillsbury And John Sargent Pillsbury. [Concord, N.H.: Priv. print. at the Rumford press], 1938. Merrill can be found beginning on page 1029 of Volume II. 

[5] "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018, Nathl. Merrell, 04 May 1601); citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 496,781.

[6] The Connecticut Nutmegger. Glastonbury, CT: Connecticut Society of Genealogists, 1970-. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009.)


kwiegand said...

Nathaniel, was a distant grandfather of mine! A direct descendant on my fathers side. My father is in the processes of writing a history of our family's ancestry. He has a load of information dating past the 1400's. WE can always exchange info if you are interested. Kasey Wiegand

Unknown said...

kwiegand....I would love more info. I descended on my fathers side Ezra (1827-1899) to Nathaniel C. to Stevens to Jonathan ???? to Stevens to Abel Jr (1698-1783 to Deacon Abel to Squire Abel to Nathaniel (1601-1655) email

PLFisher said...

Greeting both - first, thank you both for your generosity posting information. Would very much like to share / ride your research coattails for more information. My Mother was a Merrill - Nathanial > Deakin > Isaac > so forth .. all ended up in Kansas City (I am now in Australia)
Look forward to hearing from you.

Katharine Warner said...

Oh wow! PLFisher! I am in Kansas City too. Nathaniel Merrill is my 9th great grandfather.

Roles of Men, Women and Children in 17th Century Puritan Massachusetts

In 17 th century pur itan Massachusetts , the roles of men , women and children were very clearly defined . Men were the ...