Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thomas Hastings of Watertown, MA

diagnosis: ancestor inflation
Thomas Hastings; yet another ancestor suffering from a genealogical condition I call "ancestor inflation".  As great as the big ancestry websites are, there is a downside to most of them.  They allow for the perpetuation of bad genealogy almost like spreading a virus.  The infected researcher gets a giddy feeling and begins to have visions of grandeur.  They believe they are related to someone famous or some member of royalty or even worse, an Indian Princess.  And instead of taking their genealogical temperature and listening to the voices of reason, they too pass on the infection to everyone who looks at their tree.  

I wish that there was some way to "call out" a tree that has bogus information, does not have that option. There are some new sites that have a more communal style where everyone can edit a shared ancestor, which would seem to lead to a more authentic family tree. The ones I like are We Relate and Wikitree they both allow registered users to correct mistakes.

If you have done research on Thomas Hastings and believe that you are related to Sir Henry Hastings and Eleanor Knyvett than you have been infected!  So here is what I know to be true about Thomas Hastings of England and Watertown, Massachusetts.

English origins
Thomas' English origins are unknown, not where he was born, not his parents were, nothing can be written about his ancestry that is based on fact. For information about his ancestors, who they were not and who they might have been see this webpage by Scott Billigmeier he does an excellent job of dispelling the junky genealogy attached to Thomas.

What is known is that Thomas Hastings aged 29 and his wife Susan aged 34,  boarded the ship "The Elizabeth" in Ipswich, Suffolk, England on 30 April 1634, bound for New England.  As most of the other travelers aboard the ship were from East Anglia it is likely that Thomas and Susan were as well.

Thomas' first and only stop in Massachusetts was Watertown, which was begun  in 1630. The first town records were begun in 1634 and Thomas' name appears on Dec 10, 1638 when he was elected one of the Prudential Men for the following year. He would hold this post for many years to come. In addition to serving as a Prudential Man, Thomas' was appointed and paid for various town jobs such as fence building and to build a house for another Watertown resident. In the town records of 1647 Thomas is called Deacon Hastings and he was chosen to be on a commission to set the county rates (taxes). Thomas was still active in town government in 1680 at age 75.

Thomas and Susan do not seem to have had any children or at least had none that survived early childhood.  Susan died on Feb 20, 1650, she would have been about 50 years old.  Thomas married for the second time some time prior to the 1652 birth of his child Thomas Jr.  His new wife was Margaret Cheney daughter of William and Margaret Cheney.  At the time of their marriage Thomas was about 45 and Margaret 22 or 23. Thomas and Margaret had eight children all of whom lived to adulthood, a rarity in those harsh days.

Thomas Jr. b. 1 July 1652 in Watertown, married Anne Hawkes 10 Nov. 1672, married (2) Mary Burt 14 Feb 1706.
John b. 1 March 1653/4 Watertown, m. Abigail Hammond 18 June 1679
William b. 8 August 1655 Watertown, drowned in August 1669
Joseph b. 12 September 1657 Watertown, m. 21 Nov. 1682 Ruth Rice, m (2) Martha Sheppard 8 Jan 1684
Benjamin b. 9 Aug 1659, m. Elizabeth Graves 1683, m. (2) Mary Clark Parsons 1699
Nathaniel 25 Sept 1661, m. Mary Nevinson 1690
Hepzibah b. 31 Jan 1663/4 m. William Bond 2 June 1680
Samuel b. 12 March 1665/6, m. Lydia Church

Thomas was obviously an upstanding member of his community.  He served the town for many many years as a Prudential Man or Selectmen as they were later called and holding other civic positions. Thomas also served in a ministerial position in his church. The job of Deacon entailed multiple duties including filling in for the Minister if he was absent.  In most churches or meeting houses as they called them, the Deacons faced the congregation  seating on a slightly raised platform.

Susanna Woodward
In 1671 The Hastings Family became embroiled in a scandal involving the pregnancy of Thomas' servant Susanna Woodward.  Susanna claimed that Thomas Hastings Jr., her master's son, was father of the child. This must have been very embarrassing for Thomas, especially given his role as Deacon in the church.  The family denied her claims and put forth the name of John Chadwick as the father.  He too denied that he was the father.

The paternity of the child was very important as the father was expected to pay for the maintenance of his offspring. The case was dragged through the courts with the final decision that Thomas was the father.  He married the next year and left town, becoming a reputable doctor.

Thomas wrote his will on March 18 1682.  He was survived by his wife Margaret and all of their children. His will was proved Sept. 7 1685.  Margaret's death was not recorded.

Watertown Records
Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins 1634-1635
Roger Thompson, Divided We Stand, Watertown 1630-1680

Note about Roger Thompson's book: Divided We Stand.  This book is an excellent description of life in Watertown from it's beginning.  I have read it several times and refer to it frequently as a source for my blog. Some of my ancestors are described in the book including Thomas Hastings.  I highly recommend it.

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