( Send all genealogy inquiries to ancestry@johnsteelegordon.com )

      The genealogy here presented is very much a work in progress and I hope the viewer will not take the “spurious precision” imparted by the computer as evidence that it is anything else. There are many more ancestors to be found and more genealogically-sound bridges to Europe to be established. There are, doubtless, numerous mistakes to be found here. And I know there are many insufficiently supported conclusions. They are here because they are plausible, not proven. Neither the sources nor the bibliography are even remotely complete.
      None the less, what follows is a summation of what I know (or think I know) at the moment and indicates clearly where more work is required. For this reason, I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections, and additions (with citations, please).
      To use the genealogy, click here. Then you can either click on a letter on the index page and then click on one of the individuals and proceed from there. Or you can start at the beginning (me) by clicking here and wandering up whatever line interests you. Click on the notes icon to the right of a name to see what information I have on a particular individual or on the pedigree icon to view his or her immediate ancestry.

A Collecting Hobby

      Genealogy is a collecting hobby, like stamps, coins, Georgian silver, or tea cozies. And, like many such hobbies, with me it started by accident. In 1969 I received a letter from a Washington lawyer named Brice Clagett telling me that I was a Clagett descendant (a fact I didn’t know) and asking for information about my immediate relatives to be included in a book on the Clagett family in America. I sent him the information and he sent me some on the Clagett family in early Maryland.
      About that time, I inherited a Bible that had belonged to my great great grandparents Samuel Whittemore Torrey and Catharine Coggill. It contained, as many old Bibles do, information about the ancestry of those two families, much of which was also news to me. The Coggill information only went as far as Catharine’s grandparents, but I thought it might be fun to make a chart of the Torreys back to early Massachusetts, using the information in the Bible. I designed and typed (thank heavens the Xerox had been invented so I only had to do it once) a pedigree chart showing four generations and set to work.
      That was it. I was hooked.
      When I had exhausted the information in the Bible, I went to the New York Public Library, which has one of the country’s leading collections of genealogical material, and began filling in the ancestry of the families that had married into the Torrey family, families with such New England names as Whittemore, Cutter, Bowditch, Bass, Adams, and Greene. When I had gotten most of my Torrey ancestors back to the water’s edge, I began on the ancestors of my great grandfather Hart Lyman and a whole new set of New England family names emerged: Collins, Starr, Beach, Richards, Huntington, Royce, and Baldwin among them.
      But it never ends, of course. Like all collecting hobbies, genealogy is compulsive. How ever many ancestors are uncovered and catalogued, one always wants more. No collection is ever complete. Fortunately, there always are more. No matter how far back you take a line, that last person must have had two parents and four grandparents and so on. The further back one goes, of course, the more difficult, on average, it becomes to find the next generation. But collecting is basically a hunt and the thrill is in the chase quite as much as in the capture.
      In recent years the computer and the Internet have revolutionized genealogy. Producing blank pedigree charts today requires little more than the click of a single computer key. Maintaining, correcting, and expanding a genealogical database on a computer is a hundred times easier than on paper and the Internet makes the exchange of information (and, alas, misinformation) both easier and much quicker.
      It also makes it possible for those who take genealogy seriously to get to know others of like mind. Although I have met, face to face, only one Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists (FASG, for short, the most prestigious initials in American genealogy), I have gotten to know many others, thanks to such Internet newsgroups as soc.genealogy.medieval. They have been unfailingly helpful and generous with advice and suggestions and I regard them as friends, even though I have never actually met them. Nor, for that matter, have I ever met Brice Clagett, to whom I owe so much more than merely my start in genealogy.

A Busman’s Holiday

      Of course, there is much more to genealogy than simply adding one more generation to a particular line, courtesy of a book or an article in a genealogical journal. Genealogy abounds in hints and possibilities: an odd first name, a mysterious disappearance from the records, an unsupported statement in a dubious source. Sifting through these, turning the possibilities into hypotheses, and then finding the proof or disproof of them is the very essence of genealogy. It is also immense fun for someone with my sort of mind. Like all members of the Steele family—great lawyers, mathematicians, and engineers, lousy philosophers—I love to solve puzzles by applying logic and knowledge to a testable question. Genealogy simply resonates with something deep inside me.
      And far from the least of the appeals of genealogy to me is the fact that it is a busman's holiday for a historian, for genealogy is undeniably a branch of history. But while history usually takes an eagle-eyed view of the past, seeking to examine and explain the great forces at work, genealogy is history at street level.
      A historian, for instance, might look at the different manpower potentials of the North and the South in the Civil War. A genealogist might note the different individual decisions as to whether to join the army or not. It says much to me that most of my male Southern ancestors and their relations who were of fighting age joined the Confederate army, but not a single Northern ancestor wore a blue uniform.
      Further, because genealogy is arbitrary–your ancestors are who they are, and there's nothing to be done about that–it often takes the researcher to places and people he never imagined existed. Many of these people are fascinating in their own way, some deplorable, some heroic. And, in almost all cases, had they not happened to be ancestors, the researcher would never have heard of them and been the poorer for it. This serendipitous aspect is among genealogy's greatest charms.
      Consider Captain Samuel Whittemore, the great great grandfather and namesake of Samuel Whittemore Torrey. He is a man of no importance whatever to the great tides of history, just a prosperous Massachusetts farmer. But he happened to be among those who assembled at Lexington on April 19th, 1775, to resist the British march, although he was seventy-eight years old at the time. There, he was among those who actually heard “the shot heard ‘round the world.”
      He also killed two British soldiers, was shot in the cheek, suffered numerous shots through his hat and clothing, was bayoneted at least six times and left for dead. But he wasn’t dead. He recovered and lived to be ninety-six, dying a month before Washington’s second inauguration.
      Equally interesting, if far less admirable, was a half-brother of my fifth great grandfather Josiah Pendarvis of South Carolina. Richard Pendarvis was a rabid loyalist who conducted a vicious guerilla campaign against the patriots and their property until he was finally cornered one night. Realizing that the game was up, he confronted his pursuers, ripped open his shirt to expose his breast, and shouted “Shoot and be damned!” They obliged him. Later, Josiah Pendarvis asked the state legislature to change his last name to Bedon (his mother’s maiden name), apparently to avoid association with the infamous “Tory Dick Pendarvis.”
      How could anyone who loves history not cherish such tales?

A “WASP’s” Genealogy

      My particular genealogy is, to some extent a curious one. For it is both ethnically constricted, but, within those confines, unusually diverse.
      By ethnically constricted, I mean that I am a pure “WASP,” a not altogether pleasant acronym coined only in the 1960's, when the ancient WASP hegemony in this country's social and economic life was rapidly coming to an end. Only three of my immigrant ancestors came to the New World after the American Revolution, and even they had all arrived by the War of 1812. (The last one, George Coggill, actually arrived under arrest as an enemy alien. He had sailed from England in 1812 and the war broke out while he was at sea. His ship was then captured by a privateer.)
      More, only one of my four grandparents had ancestors who crossed the Appalachian Mountains, and even those ancestors got no further than Middle Tennessee. The rest found ample opportunities on the eastern seaboard and saw no reason to leave.
      But within the confines of the people who lived in Colonial America, my ancestry is extraordinarily widespread. Of the thirteen colonies, I have ancestors who were present at the earliest days of eleven of them, missing only the extremities, New Hampshire and Georgia.
      And while there were twelve major groups who peopled colonial America, only two are missing entirely from my ancestry. One is the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch, who were not Dutch at all but German (Dutch, in this case, is a corruption of Deutsche). The other missing group is the blacks who came in the chains whose clanking has rung down the halls of American history to the present day.
      Let us look briefly at the other ten groups, the ones whose members make up my American ancestry.
      New England was settled mostly by people who came in the Great Migration, between 1620, when the Mayflower sailed, and 1642, when the English Civil War broke out. While they came from all over England, the locus of the migration was East Anglia, the flat, agriculturally productive country that bulges out into the North Sea to the northeast of London. The ancestors of my great grandparents Hart Lyman and his wife Marion Torrey on her father's side are overwhelmingly of this group.
      Maryland and Virginia were settled at first by the so-called Cavaliers (and their far more numerous indentured servants), whose families came largely from southern England. They came beginning in 1607, but the largest numbers came in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, especially after the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth. My great grandparents John Nelson Steele and his wife Mary Alricks Pegram were largely descended from these people.
      Many of my Gordon forebears who crossed over the mountains to Tennessee also came from this group, as did one line of the ancestry of my great grandfather Ralph Kennedy Carson. This group helped settle lowland Carolina as well, centered on Charleston, towards the end of the seventeenth century, and are among the ancestors of my great grandmother Catherine Bonneau Johnson.
      The Quakers, like the Puritans before them, came from all over England, but in their case the locus was in the North of England and in the counties on the Welsh border. They came in the final decades of the seventeenth century when William Penn established a refuge for this much persecuted group in the New World. John Nelson Steele is descended from Quakers who settled in both Maryland and Pennsylvania.
      The Scots-Irish came originally from the lands that lay on either side of the English-Scottish border. The Scots-Irish families who settled in America, however, first spent several generations in northern Ireland, where many had been granted land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in attempts by Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell to pacify—and Protestantize—that ever-troubled island.
      They began migrating to America in numbers in the middle third of the eighteenth century, often arriving in the port of Philadelphia. From Philadelphia, they tended to migrate westward to the foothills of the Appalachians and then south through the valleys of the Piedmont, populating what is now the Shenandoah Valley, central North Carolina, and western South Carolina. My great great grandparents Alexander Cunningham and his wife Anne McClelland, were of this group, as were most of the ancestors of my great grandfather Ralph Kennedy Carson.
      The last of the major British migrant groups were the Scots and the Welsh. Unlike the other migrations, however, they did not come largely during a particular period. Instead there was a steady trickle of Scots and Welsh throughout the colonial era and to most of the colonies. There were, however, groups of Scots transported here as prisoners of war after rebellions in 1651, 1715, and 1745. They are among the ancestors of Marion Torrey, John Nelson Steele, Mary Alricks Pegram, Catherine Bonneau Johnson, and, of course, the Gordons. John Nelson Steele was descended from Evan Morgan, who was born in Wales, while Ralph Kennedy Carson and Mary Alricks Pegram have Lewis ancestors originally from Wales.
      The Dutch also made major contributions to the settlement of the eastern seaboard, mainly in New York and in Delaware. Mary Alricks Pegram has this ancestry (Alricks is, in fact, a Dutch name). So does Catherine Bonneau Johnson (Johnson was originally Jansen).
      Finally, among European settlers in colonial America, there were the French Huguenots. Many had fled to England in the late sixteenth century, after the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and some of these then migrated to New England in the Great Migration. The most famous of these New England Huguenots were the Delanos, ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Hart Lyman counts the Hyannos among his ancestors. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, there was a second wave of French Huguenots, settling in New York (where they are among the ancestors of Hart Lyman), Maryland (ancestors of John Nelson Steele) and, especially, Charleston, where they are prominent among the ancestors of Catherine Bonneau Johnson, whose middle name, of course, is French in origin.
      That leaves American Indians. My great great great grandmother, Dorothea Cross, had no doubt whatever that she was a descendant of Pocahontas. That is why she named my great great grandfather Powhatan Gordon, another son Bolling Gordon (a Pocahontas descent must come through the princess’s great grandson, Col. John Bolling) and a daughter Louisa Pocahontas Gordon. Unfortunately, no one wrote down the descent, or, if it was written down, it is not now known where, and the public records that would prove it were lost in the Civil War. I suspect the descent is good for various historiographic reasons, but more research, obviously, is needed to confirm or disprove it. (I may be disowned by my Gordon kin should I disprove it, however, as they set great store by this ancient family tradition.)

What’s the point?

      Many people who have not been bitten by the genealogy bug think of it as being largely an exercise in snobbery, an attempt to gain prestige from the accomplishments of others. That was certainly, at least to some extent, true in the nineteenth century, the Golden Age of the nouveau riche. But today precious little prestige flows from one's ancestors, however exalted, rich, or powerful they may have been.
      That is not to say, however, that finding an ancestor of great prominence is not fun. It certainly is. But it's a bit like golf. While no one plays the game to hit a hole in one, any golfer who happens to do so is going to talk about it quite a lot. And in genealogy, a triple bogey is the same as a hole in one, in the sense that a great scoundrel is quite as good as a great hero.
      So while I'm more than happy to be descended from, say, Sir Thomas Adams, Lord Mayor of London in the 1640's, who was clapped in the Tower for his adherence to King Charles I and who paid to have the Bible translated into Persian, I'm equally delighted to be descended from his contemporary Lt. Col. Daniel Axtell, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1660 as one of the “regicides,” the men who were directly involved in the execution of the King.
      And while most of my American ancestors were-to use a phrase common in the nineteenth century but now long without useful meaning-“well born,” there are no signers of the Declaration or Constitution here, no Presidents, not even a Senator. There is one U.S. Attorney General, a sprinkling of Congressmen, a few generals of no great fame, a couple of colonial governors, several New England divines who were famous in their day, a very prominent eighteenth-century physician, Thomas Bond, an equally prominent eighteenth-century cabinetmaker, Thomas Elfe, and the first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. There is the brother of a great Supreme Court justice, William Johnson, and the brother of a great botanist, John Torrey. But only specialists in the appropriate fields of American history would have heard of any of them.
      Indeed, the only ancestors of mine on the American side of the Atlantic that the average man would have heard of are Pocahontas—if she is indeed my ancestor—and William Brewster, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins. The latter are famous, however, only because they stumbled into history by sailing on the Mayflower. And, because there are more than two million living Americans with Brewster and Alden descents, it is somewhat less than a big deal to have them as ancestors. (John Alden and Priscilla Mullins had no fewer than 481 great grandchildren, whose descendants have been multiplying now for three hundred years.) Indeed, most people with substantial New England ancestry can probably make a Mayflower connection. The Mayflower Society, to which I do not belong, estimates that no fewer than nine million people alive today are eligible for membership.
      But if there are no people of great fame among my American ancestors, likewise, there are no major crooks. There is one bigamist who abandoned one wife in England and married another in Maryland, one with an acknowledged mistress (I can't say how many had unacknowledged ones), and one who was hauled before the New London courts for being conspicuously drunk on board his vessel in the harbor. One was fined for borrowing a canoe without permission. But that, it seems, is about as deep into the pit of crime as any of my American ancestors ever got.
      Instead most were hard working, many very clever, and more than a few, I am happy to say, very successful. Some of the immigrants arrived rich. (Robert Brooke appeared in Maryland in 1650 with twenty-eight servants in tow, along with the first pack of fox hounds in America.) But most arrived with little more than a few clothes, their dreams, and the immense courage it must have taken to leave all they had ever known in order to chance a dangerous crossing in a small boat to a new world.
     But for those who survived the crossing (more than a few did not), those dreams and that courage were usually enough to make the most of the vast opportunities their new world afforded them.

The Leap Across the Pond

     The overwhelming majority of immigrants in the colonial era have ancestors who can be traced, if they can be traced at all, only a few generations back in Europe. The Adams family, for instance, despite enormous efforts because it produced two presidents, can be traced no further than the great grandfather of the immigrant who, like so many of his descendants, was named Henry.
     There are two reasons for this. One is that it is often very difficult to make the connection. Despite untold efforts, no one has yet pinned down the origins of John Alden, for instance. Even if a possible origin is found, it is often very difficult to be sure that a person of a given name on this side of the Atlantic is the same as a particular person with the same name on the other side.
     Nineteenth-century genealogists often simply assumed that they were the same (especially if the person in England came from a prominent family), and these name’s-the-same mistakes have plagued American genealogy ever since.
     The other reason is that the records soon run out as the researcher works his way backwards. Parishes in England only began keeping records of baptisms, marriages, and burials in 1538.
      Before that date, only wills, contracts, lawsuits, and such records are available. And these records almost always concern property. People below what today would be called the upper middle class—which is to say, those families with substantial property to leave, sell, or dispute—rarely show up in them. Thus, well over ninety percent of all the people who lived in Europe before the middle of the sixteenth century left no trace whatever of how “they kept the noiseless tenor of their way” or of even their names.
    This is the reason why the socioeconomic status of one's ancestors seems to get steadily higher as one goes back generation by generation: those of lower status simply disappear from the records and are lost to history,
leaving only the high status ones. Thus if one recovers a total of a hundred ancestors in the, say, sixteenth generation, who would have lived mostly in the latter fifteenth century, many of them will be titled and even well-known historical figures. But there is a theoretical total of 65,536 ancestors in that generation (later cousin marriages will likely reduce the actual total considerably). And most of the 65,436 irrecoverable ancestors undoubtedly were peasants and laborers, likely living lives that were, in Thomas Hobbes's famous phrase, nasty, brutish, and short.
     For these reasons, so-called “gateway ancestors” are particularly prized among American genealogists, for they allow one to go further. Gateway ancestors are simply ancestors whose European origins can be determined with certainty and who have extensive known ancestries among the wealthy merchants, gentry, and nobility who left “footprints on the sands of time.” Instead of being the end of the genealogical line, as is the case with most immigrants to the American colonies, they open up vast new genealogical possibilities in Europe.
     I have been astonishingly lucky in the number of gateway ancestors who have turned up in my genealogy. Among the more remarkable in the size of their known ancestry are Jane Haviland, whose widower and two young sons emigrated to Massachusetts; Thomas Trowbridge, Oliver Manwaring, and Elizabeth Alsop of Connecticut; Robert Brooke, Alexander Magruder, Kenelm Cheseldine, Thomas Gerard, and Maria Johanna Somerset of Maryland; Anne Lovelace, Gerard Fowke, Sarah Offley, Adam Thoroughgood, Mary Townley, and George Reade of Virginia; and Rebecca Axtell of South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
     I was not aware of a single one of them when I began doing genealogy more than thirty years ago. Indeed in all but one case, Maria Johanna Somerset of Maryland, I did not know they were gateways when I determined that they were ancestral to me.
      So for me it has been a bit like a stamp collector going up to the attic now and then to look for a suitcase or whatever and, over and over, discovering a wonderful stamp album in an old bureau drawer, full of philatelic treasures.

The Rules

     Because there is no end to a genealogy, at least until you reach Pooh-Bah’s “protoplasmal primordial atomic globule,” one has to set rules and limits. I have one of each. The limit is thirty generations and the rule is: stop at kings.
    Many gateway ancestors have a descent from one or more medieval kings. Edward I of England, for instance, who ruled from 1272 to 1307, is ancestral to many millions of people of substantial British descent alive today and to millions more who do not think of themselves as British at all. (This is not surprising: someone with seven children who live to adulthood is likely to have a lot of descendants over the course of twenty-five generations.) I have made no attempt to trace the ancestry of a crowned head. The information is easily available elsewhere.

The Goal

     I will update this site as new information becomes available. I hope the English origins of Henry Steele (1731-1782) and John Moore (1658-1732), will soon be elucidated. They might prove to be major gateways, they might prove to be dead ends. But just as with the medieval search for the Holy Grail, so with genealogy: the goal is in the questing, not the cup.