It had never crossed my mind that I might be descended from Puritans. I mean, I knew it was a possibility, as I was aware that members of my family had come over from England, but I didn’t think it was likely. Maybe it’s because I spend so much of my life railing against religious fundamentalists here on the website, but I just don’t feel like there’s any Puritan blood pumping through my veins. (Except when I’m looking down my nose at the likes of Justin Bieber.) So I was somewhat shocked a few days ago when I started tracking my mother’s family back through the centuries, and discovered that our roots in this nation go back to its very “fire and brimstone” origins. Not only does my family date back to 1630, it would seem, but my Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Charles Avery, may very well have sailed to America on The Arbella with John Winthrop, the man who first articulated the vision of America as the shining “city on the hill.” It’s all a little too much for me to process at the moment.
Here are my rough notes, starting with what I know of the Avery side of my family, and then going back in time from there.
My mother’s father was Arthur Robert Avery. He passed in 1980, at the age of 57, at right around the time that John Lennon passed. I knew him about as well, I guess, as a 12 year old could know a grandparent. I have vivid memories of him showing me photos he’d taken while serving in World War II, and telling me about his friends that had fallen dead around him. When he went away to war, leaving behind his family in Beardstown, Illinois, he literally looked like a child. I can’t find it at the moment, but, somewhere around here, I have a photo of him in his uniform, as he prepared to ship out for battle. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it would shock you.
I also knew his father, Arthur Lee Avery, who everyone called Pickle. I believe I heard, somewhere along the line, that he’d gotten the nickname because he always brought a pickle with him to work, in his lunch box, but I can’t be certain of it. He was a funny, sweet man, as I recall. He passed when I was about nine. He’d been born in Schuyler County, Illinois, in 1901, where the Avery clan had, as I understand it, established something of a foothold over more than a century of prodigious breeding. I’m not certain where in the county he was born, but, when I knew him, he lived in Beardstown, where he’d worked for 43 years on the CB&Q line (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad). (In 1870, with the completion of the bridge over the Illinois River, Beardstown established itself as an important hub for midwest rail traffic, and thousands worked for the CB&Q.)
While I have very fond memories of my grandfather and my great grand father, both unfortunately passed before I started developing a true appreciation for family history. So, pretty much everything I know about the Avery side of my family comes by way of online research… Following, at a very high level, is some of what I’ve found to date… I should note that, as of right now, I’ve done very little primary research of my own, and, for the most part, everything I’m presenting is the work of others. (All I did was connect the pieces.) My hope is to one day travel up to Boston and Salem to study the original documents for myself, but, until then, I’ll have to make due with the online resources that are available to me.
Christopher Avery, as I mentioned, came over in 1630, as a member of the mass Puritan exodus led by John Winthrop. He was the first Avery in America – the one responsible for all of us to come afterward. Here, working backward, are the Avery men, starting with me, and ending with him, a dozen generations later. (I’ve begun looking into the women of the Avery line, but, as of right now, my research in that area is still relatively rudimentary.)
Arthur Robert Avery (1923-1980) Grandfather
Arthur Lee “Pickle” Avery (1901-1977) Great Grandfather
William Dudly Avery (1875-1949) Great Great Grandfather
William Clark Avery (1837-1902) Great Great Great Grandfather
William Chitteson Avery (1803-1870) Great^4 Grandfather
Daniel Avery (1768-1830) Great^5 Grandfather
David Avery (1737-1790) Great^6 Grandfather
Robert Avery, Jr. (1700-1756) Great^7 Grandfather
Robert Avery (1663-1734) Great^8 Grandfather
Thomas Avery (1632-1686) Great^9 Grandfather
Dr. William Avery (1622-1686) Great^10 Grandfather
Christopher Avery (1590-1679) Great^11 Grandfather
I could keep going from there, as it’s relatively easy to track the Avery line once you make it back to Warwickshire, from whence we came, but, to be honest, I don’t have much interest in going all the way back to the beginning of recorded time. I’m much more interested in what my ancestors did in America. And, the way I see it, there’s still quite a bit of research that needs to be done in that area before I could even consider spending time looking into what my ancestors may have done in the 1300s.
Here’s The Arbella, the boat that likely brought my Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather to America. I say “likely” because it’s a difficult thing to prove.
Multiple sources confirm that Christopher Avery, a weaver by trade, came to America in 1630, as part of the initial influx of Puritan emigrants who helped establish the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and found the city of Boston. Of these, though, I’ve only found three thus far that put him with Governor Winthrop aboard the flagship of the fleet, The Arbella. (There were 11 ships total that came over in the spring of 1630 as part of the Winthrop fleet, carrying approximately 800 colonists, some 200 of whom died the first year.) I don’t know how I’d prove definitively that he was on The Arbella, but I feel compelled to at least try to determine whether Christopher Avery and his ten your old son James were with John Winthrop on that first ship to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
There are other things I’m interested in, like the elected positions Christopher is said to have held, the plot of land he owned in Boston, and the fact that he apparently left his wife behind in England, but my real interest is in whether or not he traveled as part of Winthrop’s inner circle. As a fan of American history, this would be of great interest to me, as it was aboard The Arbella that Winthrop delivered his famous sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, making the first recorded case for American exceptionalism, and essentially setting the American experiment in motion… To think that my relative was one of fewer than 100 people to have actually been there as the sermon was being delivered, is absolutely mind-blowing to me.
And, no, before you ask, I don’t believe that my Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather was involved in the Salem witch trials, which began in February 1692. As he died in 1679, I think it’s unlikely. I did, however, find one reference to him having taken the “freeman’s oath” in Salem, on June 29 of 1692, where he was “chosen clerk of the band, constable, and clerk of the market.” Having not seen the document in question, I can’t say for certain, but my guess that he actually took the oath in 1632, when such public oaths not to overthrow the Commonwealth were becoming commonplace, and not in 1692, years after his death. (It’s probably also worth noting that he’s said to have served as a “selectman” in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1646, 1652 and 1654.)
As for his land in Boston, apparently he purchased a small plot on March 16, 1658, after selling his property in Gloucester and moving back into town. The property, which was only twenty-six by forty-six feet, was, according to records, located in what was, at one time, “the centre of the post-office building, facing on Devonshire street.”
Here’s more about the location of the Charles Avery house: “The famous old spring, which gave the name to Spring Lane and which is now preserved under the post-office, was near. This Avery plot was a part of, or at least adjoined, the site of two notable resorts of later days – the well known restaurant whence first came the famous ‘Julien soup,’ and the ‘Stackpole House,’ not much less famous. The Winthrop estate was not far away, and nearby, in years after, Benjamin Franklin was born.” (Charles eventually sold this property and moved to Connecticut to be near his son James. He died March 12, 1670.)
There’s also evidence, as I alluded to above, that Charles left behind a wife in England. And, while he brought his oldest son with him, it would seem he left my Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather, his son William, in England with his mother. In 1650, at the age of 28, William would eventually come to Boston and set up shop as a doctor, but it’s unclear as to whether his father assisted in any way. I have learned, however, that Charles was arrested and fined in 1654 for living apart from his wife, who had never been brought to join him from England. (Puritans took so-called “family values” really seriously.) According to one report, “He had his fine remitted on the ground that ‘he was aged and poore’ and that ‘he had used his endeavor to have his wife brought over’.” I guess we’ll never know what really happened. My sense, though, is that he way lying about trying to raise the money, after 24 years, to bring her over.
As for why Christopher Avery may have been on The Arbella, along with Winthrop’s most valued collaborators, I don’t imagine there’s anyway to find out for certain, but I suppose it’s possible that Winthrop wanted him there because of the relatively rare bible he had in his possession. Referred to as the “Breeches Bible,” the Avery family bible is now in the collection of Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum. Following is a clip from their site about the significance of the bible.
…Puritan Christopher Avery brought the Bible from England when he immigrated to America with his 10-year-old son James. As an adult, James founded Groton, Connecticut, and served as a military commander and a legislator.
The father and son sailed to the New World in 1630 on the Arbella, the flagship of the Great Migration to Massachusetts organized by John Winthrop. They were onboard when Winthrop delivered his famous sermon The Model of Christian Charity, which includes the lines, “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us,” as drawn from Matthew chapter five of the Bible. Those words have been interpreted by many, including presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, as a description of the beacon light to the world that America has been and ought to be.
The 1581 Avery family Bible is a Geneva translation, the first English Bible translated directly from the Greek and Hebrew. The Geneva Bible was designed for individual use and is considered the first English study Bible because it includes book introductions and explanatory notes and references. It is sometimes called the “Breeches Bible” because of its translation of Genesis 3:7; when Adam and Eve realized they were naked “they sewed fig tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.” The early Jamestown settlers, the pilgrims, the Puritans, and William Shakespeare all used the Geneva translation…
I have other questions about the ancestors of Christopher Avery, but, as of right now, I’m just starting to scratch the surface.
For instance, I’d like to see if I can find out more about my Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather David Avery’s role in the Revolutionary War.
According to records kept by the Church of Christ in Pepperell, Massachusetts between 1742 between 1822, David Avery was among those in 1775 “who willingly & promply forsook hous friends & property to obey ye Call of their Country” and fight the British at “ye Battle of Bunker Hill.” This, by the way, isn’t really all that surprising, given that William Prescott, a fellow resident of the small town of Pepperell, was in command of the 1,200 colonial troops who fought that campaign. At present, all I know is that he’s on a list of men who fought at Bunker Hill, and not on the list of those who died there. And I’d like to know more, if possible. (It would appear that David Avery also fought at the battles of Lexington and Concord.)
And, in the whole scheme of things, it’s a relatively little thing, but I’d like to figure out how it came to be that my Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather Thomas Avery was thought to have been born to an 8 year old mother and a 10 year old father.
I suppose it’s inevitable, when doing research like this, that one finds anomalies. I mentioned before, for instance, the fact that several sources show Charles Avery in Salem during the infamous witch trials, long after his death had been recorded. Well, I suspect the same thing happened here. Someone probably just entered a date incorrectly from an old and faded document somewhere. I know it wouldn’t be that significant of a contribution, but I’m thinking that perhaps this could be my contribution to the Avery legacy, trying to hunt down these two anomalies and set them straight, so that people, from here forward, don’t get the wrong idea about us being warlocks born by children.
I need to sleep now.
And, yeah, I know that this isn’t likely going to be a post that many people like, but sometimes I just need to post for myself… and my kids. (Now, instead of talking with them about their ancestors, I can just point them toward the blog.)