Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Pearce Family: Sorting Fact and Fiction

Richard Pearces brother, Captain William Pearce, was Master of the ship Desire that brought our grandparent ancestors Richard (1590-1666) and Martha (1593-1662), and at least some of their children from England to Boston in 1638. William, a celebrated mariner, was killed by the Spanish while transporting settlers in 1641 as they approached Providence Island in the Bahamas. He had already been sailing to and from the colonies for several years before bringing Richard’s family to Boston.  William was Master of the Anne that brought families of the first Pilgrims to Plymouth Colony in 1623.

No good evidence exists for the popular myth that our Pearces were from the powerful Northumberland Percy family involved in the Gunpowder Plot in 1604, although origins of our Pearces may have been connected to the Northumberland Percys at some point in time. The family had multitudinous ways to spell the name - Piers, Peirse, Percy, Pearcy, etc...

Our Pearce family had an annoying habit of naming the first born sons Richard. Not only that, but the siblings of our Richards would have a Richard offspring - they loved the name Richard. One wonders whether the Pearce/Percy family genealogy lineage might be valid when it says our immigrant Richard Pearce is the great grandson of the Peter Percy of Northumberland, standard bearer to Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 during the War of the Roses. This Peter Percy named a son Richard, and every generation thereafter had a Richard.

A confused genealogy of the Pearce family written in 1888, though, makes connections without documented substance, and we can’t be sure of much of the information on the early Pearces before Portsmouth.  For example, the book claims the Pearces came over in 1638 on the ship Lyon, ignoring the fact the Lyon, albeit captained by William Pearce, hit a reef and sunk in 1632. This 19th century genealogy draws conclusions about Pearce-Percy lineage that simply may not be true - or they may. 

We don’t know for sure where our Pearces were until they show up in Portsmouth records in the 1650’s, but they may have been in Salem, MA. A Richard Piers mentioned in Portsmouth town records in 1651 is likely one of our Richards, and the name Richard Pearce begins to show with some regularity in 1657. No record exists in Portsmouth for wife Martha, and she may have died before the family moved here.

It appears most of Richard and Martha’s adult children remained in the Salem/Boston area. We know that Richard Sr., Richard Jr., younger Richard’s wife Susannah, and her father George Wright, came to the Portsmouth/Newport area. Oldest son, John, died in Boston in 1661. There are no records in Portsmouth of the other six children.

Richard Pearce, Jr. (1615-1678) married Susannah Wright (1627- before 1678 ) from Waltham Abbey. There is conflicting information whether Richard married Susannah in Waltham Abbey, Salem, or Newport, RI in 1642. More likely, Richard Jr. came with the rest of the family in 1638, already married or he married Susannah in the Salem/Boston area. Susannah is believed to be daughter of George Wright of Newport who also previously lived in Salem. 

Richard, Jr. stabbed a Walter Lettice in Newport in 1649, but we have no information on what happened as a result. Clearly, he wasn’t hanged so perhaps it was self defense.

Richard, Jr. named freeman of Portsmouth in 1669 may have been actually a Richard Pearce III.

Faithfully following the guide of primogeniture, Richard Jr.'s will left the house, land, fencings, orchard and swamps, oxen, cart, etc... to his oldest son, also named Richard, and to the other 10 children he left ONE SHILLING EACH! Was he cash poor, or were only those named Richard deserving?

Richard and Susannah had 11 children. Eldest son Richard, moved to Bristol, RI; Giles became a grantee in East Greenwich, RI, in 1678; George moved his family across the bay to Little Compton; John bought land and was one of the incorporators of Tiverton, RI. Daughter Martha, married Mahershalalhashbaz Dyer. That’s right, Mahershalalhashbaz. Evidently, these families sometimes got carried away with Biblical names, and this one comes from Isaiah - "Moreover the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Maher-shalal-hashbaz.” Martha lived to be almost 100 years old, quite a feat in those times.

The burial site for Richard and Susannah is unknown.

Susannah Pearce (1652-1743), daughter of Richard Jr., was born in Portsmouth in the middle of the sibling pack. She married George Brownell in 1673; her sister Mary married George’s brother, Thomas Brownell, Jr.  Susannah and George had eight children and she remained in Portsmouth until her death at age 90, surviving her husband by twenty five years. They are buried in the George Brownell Lot in Portsmouth.
George Brownell Cemetery Lot, Portsmouth, RI
Richard, Sr. is our 10th great-grandfather and Susannah our 8th great-grandmother.

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