- Historic Sites
The Best Background
When it comes to genealogical pride, there’s nothing to equal the modest satisfaction of a slightly threadbare, socially impregnable New Englander. A canny guide to the subtle distinctions of America’s most rarefied society.
August/September 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 5
Rhode Islanders like being related to Roger Williams; in Hartford, Connecticut, the Hookers and Hayneses are proud that their ancestors Thomas Hooker and John Haynes founded their city; the Davenports have the edge in New Haven (their John Davenport first settled there); in Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts, there are Lawrences and Lowells descended from the original First Families who helped establish the textile mills there; Maine’s Knoxes are aware that their Maj. Gen. Henry Knox founded West Point and the National Guard before retiring in Thomaston. And on and on throughout New England.
Furthermore, in the genealogical sense, New England stretches right across America. The Mathers founded Cleveland, Ohio, and other Midwest towns; the Putnams are strongly associated with Buffalo, New York; the Perkinses with Cincinnati; William Greenleaf Eliot (grandfather of T. S. Eliot) established the financial foundations of the public school system of St. Louis; the Eliot children went farther west and helped build the city of Portland, Oregon; the Adamses helped develop Kansas City, Kansas, as well as Denver, San Antonio, and even Houston, Texas; Sherburne County, Minnesota, is named for Moses Sherburne of Mount Vernon, Maine, who helped write the Minnesota state constitution; Wisconsin’s first, third, seventh, eleventh, twelfth, and eighteenth governors were New Englanders; in Michigan the Sanfords, Fairfields, Martins, Mearses, Fullers, Tafts, Barbers, and many others have their ancestral roots in Vermont; Chicago, once called Fort Dearborn, was named after a New Hampshire general until they decided to name it after an onion; the man named Brigham Young, founder of Salt Lake City, Utah, hailed from Whitingham, Vermont.
The list could literally continue for hundreds of pages. As a result, there are millions of Americans living throughout the United States who consider themselves to be New Englanders, at least in part. As such, they have as much a right to indulge in a little New England snobbery as any of us.
Judson Hale is the editor of Yankee magazine. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Inside New England , to be published by Harper & Row.