Both Henrietta Webster’s (YES there is 2 of them) they were both born inLitchfield Connecticut abt 1838– One was born to Montgumery Webster – wife Sybil Elwell of the Lighthouse Tribe in Barkhamsted CT & the other one was born to David Sanford Webster – wife Clarissa Wattles in Bethlehem, CT
Now let’s take a look at some important records:
Rev. A P Viets in the Connecticut, Town Marriage Records, pre-1870 (Barbour Collection) Name: Rev. A P Viets Marriage Date: 4 Sep 1848 Marriage Place: Barkhamsted, Connecticut, USA Residence Place: Canton Spouse:Hannah WebsterSpouse Residence Place: Barkhamsted
Note: Hannah could of been a ‘nickname’?
Rev A P Viets in the U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 Name: Rev A P Viets Event: Marriage Marriage Date: 9 Oct 1848 Marriage Place: Pleasant Valley Spouse: Henrietta Louisa Webster Spouse Father: D Sanford Webster Newspaper:Christian Secretary Publication Date: 13 Oct 1848 Publication Place: Connecticut, USA Call Number: 486549
Rev A P Viets in the U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 Name: Rev A P Viets Event: Marriage Marriage Date: 9 Oct 1848 Marriage Place: Pleasant ValleySpouse: Henrietta Louisa Webster Spouse Father: D Sandford Webster Newspaper: The Hartford Times Publication Date: 14 Oct 1848 Publication Place: Connecticut, USA Call Number: 486551
Henrietta Louisa Webster in the North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 (Pg 103) Viets Genealogy Name: Henrietta Louisa Webster Gender: Female Birth Date: 11 Jun 1830 Birth Place: Bethlehem, Conn First Marriage Date: 9 Oct 1848Spouse: Apollos Phelps Viets Child: Ellsworth Phelps Berkley Viets Wordsworth Bertrand Viets John Charles Viets Mary Louisa Viets Beulah Ruth Viets Henrietta Claribel Viets
Now let’s take a look at the burial of the family:
All mentioned below are buried at Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, CT.
Apollos Phelps Viets in the Connecticut, Hale Collection of Cemetery Inscriptions and Newspaper Notices, 1629-1934 Name: Apollos Phelps Viets Age: 89 Birth Date: 1819 Death Date: 1908 Burial Place: Connecticut, USA Cemetery: Riverside Cemetery
It always saddens me when I disprove a line…
The “only way plausible” is if there is 2 Rev./Clergyman A P Viets also…..
On October 14th, in the
year 1066, an army from Normandy fought a single battle against the Anglo-Saxon
defenders of England near Hastings in East Sussex. By that very afternoon, the English king was
dead, William the Bastard became William the Conqueror, and the Normans were in
England to stay. What followed was the
wholesale dispossession of the Anglo-Saxon ruling class in favor of Norman
aristocracy. The newest among this class
were Normans of relatively humble birth who had accompanied William during his
great victory. While it is certain that
hundreds of high-born Normans (as well as Flemish, Breton, French, and others)
were among William’s companions that day, thousands of much more humble origins
served in the rank and file. To share in
such glory was to immediately propel one’s family into high status and new
opportunity. To this day, 953 years
later, studies show that English families bearing Anglo-Norman last names are
financially slightly better off than their Anglo-Saxon-named countrymen. The names of some of these men who were there
on that fateful 11th century day were said to have been written on a
list. Called the Battle Abbey Roll, it supposedly hung in an abbey William had
erected on the very spot King Harold was killed during the battle. The original (if not a complete fiction) has
been lost since the 16th century.
What we have are incongruent and partial lists of varying reliability. On one of those lists is the name T. Gilbard.
There is a fantastic renaissance
work called The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ
until the year M.DC.XLVIII, written in 1655 by Thomas Fuller. In it, Fuller pulls together a collection of
supposed Battle Abbey Rolls and other references to the companions of
William. It is on the list provided by
one Mr. Fox, an alias of an antiquarian named Thomas Scriven, we see T. Gilbard
astride 243 other names. Gilbard, of
course, is one of the many early spellings of Gilbert (pronounced something
like jeel-BARE then and in France today).
Immediately there appear to be several problems with the claim that
someone with a Gilbert surname was on the Battle Abbey Roll. First, hereditary family names in such a
first-name-last-name format were rare in 1066 Europe. Second, this is the only mention of a Gilbert
on any of the other versions of the rolls I have seen (outside of the
well-known and probably-not-related Richard and Baldwin Fits-Gilberts). Third, construction of the Battle Abbey
itself took until 1094, so any list would have been at least 18 years after the
battle. Finally, any remnants of rolls
we have can only be sourced to the 1500s at best.
The last of the two problems cannot
be well addressed here because of the immutability of the facts. However, scholars have established beyond
doubt that between 20 and 40 individuals appearing on the various lists were
indeed at Hastings. That suggests the
rolls contain at least some measure of truth.
The problem of only a single mention of Gilbard from among the several
versions of the lists is a bit of a tough one, but not insurmountable. Again I point to the very low numbers (scores
out of hundreds) of named individuals who have actually been verified as having
been at Hastings. This only points to
the importance of those individuals, being mentioned elsewhere in contemporary
accounts and rosters – such venerable names as Robert de Beaumont, Walter
Giffard, and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. It
is entirely possible that the combination of nonstandard spellings and lack of
fame could cause individual names to fall off of some lists and be included in
others. Either way, a lesser-known or
lower-born member of the soldiery would not be as likely to show up in other
records of the time.
Looking into the problem of
hereditary names brought to light some surprising lessons, modifying my own
view of when the usage of such took place.
Studies strongly suggest that the oldest true heritable surname in
Europe is O’Brien, having origins in the early to mid-1000’s in Ireland. Even Fuller notes that, while not universal in
Europe until the late 1100s, these kinds of family names predate Hastings buy
as much as 40 years. Importantly, he
asserts that this new widespread use of surnames was a French invention. The claim seems to be supported, at least a
little, by my earlier studies of William Gilbert de Ragoles, Bishop of Poitiers
from 1117 to 1124, whose siblings shared the last name Gilbert. To further investigate the matter, I counted
up how many ‘modern’ surnames appeared on Mr. Fox’s list. I found that 46 out of 244 had surnames
without the older-fashioned ‘d’, ‘de’, ‘de la’, ‘Fitz’, or other titular and
place references. That amounted to about
19%. Studies of other near-contemporary
lists of names showed similarly small, yet definitely real, percentages that we
might consider modern surnames. Therefore,
it is at least possible that someone with a name like T. Gilbard could have
been at Hastings in 1066 without being an anachronism.
Briefly onto the first name, the
initial ‘T’ is tantalizingly without explanation in Fox’s list. Luckily for our research, French first names
at the time seldom started with ‘T’, so it is easier to narrow down. Typical of the era are Thomas, Thosetus,
Trutgaudus, Tassilo, Theoderic, Theudebald, Thorismund, and Toustan among a few
obscure others and variations of each. Out
of pure popularity, Thomas seems the most likely candidate for our T.
So, while not verifiable, it is at
least plausible that a Norman-French warrior of lower status named Thomas
Gilbard came over with William the Conqueror in 1066. This Thomas would be of about the same
generation of Bishop William Gilbert’s parents, possibly being at least distant
kin of this Parthenay family. Whereas
there is no evidence of name-bearing progeny from the Bishop or his siblings,
it is some fraction of possible that Thomas established himself and the Gilbert
line in England after Hastings. Thirty
years thereafter, tax records start showing Gilberts like Richard, Walter,
Robert, and William transacting around Wiltshire and Devonshire. Eventually, some of this clan may have
started marrying up into the venerable Champernowne family beginning in the
early 1200’s, establishing the Gilberts of Compton. Acknowledging this has as many points of data
as your typical conspiracy theory, it is at least not out of the realm of
possibilities. Whether or not even being
in the line leading to the Gilberts of Compton, the existence of Thomas Gilbard
would push the origin of the surname back to about 950 years ago.
I was recently delighted to find
that a small company out of Markham, Virginia, would print me a hard copy of J.
Wingate Thornton’s 1850 Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both
Old and New England. Setting aside
the forgivable retransmissions of errors found in earlier works by Westcote and
Prince, this little 23 page gem inspired me to compile a brief sketch of some
of the lesser-known, but still notable Gilberts from history. In doing so, I consciously decided to omit the
more famous Sir Humphrey Gilbert (who claimed Canada for England) and his half-brother,
Sir Walter Raleigh (who hardly needs introduction here). Further, Thornton’s enthusiastic view of the
bravery and industry of the Gilbert family tempted me to produce a romanticized
rescript of past nobility. This I also
resolved to avoid, leaving in the sometimes savage and sometimes sorry behavior
that still follows our little clan and marks us as human.
Among the more ‘human’ of us, and
the one I feel most akin to, was Sir Adrian Gilbert of Compton (1541-1628). At his lowest low, he was called “the
greatest buffoon in England” and “cared not what he said to man or woman of
what quality soever”. Like his brothers Sir
Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh (especially when they were in Ireland),
Adrian was accused of “great fury” and “savage cruelty”. Nonetheless, he was noted for his
intelligence in mathematics and alchemy, something he shared with noted mathematician
John Dee. In the 2000 book Following
the Ark of the Covenant, authors Kerry and Lisa Boren go so far as to say
Dee charged Adrian with carrying the Ark of the Covenant to the Americas! Less far-fetched is that Adrian became “a
great favorite of Mary, Countess of Pembroke” due to their shared interest in
alchemy, he becoming her laboratory assistant.
What is certain is that Adrian was of the same ilk of Devon explorers as
his many Gilbert relatives, having received a patent from Queen Elizabeth I for
the discovery of a northwest passage to China, the document being titled “The
Colleagues of the Fellowship for the Discovery of the North-west Passage”.
Another of these Devonshire
explorers was the sea captain Bartholomew Gilbert, who arrived in America in
1602. His mission was to establish a
colony in the New World, which he did in Cape Cod (named by him). Captain Bartholomew apparently did not
inherit his uncle Adrian’s mathematical acumen.
The colony failed after a few weeks when it was discovered that he had
miscalculated the overwinter provisions, having brought only six weeks’ worth
of food. The entire party packed up and
was back in England by late July. Captain
Gilbert cannot, however, be discredited for lack of bravery. The very next year, on May 10th,
he set sail from Plymouth, England, determined to discover the fate of brother
Walter Raleigh’s famously-vanished Roanoke Colony. Upon anchoring off the desolate former site
of Roanoke on July 29, Captain Gilbert and four of his men formed a landing
party. Once ashore, they were attacked
by a band of Algonquians and killed. The
seal of Northampton County, Virginia, today bears the date 1603 in commemoration
of Captain Bartholomew Gilbert’s courage.
Another Gilbert, a son of Sir Humphrey, also engaged in what Thornton called the Gilbert’s, “hereditary scheme of peopling America with Englishmen” in 1607. In that year, two ships under the command of Sir George Popham and Captain Raleigh Gilbert, set out from Plymouth, England. They arrived with one hundred men, weapons, and supplies at the mouth of the Sagadahock, or Kennebeck River, on the coast of Maine. They built a fortified store-house they called Fort Saint George, and the two ships returned to England for supplies. The forty-five men who remained were under the presidency of Popham and the admiralty of Raleigh Gilbert. Over a harsh winter Popham died, leaving Raleigh as president. At some point, news reached the colony that Raleigh’s older brother, Sir John Gilbert (another son of Sir Humphrey) had died. With that news, and in the face of “nothing but extreme extremities”, the colony unanimously voted to return to England. It is said that they were so resolute in this goal that they built a ship to facilitate the return voyage, which would probably be the first oceangoing vessel built in America – built under the direction of a Gilbert.
These stories are a reminder that European colonization in Native American lands immediately locked the two cultures in a complex, brutal war that came in waves of violence lasting nearly 300 years. An example of this comes from the tale Mrs. Rowlandson’s captivity from the book Tragedies of the Wilderness, by Samuel Gardner Drake, 1844. Mrs. Rowlandson and her three children were made slaves for eleven weeks by Narragansett, Wampanoag and Nashaway/Nipmuc Indians led by Monoco after their attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts. Later, after being purchased out of slavery for 20 pounds sterling, she wrote about her encounter with young John Gilbert, son of my many-great grandfather Captain John Gilbert (first of my line to come to America). Mrs. Rowlandson writes, “I went to see an English youth in this place, one John Gilbert, of Springfield. I found him laying without doors upon the ground. I asked him how he did; he told me he was very sick of a flux with eating so much blood. They had turned him out of the wigwam, and with him an Indian papoos, almost dead, (whose parents had been killed,) in a bitter cold day, without fire or clothes; the young man himself had nothing on but his shirt and waistcoat. This sight was enough to melt the heart of flint. There they lay quivering in the cold, the youth round like a dog, the papoos stretched out, with his eyes, nose, and mouth full of dirt, and yet alive, and groaning. I advised John to go get to some fire; he told me he could not stand, but I persuaded him still, lest he should lie there and die. And with much ado I got him to a fire, and went myself home.” I have found no further record of the fate of young John Gilbert.
The unfortunate young John Gilbert’s
father, Captain John Gilbert (1626 – 1690, and one of many with that name), soldiered
on along with his brother, Jonathan Gilbert, in establishing Hartford, Connecticut. Of John we know he married Amy Lord, daughter
of Thomas and Dorothy Lord, on May 6, 1647, and had probably arrived from
Yardley, England, in about 1645. He and
his brother Jonathan, the latter being a linguist of Native American languages
of the region, are recorded as acting as emissaries between the Governor in
Hartford and the local tribes. In 1653,
Jonathan was even so important as to be made a ‘marshal’ of sorts, receiving a
special warrant from the Colony to “rayse such considerable forces as hee sees
It was Jonathan’s younger son, Captain
Thomas Gilbert, who rekindled the maritime adventurism of his recent ancestors. Born about 1655, Thomas was said to have been
“a brave and successful officer, and a leading man in the primitive navy of the
colony”. For several years, Thomas commanded
the twelve-gun Swan during a turbulent time of war on the high
seas. During King William’s War, Thomas
and his associates captured the French ship Saint Jacob. The Swan’s luck ran out in 1695 when
it was overtaken by a French privateer of 20 guns. Even in this defeat, a witness’s account
prompted Thornton to write the Thomas displayed, “fortitude and self-possession
in difficulty, manly and generous heart, and desperate and unflinching defense against
superior force”. This Captain Gilbert
was said to be self-confident enough to freely weep when moved by the scene of
two companions being joyously reunited after the Swan went down. He spent the rest of the war a prisoner in
France, released afterwards during a prisoner exchange.
Captain Thomas Gilbert’s uncle, Captain John Gilbert (1626-1690), is from where my American line descends. What follows is what I consider to be typically and woefully American: eight or so generations of virtually no family history. I know very little about the men and women of my line from Captain John’s son Joseph through my grandfather, Robert. However, despite my earlier self-admonitions against romanticism, I cannot resist putting the stars of my father and my grandfather up among the constellation formed by my ancestors. Notable to me, and just as bravely, my grandfather Robert James Gilbert recrossed the Atlantic to help defeat the Nazis as an infantryman in Europe. The best I can tell he fought in some of the most harrowing battles in Italy – and had the artillery-shrapnel scars to prove it. My father, Bernard James Gilbert, spent eight years in the Army and National Guard during the Cold War, only to spring back into volunteer service to rescue victims and recover bodies during the lethal Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak. After that, he spent fifteen more years in the Civil Defense helping flood and disaster victims without taking a dime. Precious little is known about my female ancestors, and I do not mean to neglect them here. I submit that whoever and wherever a Gilbert may be, man or woman, we belong to a family of singular daring.
Having come to a point of diminishing returns (which is how I describe a wall) in investigating the origins of my line of Gilberts, I think it’s time to focus on the individuals. So much is lost about the people, themselves, when generations of friends and relatives move on to join our eternal ancestors, I find it a nearly urgent matter to preserve what we know about each of them for posterity. While there are no lack of anecdotes and facts I could write about my father, Bernard James “Jim” Gilbert, it is a bit difficult to just write a biographical blurb.
Of course, anyone who knew him also knew he had been a soldier, was a long-time volunteer in the Civil Defense, mostly worked as a cowboy hat wearing trucker, loved fishing, was a master archer and marksman, possessed movie star good looks, was a CB radio hobbyist, and could fix any car with a coat hanger and a hammer. Beyond those bare facts, I knew him to be a hard-working family man who was quietly dedicated to his children. Again, these seem mere facts to a boy trying to understand his father. There was something else about him, something a bit intangible and mysterious, that I could never quite grasp when I was younger. For example, I once saw him outdraw an angry man who already had his gun out – and the thing ended in a cordial conversation. On another occasion, a man who I knew to have been harassing dad at work ended up drinking coffee and laughing with him at our kitchen table one day. At dad’s funeral, the same man tearfully said “He was like a father to me.” Well, he was like a father to me, too!
I suppose I never really started understanding what my dad was like until I understood what it was to actually be him. While becoming a father myself helped this process, it wasn’t until catching a glimpse of my own shadow on a nighttime march during Army basic training that I was suddenly teleported into his skin. In an instant, I viscerally knew that he must have felt exactly as I did at that moment – once upon a time during his basic training. So, I wrote a story some time later that I think sums up what I knew my dad to be:
I was six, and my dad had just purchased a beautiful,
near-new station wagon. I was too young
to notice the make or model, but my mom was impressed enough, so that sufficed
for me. Growing up poor, I never really
had much in the way of material things to be proud of. This car, though, seemed to make my dad walk
a little taller, and my mom seemed to dress a little prettier. It was strange how such a simple thing as a
car could make our family seem a little warmer- a little closer. I remember that it was blue, with wooden
trim, and was a lot shinier than anything I ever remembered us having
before. It seemed solid, like the
strength in Dad’s arms, and as graceful as Mom’s hair. I felt good about it because it made them
We were into the second week of our newfound pride when
Dad decided to take ‘the boys’ fishing.
I never really liked fishing, but it seemed to be how my dad bonded with
my older brother. I was always outside
of that particular arrangement, but it didn’t bother me much. I always occupied myself with excursions
along the riverbank and into the woods nearby the Tippecanoe. I had a fishing pole, but Dad or Brian
usually took over the task of fishing with it as I became distracted by a snake
or an interesting bug. They were happy
to have an extra line in the water, and I was happy to finally be free of the monotonous
waiting. It was kind of a little
unspoken ritual that satisfied everyone in the expedition. To this day, I cannot see the excitement
found in staring at a bobber for hours on end.
The fishing trip of this afternoon was to be, mercifully,
a short one. Mom needed us home for some
reason or another, and dad was always loath to break-down the poles and return
earlier than, say, eleven at night. As
it was, though, he was more loath to disappoint Mom. At least, he was not willing to withstand her
scorn. (“Hell hath no fury…” etc., etc.) Dad was always good at pushing the time
envelope, though, having been a coast-to-coast trucker for some years before my
creation. I responded to his beckoning
and watched the final moments of bobber-watching tick away. The scene was always the same: Dad would
crouch on the clay banks of the river, the three or four poles propped up on
Y-shaped twigs, eagerly switching between wristwatch and bobbers. He had the trip home timed to the second, and
always held out for that “big one” that could bite at the last second. Alas, the final tick-tock would come and the
poles would, with much ‘gosh darn it’ regret, be broken down and stowed in our
We children, too, would be stowed as fishing
equipment. Such is the way men transport
their young. I, as always, was first in
the car. This was not to hurry the
others along, though. It was only that
the ride home was my favorite part of any fishing trip. I loved the feel of the wind as the corn
whistled past the open window. The sun
always shone on the way home, even if it had been raining during the actual
fishing. (This always upset Dad!) Brian would be smiling at having once again
out-fished the Old Man. The Old Man,
too, would be smiling- he loved to drive.
A certain peace would always come over his face as he took the wheel and
hit the open road. I would eventually
learn the many reasons for this solace, but at age six I had no idea. The feeling in the car would always be
cheerful and positive on these rides home- in that quiet male sort of way.
This day I sat in the front, between Brian and Dad, because the back seat had been folded forward to accommodate the long fishing rods and the numerous boxes of worm-smelling tackle. Mom always hated it when Dad put wet, seaweed-encrusted fishing stuff in her beautiful car. The family car always became ‘her’ car somehow. The family truck always became ‘his’ truck. Things just worked like that. Nothing, though, could spoil this warm afternoon’s whimsical ride through the country. Dad took the long way home, and put extra pedal into those little dips and hills that put the “tickle in your fancy”, as he called it. There was a certain safe feeling with dad behind the wheel- the kind of feeling that only comes from knowing that your pop is in control of things. Nobody else can ever quite equal this.
There was a blue-gray mass that lumbered into the roadway
from the left. Before I could register
what it even was, Dad was hard on the brake and spinning the wheel to the
right. Before I knew it, I was picking
myself up off the floorboard, Dad’s firm hand helping me back onto the
seat. I had bounced off the metal dash,
somehow, but my body had the resiliency of youth. I reassured dad that I was fine. I got a brief looking over, and he was out
the door in a second. I had seen my dad
angry a few times before, and I knew that he would be angry this time. Our beautiful chariot had been fiendishly
smashed by the carelessness of another.
I could see through the windshield that we had gone off into the ditch
and squarely crashed into a solid-looking telephone pole. I looked for damage to the other people’s
car, but strangely saw not a scratch. My
six-year-old brain was hard at work trying to figure out just what had
Tearing my unbelieving eyes off of the wrinkled hood, I saw Dad stride over to the other car. He was not a mean person, and I had rarely ever been spanked or otherwise roughly handled by the man, but I feared his anger. That’s not to say I feared him- it’s just that he had a masculine power that you knew lurked under the surface. That power would be alien to me for at least another six years, so for the time being it only made him seem mysterious. With mystery comes fear. At that age, I only knew that Dad was somehow different than Mom on some profound, arcane level. His masculinity stayed locked in a carefully guarded closet like some dangerous demon, which Dad could summon up at any time to smite those who would arouse his rage. True, I had never seen the demon, and therefore had no proof of its nature, but I could sense it.
I watched the old couple get out of their still shiny
car, which had appeared from out of nowhere to destroy our pride. Dad crossed the last few feet towards them,
and I awaited the demon. I wanted to see
it- to finally know what it was that fueled my apprehension. What was this beast that made Dad, who was
kind and gentle in all ways, so different from our kind and gentle mother? Mom was tender through and through. There was no secret closet in her mind. Her temper was plain to see without any
hidden source. I could feel from her no
tremors from any hidden fault lines. She
was like me, I thought to my age-six self, and I could understand that.
The moment had arrived.
Dad was near the old couple, who were standing together with worried
looks. Their own ignorance had cost our
poor family an irreplaceable $800, and we would never be happy again. Dad loved that car- he finally had something
nice to show for all his hard work. He
would be angry and the demon would be summoned.
Dad’s last steps were swift, almost a run, and his arms went out in a
manner I had never seen before- this was it.
Dad threw his arms around the couple and held their short
frames to his chest. I heard some sobs
from the lady, who grabbed Dad about the body and repeated over and over again,
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” The elderly gentleman had tears in his
eyes. I could hear him explain that he
had no insurance. I didn’t know what
that was, exactly, but I knew it was bad not to have. I heard Dad’s deep, consoling voice over the
other’s, “Don’t worry. Don’t worry about
it. It’ll be alright. Don’t worry a bit. It’s just a car- everyone’s alright.” He held them there for a long time- until the
weeping stopped and the man decided that he’d better move the car out of the
road. Before the lady left, she kissed
my Dad on the cheek and said, “You’re such a nice man. You are such a good and nice man.” He kissed her cheek in the same awkward and
tender way he kissed us goodnight, and that was that. All this I witnessed through the windshield
of our ruined car.
Dad walked back, pulled the fender away from the tire,
and started up the car. It worked well
enough to take us home, but that was the last I ever rode in our magnificent
set of wheels. That last fishing trip,
though, was the most important ride I had ever taken before or since. I saw the demon, and it was no demon. What Dad kept locked up in the closet of his
mind was, indeed, a power he could summon at will, but I feared it no
longer. I saw it for what it really
was. It was the same power that made me
feel secure when Dad was at the wheel- and when he tucked me in at night. This was a power I still respected, for I
knew that it could be dangerous, but I also wanted to have for my own
someday. I was beginning to learn what
it was to be a man.
To this point, my genealogical studies have focused on the
patrilineage from William Gilbert, the earliest suspected progenitor of the
Gilberts of Compton, through my son.
However, this following of the male line is a vestige, a reflex (if you
will), arising out of an interest in a surname – almost matter-of-factly passed
through the male line. However, this is
only one way to see one’s heritage.
One’s father-to-son bloodline is virtually no more a contributor to one’s
genetic makeup than one’s mother-to-son (or mother-to daughter, for that
matter) line. Indeed, any combination of
relatives leading from the past to the present contribute roughly equally to
one’s ancestry, regardless of the transmission of a name along with the
DNA. Therefore, it is time to look at
the women who married into and contributed to the ancestral line I have been
In these times, it might be tempting to think that women
have been marginalized, with great contempt, from the earliest times – an ugly
outgrowth of our male-dominated tribal past.
However, my readings of medieval property records, along with other
historical documents, suggests that this undeniable second-rating of women and
their accomplishments has had most of its momentum in only the last few hundred
years. Speaking only broadly of the
parts of Western culture I have studied, women often had central roles in
society and government. Tellingly,
mentions of these women were not accompanied by footnotes of astonishment or
exception, but in the ho-hum, common drone of any legal document of any
epoch. This hints at the common-place
nature of powerful, influential, and important women. For example, archeological evidence supports
the idea that early Celtic tribes were routinely under the leadership of
powerful women – Boudica of the Iceni comes to mind. Famously, Viking women had a right to
divorce. In the Anglo-Norman times of my
studies, it was the marriage of the obscure Geoffrey Gilbert to Lady Joan
Compton that bestowed upon him Compton Castle and propelled his line into
modest nobility. This was not because it
came as a dowry, but because in the 14th century Lady Joan was an
heiress. Geoffrey’s great-grandfather,
William, himself emerged from historical obscurity with his marriage to the
high-born and well pedigreed Elizabeth Champernowne of Clist, who could trace
her bloodlines back to King Henry I, William the Conqueror, and all the Dukes
of Normandy. A hundred years later,
another William Gilbert would marry another Elizabeth Champernowne, this time
of North Tawton, Devon. Two hundred
years after that, Katherine Champernowne would marry Otho Gilbert of Greenway
(in a separate line), giving birth to notable explorers Sir Humphrey Gilbert
and his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh.
What follows is a catalog of all the women I am aware of who
married into my line of Gilbert men, trying to account for their heritage based
on surname and any actual genealogical data I have:
Elizabeth Champernowne, of noble Norman ancestry,
having other Norman ancestors by the names of Valletort, Nonet, Dustanville,
and Bret. Bret is an interesting name because it has roots in Old French,
meaning ‘Breton’, or Celtic Bretons who likely escaped the early Anglo-Saxon
conquest by coming to Normandy and ultimately helping to ‘reconquer’ England in
Lady Alice, with no record of her last name, but
likely of Norman heritage based on the Old French origins of her first name.
Amy Thomas, with a last name that’s hard to pin down,
but possibly Cornish or Welsh.
Joan Compton, mentioned above, she was heiress to the
Norman family of de la Pole and of Compton, which may have been Anglo-Saxon. Some of her ancestry includes Dalditch (probably
Anglo-Saxon) and Peverell (Norman).
Elizabeth Champernowne of North Tawton, mentioned
above, and likely the great-grand-niece of the previous Elizabeth Champernowne,
of the same notable Norman family.
Isabel Gambon (Norman)
Elizabeth Hill (Anglo-Saxon)
Hanna Lacey, whose surname likely derives from the
famous Norman de Lacy family.
Joan Hackett, where my Gilbert line diverges from the
Compton line and into Somerset, is a Norman name nonetheless.
Jane Roberta Hayden, with her Anglo-Saxon surname, might
be from the de Hayden family in Somerset.
Joan Pierce, corresponding to this Gilbert’s location
in Somerset, is of an Anglo-Saxon family first mentioned in that place.
Margery Morken bears an ancient Welsh name that might
even derive from Old Norse.
Elizabeth Bennett was the first Gilbert woman in this
line to make the dangerous trip to America, likely following after her husband,
Thomas, who had already arrived in Connecticut.
If this is true, she likely would have had the daunting task of caring
for her young son, John Gilbert, along the way.
Elizabeth also had the children Ezekial, Josiah, Obadiah, Jonathan, and
Sarah. Judging by the sudden shift in
first names from Norman to Biblical, and considering the time (mid 1600s near
the English Civil War) we might surmise that these Gilberts were puritans
fleeing persecution. It’s hard to
determine, but her surname seems English and is likely derived from
‘Benedictus’- common among people of Anglo-Norman descent.
Amy Lord has an ancient Anglo-Saxon name derived from
‘hlalord’ or ‘keeper of the loaf’, meaning ‘one responsible for feeding
Elizabeth Smith (Anglo-Saxon)
Lydia White, with a Norman surname, likely derived from Le Blanc.
Sara Bradshaw (Anglo-Saxon)
Sara Magruder, whose surname is an interesting one
from Scottish Gaelic, derived from Mac Grudaire, a nickname meaning ‘son of the
brewer’ – a name originating in Perthshire.
Matilda Todd, Todd coming from the Scottish Borders
and northern Middle English. Her last
name and Midwestern location make a relationship to Mary Todd Lincoln a
Isabelle Plew (Bavarian)
Sarah Jane Furrow (Ulster Irish)
Marie Tarant, wife of James Madison Gilbert, was my
great grandmother. Her parents were from
Sadska, Bohemia, with Holem being her mother’s maiden name. This Holem is likely a derivative of another
Czech name. Of great tragedy to our
family, her nephew George Tarant, was a waist gunner on a B-24 liberator that
was shot down over Denmark on June 21st, 1944, by the Luftwaffe’s Lieutenant
Mildred Marie Scheetz, my grandmother, bore a surname
from the Rhineland in Germany, with ancestors named Nickerson (Anglo-Saxon), Williams
(possibly Welsh), Platt (also Germany), Klein (again from the Rhineland),
Muckley (Rhineland still), and Daum (also German).
Gloria Jeanne Elliott, my mother, bore a spelling of the
‘Eliot’ name that may have been ancient Pictish from the personal name Aelfwald
– said to have originated in Liddesdale, Scotland. Mom had ancestors named Kahl (Germany) Krouse
(Germany – my maternal grandmother’s maiden name), Pease (Orkney, Scotland),
Schnider (Bavaria, Germany), Allis (back to Norman once again), and White (a
second instance of this Norman surname, from le Blanc, in the genealogy).
Johanna Katherine Henbest, my children’s mother,
bears a rare French Huguenot surname associated through DNA services and online
sources with a single county in England whose refugee Huguenot population
underwent a near wholesale relocation to Missouri. Ancestors include Pfiefer (Austrian), Sparks,
(a rare case of an Old Norse word coming to us from Old English), and Ennis
Now it is down to my daughter, who is about to marry into an Italian family having an Anglo-Norman or Scottish last name! She will carry with her a massively complex background of Anglo-Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Bohemian Czech, a whole lot of German, French, a touch of Congolese, and a myriad of other origins!
Let’s take a moment to look at ‘Gilbert’ simply as a word, rather
than as a surname. As such, Gilbert has
ancient Germanic origins as a combination of the words ‘gisil’ or ‘gisel’
and of ‘berht’, ‘behrt’, or ‘beraht’. This first part is where we get ‘Gil-‘, and
could mean pledge, hostage, or arrow shaft – basically some sort of issued or
given thing. The last part, the source
of ‘-bert’, means famous or bright. These
kinds of two part names (a kind of ‘kenning’) were common in Northern Europe in
the Late Iron Age and early Middle Ages.
This is attested to by such contemporary names as Beowulf, the hero, and
Ulfbehrt, a famous type of sword whose name derives from the Frankish personal
name “Bright Wolf”. Gilbert, too, was a
personal name, just like today’s John, Robert, or Donald. Sometime in Western Europe around the 1100’s
and 1200’s, when the idea of personal taxation started taking hold, it became
necessary to more precisely identify landowners. One strategy to do this was to identify
people by adding their father’s given name to their own. For example, it was not enough to say ‘William,
living in Wiltshire, owed so-and-so some money’. To more precisely identify that person, the
records might say “William, son of Richard, owed so-and-so”. This is where we ultimately get ‘Richardson’
as a last name – literally ‘Richard’s son’.
Likewise, you get from our earlier personal name examples ‘Johnson’, ‘Robertson’,
and ‘Donaldson’. These kinds of names,
taken from the father’s first name, are a kind of ‘patronymic’ surname. Gilbert, as a surname, is one of these,
having been a very popular first name at the time. This is why in addition to Gilbert, we see ‘Gilbertson’
and ‘FitzGilbert’ (from the Norman ‘fils Gilbert’, meaning ‘son of Gilbert’) as
last names to this day.
Various spellings of Gilbert occur, not only in families
having different origins, but within the same families on different documents
at different time periods. One of the
reasons for this is that English spelling was not necessarily a standardized
thing until surprisingly recently in history – less than 250 years. So, even comparatively recent American
ancestors might spell their names ‘Gilberde’ or something similar. Adding to the confusion is that medieval
records were usually written in Latin, so Gilbert was written accordingly, with
adjective endings that tended to mean ‘of Gilbert’ or ‘Gilbert-ish’. Thus, we see ‘Gilbertus’, ‘Gislebertus’, and ‘Gilberti’. To be clear, these were not alternative
spellings of Gilbert, but rather formal and legal spellings. Notably, this affected first names, too, so we
get Willelmus = William, Ricardus = Richard, Roberto = Robert, etc. In yet another layer of obfuscation, we have
to consider that the names they were Latinizing at the time were neither
standardized in English nor strictly English!
As we mentioned, Gilbert has ancient Germanic origins and had various
spellings across Europe and France at the time.
So, we start out with raw material such as ‘Gisilbehrt’, ‘Gisalbehrt’, ‘Gislebert’,
‘Guilbert’, ‘Gerebert’ and ‘Gileberte’ before even the beginnings of
established last names, let alone standard English spelling. Now, consider that my Anglo-Norman ancestors
started out speaking a dialect of French and pronounced the name something like
‘Jil-bare’ before ‘becoming’ English, and you’ll see yet another source of
It was from France that the name Gilbert really found its
way to England. Though the Domesday Book
mentions at least one pre-Norman landowner as being named Gilbert (likely a
single, personal name), the Norman conquest in 1066 ushered in the near-wholesale
replacement of Anglo-Saxon names such as Aldwyn and Aethelwold with the French
names that we call English today – John, William, Robert, Amy, and Joan. This was at a time when the Anglo-Normans
were just beginning to shift from the convention of using ‘fils-‘ or ‘fitz-‘ in
front of the father’s given name to identify the child, to the use of true
family names –kept and passed down through the male line. It is shortly thereafter, in the very
beginning of the 1200’s that we see the true English Gilbert surname start to
be recorded, establishing the family that would come to be known as the
Gilberts of Compton. Interestingly, we
don’t know if these forbearers were the first in their line to take the name. They may have been inheritors of a family
name established one or more generations earlier. Also, we don’t know if these Gilberts even
took their name from a progenitor named Gilbert. It is entirely possible that they could have
taken the name, instead, in honor of the then famous and revered Saint Gilbert
of Sepringham who founded the Gilbertine Order in England in 1130. It may even be possible that the name was
taken in honor of Gilbert Universalis, Bishop of London until his death in
While looking into the French origins of the Gilbert name, I
examined a few place names hoping for a lead:
Montgilbert, Chateau de Montgilbert, and Nesles-la-Gilberde. Pregilbert, in Bourgone, is documented to
have been named after the aforementioned Gilbert Universalis – demonstrating again
the extent of cross-Channel culture at that time. Moulins-Engilbert, also in Bourgone, has only
scant information. Most notably, it was
in the territories of the Counts of Nevere at the end of the 12th
century, and Bonne d’Artois, widow of Philip of Burgundy, married Philip the Good at the castle of Moulins-Engilbert in 1424. (Incidentally,
the castle has been carbon dated to the end of the 10th or beginning
of the 11th centuries.) Another
castle, the 13th century Chateau de Montgilbert, is strangely not in
Montgilbert. Little information is
available about either place. Nesles-la-Gilberde,
however, is known to have a 12th century church. Beyond the names themselves, there is little
connecting any of these places to the Gilbert surname.
One place of interest, however, is
located in Normandy proper (unlike any of the above). It is La Mesnil-Gilbert, the word ‘mesnil’
coming from the Latin meaning ‘a little dwelling’. Today it is a tiny administrative area, akin
to an American village or township, having a small church called Notre Dame du
Mesnil-Gilbert. According to “l’Histoire du diocèse de Coutances et d’Avranches”, Coutances
1878, page 379 (t. 2), this church was donated in 1082 to the holdings of the Collegiate
Church of Mortain by one Robert, Count of Mortain, 2nd Earl of
Cornwall. Another Robert, this one Count
of Meulan, had (according to “Dictionnaire historique de toutes les
communes du département de l’Eure histoire, géographie, statistique”) some
dealings with a man called “Gilbert du Mesnil”, or ‘Gilbert of Mesnil’ around
the 1170s or 1180s. This Gilbert,
however, could have come from anywhere, since ‘mesnil’ could refer to a number
of locations in Normandy. The bottom
line is there is no solid connection between little Mesnil-Gilbert and the
Gilbert surname so far, but it is interesting.
As I mentioned in a previous writing, a surprisingly early use of Gilbert as a surname sprang up from my studies of French origins. This was Guillaume (William) Gilbert, Bishop of Portiers from 1117 to 1124. Records show his family included parents Gilbert and Elizabeth, a brother Geoffrey, and a sister Petronille. They are, according to some sources, “from an old family of Parthenay”. Nothing is known about the parents except that they had a house there, but with a father named ‘Gilbert’ it is nearly certain that this particular patronymic line starts with him. Geoffrey Gilbert, however, was well known as one of the great Lords of Gatine, France, being a knight of Lord Lamaire, owning land all over, and dying childless. Petronille Gilbert, however, married William Chabot around 1070, having children Briant Chabot, Guillaume Chabot, and Gilbert Chabot. While clergy was not officially directed to celibacy until 1139, I can find no record of possible offspring from Bishop William Gilbert. With his brother being recorded as leaving no heirs, and his sister marrying into the Chabot family, we lose sight of any further descendants.
The best leads I have so far for a possible French (rather
than purely English) origin of the Gilbert line that would become the Gilberts
of Compton are the correctly-spelled and Normandy-located Le Mesnil-Gilbert (with
its church from at least 1082), and mentions of a Richard Gilbert, Robert
Gilbert, and a Walter (Galterius) Gilbert in Norman pipe rolls that predate the
establishment of the Gilberts of Compton and possibly allude to holdings
on both sides of the Channel. Add to
this a well-documented use of Gilbert as a surname in Western France as early
as 1098 (the first mention of Bishop William Gilbert when he was Archbishop of
Thouars), and we can say that it is certainly possible that a Gilbert line was
created and continued to exist in Northwestern France from the late 1000s (be
it of Bishop William’s descendants or not).
This line, or some branch, could have crossed the Channel sometime
between then and the very early 1200s, establishing the Gilberts of Compton
when the great grandson of William and Elizabeth Gilbert (again, not the only
coupling of a William Gilbert with an Elizabeth Chambernowne), one Sir Geoffrey
Gilbert, married lady Joan Compton – heiress of the Compton and de la Pole
families. It would be nice to make a
definite connection to a well-known subject like Bishop William, but further
insight at this point would be impossible without something like DNA testing –
he is buried just to the left of the altar at Fontevraud Abby…