Update to AncestryDNA communities: Vinnie has views

In 2016 my husband Greg and I, hoping to learn more about our family history, had our DNA analysed by AncestryDNA.

All living things are related; you and I are related to bananas, earthworms, and the fish, your cousin, whom you ate for dinner.

Our cat Vinnie at the computer: we are distantly related – a 2007 study found that about 90 per cent of the genes in the domestic cat are similar to humans

We share more and longer segments of DNA with our closer cousins, a fact that can be turned to use in family history research: find someone with whom you share a significantly long string of DNA and that person is your genealogical relative – you can probably work out how you are related.

Cousinship in the great tree of life means a common ancestor: whales and cows are related in this way. The DNA we share, or to be precise, the fact that we share it, provides clues about our relative places in the tree. To focus in a little, our relative places in the tree of our direct forebears and cousins are indicated by the segments of DNA we share. The more DNA I share with someone the more recent our common ancestry.

Last year I wrote about AncestryDNA’s ‘ethnicity estimates’ and ‘genetic communities’. AncestryDNA has two ways of looking at your genetic background: the ethnicity estimate which compares your DNA to a reference group and genetic communities where you are linked with cousins who share DNA from a similar geographic area.

AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimate is intended to be a measure of a person’s ethnic makeup. Are you partly Inuit? Were your ancestors Tasmanian Aboriginals or Scottish Highlanders? AncestryDNA calculates the estimate using DNA data about people who, it is said “…have long-standing, documented roots in a specific area”. This group of people identified by the company provide a reference group for ethnicity estimates.

Genetic communities, compiled on the basis of shared DNA, are defined as “groups of AncestryDNA members who are most likely connected because they share fairly recent ancestors who came from the same region or culture.”

It is said that a large proportion of people who pay to become members of Ancestry do so in order to discover their ethnic makeup, and presumably many of them are satisfied with what they are told. Ethnicity is a tricky concept, however, and Ancestry’s pitch about ‘long-standing’ (how long?), ‘documented’ (by whom? how?) roots in a specific area (how is the area specified?) sharing ‘fairly recent’ (how recent?) ancestors (which?) in a ‘region’ (of what extent?) or culture (what’s that, for Heaven’s sake?), is a pitch that will strike many people as promoting something largely meaningless. [AncestryDNA explains some of this in their 2019 Whitepaper on ethnicity estimates but you can see for example that they are estimating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethnicity on the basis of 14 DNA samples only.]

AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates were last updated in August 2019. I wrote about this in an October 2019 post: ‘ethnicity’ DNA: beware of inheritance from daughter to mother.

In late July 2020 AncestryDNA updated its genetic communities calculations, including those for communities associated with European and British settlers in Australia. I have looked again at my family’s place in the ethnicity estimates and genetic communities provided by AncestryDNA.
The updated AncestryDNA genetic communities of my husband Greg and of my father became more specific: no longer vaguely “Southern Australia British Settlers” my father is now part of the group “South Australian European and British  Settlers” genetic community and Greg is linked to the “Victoria, Australia, European and British Settlers” genetic community. Our ethnicity estimates have not been updated.

My father’s AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate showing the link to the South Australian European and British Settlers genetic community
Greg’s AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate showing the link to the Victoria, Australia, European and British Settlers genetic community

As I type these notes my cat Vinnie is sitting on my desk amusing himself by pressssssssssssssssssing randommmmmmmmm keys. I moved his paws, but now he’s taken to making sarcastic comments, and it’s hard to concentrate.

ME: “Most of Greg’s forebears came to the Colony of Victoria at the time of the gold-rushes and the assignment of this genetic community makes sense. AncestryDNA provides the information that just over 127,000 AncestryDNA members are part of this genetic community.”

VINNIE: “I’d say that the vast majority of his forebears didn’t come to Victoria at all. Most of them saw out their days on the African savannah. I’d call this a genetic community of approximately 50 million. What AncestryDNA ‘provides’ is just gas.”

Three close cousins have also been assigned to this community – we know how we are related to these cousins.
A timeline with a potted history links forebears – for the most part the linking is accurate, these forebears are all associated with Victoria.

ME: “A year ago I found my mother was assigned to the South Australian British settler community. The only person who was a member of that community with whom she shared DNA was me. My mother came to Australia as a child and all her forebears for several generations were from Germany. As far as we know no relatives came to Australia before World War 2.”

VINNIE: “In the logic trade that’s called a reductio ad absurdum. AncestryDNA’s methods make the daughter the mother of the mother.”

ME: “This was an anomalous result”.

VINNIE: “Did you get your subscription back?”

My mother’s DNA results summary report from AncestryDNA in October 2019

ME: “In response to this assignment of genetic communities and while waiting for the update, I removed my results from AncestryDNA by updating my settings and choosing not to see my matches and by not being listed as a match. My strategy seems to have worked. In the latest update my mother is no longer assigned to any Australian genetic community.”

VINNIE: “If I remove myself from the veterinarian’s appointment list I will no longer be assigned to it as a cat and you won’t have to take me for my annual checkup. Great.”

My mother still has very few DNA matches on AncestryDNA; the only match where I know how we are related is to me and I am also the only match sharing more than 50 centimorgans – that is all other of my mother’s DNA matches are likely to be no closer than 3rd cousins.
my mother’s ethnicity estimate as at August 2020

ME: “Ethnicity estimates including the assignment by AncestryDNA to genetic communities need to be treated like any other hint with caution but as a clue to one’s origins”

VINNIE: “It was thought that the One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater had to be treated with caution too, but he turned out to be harmless. There weren’t any purple people for him to eat. You needn’t be cautious about nonsense.


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Updating my Ahnentafel index

When I started this blog eight years ago, one of its pages was a pedigree spreadsheet with Ahnentafel numbering. Today I updated the published index on this website.

An Ahnentafel (German ‘ancestor board’) table assigns a unique number to each person.

On your own Ahnentafel chart you are number 1. In the previous generation your father is 2 and your mother is 3. Your father’s number is calculated by doubling yours; your mother’s number is one plus double yours.

This scheme continues up the generations. Your paternal grandparents are 4 and 5. Your maternal grandparents are 6 and 7. Men have even numbers; women odd.

My table starts with my children as number 1 and incorporates both my husband Greg’s forebears and mine.

I use Ahnentafel numbering to keep track of our Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA), ancestors we share with our DNA matches, provided, of course, that I have been able to establish what the genealogical relationship is.

The update of my Ahnentafel index made me think about our progress on the tree. The last time I reviewed our tree progress was March 2020. At 31 March 2020 my tree showed 344 of the possible 1023 forebears up to 10 generations of 7th great grandparents. I know all 32 of my children’s 3rd great grandparents and thus all 62 of their possible ancestors to that level. At the 4th great grandparent level I know 53 of their 64 possible 4th great grandparents.

Direct ancestors whose names I know are coloured; blanks represent those whose names are unknown to me. Chart generated by DNAPainter.

In the four months since March I haven’t made any progress in identifying more ancestors in these 10 generations, but I have made a little progress in the generations beyond, with two more 8th great grandparents, four 9th great grandparents, two 10th great grandparents, and two 11th great grandparents. Adam and Eve are coming up.

GenerationAncestors identifiedTree completeness at this level
Parents2 of 2100%
Grandparents4 of 4100%
Great-Grandparents8 of 8100%
2nd-Great-Grandparents16 of 16100%
3rd-Great-Grandparents32 of 32100%
4th-Great-Grandparents53 of 6483%
5th-Great-Grandparents72 of 12856%
6th-Great-Grandparents76 of 25630%
7th-Great-Grandparents80 of 51216%
8th-Great-Grandparents66 of 10246.45%
9th-Great-Grandparents43 of 20482.10%
10th-Great-Grandparents31 of 40960.76%
11th-Great-Grandparents21 of 81920.26%
12th-Great-Grandparents12 of 163840.07%
Tree completeness calculated by DNAPainter.
There is limited pedigree collapse: 10 people appear twice as our children’s 3rd great grandparents John Way and Sarah Daw were cousins who married.

Our family tree, including indirect relatives, has grown from 10,481 people in March 2020 to 10,928 as at August 2020. It now has 17,204 records (previously 16,099), 2,238 images (previously 2,109), and 305 stories (previously 289). I have added 65 posts.

These statistics give me a quick measure of the progress I’ve made. There still a long way to go…

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Should I accept this Ancestry.com ‘hint’?

Today on my Ancestry.com family tree today I noticed a new hint for my husband’s 3rd great grandmother Ellen née Dony or Dory, wife of a glassblower named George Murray. (Their daughter Ellen Murray provided information about her parents when she married James Cross, a gold digger, at Buninyong in 1856.)

1856 marriage certificate for James Cross and Ellen Murray

The younger Ellen Murray arrived in Victoria in 1854 as an assisted immigrant on the ‘Persian. Also on board was her sister Bridget. The passenger list records Bridget and Ellen Murray as both from Dublin. Their religion was Catholic; both could read and Ellen could also write; Bridget was twenty-four (which means that she was born about 1830) and Ellen was eighteen (born about 1836).

To date I have had no luck in finding what happened to Bridget, nor have I been able to track down their family in Ireland.

Today’s hint for Ellen Dony or Dory was a baptism record for a daughter called Ellen with parents George and Ellen Murray. The baptism was in 1836 in Dublin. The father’s occupation is not given.

Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 retrieved through ancestry.com. Detail: National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 09151 / 02 Name Ellen Murray Baptism Age 0 Event Type Baptism Birth Date 1836 Baptism Date 21/05/1836 Baptism Place St Mary’s (Pro-Cathedral)Diocese Dublin Father George Murray Mother Ellen Murray

At first I didn’t feel completely confident that these were Greg’s forebears. Murray is a common surname in Dublin, and I thought that at the time there was probably more than one couple called George and Ellen with a child named Ellen.

So I decided to search the Ireland Catholic Parish Registers 1655-1915 for all children born with the surname Murray, father George and mother Ellen. I did not restrict the search by place or time. If there were many children belonging to many couples with the same names it would be a mistake to assume that the baptism belonged to Greg’s great great grandmother and her parents.

There were only five records, with two belonging to the same child. All baptisms were at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin.

  • Bridget, baptised 12 November 1828
  • Peter, baptised 21 February 1831 (2 records for same name and date)
  • Josh, baptised 3 April 1834
  • Ellen, baptised 21 May 1836

I have not found any other couples named George and Ellen Murray having children baptised in Dublin at this time. I was very pleased that Bridget’s baptism turned up in the results, for she appears to have been roughly the right age to be the Bridget recorded on the Persian‘s passenger list.

I have concluded that there is a strong chance the Bridget and Ellen of these baptisms are indeed Greg’s relatives and that they had two brothers, Peter and Josh, probably Joseph.

I have decided to accept the hint and use the information to try to make make further progress on this branch of the tree.

Related post

Ellen Cross (1824 – 1840)

Recently I’ve been doing a bit of research about Greg’s 3rd great grandfather James Cross (c 1791 – 1853). I have been greatly helped by  contributions from several of Greg’s cousins who are also interested in their Cross ancestors. Here’s what I’ve turned up.

On 28 December 1819 James Cross married Ann Bailey (1791 – 1860). At the time he was employed as a brewer. He lived at Penketh, about ten miles east of Liverpool.

Between 1820 and 1822 James and Ann had seven children, two girls and 
five boys:

  • John Cross 1820–1867
  • Thomas Bailey Cross 1822–1889
  • Ellen (Helen) Cross 1824–1840
  • Ann Jane Cross 1826–1827
  • James Cross 1828–1882
  • William Grapel Cross 1832– 1876
  • Frederick Beswick Cross 1833–1910

James and Ann’s third child, the eldest daughter, was called Ellen. She was born 9 February 1824 and baptised in the Chapelry of Hale on 22 August 1824. The baptism register records James’s occupation as road surveyor and their abode as St Helens. Ellen Cross was Greg’s 3rd great aunt.

St Mary’s Church Hale
Bishop’s transcripts Reference Number
Drl/2/19 from Lancashire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1911 retrieved through ancestry.com

On the 1841 census James Cross, occupation farmer, was living with his  wife Ann and three of his five sons: Thomas, James and Francis. There is no mention of daughters. 

The eldest son, John, was a surgeon’s apprentice on the 1841 census living with Thomas Gaskill surgeon in Prescott.

James and Ann’s son William Grapel Cross was possibly at school. He was then about ten years old but ten years later he was with the family on the 1851 census. There is a William Cross at a grammar school in Whalley in 1841. The age and Lancashire location seem to fit, and the fact that he later got a job as an Admiralty clerk indicates he was well educated.

Ellen and her sister Ann Jane who was born in 1826 were not with the family.

Ann Jane Cross was born 28 June 1826 and baptised 16 July 1826 at St Helens, Lancashire. There is a burial on 14 May 1827 at St Mary, Hale, Lancashire, England of an Anne Jane Cross with Age: 1 Abode: St Helens. She seems likely to have been Anne the daughter of James and Ann.

There is a marriage of Ellen Cross daughter of James Cross, husbandman of Eccleston, in 1842. Ellen was a minor and this is consistent with the 1824 birth-date as she would then have been 18. A husbandman’s status was inferior to that of a yeoman. The latter owned land; the former did not.

Marriage of Ellen Cross 2 June 1842 at Rainford from Lancashire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936 retrieved through ancestry.com

Ellen could not sign her name, nor could her husband and the witnesses. From what I know of the family of James and Ann Cross it seems unlikely that Ellen could not sign her own name. I am also not able to identify the witness Elizabeth Cross.

I found an 1840 burial at St Thomas Eccleston for a Helen Cross. Her age is given as 16. This is consistent with Ellen’s 1824 year of birth. Her abode is recorded as Eccleston. There are no other clues to suggest that this Helen Cross was indeed Ellen the daughter of James and Ann Cross.

Burial of Helen Cross age 16 of Eccleston on 14 April 1840 at St Thomas Eccleston. Retrieved from Lancashire, England, Deaths and Burials, 1813-1986 through ancestry.com

To confirm my hunch that Ellen daughter of James and Ann was Helen who was buried at Ecclestone in 1840, I ordered the death certificate of Helen Cross from the UK General Register Office.

death certificate of Helen Cross from the UK General Register Office: Year 1840  Qtr Jun  District PRESCOT  Vol 20  Page 620 

Helen Cross, aged 16 years 2 months, daughter of James Cross, clerk,
died of consumption on 10 April 1840 at Eccleston. This Helen’s age
matches that of Ellen born February 1824.

Different documents give different occupations for James Cross, but I
believe that for each of the instances that it is the same person.


Consumption, now more commonly known as tuberculosis, is an infectious bacterial disease, usually affecting the lungs. A common symptom is a persistent cough, which in later stages brings up blood. The patient, with no appetite, loses weight. Other symptoms include a high temperature, night sweats, and extreme tiredness. Tuberculosis was usually a slow killer; patients could waste away for years.

An 1840 study attributed one fifth of deaths in England to consumption. It has been claimed “Tuberculosis was so prevalent in Europe and the United States during the period comprising the end of the 18th century through the first half of the 19th century that almost every family on the two continents was affected in some way by the disease.”

In 1838 the death rate in England and Wales from tuberculosis was around 4,000 deaths per 1 million people; it fell to around 3,000 per million in 1850. The improvements in the death rate have been attributed to improvements in food supplies and nutrition as the improvements are before knowledge of the cause of the disease or any treatment was available.

Graph of Death rates from respiratory tuberculosis in England and Wales from Integrating nutrition into programmes of primary health care, Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 10, Number 4, 1988 (United Nations University Press, 1988, 74 p.) retrieved from http://preview.tinyurl.com/lyodwzf 

The World Health Organisation reports that today tuberculosis is still one of the top 10 causes of death and the leading cause from a single infectious agent. Worldwide 1.5 million people died from TB in 2018; over 95% of cases and deaths are in developing countries. The WHO estimated 58 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2018 and the WHO hopes to eliminate TB by 2030.


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Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne (1802 – 1831)

In compiling this brief biography of my 1st cousin 5 times removed Pulteney Sherburne (1802 – 1831), I have tried to flesh out the bare record with a few inferences and conjectures but, with little material to draw on beyond names, dates, and the sparse chronology of his army career, I am afraid the portrait I have drawn of the man may be a little distorted. It’s the best I can do.

Born in India

Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne, the son of Joseph Sherburne (1751 – 1805) and Frances Johnstone Sherborne née Dana (1768 – 1832) was born in
north-east India and baptised in Bhagalpur in 1802. Joseph Sherburne was a Magistrate Collector and senior merchant with the East India Company. Pulteney was the oldest child. A sister, Frances, was born in 1803. Joseph Sherburne died in 1805 and Frances Johnstone Sherburne returned to England with her two children.

Army career

On 20 April 1813 Pulteney Sherburne was appointed as an ensign with the South Hants Regiment of Militia. The militia was designed to serve as a home guard or reserve force. In 1813 England was at war with the French. Sherburne was aged 11 and it appears that this was intended as a first step in a military career. In modern terms he had become a part-time officer cadet.

All three of Pulteney’s surviving uncles were in the army at this time:

  • George Kinnaird Dana (1770 – 1837) was Lieutenant-Colonel of the 6th garrison regiment serving in Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland.; he was promoted to Major-General on 4 June 1813
  • William Pulteney Dana (1776 – 1861) was paymaster in his brother’s regiment, also serving in Ireland
  • Charles Patrick Dana (1784 – 1816) served with the East India Company and was a captain with the 23rd Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry at the time of his death at sea travelling back to England in 1816

On 27 July 1815, a month after the Battle of Waterloo, Volunteer Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne was commissioned as an Ensign (without purchase) in the First Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots. An ensign was the most junior rank of commissioned officer in the army. Pulteney Sherburne was about 13 years old. At the time the Royal Scots had four battalions. I am not sure which battalion Sherburne served in. The first was stationed in Ireland from 1816 to 1825; the second was in India and involved in the Third Anglo-Maratha War; the third formed part of the Army of Occupation following the Battle of Waterloo. It was disbanded in 1817. The fourth battalion was used mainly as a depot battalion for providing the other three battalions with drafts and it was recruited mainly from the militia. It was disbanded in 1816.

In 1818 Sherburne transferred from the 1st Foot where he had been on half-pay to the 70th Foot. In 1818 and 1819 the 70th Foot was serving in Canada: at Fort George from April 1817, Kingston from June 1819 and Quebec from May 1821.

The Gazette of 18 April 1822 announced the promotion of Ensign Pulteney J. Poole Sherburne, from the 70th Foot, to Lieutenant (without purchase) in the First Regiment of Foot. The Gazette of 11 May 1822 updated the announcement to say the Commission of Lieutenant Sherburne, of the 1st Foot, has been antedated to 18th October 1820, but that he had not been allowed to receive any back-pay. It seems that although Sherburne had been a lieutenant with the 1st Foot from 1820 he had been paid as such only from 1822.

In the Gazette of 24 October 1822 Pulteney J. Poole Sherburne of the 1st Regiment of Foot exchanged with Lieutenant Daniel Keogh of the 58th Foot who was on half-pay. The 58th Foot was in Jamaica, the West Indies, from 1816 to 1828 when it was deployed to Ceylon.

I can find no further notices in the Gazette revealing Sherburne’s military career.

Bruce Bassett-Powell who maintains a website devoted to the study of military uniforms at Uniformology.com, commented:

 Lieutenant Sherbourne’s experience as a company officer would be fairly typical. … The dramatic draw down of regimental personnel after the Napoleonic Wars left many career officers without a regiment of their choice, so officers were transferred with or without purchase to any regiment they could find. … [Sherburne’s] career was so very typical of the era in which he served.

email correspondence July 2020

Barrack Master

 From about 1825 (possibly as early as 1822) when he exchanged out of the 1st to the 58th on half-pay, Lieutenant P. P. Sherburne held the position of Barrack Master at Berbice in the British West Indies, now in present-day Guyana.

From 1822 British army barracks were the responsibility of the Board of Ordnance. In 1826 there were 41 barrack masters in the Foreign Departments administered by the Board; the West Indies station had 14 barracks.

Barrack masters oversaw individual barracks and their role was to see
that the blocks were properly equipped, maintained and run in accordance
with a bureaucratic system of regular returns.

In the 1826 Army Ordnance estimates Berbice had 10,000 pounds allocated for a new Barrack, Commissariat and Ordnance Establishment at Canje Point to replace the Barrack Establishment at St Andrews which was not worth repairing.

The army in Berbice used slave labour hired from others. There were several complaints about Lieutenant Sherburne and his treatment of slaves while he was barrack master; in at least one instance Sherburne was investigated for alleged cruelty and the charges were disproved.

New Amsterdam Berbice in the 1830s from Sketch Map of British Guiana by Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1804–65) published in London 1840 retrieved from World Digital Library https://www.wdl.org/en/item/11335/

British colony in Berbice

The garrison at Berbice was quartered at Fort Canje one mile from New Amsterdam. The 1838 Army Medical Services Report describes the garrison as a small military post of square form bounded by the Berbice River on one side and a small stream called the Canje. The two other sides were protected by trenches and wooden pallisades. The ground on which it is built is low and swampy.

The 1838 report of the Army Medical Services observed that the climate of the whole of British Guiana was noted for its extreme moisture, the rate of annual rainfall being six times that of Great Britain. The average temperature in Berbice was 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a minimum of 75 and maximum of 86. The Berbice district was the most southerly British possession in the West Indies. It extended 100 miles along the coast and the ground was so low that at high-water it would be completely inundated were it not protected by strong dams (dykes).  Where the country was not under cultivation in the 1830s it was a succession of forests, savannahs and marshes. The soil was said not to absorb the moisture and became very muddy. The air was consequently reported as extremely humid.

A 2012 visitor described the location:

It was always a sickly piece of land. Even now, few people live out here, on the swamps formed at the confluence of the Berbice and the Canje. The clay is always weeping oily water, and the air is itchy with mosquitoes. … There was no view beyond,just an enormous burning sky and a fringe of thick mangrove.

Fort Canje near New Amsterdam by John Gimlette http://www.guyanagraphic.com/blog/john-gimlette/fort-canje-near-new-amsterdam
Canje River, Guyana taken from the Canje Bridge in New Amsterdam in 2009 by User:Loriski , CC BY-SA 3.0 retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1838 there was a barrack with an hospital and offices within the fort for the accommodation of the troops. The barrack was an oblong wooden building with a basement used for stores and two upper stories each divided into four apartments for the soldiers with some smaller rooms for non-commissioned officers. The hospital was also built of wood with a basement and two stories.

British Guiana was not a healthy place. In 1826 there were 1162 white
troops and 74 black troops in the colony. In that year there were 115 deaths among those troops. In 1831 there were 968 white troops and 2160 black troops with 113 deaths that year. Most of the deaths among white troops at that time were from fevers, particularly yellow fever.

Leave in England

In 1830 Sherburne was on leave in England and he signed his final will on 7 August 1830 at Burton in Wiltshire. He described himself as “Lieutenant in His Majestys Army and Barrack Master to the forces serving in the Colony of Berbice”. He appointed his cousin Joseph Coxon of Burton, Wiltshire, as executor and the main beneficiary was Joseph Coxon’s daughter Isabella Coxon.

[In 1788 Harriet Sherburne, sister of Pulteney’s father Joseph, had married John Coxon, Esq., Command of the Grosvenor, East Indiaman; the Grosvenor, under the command of John Coxon was shipwrecked in 1782; John Coxon was among those who died afterwards. Harriet’s son Joseph (1779 – 1842) had a daughter Isabella born 1809.]

Death in West Indies

Pulteney Sherburne died in Berbice on 28 June 1831 aged about 28.

At the time of his death he was Barrack Master, with the rank of Lieutenant. His death notices in The Asiatic Journal, Gentleman’s Magazine, and New Monthly Magazine describe him as “late of the “Royals” but the army death notices state he was of the 58th Regiment of Foot on half pay. As the 1st Regiment of Foot was more prestigious than the 58th Foot his family perhaps wanted to retain that association from before he transferred out.


In its Rare Books and Special Collection, the University of British Columbia has a bookplate belonging to P. J. P. Sherburne.  The bookplate is not associated with a particular book and is mentioned in H.W. Fitcham, “Artist and Engravers of British and American Bookplates,” 1897. Fitcham dates the bookplate to 1820. In 1820 Pulteney Sherburne turned 18 and was promoted to Lieutenant. The bookplate has a shield, Quarterly— 1 and 4, Vert, an eagle displayed argent ; 2 and 3, Argent, a lion rampant. Crest : An unicorn’s head. Motto : “Je ne cede a personne.”  The Sherburne coat of arms was discussed in a previous post on The search for the Arms of the Dana family as it appears engraved on a box which Pulteney’s mother left in her will to her niece and goddaughter Charlotte, my 3rd great grandmother.

The motto is unusual but as Arthur Fox-Davies notes in his Complete Guide to Heraldry, mottoes do not form part of the grant of arms in England but are “ left purely to the personal pleasure of every individual”. The phrase “Je ne cede a personne”  or in Latin: Concedo Nulli – I yield to none – appears associated with the Dutch philosopher Erasmus in the 1805 book “Memoirs of Angelus Politianus, Joannes Picus of Mirandula, Actius Sincerus Sannazarius, Petrus Bembus, Hieronymus Fracastorius, Marcus Antonius Flaminius, and the Amalthei : translations from their poetical works: and notes and observations concerning other literary characters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries”.

Miniature Portrait

My father has a miniature portrait of Pulteney Sherborne passed to him
from his grandfather, Constantine Trent Champion de Crespigny who received it from his grandmother Charlotte Frances Champion Crespigny née Dana.  The portrait was left to Charlotte Frances Dana by her aunt and godmother, Frances Sherbourne née Dana, Pulteney’s mother.

The uniform in the miniature portrait could be either the 58th or the 70th regiment. Bruce Bassett-Powell confirms both regiments had black facings with gold lace, evenly spaced.  Bassett-Powell suggests it is possible that the portrait of him was done in Canada, that is when he was serving with the 70th Foot.

Frances Sherburne, Pulteney’s mother, made her will not long after she heard of Pulteney’s death – sadly both her children predeceased her and there are no descendants. She specifically mentioned the portrait in her will, leaving it to her niece and goddaughter.

In his portrait Pulteney Sherburne looks bright, determined and optimistic. The role of Barrack Master in Berbice would have been demanding as he was in charge of constructing a new barracks and dealing with living in a challenging humid climate. Sherburne’s army career, cut short by his premature death aged 28, was not notably successful. He maintained his career despite the army being reduced following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Born in India and serving in Canada and the West Indies, Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne (1802 – 1831) was one of the many men who contributed to the making of the British Empire across the globe.


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Frances Johnstone Sherburne (1768 – 1832)

Frances Johnstone Sherborne née Dana (1768 – 1832), elder sister of William Pulteney Dana, was the aunt and godmother of my 3rd great grandmother Charlotte Frances Dana.

She was born in London on 3 September 1768, third of thirteen children of the Reverend Edmund Dana and his wife Helen. Her eldest sister, given the same name, died in infancy the previous year. Her sister Elizabeth Caroline Dana, born in 1767, was the oldest surviving child of the ten siblings to survive infancy.

On 7 July 1793 Frances Johnstone Dana married Joseph Sherburn in Boston Massachusetts. Frances Dana’s father had been born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Frances, presumably, was visiting her relatives there.

Joseph Sherburne was born 1751 in Falmouth, Cornwall, England to Joseph Sherburn (c 1721 – 1763), captain of the packet “Hanover”. In 1767 Joseph Sherburn Jr aged 16 began a career in India with the East India Company rising to the rank of Senior Merchant. The 1788 India Calendar lists Joseph Sherburne as Collector of Beerbhoom & Bishenpore [Collector of taxes and Magistrate in West Bengal in present day Birbhum and Bishnapur]. In November 1788, however, after only eighteen months in office, he was recalled on suspicion of corruption.  This appears to have been unfounded, and Joseph Sherburne was again employed by the East India Company. In 1802 he was appointed Collector of Boglepore (present day Bhagalpur in Bihar north-east India).

Joseph and Frances Sherburne had two children, both baptised in Bhagalpur: a son Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne baptised on 16 December 1802, and a daughter Frances Henrietta Laura Sherburne baptised on 3 October 1803.

Joseph died on 15 July 1805. His death notice in the English Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser of 10 February 1806 stated he was late Judge Magistrate of Purneah and Senior Merchant on the Bengal Establishment now known as Purnia it was a district of the Baghalpur Division of Bengal) .Joseph died intestate and administration was given to his widow.

After the death of her husband, Frances returned to England with her children.

In 1813 Frances’s son Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne joined the army, as an ensign with South Hants Regiment Of Militia from 1813. On 27 July 1815, barely a month after the Battle of Waterloo, Volunteer Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne was commissioned as an Ensign (without purchase) in the First Regiment of Foot. [I will write about his career separately.] He died on 28 June 1831 as a Lieutenant in Berbice in present-day Guyana in the West Indies.

Miniature portrait of Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherburne

Frances’s daughter Frances Henrietta Laura Sherburne, seventeen years old, died on 8 November 1819 at Leyton, Essex (now a suburb of London, about five miles northeast of the City), and was buried there in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin. The churchyard, now in poor repair, once had an altar-tomb surmounted by an oval urn erected to the memory of Frances Sherburne, signed by Thomas Mocock of Leyton (presumably the mason). I do not know if it has survived.

In 1832 Frances Johnstone Sherburne died in Chelsea, London. She was also buried at Leyton.

Frances Johnstone Sherburne’s will dated 19 October 1831 has a detailed
list of bequests. To her god-daughter Charlotte Frances Dana she left

  • her large Bible
  • gold watch chain loop and seals complete
  • a real sable tippet
  • a pair of gold Hindustani earrings
  • amethyst broach set round with whole pearls
  • a pair of ??? clasps ??? in ??? set round with pearls
  • a white carnelian ??? Broach and a bracelets single row
  • two rings one with hair and small pearls the other with a Emerald and Ruby Gold Buckle with garnets for Both Garnet chain bracelets and earrings with Drops
  • Also the face of my sainted child Frances Henrietta Laura Sherbourne on no account to be parted with the miniature picture of my son Pulteney Johnstone Poole Sherbourne
  • Sandal wood work box fitted up with silver containing gold thimble in gold ??? ??? and ??? silver ??? basket and yard and Tortoiseshell window ??? hair chain
  • and two pair of bracelets to ??? Black cut bracelets and ??? to
    match with Black snaps cut coral earrings
  • Red morocco trinket box
  • A pair of plain B??? Earrings without drops
  • Tortoiseshell ??otting box
  • More’s Practical Piety 2 vols of Elegant Extracts in Prose and Verse More’s Sacred Dramas [Hannah More was an English writer, philanthropist and leading member of the Blue Stockings Society; Jane Austen mentioned Elegant Extracts in her novel Emma]
snippet from the will of Frances Johnstone Sherbourne with the bequest to her niece Charlotte Frances Dana – any transcription suggestions gratefully received

Other people mentioned in the will were her nieces Penelope Dana [Anna Penelope], Helen Kinnaird Dana, daughter of William Pulteney Dana; her niece Harriete Gibbons, daughter of her sister Helen Gordon Gibbons née Dana; her sister Gibbons; her sister Charlotte Dana [probably her sister in law, wife of William Pulteney Dana]; her sister Armstrong; her niece Frances Harriette Wood [daughter of her brother Charles Patrick Dana]; her nephew Charles Edmund Dana [son of Charles Patrick Dana]; her nephew Henry Edmund Dana [son of William Pulteney Dana]; her cousin the Honourable Lady Hope [Georgiana daughter of George Lord Kinnaird, her mother’s brother]; her daughter Eliza Hope; some friends and servants.

The family Bible came to my father from his grandfather Constantine Trent Champion de Crespigny. An inscription in the front describes how it was given to him in 1892 by his grandmother Charlotte Frances Champion Crespigny nee Dana (1820- 1904). An inscription above this reads:

The Gift of Mrs Frances Johnstone Sherborne to her niece and God-daughter Charlotte Frances Dana by her will –

My father also has the miniature of Frances’s son Pulteney Sherburne.

Frances Sherborne also gave her niece and god-daughter a small sandalwood box with a silver plaque engraved with a shield and a motto. The box is a family heirloom which was owned by my great aunt Nancy Movius née Champion de Crespigny and has since been passed to Nancy Movius’ grand-daughter. The heraldry on that box is described at my father’s post at A search for the arms of the Dana family.

The box left in her 1831 will by Frances Johnstone Sherbourne to her niece and god-daughter Charlotte Frances Dana and now in the possession of Charlotte’s 3rd great grand daughter; the 5th great niece of Frances.


  • Sherborn, Charles Davies (1901). A history of the family of Sherborn. Mitchell and Hughes, London. Page 184 retrieved through archive.org
  • East India Company List – A List of the Company’s Civil Servants, at their Settlements in the East-Indies; Reference Number: b22610911 retrieved through ancestry.com
  • Hunter, W. Wilson. (1868). The annals of rural Bengal. London: Smith, Elder. Pp 16-18. Retrieved through Hathitrust
  • The Asiatic annual register, or, A View of the history of Hindustan, and of the politics, commerce and literature of Asia. volume 4 (1802). p. 96. Retrieved through Hathitrust.
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India (1908), v. 20, p. 412. Retrieved through FIBIS
  • ‘Leyton: Churches’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, ed. W R Powell (London, 1973), pp. 214-223. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp214-223 . “An altar-tomb in the churchyard, surmounted by an oval urn, to Frances Sherburne (1819) is signed by Thomas Mocock of Leyton.”
  • The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1801 retrieved through ancestry.com
  • Asiatic Journal. Parbury, Allen, and Company. 1832. P.124. Death notice.
  • Ford, Susan Allen (2007). “Reading Elegant Extracts in Emma: Very Entertaining!” Persuasions on-Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol28no1/ford.htm.

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Bequests from Anna Penelope Wood

Among the papers of my great grandfather Constantine Trent Champion de Crespigny (1882 – 1952) donated to the State Library of South Australia by his daughter Charlotte de Crespigny is a letter of bequest, giving directions about the distribution of the writer’s belongings after her death.

The bulk of her possessions she leaves to her niece and goddaughter Ada Isidora Crespigny. She also mentions Ada’s sister Viola, Philip Crespigny, and various relatives, including her grandfather Edmund Dana.

Anna Penelope Wood née Dana 1814 – 1890 and her father, William Pulteney Dana 1776 – 1861 – photograph mentioned in the bequest and now in the collection of my father

The author was fourth great aunt Anna Penelope Wood née Dana (1814 –
1890). Anna had no children to receive her possessions automatically upon her death; her bequest is rather a considered working-out of who should get what, an insight into her opinion of the people she regarded as suitable recipients.

It is interesting that Anna was still so closely connected with her Australian relatives, for following the emigration of the family to Victoria in 1851, Charlotte Crespigny and her daughter Ada never returned to England and Anna did not travel to Australia. But it is clear that they stayed in correspondence. Anna sent a copy of “Two Years Before the Mast” to her sister Charlotte, for example.

abbreviated family tree; Anna had no children nor did 4 of Charlotte’s 5 Crespigny children: Ada, Constantine, Viola or Rose. Philip had six sons: Constantine Trent was his 2nd son.

The following directions I wish to be faithfully fulfilled after my death.

To my niece Ada Isidora Crespigny I bequeath my evening dresses, lace dress, scarves, shawls, my dressing case (once belonged to my Father) & all the Jewelry & ornaments which it contains (except the Diamond ring and the plain torquoise ring which I leave to Mrs Greenham & her daughter after her – To Ada I Crespigny I also leave my Gold watch and bracelets containing the miniatures of my Grandfather the Revd Edmund Dana, also the portrait of him hanging over the piano. My great grandfather Charles 6th Lord Kinnaird – his likeness is the one in the scarlet coat – my grandfather is dressed in a blue velvet coat – I also leave the said Ada my brooches containing the miniatures of my Grandfather the Revd Ed. Dana my great grandfather the Revd Dr Grueber Provost of Trinity College.


Dubin & My brother William Pulteney Dana, all the photographs of the Danas & George 6th Lord Kinnaird & George 9th Lord Kinnaird & of Queen Victoria also my photograph album, and other photos in cases and frames – all these family portraits I wish for Philip Crespigny and his sons to inherit after the death of Ada so that they and their descendants so that they may retain them in their family for ever. All my music books, work boxes & baskets all my fancy articles, I also bequeath to my niece and goddaughter Ada –

To Rose E Greenham I leave my amethyst brooch and bracelets my little fancy work bags and


Longfellows poems. To Edith ? Greenham I leave my Indian pebble bracelets, my red leather writing case – To Katherine Maltby I leave my amethyst earrings. To Viola Crespigny I leave my cameo bracelets, the likeness of her mother when a girl, & the little dog lying on a red cushion which she worked. Also to Ada Crespigny I leave the portraits of the Countess of Chesterfield (the Honble Anne Forester) – the photograph of her cousins grouped together – the portrait of our uncle Sir William Rowan Hamilton & the photograph of our cousin Mrs Rathbone & the one of myself and our father grouped together – To the said Ada I also leave all my books among which are Dana’s and Longfellows’ works. To Alice Gough I leave my Indian Cedar Wood Chest which stands in the Drawing Room


also a book called “The Land and the book” To Grahame Parry I leave my three Japanese China jars These are simple keepsakes to dear friends who have been kind to me – To my good and faithful Sidney Smith I leave my carbuncle ring Farrers Life of Christ & Picturesque Europe. To his brother Jasper I leave Capcis Family Bible for a keepsake. To Mary Ellen Jones I leave all my wearing apparel (except what I have left to Ada Crespigny) my sewing machine & all the odds and ends ?? ?? my clothing. I particularly desire that she will keep for her own use every thing that I have left to her. She is not to part with a single article. To my dear Wilfred I leave all the furniture books pictures plate ??? plate China House linen & whatever money or property I may possess on condition that he takes care of and provides fo as far as he is able Mary Ellen Jones & Catherine Wood as far as he is able as long as they live.

My father has some of the miniatures Anna mentions, for example the Reverend Edmund Dana and the Reverend Dr Grueber. He also has “the little dog lying on a red cushion which [Charlotte Frances] worked.” When I was a child this tapestry – later left to my grandfather Geoff CdeC by Viola’s younger sister Rose Beggs née Champion de Crespigny – hung in my bedroom.

Tapestry dog which we have now learned was worked by Charlotte Frances Champion Crespigny née Dana


  • State Library South Australia Records of Sir Trent de Crespigny Number ACC 2898

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Two Years Before the Mast

Among my great aunt Nancy’s books was a copy of “Two Years Before the  Mast” by Richard Henry Dana, a second edition, published in 1869. The  book, presented by Dana to Anna Penelope Wood née Dana (1814 – 1890),  was passed on to her sister Charlotte Frances Champion Crespigny née Dana (1820 – 1904), who was Nancy Movius’s grandmother and my third great grandmother. It is now in the possession of Nancy’s son.

The book is inscribed

Anna Penelope Dana Wood
From her
Affectionate Cousin
The Author
June 9th 1869

Underneath is a supplementary inscription:

CFC Crespigny
from her sister
Mrs Wood

A letter from Richard Henry Dana to his cousin is kept with the book

Boston May 25 1869

My dear Cousin

I have asked my English publisher to send you a copy of the second
edition of my narrative, to which I have added a revisit to the old
Scenes. I pray accept it from me as a passing* proof of my affection.

Yours faithfully

Rich H Dana Jr

Mrs A Penelope Wood

* ? not clearly decipherable

Richard Henry Dana junior was born in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1815. His father Richard Henry Dana senior (1787 – 1879) was a lawyer but seldom practiced law, instead writing poetry and criticism. Richard Henry Dana senior was the son of noted lawyer Francis Dana and the grandson of Richard Dana, also a prominent lawyer.

Richard Henry Dana junior was educated first by a strict schoolmaster, regarded by many as an excessively harsh disciplinarian. In his later school years Dana was taught in a school run by the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dana then went to Harvard College but contracted measles, which led to inflammation of his eyes, forcing him to take a break from his studies.

Dana signed on the brig ‘Pilgrim‘ in 1834. His first passage was from
Boston to California around Cape Horn. He returned two years later on
the ship ‘Alert‘, which rounded the Horn in the middle of an Antarctic
winter. On this journey Dana suffered from scurvy and was forced to bear
the pain of an infected tooth.

In Boston Dana resumed his legal studies, graduated in 1837, and was
admitted to the Bar in 1840. He had kept a diary during his voyages and this formed the basis of his memoir, Two Years Before the Mast, which he published in 1840. The title refers to the quarters of ordinary seamen, which were in the often wet and uncomfortable forward part of the boat.

Dana published a second edition in 1869 with an appendix giving details of his return visit to California in 1859. It is a copy of this edition which he presented to his second cousin, my fourth great aunt, Anna  Penelope Wood.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. c 1870 photographed by George Kendall Warren. Image in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Richard Henry Dana junior had met Anna, her father and her husband on a trip to England in 1856. He stayed with Anna and her husband in  Shrewsbury. [My post ‘S is for Shrewsbury‘ includes some extracts from his diary entries from that visit.]

abbreviated family tree showing Richard Dana and three of his great grandchildren: Anna, Charlotte and Richard Henry Dana junior

It appears that Richard Henry Dana asked his English publishers to send Mrs Wood a copy of the book, with an inscription on his behalf, and to include his personal letter. The handwriting of the inscription is not the same as that of the letter, and was presumably that of a member of the publishing house Sampson Low & Co. The supplementary inscription is in the handwriting of Charlotte Frances Champion Crespigny née Dana (1820-1904), younger sister of Anna Penelope Dana Wood.

It seems that Anna Penelope passed the book to her sister, who added the note concerning its provenance. The book was later passed to Charlotte Frances’s grandson Constantine Trent CdeC (1882-1952) and then to his daughter Nancy Movius née CdeC (1910-2003). It is now back in Boston / Cambridge, where the work was first composed having travelled around the world from England via Australia.

The book can now be read online, for example through Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2055/2055-h/2055-h.htm

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The American Revolution: my Dana connection

Our house in Ballarat is two blocks from Dana street, named after Henry Edmund Pulteney Dana (1820-1852), commander of the native police corps in Victoria, who was responsible for collecting the first gold licence fees in Ballarat in 1851. Henry Dana was the brother of my third great grandmother Charlotte Champion Crespigny née Dana; he was my fourth great uncle.

The Dana family is a notable American family, and when in 1989 Greg and I spent a few days in Massachusetts, we visited some places there connected with my Dana forebears.

This was through the kindness of my great aunt Nancy Movius née Champion de Crespigny (1910 – 2003), sister of my paternal grandfather. Nancy, born in Australia, had married an American and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My great aunt Nancy, her dachshund Cobber and me being licked on the nose. Cobber means friend or mate in Australian English and Cobber the dachshund was indeed a very dear friend.

Some of our Dana forebears lived in this area, from as early as 1640. Nancy shared my interest in our family history, and during our visit she drove us to the nearby town of Concord, where, it is said, “the shot heard round the world”, the first shot of the American Revolutionary War, rang out on 19 April 1775. 

Actually, there is some dispute as to whether the first shot of the Revolution was fired in Lexington or in Concord.  In the centenary celebrations of the beginning of the Revolution at Lexington on 19 April 1875, Richard Henry Dana (1815 – 1882 my second cousin five times removed) claimed that “the first shots fired back by our troops at theirs” were fired on the Green at Lexington.

The battle of Lexington, April 19th. 1775. Plate I.” In: “The Doolittle engravings of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.” The first of four engravings by Amos Doolittle from 1775. Doolittle visited the battle sites and interviewed soldiers and witnesses. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

As they neared Lexington, the report came to them that some five hundred men were under arms; and I am not disinclined to reconcile their testimony with the facts, by the consideration that they heard the roll of our drums, and perhaps saw the flash or heard the report of our signal-guns, intended to call our men together, and thought them a defiance ; and perhaps officers in the centre or rear might have thought them hostile shots. But the front knew they had not been fired upon, and saw the short, thin line of sixty men with arms at rest. Pitcairn, when he rode up to them, and ordered them to surrender their arms and disperse, knew they had not fired. He was not the man to talk after hostile shots. Pitcairn has had the fate which befalls many men who carry out orders that afterwards prove fatally ill-judged. When he ordered our men to surrender their arms and disperse, he was executing the orders of his commander-in-chief and of his King. If Britain was in the right, Pitcairn was in the right. Twice they were ordered to surrender their arms and disperse; and twice they refused to obey, and stood their ground. Then came the fatal fire; and why not? General Gage had been authorized to use the troops for this very purpose. He was authorized to fire upon the people, if necessary to enforce the new laws, without waiting for the civil magistrate. He had resolved to do so. Had that volley subdued the resistance of Massachusetts, Pitcairn would have been the hero of the drama. Was he to leave a military array behind him, and not attempt to disarm and disband them? If they refused, was he to give it up? I have never thought it just or generous to throw upon the brave, rough soldier, who fell while mounting the breastworks at Bunker Hill, the fault which lay on the King, the Parliament, the Ministry, and the commander-in-chief. The truth is, the issue was inevitable. The first force of that kind which the King’s troops found in martial array was to be disarmed and disbanded; and, if they refused to obey, they were to be fired upon. Both sides knew this, and were prepared for it.

Hudson, Charles & Lexington Historical Society (Mass.) (1913). History of the town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1868. Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin company. pp. 284-5 retrieved from archive.org
The Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775, Oil on canvas by William Barns Wollen, 1910. National Army Museum, London. Retrieved through Wikimedia Commons.

I have a further Dana connection to the beginning Revolutionary War.

One of Richard Henry Dana’s cousins (and my first cousin seven times removed) was George Dana (1742 – 1787), a Sergeant in Captain Jonathon Gates’ Company of Minutemen, which marched from Ashburnham on the Lexington Alarm of 19 April 1775.

The Lexington Minuteman. Photograph by user Daderot CC BY-SA 3.0 retrieved from Wikimedia Commons


  • Edward Tabor Linenthal (1991). Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields. University of Illinois Press. p. 36.
  • Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (1956). The Dana Family in America. Wright & Potter Printing Company, 32 Derne Street, Boston. p. 482.
  • Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War volume 4 page 388 retrieved through ancestry.com
  • Stearns, Ezra S (1887). History of Ashburnham, Massachusetts, from the grant of Dorchester Canada to the present time, 1734-1886 : with a genealogical register of Ashburnham families. Pub. by the town, Ashburnham, Mass. pp 139 – 145 – retrieved through Hathitrust and p. 674 retrieved through Hathitrust

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George III: my part in his downfall

Tomorrow, 4 July, is Independence Day in the United States. I am proud to say that I have a family connection to the events it celebrates.

My eighth great grandfather Richard Dana, born in England – quite possibly in Manchester – in 1617, crossed the Atlantic about 1640 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Around 1648 he married an American girl named Anne Bullard (1626 – 1711), who was born in Massachusetts. Between 1649 and 1670 they had eleven children. I am descended from Richard’s son Daniel (1663 – 1749) and grandson Richard (1700 – 1772).

My sixth great grandfather Richard Dana appears to have been the first of the family to graduate from a university – Harvard. He became a notable lawyer and politician, a magistrate, and a leading figure in the agitation against British imperial government. He was a founding member the Sons of Liberty, and led Massachusetts opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765.

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt. Engraving by Paul Revere. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Richard Dana served as a member of the committee that investigated the Boston Massacre in 1770.

I have written several times about Richard’s oldest son, my 5th great grandfather Edmund Dana (1739 – 1823).  As a young man he travelled to Edinburgh to study. He married in Edinburgh in 1765 and became a clergyman in England with the support of his wife’s family. He did not return to America

On July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies claimed independence from England, an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each year on Independence Day, the fourth of July, Americans celebrate this historic event.

Edmund Dana’s brother Francis (1743-1811) has a prominent place in this period of American history. In 1773 he married Elizabeth (1751 – 1807), daughter of William Ellery, who became one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

John Trumbull’s 1819 painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee presenting the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Among those depicted is William Ellery. The image can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill designed in 1976. The original painting hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.

Francis Dana became a leading lawyer and a close associate of George Washington. In 1775 the Continental Congress sent Francis Dana to England in an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the differences leading to the Revolutionary War. He returned the following year and reported to General Washington that a friendly settlement of the dispute was impossible. Dana’s opinion helped influence the adoption of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. He was elected a delegate to the Second Continental Congress on 10 December 1776, where he signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778. He was sent as Ambassador to Russia in 1780. The future President John Quincy Adams served as his secretary. Again a member of Congress in 1784 and a leader of the Federalist Party, Francis Dana later joined the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, where he served as Chief Justice from 1791 to 1806.

Some of the signatures on the Articles of Confederation including Francis Dana who was one of six who signed on behalf of Massachusetts Bay and Francis’s father in law William Ellery who was one of three who signed on behalf of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. John Hancock also signed on behalf of Massachusetts; Hancock is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence, so much so that the term “John Hancock” has become a synonym in the United States for signature.


with apologies to Spike Milligan

  • Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (1956). The Dana Family in America. Wright & Potter Printing Company, 32 Derne Street, Boston

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