The Bearse Surname
The origin of the Bearse surname is unknown, although
its earliest known form is said to be BeArce. Legend says that the first Bearse
in the line Augustine Bearse was a gypsy. Whether the name is of Romany (gypsy)
extraction is unknown at this time.
Bearse has been spelled various ways through the years
The first Bearse in the line was Augustine Bearse, also
known as Austin Bearse. What we know for sure about Augustine Bearse is that
at age 20 he arrived at Plymouth from Southampton, England on April 24, 1638
aboard the "Confidence". After a short time in Plymouth proper, he moved to
Barnstable (Cape Cod) with the first company in 1639.
In 1643 he was the first to join the church of Rev.
John Lothrop which had moved to Barnstable after a dispute over infant baptism,
which the Lothrop Church supported. In 1652 Bearse was admitted a freeman.
It is said that he was one of the few residents against whom no complaints
were ever filed. He was a farmer, but in his civic role he served as surveyor
of highways in 1674. He was still living in 1686 but had died by 1697.
Augustine Bearse was said to be a very pious man as shown by the following
excerpt from GENEALOGICAL NOTES OF BARNSTABLE FAMILIES:
He appears to have been very exact in the performance of his religious
duties, causing his children to be baptized on the Sabbath following the day
of their birth. His son Joseph was born on Sunday, Jan'y 25, 1651, O. S.,
and was carried two miles to the church and baptized the same day. . . .Now
such an act would be pronounced unnecessary and cruel.
The Bearse name survives on
Cape Cod to this day in the short unpaved road near his former homesite in
Eastham known as "Barss Lane". In the photo nearby the author stands
next to a utility pole with a sign marking Bearse's namesake street.
The Bearse Legend Controversies
Augustine Bearse is controversial in genealogy circles because of a document
entitled "From Out of the Past--Who Our
Forefathers Really Were, a True Narrative of our White and Indian Ancestors"
filed in the 1930's by Franklin Ele-watum Bearse, a Scaticoke and Eastern
Indian, in an attempt to obtain benefits as an Indian from the State of Connecticut.
Mr. Bearse's claims are analyzed in a article by Donald Lines Jacobus
entitled "Austin Bearse and His Alleged Indian Connections" in THE AMERICAN
GENEALOGIST published about 1936.
According to this document based on family legend based on a diary which
no longer exists by Zerviah Newcombe Augustine's daughter-in-law and passed
down through Franklin Bearse's family, Augustine Bearse was a gypsy who was
expelled from England and put on the ship to the New World. Once at Plymouth,
the single Bearse was shunned by the English women because of his ancestry.
As a result he married a Wampanoag Indian woman named Mary Hyanno, the daughter
of John Hyanno, and granddaughter of Iyannough, the sachem of the Mattachee
village of Wampanoags of Cape Cod. Mary Hyanno is said to have been of fair
complexion and red hair. The Wampanoags were often referred to as "white Indians"
due to their light skin and are believed to have descended from Viking explorers.
John Hyanno's mother is said to have been a princess of the Narragansett tribe
and the daughter of Canonicus who was a sachem of some renown. Canonicus along
with one Miantonomi were the two principals in deeding over what is now called
Rhode Island to Roger Williams.
There is no proof of Bearse's gypsy ancestry. However,
Jacobus' assertion that
To suppose that a Gypsy, a deported criminal, and the husband of
an Indian, would have enjoyed such standing in a Puritan community is absurd
perhaps betrays more than a touch of modern-day prejudice.
Among librarians at the Library of Congress, Jacobus
is known as an author for hire. A librarian told one Bearse researcher that
Jacobus wrote so many books each year that he could not have done much research.
In one instance he was hired by a town to compile the records they provided.
Wealthy people paid to be in the book and provided the details. Of course,
they were selective in what they included and omitted. The poor and non-prominent
were not included.
Neither is there any record of his marriage to Mary
Hyanno. In fact there is no record at all of his marriage. All we know is
that he was married to a woman named Mary. Some have identified her as Mary
Wilder, who traveled on the same ship as Augustine to the New World. A careful
review of the records, however, shows that Mary Wilder was married to another
man at the time Bearse and his Mary were having children of their own.
Mr. Jacobus' article remains the "gold standard"
in the Bearse-Hyanno controversy. Mr. Jacobus was a stickler for using only
written records as genealogical proof, but in this statement quoted above
he went beyond the written record by calling upon circumstantial evidence
(and hearsay at that!). In so doing he "opened the door", as the
lawyers say, so as to permit us to rebut his case with circumstantial evidence
of our own.
The possibility that Augustine was a gypsy of the Rom
tribe and that he married an Indian woman cannot be so lightly dismissed.
Those possibilities are supported by several pieces of circumstantial evidence.
- The surname in the form "BeArce" is unusual for a British name; whether
it is of Romany origin remains to be seen.
- Augustine's acceptance into Plymouth society is not unexpected even if
he were a Rom. In those days when it was not clear that the colony would
survive, reliability as a productive member of the community was more important
than circumstances of birth. The Pilgrims needed every hand they could find.
Attitudes of racial and social superiority are attributes of a secure societies,
not those in the survival mode. It is all too easy to project modern attitudes
back onto earlier generations, but history tells us in Virginia, for example,
that racial attitudes did not begin to form until 100 years after the settlement
of Jamestown and that severe racial discrimination did not occur until over
200 years later.
- The acceptance of Augustine's wife and children into Plymouth society
is also not unexpected even if she were an Indian. In the earliest days
of Plymouth, the settlers had good relations with the Indians as the story
of Squanto and Thanksgiving testifies. Indians were seen as citizens of
another nation (that's why the daughters of the chiefs were often referred
to as "Princess") and not a savages to be exterminated . That
came later with King Philip's War in the late 1600's. Intermarriage with
people from other nations was an accepted political device in the Europe
of the era. Marriage to an Indian would have provided access to food sources
and would have promoted peace. One need only point to the marriage of John
Rolfe and Pocahontas, which was approved, and even encouraged, by the Crown,
as evidence of this. Another factor that might have promoted acceptance
of a Mary Hyanno into Plymouth society was that she was said to be light-skinned
and red haired. Some believe that her tribe the Wampanoag were descendants
of earlier Viking settlers. And if there was any prejudice against Indians,
who better than a Rom to marry one and bring peace to the colony? It may
have in fact been his ticket to respectability.
- Augustine's settlement at the "frontier" area of Barnstable
may point to an immigrant who started at the bottom of society and worked
his way up. Throughout the history of North America, immigrants without
resources settled on the frontier where land was cheap and where a live-and-let-live
attitude prevailed. This is the pattern followed by the Scotch-Irish in
the 18th Century.
- Augustine's settlement at Barnstable on Cape Code placed him in the midst
of the Wampanoag villages. Until recent times men usually married a local
woman, and there were few English settlers in the area at the time. Even
without prejudice against the Rom, Augustine's marriage prospects would
have been primarily among the Indian women.
- Augustine's seeming easy accession of large amounts of land Cape Code
from the Wampanoag seems to indicate a special relationship with them. If
he had married the granddaughter of a sachem, he would have been favored
in that way.
- Augustine's exemplary record as a citizen and unusual piety as a member
of the church could have been part of a supreme effort by an outsider to
fit into English society at Barnstable. One writer states that upon the
birth of a child on a Saturday Augustine walked a long distance to have
it baptized in church on Sunday when custom would have permitted him to
wait until the next Sunday.
- George F. Williams's in "Saints and Strangers" (page 408; Time
Inc. edition, 1964) states that Mr. Lothop, the minister of the church that
Augustine joined in Barstable, preached a very liberal doctrine and accepted
anyone willing to profess faith in God and promise to keep the Ten Commandments.
- The absence of a marriage record in a colony which kept very good marriage
records might indicate a marriage outside the English system, and Bearse
and Hyanno were supposedly married in an Indian ceremony at Barnstable.
- The ratio of English men to women was large in the colony, though almost
all men were said to be married. That leads one to wonder where the extra
women came from if not from the Indians. Indian marriages were very common
in Virginia as evidenced by the Pocahontas and John Rolfe union.
- The Bearse-Hyanno story is a peculiar one for Franklin Bearse to have
invented. After almost 300 years it would have been unusual for him even
to have known the name Augustine Bearse unless he was a very serious genealogist.
Further, as someone who had other more easily proven Indian ancestors, he
did not have had to rely upon descendance from Mary Hyanno and Augustine
Bearse to support his application. Why would he tell a 300 year old story
when he could more easily relate stories about his parents or grandparents?
- Indian heritage was usually hidden in shame by white Americans in later
generations, and many Indians hid it in fear of the consequences.
There is accumulating evidence that the Mary Hyanno legend is extant in several
branches of the Bearse family independent of the Franklin Ele-watum Bearse
story. Following are only three of those.
- A Bearse descendant on Cape Cod recently indicated that the Hyanno legend
was in her branch of the family also. She also ran across it in another
branch of the Bearse family with which she had had no previous contact.
Unless they were genealogists who had read the Jacobus article, this appears
to be independent confirmation of the legend. Similar stories have been
collected from other Bearse descendants from Cape Cod.
- "I have actually traced my Bearce connection from Briggs to Tinkham
to Fish to Bearse through Joseph (1st)...and my Briggs of course -(who spoke
proudly of their Indian heritage an Indian Princesses."
- A Bearse descendant whose family emigrated to Australia some time in the
mid-1800's stated, "In the family the story has been told over some
years of a connection to the Indian race but until recently it was assumed
that Indian was related to India, not North American Indian."
Jacobus tears the Franklin Bearse claim apart for containing
seemingly provable inaccuracies. However, no legend is accurate in every detail,
and they often contain grains of truth.
Connection to the Presidents Bush
Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are
descendants of Augustine Bearse as follows:
- George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States m. Laura Welch
- George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States m. Barbara Pierce
- Sen. Prescott Sheldon Bush m. Dorothy Walker
- George Herbert Walker m. Lucretia Wear
- David Davis Walker m. Martha Adela Beaky
- Joseph Ambrose Beaky m. Mary Ann Bangs
- Elijah Keeler Bangs m. Esther Stackhouse
- Lemuel Bangs m. Rebecca Keeler
- Joseph Bangs m. Thankful Hamblen
- Ebenezer Hamblen m. Thankful LKU
- John Hamblin m. Sarah Bearse
- Augustine Bearse m. Mary (Hyanno?)
My Bearse Line
- M. Lee Murrah
- Ina Gertrude Johnson m. Earvin Elroy Murrah
- Florence Ophelia Largent and Franklin John Johnson
- Malcom David Largent and Eliza Azalee Spears
- Thomas Wayne Largent and Talitha Maria Freeman
- David Barss Freeman and Talitha T. Thompson
- James Freeman and Hannah Barss
- David Barss and Rebecca Gammon
- Benjamin Bearse II and Jane Collins
- Benjamin Bearse I and Sarah Cobb
- Joseph Bearse and Martha Taylor
- Augustine BeArce and Mary (Hyanno?)
Other Bearse Internet Resources
- Otis, Genealogical Notes of Barnstable Families.
- Jacobus, Donald L., "Austin Bearse and His Alleged Indian
Connections", The American Genealogist
Updates to Bearse Family Information
The above information is based on the best sources currently
available to the author and is subject to correction. If you have information
that is different or additional to that shown above, I would like to receive
it. Please contact me by e-mail and mention this web
page in your message.
MLM: 25 Jan 2000
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