Surname Saturday - Whitney

I've recently been trying to expand my family research into the Whitney line, which is on the paternal side of my family tree. I wish I'd focused on this line sooner, because it's taken me quite far back into my family history and I've found some very interesting new ancestors. So, I decided I'd throw a spotlight on the Whitney name for this weeks' Surname Saturday.

The surname of Whitney was originally a place name. The family takes its name from Whitney parish located in County Hereford (Herefordshire) in England. It's located on the extreme western border adjoining Wales and the river Wye travels through it. The name Whitney may also be derived from the Anglo-Saxon hwit, meaning white, and ey, meaning water. Before surnames, early landowners of Whitney were Eustace, or Baldwin, or Robert de Whitney--de meaning of. It was often spelled Wytteneye. Over the course of a few centuries, however, the de was dropped and an h was added and the most common spelling became Whitney. The name can be traced back to the year 1086 to one Eustace of Whitney.

The Whitney family has a strong history in England. One Sir Robert Whitney was knighted before Queen Mary after her coronation in 1553. Sir Eustace de Whitney was knighted by Edward I in 1306. Sir Robert Whitney was knight marshal in the court of Richard the II. His son Robert was granted Clifford Castle by Henry IV. And there were two Whitney ancestors who descended from William the Conqueror. Not to mention my 14th great grandfather, Robert Whitney (there were a lot of Roberts!), who was nominated Knight of the Bath by Henry VIII at the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1531.

That's a lot of cool English history right there. But I'm going to focus on the first Whitney in my family tree to reach America, which was my paternal 10th great grandfather, John Whitney. It's fascinating to me that someone with such strong ties to England and a remarkable lineage decided to make his way to America so long ago.

John Whitney Watertown Massachusetts 1635 - Ancestry Chick

John was born in Isleworth, Borough of Hounslow, in west London, England on July 20, 1588. He was the son of Thomas Whitney/Whytney and Mary (Bray) Whitney. John became a member of the Merchant Tailors' Company in 1614 and married Ellinor (maiden name unknown) soon after. In April or May of 1635, John, Ellinor and five children embarked from London on the Elizabeth and Ann for Massachusetts Colony in America. Those children were John, Richard, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Jonathan. The family arrived at Watertown, Massachusetts in June of that year. John was admitted freeman in 1635/36 and appointed Constable in 1641. By 1642, John had 198 acres of land, and was town clerk by 1655. He and Ellinor had three more children, born at Watertown: Joshua, Caleb, and Benjamin. John is considered one of the founders of Watertown, Massachusetts. He is recognized on the Watertown Founders Memorial there.

Watertown Founders Memorial

John Whitney Watertown Founders Memorial

Watertown was one of the first Massachusetts Bay Colony settlements, organized by Puritans in the year 1630. In 1632 the residents of Watertown protested against being forced to pay a tax "for the erection of a stockade fort at Cambridge; this was the first protest in America against taxation without representation and led to the establishment of representative democracy in the colony." [Chisholm, Hugh (1911). The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Encyclopædia Britannica Company. p. 411]

Watertown Founders Memorial 2

Ellinor Whitney died before her husband, passing in 1659. John later remarried to Judith Clement, who also preceded him in death. John lived to the age of 84, dying on June 1st, 1673. He is buried in the 'Old Burying Place' cemetery in Watertown.

Learning about John Whitney and his history was an interesting starting point for me, but I have much more to learn about the Whitney line of my family and its roots in England.