DENISON GENEALOGIES.CAPT. GEORGE DENISON
CAPT. GEORGE DENISON, emigrant, the head of the clan whose family records are given in this genealogy, came over to this country in the good ship Lion, with his father, William Denison, his brothers Daniel and Edward, and Rev. John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians. George was at this time thirteen years of age, and, doubtless, received much of his mental and moral training from Mr. Eliot, who was tutor in his father's family. William Denison was a merchant, and from the fact that he employed a tutor in his family, it is inferred that he must have been a man of considerable means. He was a deacon in the First Church in Roxbury, Conn., a man of liberal education, and of large influence in the colony. His wife did not come to this country until 1632, and did not unite with the Church until some years later.
William Denison built a house in Roxbury, and it remains until this day in good preservation. He died there, Jan.25, 1653, an old man. She died there Feb. 23,1645.
George Denison began his adult life in Roxbury, and at the age of 22 married Bridget Thompson in 1640. She was the daughter of John Thompson, gentleman, of Preston, Northamptonshire, England, whose widow, Alice, had come to America, and was living in Roxbury. We find quite widely distributed among the descendants a courtship letter in verse, addressed by our ancestor to Miss Bridget Thompson, who seems to have been his first flame. We make room for it, not only as an interesting relic of the olden time, and a sample of the methods of courtship in 1640, but to correct a little romance, invented by one of his descendants, which alleges that he was betrothed to Ann Borodell before he came to this country, and hastened back to her immediately upon the death of his first wife.
There is no evidence of this, but much to the contrary. He was but thirteen when he emigrated, and probably never heard of Ann Borodell until he was carried a wounded soldier to her father's house, John Borodell, of Cork, Ireland (who was then living in England), where Ann became his nurse, and afterward his wife. Whatever we may think of the literary merit of these verses, they seem to have prevailed with Miss Bridget :
Capt. George Denison's Courtship Letter To
It is an ordinance, my dear, divine,
Which God unto the sons of men makes shine,
Even marriage, to that whereof I speak,
And unto you therein my mind I break.
In Paradise, oft Adam God did tell
To be alone for man would not be well;
He in his wisdom, therefore, thought it right
To bring a woman into Adam's sight.
A helper that for him might be most meet,
To comfort him by her doing discreet.
I of that stock am sprung-I mean from him
And also of that tree I am a limb.
A branch, tho' young, yet I do think it good
That God's great vow by man be not withstood;
Alone I am, a helper I would find,
That might give satisfaction to my mind.
The party that doth satisfy the same
Is Miss Bridget Thompson by her name;
God having drawn my affections unto thee,
My heart's desire is that thine may be to me.
This, with my blottings - tho' they trouble you,
Yet pass them by, because I know not how
Though they at this time should much better be,
For love it is that first has been to thee.
And I would wish that they much better were;
Therefore, I pray, accept them as they are;
So hoping my desire I shall obtain,
Your own true love,
A.D. 1640. George Denison, by name.
After three years of wedded life, Bridget died, leaving two daughters, Sarah and Hannah, who lived to be the heads of families in Stonington. Very soon after her death he returned to England, enlisted under Cromwell in the army of the Parliament, won distinction, was wounded at Naseby, was nursed at the house of John Borodell by his daughter Ann, which led to his marriage with her, and his early return to Roxbury, where he was chosen captain, and was called "a young soldier lately come out of the wars in England." He is said to have had one son, John, born July 14, 1640, when he came to Roxbury the second time, which would make his absence about three years. He did not long content himself with the quiet life in Roxbury. His daughter Ann had been born to him in that place, May 20, 1649. In 1651, he left Roxbury with his wife and four children for the Pequot settlement upon the west bank of the Thames, now New London. Here he had a house and lot given him by the town, which he occupied until 1654, when he sold out, went to Stonington, and settled on the land, a part of which has been in the possession of his descendants until the present generation, a tract of some five hundred acres in all, lying east of Pequotsop brook. His homestead place was bounded on the west by John Stanton's farm, now mainly owned by Joseph S. Williams; on the south by the Mason highway, which, with slight variations, is the road from Mystic Bridge to the Road Church, eastward to Palmer hill, and then by Amos Richardson's land, easterly by Richardson's land and the town lots, and westerly by said lots and lands of Capt. John Gallup.
The first house was probably a log house, which only served a temporary purpose, and was removed in Captain Denison's lifetime to make room for his mansion house. This was located in the northwest corner of his tract, a few feet west of the present dwelling of the Misses Sarah and Phebe M. Denison
The spot was undoubtedly selected, with the eye of a military leader, for the purpose of defense against Indians, who were then numerous and disputed possession of the country with the English.
There is no other spot so eligible for the purpose of defense in the neighborhood.
The house stood upon the southern slope of a narrow plot of ground about twenty-five rods long, buttressed with steep ledges on every side. This acre of ground, more or less, elevated from twenty to thirty feet above the surrounding ravines, and stockaded, was impregnable against any force the Indians could muster. There was a stone fort inside of the stockade near the house, and the remains of the old wall are still pointed out.
It was removed about a hundred years ago by those who had slight appreciation of the value of historical monuments. The stones are still visible in the walls near the house. The location is a pleasant one, standing high above the adjacent fields and looking out southward over a broad tract of intervale, once probably cultivated by the aborigines, and now lying in meadow, the best part of the neighboring farms.
In this direction you get glimpses of the Mystic River and the Sound, with Fisher's Island and Long Island in the distance. To the west lies Pequod hill, once crowned with an Indian fort, and the scene of the terrible slaughter under Capt. John Mason. To the north lies Quocataug, with the Mystic valley on the left, stretching away toward Lantern hill-a scene of rural beauty not easily matched in the county. The land has many ledges, with loose well rounded boulders upon the top, left in the ice period, geologists tell us, and ground into their present form by the moving glaciers. It is still hard land, even for Stonington, with rough pastures which the plow has never broken and probably never will. There are, however, smooth fertile acres between. Emigrants had been here five years before Captain Denison, to spy out the land, and the best locations had already been appropriated.
The mansion house which he erected could not have been a very imposing or substantial structure, for it was removed by his grandson George, son of William, about the year of 1724. Tradition affirms that George, eldest son of George and Lucy Gallup Denison, was the first child born in the new house. The records fix the date of his birth July 9, 1725, and that of his next older sister, Mary, July 14, 1724. This would make the age of the present structure 160 years, in the present year 1884. Upon this spot seven generations of the Denison family have been born. William2 was probably born in the log house ; his son, George,3 was born in the mansion house ; his son, George,4 Oliver,5 Ohiver,6 Edgar,7 and his children. The present farm of 250 acres remained undivided from George3 until the death of the sixth owner, Oliver,6 in the year 1873, a period of two hundred and twenty years from the settlement. About fifty acres, including the house and outbuildings, were deeded to his daughters, Sarah and Phebe, and the rest of the land divided among the other heirs. It is quite rare in this country to find a farm that has been held in the same family by inheritance for seven generations.
Perched on this ledge of rocks, like a baron in his castle, Captain Denison had a commanding influence among his townsmen for forty years, was their trusted military leader in forays against the Indians, and their frequent representative at the General Court at Hartford. He had great executive ability, and managed well the public trusts committed to him, and his own private affairs. He not only lived and raised a numerous family from these rude acres, but accumulated, for those times, a large estate. Numerous tracts of land were given to him by the authorities, for his military service principally, so that at the time of his death he owned several thousand acres of land in Stonington, in Norwich and Windham, and in the State of Rhode Island. This laid the foundation of comfortable homes for his children and their descendants for several generations, and retained nearly all of them within easy reach of the ancestral homestead for a hundred years after his death.
His sons and his daughters, with the exception of Margaret, who went to Swanzey, Mass., all remained in Stonington, or in adjoining towns. Of his eleven grandsons four remained in Stonington, two in Westerly, R. I., one in North Stonington, one in Montville, one in New London, and two in Saybrook. Nearly all were quite large landholders and men of influence in their respective towns.
It is a little remarkable that none of the sons or grandsons, with a single exception, obtained the good old age of the emigrants. Capt. Denison died at the age of 76, and his wife, Ann Borodell, at 97, which shows that our emigrant ancestors were favored with unusual physical vigor. Of their three sons, John died at 52, and George and William at 59. William only survived his mother a year and a half. The grandsons died at the ages of 30, 37, 38, 40, 43, 46, 55, 64, 67, 86. This last was George, the son of William, who lived at Pequotsop, and removed the mansion house to make room for the present more spacious dwelling. The hardships of the wilderness will hardly account for this diminution of vital force in the second and third generations. They were almost all cut off in the midst of life; and they had fewer difficulties and less exposure than the emigrants. It is not improbable that the products of the orchards they planted and the barley they harvested, when manufactured into alcoholic beverages, proved more perilous to life than struggles with the primitive forest and the Indians.
Later generations seem to have recovered the vigor of the founders of the clan, and give us a long list of persons who passed their three-score years and ten. There is food for profitable reflection in these statistics.
There is a solitary entry upon the records of the First Church of Stonington, under date of August 24, 1684 : "Capt. Denison was took into full communion," which shows that his mind had not been much occupied with religious things until late in life. The name of his wife appears among the communicants at the organization of the church, ten years earlier.
His active military life, and the clearing of the wilderness had not favored religious culture. His will, made ten years later, shows a very positive religious character, and a warm appreciation of his pastor, Rev. James Noyes, and of "the well bringing up and educating his grandchildren in religion and good learning."
The selection of the youngest son to be the principal heir, and to take the homestead, is probably a practical protest against the aristocratic usage of the mother country, which makes the eldest the favorite.
William, the youngest son of Capt. Denison, takes the homestead and cares for his widowed mother. The youngest sons of John, George, and William also inherit the homestead of the respective fathers.
The descendants of Capt. Denison began to swarm from the hive in the fourth generation, and are now to be found in almost all States of the Union, and in Nova Scotia and Canada. Capt. Robert Denison, son of Robert, of Mohegan, was of the fourth generation, settled in Nova Scotia, and has a numerous and highly respectable posterity in that province.
Robert Denison, of the fifth generation, son of Daniel, emigrated to Knox, N. Y., and from there two of his sons and three of his daughters went to Napanee, Ontario, Canada, and became the founders of the Canada branch of the family. There was a large emigration, quite early, to Vermont and border towns in Massachusetts, and about the same time or a little later, to New York and Pennsylvania. Thence they have spread westward, to Ohio and the Northwestern States, across the continent to California and Oregon. Only a few have reported from the Southern States.
The intermarriage of Capt. Denison's daughters and grand-daughters with the Palmers, Cheseboros, Stantons, Williamses, Billingses, Browns, and Babcocks, gives him a very numerous posterity in Stonington and vicinity. Nearly half the people of the town can trace their lineage back to Capt. Denison It is only incidentally that we have traced the descendants of the Denison women beyond their own children. If this were to be done, down to the present generation, it would make another volume as large as the present. If this should ever happen, it will be undertaken by some person who has faint conception of the patience and labor it involves.
Of his wife, Ann Borodell, daughter of John Borodell, of Cork, Ireland, it is agreed by all the traditions that have come down to us in the several branches of her descendants, that she was remarkable for her fine personal appearance and lady-like manners. On account of these qualities she was commonly called "Lady Ann," which was a much higher compliment than to have inherited the title. This has been claimed for her, but without authority. In some branches of the family there are fine samples of embroidery, which show her skill in needle-work. The widow of the late Isaac D. Miner, of Mystic Bridge, Conn., has one of these samples with an authentic record handed down through seven generations. It is still in good preservation.
Mrs. Charles T. Stanton, of Stonington, has a case of drawers, once her property, and given by her to her daughter, Borodell, who married Samuel Stanton. There are other relics of Lady Ann at the old homestead where she once ruled. She had a brother John Borodell, who came to this country and settled; also a sister Margaret, who married a Shepherd, and for whom her daughter Margaret was probably named. This sister had descendants, one of whom married a Wheeler; and Joseph Noyes, who married Zurviah Wheeler, has a descendant of Margaret Borodell Shepherd for his wife. Ann Borodell must have been well born, for she lived amid the hardships of pioneer life to the remarkable age of 97. The remains were disinterred some twenty years ago and removed from the old burying-ground, at the foot of Denison Street, to the Denison plot in the Elm Grove Cemetery. Here a substantial granite monument was erected to the memory of her husband about thirty years ago by contributions from his descendants. Deacon Ebenezer Denison, Senior, was the principal mover in this filial work, and it was among the last of the many good deeds of his life.
The following account of the main incidents of his life is given by Richard A. Wheeler, in his history of the First Church of Stonington :
"Captain Denison took an active and decided part in 1656, in favor of having 'Mystic and Pawcatuck set off, and a new township with a ministry of its own established. By this course he incurred the displeasure of the leading men of Pequot, and by favoring the claims of Massachusetts to the jurisdiction of the place, he drew upon himself the censure of the General Court, and when Southerton was incorporated and annexed to Suffolk County he was appointed first townsman, commissioner, and 'clerk of the writs.' He was active and influential in securing the favor of the Massachusetts Court, and aided in securing large grants of land here to parties there, which overlapped grants made to Cheseborough, Stanton, Palmer, and others by the General Court of Connecticut. This alienated some of his friends. But the reunion of the settlement by means of the new charter had the effect of extinguishing these Massachusetts claims, and the Connecticut grants were left undisturbed.
"When Mr. Cheseborough, in 1664, asked the General Court of Connecticut for amnesty for the planters who had favored the claim of Massachusetts to this place, it was readily granted for all except Captain Denison Two years later it was extended to him, and ever afterward he was regarded with favor by the General Court.
"From 1671 to 1694 he represented Stonington for fifteen sessions of the General Court. He was appointed magistrate, selectman, and held almost every office in town.
"While Captain Denison was prominent and active in civil affairs, he was more distinguished in military matters. With the exception of Captain John Mason, he was the most conspicuous and daring soldier of New London County, a natural military leader, and though holding the rank of captain, he often commanded expeditions against the Indians, and was always most successful when commander-in-chief. He participated in the Narragansett Swamp fight in 1675, and performed prodigies of valor. As early as February following that event a series of forays were commenced against the Narragansett Indians. They were commanded by Captain Denison and Captain James Avery. These partisan bands were composed of volunteers, regular soldiers, Pequots, Mohegans, and Niantics. It was the third of these roving excursions, begun in March and ended April 10, 1676, in which the celebrated Narragansett chieftain, Canochet, was taken prisoner. He was brought to Stonington, and put to death at Anguilla, near where Gideon P. Chesebro now resides. A council of war was held, during which his life was promised him if he would use his influence with the Indians to put a stop to the war, but he indignantly refused, saying that the Indians would not yield on any terms.
"He was told of his breach of faith in not keeping the treaties which he had made with the English, and of the men, women, and children he had massacred, and how he had threatened to burn the English in their houses; to all of which he haughtily and briefly replied, 'that he was now in their hands, and they could do with him as they pleased.' He was importuned and urged to let a councillor of his go and treat with his people, but he haughtily refused, whereupon the council of war voted for his immediate execution.
"When Canochet was told that he must die, he seemed not at all moved, but said, 'that he liked it well, and that he should die before his heart had grown soft, or he had said anything unworthy of himself.' He was shot by Oneco, son of Uncas, and by Cassasinnamon and Herman Garrett, two Pequot sachems.
" The Mohegans quartered him, and the Niantics built a fire and burned his remains. His head was sent as 'a token of love' to the Council at Hartford.
"In June following, Captain Denison commanded a company raised in New London County, for Major Talcott's expedition against the Indians in Massachusetts. They went as far north as Northampton, and returned after having scoured the country far up the Connecticut River, but met with a very few of the Indians. After a few days' rest the army went again in pursuit of the Indians. This time they went first to the northwest of Providence, then south to Point Judith, then home through Westerly and Stonington to New London.
"After a short respite, they started again, July 18, 1676, and made their way this time into Plymouth Colony. They went to Taunton, from whence they returned homeward, but hearing that a large number of Indians were working their way westward, making depredations as they went, they pursued and overtook them, and had a sharp and final struggle with them beyond the Housatonic, after which they returned, and the men were disbanded.
"There were ten of these expeditious, including the volunteer forays, under Denison and Avery. They inflicted speedy vengeance upon the Indians, and broke their power forever. The remnants of the Indian tribes were gathered together, and located wherever the English desired. In all these military expeditions Captain Denison bore a conspicuous part, and won for himself undying fame."