This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter Y. A noteworthy Y I have run across while researching my ancestry is Yarmouth.
Yarmouth is a port city and civil parish on the Isle of Wright, an island off the southern coast of England. Being the oldest city on the island, Yarmouth is filled with old world charm, including a castle (Yarmouth Castle) that dates back to 1547. It is also a location that draws a lot of yacht-owners and other boating activities. Yarmouth, moreover, is also claimed to be the place of ancestral origins for many American branches of the Stearns family by unsourced accounts.
The Stearns family, which is the ancestral branch of my 2nd great grandmother Maudena Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Stearns) Kernan (1885-1936), has a long history in the United States, dating back to 1630’s. According to Stearns Genealogy and Memoirs (1901) by Avis Stearns Van Wagenen, one of the important progenitors of this surname in the United States, Isaac Stearns, and his family boarded The Arabella on April 8, 1630 at Yarmouth, and arrived in Salem, Massachusetts on June 12, 1630.
But was this Isaac and his family actually from Yarmouth? Although it is unclear if they actually lived there, sufficient evidence exists to suggest that he and his family were not in fact from Yarmouth. Records for Isaac’s wife, Mary Barker, show that she was from Nayland, Suffolk, England. Parish Register of Nyland also record the baptisms of at least two of Isaac’s children just prior to 1630.
The Isaac Stearns that arrived in Salem aboard The Arabella is not, moreover, an ancestor of my 2nd great grandmother; rather the progenitor of my ancestral branch of Stearns in America is Charles Stearns (ca. 1625-1695), my 9th great grandfather. Were Isaac Stearns and Charles Stearns related? Most descendants of Charles Stearns claim so. They often cite an oral tradition regarding the relationship between Isaac and Charles. Van Wagenen records this traditional account about the early Stearns progenitors as follows: “There is a tradition prevalent in Lynn, Mass., that three brothers, names Daniel, Isaac, and Shubael Stearns, came from England to American in 1630, and settled near Watertown, Mass; that Daniel died, unmarried; that Shubael and Isaac each brought their families with them; that, soon after landing, Shubael and wife both died, leaving two sons, named Charles and Nathaniel, eight or ten years of age, who were reared and care for by their Uncle Isaac.” Is there any truth to this claim? Presently, the claim cannot be authenticated apart from one reference made in the 1681 will of Isaac Stearns, which reads: “My will is, that my kinsman Charles Sternes, shall have ten pounds of my estate.” Isaac’s identification of Charles as a “kinsman” is frequently cited as proof that they were brothers. However, just what Isaac meant by “kinsman” is unclear, as kinsman can refer to any male relative, among other meanings. To date, no other document has been discovered that mentions a relationship between Isaac and Charles..
It is often claimed in unsourced accounts that Charles Stearns also arrived aboard The Arabella, and it is from this belief that the claim of Charles’s Yarmouth origins arises. However, this claim has not been substantiated. In fact, no details prior to 1646, the year in which Charles was admitted a freeman, have been authenticated yet. Perhaps he is in fact from Suffolk, England, like his “kinsman” Isaac Stearns appears to have been. It is unclear, moreover, just what ship he arrived on. Numerous other ships arrived after The Arabella in 1630, including The Jewell on June 13, The Ambrose on June 18, and The Talbot on July 2. In all, The Winthrop Fleet consisted of eleven ships, bringing approximately 700 Puritans to New England. If Charles arrived prior to 1646, it seems very likely that he was aboard one of them.
Although my Stearns family may have a connection to Yarmouth as the port of their departure from England to New England, it seems unlikely that Yarmouth is the ancestral origins of the family.
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