Saturday, May 05, 2007

Did You Know #5

Jamestown, Virginia was a place where one could make a fresh start, a new life. But all too often, especially in the early years, death got in the way. Whether by disease, starvation, or enemy attack, it was a dangerous place to wipe the slate clean, but each year more and more British were willing to run the risk of being among the survivors. It was upon their shoulders that the new world could become, in truth, a land of promise.


Travel options in the seventeenth century were limited for those seeking to become citizens of Jamestown, or other settlements in America. You could gain passage upon a ship or you could stay home. When we traveled to Plymouth, MA, in August of 2003, we arrived in Plymouth, MA in a comfortable, air conditioned van, with three specific goals: Cape Cod fish and chips, a voyage to watch whales, and seeing the Plymouth Rock. The fish and chips were wonderful, but heat and day's activities drained my energy away to the point that I couldn't really enjoy the island's beauty. The whales were amazing, but returning to shore many of the passengers became seasick and it was my misfortune, unable to maneuver my wheelchair, to be down-wind from them. And, with respect to American history, Plymouth Rock is, for lack of a better word, a rock. The great surprise of our overnight visit was to see the Mayflower anchored in the bay [1].


The discomforts of my visit wouldn't have fazed the pilgrims who arrived there on November 21, 1620. The original Mayflower was only about 90 feet long, and the living quarters, where the 102 passengers spent their 66-day voyage, was about the size of a volleyball court. 102 pilgrims finally disembarked on December 21st (the two births en route offset the two deaths). In those first harsh winter months half of the pilgrim population died.


Life in the new world was often dependent upon support supplied by the rather frequent arrival of English vessels, which also ferried new clean-slated settlers. One of the most frequent suppliers was the famed British Naval officer, Adm. Christopher Newport, who made a number of trips across the “big pond” bringing eager pilgrims, supplies, and news from the homeland. Three English ships, the Susan Constant (under Newport’s command and, according to Daughter's of the American Revolution, carrying two Bragg teenagers [2]), the Godspeed, and the Discovery first arrived off the Virginia coast on May 13, 1607 with a load of settlers for the new world. After setting up camp on Jamestown Island, the new settlers eventually realized the grave hardships they faced. During those early days (1607-24) as many as four-fifths of Jamestown's population died. Still the white folk kept coming and Adm. Newport and his crew brought many safely to America's shore. In five years Newport, with the Virginia Company, made five round-trip voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. On his fourth trip the voyagers found themselves caught in a storm and shipwrecked in Bermuda. Perhaps he took this as a wake-up call, since, according to one of his biographers, Newport "grew tired of long voyages. He settled on the James River in VA and opened a store" [3].


It is not clear just when Newport decided to hang up his oars, if in fact he ever did. Following the Bermuda shipwreck Newport made a final voyage for the Virginia Company before signing on with the East India Company in 1612 to escort Sir Robert Sherley to Persia. Later he took Sir Thomas Roe, Ambassador of King James I, to India (1615). On his third trip to India, Newport commanded the crew on the Hope as they sailed from port in early 1617. They anchored on the island of Java on August 15, where the commander and ship hands could enjoy a brief rest from the ocean's rocking waves as the ship took on the cargo for their return to England. When the ship finally pulled into port twelve months later, on September 1, 1618, one of its passengers, Alexander Brown, bore his diary with this notation regarding their stay on Java, and especially the events of August 15, 1617: "there dyed out of the Hope, Captain Newport that worthy Seaman and Commander" [4].


Newport is remembered for his fearless exploration of the distant lands and the oceans separating them. "The admiral of Virginia lived on the ocean; he died on the ocean; the ocean is his tomb, and his admirable monument, and the city of Newport News, whether named for him or not, will be his memorial in America" [5]. Newport's death must have been a great blow to his family, which had grown in recent years as his daughter was married in Jamestown, taking as her groom one of her father's most trusted crew members, Thomas Bragg. The two were joined in matrimony about two years before Newport's death. Born in England around the year 1580, Thomas served a stint in the British Navy prior to being hired by his future father-in-law. Little is known about his life in England, just that he and two brothers, John and William, came to America, settled, and became the ancestors of the vast majority of Bragg families currently living in the United States [6].


Having "obtained land grants from the Crown" for his services in the Navy [7], Thomas and his new bride, Molly Newport, settled down to begin raising their children, the first Braggs born in America, William (1624) and John Bragg. Little is known about John and his family, but the descendants of his brother William have been extensively researched. William and Molly were blessed with the birth of a son in 1647, whom they named John. The child was born at Old Rappahannock, Virginia, the location to which William migrated and about which their family would grow for generations to come.


There are many on-line researchers who strenuously object to the suggestion that the Bragg family's origin in America has any association whatever to the family of Christopher Newport. According to one of these objectors, "the relationship to Christopher Newport [is] sheer fantasy" [8]. Based on the research of this objector (and he is certainly not the only one who objects), is that "Anyone who claims to have proof of John, William, Thomas Bragg, before Joseph [sic] in there lineage are quoting LDS submission files, and these files are NOT TRUE. I’m working in English records and VA records to find true links, trying to alert people that they are seriously endangering their records by pursuing Thomas and Molly, and unless someone has a substantial parish record, passenger listing, or vital record, I seriously recommend scraping this line of search" [9]


For me, the better alternative is to cite the objection and proceed to tell the story until those who object are able to complete their English records study and provide the rest of us with further enlightenment.


Notes:

[1] The replica we saw, Mayflower II, was built in England and sailed to America in1957.

[2] Stephen Terry, Re: Bragg's of NC, In Reply to: Re: Bragg's of NC by RobertGumfory, Bragg Family Genealogy Forum [http://genforum.genealogy.com/bragg/messages/906.html].

[3] Janet Tyree, Re: Bragg American Line, Bragg Family Genealogy Forum,http://genforum.genealogy.com/bragg/messages/1887.html

[4] Tyree.

[5] Tyree.

[6] Luke Bragg points out that there were "more than one Bragg immigration toAmerica," although it appears that most of the "Bragg's in America came from one of twoEnglish Emigrants" (Bragg Family Genealogy Forum; Bragg American Line; http://genforum.genealogy.com/bragg/messages/1877.html). Much of the currentinformation on the Bragg family was gathered by his uncle, Dr. Louis Alderson Bragg, inthe 1960's, who reported that "Six Bragg brothers in England. Three went North, threewent South." Then in parenthesis, (Thomas, William, and John) being the ones who wentSouth in England; and supposedly Thomas and John joined ships going to America insome context."

[7] Bragg Family Genealogy Forum; Bragg American Line.

[8] Bragg Family Genealogy Forum, Posted by: Mark Bragg, In Reply to: Re: BraggFamily About 1530 by John Shetterlyhttp://genforum.genealogy.com/bragg/messages/1037.html

[9] Bragg Family Genealogy Forum, Posted by: Mark Bragg, In Reply to: Re: BraggFamily About 1530 by John Shetterlyhttp://genforum.genealogy.com/bragg/messages/1037.html

1 comment:

Elisabeth Sommer said...

The problem that I see with continuing to cite the story of a marriage between Thomas Bragg and Molly Newport, is that historians really should work from verifiable sources. I can't find anything to indicate where this claim originated. Until I do, I'd prefer to remove the line (with a proviso that there is such a tale out there). I must admit that I'm disappointed, because it would be a cool connection to have, but if the LDS files are not confined to solid primary source research, then I can't accept them as valid.