Unnamed Wife Bissell

Death 21 May 1641
Windsor, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA
Burial Windsor, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA
Memorial ID 197220905 · View Source
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The first recognized wife of the Windsor, Conn. immigrant John Bissell (1591-1677) died of record in Windsor on May 21, 1641. Because of the fear of potential attack by Indians during the Pequot Indian War of 1636-38 in the Connecticut River valley, the earliest settlers of Windsor encircled the settlement with a palisade barrier. In 1641 the town's only burial ground was located in the southwest corner of the palisade enclosure now known as the town's greatly enlarged and historical town cemetery – the Palisado Cemetery.

While the immigrant John Bissell has a known gravestone at Palisado Cemetery, for the writer there is no doubt that John Bissell's first wife is also buried in Palisado Cemetery but in a now unmarked grave in the original southwest section of the cemetery. She likely had a wooden marker that quickly perished never to be replaced with a more permanent marker.

As the maintainer of the immigrant John Bissell's memorial and descendant of John and his first wife, I am repeatedly asked to change John's historically unnamed first wife to Mary Drake or to Elizabeth Thompson, or to change John's historically unnamed second wife to Elizabeth Thompson. The purpose of this memorial is to provide readers with the result of the exhaustive research that conclusively proves the names Mary Drake and Elizabeth Thompson are fictitious.

Most requests reference Torrey's New England Marriages to 1700 as proof of the names of John Bissell's two wives. Unfortunately, unless sources used by Torrey include direct reference to an actual recorded marriage or some other form of documented record that unequivocally proves the identity of a wife, Torrey's marriage listing is merely a repetition of uncorroborated spousal claims in published genealogies and a list of sources that may or may not lead to the identity of a spouse's name.

In the case of John Bissell's first wife, Torrey's marriage listing essentially states:

• BISSELL, John1 (1591-1677) & 1st wife ?Mary DRAKE (no)/?Elizabeth THOMPSON (-1st wife d. 21 May 1641); m. in England ca. 1625/30?; last of Windsor, CT.

Torrey cited 14 sources as reference, all of which were reviewed; none contain any proof of the identity of John Bissell's first wife. Nor do any of the references explain Torrey's "(no)" following the name "?Mary DRAKE". Of the 14 references, three do not even contain the surname Bissell or refer to a known descendant of John Bissell. About half of the remaining 11 sources claim the wife was Mary Drake while others do not give John Bissell's first wife a name. Rather, it is the sources not cited by Torrey that provide the basis of when the name Mary Drake and Elizabeth Thompson first appear then adopted by others without proof.

The first source cited by Torrey is Henry Stiles' 2nd Edition of his History of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut. In the companion 1893 published volume 2, Genealogies, p. 77, for the Bissell family Stiles noted "In this revision we have been indebted to the labors of John G(ordon) Bissell, of Rome, NY." In both the 1859 first edition, which has no separate genealogy volume, and the 1893 edition, not once is the name of either the first or second wife of the Windsor immigrant John Bissell identified or even suggested. So what help did John Gordon Bissell actually provide? Then four years later in 1897, the same John Gordon Bissell of Rome, NY made a handwritten application for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution (the SAR), subsequently reduced to print, claiming he was the:

• Gr. Grandson of Ebenezer Bissell and Lucy Roberts, and
• Gr. Gr. Grandson of Ezekiel Bissell and Ruth Devotion, and
• the said Ezekiel and Ebenezer are the ancestors who assisted in establishing American Independence.

But, Bissell did not stop with Ezekiel. He added three unnecessary ancestors to Ezekiel, who had no relevance to the application, claiming Ezekiel's great grandparents were "John Bissell and Mary Drake." In 1897 the SAR did not require proof of a claimed line of descent from a Revolutionary soldier. For that reason SAR applications and subsequent printed member rosters prior to the mid-20th century are not, on their face, accepted as proof of ancestral descent. Only recently has the SAR required the same level of documentation and proof required by other well-known organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (the DAR) and General Association of Mayflower Descendants.

In Stiles' cited 1893 2nd edition, he states that John Bissell's "wife d. 21 May 1641 (O.C.R)." The latter abbreviation stands for "Old Colony Records" referring to the published records by fellow Windsor resident Matthew Grant, the town clerk during most of John Bissell's lifetime at Windsor. Grant left a written record of the earliest Windsor church and town vital records. While Grant may have known at least the first name of John Bissell's two wives, or could have inquired as to whom they were, he never recorded either one by name. But, he also did not record the first name of wives of many other early Windsor husbands, which was not usual for that time in New England records. Since John Gordon Bissell in 1897 did not provide any proof of his claim that Mary Drake was the name of John Bissell's first wife, the name Mary Drake is fictitious and copied as fiction by later Bissell family genealogists.

As for the name Elizabeth Thompson, the only source cited by Torrey that contains the name Elizabeth Thompson is the 1924 published One Bassett Family in which the author calls John Bissell's first wife Elizabeth Thompson. This on authority of the author's aunt Julia Emeline (Bassette) Lee (1846-1937), with the comment: "Julia Bassette Lee's record gives her name as Thompson, but we have not seen it confirmed elsewhere."

In 1950 and 1951 the late eminent New England genealogist Donald Lines Jacobus, founding editor of The American Genealogist (TAG) authored a series of articles proving the correct given name and identity of John Bissell's daughter-in-law, Israel Mason, the sole wife of John Bissell, Jr. [TAG 26:84-94, 27:100-101.] In a related article in 1950 Jacobus published The Wife of John Bissell of Windsor, Conn. [TAG 26:185-186] referring to the immigrant John senior. While Jacobus reiterated that the identity of the immigrant John Bissell's first wife remained unknown, he had been referred to a pedigree published in 1941 in Register of Pedigrees of members of the Conn. Society of Colonial Wars. Three pedigrees that included the immigrant John Bissell left the identity of his first wife blank. However, a fourth pedigree claimed she was Elizabeth Thompson who died in 1641. This was the pedigree of Dr. George Clinton Fairchild Williams (1857-1933) of Hartford, former president of the Conn. Historical Society, who Jacobus very likely personally knew. Curiously, Torrey did not reference any of the foregoing 1950-51 articles by Jacobus in his John Bissell-?Mary Drake marriage listing.

Since much of Jacobus' genealogy writing concerned events and people associated with Connecticut, he called the claim in Dr. Williams' pedigree a "blunder" referring to Stiles' disjointed introductory sketch of the John Bissell family in the 1893 edition of Ancient Windsor. In the introduction, Stiles extracted a portion from an 1870 published work called Golden Anniversary of John Bissell and Elizabeth Thompson. Given present research capabilities not readily available to Jacobus in 1950, John Bissell (1796-1872), a 3rd gr. grandson of the immigrant John Bissell, married Elizabeth Thompson (1800-1887) at East Windsor, Conn. on Dec. 12, 1820 and they have a common gravestone at Scantic Cemetery in East Windsor. Someone read too fast and attached Elizabeth (Thompson) Bissell of the 19th century as being the name of the immigrant's first wife in 1641.

Torrey died in 1962 and thus would not have known of Jacobus' second and final say regarding the identity of the immigrant John Bissell's first wife (NEHGS REGISTER, 123 (1965):278-279):

• May I try to set the record straight once again? John1 Bissell did indeed die in 1677; there is no authority that I know of for calling his wife Mary Drake. A nameless wife, perhaps the mother of his children, died in 1641; he thereafter had another nameless wife, whose death, as wife of John "Sr.", was recorded in 1665...

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  • Created by: Don Blauvelt
  • Added: 1 Mar 2019
  • Find a Grave Memorial 197220905
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Unnamed Wife Bissell (unknown–21 May 1641), Find a Grave Memorial no. 197220905, citing Palisado Cemetery, Windsor, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA ; Maintained by Don Blauvelt (contributor 46932939) .