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nets to draw a coronet across the seas to grace a Yankee brow, for the idea that any member of the American branch of Pierreponts will ever prosecute his claim to these ancestral estates has long since been abandoned and is now crumbling amid the bones of those to whom the matter was one of vital interest.
The roots of the Pierreponts' family tree are buried in the mould of an ancient past.
Sir Hugh de Pierrepont, the first to bear a title, lived in Normandy and derived his name from a stone bridge built near his castle by Charlemagne. The grandson of Sir Hugh, called Robert, came over to England with William the Norman, and on account of the stout blows he struck for the Conqueror at Hastings, was given great estates in Suffolk and Sussex counties by his grateful master.
The great-great-grandson of Sir Robert was named Henry. He married the daughter of Sir Michael Manvers, lord of the manór of Holme in the County of Nottingham, and so eventually became possessed of this estate also, which he named Holme Pierrepont.
This place descended in the direct line till the death of the last of the English Pierreponts, the Duke of Kingston, in 1773, who left no issue and willed his estates to Charles Meadows, his nephew. Meadows thereupon assumed the name of Pierrepont, by Royal permission, and was afterwards created Earl Manvers, as will be subsequently told; and it is this nephew, Meadows, and his descendants who have ever since possessed Holme Pierrepont, this land of Canaan, to the exclusion of the eldest males in the New England line, who were also of the seed of Abraham, but were unfortunately not members of the favored tribe.
I shall not attempt in this paper to scramble up this lofty tree from Sir Robert, past all the Pierreponts, good, bad and indifferent, to the last Duke of Kingston, for Lodge's Peerage will give you all their names, titles and achievements at full length; but shall (much to your relief, I have no doubt) only speak of those whose history is involved in my story of the Pierrepont Claim..
Sir George Pierrepont, who received a title from Edward VI for assisting at his coronation in 1547, had five children, three sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Sir Henry, was the ancestor of the English line, from which the later Dukes of Kingston sprang.
The second son, Gervase, died without issue, and the third son, William, is the claimed ancestor of the American branch. Of the daughters suffice it to say that they both married and that one of them was the mother of Francis Beaumont, the famous dramatist of the golden age of good Queen Bess.
As I have already said, the estate of Holme Pierrepont lies in the beautiful County of Nottingham about three miles from Nottingham town, and not far away from the village of Scrooby, so closely linked with Massachusetts through Elder Brewster, William Bradford and the Pilgrims. The East Anglian counties were the center of the Puritan movement and it was probably the rock of Puritanism and Independency that divided the Pierrepont stream into two separate courses, one of which flowed peacefully on in the old country, while the other painfully made its way amid the forests of the new.
Sir Robert, the eldest brother, as became the holder of the title, joined the Stuart and became a Lieutenant-General of his forces; was successively created Baron Pierrepont, Viscount Newark and Earl of Kingston, and fell at last, fighting for the king, at Gainsborough, July 3, 1643.
Which side his younger brother William espoused, there is no record, but we know that he died in England in 1648, leaving among other children, mentioned in his will, a son James, who was undoubtedly a Puritan. This James Pierrepont lived in Derbyshire according to family tradition, and as one of the letters written in 1774 says, carried on trade between England and Ireland, but in the "troubulous times,” meaning the time of the Parliamentary uprising, "he became bankrupt” and afterwards emigrated with his son Robert to America, to live with his eldest son, John, who had already settled there.
John Pierrepont, to whose home his broken father came for refuge, was the first one of the family to cross the seas. He settled at Roxbury in 1640 and purchased a large tract of land, calling a part of it Dorchester in honor of his second cousin, Henry Pierrepont, in England, who had succeeded his father, Robert, as second Earl of Kingston, and who had received from Charles I the further title of Marquis of Dorchester.
I have said that the break in the Pierrepont family probably came on the question of non-conformity, and it is to this difference that we may attribute the fact that all communication ceased between the descendants of Robert, the Cavalier, and the Roundhead descendants of his brother William. Whether this brother William, the father of bankrupt James, was of this latter party we do not know, but the fact that all of his grandchildren were Puritans, and that his own son afterwards came to New England to live and die among dissenters, makes us safe, I think, in assuming that the original William, too, had no love for Charles Stuart and the Bishops as his titled brother Robert had, but favored rather Cromwell and the Independents.
I have also said that we find no record of any correspondence between the two branches of the family which held opposite political and religious views, but there are letters showing that John of Roxbury and Dorchester still kept in touch with his Puritan relatives in old England, after he had crossed the Atlantic and settled in the new world, for among our collection we find a letter from one Thomas Hill of London, dated April 5, 1664, addressed to “Mr. John Pierpointe dwelling at Roxbury in New England” telling him the sad news of the death of his mother, Margaret, in London. Among other things he says: "She did die free from any debt and had some small matter of money to spare, rather than to want, she formerly did intend to have all that was worth sending, sent to you and some Tokens for the rest with you, but she hearing you had no need and being she could not hear from you, thought you to be dead. And another thing happening did cause her to alter her will and mind which was this, your sister Eaton did come to London living six or seven score miles off and by reason her Husband cannot conform to the Bishops is put out of his living, and having many children and little helpes to
maintain them, that it is but low with them and she is a very honest godly woman and coming so far to see your mother, caused your mother, to give her most of what she had and something she gave to one of your sister Eaton's Daughters that liveth in London."
This sister Eaton mentioned in the letter was the wife of William Eaton of Bridport, Dorset County, a dissenter as Thomas Hill says, and we later find in our collection another letter from their son, John Eaton, written from Bridport, Octo ber 16th, 1656, and sealed with the Pierrepont arms. It is addressed to "My dear Uncle John Pierrepont at Rocksbury, in New England” and tells how “having been lately at the Universitie of Oxford I have thence not long since returned to take a view of my friends,” and how the writer thought he would pen a few lines to say how "glad should we all be, if at any time such a good action should be performed by you (his uncle) as that you would come into old England and that such a strange spectacle as you should possess our eyes.” Having paid his uncle this rather dubious compliment (perhaps he pictured the old gentleman in war paint and feathers), he hastens to add that since “we are at such a great distance in this our terrestrial globe, we hope to meet in the Celestial,” with which comforting reflection he winds up by sending his love to his Aunt Mary and "some other kindred wh. I have there wh. I neither know or scarce ever saw.” This communication from John Eaton, the undergraduate nephew of John Pierrepont of Roxbury, and the letter from Thomas Hill just quoted, are the only two links we have that connect the American Pierreponts with their English cousins. After this such correspondence either ceased, or the letters were unfortunately lost, or destroyed, by their recipients.
John Pierrepont of Roxbury at his death left six children surviving him, of whom only two require our attention: James Pierrepont, one of the founders of Yale College, and Ebenezer, his brother, who is important only as the father of his son John, who appears later in our narrative in the character of Marplot.
James Pierrepont was born at Roxbury, January 4, 1659, and graduated at Harvard in 1681. In spite of this bad beginning, or perhaps because he saw the error of his ways, he moved to New Haven, became the pastor of the First Church and was a prime mover in the founding of Yale.
While we have been tarrying in New England, however, events have been moving in the old. Charles II had returned, had had his royal fling and had been gathered to his fathers. James II had been alternately placed on the throne and shoved off again, and William and Mary had been followed by Queen Anne.
The then incumbent of the Pierrepont title in England was one Evelyn, who had succeeded his brother as Earl of Kingston in 1690. He had married as his first wife, Mary Fielding, second cousin of the novelist, and their daughter, Mary Pierre pont, had become the wife of Edward Wortley Montagu, and was afterwards known in the literary and social world as Lady Wortley Montagu. Of his other three children there was but on boy and, in event of this son dying without issue, there would have resulted a failure in the English line of male succession, and such rights as were so entailed would then have gone back through Sir Henry Pierrepont, and descended to the eldest of the male descendants of his brother William, who at this time would have been James, the Puritan minister in New Haven.*
We do not know whether this possibility ever crossed the devout mind of the Rev. James or not, but from the letter which we next unfold, which is dated March 16, 1711, 0. s., it seems probable that it had occurred to him, for the letter shows that at this time he was not only devoting himself to furthering in England the interests of his infant college, but that he was also incidentally looking up his own genealogy, with a view to establishing his relationship to the lords of Holme Pierrepont. The letter I refer to is from one Jeremiah Dummer, who was agent for the Province of Massachusetts, in London, to the Rev. James Pierrepont and so much of it as is preserved is as follows:
* See prefatory note.