Archive:Who Was Josiah Whitney

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Whitney Family Groups > Unconnected Whitney Families > Most Wanted Whitneys > Who Was Josiah Whitney

Josiah Whitney - Most Wanted

by Robert L. Ward

Precis: There is no record known to us to tell the parentage of Josiah Whitney who married before 1707 Miriam Barrett and lived in Chelmsford, MA, and Willington, CT.

Problem: The vital records of Chelmsford, MA, show that Josiah Whitney m. before 5 Nov 1707, one Merriam or Miriam -----. The births of seven children are recorded in Chelmsford vital records from 5 Nov 1707 to 2 Apr 1727. There is no birth record for Josiah Whitney, and no probate record mentioning him as a relative has been found.

Background: Merriam or Miriam3 Barrett was born 29 April 1686, Chelmsford, MA, the daughter of Joseph2 Barrett ( -1711) and his wife Martha GOULD (1654-1698), and granddaughter of Thomas1 and Margaret (-----) Barrett and of Francis1 and Rose (-----) Gould. She is reported to be the above Miriam, wife of Josiah Whitney, according to an article, Joseph Hartwell Barrett, "Thomas Barrett of Braintree, William Barrett of Cambridge and Their Early Descendants," NEHGR, vol. XLII (1888), p. 259. She and Josiah Whitney were parents of the following children, whose births are all recorded in Chelmsford, MA, vital records:

i. Eunice, b. 5 Nov 1707, m. 6 Mar 1744, Willington, William Fisk, Jr. Two known children, Peter and Benjamin.
ii. Martha, b. 10 Jun 1712, further history unknown.
iii. Josiah, b. 26 Jan 1714/5, m.(1) 2 Mar 1737, Willington, Mehitable Fuller; m.(2) 4 Nov 1755, Willington, Lydia Ballard. Twelve children: Peter, Josiah, Thomas, Meriom, Esther, Kezia, Kezia, Mehetabell; Lydia, Mehitabell, Josiah, and Sarah.
iv. Benjamin, b. 20 Nov 1718, m. 29 Mar 1751, Willington, Rebekah Beal. Six children: Benjmain, Rebekah, Joseph, Elizabeth, Joshua, and Eunice.
v. Miriam, b. 9 Aug 1721, d. 30 Aug 1737, Willington, unmarried.
vi. Peter, b. 17 Feb 1724/5, d. 30 Aug 1737, Willington, unmarried.
vii. Elenor, b. 2 Apr 1727, m. 17 Feb 1743, Willington, Nathan Fisk. Four children: Nathan, Josiah, Stephen, and Dinah.

Between 1727 and 1736, the family removed to Willington, CT, where Josiah Whitney died 19 Nov 1766 [Willington Vital Records, A:86]. His age at death is not given by the vital records, and we have not found a record of his tombstone.

George D. Parker has a Bible dated 1818 that belonged to his great-grandson Jonathan Whitney, and it says Josiah was born "about 1688 in Groton" MA. In the history of Groton there is a letter from the town fathers to the governor that discusses the status of the town during some Indian troubles in 1707. This includes two lists -- those who are contemplating leaving town and those who already have. Among those on the list of the having already left are Cornelius3 Whitney (Joshua2, John1) and Josiah Whitney.

Candidates for parents

The age of Josiah Whitney of Chelmsford and Willington requires that he belong to the third or fourth generation of descendants of John1 and Elinor (-----) Whitney of Watertown. The families of John2, Richard2, Thomas2, and Jonathan2 Whitney are thoroughly documented, and there is no place in them for Josiah. We will consider in turn the two remaining candidates for parents for Josiah Whitney: Joshua2 and Abigail (Tarbell) Whitney, and Benjamin2 and Jane (-----) Whitney.

1. Joshua2 Whitney was born 15 July 1635. He apparently had two wives. First he married 20 Nov 1664, Charlestown, MA, Mary (-----) Buckmaster. She died 17 Mar 1672, Watertown, MA. By Mary, Joshua had apparently three children, Joshua3, Sarah, and Hannah, the births of only the first two being recorded. Mary could not be the mother of Josiah since she died long before his birth. Then Joshua married secondly, 30 Sep 1672, Watertown, Abigail Tarbell. By Abigail he apparently had nine children, Abigail3, Mary, William, Cornelius, David, Eleanor, Sarah, Martha, and Elizabeth, once again the births of only the first two being recorded. The wives and children of Joshua2 Whitney have been fully considered elsewhere.
When he made his will 17 Apr 1713, he mentioned all the above children who were still living, and the children of two daughters who were deceased (excluding only the first Sarah above, who we are convinced died young). The will was proved before 6 Oct 1719, when the executors posted bond. Although the birth records of this family are incomplete in the vital records, this will establishes the parentage and birth order of the children.
The omission of any mention of Josiah Whitney, who was living nearby in the adjoining town of Chelmsford, is very significant. For one thing, if Josiah was son of Joshua2, it could be the basis for a successful suit to disallow the will. If Josiah had already received his portion, or was to receive nothing, why was he not mentioned in the way that the deceased daughter Hannah was, whose children received nothing, because she had already had her portion? Furthermore, the birth order of the children together with their marriage records allow us to estimate their birth dates, and make it quite unlikely that there was room in this family for another child born between 1678 and 1690. As a result of these considerations, I believe that it is virtually certain that Josiah was not a son of Joshua2 and Abigail (Tarbell) Whitney.
Onomastic considerations also lead us to believe that Joshua and Abigail were not Josiah's parents, since he named no child after either of them, or after any of their sons, his putative parents and brothers. He did have a daughter named Elenor, as did Joshua (no surprise here!) and one named Martha, as did Joshua.
2. Benjamin2 Whitney was born 6 June 1643 in Watertown, MA. He, too, had two wives. He married firstly, perhaps about 1668, in Dover, NH, or York, ME, Jane -----. She died 14 Nov 1690, Sherborn, MA. By Jane he apparently had at least the following eight children: Jane, Timothy, Elinor, John, Nathaniel, Jonathan, Benjamin, and Joshua. Of these, only Jane and Joshua's births are recorded, the former in Watertown, the latter in Sherborn. Then he married secondly, either 11 Apr 1695, or 13 Apr 1696, in Marlborough, MA, Mary POOR. By Mary he apparently had three children, Mark, Isaac, and Huldah. None of their births are recorded. If Josiah Whitney of Chelmsford and Willington was another son of Benjamin, his age would dictate that his mother was Jane rather than Mary.
Unlike Joshua2, Benjamin2 did not leave a will or other probate records to help us reconstruct his family. He lived first in Watertown, then Dover, then York, then back to Watertown, then Framingham, then Sherborn. He married his second wife in Marlborough. He has no known connection to Groton or Chelmsford.
Onomastic considerations favor Benjamin and Jane as parents, since Josiah named his second son Benjamin (his first was Josiah, Jr., named for himself). Benjamin also had a daughter Elenor (again, no surprise!).

The process of elimination points rather strongly to Josiah Whitney of Chelmsford and Willington being a son of Benjamin2 and Jane (-----) Whitney.

Then how do we explain the 1707 list? There was another Josiah Whitney (1663-1718), son of Jonathan2, who lived and died in Wrentham. It could be him on the list. Another possibility is that the list actually should read that Cornelius and Joshua Whitney had left town. In fact, Joshua3 Whitney (Joshua2, John1), the proven brother of Cornelius, had left town about 1699, and settled in Plainfield, CT. His name should appear on that list, but doesn't. Thus we have a name on the list which is hard to explain, and one missing from the list which is also hard to explain, and the spellings of the two names are very similar, indeed. One way out of this dilemma is to guess that the "Josiah" entry should have read "Joshua" instead, and either the list was wrong to start with, or that it was mistranscribed by the historian of Groton.

Then how do we explain the Bible record? For one thing, it was recorded at least 130 years after the event, and may well be in error, as many oral traditions are. For example, it seems much more likely that Josiah Whitney was born nearer 1683 than 1688, because of the age of his wife and his likely age at the birth of his oldest child. Of course this is not sure, just an educated guess.

In conclusion, while we have no proof of the parentage of Josiah Whitney of Chelmsford and Willington, the evidence points more towards Benjamin2 and Jane (-----) Whitney than towards the alternative Joshua2 and Abigail (Tarbell) Whitney.

Copyright © 1999, 2006, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group.