Close This Page

William Bunnell / Bonnell
by William R. Austin

Source: The Bunnell/Bonnell Newsletter, Vol I, No. 1; January 1, 1987, Pages 3-5


WILLIAM BUNNELL, 260001, was certainly born in England, but neither the date and place of his birth nor his parentage has yet been discovered.

The date of William Bunnell’s birth has been given in various given in various family histories as 1605, 1610, between 1610 and 1620, 1610-1612-1617, and most frequently 1617 (many references in the Compendium of American Genealogy). None of these accounts provides any basis for the statement, and so far as I know there is no contemporary record that states his age of date of birth. Any conclusion we come to has to be based on circumstantial evidence.

The earliest record in which William Bunnell appears is dated 1630, when he was old enough to serve on a jury to inquire into the death of Austin Bratcher at Watertown, MA. This certainly excludes a date as late as 1617. He must have been an adult in 1630 and could not have been born after 1610.

About 1650, at New Haven, there are several records which mention “old Bunnell,” and refer to tax exemptions based on “his age, poverty and weakness.” Granted that people aged faster in those days, this is strange language to use if he were only 40 at that time. If we assign date of birth of 1600 he would only have been 50. This is possible, but just within the range of credibility.

I am inclined, until other evidence becomes available to conclude that he was born “about 1600” in England.
With reference to William’s birthplace, it has been asserted by a number of writers that he was a farmer and tanner from Cheshire, England. (Ref.: THE COMPENDIUM OF AMERICAN GENEALOGY, Vol. IV, p. 128; Snell’s HISTORY OF SUSSES AND WARREN COUNTIES, NEW JERSEY, pp. 225 and 226; BOSTON TRANSCIPT query No. 8895, May 31, 1921; GENALOGY OF THE BONNELL FAMILY AS IT PERTAINS TO EDGAR MARSH GIBBY AND HIS DESCENDANTS, p. 3; manuscript history on THE BUNNELL FAMILY, from the files of the Institute of American Genealogy; WILLIAM BONNELL, by Hubert Baum.) Unfortunately, I have never been able to confirm this statement from any contemporary record. Mr. Baum actually cites vol. I, page 21, of the New Haven Vital Records, as his source, but I cannot find the reference on that page or any other page of the New Haven Vital Records. If anyone can point out the original document from which this statement stems I would certainly appreciate it.

The Huguenot connection: Several of William Bunnell’s descendants have become members of the Huguenot Society on the strength of his supposed descent from Thomas Bonnell, a Huguenot refugee who settled in Norwich, England, where he died in 1607. Thomas’s son Benjamin is supposed to have been the father of William, the American immigrant.

Every reference I have been able to track down for this statement seems to come from the same source, a manuscript entitle SYRON-SEARING WILLS, DEEDS AND WAYS, written by Carolyn Syron Valentine in 1925, and filed in the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and perhaps others. Mrs. Valentine first provides some background on Thomas Bonnell and his sons. It should be noted that her account frequently conflicts with that of other published accounts of this family. On page 103 of her manuscript, she goes on to say:

“With a family so stable, and so well recorded, we might expect it to be very easy to show William Bonnel’s immediate ancestor. Yet, if he had veritably sprung from the sea, his parentage could scarcely be harder to prove. There is no William recorded as a Bonnel in England at the required period, who could possibly have been he.”

It is hard to understand how her conclusions could have won such wide-spread acceptance when she began by saying she had no evidence to prove them. With the resources available today, it is clear that the last sentence in that paragraph is false. Bunnells and Bonnells were living in many of the counties of England at the end of the sixteenth century. I have identified eleven Williams, any of which could have been the man we are looking for, and at least thirty men who could have been his father. More about that later. In her next paragraph Mrs. Valentine goes on to say:

“Moreover, there was only one Bonnel of this group in England, previous to this birth, whose story is not known. The logic of the known facts affirms that William must be the son of that one—namely Benjamin, son of Thomas the English founder. But we know so very little of the personal life of Benjamin Bonnel that proof, in the absence of records, appears impossible. There are, however, numerous pointers which may serve to convince us, even in the absence of records.
“All that we certainly know of William Bonnel’s life before his marriage is told in the brief news item which announces his arrival. But enough of Benjamin Bonnel’s business life is known to permit us to follow his activities fairly well. Capt Richard Lord, who carried some of Benjamin’s dispatches, was very closely connected with Hartford activities. William Bunnel or Bonnel’s life was connected with New Haven solely, as far as extant records found show. I shall therefore consider Benjamin Bonnell, son of Thomas, the English Founder, as the immediate ancestor of William, the American Founder, so long as no proof appears to the contrary.”

With that astonishing leap of faith, Mrs. Valentine grafted the American Bunnell/Bonnell family to the expatriate family of Thomas Bonnell. This line has been accepted for membership in the Huguenot Society in the past, but I understand that the Huguenot society in at least some of the states now rejects this connection. I offer as proof to the contrary the following: Benjamin Bonnell, male child of Thomas Bonnell, was christened on 7 January 1589 at the church of Saint Martin at Palace, Norwich, England. Since christening at the period normally took place in the first few days after birth, I believe that Benjamin would have been too young to have been the father of William.
Mrs. Valentine identifies Benjamin Bonnell, son of Thomas, with the Benjamin Bonnell who was in the service of Sweden or various Swedish companies from 1625 until 1660 or later. Prior to moving to Sweden this man resided in Spain and Portugal for about twenty years. He also seems to have been a merchant in Amsterdam for a time. There is no evidence to show that he ever married. He appears to have visited England at very rate intervals. (ref: THE SWEDISH SETTLEMENTS ON THE DELAWARE 1638-1664, by Amandus Johnson, Vol. II, pp. 676 and 677.) This may have been the same Benjamin Bonnell, but I have seen no evidence of it, and it is really stretching to suggest that he is the father of William.

It would have been helpful if Mrs. Valentine had quoted “the brief news item which announces his arrival,” or at least told us where to find it. Does anyone know what she was referring to? Her manuscript includes many similar vague references that can’t be identified or confirmed.

The Bunnell/Bonnell Newsletter, Vol I, No. 2; April 1, 1987, Pages 2-7

In Vol. I, No. 3, of the Newsletter I plan to discuss the question of whether William Bunnell, who appears in the records of Watertown, MA from 1630 to 1646, is or is not the same person as the William Bunill found in the New Haven, CT, records from 1649 to 1654. In preparation for this discussion, this issue includes every contemporary record which I have found referring to William Bunnell and his wife. If you know of any others which I have missed, please let me know as soon as possible t ensure that my analysis is as complete and as correct as can be.

The first five entries are from the Records of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay, edited by N. B. Shurtleff, 6 vols., 1853.

Vol. 1, page 77.
28 Sept. 1630. A jury (of fifteen names, “Willm Bunell” being seventh on the list) was impaneled to inquire concerning the death of Austen Bratcher.
“The Juryes Verdict:--
Wee finde that the strokes giuen by Walter Palmer were occationally the meanes of the death of Austin Bratcher, & soe to be manslaughter./”
Vol. 1, page 307.
7 Oct. 1640. “A Genrall Cort,held at Boston”
“The country desires Watertowne to graunt Willi: Bunnell a lot, & if hee do pve chrgable, the country to beare it./”

Vol. 2, page 134.
1 Oct. 1645. “At a Session of the Generall Court”
“Mr Sparhauke & Leift Mason are appointed a committee with
all powr to dispose of ye children of Goodman Bunnell, if their grandfather will not take care ym.”

Vol. 2, Page 139.
1 Oct. 1645. “It is thought meet yt those things, viz, cotton woole, canvas,or else, which returnes wn Capt Bridges returnes, should be delivred to Mr Sparhauke & Leift Mason to be disposed of to Goodman Bunnell & his use.”

Vol. 2, Page 149.
6 May 1646. “At a Generall Courte, at Boston, for Election”
“It is ordred yt if Mr Maverick & Mr Manning shall please to lay out 30 s in cloathing in England for Wm Bunnell at his arrivall, on their receit undr his hand for so much delivred by them to ye said Wm Bunnell in England this Corte determines it shalbe repaid them againe here.”
That is the last reference to William Bunnell in the Massachusetts records. The next entry is from Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638 to 1649, by Charles J. Hoadly, M. A., 1857.

Vol. I, Page 478.
“At a Court Held at Hewhaven the 7th of August, 1649 . . . . Jeremiah Osborne informed the court that Henry Pecke reported that their maide (Sarah Ollard,) was with child by him ye said Jeremiah. Henry Pecke answered that such a report of ye maid was brought into his house as he tooke it vp, but vpon examination it proved to be but a supposition, and he reported that it was so, but he sees that it was his mistake and his sinn & is sorrey that he was so foolish to speake so, and for Jeremiah being the father of it, it was his mistake also, for he hearing some a talking of Jeremiah and the maide, tooke it vp that they spake of that matter and him to be ye father, but vpon examination it appeared they spake of no such thing, but that Jeremiah was to haue her, but vpon this mistake he reported it. He was asked whoe brought it to his house, he said goodwife Bunill. Goodwife Bunill said that she had said to goodwife Pecke that goodwife Charles wished ther was no more in ye towne in Rebecka Turners case, for ther was a maide that satt neere her at meeting that did barnish apace, but she named nobody, nor could she tell who it was, and she said to goodwife Charles, if that be yor thoughts yow were best speake of it wher yow best may. Goodwife Charles, that she and Thomas Marshall (whoe was at worke at her house,) being speaking aboute Rebecka Turner, what a sad thing it was, she said it is well if ther be no more in her case, she remembers no more that she saide. Henry Pecke was asked if he had any witness that could cleare it that either of these women was ye auther of this report, he said he had none. The plantifs hauing also spoken what they would in ye case, the court proceeded to sentence, and ordered that Henry Pecke paye to Jeremiah Osborne & Sarah Ollard for ye wrong he hath done them 5 1, wch is to be devided betwixt them.”

The following entries are taken from the Ancient Records Series of the New Haven Historical Society, edited by Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Volume 1, New Haven Town Records, 1649-1662, identified as “Dexter,” and for Vital Records of New Haven, Conn., identified as “NHVR”.

Dexter, page 20.
“At a Generall Court Held at Newhaven Aprill 3th 1650.”
“The Court freed old Goodman Bunill from paying his poll money to ye towne, because of his poverty, age and weakness.”

NHVR, page 5.
“Mary Bunill the Daughter of William Bunill was borne the 4th of may 1650.”
Dexter, page 44.
“At a Court Held at Newhaven August 6th 1650.”
“Mr Tuttill, Jno Wakefeild, William Bunill was Ordered to paye 5 s a peece because ye names of each of them a child was not brought in wthin three monethes after they were borne:/”

Dexter, page 55.
“At a Court Held at Newhaven January 7th 1650.”
“John Tompson declared that he lett William Bunill his house, & he is willing to give him a yeeres rent, if he would goe peaceably out: Bunill said he is willing to goe out but cannot tell where to haue another house, he hath inquired but cannot yet here of any, he hath sent to Thomas Barnes aboute his house, but yet hath no Answer from him. Jno Tompson desired ye help of ye Court that William Bunill might goe out of his house: William Bunill was told he must not live in another mans house against his will, but must provide for himselfe elsewhere: he said he would doe what he could:/
John Tompson was asked if he would lett him be in it a while till he may speake with Thomas barnes: Jno Tompson said he cared not if he staid in it a fortnight, or three weekes, so he may then haue his house free, and not be troubled to come to ye Court any more. The Court told Goodman Bunill he must hasten to gett out, he hath libbertie but for a fortnight or three weekes: if he be not out by that time he must be warned to ye next Court, when the Court will doe as they see cause, though John Tompson be not here, for ye charges of ye Court it is at present forborne:/”

Dexter, page 60.
“At a Court Held at Newhaven February Ye 4th 1650.”
“John Tompson desired William Bunill might be put out of his house. Mr Goodyeare desired he might staye in one weeke more & he would vndertake he should then goe out, with wch Jno Tompson was satisfied at present:/”

Dexter, page 89.
“At a Court Held at Newhaven the 7th of October, 1651.”
“William Bunill declareth that while he was gone for England, his wife and her father put forth his sonn to Nico Elsy and his daughter to Sam: Whithead, to prentice without his consent. wch when hee came he disallowed of; onely was willing they should keepe them a while, but now desires that he may haue them againe for his help.
Nicolas Elsy said that the Grandfather of the boy came to him, and desired him to take him, and he did. Goodman Willmot, the Grandfather of the boy was asked the ground thereof; hee said his sonn Bunill was in the Bay, and was a charge to the country there, after went to England, left his wife and children but no meanes to maintayne them; after hee was gone shee & her children came vp heither to him , but hee was not able to keepe them; therfore they did advise together, and agreed to put forth the children, and did put the boy to Nico Elsy:
Samuel Whithead said for the girle he sought her not; but Goodwife Bunill came to his house, declared her condition, wch was to be pittyed, hauing diuers small children and no meanes to maintayne them, and desired him to take her daughter, wch they did vpon the termes they agreed. Goodwife Bunill was asked what direction her husband left for providing for the chilldren; she said he left little or nothing to maintayne them, and she asked him what she should doe with them; hee said they were hers as well as his, and he left them with her. And the boy saith he remembers his father did say so to his mother:

William pecke said that his wife heard Goodman Bunill say after hee came here from England, that he was well satisfyed with the chilldren where they were; and Luke Atkinson said he heard Goodman Bunill say he was well satisfyed in ye placing of ye chilldren. Goodman Bunill said hee ment for the present, a yeere or two, or so. Goodman Bunill was told hee must not thinke that they will take chilldren small and keepe them till now and let him haue them againe, but he must allow what is just for keeping them; wch he is not able to doe, and the case was such it seemes that if they had not placed them, the Magistrate must haue taken care to dispose fothem. Wherefore, all things considered, the Court cannot but confirme the placeing of them: but if they finde the time too longe, they will consider that some of it be abated, or some thing allowed to them:/”

Dexter, page 108.
“At a Generall Court for Newhaven, February 9th 1651.”
“The Townesmen were desired to consider of the charge wch old Bunill hath bine to ye Towne, and how it may be lessened, and setle a weekely allowance to him, as they see cause, that hee may not runn out in vnnecessary charges:/”

Dexter, page 116.
“At a meeting of the Townesmen, February 21th, 1651.”
“The case of old Bunill ws taken into consideration, and for the present it is agreed that hee should haue 2 s a weeke allowed him, provided that hee and his family doe what they can towards their maintaynance.”

Dexter, page 112.
“At a Generall Court for Newhaven the 11th of March, 1651-52.”
“The Townesmen were desired to speake with old Bunill aboute putting forth his boy, that his famylie may be lessened, that the Towne may be at as little charge as may bee. It was saide that Goodman Judsons sonn offered him a cow for the boy, so he might haue him such a number of yeares as might answer it. It was answered if any in the Towne would haue him vpon the termes that another would give, they might: if not, then the Townesmen must put him out as they can; for it was said that the boy is not onely a charge, but he will be spoyled for want of gouermt:/”

Dexter, page 129.
“At a Generall Court for Newhaven the 10th of May, 1652.”
“The Towne was acquainted that old Bunill refuseth to let his sonn be put forth as an Apprentize, according as they gave Order he should: where vpon ye Towne declared that his weekely allowance should be withdrawne, for they are not willing to maintayne the boy at home, when he may be put out so as will be both an advantage to ye family in a cow that is proffered for him, wch will be a good help to keepe them, and for the good of ye boy, who now for want of due nurture growes rude and offensives:/”

NHVR, page 9.
“Ebenezer Bunill the sonn of William Bunill was borne the 28th of August 1653.”

Dexter, page 200.
“At a Generall Court for New Have, February 27th, 1653.”
“The Gouernor informed that one cause of this meeting is aboute Goodwife Bunill who is sicke, vpon whom the Towne hath bine at some charge, but whether as much be done as her case requireth is a question; and is by some reported they are neglected; others say they are at two much charge with them. The Towne was desired now to speake their minds, and not privately in a complaining way. Also, there is two chilldren to be put out, both for the good of the children (who are not educated as they should) & for the easing ye Towne of charge. Concerning what hath bine done for Goodwife Bunill, none spake against it; but for ye children, ye Towne desired they might be put out, and referred it to ye Townesmen to doe it speedily:/”

Dexter, page 208.
“At a Generall Court for Newhaven, May ye First, 1654.”
“The Towne was informed that old Bunill (whose wife and child is dead) is desirous to goe to old England, wch if it could be attained might free the Towne from some charge, though they made some present disburssmt for his passage and other necessaries for him, and vnderstanding a vessel at Milford is bound for Newfoundland, it was Ordered that the Townsmen and Treasureer should treate with them for his passage theither, and Agree of some course how he may be sent from thence to old England, where he saith he hath some friends to take care of him:/”

The Bunnell/Bonnell Newsletter, Vol I, No. 3; July 1, 1987, Pages 2-4


In the last Newsletter I promised to discuss the identity of the several William Bunnells which appear in the early records. First, a correction: I spoke of William Bunnell, "who appears in the records of Watertown, MA from 1630 to 1646," when I should have said "who appears in the records of Massachusetts Bay from 1630 to 1646."

As you read this you will probably wish to refer to the copy of the original records in Newsletter #2. After they were typed into my computer, I found considerable variance between my copy and those of several other researchers who have quoted the same volumes. To insure the accuracy of the Newsletter, I went to Syracuse, NY, (the nearest library to me with these reference works) and compared my printout, letter by letter, with the volumes I was quoting. The Newsletter was not sent to the printer until all necessary corrections had been made. I am reasonably sure that the result is as accurate as I can make it.

Rather than trying to lead up to a conclusion, I will give you my conclusion right at the outset: I believe that all the records quoted from Massachusetts Bay and New Haven clearly refer to a single person who lived part of his life in each place and that no other records have been found which cast a reasonable doubt of that identity.

1. There are no contemporary references to a William Bunnell in New Haven before 1650, although "Goodwife Bunill" testified at New Haven in 1649. This statement conflicts with what some researchers have said. E.g., Carolyn Syron Valentine in her 1925 manuscript wrote, "it is of clear record that a William Bonnel came to New Haven after 1635, married there Anne Wilmot,..."; and Ruth Duncan in WILLIAM BUNNELL AND HIS DESCENDANTS, 1986, STATED, "The New Haven Town Records show that a William Bunnell was in New Haven about 1638." However, Buell B. Bassette, in ONE BASSETT FAMILY IN AMERICA, 1926, wrote, "New Haven writers have said that William Bunnell was there about as early as 1639, but the claim is not supported by any record either land, town, or court." Now, sixty years later, no one has yet produced any contemporary record to show that the Bunnells were in New Haven before 1649. I cannot accept the assertion when no evidence is offered.

2. There are no references to a William Bunnell in Massachusetts Bay after 1646. This also requires explanation. The Valentine manuscript confused me for some time, with its insistence that "There were two William Bonnels, or Bunnels, as the records persisted in making them, in New England." She cited the Massachusetts Bay records of 1630 to 1646, then went on to say, "other records show this William marrying two wives, and several children are named. The dates in connection with these cover the same period as that in which Ann Wilmot's children were being born, and the records are for Massachusetts. Hence it could not have been the Connecticut William." She did not indicate what the "other records" were, and I had never seen any records which could have been the basis for this statement until Ruth Duncan brought to my attention THE PIONEERS OF MASSACHUSETTS, by Charles Henry Pope, published in 1900. On page 80 of that book is an article about William

Burnell of Boston and Pulling Point. Clearly, here are the " other records." To insure complete accuracy for the purposes of this discussion I am inserting

a photocopy of the article in
question. All of the original
records Pope cites in the
article refer to William
Burnell except one: the 1630
item about the jury impaneled
to inquire concerning the death
of Austen Bratcher. Pope
apparently did not find the
later references to William
Bunnell and must have assumed
this was a variation in the
spelling of William Burnell's
name. In any case, he listed
the name as BURNELL, and
followed it with the variant

chh. 14
Lydia 31 (11)

638; made will
1; beq. to sons
el and Jacob;
Son Thomas
e death of his


in 1648. De-
ears. Good-
45 years.

BURMAN, see Boardman.

William, Pulling Point, Boston jury-
man, 1630. Hired one third of the weir at
Menotomy in 1641. Wife Mary adm. chh.
11 (4) 1643; ch. Elizabeth bapt. 18 (4) 1643,
John b. (8) 1644. The wife Mary d. 16 (9)
1645; he m. 2 Sarah ____.
His will dated 16 (2) 1660, prob. May 17,
1661, beq. to wife Sarah, ch. John, Samuel
and Sarah. [Reg. IX, 230, and X, 270.]

Robert, Roxbury, propr. about 1640.
Rem. to Reading: propr. 1652. Mortg. farm

B UNNELL. When William Burnell died in 1669 he left his house and lot in Boston to his son John, and his house and farm at Pulling Point to his son Samuel, plus the sum of forty pounds to his daughter Sarah.
Aside from the fact that the records seem to say clearly "Bunnell" when they mean Bunnell and clearly "Burnell" when they mean Burnell, it is not conceivable to me that William Burnell could have achieved this kind of prosperity if he were the "Goodman Bunnell' whose children the Court had to provide for in 1645, only fifteen years before.

3. Next, I suggest that the character of William Bunnell is consistent as it is revealed in the records of the two colonies. In Massachusetts Bay, for at lest the six years from 1640 to 1646, he appears as a charge to the community. From 1650 to 1654 New Haven had to provide community funds to support him and his family. In 1646 Massachusetts Bay furnished 30 shillings worth of clothing for him on his return to England; in 1654 New Haven had to provide his passage to England. At no time in either colony was he able to support himself and his family.

4. The clinching evidence, however, appears in the testimony of his father-in-law, Benjamin Wilmot, at the Court held at New Haven on 7 October 1851, when William Bunnell was trying to cancel the apprenticeship of two of his children. Wilmot said, "his sonn Bunill was in the Bay, and was a charge to the country there, after went to England,". All three clauses in that statement coincide with the records we have found in Massachusetts Bay. William Bunnell was "in the Bay"; he lived there apparently from 1630 to 1646. He was "a charge to the country there"; the Court records of 1640, 1645, and 1646 prove it. And "after went to England", as the record of 6 May 1646 demonstrates.

5. Benjamin Wilmot went on to say that Bunnell "left his wife and children but no meanes to maintayne them: after hee was gone shee & her children came vp heither to him,". Notice that on 1 October 1845 the General Court of Massachusetts Bay appointed a committee to dispose of the Bunnell children, "if their grandfathr will not take care of ym." A short time later we find them living with their grandfather in New Haven.

In summary, the specific testimony of Benjamin Wilmot, coupled with the supporting evidence from Massachusetts Bay records, the consistency of character displayed by the records from both places, and the fact that no contemporary records have been found which conflict with this interpretation convince me that William Bunnell of Massachusetts Bay and William Bunnell of New Haven are the same person.

If any of my readers believe I am mistaken in this conclusion and wish to present arguments to the contrary, I will be happy to print their letters in future issues of the Newsletter. Only through rigorous examination of all the evidence can we be assured of being correct in the final analysis.

Submit your comments to Charlie via e-mail

or via snail mail at:
Charlie & Pat Bunnell
13 Windsor Pt
Crossville, TN 38558

Please be sure that your name and address are on each page.

Updated 6 Sep 2007