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
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
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
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
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
Vol. 2, page 134.
1 Oct. 1645. “At a Session of the Generall Court”
“Mr Sparhauke & Leift Mason are appointed a committee
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
Vol. 2, Page 149.
6 May 1646. “At a Generall Courte, at Boston, for
“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
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
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
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,
“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,
“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,
“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
HOW MANY WILLIAM BUNNELLS?
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
Lydia 31 (11)
638; made will
1; beq. to sons
el and Jacob;
e death of his
in 1648. De-
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.]
BURNAP, BURONP, BURNOPP, BURNETT,
Robert, Roxbury, propr. about 1640.
Rem. to Reading: propr. 1652. Mortg. farm
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
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
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
snail mail at:
|Charlie & Pat
13 Windsor Pt
Please be sure that
your name and address are on each page.
6 Sep 2007