WHO WERE BENJAMIN HARRINGTON’S PARENTS?
Benjamin Harrington/Herrington (1618–1694) ( aka ‘Benjamin of Rhode Island’) has probably been the most written about, vilified and controversial Harrington since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Because he provides a vital connection within my own family lineage I have focused my attention on Benjamin’s English background.After all about the only issue not in dispute about the man is that he had to have been of British descent.
English family records show that Benjamin was the second son of James Harrington. James was the seventh son of Sir John Harrington of Kelston,Somerset, England.
Pedigree documentation reveals that the second daughter of the Earl of Lincoln, Anne Clinton-Fiennes, married James Harrington of England and they produced four children named respectively; Robert (b 1616) Benjamin (b 1618) Abraham (b 1622) & Rebecca (b 1625).Both Clinton and Harrington records confirm the same children of the marriage.
Anne Clinton-Fiennes was born at Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England about 1595/96. She was the second daughter of Thomas Clinton-Fiennes, (3rd Earl of Lincoln) and Elizabeth Knyvett. (The Earl was a prominent Puritan involved in the formation of the ‘The Massachusetts Bay Company’). Her family record shows she married James Harrington in 1615 and that she died at Charlestown, Middlesex, MA on 25th December 1632. She was later buried at the Burying Ground, Cambridge, and Middlesex MA.
James Harrington (b.abt. 1592) was the ninth child of Sir John Harrington (1561 - 1612) and Lady Mary Harrington (nee Rogers d. 1634) of Kelston, Somerset, England. Harrington family records show that James died at Watertown, Middlesex, MA in January 1630.
Sir Johns wife, Lady Mary was also a person with long standing Puritan leanings. Their first born son was named James but it seems he died at an early age. As was often the case in those days they named a subsequent son with the same Christian name.Their first surviving son, (and by convention their heir) was called John.Some American family historians insist John Harrington was the father of Robert Harrington (of Watertown) and was the one who drowned in 1630.English historian Ian Grimble (‘The Harington Family’ – Jonathan Cape – London) clearly shows that Sir John Harrington of Kelston’s eldest son John married the daughter of the Ist Earl of Marlborough and they both remained in England. This John Harrington (III) actually became a Member of the English Parliament..
Benjamin Harrington is believed to have accompanied his father, mother and the two younger siblings (Abraham and Rebecca) to Massachusetts sometime during 1630. They travelled not with ‘Winthrops Great Fleet’ but aboard an accompanyingcattle ship named ‘Prosperous’. (James was probably a farmer – hence their mode of travel). Thus, though family legend would have it that the first Harrington to arrive in Boston Bay was named John Harrington the evidence now clearly shows it was more likely to have been James, husband of Anne and father of Benjamin, Robert Abraham and Rebecca.
Eldest sibling Robert didn’t arrive in America until after his mother died. During those crucial years Robert enjoyed an education and the home comforts of his English grandmother.Benjamin was only 12 years old when he lost his father, Abraham was eight and Rebecca five. The loneliness, privation and sheer terror imposed upon widowed Anne and her three young children isolated on the shores of a barren unfamiliar land is something critics of Benjamin perhaps fail to understand. The family were without a male leader, adequate food, shelter or proper protection. They were almost certainly without basic education. Following his mother’s death Benjamin lived briefly with an uncle, Charles Clinton-Fiennes of Lynn MA.That man was said to be a strict uncompromising Puritan. Benjamin finally escaped to Rhode Island with a family of Quakers, named White. They too had some major personality hang-ups. In spite of all this he later married their youngest daughter Elizabeth. Life could never have been easy for Benjamin.
The evidence clearly indicates that Benjamin Harrington/Herrington/Errington/Herndell/Harnden/Herinqton et al were all colonial descriptions of the same man. Given the circumstances of the times there can be nothing sinister read into this list of perceived ‘aliases’. If, as seems likely, Ben couldn’t spell he would hardly be in a position to correct someone else. His ancestral name probably meant little to him anyway. His link was broken the day his mother died.
The ancestors of Robert, Benjamin, Abraham and Rebecca were, none the less, prominent people in medieval and Tudor England. The Clintons are of Norman origin. The family settled in England at about the time of the conquest by William I.Harrington’s are believed to be of even earlier origin. They arrived with the Vikings.Harrington is one of the oldest family names in the English language. It derives from the name of an ancient Celtic coastal village in the north of England called Haefertun – ‘The Place of The Cattle People’. (It is nowadays the Cumbrian village of ‘Harrington’) Our earliest known ancestor was a local chief called Osulf of Fleminby. Osulf settled one of his sons, Robertus, at nearby Haefertun. Thereby Robertus became known as Robertus de (of) Haefertun. Over the years the name of Haefertun corrupted to Hafrinctuna (Romans), de Hafrinctuna and de Haveringham (Normans), de Haverington (Anglo Saxon) and finally to its present form of Harrington (English Middle Ages). Since those early times there have been numerous variations to the surname. One branch of the English family spells its name with only one r. i.e. ‘Harington’.Consider also the different interpretations of Benjamin’s family name. Rhode Island records report that in 1665 his father in law, William White, was “granted a house lot adjoining his son-in-law Benjamine Herndell”. White’s will, made 13th October 1673, described his daughter Elizabeth as “Elyzabeth Harnden”. Benjamin and Elizabeth Harrington’s son, Isaac made his last will on 3rd September 1727. It was filed in the name of Isaac Herinqton.It must be realised that very few of those earlygenerationNew England settlers couldspell their own name. The early records were usually compiled by simple scribes, who themselves transcribed largely on the basis of hand-me-down phonetic interpretation. (There were no dictionaries or phone books to check the spelling!)
The first Harrington to adopt the name as we know it today was Lord John Harrington of Aldingham. (1281 – 1347). He was the eldest son of Sir Robert de Haverington (1262 – 1298).John deleted the Norman prefix and thus became the namesake of our modern clan of Harrington’s.John was created a Baron, by his peers, in 1324. He then became known as John First Lord Harrington of Aldingham, thereby securing the family name within English nobility. It was his son (Sir John Harrington) who introduced the family name to Ireland around 1350 AD. The Harrington families of the period became riddled with eldest sons called John. (A genealogists nightmare!)Benjamins grandfather, Sir John Harrington of Kelston (b. 1561 – d. 1612) was the son of a John Harrington (b. – d.1582) and, as previously indicated, Sir Johns eldest surviving son and heir was also called John.It is little wonder Harrington folklore assumed the first New England settler’s name could be anything but John. (Thank God for the Puritans!)
Sir John Harrington of Kelston was, among other things, godson to Queen Elizabeth I and confidant of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was a renowned wit and became one of the more prominent writers of his age. He was at one time an English spy and at another a prisoner of the English crown. But he is probably best known for his invention of the water closet (appropriately referred to in America as ‘The John”)..
Sir John’s father [John] was a poet to the Court of King Henry VIII. To avoid confusion Sir John of Kelston was known as ‘John the Writer’ and his father, ‘John the Poet’. The Poet got as close as any Harrington to introducing royal blood into our line.‘John the Poet’ was married briefly to Audrey Tudor, (also known as ‘Ethelreda Malte’) one of King Henry VIII’s illegitimate children. Audrey died at childbirth having born him a daughter called Hester.His second wife, Sir John the Writers mother, was Isabella Markham, ‘Gentlewoman companion’ to Queen Elizabeth I
The years 1300 AD to 1600 AD cover an important period of English history. During that time Sir John’s forebears actively participated in a number of notable events including ‘The Wars of the Roses’, ‘The Battle of Agincourt’ and ‘The Battle of Bannockburn’. The Harrington’s were among the senior knights and barons of the Middle Ages. During Tudor times they were variously parliamentarians, prosecutors, pirates and priests. There is even to be found a family ‘curse’, occasional villain and an alleged traitor.
My family history is work in progress. Discussion, criticism and correction are welcome.June 2011