Raising Ghosts

Gypsy Girl, Fran Hals, 1630

Gypsy Girl, Fran Hals, 1630


When most amateur genealogists get a family line back to the 1600s in America, the received narrative clicks-in.

New Haven, Connecticut, 1676.  An ancestor with a nice solid English-sounding name. “Edward Grannis“.  A wife named “Hannah Wakefield“.  Living in a settlement founded by Puritans in 1638.  Home of Yale University.

Natural perhaps, to presume certain things.  Things about ethnicity, things about social standing and religion.

Sometimes, just sometimes, we get lucky.  We uncover a record telling more than a just a name, a marriage date, or a simple place of burial.  And from the most fleeting of hints, we begin to recognise the passions and humanity of actual people.

Edward Grannis appeared in court as a witness against a man accused of killing and eating three hogs belonging to a local church minister.

It is not clear whether Edward’s willingness to testify was motivated simply by his sense of civic duty in the face of theft, or more by the fact that the accused, Thomas Langden, had threatened his own wife with death if she were to reveal his crime.

It seems that Edward was an early opponent of domestic violence, for he also testified that Langden had also once been seen beating his wife for failing to “weede corne”.

Edward had himself already been before a court by the age of 20, for failure to maintain “a good serviceable gun..and four or five good flints fitted for every firelock piece, all in good order and ready for any sudden occasion, service, or view”.

Whether Edward was just negligent, or uninterested in taking part in hostilities with the local Quinnipiac people, it is impossible to say.

What is more interesting, is the picture which emerges later, of a man of unusual principle.

Edward Grannis was charged later in life with rioting at an assembly, “where there was a public affronting of authority in [the] stopping and hindering of the execution of a sentence which was order[ed] by authority”.

As the leader of this open protest against Puritan law, Edward was sentenced “to be whipped twelve stripes, well laid on”.

Okay.  So we clearly have a man at odds with the local theocracy.  And being a man not given to wife-beating, what do we know of his own wife?

Hannah Wakefield was in fact Edward’s second wife, his first wife Elizabeth Andrews having died after only eight years of marriage.

We would know very little of Hannah, if she hadn’t been as stubborn in the face of Puritanical law as her husband.

During their time in Hadley, Massachusetts, Hannah was twice brought before the Puritan courts for wearing silk.  One might assume this was due to a Puritanical religious aversion to worldly riches or vanity, but no.

Puritan society was extremely class-conscious, and a law had been passed in 1651 forbidding anyone with an estate worth less than 200 pounds from wearing “gold or silver lace, gold or silver buttons, bone lace above 2 shillings value per yard, or silk hoods or scarves”.

This is where we put on our own thinking caps.  Puritan society was determined to keep people “in their place”.  Edward and Hannah, by their actions, are clearly seen by the local eminences as people of low status attempting to act “above their station”.

Edward and Hannah, in turn, also clearly bear no love for Puritan culture.

Records for the origin of this couples’ parents are thoroughly ambiguous.  And we might leave it at that – two working-class English indentured servants complete their time of servitude, get married, and remain always at odds with their over-religious and snobbish community.

But something smells funny.

The surname “Grannis” itself is rarely found outside America.  It is thought to derive from the placename “Cranes” in Essex, in the southeast of England.

Cranes lies a few miles from the town of Basildon, right beside Cray’s Hill, where just over ten years ago the largest Romani/Gypsy/Traveller encampment in England was finally forced off the land which they owned there.

Because the surname “Grannis” is not found in Essex today, it is entirely plausible to surmise that the name was first assumed in America by indentured servants transported from Cranes to New England.

And rooting through even more old records shows a sibling of Edward marrying a woman named “Diadema“.

Diadema“?  A very odd name for a woman in Puritan Connecticut.  And the name of a place in Portuguese-speaking Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The main port to which Portugal had expelled its Gypsies during the 1500s…

Diadema” is also the Portuguese word for “diadem” – a form of crown usually worn by royalty.

While still found on occasion in other countries such as Argentina, “Diadema” is almost unheard-of as a girl’s name in the USA today.

Of course all of this might have nothing to do with multi-ethnic America, except that the Grannis line intersects early with a Peterson line.  And this Peterson line meets the Bunch family in Grainger County, Tennessee in the 1800s – the latter being one of many Appalachian families sometimes claiming Portuguese ancestry.

Or “Porty-ghee”, to use the mountain parlance.

And lest all of this sound like a flight of whimsy, I have spoken to many Appalachians who show genetic matches with people in Brazil today, and with modern Romanichal descendants in England.

Was the Grannis family somehow connected to Iberian Gypsies who had moved to England after being expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1619, only to be swept-up under anti-Gypsy laws enacted in 1600s England, and then transported as “servants” to the Americas?

Who knows?  But trying to find out is fascinating.

American history.  So much more than “White English Puritans”.


#beforewewerewhite #puritans #romani #gypsies

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