The Strange Travels Of The Vagabond Bennetts

Once of the hazards of being interested in studying history and being pretty open about one’s genealogy, and having a name as ambiguous as my own is the way that one gets a lot of messages about one’s family background. At times, this can lead to a lot of glorious connections. This was true, as I noted, when I was able to compare my background with someone who was seeking a connection to the famous Boones of Western exploration, who were but cousins to my own Pennsylvania Quaker stay at home Boones of Pennsylvania. At times, though, these connections are much less welcome. If the Boones come off as genuine American heroes, not all the lines in my family are as glorious, and few lines have presented me with both as many questions and as many unsettling thoughts as that line involving my middle name, the Bennetts.

Although I have, since birth, had the name Bennett, I was not as equally blessed with a firm knowledge of what the Bennetts were doing in my family. Indeed, even at this point I do not have a firm grasp of what in the world the Bennetts were doing, but it appears that they were doing something, and that something is both interesting and very troubling. The bare information I do have is intriguing, to say the least. Over the course of several generations in the 18th century I find my earliest presently known Bennett ancestor being born in 1710 in Massachusetts, part of my family’s large number of New England ancestors from early colonial days. Of particular interest is the fact that eighteen years later, he has a son in Charleston, South Carolina. How and why did he go from New England to South Carolina? What was he doing there? The main residence of my family’s Bennetts appears to have been in the area around Charleston for the next few decades–I still have family there as late as 1790, where one of them appears on the census–but one of the Bennetts in the line ended up having a son that was born in London, England, a rather long way away from the colonies, one would think for a pregnant woman to end up traveling. My family’s sojourn, whatever business they were up to for decades, ended in Pennsylvania when one John Bennett, who had been born in London, ended up in Pennsylvania, perhaps as an indentured servant, and settled and ended up dying in Indiana County, which is very close to my own core ancestral background. He ended up marrying a nice German girl and being a part of my father’s line of the family.

The question I have is what were these people up to. Something odd is definitely going on. It gets even odder, though. Thanks to my Bennett name, I was contacted by someone of mixed ancestry in South Africa who has 30% or so European ancestry about a possible connection with the Bennetts of St. Helena, from whom he claimed descent through ancestors of his who were on the island in the late 1800’s. Apparently one Bennett who was a soldier in the Madras regiment of the British East India Company found himself as the patriarch of a large clan of Bennetts among the “saints” of that remote South Atlantic island with whom I had no idea whatsoever I had a family connection whatsoever, and this Bennett’s descendants include someone from South Africa (where many people from the island have traveled in search of economic opportunity) [1]. At the moment, this gentleman and I are trying to see if we can triangulate my Bennetts and his Bennetts and other known Bennett lines from St. Helena. While I do not think our most recent common ancestor would be from the island himself, it would then be likely that we are related through a common Bennett from the UK who was a mutual ancestor of our Bennetts, which would only deepen the strangeness of this family and its connections.

The Bennetts present a strange connection that is well worth pondering. If all of these Bennetts are indeed connected, we have one family that managed to combine within itself a lot of traveling. My own line appears to have traveled between New England and South Carolina and London and Pennsylvania, perhaps up to no good at various stops along the way. Finding a link between London, Massachusetts, and South Carolina would appear to indicate some participation in the triangular trade, and that background would appear to indicate why it is that someone was sent out to St. Helena as a soldier in the family, managing to spread his seed as those Bennetts (but not this Bennett, alas) managed to accomplish on multiple continents. If some of the Bennetts appear to be possible world-historical level villains in some aspects of their lives, they were fruitful and multiplied, to the point where it might have given me cousins all over the world from diverse backgrounds. And that is something to be celebrated rather than mourned.

[1] See, for example:

On Useless Infrastructure | Edge Induced Cohesion

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to The Strange Travels Of The Vagabond Bennetts

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    This is intriguing! I asked for guidance when choosing your name and settled on “Bennett” because it means “blessed”. God, however, led me to it because He obviously had deeper reasons and, as the slogan goes, “inquiring minds need to know”.

    • Yeah, this is definitely something of interest. I have found the Bennett name to be of interest in two contexts so far, namely obscure relatives from St. Helena background, and also those who are descended from slaves. So yes, inquiring minds do need to know.

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