The Witham Family History

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The surname Witham is from the Celtic or pre-Celtic river of the same name in England. It is of uncertain meaning beyond that, although the name appeared as "Widme" in the Domesday Book [A. D. Mills, "A Dictionary of English Place-Names," Oxford University Press, 1991]. Anglo-Saxon place names often finish in "HAM", so Witham could be of (at least partially) Anglo-Saxon origin as well, from the combination of "Widme" and "Ham".

The town itself of Witham is located in Essex County, England, where the River Brain and River Blackwater meet. As mentioned above, Witham is mentioned in William the Conquerer's Domesday Book of 1086 AD, so it is quite old. The site has been equated with Edward the Elder's burh, but excavations since the 1930's revealed instead an Iron Age earthwork, in which a castle was built in the 12th century; here also was the hundredal meeting place and focus of a royal manor. Next to the earthwork was found a minster church, an early market site and a small planned settlement. A short distance away from this site is where the Knights Templar laid out a substantial new town over the remains of what may have originally been a Viking camp. There is also a Witham Canal in the area, dating to Roman times, and a Witham Manor -- called Cressing Temple. Cressing Temple is a medieval barn situated four miles north of Witham, and was the headquarters of the Knights Templar who governed the manor of Witham in the early 1100's. The family crest can be found in Burke's Peerage.

Variation of the Witham name include: Whitham, Whiton, Whittam, Whittem, Whitten, Whittin, Whittom, Whitton, Whittone, Whittum, Widden, Wihtum, Withum, Witam, Witten, Witton, and Wittum (among other even more obscure spellings...).


An Interesting Mention of the Witham Family

"In the 18th century, Bearskin Neck in Rockport was the site of fishermen's shanties, boat building shops, stores which sold boat gear, bait, and clams, and an old tavern...

The name of this rough-and-tumble section of town comes from the following story about Ebenezer Babson (baptized February 8 1667 at Gloucester; died before 1696) and his rescue of our ancestor Henry Witham:
"Thus ended the year 1692, except a strange and inexplicable occurrence that happened this year at Gloucester. In the month of July this year, there appeared several men, as they that saw them apprehended, not together, but sometimes one only, at other times two or three together, and once about a dozen in company, and heard them stamping in the night about the garrison. Several men shot at them, and they were seen to fall down as dead; but when those that supposed they had killed them came near the place, they would either disappear, or stand up and run away; and though they ran over muddy places, they left no track behind them. One Ebenezer Babson, being in the woods alone, heard the report of a gun fired by one of those which cut off the limb of a pine bush near to him, and lodged in a hemlock tree, which was after cut out, and preserved a long time, if not to this day. For the truth of these strange occurrences, we have the testimony of this Babson, Day, Hammond, Ellery, Dolliver, who with others fired at them, but to no purpose."

The story continues however, with the report that Ebenezer was "distinguished in an encounter with a less ethereal enemy, and thus have been the occasion of the loyal saying, 'The knife that Babson killed the bear with'". This legend now appears in the couplet: "Babson, Babson, killed a bear, With his knife, I do declare."

Roger W. Babson in his Story of Bear Skin Neck puts it as follows: "...Ebenezer Babson, who then resided at the Farms, saw the bear attack the boy [his nephew, Henry Witham]. He immediately attacked the bear to get his attention away from the child, but having no gun he permitted the bear to follow him into the water. There - after a terrific struggle - Ebenezer killed the bear with a fish knife."

The story is continued by George Jay Babson: "He then brought the bear onto the shore, skinned him, and spread the skin on the rocks to dry. Ebenezer died shortly afterwards, presumably at sea, but his nephew Henry Witham, whose life he saved, lived to a ripe old age. Naturally, he often told the story of his rescue, and when people asked how Ebenezer killed the bear, he would reply: 'With his knife, I do declare.'"

Citation from "John J. Babson, History of the Town of Gloucester Cape Ann Including the Town of Rockport (Massachusetts: Proctor Brothers, 1860);
and from "George Jay Babson, Colonial Babsons (n.p.:, n.d.), 8-9."

Thomas Witham of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and some of his Descendants

Here's what we know. Thomas Witham arrived from England some time in the early 1600s. We know he settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and eventually died there in 1653. We don't know who he married, but we know he had a son named Henry. We don't know when Henry was born, but from here the record gets clearer -- we do know he married Sarah Somes on June 15, 1665 in Gloucester. We also know that Sarah was the daughter of Morris Somes and Margerie (???). And we know that Sarah was born on June 14, 1643, in Gloucester, and died on May 11, 1689, also in Gloucester. And we know that, two years later, Henry remarried, to Lydia Younglove Griffin, on October 23, 1691, in Gloucester. Lydia was born in Annisquam, MA, and died on November 1, 1702, in Gloucester. Henry had passed away seven months earlier, on April 17, 1702, in Gloucester.

The children of Henry Witham and Sarah Somes are all listed as either being born in Gloucester (baptismal records) or Salem (vital records):
Thomas Witham (see below).
Henry Witham, born on October 27, 1668.
John Witham, born 19 February 1670/71 in Gloucester; died 18 June 1671 in Gloucester.
Samuel Witham, born 26 January 1672/73 in Gloucester; died Bef. 1723 in Gloucester. He married Rebecka Gardner 05 December 1705 in Gloucester; born 15 September 1675 in Gloucester.
Joseph Witham, born 21 December 1676 in Gloucester.

Thomas Witham, the son of Henry and Sarah, was born on September 29, 1666, in Gloucester, and died on August 1, 1736, in Gloucester. He married Abigail Babson on July 8, 1691, in Gloucester. Abigail was the daughter of James Babson and Elinor Hill. She was born on May 13, 1670, in Gloucester, and died on February 25, 1745, in Gloucester, at the age of 74.

We have additional information about the Witham/Babson clan. After James Babson died in 1683, his wife Elinor lived with her daughter Abigail and son-in-law Thomas Witham. In appreciation, Elinor gave them land near her own residence at The Farms, Gloucester. Thomas bought a quarter acre of land from Richard Babson next to land he had already received from his mother-in-law on May 11, 1696. The record reads: "John Ring, as the agent of Thomas Witham, bought the Babson Farm at the Little Good Harbor..."

The children of Thomas Witham and Abigail Babson are:
John Witham, born 01 May 1692 in Gloucester.
Henry Witham, born 06 December 1695 in Gloucester.
Joseph Witham, born 16 December 1697 in Gloucester.
Daniel Witham (see below).
Ebenezer Witham, born 08 May 1702 in Gloucester.
James Witham, born Bef. 1703 in Gloucester.
Abigail Witham, born 04 April 1704 in Gloucester.
Sarah Witham, born 08 June 1706 in Gloucester.
Patience Witham, born 15 February 1709/10 in Gloucester.
Thankful Witham, born 02 January 1712/13 in Gloucester.

Daniel Witham, the fourth son of Thomas and Abigail, was born on August 30, 1700, in Gloucester. Daniel graduated from Harvard College in 1718 and married Lydia Sanders on January 7, 1734/35, in Gloucester. We do not know who Lydia's parents are. Daniel died some time in 1776 in Gloucester.

Their daughter, Judith Witham, was born on June 28, 1750 in Gloucester. She married Nathan Haskell on October 27, 1771, in Gloucester Massachusetts, and eventually settled in New Gloucester, Maine.

Their daughter, Mary Witham Haskell (1797-1864), married George Washington Waite (1793-1870), and eventually settled in Medway, Maine.


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