Pearsall #3622

Nicholas Pearsall (1619-1689)

Born in England.  Possibly arrived first in Virginia and settled in New York around 1639 and

Sarah ( – )

Possibly arrived first in Virginia and settled in New York around 1639.

Pearsall #3622

The most lengthy and detailed treatment of the Pearsall Family in America is History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America edited by Clarence E. Pearsall and Hettie May Pearsall (San Francisco: H.S. Crocker Company, Inc.) 1928 (refered to as the Pearsall Genealogy in this context for brevity’s sake).  This immense history of the Pearsall family traces its ancestry back to the Viking era, and the three volumes contain a wealth of information and have become the standard reference tool for genealogists researching the family.  However, the conclusions of this book regarding the origins of the Pearsall family on Long Island, New York are controversial.

Serious questions have plagued the Pearsall Genealogy since soon after its publication.  Anyone researching the family should be familiar with a scathing article titled “The Fabulous Pearsalls” that appeared in the October 1941 edition of  The American Genealogist[1].  Two respected New York genealogists commended the immense amount of effort the went into the work but then said: “… we must charge The History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family with containing, in our opinion, some of the most erroneous and incompetent statements, some of the grossest misconstructions of family connections which have ever appeared in print.”  In closely examining a key ancestor, the alleged immigrant, Thomas Pearsall, the genealogists demonstrated many serious errors in interpretation and use of sources in both Virginia and New York.  Their conclusion was that Thomas never lived in New York, that he had nothing to do with the Long Island Pearsalls and might not have even been a Pearsall himself.  The authors of the article may have used just a bit of hyperbole in the above-quoted statement, but given the paucity of documentary evidence from the period under consideration, one can appreciate the level of frustration that drove them to it.  The biggest frustration in this work is the virtual lack of information on sources that link the earliest generations one generation to the next in Virginia and New York.

It is now the considered opinion of many researchers of this family that Clarence Pearsall engaged in some questionable leaps of faith, without making it clear to the reader that his narrative had passed from what can be proven into the realm of sheer speculation and assumption.  Due to the lack of solid sources, it is impossible to either refute Clarence Pearsall’s narrative based on evidence or to construct an alternative history that would account for the Pearsall family that without a doubt was present on Long Island, New York from about 1640.  All this must be taken into account when considering this family.

Our earliest confirmed Pearsall ancestor in Nicholas Pearsall.  The doubts regarding the credibility of the Pearsall Genealogy do not impact this conclusion. Nicholas had only daughters, and the Pearsall Genealogy only considered the Pearsall lines of the male descendants.  The problem, as it relates to us, is the lack of evidence linking him to his presumed father, Thomas Pearsall of London, England and the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Virginia and Maryland.

With these acknowledged concerns, the vital information (mainly from the Pearsall Genealogy) for Thomas Pearsall, the presumed immigrant progenitor of the Pearsall line in America is summarized helow.  Even if Clarence Pearsall’s theories on the origins of the Pearsall family in New York are controversial, they must at least be presented if the descendants are to understand fully the work that has been done on this family.

The early history of the Pearsall family in America is described at considerable length in the Pearsall Genealogy, as that work traces the fortunes of Edmund in England and his sons Thomas and Robert in both England and America.  It is mainly from the Pearsall Genealogy (despite its flaws) that the following brief summary is extracted:

Thomas Pearsall, the son of Edmund Pearsall (1531-1629) and Maria Bathurst, was born in London, England between about 1573-84 and died in Virginia about 1642-3.  In about 1607 he married Mary Brent, daughter of “William Brent the Eldest” of Gloucestershire and London, England and an unknown wife[2].

Edmund Pearsall is the presumed common ancestor of the Pearsall line in North America.  His family was originally of Horsley, Staffordshire, England, however Edmund was a resident of London for most of his adult life.  He was at first a trader in wool and later in tobacco.  He was a Merchant of the Staple and an officer in the Grocers Guild, the largest financial backer of international trade and shipping.  His name is on the list of supporters of the charter for the second Virginia Colony.  It was there the family tobacco fortune was made.  From 1615 to 1620, he and his partner, Edmund White, were awarded exclusive rights to the sale of tobacco from Virginia by King James I.   However, after a series of land and finance frauds committed by his brother Robert and Robert’s heirs against Edmond and his family and business, Edmond Pearsall apparently died in Fleet Street debtor’s prison.  He never traveled to North America.

As early as 1613, Edmund’s son Thomas Pearsall assumed the management of his family’s tobacco business in England, Holland and Virginia.  In 1615 he acquired this business as his own at the time of his father’s retirement from active participation in the concerns of his trading as a member of the Grocers Guild of London.  The Pearsalls, as tobacco traders, had a monopoly in the business from the King James I, obligating themselves to pay the King 3000 pounds the first year and 7000 pounds annually.  By 1620, this monopoly was revoked, and Thomas Pearsall continued in business as a free trader.

Thomas did not finally settle in Virginia until sometime after 1630, and he spent the last dozen or so years of his life in the Chesapeake Bay region of what is now Virginia and Maryland.  Before this he traveled back and forth between England, Holland and Virginia and was to be found wherever the conditions of the trade demanded his personal attention.  Most of his time after 1621 was nevertheless spent in Virginia, which became the place where the tobacco business of the world centered after the expiration of the tobacco monopoly.


WARNING: This is where the speculation begins:

Thomas’ alleged son Nicholas left England in the 1630s to work with his brothers and their father as an English-Dutch trader in the Chesapeake Bay area.  Their main trade was in tobacco.  He took part in the warfare in the Bay area for control of the trade and its taxes between New England, Virginia, Lord Baltimore, the Dutch and the free-wheeling English-Dutch traders.  At one point Nicholas and his brothers were even captured by the Dutch and imprisoned briefly in New Amsterdam.

The expansion of commerce led, in 1639, to the Pearsalls expanding their business with a base of trading on Long Island in the Dutch colony of New Netherland (later New York).  Nicholas and his brothers established the town of Pearsall which became Hell’s Neck and later Middleburg, Long Island.  The Pearsalls subsequently expanded their business into cattle in farming, and Henry established the area around Hempstead, Long Island for this venture.  In 1644, because the town of Hempstead was going to join with Puritan New Englanders in the patent for the town, Nicholas moved back to Hell’s Neck because of his dislike for Puritans.  He and others of like mind soon thereafter formed the town of Flushing, New York, without Puritan involvement.

The brother’s original intention was to engage in the tobacco trade as they had in Virginia, but when the English Civil War (1649-1660) disrupted trade, and their loyal support of the monarchy led to the depletion of their resources, the brothers and their immediate descendants gradually came to rely on farming as their principal occupation.  In 1667, when England was attempting to gain control of New Amsterdam, Nicholas was among those who pledged their allegiance to serve the English King.

With this early family, unlike many of our immigrant ancestors, it was trade and not religious persecution that initially motivated them.

The children of Thomas Pearsall and Mary Brent are listed as follows, along with approximate dates (all born in England):

  1. Thomas (1609-1667)
  2. Henry (1611-1667)
  3. Nicholas Pearsall (1613-1691)
  4. George (1615-1690)
  5. Samuel (1617-1667)

Nicholas Pearsall was born in England about 1613.   He married Sarah[3] (of whom little is known – not even her surname), who was mentioned in his will of 1690.  In 1639 Nicholas and his brothers[4]: Henry, George and Thomas, removed from Virginia to settle on Long Island at Pearsall (later known at Hellgate Neck and later as Newtown).  In 1644, the town of Hempstead was patented.  Nicholas was not happy because of the Puritan influences that were being brought in. There were others who thought as he did, and the year after the patent was issued for the town of Hempstead, they formed a more congenial company who moved across the creek on Hellgate Neck and founded the town of Flushing.  Comparatively little is known of the early history of Flushing and Nicholas at this time since many records have not survived.   Nicholas was constable in 1664 at Flushing.  He and his wife, Sarah, sold land there in 1689-1690.  Nicholas was the last of his brothers to die (Samuel was the first, then Thomas).  He took over raising Thomas’ half grown children.  Nicholas had no sons of his own.  He made his will on 10 March 1690 at the Town of Flushing, Long Island, New York and in it mentions his wife Sarah, daughter Mary [Pearsall] Thorne, grandson John Thorne, daughter Sarah Embree and grandson Robert Embree.  Nicholas died before 21 May 1691 when his will was probated at the Town of Flushing, New York.

In fact, despite the confidence assertions of Clarence Pearsall in the Pearsall Genealogy, nothing definite has been established as to the whereabouts of Nicholas Parcell and his brothers before their appearance in Flushing, and perhaps never will be.  However, there is no disputing the fact that Nicholas of Flushing, Long Island, New York is my direct ancestor (as the controversial issues relate not to the existence of Nicholas but to the connection between Nicholas and his presumed father, Thomas).

A stone marker across Bowne Street from the Bowne House, carved into a rough pyramid, reads: “Here stood the Fox Oaks, beneath whose branches George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, preached June 7, 1672.” Bowne Street is still crowned by oaks.

A stone marker across Bowne Street from the Bowne House, carved into a rough pyramid, reads: “Here stood the Fox Oaks, beneath whose branches George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, preached June 7, 1672.” Bowne Street is still crowned by oaks.

An interesting event in the history of Flushing was the introduction of Quakerism.  Here George Fox[5] found a flourishing meeting when he came to America, and here he delivered several of his most memorable speeches while in America.  Long before this the authorities in New Amsterdam had tried to suppress this new sect by the most drastic laws, which were enforced in the most cruel manner against the peace-loving Friends.  This was more than some of these Dutch-English traders in Flushing could stand for, so they courageously “remonstrated” against the law concerning Quakers, and the subsequent proceedings by the government against the Quakers and others favoring them, saying that

…if any of these said persons come in love vnto vs wee cannot in Conscience lay violent hands vpon them but give them free egresse and regresse into our Towne and howses as god shall perswade our Conscience…

A page from the original Remonstrance of Flushing (1657)

There is no disputing the fact that Nicholas Pearsall was a signer in 1657 of the Flushing Remonstrance (along with his father-in-law and the brother-in-law of Mary, his daughter – both named William Thorne[6]).  Further description of this important document and its significance is included under the heading of William Thorne (1617-1657) and will not be repeated here.

Nicholas Pearsall and his son-in-law John Thorne were among the inhabitants of Flushing who were offered the status of freemen of Connecticut “if they would have it” on 12 May 1664.  This was the year of the British occupation of New Amsterdam, and the offer of the General Assembly of Connecticut was part of a futile attempt to annex Long Island.  Connecticut was, of course, an English Colony, while Long Island was part of the Dutch New Netherlands. The island of Long Island, however, did not become English at that time.  On 12 Aug 1667, following serious disorders in Flushing, John Thorne, Joseph Thorne (his brother), in company with Nicholas Pearsall and eleven others from Flushing  presented themselves to the Governor and gave their names “to be ready to serve His Majesty under his honorable command on all occasions”.

Nicholas Pearsall and Sarah had two daughters, Sarah and Mary PearsallMary was born in the 1640s and died 10 Mar 1689, both in Flushing, New York.  On 9 May 1664, she married John Thorne, born about 1640 in Lynn, Massachusetts and died 23 Jul 1709 in Flushing, New York.

The lineage of Mary Pearsall and John Thorne continues under the heading of William Throne (1617-1657).

[1] Herbert F. Seversmith and Arthur S. Wardwell, “The Fabulous Pearsalls” in The American Genealogist (Vol. 18, pp. 78-90 & 153-171).

[2] Some sources identify her as Mary Huggerford, but evidence seems to be lacking.

[3] Many sources cite a “Mary Van Damn” as the wife of Nicholas Pearsall. This theory is easily refuted. Nicholas, in his will, named his wife as Sarah. Thus, if Mary Van Damn was married to this first Nicholas at all, she had to have been a first wife and dead by the time Nicholas married Sarah (divorces being exceedingly rare). There was a Mary Van Dam who was evidently married to a Nicholas Pearsall, but much later, and this groom was not the Nicholas Pearsall described above. Mary Van Dam was the daughter of Rip Van Dam and his wife Sara Van der Spiegel, who were married at the New York Dutch Reformed Church 24 Sept. 1684.  Mary’s birth is not known with precision, but she was probably born in 1690 as she was christened 16 Nov of that year at the same Church. (An earlier child named Maria had been christened in 1685 but presumably died young.). The inescapable conclusion is that  this Mary Van Dam was only a few months old when the will of the first Nicholas Pearsall in America was proved, and she had not even born when the will was written. This is definitely not a wife of the Nicholas Pearsall who was dead by 1691.

[4] Samuel apparently had not left England at this time. He later assumed responsibility for the family’s operations in Virginia.

George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends.  This 19th-century engraving of George Fox was based on a painting of unknown date.  Its authenticity is questioned, together with all other supposed portraits of George Fox.

George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. This 19th-century engraving of George Fox was based on a painting of unknown date. Its authenticity is questioned, together with all other supposed portraits of George Fox.

[5] George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox lived in a time of great social upheaval and war. He rebelled against the religious and political authorities by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. He traveled throughout Britain as a dissenting preacher, for which he was often persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs. Fox married Margaret Fell, the widow of one of his wealthier supporters; she was a leading Friend. His ministry expanded and he undertook tours of North America and the Low Countries, between which he was imprisoned for over a year. He spent the final decade of his life working in London to organize the expanding Quaker movement. Though his movement attracted disdain from some, others such as William Penn and Oliver Cromwell viewed Fox with respect. His journal, known as The Journal of George Fox, first published after his death, is known even among non-Quakers for its vivid account of his personal journey.

[6] My 8th and 9th great grandfathers, disussed under the heading of William Thorne (1617-1657).


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