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Alternative Hypotheses Regarding the
Origins of James Corse

 John P. DuLong

 First Draft, 9 September 2001

Please cite, quote, or photocopy only with
the written permission of the author.

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Many genealogists have pondered the origins of James Corse.  In fact, the renowned Deerfield historian, George Sheldon, worked on this issue, as did Charles Corss, an amateur genealogist and lawyer from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.  Over the course of many years I have come across several hypotheses regarding James' origins.  These origin hypotheses can be grouped into the following categories: England, Maryland, Barbados, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland.  With the exception of the Scottish hypothesis, I will deal with each of these hypotheses in turn on this web page.  Here I summarize my research to date on each hypothesis and my assessment of their respective viability.  The hypothesis I find most convincing is that James was of Scottish ancestry.  Consequently, this Scottish hypothesis is discussed in great detail in the main James Corse web page, which also contains all the known facts of his life.

Before proceeding, it is necessary to note that James was a poor man who did not live long.  Thus it will be difficult to find records relating to him to verify or disprove any of these hypotheses.  This is one reason why his origins have remained a mystery.  It is always easier to trace the rich who have lived a long life and left behind many documents.

England

The simplest explanation of James's origins is that he was probably from England given that he was settled in New England.  The odds certainly favor this solution.  The majority of settlers during the seventeenth century to New England were obviously from England.  Savage (1860-1862, 1:vi) estimated that 98 percent were from England.  Only a minority were Scots, Irish, or from other lands.  However, there is no document mentioning England as the homeland for James.  Furthermore, the onomastic evidence presented on the main James Corse web page shows that the surname Corse is relatively rare in England. 

In a letter dated 5 September 1895 from Elizabeth B. Rogers to George Sheldon, she states that "James Corss was ______ the 'English officer who served in the French & Indian Wars—'Marrying & Settling' probably 'in Rhode Island' Mrs. Pierce thinks this is true."  I think that in this letter Mrs. Rogers is confusing James Corse, Jr., with his father, James Corse, Sr.  There is no evidence that James was ever an English officer or associated with Rhode Island.

A support point for the English origins hypothesis is that Elizabeth Corse, the captive daughter of James, was recorded as being "Anglaise" in 1730 (Coleman [1926] 1989, 2:75; PRDH no. 123781).  In that same record her parents are identified as being English.  In fact, in all the records found the PRDH database mentioning her ethnicity or origins, she is identified as either being English or as coming from Deerfield, New England (nos. 210968, 4014038, 18927, 18391, 123781).   There is no mention of her being of Scottish or French ancestry.  Nevertheless, this is fairly weak support given that French priests and clerks were inclined to view everyone from New England as being English.  In fact, in 1717, they mistakenly claim her French husband, Jean Dumontet dit Lagrandeur, is also English (PRDH no. 18391).

Despite the lack of evidence that James was from England, given that he lived in New England, this hypothesis must remain as a fallback hypothesis should the other hypotheses prove untrue.

Maryland

In 1888, Sheldon submitted the following query to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register:

Corse—James Corse came to Deerfield before 1690.  There is some evidence that he was a son of Dr. Michael De Coursey, county physician of Kent Co., Maryland, in 1670.  The name is also found De Coursey, De Course, Corse, and Coursey.   Wanted:—More light on the ancestry of James Corse.

It is not known what led Sheldon to believe this was a possibility.   Nor do we know if he received any private replies to his query, nothing appears in the Corse File.  However, it is clear he had abandoned this hypothesis by 1896 when he published the second volume of his history and indicated that James was "of unk.[nown] antecedents" ([1895-1896] 1983, 2: 133).

A review of a book on the Maryland Coursey (or De Coursey) family finds a James Corse!  Craig (1978) discusses a James Corse, the son of Colonel Henry Coursey.   This James Corse was the first in his family to change the surname from Coursey to Corse around 1696 (6).  Among his children is a son and two grandsons named James (see table, x).  There are also a a son and two grandsons named Michael, but none of these Michaels are noted as being physicians or even surgeons.  Furthermore, none of his children or grandchildren carry the given name Ebenezer, which we find among the Deerfield Corses.  The chronology of this family seems to make a relationship between our James and these Maryland Corses unlikely.  The James Corse who sired this Maryland family was a minor in 1695, had his will probated in 1720, and his son James made out his will in 1747 (x, 6, 71).  They were all married, lived, and died in Maryland.

This De Coursey is of French origination, but it is unclear if they were Norman French or Huguenots.  It is known that the family was Protestant with ties to Dublin, Ireland, in the seventeenth century.  In an intriguing example of three brothers who actually did come to North America, Colonel Henry Coursey (Ca. 1625-1695) came to Maryland around 1651 with his brothers John Coursey (?-1661) and William Coursey (?-1684).  All of them settled in Kent County (1).  Henry's brothers apparently left no heirs (4), so our James can not be among their descendants.

Craig (6) does mention James from Deerfield but she dismisses him as not to be confused with James Corse the son of Colonel Henry Coursey, who would have been younger than the Deerfield man with the same name.  Furthermore, the James Corse of Maryland died in 1720 and was a Quaker (9).  It is interesting to note that she assumes that Deerfield must be in Maryland.

Craig (6) makes clear that the surname Corse is derived from De Coursey.   Furthermore, she notes several other  variations including Course, Coarse, Koarse, DeCoursey, DeCourcy, and deCourcy (6).  She does not mention any variations such as Cors or Corss as we have observed to be the case among the Deerfield Corses. 

Why Sheldon considered this Maryland hypothesis remains a mystery?  There are Michael Corses living in Maryland, but none of them went by Coursey or De Coursey, they were too young to have given birth to our James, and none of them are noted as being doctors.  So far no other information has been found regarding Dr. Michael De Coursey of Kent County, Maryland.  Nevertheless, to completely eliminate this Maryland hypothesis it is still necessary to check other publications regarding the De Coursey family (Adams 1973; Beatty and Shramek 1971-1974).

Barbados

Often, when origins of New England colonists are unsure, sooner or later someone suggest that the person may have originated from Barbados.  This island colony was founded by the British in 1627.  During the colonial period, Barbados was one of the prosperous West Indies islands that attracted many immigrants (Schaefer 1998, 126).  By 1642, there were about 18,000 settlers on this small island, compared to about 14,000 in Massachusetts and about 2,000 in Connecticut (Genealogical Department 1976, 8).  There was even migration between New England and Barbados (Kent 1980, 7; Moriarty 1913, 361).   Like New England, most of the original White settlers were from England, but there were also some Dutch, Irish, Jewish, Scottish and Spanish inhabitants as well as many African slaves on the island (Kent 1980, 8).

Interestingly, the name James Corse does appear in the records of Barbados.  In the will of Robert Hooper, dated 12 September 1654, James Corse is mentioned as one of thirty-five "Christian servants" who belong to his plantation and are listed along with the fifty-four working Blacks and children in "negro town" (Brandow 1983, 339-340).  Apparently, he was indentured to Mr. Hooper.  I suspect that he might have been one of the Scots banished to Barbados.  There are several other Scottish and Irish sounding surnames listed with him, such as, MacKoghlin, Mackoone, Makary, Graghead, etc.  Since our James was born around 1665, this gentleman is probably too old to be our person.  However, one wonders if he is related in some way to our James. 

A search of published works, census, baptism, marriage, and will and administration records led to no other mention of James Corse or any other Corses in Barbados.   However, it appears that this James Corse went by the another variation of his surname.  In a letter from Berry Carillo Shannon, the librarian at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, to Thomas L. Glassel, 9 May 1995, she states that James Corse (Cowse or Cowes) was a Christian servant of Robert Hooper around 1654.   He was included in several wills with small inheritances and must have been well liked.  Robert Hooper, who died in 1667, left him 5,000 of sugar.  For several years he was a vestryman for St. Michael's Anglican church.  Either he or his son carried on the name until at least 1727 when 30 was deducted from the tax on his rented houses.  St. Michael is the parish headquartered in Bridgetown on the southwest shore of Barbados.  

Another search of published records for Barbados now reveals several entries for James Cowse or Cowes: 

12 September 1654, will of Robert Hooper of Barbados, already discussed, only mention of James Corse with the usual spelling of the surname (Brandow 1983, 339)

2 October 1663, St. Michael, baptism of Mary, daughter of James Cowes (Sanders 1984, 7)

7 November 1665, St. Michael, baptism of James, son of James Cows, Esq., note that he has raised himself from a Christian servant to an esquire now (Sanders 1984, 8)

25 June 1668, St. Michael, baptism of James, son of James Cowse, Esq., the previous James must have already died (Sanders 1984, 11)

19 December 1667, will of Robert Hooper of Barbados, James Cowes is mentioned as a loving friend, is  given 5,000 of sugar, and is one of the appointed overseers of the will (Brandow 1983, 322)

6 June 1685, will of Honor Quein, widow of Jeffery Quein, of St. Thomas, mentions "James Cowse, son of James Cowse Esq of Bdos Decd" (Sanders 1979-1981, 2:286)

6 June 1699, born the same day, St. Michael, baptism of Eliza:, daughter of Mr. James Cowse and Mrs. Eliza:, his wife, note that he is now Mister (Sanders 1984, 39)

7 August 1703, James Cowse of St. Michael, acting as an attorney of James Sherry of London, merchant, sells to Daniel Hooper and Robert Lettis Hooper of Christ Church, Barbados, 13 acres, 1 rod of land in St. George for 132 10sh.   (Brandow 1983, 344)

6 May 1704, will of Edward Arnell of St. Michael, James Cowse is mentioned (Brandow 1983, 124; Sanders 1979-1981, 3:6)

18 December 1704, will of Nicholas Baker, St. Michael, James Cowse is a witness (Sanders 1979-1981, 3:16)

29 November 1707, born the 27th, St. Michael, baptism of Jno:, son of James Cowse, Esq., and Mada: Eliza:, his wife (Sanders 1984, 50)

23 August 1709, born the 21st, St. Michael, baptism of Eliza:, daughter of James Cowse, Esq., and Mada: Eliza:, his wife (Sanders 1984, 51)

3 March 1711, codicil to the will of 1709, mentioned in Benjamin Middleton's will of 1711, the codicil entrust James Cowes, Esq., in Barbados, with the "late poor slaves" who were "wronged in their wages for these 30 years" (Sanders 1979-1981, 2:234)

21 August 1711, born the 6th, St. Michael, baptism of James Cowse, Esq., and Mada: Eliza:, his wife (Sanders 1984, 53)

4 August 1713, born the same day, St. Michael, baptism of Anne, daughter of James Cowse, Esq., decd., and Mada: Eliza:, his wife, note that this James Corse is now deceased (Sanders 1984, 55)

10 May 1716, St. Michael, marriage of Mada: Eliza: Cowse, widow, to Mr. Jno: Ashley, merchant (Sanders 1982, 1: 123)

1727, given that the father was marked as dead by 4 August 1713, the son, James Cowse, must have had the 30 deducted from the tax on his rented houses (Letter Shannon to Glassel 1995)

The above facts show that James Corse or Cowse remained in Barbados.   He died before 1685 and his son, also named James, was still living on the island in 1716.  Therefore, neither one can be our James, though they are possibly Scottish and might be relatives.  There are no other Corse candidates in the rather complete Barbados records.  It is a pity the New England records for the same period are not as full for our James. 

France

It has been suggested that perhaps James was a Huguenot, possibly from Corsica, or a even a pirate (Letter Glassel to DuLong 1994).  This is some interesting speculation, but there is no evidence for any of these ideas.  Although French Protestant, otherwise known as Huguenots, were known in New England before the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, it would be more likely to find one after that date.  As for the Corsican idea, this is derived from the fact that Corsica is known as Corse in French.  I believe that the pirate hypothesis is a romantic idea that I suspect is only grounded on the similarity between the words Corse and Corsair, being a French term for a privateer of the Barbary Coast.  Hardly enough of a connection to encourage me to spend hours of research time and my limited dollars to pursue it.

The Huguenot card is not so easily dismissed.  In a letter dated 15 October 1895, Charles Corss wrote to George Sheldon: "My father has always believed that James was a French Huguenot.  I recently read that a company of Huguenots came to Mass. in 1684 & were granted 11.000s acres of land at Oxford by the State of Mass."  The Oxford settlement of Huguenots was founded in 1687.  It consisted of about twenty-five families.  The settlement was dispersed in 1696 after an Indian attack.  Although some Huguenots resettled there in 1699 it was abandoned again because of further Indian troubles by1704.  It was not until an English group resettled the place in 1713 that a permanent community was founded (Butler 1983, 48, 63-64). 

Checking several publications on the Oxford settlement does not reveal the Corse name among the inhabitants (Daniels 1880; Holmes 1830).  Furthermore, the Family Tree Maker (1998) CD-ROM containing several works on Huguenot settlers in North America also lacks a mention of the surname Corse.  This CD-ROM product includes Baird's Huguenot Emigration to America ([1885] 1998), one of the more comprehensive works on Huguenots in the New World, and it too fails to discuss the Surname Corse.  It seems that there is no mention of a Corse in works specifically about the Huguenots at Oxford or in any other major refuge in North America.

Rubincam (1982, 11-12) warns us that "As Americans, we often feel that there is something romantic about a Huguenot line of descent....  The Huguenot Tradition is a popular one among Americans.  Any name that sounds even remotely French is proclaimed as Huguenot."  We should be cautious about any claims of Huguenot ancestry.  Nevertheless, this Huguenot variation of the French origins hypothesis can not be simply dismissed and should be further considered if other less promising hypotheses fail.

The surname Corse does not appear in a lists of Huguenot settlers in America (Gannon 1985; Lawton 1963).

It is interesting to note that James's daughter, Elizabeth, was not known as Corse in New France.   Her surname was usually spelt Casse, but Coss, Coxs, Cas, and Cass were also used (Fournier 1992,117).  This is particularly curious because if her surname was truly of French Huguenot origin, or was adopted from the French name for Corsica, then you would think that the French would naturally have spelt it as Corse!

The Netherlands

Actually, this is not a hypothesis I have seen expressed by anyone else.   However, while cruising the Internet for information about the Corse surname, I came upon The Dutch Uncle Discussion List Home Page (1999).  This site also covers members of the De Coursey family who apparently settled in the New Netherlands, just link to the Bill DeCoursey Files at this web site to see the information.  Some members of this family spelled the surname as Course, Corsse, Corssen, Corszen, Corson, and Corsa.  However, I could find no Corse, Cors, Corss, or Coss variations as surnames before 1700.   Curiously Cors is used as a nickname for Cornelius, as in Cornelius Pietersen Vroom was also known as Cors Pieterse.  Nevertheless, there is no evidence of Cors being used as a surname, only as a nickname for a given name.   There is no data presented on this web page linking James Corse with the New Netherlands.  Still, I suppose it is another hypothesis that should be investigated if more promising hypotheses prove wrong.

Scotland

This is the hypothesis that I find most convincing and which is covered in detail in the main paper concerning the origins of James.  See the Scottish Origins section of the main James Corse web page.

References

All references can be found on the References web page.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright 1999 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI.   Created 1 July 1999.  Last modified 13 November 2001.  This web site is best viewed with your display set to 800 by 600 pixels, at least 256 colors, and using Netscape 4.x or better.  The coordinated graphics for this site come courtesy of Jelane Johnson.