The Origins of James Corse, ca. 1665-1696, Deerfield, Massachusetts
John P. DuLong
First Draft, 1 July 1999
If you like this web site, then make sure you also visit the execellent web site:
Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704
Guy Robert, another descendant of Elisabeth Corse living in Canada, has written a text about his views of Elisabeth's destiny that
Table of Contents
James Corse is the ancestor of a considerable number of people with roots in New England and Québec. However, very little is known with certainty about him. His origins are a mystery. James's background is a problem that has plagued several genealogical researchers for many decades. This web page will not provide a definitive answer to the question of his origins. However, it is my hope that, by reviewing the case and the research I and others have done on him, we might come to a better understanding of the research challenges and focus our efforts more productively. In this web page I will suggest a possible Scottish origin for James that will require further research. By laying out the facts and competing hypotheses I am hoping that we can reduce some redundancy in our research and better coordinate our efforts on this case.
Attack on Ensign John Sheldon's house, the "Inidan
The Facts of the Case
Unless otherwise indicated, the facts for James Corse's life come from Sheldon's History of Deerfield, Massachusetts ([1895-1896] 1983, 2:133-134, 398).
James first appears in a record dated 18 March 1686 (Temple and Sheldon 1875, 96; there is some question about the date as you will see in the next paragraph). He is on a list of men granted land at Northfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts. This was for the second settlement of Northfield, or Squakheag as the Indians called it, which started around 1682. The first settlement lasted from 1671 to 1675 when the the site was abandoned because of Indian attacks. The second settlement did not start in earnest until 1685 when dwellings and a fort were built. The men granted land were to settle on it before 10 May 1686. Out of the forty men on the list only James, John Kingsley, Thomas Root, Jr., and Joseph Sheldon were not assigned specific amounts of land (Temple 1890, 125).
In a letter dated 15 October 1895 from Charles Corss to George Sheldon, he wrote: "I am indebted to your hist. of Northfield for the first mention of James Corse. At the second settlement in 1682 or 1683 or 1684 he was one of 40 to whom house lots were offered on condition of settlement. Though no 'Intervale land' was allotted him, he certainly was in that part of Mass. six years before he married Eliz. Catlin. Of the 40 names some were from Deerfield, some from Northampton, & some from Springfield." (Intervale is a New England term for bottomland.) Furthermore, Corss wrote to Shelden, in a letter dated 16 March 1896, that the date for this list was uncertain and he was inquiring after copies of the original Northfield Committee minutes.
The uncertainty of the first mention date for James in Northfield possess a problem in assigning a possible birth year for James. No original record mentions his age. However, to own land, or be offered land, in colonial New England it is very likely he would have been an adult, that is, over 21 years of age. If he was offered the Northfield lot in 1686, then he would have been born in 1665 or earlier, but probably no earlier than say 1635. It is unlikely that he would have been in his 50's when he settled in New England. A birth year of 1665 fits in well with the average age of marriage in Deerfield, being around 25 year of age for men and 19 for women (Melvoin 1989, 132, 321 n. 7). Thus being married around 1690, James would have probably been born in 1665 and his future bride, Elizabeth Catlin, born around 1671. Sheldon ([1895-1896] 1983, 308) estimated her age at about 32 in 1704, which would mean she was born in 1672. If the year James was mentioned in the Northfield records was really 1682, 1683, or 1684, then the year of his birth must be pushed back further. For our purposes, until we come up with something more solid, let us assume that James was born around 1665, give or take five years.
Around the time the Northfield settlement collapsed in 1689 again because of further Indian threats, James had moved to Deerfield, Franklin County (formerly, part of Hampshire County until 1811), Massachusetts. Like Northfield, Deerfield also had two settlements. Originally, it was known as Pocumtuck, the name of the local Indian tribe. The first settlement lasted from 1671 to 1678. As in the case of Northfield, Deerfield would lay abandoned until the second settlement in 1680. In 1689, Deerfield was the last outpost on the northwest frontier of Massachusetts.
It was at Deerfield, round 1690, that James took for his wife Elizabeth Catlin, the daughter of John Catlin, a socially prominent Deerfield resident, and Mary Baldwin. She was probably born around 1672, given that her parents were married in 1662 and she followed at least two older children in birth order. The Catlins were one of the better off families in this rugged little frontier outpost.
James and Elizabeth had three children:
We know very little about James's life in Deerfield. Melvoin (1983, 286-289, 625-626) places James among a second wave of new settlers to Deerfield who appear between 1689 and 1704. Most of these second wave settlers were not immigrants, rather, they were the children of the first wave of Deerfield residents. In this sense, James was out of place, but they were a young crowd, and in this James was probably on the mark with his age.
Like Northfield, the composition of Deerfield was diverse, perhaps a little more diverse than Northfield. Besides a core of stable family farmers of English ancestry--most born in New England--there were also some young unmarried men, some former troublemakers in other communities, some Indians, a few Blacks slaves, and even some French Canadians (Melvoin 1989, 153-154). Perhaps it was easy for a lone young man like James to fit into this frontier community. Marrying the daughter of John Catlin, one of Deerfield's more prominent members, must have helped. Mr. Catlin had served as a selectman of the town in 1689, 1690, 1694, 1695, 1697, and 1700 and was town moderator six times between 1696 and 1701 (Sheldon [1895-1896] 1983, 2:855, 857). Furthermore, prior to coming to Deerfield around 1683 (more likely 1685 when he purchased part of lot no. 29 from Samson Frary, see Catlin, "4. John, s. of John (2)," Sheldon [1895-1896] 1983, 2:105, though McGowen and Miller (1996, 151) indicate that Catlin did not purchase the land, lot no. 29 III, from Frary until 1687), he had been active in the Newark, New Jersey, settlement and was the "Town's attorney" [a person trusted to act for the town, not a lawyer] and its first teacher in 1676 (104).
James certainly did not have as important a career in local affairs as did his father-in-law. According to Deerfield town records, he was appointed fence viewer, along with Samuel Carter, on 2 March 1695/6 (Williams 19th century, 42-4). Then as now, people would argue over fences, especially if an animal got lose and damaged property. In New England, the maintenance of fences was vital because of the common-field system (Melvoin 1989, 159, 165-166). Citizens were expected to keep their fences mended along their portion of the common field. Each year in March, four to six fence viewers were elected to observe compliance. This was not a prestigious job. In fact, it was the job held by most of the villagers at least once in their life. In a town were almost everyone served in some capacity, James played only a very minor role in its affairs.
James died at Deerfield on 15 May 1696. Given that he was born around 1665, he would only have been about 31 years of age. Their is no cause of death given. He probably did not die from an epidemic or from war with the Indians as these causes would have been mentioned in the local records.
His last mention is in the inventory of his estate dated 13 June 1696, made by Lieutenant David Howe and Ensign John Shelding [sic] (Doubleday n.d., 31). The estate he left behind was valued at 79£, 14s., 6d. However, he left debts of 8£ 12s. 3.5d, thus his free estate was only 71£ 2s. 2.5d. It is a rather modest estate listing some clothing, arms and ammunition, beds and bedding, cloth, chests, chairs, pots, dishes, spoons, bags of meal and corn, two mares, a colt, three cows, two steers, and three yearlings. Also, mention is made of a house and boards worth 4£ 10s., less than the value of his beds and bedding at 10£. However, there is no mention of a house lot or any farm land as in some other Deerfield inventories. It is particularly odd that a married man with children in New England during this period would be lacking land. Nevertheless, this seems to be the case with James. There is no record of him being granted any land in Deerfield or elsewhere. His house had to sit on some property. One wonders if he had a small cabin situated on his father-in-law's house lot in town. We know that there were several cases of people being allowed to build a dwelling inside the fortification while lacking a home lot (McGowen and Miller 1996, 43; Sheldon [1895-1896] 1983, 2:243). Supposedly, they must have been allowed to squat on a neighbor's or relative's home lot. In the case of Benjamin Munn, he built his dwelling as a cellar half hidden underground, a modest dwelling probably on par with what James had. Figure 1 shows the locations of house lots in Deerfield and the fate of the houses on those lots during the 1704 raid.
Figure 1: Plan of Deerfield in 1704
Click on Image to Expand
Although this was a small estate, James was close to the average for Deerfield, a poor town in general. In comparison to other Deerfield estate inventories, his free estate was worth more than the general average of less than 61£ (Melvoin 1989, 174). Looking at the ten other inventories that have survived for the period 1690-1699 (one of which had to be dropped form this analyses because it was incomplete) the average estate value was 80£ 9s 5d (Doubleday n.d., 16-33). The richest estate was that of Joseph Barnard who died in 1695 with an estate of 230£ 1s. 7d. The poorest was Daniel Weld who died in 1699 with an estate of 14£ 13s.7d. Clearly, James was close to average for the poor frontier town of Deerfield. This is surprising when we consider that his estate inventory does not include any lands. In contrast, his and other Deerfield free estates are below the average for other New England communities. For example, in nearby Northampton, inventories done between 1661 and 1719 averaged 395£ (175).
James did not live to see the devastation of Deerfield on 29 February 1703/4 (11 March 1704 in New France, due to the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars). The French, St-François Abenakis, and Caughnawaga Mohawks, lead by Lieutenant Jean-Baptist Hertel de Rouville, raided the village burning 17 out of 41 house, immediately killing 44 out of 291 residents, taking 109 prisoners of which 21 were killed on the march back to Canada (Melvoin 1989, 220-221, 235). In particular, they took Elizabeth Catlin, the widow of James, and their daughter Elizabeth Corse captive. Elizabeth his wife was killed on the march to Canada after the Deerfield raid, probably on 7 March 1703/4, the seventh day on the march north, on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River between the Williams River and Mill Brook (Carter 1884, 134). Elizabeth his daughter was taken away to Québec for a life of captivity.
Many Deerfield families suffered in the 1704 raid, but none more than James's in-laws, the Catlins. Besides the death of his widow, John Catlin, his father-in-law, and Jonathan Catlin, his brother-in-law, were killed when their house was burnt down upon them. His mother-in-law, Mary Baldwin, died on 9 April 1704, undoubtedly still mourning for her family. His brother-in-law Joseph fell in the Meadow skirmish. His brother-in-law John Catlin had his house burnt. His sister-in-law Mary Catlin, the wife of Thomas French, was killed. And his sister-in-law Ruth Catlin was captured in 1704 and not returned to Deerfield until 1707.
No known tombstone was erected for James at the time of his death. However, Charles Corss, a descendant, erected a tombstone for James at the end of the nineteenth or the beginning of the twentieth century. This tombstone still stands in the Deerfield graveyard. It reads as follows (Baker and Coleman 1924, 19):
In memory of
This is, in sum, the meager facts we have regarding James Corse. Because it appears that James died fairly young, he had very little time to leave his mark and was not recorded often in official papers. His most important contribution to New England and, ironically, New France was his offspring.
Anyone addressing the origins of James will eventually stumble upon the claim that he was the son of Ebenezer Corse and Sarah Warner of England. His mother was supposedly the daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Warner. There is no evidence to support this claim! It is based on a confusion of data and I have traced it back to a book by Roloson (1981, 104) on the Catlin family. In her book she claims the following:
No source is provided for this information. However, it is relatively easy to detect the probable source of this information. I believe that she has confused information about the Corse, Warner, and French families to arrive at this blunder. Just compare her published notes with what you can find in Warner and Nichols' (1919, 68) genealogy of the Warner family. I have abstracted the following pertinent information from their book concerning a child of Jonathan French and Sarah Warner:
From this data it is clear that Roloson confused the son of James with his purported father. Furthermore, she botched the relationships between people by dropping the French surname from Sarah and Jonathan and replacing it with the Warner surname. There is only one Sergeant Ebenezer Corse, and he is the son of James Corse, not the father. His wife was Sarah French, not Sarah Warner, though she was clearly the daughter of Jonathan French and Sarah Warner.
Although I refer to this mistake as Roloson's blunder, to be fair, it is just as likely that the editor of the book may have mishandled her notes and created all this confusion. Roloson died in 1974 and her notes were not published until 1981. She did not have the opportunity to proof read this publication. Unfortunately, this blunder has been accepted by several genealogists and is now part of the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, the Churchyard (1999) web site among others, and in many notes, pedigree charts, and family group sheets of amateur genealogists. Whatever the cause of this blunder, it is time to remove it and move on to more realistic hypotheses of James's origins.
Alternative Origins Hypotheses
There are a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of James Corse. Different researchers have proposed that his origins are in England, Barbados, France, Maryland, the Netherlands, and Scotland. For a number of reasons, to be discussed in the next section, I find the Scottish origins hypothesis to be the most viable. Nevertheless, I think it is important to review the evidence regarding the other hypotheses. Doing so on this web page would distract from the main argument, therefore, I have placed the Alternative Hypotheses Regarding the Origins of James Corse on another web page. Let us focus here on the Scottish hypothesis.
The hypothesis that James was from Scotland, or at least that he was of Scottish ancestry, is not my creation. The credit for this hypothesis should go to Charles Corss. This hypothesis relies on several pieces of circumstantial evidence to support it. This evidence can be divided into family tradition, onomastic, distribution, and migration information.
Family Tradition Evidence
According to family tradition preserved among some of James's descendants, he was supposedly from Scotland. In a letter dated 19 October 1895, Charles Corss wrote to George Sheldon: "Jane Corss of Hartford Ct. writes me that John Corss, son of Asher, told her father John, that three brothers (?) came from Scotland."
We have reason to treat this statement with caution because it invokes the three brothers tradition. Clearly, Corss's own question mark in the quote red flags the phrase "three brother." Even Sheldon states in a letter to him, dated 7 June 1897, that "No harm can come of an examination of the testimony about any 'three brothers' story. They are commonly many." [Sheldon's emphasis]. Milton Rubincam (1987, 13), the noted genealogist, has observed: "Another favorite tradition is that of the 'Three Brothers.' It is amazing how many families were founded by three brothers! They had no parents, no homes abroad; presumably they floated down from heaven and landed in one of the colonies." The three brothers story seems to be a default explanation that evolves in many families when the real facts are unknown or long forgotten.
Although the three brothers tale reminds us that this is just an oral tradition, there is still some value to the claim that James was from Scotland. We know the chain of evidence in this instance. John Corse was the great-grandson of James. He told his son John about their ancestor and the tale was then passed down to Jane, the great great great granddaughter of James. See Figure 2 for an illustration of their relationship.
Figure 2: The Origins of James Corse: Family Tradition Sources
Click on Image to Expand
Apparently, Charles Corss accepted this explanation by 1897 when a short article about the Corss family appeared in the Danville, Pennsylvania, Journal (Danville Journal 1897). The article states that "The Corss family probably originated in Scotland...." Thompson (1912: 20) wrote a belated obituary for Charles Corss (who died in 1904). In it he states that "James Corse, or Corss, as the family now spell the name, became a settler at Deerfield about 1690. He is supposed to have come from Scotland." This probably reflects Charles Corss' final position on the issue.
However, the impressive tombstone that Charles Corss had carved and installed to honor James Corse and his family does not mention this Scottish hypothesis. Nor, curiously, does he have the surname spelled as Corss. Charles Corss consistently spelled his surname as Corss and not Corse. Moreover, it is claimed that his Deerfield cousins also spelled the surname as Corss.
Throughout this web page I have been standardizing on spelling James's surname as Corse. However, if you examine the original documents, you will soon see that the surname is seldom spelled as Corse. Furthermore, James's children do not use Corse, even in their signatures. In fact, for many years, most of his Deerfield descendants did not spell their surname Corse. Rather, the most usual spelling is Cors by family members or Coss by neighbors, and more rarely Corss, Corse, or Corses. Why is this so important? Because Cors and Coss reflect the Scottish spelling of the surname Corse.
Let us review some examples from the original documents (italics added to indicate surname spelling variations; Ss is used to represent a long "S", which resembles a modern day script "f", followed by a regular "s"):
Clearly, these early documents show that the surname Corse most often appeared as Cors or CoSs in New England.
Even in New France, Elizabeth Corse, James's daughter, had her surname spelled in ways that parallel the Scottish variations if one substitute an "o" for an "a". Using the PRDH (1999-) database, I have identified 38 occurrences of her surname. In 20 cases her surname is spelled as Casse and in 15 it appears as Cas. The remaining spellings, appearing once for each variation, include Coss, Caille, and Detailly. According to Baker ( 1990, 204):
The loss of the "r" and the pronunciation of the "a" would make Casse very similar to Coss, a known variation of the Scottish Corse.
Lastly, in a letter dated 15 October 1895, Charles Corss wrote to George Sheldon that Corss was "The Deerfield spelling of name of 1st James." That is, the spelling preferred by most of James's descendants.
In sum, the Deerfield Corses used Cors or Corss more often than Corse. But is this a Scottish surname and the way to spell it in Scots?
Black's thorough and scholarly The Surnames of Scotland (1946, 173) tells us that Corse is from cors or corse, the Scots word for cross. Furthermore, he suggests under the name Cross (188) that the surname may have been derived from living near a wayside crucifix. A search of books on English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish surnames shows that the surnames Corse, Cors, and their variations are rarely discussed. Most of them completely fail to mention the surname (Barber 1903; Bardsley 1967; Bell 1990, Durning and Durning 1991; Hanks and Hodges 1988; Lower 1967; MacLysaght 1980; Matthews 1967; Morgan and Morgan 1985; O'Laughlin 1993; Sims 1968; Woulfe 1967). It does appear in a single English surname books (Reaney  1991, 111 [note Corse is not listed in the 1958 edition of this work]). Reaney indicates the name is found as de Cors in the thirteenth century, as Corsse in the sixteenth century, and to be found in Glouchestershire as Corse. Also, the surname does not appear among the Scotch-Irish in Ulster (MacLysaght 1980).
Curiously, Smith (1992, 51) does lists Corse among Scottish surnames. In fact, he suggests a tartan for the Corse family in the sense that he recommends that the Angus district tartan would be appropriate. Not to be out done, the House of Tartan (1999) web site indicates that the appropriate tartan for the Corse family would be the Caledonia district. Of, if you find that one not to your taste, this site also recommends for your consideration the Flower of Scotland, Stewart Hunting, Black Watch, Caledonian Society Ancient, Caledonian, Braveheart, Scottish national, Scottish National Dress, or the ever popular Special Saffron!. Laying aside this whimsy, the surname Corse is not mentioned in any other guides to Scottish clans and tartans (Adam 1965; Bain 1968; Grimble 1973; Innes of Learney 1952; Martine 1987). If James was Scottish, then he was a Lowland Scot, no matter what the modern day wool merchants of Scotland would want us to believe. James would have found our modern-day interest in Highland tartans as somewhat bewildering. Poor as he might have been, as a Lowland Scot, he would have viewed himself as socially superior to a group he viewed as Highland savages.
A review of these books gives me the impression that the surname Corse, and its variations, is common in Scotland, but rare in England, and clearly not an Irish or Welsh surname. Furthermore, in England the name appears to have been unused in 1601. It is not listed in any of 778 English parishes for that year (Hitching 1910).
It is dangerous to rely too much on onomastic evidence. In some cases, the popularity of a surname for example, Smith, makes it practically impossible to draw any conclusions. However, for some surnames the evidence can be very suggestive, especially if it is a rare surname with limited and known variations concentrated in a small area. This is the case with the Corse surname.
For many years now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, popularly known as the Mormons) has been extracting records from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and placing them in International Genealogical Index (IGI) computer database. Using this data, we can build a set of data to show us the distribution of the Corse surname in the British Isles. This data comes from the British Isles segment of the 4.01 version of the IGI, dated March 1993 and updated February 1997 (LDS 1993). However, there are some issues regarding the use of this data. First of all, it is not complete. Even the coverage for Scotland, which is fairly extensive, does not cover all the population. Parishes in English and Welsh counties have been also extracted, but the coverage is not complete as Scotland. Secondly, this is a single collection of vital events, such as births, christenings, and marriages. Therefore, a person might appear several times in the data set. Thirdly, many records for members of non-conforming churches, lost records, and destroyed records, will not show up in the data. Fourthly, to keep this manageable, I limited the data to the exact surnames Corse, Cors, Corss, and Coss. Fifthly, I limited the data to the period from 1600 to 1699. Lastly, there were some obvious duplications that I had to remove, mostly in the Scottish data. Despite these drawbacks, this data, covering events occurring from 1600 to 1699, dramatically shows the distribution of the surnames in Table 1.
Taking this same data and analyzing the distribution of the surname variations in England and Scotland, we learn in Table 2 that the variations Cors and Corss, often found among Deerfield Corses, are seen more frequently in Scotland than in England.
If James was born in Scotland around 1665, then how did he end up in a remote frontier corner of Massachusetts in 1686? According to Dobson (1994, 39), very few Scots came over as indentured servants or volunteer immigrants to New England in the seventeenth century. Most of the voluntary Scottish immigrants went to more southern colonies. However, there were large numbers of rebellious Scots banished to New Jersey and a few as well to New England. This leads me to my two sub-hypotheses regarding possible migration paths for James, the New Jersey path and the New England path.
Searching through Dobson's (1984-1993, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2002) and Whyte's (1972, 1986-1995) lists of Scottish emigrants there is no James Corse listed. However, the following interesting cases do appear:
One wonders if this Elizabeth Corse was a relative of James. Also, the John Corsan, exiled at the same time, August 1685, and to the same place, East New Jersey, is interesting. Is the surname Corsan a misspelling of Corse? If this is a possibility, then is it possible that the James Corsan exiled in 1679 might not be a James Corse? Rubincam (1982, 7-9) also warns us about the danger of jumping to conclusions based on people with similar surnames in the same place or time. This appears to be a justified warning in this case. I have acquired photocopies of the original records (National Archives of Scotland 1679, 1685a, 1685b, 1685c). Close examination of these documents makes it is clear that the surname is CorSsan or CorSan for James and John and not a corruption of Corse. These Corsans do not seem to be related to James Corse. Elizabeth Corse's surname is spelled as CorSs or Corsse but there it no additional information that would let us know whether or not she is related to James.
Still it is interesting to find an Elizabeth Corse being exiled to New Jersey. In 1673, New Jersey was divided between East and West Jersey. During the late seventeenth century, there was a thriving Scottish settlement in East Jersey at Perth Amboy. Some also lived at Elizabethtown and Newark. In the 1680's, over six hundred Scots settled in East Jersey (Landsman 1985, 134,). Most of these Scots had been reluctant immigrants, banished from Scotland because they were Covenanters. They believed in and supported the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, which supported the king, called for cooperation between England and Scotland, advocated for the Presbyterian form of church organization, believed only parliament and free assemblies could change the rules of worship, and they opposed both the papacy and episcopacy (MacKie 1978; Orr 2001). They were a stubborn lot and ironically found themselves persecuted both by the republican Oliver Cromwell and Kings Charles II and James II after the restoration. In the 1640's and from about 1679 to 1690 Covenanters were persecuted. Those defeated in battle or who refused to repudiate the Covenant were imprisoned. In 1685, some of the Covenanters were were sent to East Jersey aboard the Henry and Francis as indentured servants with four year contracts. Once their indentures were completed many of the Scots returned to Scotland, others remained in East Jersey, and still others migrated to West Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, and even Barbados (Landsman 1985, 136). Rindler (1977, 393) notes that even though the English Puritans of Newark disdained Presbyterianism, they did allow several Scots to settle among them. Furthermore, Landsman notes in a letter to myself dated 28 November 1987 that some of the Scots who lived in Newark eventually migrated to Massachusetts.
An interesting pattern among these East Jersey Scots is how many of them, once they indenture was completed, failed to obtain land and continued to work for others (Landsman 1985, 135,137-139). Only 17 men became East Jersey landowners out of the 112 Scots sent to the colony between 1684 and 1685 (309, n. 16). Does this Scottish pattern of behavior help explain why James lacked land in Massachusetts? Did he just feel more comfortable working for another land owner, perhaps his father-in-law?
Curiously, the Catlins, James's future in-laws lived in Newark, New Jersey, just sixteen miles north of Perth Amboy from about 1669 to 1683. If James was among the Covenanters sent to New Jersey, perhaps he drifted north to Newark, met the Catlins, and eventually followed them to the Deerfield area. Was he one of the Scots of Newark who moved to Massachusetts? The chronology of the Scottish immigration to New Jersey makes this scenario unlikely. Most of the Scots arrived in 1685 while the Catlins had already departed in 1683.
This New Jersey path is just speculation, not fact, but certainly a possibility. To date, no solid evidence has been found mentioning a James Corse in Newark, Perth Amboy, or anywhere else in New Jersey. Also, the chronology seems to be problematic. Lastly, Landsman in his letter (1987) reports that he did not recall seeing James Corse mentioned in the research he did on the Scots in New Jersey. So let us turn to the alternative sub-hypothesis, that he settled first in New England.
This sub-hypothesis suggest that James came directly from Scotland to someplace in New England and then migrated to the Deerfield region before 1686. It is based upon an analysis of the settlers of Northfield, just north of Deerfield by thirteen miles. See Figure 3 for a map of the area.
Figure 3: Map of Settlements Along the Connecticut River
Click on Image to Expand
Recall that Northfield was destroyed and abandoned in 1675 during King Philip's War. After the peace, the original settlers and some new ones stepped forward after 1682 to rebuild Northfield. The published history of Northfield lists these colonists in the second settlement effort (Temple and Sheldon 1875, 95-96). Using this information, I have identified forty-nine men who were associated with this second resettlement effort. By consulting genealogy tables in standard works (Savage 1860-1862; Sheldon [1895-1896] 1983; Temple and Sheldon 1875), I have been able to collect the necessary data for this analysis. Please note it was not possible to collect all the data for all the settlers. Table 3 summarizes these data.
The majority of the men, 61 percent, for whom I have been able to determine their birthplace, were born in New England. However, you will also note that there were three men born in Scotland and two more of Scottish ancestry.
Most of these Scots living at Northfield were members of the Alexander family. George Alexander was born in Scotland and came to Windsor, Connecticut, before 1644 with his father John (Temple and Sheldon 1875, 385). His sons, John, and Nathaniel are among the settlers and of Scottish ancestry. The other two Scots are William Gurley (Gourlay) and our James Corse, granting that he may be numbered among this nation.
Gurley is a particularly interesting case. While George Alexander was in the colony long before James and was a generation older, Gurley was a contemporary of James. It is estimated that he was born around 1665. Some sources on the Internet, and not yet verified, claim that he was born in Inverness, Scotland (I believe the Inverness birth place is first cited in Virkus 1925-1945, 1:573). He was reportedly raised in the home of Rev. Solomon Stoddard of Northampton (Temple and Sheldon 1875, 455).
Using this same data it is possible to identify the previous place of residence for many of these Northfield settlers. The results are in Table 4.
Two interesting points need to be made from this table. First, none of the known immigrants from the British Isles arrived directly at Northfield, with the possible exception of James, whose origins are unknown. Given this fact, it is very unlikely that he would just have appeared directly from Scotland to Northfield with no stop over elsewhere in New England. This brings up the second point, most of the settlers came from Northampton (51 percent) or Hadley (10 percent). It seems very likely that James would probably have once lived in either Northampton or Hadley before migrating to Northfield.
In an age when people more often than not moved within the context of family relations, we have an isolated person with no apparent relatives in New England. James probably did not arrive with his two brothers. And if, indeed, he was Scottish, then it is likely he might have come over as an individual. However, he probably did not come over alone. If a prisoner, then he came with fellow prisoners. If an indentured servant, then with other servants. And most likely he came over with people from his place of origins. Landsman (1985, 143, 153) observed that in the case of Scots living in New Jersey that they tended to move into areas already occupied by other Scots. Was this the case in New England for James?
One wonders if James and William Gurley were young orphaned exiles who were taken into the Stoddard home to be raised. Or perhaps there were indentured to the minister. Rev. Stoddard was well known for his generosity to Christian institutions, perhaps this extended to taking into his household young men (Deacon 1893, 32-36). It is tempting to suggest that perhaps Rev. Stoddard brought Corse and Gurley back from Barbados. He resided on Barbados there from 1667 to 1669 when he accompanied the former Massachusetts Governor Searle as his chaplain (Coffman 1978). Apparently, he preached to the dissenters on the island while there. Is it possible that he took two young servants back with him? It is unlikely. He was not made a permanent preacher at Northampton until 1672, though he did preach there in 1669. It would probably be beyond the means of a starting out preacher to have two servants, or even one, much less host two orphans. Furthermore, there is no mention of any Gurleys on Barbados for this period in the published records (Brandow 1983; Sanders 1979-1981, 1982, 1984). If Gurley or James were part of the Stoddard household, it was probably after 1672 and they would most likely not have come from Barbados.
Whyte lists William Gourlay or Gurley twice in his A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to the U. S. A. (1972), 142, 153). He cites secondary sources (Downey 1968, Virkus 1925-1942, 1:573) indicating that he was from Inverness, born around 1665. It is not made clear if Inverness refers to the shire or town of that name. He came to the American colonies around 1679 and settled at Northampton where around 1685 he married Hester Ingersoll (1663-1705). He died around 1700 after the birth of his son Samuel (1687-1760). It appears that William Gurley was the same generation as James.
Although the shire of Inverness is in the Highlands, the town of Inverness is not considered part of the Highlands (Donaldson 1980, 908). Furthermore, the surname Gurley is not a Highlander name. Black (1946, 321) identifies Gourlay or Gourlie as a Scottish surname, probably originating from a place name in England and first appearing in 1174. Variations for the surname include Gorlay, Gowrlaw, Gurla, Gurlaw, Gwrla, Gwyrlay, Goirlay, and Gouerlay, but nothing with a Mac. Neither the surname Corse nor Gurley, including their variations, are found in Adam's ( 1965) extensive list of Highland clans and septs. However, the sept or dependent surname Alexander might be connected to the MacAlister or MacDonell of Glengarry clans (560). So while the Alexanders might have Highland connections, William Gurley, like James, was probably a Lowlander.
It is important to understand that in colonial New England young men were not supposed to live alone. They were expected to be attached to a household in some fashion (Demos 1970, 70, 77-78; Fischer 1989, 73). Young men living on their own would be viewed with suspicion. Most of them would be living with their parents or living as apprentices or servants in other households. We know that William Gurley reportedly lived in the household of Rev. Stoddard as a youth. Therefore, it is very likely that James also lived with some other household, perhaps in Northampton, before he moved to Northfield. Perhaps one of the other men granted land in 1686 at Northfield had been James's master or protector. Before moving on, and to add confusion, one more curiosity in Table 4 has to be mentioned. One of the settlers, Robert Lyman, had previously lived in "Pesayak," New Jersey, which is of course, Newark. Did he bring James with him? Is this just a coincidence?
We know that by 1690 James was living in Deerfield with his wife, probably nearby the Catlins, his in-laws. How does Deerfield compare to Northfield in terms of the origins of its settlers. Melvoin (1983, 624-627) has collected this data for us. He divides Deerfield's men between the first wave of settlers, his "generation of 1688," and a second wave he refers to as "newcomers" who arrived between 1689 and 1704. Northampton, Hadley, and Hatfield contributed the majority of the settlers in the first wave. In the second wave, most of the members were actually born in Deerfield, the sons of the first wave, with the others came most from Hatfield and Northampton. Although there were no men from Scotland, in either both waves, none of them came directly from the British Isles (with the possible exception of James himself), but one did come from New France!
So many of Northfield's and Deerfield's settlers had first lived in Northampton. Is there any evidence of James living there? No, not in print at least. Is there any evidence of other Scottish settlers there? Well yes, George Alexander and his family can be found mentioned in the town history of Northampton. George first appeared in 1653 and died around 1703 (Trumbull 1898-1902, 1:13). However, no other Scots are mentioned. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Northampton did have some Irish settlers. They were given land grants but were not made citizens by becoming residents (1:138-140). The three Irishmen specifically mentioned are: Cornelius Merry who eventually settled in Northfield, David Thro or David Frow, and Matthew Clesson, whose granddaughter, Elizabeth Clesson, would marry James's son James Corse. Other Irishmen are hinted at in the original documents, but not named. Supposedly, they were brought over as indentured servants. Merry was the servant of John Lyman, and Joseph Parsons had an unnamed Irish man working for him in 1658. It appears they arrived in town between 1663 and 1664 (1:147). If there were poor Irish servants in town, could there have also been poor Scots indentured servants there as well? James would have had to come later than 1664, perhaps he and William Gurley were in a second set of indentured servants. There was a lead mine found near Northampton in 1679, but it seems to have closed by 1682, Joseph Parsons Sr., was one of those involved in this effort and he had an Irishman working for him (1:358-363). Could James and William Gurley have been among the miners?
Was Northampton typical or unusual in sheltering Irish and Scots during this period? There is no mentions of Scots or Irish in the either the Hatfield (Wells and Wells 1910) or Hadley (Judd 1905) town histories. Nor are Gurley or Corse mentioned in these histories.
In March 1672/3, a rule was passed that anyone bringing in foreigners or strangers to Northampton should license them with the selectmen within ten days or be fined ten shillings for every week. This was done because of the "... greate deale of troble dettrament and Charge...." the strangers and foreigners caused (Trumbull 1898-1902, 1:220). Even family members who were strangers to the town had to be registered. Who were these visitors? Could it be new indentured servants? Has the Northampton town book survived for this period? What more does it say about these strangers?
The whole Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts during the 1680's was very much the domain of one person, Major John Pynchon. He was a militia officer, merchant, and magistrate and one of the wealthiest men living on the Connecticut River (Melvoin 1989, 34). I searched through the published Pynchon papers (Bridenbaugh and Tomlinson 1982-1985) and found no mention of James Corse or William Gurley. However, another Scot did emerge (1:21, n. 2). James Stewart arrived in Boston in 1652. He was probably a Scottish prisoner sent to New England by Cromwell after the Battle of Dunbar. Pynchon took him on as an indentured servant with a six year contract. Stewart was a hard working blacksmith and was able to pay Pynchon 30£ for his freedom in 1653. He became the Springfield town blacksmith. Stewart is too old to have been with Gurley and Corse, but he may have been a compatriot of Alexander. If Pynchon was impressed by this Scot, then perhaps he would have been willing to hire more Scots. There is no evidence of this in his printed account books and letters, but some of his letters are missing for extended periods, especially 1678 to 1685, and only selected portions of the account books were published. It would be worthwhile to check through the manuscript of his account books for other clues since we know the James owed Pynchon 200£ at the time of his death in 1696 (Catlin Papers 1685-1911).
In my opinion, the New England path appears more promising than the New Jersey path, but it shares with it a lack of solid evidence. Both require further investigation. Either way, whether James came through New Jersey or directly to New England, we can see that there were Scots living in both areas. Also, we know that James would not have been the only Scot living in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.
Directions for Future Research
There is much more research that can and should be done on the Corse case. Over the decades, I believe that all the documents relative to the case from Deerfield have been found. Our only hope is that James turns up in documents in another location. We have to expand to searching for other records in Hampshire and Franklin Counties in Massachusetts as well as the specific towns of Northfield, Northampton, Hatfield, and Hadley. In particular, I think the Pynchon papers should be a high priority. The published account books are incomplete (Bridenbaugh and Tomlinson 1982-1985). The original Pynchon account books are on microfilm at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Family History Library (slightly different organization of the film and coverage of the journals). The Historic Deerfield Library also has microfilm copies of these account books, along with some vital records kept by Pynchon. I started to read through these difficult to decipher records in September 1999, but ran out of time. It is my hope to carefully read through these Pynchon documents in the future.
My notes on other research to be done on the Corse case are posted on another web page. I welcome help from anyone else on this research and suggestions for other sources to check. Let us just make sure we coordinate our effort so we can divide our labor better.
There is still much work to do here in North America, but there is a strong temptation to jump over to Scotland. We might not find a record on this side of the Atlantic specifically mentioning James, but we might be lucky enough to find other documents about other contemporary Scots in New England or New Jersey that will lead to a document back in Scotland.
Any work we do in Scotland must be done cautiously. There is no great challenge in finding men named James Corse in Scotland during the seventeenth century. A search of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) at http://www.familysearch.org on16 August 1999 finds the following men named James Corse born in Scotland between 1655 and 1670:
It is too easy to assume that one of these men was our James. We have no evidence at this point to single anyone of them out. They must be treated as candidates. Perhaps some of them can be eliminated by finding their subsequent marriages and deaths in Scotland. It is tempting to remove from consideration numbers 1-7 and 11-12 as unlikely due to age, marriage in Scotland, or the probability of not surviving childhood. These exclusions are problematic. For instance, it was not unknown for parents to give the same name to children even if the first one so named survived to adulthood (Greenwood 1990, 39). We still lack sufficient evidence that James is to be found as one of the remaining numbers 8-10. But certainly we can consider them serious candidates.
There is another important database that should eventually be consulted. It is the Old Parochial Registers Index for Scotland (LDS 1994?) available at the Family History Library and most Family History Centers. This database indexes 10.5 million names listed in Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) parish registers from the late 1500's to 1854. This database should be searched to see if any of the James Corses identified in the IGI can be eliminated from consideration. However, there is a serious danger of prematurely using these Scottish records. Just because we find a candidate of the same name, the right age, and who disappears from Scottish records before 1680 does not mean that we have found James. What we have to locate is a record, either here in North America or in Scotland, showing that a James Corse immigrated to North America.
I am not an expert on New England or New Jersey research. My expertise is in doing Acadian and French Canadian genealogy. This web page is in part written to encourage other researchers with more skill than I and special knowledge of colonial research in these areas to take up the challenge.
In summary, what can we say about James Corse:
I believe that the Scottish origins hypothesis for James Corse should be pursued with vigor. However, and this is very important for you to understand, this is just a HYPOTHESIS, not an established fact! Please do not rush off to change your family group sheets and pedigree charts to show James Corse born in 1665 in Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland and immigrated to New England around 1679. We have not eliminated the competing alternative hypotheses completely.
What would we need to prove the Scottish hypothesis, or for that matter, any of the other hypotheses? Newly uncovered original documents. In particular, we should move beyond Deerfield and look for Scots being mentioned in the records of Northfield, Northampton, Hatfield, and Hadley. I would suggest that we should analyze documents relating to Scottish immigration and settlement in New Jersey, but also Connecticut and Massachusetts.
We can only hope that there is a document out there that will meet our needs. All we can do is keep trying to locate it, share our efforts, and try to divide the labor. It is important that we collaborate. From my experience working on Baillon and Le Neuf French noble families I have learned that most solutions to difficult problems depend on building on the work of others. Some other genealogist, working in one of these other locations might have even come across a key document to solve the Corse problem, but not knowing of this case, they passed over it. Only by cooperating with one another are we likely to juxtapose our findings and arrive at a new vision of the evidence.
We have been playing the odds here with James. Given the available data, he most likely was of Scottish ancestry and probably lived at Northampton before moving to Northfield. However, James is not a statistic and we are not doing demography, but genealogy, which requires proof based on documentary evidence or a circumstantial case with no contradicting data. Until we uncover further evidence relating to James, we are left with hypotheses, but I believe that the most logical of these hypotheses should guide our research until we find his Scottish origins or exhaust all the possibilities.
All references can be found on the References web page. The author year system is used. This means that if you see an authors name and a year in the text, like "(Demos 1970, 70)," then you should look to see what publication Demos wrote in 1970 is listed on the References web page. In this example, you would see that the book referred to is "Demos, John. 1970. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. London: Oxford University Press." Furthermore, the example citation indicates that you should look at page 70 of this book.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1999 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 1 July 1999. Last modified 8 May 2016. 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.