|22 October 2019 • Michael Cooley, BA, MA
A Case Study in Ancestor Abuse: Mary Ann Utie Bennett
Describing, weighing, and interpreting data constitutes the majority of a historian's work. Unfortunately, that data is often tweaked to forward an agenda. The cliches are familiar: "History is written by the victors" and "to the victor goes the spoils." Winston Churchill wrote, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Yet any decent historian forges an argument by enabling verifiable data and evidence. In this, the historic method is much like the scientific method. Similarly, neither science nor history are static. As the data grows, so must its evaluation. Yet that does not always happen. For example, despite the horrors of World War Two, eugenics remained a mainstay in many circles. Government-sponsored sterilization was widely practiced in the United States up through the 1970s. (The mentally ill and Native American women were particularly vulnerable. And we learned in 2021 that dozens of immigrant women were sterilized in Georgia in 2020.)
Nevertheless, historians are given wide berth when detailing and analyzing past events and the catastrophic errors committed by the powers that be. Genealogists, on the other hand, are not afforded any degree of such license. Genealogy is too simplistic for that. After all, we strive to prove only one thing: the parent-child relationship. And that boils down to a binary choice: yea or nay. Never mind that social bonds are remarkably flexible and that technical advances in biology might one day change procreation norms. For now, we're each born with a mother and father. The nuts and bolts of genetic inheritance is very specific.
This is the reason I love genetic genealogy and value it as an essential tool for genealogical studies. No bending, pushing, or falsification of the interpretation will change the facts. For this study, however, there are no known genetic test results that will help us better understand the ancestry, marriages, family, and life of Mary Ann Utie Bennett. Public record is all we have and, in this case, there's very little of it. Nevertheless, a tangled mess has been made from what does exist, particularly when it comes to Mary Ann's oft-cited maiden name as Longworth. The following evidence responds to that assertion with a resounding "nay."
The basic facts of Mary Ann's earliest years in Virginia are clear. The 1623 List of the Living and the Dead and the Muster of 1624 enumerate the household of John Utie, his wife Ann, and infant child, John at Hogg Island. The 1624 muster informs us that John arrived in 1620 on the Francis Bona Venture, and that his wife and son followed on the Seaflower, arriving at Jamestown in February 1622. We also know that she married Richard Bennett not long after her first husband's death in 1637. Beyond that, misrepresentation of the record and the continued propagation of uncited lineages have badly muddled her story.1Fact One: Mary Ann was not the daughter of Captain John Utie
The author of an 1895 article for the William and Mary Quarterly writes that a Virginia court record of 1641 references the wife of Richard Bennett (c1608-1675) as "lately Mary Ann Utie," wording that is decidedly open to interpretation. He suggests "she perhaps was a daughter of Captain John Utie," but the "perhaps" part of the sentence is often stricken from the narrative.2 More to the point, John Bennett Boddie wrote in 1948 that on December 15, 1642, the County Court of Lower Norfolk reasserted its order of the previous year, 1641, and again required that one Richard Foster "pay unto Mrs. Marian Utie, now the wife of Richard Bennett, Esq., 114 lbs. tobacco."3 The 1895 suggestion had simply been a misinterpretation of the earlier order.
Whether by design or chance, the second record is more specific about Mary Ann's identity. That a researcher would reference the 1895 article without knowing about Boddie's work is understandable. But I have literally been cursed for pointing out the correction; never mind that it was first observed more than seven decades earlier. Now a cynic on this topic, the reason for this vehemence is clear enough to me: Descendants of Richard Bennett, one-time governor of Virginia, also wish to claim descent from Captain John Utie. The 1642 record clearly disproves the assertion. Richard Bennett's wife was the widow, not the daughter, of John Utie.Fact Two: There is no known record for the birth of John Utie, Jr.
Two important facts are documented about Mary Ann's son, John. Again, the 1623 census states he was an infant, and the 1624 muster tells us he arrived with his mother on board the Seaflower. The inference is clear: John Utie Jr was born in England sometime prior to the ship's departure in November 1621. Considering that his father landed at Jamestown during August of 1620, the son was conceived (one would image) some weeks or months before that date. Given that, the citations that he was christened on 28 June 1619 in London make sense — until you look at the record itself. No surname is listed. It merely says, "John bpd sonn of John and Ann."
Fact Three: Mary Ann was not the daughter of George Longworth and Margaret Trafford
This is a particularly convoluted topic to explore. As discussed below, I now have an idea as to how it came to pass that Mary Ann is regarded a Longworth by birth. But first consider how two misinterpretations are often conflated to create a wholly fictitious lineage. Those who believe she was the daughter of John Utie — and many of those who accept she was his widow — concur that Utie's wife was born Mary Ann Longworth. In other words, according to these accounts, Richard Bennett married Mary Ann Utie, the daughter of John Utie and Mary Ann Longworth, thereby bifurcating one woman into two. (My inner cynic informs me that this is a common and popular practice simply because it provides additional generations resulting in more ancestors and added possible pathways toward an aristocratic descent.) The "proof" for the Utie-Longworth narrative is found solely in this undecipherable July 30, 1616 record from the Bishop's Register for Heptonstall, Yorkshire. The entry is highlighted:
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It is further fantasized that Mary Ann was of the aristocracy. To parse this out, we need only understand a simple fact: Mary Ann bore three children during the 1640s to her second husband, Richard Bennett. A woman still of childbearing age in that decade could not possibly have been the child of George and Margaret Trafford Longworth. They are recorded as having nine grandchildren seventy years earlier. (Traditional Longworth genealogies, of which I am not an authority, state that George Longworth was born in 1525.) This image is from the Visitation of Lancashire of 1567 by William Flower, Norroy King of Arms.4
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The visitations served as certification of a family's heraldic claim. Like so many documents, they're not always accurate. Yet they were the legal and contemporaneous accounting — and in many cases, the only accounting — of a family's descent. With that caveat in place, the Utie/Longworth genealogies also misrepresent Margaret Trafford's pedigree. The 1567 lineage states she was the daughter of Christoper Trafford of county Chester, a gentleman. But the fake genealogies, and they are fake, claim that Margaret, Mary Ann's fictitious mother, was the daughter of Sir Edmund Trafford (1526-1590), an MP from Lancaster, and his wife Elizabeth Leicester, whose noble birth is represented in the Visitations of Chester, 1580.5
And, thus, Mary Ann's pedigree continues to tunnel its way deep into the past, a virtual monster that bears no resemblance to the woman herself, whose true parentage remains unknown. These hasty practices are contrary to those used by historians, genealogists, and scientists, and are rightly called propaganda: the bending of fact to suit myth. Our ancestors deserve better.So, who was she?
I don't know. But there are a handful of pertinent facts. The first is found in the 1666 will (proved 6 May 1667) of Mary Ann's son, Richard Bennett, Jr. He bequeathed 400 acres to his cousin John Langley, a man of whom we know nothing.6 Quite a lot is known about the Bennett side of the family and, to date, no Langleys have been found among them. It's reasonable to explore the possibility that the relationship came through his mother.
The second fact from which we can work is found on the earlier cited 1624 muster of Virginia, that she and her son arrived on the Seaflower. Mary Ann and 120 other passengers, the greater number of whom are suspected to have been from Somersetshire, boarded the Seaflower in November 1621. The voyage was financed in part by Mary Ann's future in-law, Edward Bennett, a wealthy Somerset business man and Puritan leader living in London.7 The settlers were sent to inhabit Bennett's new lands, recently patented from the Virginia Company, in Warrosquyoake, Virginia and later known as Bennett's Welcome. Among them were Rev William Bennett, a "kinsman" of Edward's, Sarah, the wife of Somerset businessman John Chew, and very likely Edward Bennett's brother, Robert, who was to manage the plantation.
It seems that an unknown researcher of some years past tugged at this Langley / Seaflower / Bennett / Somersetshire thread and found a village called Langley located just a few miles from the Bennett home town of Wiveliscombe, Somerset. At the other end of this thread, the researcher discovered the christenings of the children of William Langley among the parish records of Hemington, Somerset:
Diomsia Langley, 1591
There is no evidence suggesting that William's daughter Maria was our Mary Ann (for whom John Utie's Virginia plantation, Utimaria, was named). But the researcher obviously believed it so. We know this because Maria's father, William Langley, is mistakenly recorded as William Longworth, a name not known in Somersetshire at the time. At a stroke, Mary Ann Utie of Hogg Island, Virginia was christened Mary Ann Longworth with nary a citation. And from this sprang the several described fallacies.
Primary evidence is, of course, the best evidence. But there are reasons, as anyone who has read census records can appreciate, to consider the fuller picture before taking a single item too seriously. Isolated, the 1603 christening of Marian seems perfect. But with reflection, it sticks out like a sore thumb: William Longworth was clearly William Langley.8
The only done deal here is that the Utie-Longworth narrative, so haphazardly constructed, has collapsed. Still, nothing of this constitutes proof of her origins. We can't know whether she lived in Somerset, married in Lancaster, was born in Chester, or birthed a son in London. (We know the Bennetts came from Wiveliscombe because it's stated in a contemporaneous court record.) Understanding that the name Longworth resulted from a 400 year-old transcription error sheds no light on the problem of her parentage. But the old story, so deviously conceived, has unraveled, and its demise reveals a handful of facts, old but new again, that had been long obscured by the glitter of genealogical vanity. To reiterate, Mary Ann boarded the Seaflower with her infant son in 1621, probably at Bristol, and set sail for a new plantation owned by the Puritan (and future in-law) Edward Bennett. That's the extent of our knowledge. If Mary Ann's maiden name was Langley, the corroborating evidence will likely be found only by identifying John Langley, the cousin who inherited Richard Bennett, Jr.'s 400 acres. If it turns out otherwise, then fine. We're lucky to have identified a four centuries-old ancestor at all. In the meantime, a simple message should be gleaned from her example: When a fact is unknown, genealogists must simply write "unknown" and not copy uncited sources by rote, fudge on the little data that has been gleaned, or otherwise misrepresent the facts.
A diligent genealogical method might be similar to the historical and scientific methods, but the results rarely contribute to the grandeur of the historical procession nor toward a deeper understanding of our place in the universe. The results are too particular, specific, and individual. But through genealogy we can learn something about the human experience. There's a quite a lot more to be written about the Langleys, Uties, and Bennetts and several more myths to dispel. But it will require getting to the finer points before we can properly envision the young Mary Ann, perhaps barely 18 years old, who, with infant at breast, boarded a crowded vessel on a cold Bristol morning, embarked on a treacherous crossing to a foreign land, and embraced her long-absent husband at the other end of the world. Within a month of her arrival she will survive the killing of a quarter of Virginia's white population, more than fifty of whom were fellow passengers sent to settle Bennett's Welcome. Over the next years, Mary Ann will witness her first husband's arrest for treason and be informed of his subsequent death in England. She married secondly, date unknown, Richard Bennett, the nephew of her earlier sponsor and the very man who will found a Puritan settlement in Maryland only to return to Virginia to unseat the governors of both colonies. Mary Ann was a fountainhead from which sprang a number of famous Virginians. She was a Founding Mother. Still, we can't fully get at her story without first clearing away a century's worth of rubbish.
1. R.F. Walker, Superintendent Public Printing, "List of the Living and the Dead in Virginia, Feb. 16th, 1623," Colonial Records of Virginia (Richmond: Clemmitt & Jones, Printers 1874), 38-66; James Camden Hotten, editor, "A List of the Names of the Living in Virginia, February 16th, 1623, "A List of the Names of the Dead in Virginia since April Last, February 16, 1623, "Muster Rolls of Settlers in Virginia, 1624," The Original Lists of Persons of Quality (London: 1874). Hotten transcribed these (and other) lists from manuscripts found in the State Paper Department at the Public Record Office, England. It's been republished in several editions, most notably by the Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland. A PDF of the book can be acquired at us.archive.org.
2. "Captain John Utie, of Utimaria, Esq.," The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jul., 1895), 52-58.
3. John Bennett Boddie, Colonial Surry (PA: Clearfield Printing, 1948), reprinted by Genealogical Printing Company, 1989, 41.
4. William Flower, Esq., The Visitation of the County Palatine of Lancaster Made in the Year 1567, Ed., Rev. F. R. Raines, M.A., F.S.A. (Cheatham Society, 1870).
5. P.W. Hasler, editor, "Trafford, Edmund I (1526-90), of Trafford, Lancs.," The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, 1981, online at http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/trafford-edmund-i-1526-90. There is a brand of "professional" genealogists who will make such leaps simply to satisfy their customers.
6. Jane Baldwin, Maryland Calendar of Wills, 1635-1685 vol 1 (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1904), 38.
7. The Seaflower, incidentally, was earlier meant to sail with the Mayflower but was deemed not seaworthy.
8. It must be noted that an Anne Langley was christened the daughter of another William Langley in nearby Cloford in 1601. To reiterate, there's is no corroborating evidence that either of these woman was Mary Ann Utie.
Revised 20 May 2021.