A missing Merrill

Gravestone of David Merrill (1768-1859). Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Alicia Crane Williams’s post earlier this week – about when an incorrect item was “published in a book” – is quite fresh in my mind as I contemplate a current genealogical problem. Last week I wrote about Gary Boyd Roberts’s research on a distant kinship between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales. There are several parts of Markle’s American ancestry that a group of us (including Gary and several genealogical colleagues) has been looking into, but the one that keeps coming up regards Meghan Markle’s great-great-great-great-grandfather David Merrill (1768–1859) of Holderness, New Hampshire.[1]

Numerous online trees claim that David Merrill was the son of Jacob Merrill and Elizabeth Wyatt, and this claim is even “published in a book”: The Makers of the Sacred Harp (Champaign, Ill., 2010):

So are these Jacob’s parents? Let’s see what else we can find. David Merrill’s death certificate (from which his calculated date of birth derives, as well as his gravestone above), does state he was born in Plymouth, but does not provide parents, and it says his father was also born in Plymouth (which would be unlikely, since the town was only incorporated in 1763). Meredith, N.H. Annals and Genealogies (1932), p. 319, says “David Merrill was a descendant of the Salisbury, Mass., branch. He settled in Holderness on what is now called the ‘Webster Eastman farm.’ He was a son of Jacob Lee Merrill (as tradition) of Plymouth, who purchased land in Campton, north of Baker’s River.” Aside from the unlikelihood that David’s father would have a middle name (and also since Lee is the maiden name of David’s wife), David did name one of his sons Jacob, so perhaps David does belong to this Plymouth couple. Let’s see what else is there.

A Merrill Memorial (Cambridge, Mass., 1917–28) part 2, pp. 360–61, profiles Jacob Merrill of Plymouth, New Hampshire (who was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts), and lists thirteen children born between 1763 and 1782, including a son Daniel who was killed by a falling tree at age 11. Yet there is no David! Further, there are twins born 16 October 1767 and another child born 5 October 1769. If Jacob’s calculated birth date of 12 November 1768 were correct, he would have been born thirteen months after and eleven months before his older and younger siblings respectively. While that is still possible, it raises questions. Still, the date of birth could be incorrect and this would not be the first time a genealogy missed a child. What else can we find?

Jacob Merrill died 19 September 1812 and left a very detailed will. He names his wife Elizabeth and specifically lists all twelve surviving children, one of by one, and then summarizes them again towards the end:

As you can see there is no David, and these are the same twelve children as indicated in the Merrill Memorial. While there are instances of one child being left out of a will, this is pretty strong evidence that David Merrill was not a son of Jacob and Elizabeth (Wyatt) Merrill.

Could David Merrill somehow be related to Jacob Merrill of Plymouth? Sure. I have looked at Jacob’s siblings – two moved to Maine and one stayed in Essex County, Massachusetts – and none have sons named David. Perhaps David was a nephew who moved to where his uncle had settled, but, at this point, I have not found any records. While the Merrill ancestry of Jacob and Elizabeth might be attractive for some (there are two more royal lines), the only thing I can sure of right now is that David Merrill of Holderness, New Hampshire, was almost certainly not a son of Jacob and Elizabeth. Perhaps one of our readers has found the missing document!


[1] David is the father of Jacob Lee Merrill, husband of Mary Hussey Smith, shown on the chart here).

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

16 thoughts on “A missing Merrill

  1. And we believe that Mary Hussey Smith traces back to Christopher Hussey of Hampton, New Hampshire, right?

    1. Was her mother Theodate Bachelder? I CAN’T go here today!! I am up to my eyebrows in a brick wall on another line and I WILL stick to it!! How many times have I thought that? And why am I still spinning my wheels there? Because I think if I keep looking for the same people in the same place I will find them. What does that remind you of?

    2. Per the above comment has anyone been able to link Mary Hussey Smith … to Christopher Hussey of Hampton. If not. I’m wondering where did the ‘Hussey’ come from in her name.

    3. Although Mary Hussey Smith does trace back to Christopher Hussey, I doubt that her name is ancestral, and more likely from a friend and relative of the family. Mary Hussey Smith 1823-1908, John Smith 1792-1866, John Smith 1760-1842 (both of John Smith”s parents are Hussey descendants, giving first the paternal line), Christopher Smith 1736-1814, Benjamin Smith 1697-1756, John Smith 1669-1752, Huldah Hussey 1643-1740, Christopher Hussey 1599-1686; (now the maternal line) Mary Page 1738-1778, Shubael Page 1707-1791, Christopher Page 1670-1751, Mary Hussey 1638-1733, Christopher Hussey 1599-1686. As you can see, she has two descents making her a 5th great-granddaughter twice. Do people name their daughters after a 4th great-grandmother?

  2. For almost as long as I have done genealogy (over 40 years) my 3rd great grandfather’s mother was listed everywhere including my tree as the second wife of my 4th g-grandfather. Well we were all wrong! A recently discovered state supreme court case (over 20 pages of testimony) found that he was the son of the first wife, but grew up with the second wife after his mother died. When he became an adult he moved out west to join his father. So off I lopped a whole branch of my family tree! And guess what? I did not lose a single DNA connection. But when I added the correct 4th great-grandmother I got a few DNA connections on the new line. We must always be open to new and more compelling evidence—

  3. Chris, These are stupid questions, but I’m curious if the familes of Elizabeth Wyatt of Sarah Lee left any clues behind for a correct line to David (or Jacob…)? Any witnesses to a marriage here or there that might establish any sort of a lead? I am sure you will have looked at these notions already. My mother’s Lee lines extend to Moses Merrill – so this riddle really hits close to home. Good one Chris!

  4. That appears to be a very solic conclusion i.e. that we need to look elsewhere for David Merrill’s parentage. I added a warning note on the Wikitree bio. Good work.

  5. You mention two royal connections, one being Jane Bradbury 1645-1829. Would the other be John Badger 1643-1691? I recently saw a royal line for his great-grandmother Catherine Norreys 1565-1593.

  6. First, is it possible to get Y-DNA evidence from a male descendant proving Merrill descent? The evidence suggests that he was adopted by Jacob Merrill and Elizabeth Wyatt, which explains the birth date, being omitted from the will (which is why he was omitted from the Merrill Memorial), as well as why the mystery. The largest clue would be his son’s name, William Elliot Merrill.

  7. I notice that Elizabeth Wyatt had a brother David born Newbury MA 1745. If he died leaving a son that would explain it all. i don’t see a death date for him. What if he died in Plymouth NH? It would be very unlikely that a death was recorded. Has anyone checked court records for guardianship papers? Grafton County was founded in 1769 but not organized until 1771 so those papers may not be at the Grafton Courthouse, depending on the date.

    1. James, are you related to the Lee family? I’m in the midst of writing a book on them, especially on the Moultonborough branch.

  8. Was her mother Theodate Bachelder? No. Mary Hussey Smith 1823-1908 is the dau of John Smith 1792-1866 (John, Christp, Benj, John 4-3-2, John Bland alias Smith) and Mary Polly Mudgett 1797-1869 (Benj, Joseph, John, Thos 2-1).

  9. Two sources state that the Lee families of Moultonborough, NH were brothers, the sons of Deacon Benjamin and his wife Mary (Stevens) Lee. One of these brothers, Abiel had a daughter Sarah bp. November 1777, recorded as were five of his other children at Ipswich, Massachusetts. His oldest child, Jacob was bp. at Manchester. Abiel is most likely the Abigal Lee who appears in the 1790 Census for Moultonborough with a household of 10. Abiel Lee married Sarah Killam Jan. 1772 at Wenham, MA. these are likely the parents of Sarah (Lee) Merrill.
    In the 1790 Census for Moultonborough there was a Wm Merrill, perhaps a relative of David who appears alone in the Plymouth Census.

  10. I believe the above reply from Marian Natale properly identifies Sarah Lee. There were five brothers, sons of Benjamin Lee of Manchester, Mass., who moved to Moultonborough about the time of the Revolutionary War, four before and one, Abial, Sarah’s father, about 1788-1790. Sarah was indeed bap. in Ipswich, and most likely born either there or in Manchester, although the death record of her daughter Eliza Merrill Smith states that her mother Sarah was born in Salem, and her father David in Plymouth. If Sarah is indeed Abial’s daughter, her ancestry is Abial Lee and Sarah Killam, Benjamin Lee and Mary Stevens, John Lee and Sarah (Warren?) and Henry Lee, the immigrant, and Marey _____.

  11. This discussion hits close to home for me also, for there are Merrills of both Newbury, MA, and Holderness, NH, in my ancestry. Third great grandmother Hannah (daughter of Richard Merrill) of Newbury married (my line) Charles Cox of Holderness 26 Sept 1797. I also used the Merrill Memorial as my source for this family. Until this information was discovered in 2015, I didn’t pay much attention to this line; just that Hannah married Charles and the Cox line was within reach.
    It certainly is interesting to read all the possible lines of inquiry in this case and see how many more of us can be connected to each other. By the way, there are also Mudgetts in this extended family (Charles’s uncle’s line).

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