I think I’ve made clear that there is no beginning and no end to family stories, and this makes it difficult to follow a strict timeline in research. The beginning of a new year and a new decade seems to warrant a bit of review, but as usual, I discovered a sideroad…
In 1607, the first successful English settlement in “our” part of the continent, North America, was at Jamestown, Virginia. In spite of the difficulties the new immigrants encountered, the flow of newcomers increased steadily through the 1600 and 1700s bringing thousands of settlers.
At some point during that 100-year period a man named Collings came to America seeking something…land, wealth, freedom, adventure, something that he couldn’t find in his homeland. He came from Ireland or England or Wales, probably as a young man. I don’t know if he came with a wife and children, or if he came as a child himself.
I can’t truly document this family line beyond one William Edward Collings who was born December 11, 1724 In Pennsylvania. I can’t pin down his father, though I am fairly certain his father’s name was Zebulon. There are some records that this is the case and William named his first son Zebulon, which seems to back up that theory.
In 1744 William Edward Collings married Anne Elston (daughter of Spencer and Mary Elston) in Frederick, Pennsylvania. Their first two children, Zebulon and Spencer were born in New Jersey in 1745 and 1750 respectively. Three more children followed — Elizabeth in 1752, William Elston in 1758 and Thomas in 1760, all born in Pennsylvania.
There were a couple of accounts that William might have married a woman named Anne Nowlin, so that was one side road I got lost on for a while.
Tracing women in genealogy is a little trickier than tracing men, but I’m convinced William Edward Collings married Anne Elston. Naming conventions were fairly common in the day and William and Anne named their first son Zebulon (after his father), their second son Spencer (after her father) and their third son William Elston, (Elston being her maiden name).
Anne’s family, the Elstons (also spelled Elson, Alston and various other ways), have a long, long history, as detailed extensively in a book titled “The Elstons in America” that I found on Ancestry.com. Although not documented, there is some speculation that in England, a Peter Elston was part of a group responsible for the execution of King Charles II in 1649, which would surely have been a pretty good reason to emigrate to another country.
He wouldn’t have been the first immigrant. The earliest documented mention of an Elston in America is an account of a shipwreck in the “Annals of Salem,” Vol. II, page 210, Joseph B. Felt:
“1631, July 26, Winthrop relates, ‘…a small bark of Salem, of about twelve tons, coming towards the bay, John Elston and two of Mr. Craddock’s fishermen being in her, and two tons of stone and three hogsheads of train oil, was overset in a gust, and being buoyed up by the oil, she floated up and down forty-eight hours, and the three men sitting upon her until Henry Way his boat, coming by, espied them and saved them.’”
This same John Elston was described as coming over on the Winthrop Fleet as “probably one of Craddock’s servants.” And before you ask, I have no idea why you would transport two tons of stone, nor what “train oil” was, there being no trains in 1631. Those questions are two sideroads I avoided.
In 1698, one of the more interesting Elston men, gave an account of his adventures as a young cabin boy on what could only be described as a pirate ship. Claiming that he ran away from home and fell asleep on a ship, he awoke to find the ship (and himself) out to sea. He names the various ports the ship visited and the “encounters” they had with other ships. Authorities investigating his actions wrote:
Dureing the time of theire being on the Coast they tooke two shipps Danes and Sweedes Laden with Goods for the Guinea trade takeing as many men out of them as were willing to saile…turning the shipps a drift, that in the Acc’on they had a Dispute with said shipps for about halfe an hour looseing one man
Apparently, there was a little bureaucratic snarkiness going on at the time John Elston was being investigated. He and another young man (both aged 19 or 20) were “seized” by the Earl of Bellmont, but the Earl seemed to view their adventures as youthful hijinks. He wrote in a letter to his bosses, the Lords of Trade, that since the boys were so young at the time of the piracy (12 or 13), were merely cabin boys and did not partake or profit from any of the encounters, he saw no reason to hold them or send them to England for a trial, and that they should be released on bail.
The Governor of East Jersey, on the other hand, was furious. He wrote to the House of Commons (his bosses) that it was his duty to refuse bail but that the Earl of Bellemont “by pretended Admiralty power forced them out of your petitioner’s hands and set them at liberty upon insufficient bayle, to the great hazard and danger of your Petitioner.”
There was detail as to how these young men posed a danger to the Governor and there are no additional records about how this case resolved, but I have to say: I’m excited to have a pirate in the family, even if he was “sort of” innocent.