My Whiting Ancestors – Part II – The Plot Thickens

This supplements and updates an essay I wrote in 2011, My Whiting Ancestors - Part I.

I suggest that you read that essay before reading this.


Two new sources of information came to my attention over the last eight years. First is a treasure trove of family history, starting with several letters on an online site, and capped by a Whiting family history written in 1858 that my cousin Jim Shelly found among his family papers. The other big source of information is DNA collected from members. DNA doesn’t lie, but it can mislead, and I’ve had a great time making sense of the stories it tells. I’ve also been frustrated by the stories the DNA isn’t telling, as will become clear in the last section.

Where Was David?

I inherited nothing relevant to my ancestry, but after I started communicating with Whiting cousins I discovered lots of material that had been preserved in other branches of the family. The documents came from several sources, but in almost every case they were written or transcribed by one indefatigable relative, John P. Whiting (1808-1868), the fifth son of David Whiting (1751-1815), by his second wife, Eunity Purdin. In his late 40’s John caught the genealogy bug and started collecting information about his far-flung relatives. The texture and detail of the records he created are fascinating, but I’ll just pull out a few of the most relevant or resonant points.

The particular question of greatest interest is why the 22-year-old David Whiting left his family in Billerica, MA, in 1773 and what he was up to in the decade until 1783, when he reappears in Greensborough, MD, builds a house and a tannery, and starts at least one family. This mystery is only deepened by the faint light cast on it by Whiting family lore. My own contribution – a newspaper notice showing David at a dramatic moment in 1774 – is fascinating, but raises more questions than it answers.

Patty’s 1810 Letter to David

One of the most interesting documents is a letter dated Sept. 21, 1810, to David Whiting in Greensborough, Md. from his sister Patty in Buckland, Mass. Amidst quite a lot of pious sentiment, Patty gives us some valuable information. The letter, as transcribed by John Whiting, begins:

Though long absented from you I still remember you, and though I cannot see you I still love you with the utmost tenderness, I shall inform you that for many years I have not enjoyed good health and hope these few imperfect lines will find you in possession of that blessing, I can assure you my dear brother I was greatly rejoiced to hear from you, that you was alive, I have often thought of you, but never expected to hear from you, but since providence has so orderd (sic) it, I have felt a great anxiety to write to you, ever since I have heard from you. … Since you left your Father’s house, we have taken much paine to inquire after you since you left home, but never heard anything from you till of late.

This confirms that the family was out of touch with David for more than thirty-five years, from when he left Billerica (in 1773) until shortly before the letter was written, in 1810. Patty vividly evokes the drama and trauma of David’s departure:

Our Mother died  thirty years ago last January, I cannot express to you her feelings and anxiety about you when you went away, she often spoke of you and a great desire to see you – especially in her last sickness, and even to the last hour expresst (sic) if she could see you, thought she could die in peace…

Guilt trip, any? There’s no mention, however, of why David left so abruptly, and remained out of touch for so many decades. As to what David has been up to in the meantime there is only a tantalizing hint:

Mr. Taylor informed me that you buried a wife and eight children, he gave me a relation of your family that you had married another wife and had six children…

I have no idea who this “Mr. Taylor” was (and there’s no reason to suppose that he was related to the Emily Jane Taylor who married David’s youngest son James twenty-eight years later in Baltimore). I discuss David’s first family below, but Patty’s reference to six children from David’s second marriage is accurate, as of 1810, since Joseph and my ancestor James were born later.

Patty adds a poignant postscript:

N.B. I shall inform you that Sally Stickny lived nine years unmarried after your departure, and then she married Mr. Foster of Beverly, give my respects to your family.

It would seem that David left behind in Billerica a jilted lady friend as well as a grieving family. (And props again to Patty for knowing how to throw guilt!)

John Whiting 1857-8 Letters to David Stearns Whiting of Hartsville NY

A website called Whitings of Hartsville includes transcriptions of five letters from John P. Whiting (1808-1868) to his first cousin, David Stearns Whiting (1788-1864), the son of David’s brother William. Much of these letters concerns John’s effort to pull together information about various branches of the far-flung Whiting clan, but there’s little about his conclusions.

The letter of December 24, 1857, contains this touching reminiscence, from when John could have been no older than five:

Ah! I well remember those by gone happy days on the farm at Greensborough, Caroline County, Maryland where my honored father, David patted me on the cheek and called me a good child and gave me a sixpence to pull out my decayed front teeth.


The precursor of the tooth fairy?

Family Histories Compiled by John Whiting of Phila Penn May 1st 1858

I was thrilled when my Cousin Jim Shelly pulled from a box of family papers an original manuscript history of the Whiting family from 1597 to 1858, by the same John Whiting. In addition to a few details I’ve added to my earlier essay, John has this to say about his father, David Whiting:

David, second son of Jonathan and Rebecca Whiting, born in Billerica, Middlesex Co. Mass. Dec. 15th 1751, left Boston Mass [December 16,] 1773 the memorable day the Tea was thrown overboard at that place and traveled south to Caroline County, Eastern shore of Maryland. He settled at Greensborough in the same county. Was twice married, his first wife and nine children died prior to 1800. He married in 1799 Eunity Purdin, his second wife of the same place. David Whiting departed this life May 27th 1815 aged 63 years at Greensborough, Caroline Co. Md. Mrs. Eunity Whiting died at the residence of her son Samuel at Corsica Creek, Queen Anne's Co. Md Dec. 12th 1851

I’ve also seen a transcription of a similar manuscript that differs in other respects but duplicates this key section.

I have no grounds for doubting this account, but it raises some interesting questions:

·         The fact that David left on the day of the Boston Tea Party suggests some connection, without saying anything specific about the reason for his departure. We know from Patty’s letter that his rupture with the rest of his family was abrupt, painful, and, for more than thirty-five years, total. One is invited to speculate whether David might have been a patriot who had been somehow compromised by the affair (although his name doesn’t appear on lists of the participants I’ve seen). Or was he possibly a royalist who was offended by the revolutionary spirit of New England? Or did he just have an argument with his father about something completely unrelated, possibly triggered by his 22nd birthday, the day before?

·         John’s account elides the decade between David’s departure from Billerica in 1773 and his arrival in Greensborough around 1783. Perhaps for good reason, as suggested in the next section.

·         The death of David’s first wife and many children (Patty said eight in 1810 but here John says nine) is mysterious, to say the least. Why doesn’t either Patty or John mention their names or give the cause of so many deaths?  I’ve been able to find no independent evidence for this earlier family, but John Whiting clearly believed this, and since he was one of David’s sons he ought to have known. John was only five years old when his father died, but his mother Eunity was still alive when he was working on Whiting family history, and one assumes that she would have known all about her husband’s recently-deceased prior family, especially if the incident happened in Greensborough.

Epidemic disease is the most obvious way so many people would die in the 18th century. I do see reference in a survey of early American epidemics to a 1783 “extremely fatal bilious disorder” in Dover, Delaware, which is just thirty-five miles from Greensborough. This would imply that David’s first family lived and died during his “lost decade,” before he settled in Greensborough. In 1793 and especially 1798 there were yellow fever epidemics in Philadelphia that spread to Wilmington, Delaware, but that’s sixty-four miles from Greensborough, where David was then living. Anthrax is a risk associated with tanning -- and respiratory anthrax has a death rate of 50% to 80% -- but that’s pure speculation.

Unless additional documents surface (like the one in the next part) these questions may simply remain a mystery.

Jail Break in Hartford Conn. June 10, 1774

An exhaustive search on turned up just one additional reference to our David Whiting, but it’s a doozy! 

This item appeared in the Hartford Courant for three successive weeks (June 14, 21 and 28, 1774), describing a jail break the night after 10 June 1774. Can there be any doubt that this is our David? He was 22 and from Billerica (misspelled but unmistakable). There were no other David Whitings in Billerica of a similar age, much less any who had suddenly left town. 

Like a flash photo this notice captures a detailed but momentary image. David was 5’8” or 5’9” tall, with short black hair. He had on a green coat and waistcoat, brown breeches [pants] and speckled light colored stockings [socks]. He escaped from Hartford County Jail with a “broad Scotchman,” a few years older, who had been committed for a “breach of Peace.” Nothing so mundane for our David, however; he had been committed for Forgery!

What did he forge, and why? I’ve combed court records in Hartford but I find no further mention of his case, which quite possibly never went to trial. Or perhaps he was recaptured for this crime, or some other, and spent much of the next decade in prison! We may never know, but at least we have a hint that the life of David Whiting wasn’t as simple and domestic as family lore might lead one to suppose. 

Where Was Ziba?

One of the central concerns of John Whiting’s 1857-8 Letters to David Stearns Whiting was to track down the family of his lost uncle, Ziba Whiting (1764-1811):

I feel more anxious than ever to find out something of the descendants of uncle [Ziba]'s and I shall not leave one stone unturned until I discover some clue to him.

By the time of his manuscript dated December 12, 1858, however, John had given up:

In fact, Ziba had died nearly fifty years earlier. This obituary from the Monongahela Valley Republican of 18 Sept 1884, tells us what happened, though be warned, it’s a grim tale:

John B. Gould, Ziba Whiting, a man named McCalla and a dozen of their children set off from Fayette City, PA in 1811 for the Territory of Louisiana, which President Jefferson had purchased from France eight years before. Six of them died there (of unknown causes), including Ziba himself, McCalla, and four of their children. Family trees hint that at least two of the children who died were Ziba’s: Elmira, 13 and Velina, 9. Several of Ziba’s children survived, however, and had offspring: George in Pennsylvania, Samuel in Iowa, and Paschal in Ohio. Although Ziba lost his own life, and that of several children, he succeeded in planting families of Whitings across middle America.

My Taylor Ancestors

There’s always been plenty of documentary evidence that Emily Jane Taylor was born in Baltimore in 1814, married James Whiting in 1838, and was my second great grandmother. I could find no evidence whatsoever, however, as to her parents. As far as anyone in my family or on Ancestry seemed to know she had appeared out of thin air. My proudest achievement (so far) has been to solve this puzzle! DNA was the key, but the case was clinched by re-reading a couple of census report images in light of what the DNA showed.

The starting point was two dozen of my DNA matches who also matched with one another. Most had no visible family trees, so couldn’t be further identified. But four of them had public family trees that let me explore how I was related to them. All four had recent ancestors named Taylor, all descending, in Baltimore, from one Manoah Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth.

The family trees all showed Manoah and Elizabeth as having had three children: Adaline in 1808, Catherine in 1812 and James W.W. in 1815. None of the family trees showed Manoah as the father of Emily, though she would have fitted in nicely, in 1814, between Catherine and James W.W. At this point I had DNA and a hunch, but nothing definite.

I focused back on the documentary evidence. The key source of information for Manoah, Elizabeth and their children was a card for Lot 13, Area H, at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

All the listed burials are connected with Elizabeth and Manoah Taylor, notably:

·         Their daughter Catherine in 1852,

·         Their own remains, moved to Green Mount from the Methodist Burying Ground in 1858,

·         The husband of their daughter Adaline, Francis Drebert, in 1860,

·         Their daughter Adaline Drebert herself in 1884, twenty-four years later, and

·         Their son James W. [W.] Taylor, in 1893.

We know from their death certificates that Emily Jane Taylor and her husband James Whiting were also buried in Green Mount Cemetery, presumably together. Emily’s absence from this card, and hence from the Taylor family trees, is explained by the simple fact that she was buried with her husband rather than in the Taylor family plot. While this explains her absence from family trees it still leaves us with only DNA evidence that she was a child of Manoah and Elizabeth in the first place.

The clincher, however, came from the 1870 and 1880 Baltimore censuses. In both cases the critical information appeared only in the document images, not in the summaries. In 1870, Manoah’s daughter Adaline Drebert, whose husband had died ten years earlier, is part of the household of James (on the previous census page) and Emily Whiting, which also includes the family of their daughter, Kate Gorsuch.

In the 1880 census the Gorsuch family is listed as a separate household, but adjacent to the Whiting family, and still including Adeline, this time noted as a “boarder.”  Emily and Adeline have each aged only five years in the intervening decade, a trick I would like to know how to do!

Adaline Drebert wasn’t any old boarder. She was Emily Whiting’s sister, and Kate Gorsuch’s aunt. She had joined their households after her husband died and remained there at least for the decade between these two censuses and quite possibly for the entire twenty-four years of her widowhood.

Emily Taylor Whiting died in 1883. Eight years later her nephew, William H.R. Taylor (1844-1910), named his second daughter Emily Whiting Taylor (1891-1960), evidently in honor of his aunt.

My Whitney Relatives

Wait, what, Whitney? Fasten your seatbelts for this one! Another of my fairly strong DNA matches had clear DNA links to the Manoah Taylor descendants shown above. When I contacted him he told me that he knew of no Taylors in his family tree, but, “I do have my Great grandfather [whose] name was Thomas Franklin Taylor Whitney. We have heard rumors that he had troubles and might have changed his name.”

T.F.T. Whitney, at 40, married Amanda Zinn, 22, in Aurora, Missouri on December 10. 1893. He practiced law in and around Aurora, Missouri from at least 1892 until his death in 1915. The first of many mentions in the local newspapers, from 1892, is a colorful puff piece:


Several other newspaper items relate to less interesting legal matters, but two curious pieces from the Cassville, Missouri paper illuminate the human side of T.F.T.’s life there. The more serious item on the left is from 1893 and the humorous one on the right is from 1901:


T.F.T. and Amanda appear in the 1900 and 1910 censuses for Aurora, Missouri, along with several children. Two of them, Thomas and James, were born in 1889 and 1891, so perhaps from an earlier wife; sadly, they both predeceased their father, who died in 1915. T.F.T.’s tombstone states that he was born in 1850, while his death certificate says that he was born on 14 November 1853, in Baltimore, Maryland, of unknown parents. I find no record of a Thomas Whitney having been born in Baltimore around 1850. T.F.T. seems to have appeared out of thin air in Missouri around 1889. Before DNA that would have been a dead end.

The DNA links strongly suggest, however, that T.F.T. Whitney is a descendant of Manoah Taylor. Is there anyone among Manoah’s descendants who might have assumed a new identity? Someone who was born in Baltimore around 1850, studied law, decamped to Missouri in the 1880s, then disappeared? Meet Francis Alexander Taylor, the son of James W.W. Taylor, Sr., and the grandson of Manoah Taylor. Accordingly to the 1870 Baltimore census, he was born around 1851 and at the age of 19 was “studying law.” He moved to Missouri at least as early as May 22, 1883, when his daughter Julia Ann Taylor (1883-1918) was born, in Springfield, Missouri (about thirty miles from Aurora); we know that Julia was the daughter of our Francis Taylor because the 1900 federal census shows her, at 17, living in Philadelphia with her half-uncle (Francis’s half-brother) William H.R. Taylor (1844-1910). Julia’s death certificate, filled out by her widower in 1918, shows her father as “Frank W. Taylor” and her mother as unknown. (I can’t explain the “W.” since the only documented middle initial I see for Francis is “A.” from the 1870 census.)

Have I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Francis Alexander Taylor became Thomas Franklin Taylor Whitney? Maybe not. But I personally believe, keeping the DNA link in mind, that they are very probably one and the same.

Naming resonances aren’t proof, but add suggestive weight to this hypothesis.

·         Francis Alexander Taylor’s father, James W.W. Taylor, had two middle names, as did four of his brothers and half-brothers: Charles J.M., James W.W. Jr., William H.R. and George W.W. Might he have felt left out with only one middle name? If so he evened the score by assuming a pseudonym with two middle names: Franklin Taylor.

·         Francis is identified in his daughter’s death certificate as Frank W. Taylor, which bears a striking resemblance to those same middle names.

·         Finally, was the similarity of “Whitney” and “Whiting” pure coincidence? Our Emily Whiting, Francis Taylor’s aunt, died in 1883. Might T.F.T.’s “Whitney” have been his own (slightly altered) homage to Emily?

An angle which may bear further research is whether there is any record of Francis Alexander Taylor having gotten into “troubles” after his daughter’s birth in 1883 that would explain his change of name, and possibly also why his 17-year-old daughter was living with his half-brother in Philadelphia by 1900. I found nothing in but there may be bar or even criminal records that would fill in this part of the story.

Whiting v. Whiting

The single biggest mistake in my earlier essay was the speculation that William H. Whiting, my great grandfather, was an only child. In fact, he was the youngest of seven children.

As I noted in connection with the Taylors, the Whiting household in 1870 was James, Emily and William H. Whiting, plus William’s sister Katherine (Kate), her husband John Gorsuch, their child, and Emily’s sister Adeline Drebert. In 1880 James, Emily and William H. formed one household, but the Gorsuch household, including Adeline, was adjacent.

The winter of 1883 was a sad time for these households: James died in early January and Emily in late February. By June, William H. and his brother in law John Gorsuch had formed William H. Whiting & Company, a partnership to conduct the wholesale and retail hardware business.

William’s and Kate’s families were obviously very close, but relations with their oldest brother, James Alexander Whiting, were less cozy. Emily had left a will leaving her substantial estate – around $1.2 million in today’s money -- to William H. and Kate Whiting, but her son James A. and a grandson contested it.

The will was invalidated when it turned out that the lawyer who prepared it never even saw Emily, but simply “drew the will on instructions from one of her sons,” i.e. William H.

Nice, try, great-grandfather! 

Where Are My Whiting DNA Relatives?

The DNA links confirm that I’m a Whiting, as claimed by my middle name, since I can’t descend from Emily Jane Taylor (as shown by all the Taylor and Whitney DNA links) without also descending from her son William H. Whiting and his daughter Gladys Whiting. But a dirth of DNA matches raises a real question as to whether William H. (hence I) was genetically descended from James Whiting, David Whiting and the TEN crowned heads of Europe claimed by Elizabeth St. John. William H. was certainly recognized by his family as a full-fledged Whiting, but DNA matches offer little or no confirmation, and in this case absence of evidence verges on evidence of absence.

By the third great grandparent Ancestry shows several to many “ThruLine” DNA matches in every other branch of my family tree. For example, I see a dozen DNA matches with descendants of my paternal great grandfather, Albert John Mack:

Ancestry shows not a single DNA ThruLine match, however, all the way up to my fifth Whiting great grandfather:

The comparison of William H. Whiting with Albert Mack isn’t fair, since William H. had only one child while Albert had ten. But James Whiting, his father David and his grandfather Jonathan each had at least seven children. Where are my DNA links to their many descendants?

Ancestry shows a few possible links to Eunity Purdin’s maternal grandfather, my documentary fifth great grandfather, but they are so remote that they could easily reflect some other distant DNA connection:

How could the genetic chain have been broken? William H. Whiting was a youngest child, after a gap of eight years. Could he have been an “accident” in more ways than one? While it’s hard for me to imagine Emily cuckolding James, or adopting, this could explain why I have DNA links to many Taylors, but no Whitings. James was himself a youngest child, born less than two months before his father David’s death. His mother, Eunity, was twenty-five years younger than David, so might she have been susceptible to some local Lothario during David’s final illness? Further up the tree I find it difficult to imagine that Billerica (or the royal court of William the Conqueror!) would have been a congenial environment for adultery, but it’s a wise child...


Robert Whiting Mack,

Cambridge, Mass.

April 23, 2019