Bob Davidson has done extensive research on the Merrill family of early Staten Island and has found evidence that the line we all trace from Richard and Susanna is really the descent of a William Merrill who was probably a brother of Richard's who emigrated at or about the same time. His article was nearly ready for publishing a year ago or more, but the press of other projects made him put this line of research aside. Rather than wait for final form, he has most generously agreed that his findings can be shared here on my pages, so that we can all start to get our lines corrected. I'm honored to be able to present Bob's discoveries. If you can add to the documentation here, we'd like to hear from you.
Footnotes here are hyperlinked.
Samuel Merrill, historian of the Merrill family of Newbury, Massachusetts, wrote in 1928:
Richard Merrell1 (1642-1727) and his wife Sarah (Wells) Merrell (1649-1722) came from Warwickshire, England, about 1675, and settled in Northfield, Staten Island, New York. There is no known relationship of blood between Richard of Staten Island and Nathaniel [Merrill] of Newbury. Richard and Sarah Merrell had five children: William; "went west.." Richard, b. 6 July, 1682; d. 6 Sept. 1760; m Elsje (Elsie) Dorlandt. Thomas. Philip. John.
Descendents of Richard Merrell with whom I have had correspondence have known nothing of the later history of William who "went west."
It is my belief that William Merrell's western journey extended no further than Hopewell, N.J., which is thirty-five or forty miles from the Staten Island home. ... Going "West" had not come to mean what it has meant in later years.2
He cites as his sources, Records of the Dorland Family in America, and Clute's Annals of Staten Island.
John Dorland Cremer's Records of the Borland Family in America, gives this record of Richard Merrell:
Richard Merrell (b. 1642, d. May 19, 1727) and Susanna Wells (b. 1649, d. Oct. 21, 1722) natives of Warwickshire, England ... came to America about 1675 and settled on Staten Island.3
Cremer gives Richard's wife as Susanna, not Sarah. He does not give the source for their birth and death dates, but states only that "they were preserved by the family."4
J. J. Clute, historian of Staten Island, published Annals of Staten Island in 1877. He writes of the Merrill family:
This family descended from Richard Merrill and Sarah Wells his wife, natives of Warwickshire, England, who emigrated to America about the year 1675, and settled on Staten Island. As their family was the only one of the name on Staten Island, they had among their children the following sons: William, Richard, Thomas, Philip and Philys, unless the last two names are identical, and perhaps John, for we find in the Albany records the name of William as owning land on Staten Island in 1683.5
Clute then gives baptismal records of the children of Richard Merrill, Jr., and of Philip Merrill, and notes "William: of his descendants we have no account."6
William Ernest Merrill was the pioneer genealogist of the Merrill family of North Carolina. Working in the early 1930's, without benefit of today's record and record index accessibility, and with no opportunity of long-distance travel, he did establish that the Merrill family of Rowan County, North Carolina, had moved south from Hopewell, New Jersey, in the 1750's. He published his findings in 1935 in Captain Benjamin Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina, and included, with source citations, material taken from both Clute and Samuel Merrill:
Richard and his wife Sarah Wells Merrill, of a little country town in Warwickshire, on a rocky hill on the right bank of the Avon, left their English home and sailed for America and settled in Northfield, Staten Island, about the year 1675. They had five sons, William, who went out west; Richard, who became a member of the Colonial Assembly and Judge of the County Court; Thomas, Philip and John. William, the eldest son of Richard and Sarah Merrill, started on a western journey. Going west in those days did not mean what it does today, a journey of a few miles was a great undertaking. We are able to trace his course down through Monmouth, New Jersey. ... It is evident that he did not remain there. ... It was only a short time until William's name appeared on the tax lists at Hopewell.7
Ernest Merrill then gives records of William Merrill and his wife Grace in Hopewell, New Jersey. He outlines the genealogy as follows:
Ernest Merrill was a descendant of William and Grace Merrill. His work has been widely circulated among Merrill-Merrell families in the south, and has become, in effect, family tradition. However, if Richard Merrill, born in 1642, had a son William who owned land on Staten Island in 1683, he would not likely be a William Merrill born in 1675-80.
William Dayton Merrell, also a descendant of William and Grace Merrill, did question this. In 1942 he wrote:
(2-1) William Merrill 'Sr.', b. 1675 (or earlier); d. 1724. ro. Grace --—. Bought land in Middletown, N.J. in 1687; and Clute's Annals says "a William Merrill owned land on S.I. in 1683." If these refer to the same man, and assuming the legal age is 21, William must have been born by 1666, or even 1662.9
William D. Merrell finesses the name of Richard Merrill's wife, refering to her as Sarah/Susanna. He notes that he hopes to return to Staten Island for further research when wartime gasoline rationing ends, but there is no evidence that he was able to continue his research before his death in 1955.
Who was Sarah/Susanna Merrill? Did she and her husband Richard have a son William, later of Hopewell, New Jersey, the ancestor of most of the Southern Merrill/Merrells?
The name of the wife of Richard Merrill is found in a most unexpected place, the early records of Henrico County, Virginia. Philip Wells "of Virginia" made his will September 20, 1694, and it was "recorded at a Court for James City County," Virginia, December 6, 1694.10
I doe give unto my sister Sewsanna merel living in new york my wraught silver cup with a cover to it and six silver spoons & my two silver tumblers & two silver salts and my morning ring and a small hoop ring it is my desire that shee may have it at her own disposing.
Philip Wells made a similiar bequest to his sister Frances Russell, and included his wedding ring. To Mrs. Lydia Vinckler he gave money to buy a Negro woman, and to Mr. Abraham Vinckler11 five pounds as "a token of my love." His "cozen" Alice Duglison was also to have ten shillings as a token of his love. The remainder of his estate was to be valued in money and equally divided between his mother Elizabeth Wells and sister Frances Russell, "both living in Warwick." It is possible that this last reference could be to Warwick County, Virginia, but the more likely interpretation is Warwickshire. This will, together with other records in New York and in England confirm that Susanna Wells was the wife of Richard Merrill.
One early census of Staten Island was found by John Stillwell who gives it in his Historical Miscellany, in the format of the original.12 The paper is not dated, but Stillwell gives convincing evidence that it was taken in 1706. Men, women, boys and girls are listed in separate columns, and ages are given for the men. The Merrill entries are:
Richard MerriIl's age here approximates that given in John Borland Cremer's book, with birth in 1642 or 1643, but Stillwell finds errors in known ages of some others on the list. Susanna is not identified as his wife, but that she was is confirmed by two deeds of January 22, 1710/11, when Richard Merrill and his wife Susanna gave part of their land to two of their sons, Richard Merrill, Jr. and Philip Merrill, each to have 80 acres, one half of the land "which Richard Merrill had of Philip Wells, dec'd."13
This land is in Northfield, Staten Island, 160 acres surveyed for Philip Wells, November 10, 1680, and patented by him December 30, 1680.14 Philip Wells transferred this parcel to Richard Merrill on October 28, 1681.15 This first mention of Richard Merrill in the surviving Richmond County records, places the family on Staten Island in the fall of 1681.
Richard and Susanna Wells Merrill left England after September 1679. They came from the village of Temple Tysoe (now Lower Tysoe), in Warwickshire, nine miles southeast of Stratford-on-Avon, and not in fact on either bank of the Avon river. Four of their children were born in England and baptised in the Tysoe Parish church:
Richard Merrill, Jr. was born on Staten Island, July 6, 1682.17 John Merrill was born about 1685 and Thomas about 1689, by the census of 1706. Of the daughters of Richard and Susanna, Mary and Anne are not found in Staten Island records. If they survived childhood, their married names are not known. Elizabeth Merrill married Charles McLean in 1715 and lived on Staten Island until her death in 1746.18
Susanna Wells was a daughter of Philip Wells of Tysoe and his wife Elizabeth, baptised November 16, 1651. Cremer's birthdate of 1649 may or may not be accurate. Most children in the Church of England were baptised within two or three weeks of birth, but during the Civil War years after 1642, parish church activities were irregular. This may also account for the fact that only three of the children of Philip Wells are found in the baptismal register, Frances in 1645, John in 1648, and Susanna. There is no baptismal record for Philip Wells of New York and Virginia.
Philip Wells, the elder, was buried on March 7, 1661/62. His will, written in December 1660, was probated in the Consistory Court of Worcester, June 12, 1662. "Philip Wells, of Temple Tysoe, yeoman" left his wife Elizabeth one half of his dwelling house, with garden, for life. To his son John Wells, he left the other half of his house and garden and some items of furniture: To daughter Frances Wells, five pounds and his great kettle: To "my daughter Susanna Wells five pounds of lawful English money [and] my great brasse pot and my joyned cupboards." His other children, "the rest of my children," not named, are to have twenty shillings each, and he leaves twelve pence each to his grandchildren. The widow Elizabeth was executor of the will, and it was witnessed by Richard Chandler and Anthony Calloway.19
A hearth tax was levied in England by Charles II beginning in 1661. The first surviving tax book for Tysoe, 1662, is badly faded with many names obscured. In 1663 "Widow Wells" paid tax for one hearth in Temple Tysoe. The next surviving book, for 1670, does not list Widow Wells, but shows Richard Merrill paying tax on a dwelling with one hearth in Temple Tysoe adjacent to the properties of Richard Chandler and Widow Galloway. He is taxed on this house through at least 1674, some of the later lists are not legible.20 John Wells, who inherited half of the property, may have died young or left Tysoe. He is not found in church or tax records after 1661.
The Wells family had lived in Tysoe for several generations and there are baptismal and burial notices of the family of an older Philip Wells as early as 1619. But Richard Merrill seems to have come to Tysoe at the time of his marriage. There are no church records in Tysoe of a Merrill family in the generation of his parents.
When Richard and Susanna Merrill came to America in 1679-81, her brother Philip Wells may have come with them, or he may have come over a year or two earlier. He was a surveyor, and quickly became known in the colonial government of New York. He is first of record on Staten Island in November, 1680, when land was surveyed for him.21 From 1680 to 1687 he was the surveyor of many New York patents, including several for himself on Staten Island.22 In 1683 he was appointed Surveyor General of New York by Governor Dongan,23 and in this capacity was one of the surveyors who ran the line between Connecticut and New York.24 When Sir Edmond Andros assumed the governorship of the combined North American provinces, Philip Wells of Staten Island and Stephen Courtland of New York were appointed as his attorneys for New York.25 Andros was not popular and his actions led to street fighting in New York City and in Boston. In 1686, Philip Wells was involved in a controversy over ownership of land on Staten Island.26 The last notice of him on Staten Island is as a deed witness in April, 1687.27 Except for the tract sold to Richard Merrill earlier, there is no disposition of his considerable real estate. He went to Virginia, and no record of his later years has been found except for the will of 1694.
William Merrill, eldest son of of Richard and Susanna Merrill, baptised in Tysoe, April 13, 1668, came to America with his parents. The tradition that he left Staten Island is correct, but he did not go to New Jersey. He went to St. Mary's County, Maryland. In 1732 three of his children sought to recover money from their grandfather's estate:
Philip Merrill of St. Mary's County, Maryland, shoemaker, Luke Merrill of the same place, and Michael Vinnoy, husband of Mary Vinnoy, sister to the said Philip [to] beloved friend Simon Sinot of St. George's in the County of St. Mary's [power of attorney to collect debts] . . . owing to [blank space] Merrill late of the state of New York, dec'd, grandfather to Philip, Luke and Mary and to Catherine Merrill, grandchildren of the said [blank] Merrill. 28
The first name of the grandfather is left blank in the copy of the document in the Richmond County books. It may have been illegible in the original paper: Perhaps the Merrill children did not know the name. Two depositions accompany the record:
James Angel age 49 or thereabouts [deposes] that Philip, Luke and Mary are the reputed children of William Merrill, formerly of New York and late of St. Mary's County, dec'd.
... Deponent saith that the said William was married to the deponent's sister ... he was at the wedding, and has heard him say that he came from New York ... and that he had money and also land there and that the money was left him by account amounting to seven hundred pounds and that his father kept him out of it, and this deponent saith that the said William went to soo his father and mother at New York..
John Carmichael aged 51 or thereabouts [deposes] that William, Luke and Mary are the children of William Merrill, and that the deponent married the widow of said William.29
William Merrill left Staten Island about 1695, under circumstances above which suggest ill feeling between father and son. In 1693 he and his brother Philip had petitioned for the land they were farming, but a patent was never granted to them.30 His cattle mark was recorded in 1693 and 1694.31
The first surviving records of William and Ann Angel Merrill in Maryland date from 1708/09.32 William died about 1714,33 and by August 1715, Ann Merrill had married John Carmichael.34 Little is known of the Merrill children beyond their names, sons Philip and Luke Merrill, daughters Mary Vinnoy, Catherine,35 Magdalen, Susanna and Elinor Merrill.36 Few early St. Mary's County records have survived. Philip and Luke Merrill were living in 1744 when they received a bequest from their half-brother John Carmichael.37 In a census of able-bodied men aged 18-50 available for militia service, tentatively dated 1777, the only Merrill listed in the county is Joshua Merrill.38
William Merrill the immigrant ancestor of most of the southern Merrills, came to Staten Island about 1680, probably with Richard Merrill in the same year. Research in Warwickshire records has not yet established their relationship. The best guess is that they were brothers or close cousins.39 It is this William Merrill who "went west."
William Merrill was born, circumstantially, about 1650. The first probable record of him in America is a notice of jury service on Staten Island in July 1681.40 In 1683 a survey was made for him:
Laid out for William Merrell by Philip Wells, Surveyor, 81 acres woodland and eight acres meadow, lying on the west end of Staten Island.41
He received the patent from the Governor for this land April I, 1686,42 but he may never have occupied it. On April 2, 1687, "William Merrill, yeoman, and Grace his wife" of Staten Island sell to John Reay, "pipemaker of the City of New York" all of the patent.43 This is the first record found of Grace Merrill. It is not known whether she came over with William or whether they were married on Staten Island.
Later the same year, on November 24, 1687, "William Merrill of Staten Island" bought from Richard Stout Jr. and his wife Frances of Monmouth County, New Jersey, 120 acres in Middletown, New Jersey.44 Thus begins the close association between the Merrill and the Stout families which continues for many generations. William and Grace Merrill lived in Middletown until 1704, when they joined a group of families led by Jonathan Stout and moved to Hopewell, then on the frontier of settlement in West New Jersey.45
There is no surviving record of a land purchase by William Merrill in Hopewell, but he was a landowner and juror in 1705, and a town constable in 1709.46 A record of 1719 confirms that this is William Merrill of Staten Island when a process was served "against William Merrill Jr. and Grace Merrill wife of William Merrill Sr." in a lawsuit for debt.47
The Hopewell tax list for 1722 shows "William Merrel Senor" taxed for 24 cattle and horses, 20 sheep, two servants, and 300 acres, "William Merrel Junor," for 20 cattle and horses, 7 sheep and 130 acres, and Benjamin Merrel for 5 cattle and horses. All were married men.48
William Merrill "of Hopwell in ye county of Hunterdon in New Jersey in America" made his will on February 3, 1723/24. He leaves to wife Grace, "all moveable estate, including 40 cattle, two negro men, 16 horses and all my sheep." After her death these to go to "all my children by an equal division. All his land "being about 350 acres to be equally divided between my two sons Benjamin and Joseph ... if they cannot agree on dividing then it is my will that my son William Merrill and Joseph Stout shall divide the land for them equally as they can." His crop of winter corn was to be equally divided between sons Benjamin and Joseph. The will is signed, in an uncertain hand, "William Merrel." Grace Merrill qualified as executor on May 5, 1724.49 It might be noted that ownership of slaves in Hopewell was rare.
William Merrill's will documents sons William Jr., Benjamin and Joseph Merrill. There appears to have been a son Richard Merrill also. There were probably daughters, and one may be Alice, the wife of Thomas Curtis.
Wllliam Merrill Jr. was born perhaps 1680 and died accidentally June 25, 1740:
An habeas corpus being [held] before the Chief Justice at his chamber in Burlington ... ordered to be filed [that] the said William Merrell was the 25th of June ... killed with lightning at Sheriff Hunlake's door at Burlington.50
William Merrill Jr. had married twice. The name of his first wife is not certainly known. Ralph Ege, the historian of Hopewell, wrote:
Anna, daughter of Dr. Roger Parke, probably married William Merrell Jr., who was by trade a cooper, and they settled on a tract purchased for her by her father in 1697.51
Elsewhere, however, Ege writes of the same woman, "It is not known that Annie Parke ever married."52 Three daughters of this first marriage are known, circumstantially:
William Merrill Jr. married second, about 1729, Penelope Stout Jewell, daughter of James and Elizabeth Stout and widow of Thomas Jewell.56 Thomas Jewell died in 1727 leaving widow "Nelly," three sons and several daughters, none of them named in the will.57
When William Merrill died, Penelope Merrill refused to administer her husband's estate, and her letter to the lawyer is preserved in the New Jersey Archives, reading in part:
I am informed by my brother Benj'n Stout that you desire me to take an inventory of ye estate of Will'm Merrill deceased - which I do refuse to do or concern myself about that Estate which will only be a profitless trouble for me which I am not able to undergo.58
Her Stout relatives were wealthy (and) no doubt looked after her family. She married again to Isaac Herrin of Hopewell, and was widowed for a third time in 1756. She died in July 1776 "in a good old age."59
William and Penelope Merrill's family of four children is not of record since he died suddenly without a will, but all available evidence suggests they were:
Alice, the wife of Thomas Curtis was remembered by descendants as Alice Merrill, and the association between the two families in Hopewell suggests that she was an older daughter of William Merrill. Thomas Curtis was born in 1685 and died at age 64 on April 28, 1749.63 Both Thomas and Alice were founding members of the Baptist Church in Hopewell in 1715, and he served on a jury with William Merrill Sr. in 1721, and was a town officer with Benjamin Merrill in 1728. The Curtis family moved to Baptistown in Kingwood township about 1738, where Thomas became the founding pastor of the Kingwood Baptist Church, and is buried in the churchyard. He was survived by wife Alice, sons Thomas and Benjamin and daughters Mary, Ann and Jane, the wife of John Alderson.64
Benjamin Merrill, son of William Sr. and Grace, was married in 1722 with a family, and owned some livestock. He inherited half of his father's land, and is mentioned as a road overseer in Hopewell in 1728 and 1733. His wife's name was probably Mary, possibly the "Mary Waters of West New Jersey" mentioned in the will of her brother David Waters of Queens Co NY, in 1732/33. Several members of the Waters family had come from Long Island and settled in Hopewell. A Benjamin Merrill died intestate in Hopewell in 1786, leaving an estate of ..... with administration by John Merrill. Benjamin, son of William Sr. would have been about ninety, so this file may be that of a son or nephew.
Joseph Merrill was not married in 1722, but must have married soon after, and settled on the other half of his father's land. He was a Constable in Hopewell in 1733 and a freeholder there in 1741. By 1746 he had moved to Kingwood township where he bought a farm that year. He died in Kingwood before 1768, when his widow Ann brought suit to recover the third part of his land due to her as dower.
Richard Merrill is not mentioned in the will of William Merrill Sr., but he was head of a family in neighboring Maidenhead (Lawrence) township in 1722, and is associated with the Merrills of Hopewell in many court records. These are primarily suits to recover debts he seems to have consistently owed, and he seems to have been a resident of the county jail from time to time. He is last found in the Hunterdon court records in 1740.
Benjamin, Joseph and Richard Merrill were born between 1685 - 1700. It is clear from the records in Hopewell that they had families, and that their children had families. After 1750 there are numerous Merrills in Hunterdon County, but the surviving records of the next generations are fragmentary, and the relationships cannot presently be reconstructed.
Captain Benjamin Merrill
Note that Bob considers this article a work in progress. If anyone can add documentation to these lines, we would be glad to hear from you and post your information! Email Bob Davidson or Pat Patterson.
Clicking on the footnote number will take you back to the appropriate section of the text.