Home > 002056. Thomas Peirce, 004112. Thomas Peirce > Notes and Queries: Peirce

Notes and Queries: Peirce

Source: J.M. Peirce, “Notes and Queries: Peirce,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 32[1878].

[page 426]

PEIRCE (ante, p. 238). – Robert PEIRCE, of Woburn, concerning whom inquiry is made in the April number of the REGISTER, seems to me to have been (as Savage, Bond and Sewall also think) the son of John PERS of Watertown, weaver, whom Bond, I believe, first identified with the John PERS, weaver, who came to New England from Norwich in 1637, with his wife Elizabeth and his children John, Barbara (not otherwise known), Elizabeth, and Judith.  [See Mass. Hist. Coll., 4th ser., i, 96.]  If John of Watertown was the same as John of Norwich, other children of his, – certainly Anthony (freeman Sept. 3, 1634) and Ester (m. Joseph MORSE, and had Joseph, b. April 30, 1637), probably Mary (m. –––– COLDAM, probably Clement of Lynn), and Robert, – must have come over earlier than he.  The will of Elizabeth, widow of John of Watertown (March 15, 1666-67) names, among others, “my grandchild Judah SAWEN” (= Judith SAWIN), and my grandchild Judah PEARSE daughter to my son Robt PEARSE.”  Robert PEIRCE, of Woburn (called “weaver” in Middlesex Registry of Deeds, L. 10, F. 282; L. 22, f. 311), had a daughter Judith, and seems to be the only one who can be identified the Robert here named.  One Robert PEIRCE, of Watertown, received land of Ira WATERBURY in 1646.  He must have removed to Woburn a few years later (Sewall says in 1650).  It is perhaps this Robert who was made freeman May 13, 1642, but more likely May 22, 1650, about the time probably of his removal and marriage.

Robert PEIRCE, of Woburn (described in 1658 as about 38 years of age), m. Mary KNIGHT, dau. of John KNIGHT, Sen., of Charlestown, whose will proves this.  [See also Middlesex Registry, L. 10, F. 224.]  The list of his children is, I believe, no where completely given.  He had certainly the following: Judith, b. Sept. 30, 1654, d. May 31, 1689; Mary, b. Jan. 21, 1653-4, m. John WALKER (brother to Samuel, Jr., and Israel) Oct. 14, 1672; Nathaniel, b. Dec. 4, 1655, m. 1st, Dec. 27, 1677, Hannah, dau. to Allen CONVERS, m. 2d, March 23, 1680, Elizabeth FOSTER (probably dau. of Sergt. Thomas PIERCE, m. 1st Thomas WHITTEMORE, 2d Hopestill FOSTER), d. 1692; Elizabeth, b. March 6, 1658 (9?), m. Feb. 24, 1681-2, Samuel, son of John WILSON, Sen.; Jonathan, b. Feb. 2, 1662-3, m. Nov. 19, 1689, Hannah, dau. to John WILSON, Sen., d. June 17, 1694; Benjamin (for whom see below); John (named in Jonathan’s will and Benjamin’s deed of April 25, 1696); Joseph, b. May 1, 1672.  Mary PEIRCE, widow of Robert, d. March 18, 1701, and “old Robert PEIRCE” d. Sept. 10, 1706.  [See the wills of Nathaniel and Jonathan in the Middlesex Probate Office.]

Benjamin PEIRCE, the son of Robert and Mary, not mentioned by Savage, is sometimes called “junior” while living in Woburn, to distinguish him from the Benjamin of Woburn who m. Mary REED, and whom I suppose to have been a son of Sergeant Thomas PIERCE.  Benjamin, the son of Robert, m. Hannah, dau. to Jerahmeel (or Jerathmeel) BOWERS, of Chelmsford, April 3, 1698, and moved to Charlestown about 1700.  He had: Hannah, b. in Woburn, Dec. 28, 1693, d. Woburn, 1700; Jonathan, b. Woburn, March 20, 1695-6; Elizabeth, b. Woburn, March 8, 1697-8, d. single, 1749; Benjamin, b. Woburn, Jan. 8, 1699-1700, d. young; Hannah, b. in Charlestown, March 24, 1701-2, living in 1715, d. before 1747; Josiah and Mary, b. Charlestown, Oct. 10, 1704, both d. young; Mary, b. Charlestown, June 6, 1706, m. Thomas CROSSWELL, son of Caleb and Abigail CROSSWELL, d. March 23, 1730-1; Jerahmeel, b. Charlestown, Nov. 22, 1708, m. May 31, 1733, Rebecca HURD, dau. of Jacob and Eliza HURD, d. 1751; Abigail, b. Charlestown, Jan. (7?), 1710-11, m. July 27, 1732, Edward SHEAFFE, d. before 1771; Sarah, b. Charlestown, Feb. 26, 1713-4, d. in infancy; Benjamin, b. Charlestown, June, 1715, d. young.  Benjamin PEIRCE, of Charlestown, d. in Sept. or Oct., 1715.  His widow m. Dec. 18, 1718, William WILSON, of Concord, who d. in 1741, and she d. at Charlestown in Oct. or Nov., 1746.  [See the wills of Benjamin PEIRCE, Jerahmeel  BOWERS, and William and Hannah WILSON, in Middlesex Probate Office; also Middlesex Registry Deeds, L. 10, F. 224, 514; L. 12, F. 87; L. 13, F. 48; L. 15, F. 110, 345, 594; L. 17, F. 401; L. 19, F. 126; L. 20, F. 28, 69, 81.]

I am indebted to the research of Mr. B.O. PEIRCE for a large proportion of the facts and references above given.

The spelling of this name is generally supposed to have significance in determining relationships.  Certainly a great variety in this regard will be found in printed and written documents from the settlement of New England until now.  But my observation leads me to believe that a high degree of uniformity exists in the spelling, as used by persons bearing the name, in any one family connection.  Thus the descendants of Robert of Woburn, and I believe nearly the whole body of the descendants of John of Watertown, from the beginning to the present day, almost everywhere use

[page 427]

the spelling PEIRCE; though John himself appears to sign his will PERS or PERSS in an antiquated hand resembling German Schrift.  The spelling PEARSE in the will of his wife Elizabeth is not written by the testator, who signs only by mark.  On the other hand, the descendants of Samuel, of Charlestown, and of Sergeant Thomas, of Woburn, most commonly employ the spelling of PIERCE, which is also, I think, that of the signature of the will of Thomas, Sen., of Charlestown, which may however be PEIRCE or PEERCE.  In the old pronunciation of the name, according to the tradition prevalent in several branches of the family of John, of Watertown, the vowel-sound was the same that we now hear in the words pear, heir and their; and this pronunciation is remembered by living persons as having been sometimes used by old-fashioned people.  This was probably quite independent of the spelling.  The same sound was, according to A.J. Ellis, used in the verb to pierce in the 17th century, and by some in the 18th century.  On the other hand, the verb may be occasionally heard with the pronunciation perce (or purse), which is now the prevalent pronunciation of all forms of the surname in the neighborhood of Boston.

Let me add, that the great number of families of this name among the early settlers of New England makes it exceedingly difficult to trace the different lines.  Savage is guilty of many omissions under this name, and has committed some decided mistakes.  The perplexity in which all printed authorities leave the subject must be my apology for this long note.

J.M. PEIRCE.

Cambridge, Mass.

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