The Myth of Mary Feaks, Thomas (Earl) Barnum and Phoebe ParkEdit This Page

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It has often been said that, “Genealogy without documentation is just mythology”. That saying can definitely be applied to a number of persistent errors regarding the immediate family of the immigrant ancestor Thomas BARNUM (1625-1695). [also: BARNHAM or BARNAM].

The genealogy of Thomas Barnum has been thoroughly researched over a period of more than three centuries and the persons, dates and places associated with his life are well known and carefully documented. In spite of that, literally dozens of entries in both written and Internet genealogies list unsourced information that conflicts with his known genealogy. Therefore, this article has been prepared to aid those who may trace their descent from Thomas in creating the most accurate possible family genealogy.

As an example of the errors found elsewhere, some call him “Thomas (Earl) Barnum” (suggesting a connection to the minor nobility of England) and others show him as married to Mary Feaks or Feake. Still others list Phoebe Park as one of his wives. No accurate, verifiable source documentation has been found to support any of those statements. Unfortunately, though, the erroneous data continues to be accepted and cited in family genealogies without adequate research or valid documentation.

Research indicates that a part of the difficulty likely arose over 60 years ago with erroneous postings to the Ancestral File. Although that data is accepted without question by many hobbyists and amateur genealogists, an entry in the Ancestral File without supporting sources does not represent valid documentation. The Church itself is careful to state that the information found there is volunteered, not researched or solicited, and has not been verified against any official records. The statement is also made that it is the responsibility of those who use the Ancestral File to verify its accuracy. Even so, the incorrect information is frequently cited without verification, perhaps under the false impression that it represents valid genealogical research.

Here is just one example of the reason for careful research and documentation of Ancestral File data. In addition to the unsourced entry for Thomas Barnum and Mary Feake, with a marriage date of about 1684 in Connecticut, a review of the Ancestral File shows marriages for Thomas Barnham and Mary Feake in London about 1586 and three separate marriages for Thomas Barneham and Mary Feake in London with dates of 1577, 1586 and 1595. No sources are given for any of these entries. However, Thomas Barneham is named in the will of William Feake, dated 7 May 1595, as the husband of his daughter Mary Feake, born about 1565. The will states that Mary Feake married Thomas Barneham, a son of Thomas Barneham and Alice Cressey and that Thomas died (without issue) about 1614. Here, then, is documentary evidence that Mary Feake was not a wife of the immigrant ancestor Thomas Barnum (1625-1695).

The correct information about Thomas and his two wives, noted below, is supported by references to valid and independently-verifiable sources (14 of them at last count). All of this information, and much more, is documented on the Barnum Family Genealogy website, at

Thomas BARNUM (originally BARNHAM, sometimes BARNAM) was born in 1625 in Hollingbourne, Kent, England; arrived in the British Colonies of North America about 1640; and died 26 December 1695 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony at the age of 70. He married (1st), in 1660, Hannah ________ [surname unknown], who was the mother of his ten children.

Thomas BARNUM Sr. and Hannah ________ were married in 1660 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony. Although Hannah Hurd is sometimes shown as the first wife of Thomas, the use of that surname is not supported by reliable documentation and it has generally been discounted. The surname Hurd sometimes cited for Hannah is likely due to a confusion with the married surname of his second wife. Thomas married (2nd) Sarah (Thompson) Hurd, after 1688. She was the widow of John HURD Sr., of Stratford, who died in 1681. Detailed research by genealogist Ann Tappero suggests that her given name probably was Hannah, but that Hurd was most likely not her surname.

A family group record in the Ancestral File, submitted in about 1942, shows the source for the name Hannah Hurd as The Families of Old Fairfield by Donald Lines Jacobus. When that source is viewed it is found to refer to Thomas Barnum without mentioning the name of a wife. This is another illustration of the fact that poorly-researched or erroneous research tends to become self perpetuating.

Hannah ________ was born in 1640 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony and died in 1683 at the age of 43 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony. The Barnum Family, 1350-1907 calls her the mother of only four of Thomas’ children. All other available sources state that she was the mother of all ten of the children of Thomas.

Thomas BARNUM and Hannah ________ had the following children:

 i. Thomas BARNUM Jr. was born on 9 Jul 1663 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married Sarah BEARDSLEY in 1693 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and died on 17 Dec 1730, Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

ii. Sarah BARNUM was born in 1665 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married (1st) ________ CLARK, married (2nd) Meshack FARLEY of Ipswich on 6 Aug 1684, married (3rd) Thomas PICKETT, and died in 1744 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

iii. Esther BARNUM was born in 1667 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and married John ABBIT in 1685 in Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

iv. Abigail BARNUM was born in 1669 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and married Nathaniel STEVENS in 1712 in Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

v. Ensign Francis BARNUM was born in 1671 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married (1st) Emma FAIRCHILD about 1690, married (2nd) Deborah HOYT in 1696 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married (3rd) Mary ________ in 1714 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and died on 20 May 1736 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

vi. Elizabeth “Bess” BARNUM was born in 1673 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and married Thomas BENEDICT in 1691 in Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

vii. Deacon Richard BARNUM was born in 1675 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony married (1st) Mary HURD in 1700 in Stratfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married (2nd) Marcy RANDALL, and died after 14 Jan 1739 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony.

129 viii. Hannah BARNUM was born on 4 Oct 1680 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony and died after 1708 at the age of about 28.

ix. Ebenezer BARNUM Sr. was born on 29 May 1682 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, married Abigail SKEELS in 1710 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony, and died on 17 Sep 1755 in Kent, Litchfield, Connecticut Colony.

x. Ruth BARNUM was born about 1684 in Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony. She was the first white, female child born in the town of Danbury. Her surname appears written as both Barnum and Barnam.

After the death of his first wife, Thomas BARNUM Sr. and Sarah THOMPSON were married about 1688.

Sarah THOMPSON was born in 1642 in Stratfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony and died on 24 Jan 1717/8 at the age of 76 in Stratfield, Fairfield, Connecticut Colony. She was the widow of John HURD Sr. (1613-1681) of Stratford, Connecticut, who died in 1681. Her father was John THOMPSON (b. about 1617), the first of that name in Stratford. There was no issue of this second marriage of Thomas Barnum.

The probate of the will of Thomas Barnum reads as follows: To the Honorable Cort of Probate to be holden att Fairfield. Thes maye signifie unto yore honnours that we whose names are under written, namely James Beebe and Josiah Starr beeing appoynted by the Honble County Cort held at ffairefeld March ye 10 – 1695/6 to mack at distribushon of the estete of Thomas Barnam Decesed: Wee according to the best of our skills and judgment did in ye said month of March on the afforesaid 1695/6 mack ye following distrebushion of the said estete:

To ye eldest son Thomas Barnam hee offering to tack ye with a single sheere and at halfe provided hee might have his choyce of from perticulers which accordingly we set out to him thirty pounds vallue of ye homsted and twenty one pounds vallue of ye moveables which in all made 51-0-0.

To ye second son ffrances Barnam by name Wee set out the rest of the homested being vallued at 65 pounds and a comondall of land purchesed for him by his father before his deth vallued at ffive pounds: and 7-11-6 of ye moveables hee giveing [illegible] to paye to his younger sisters when ye come of ye age of twentyone or at maridg what hee had received more then his proportion which proportion was 34 pounds ye whole that hee receved was 99-11-1.

To ye third son Richard Barnam by name we set out a [illegible]-lot of upland vallued at five pounds A second divition of meadow vallued att seven pounds and moveables to the vallue of 22 pounds so that hee had in all to the vallue of 34-0-0.

To ye fifth [N.B., should be fourth] son Ebenezer Barnam by name we set forth it Mill Lot so called vallued at 4 pounds a third divition of meddows vallued at five pounds a little loot vallued at tow pounds the one half of ye land at Shellter Rock vallued at nine pounds the Townehill Lot vallued at six pounds; The halfe of the Cotfeld [illegible] vallued at five pounds ye six acre divition of land three pounds 10 shillings - so that the whole of what hee receved was 34-10-0.

To John Barnam the ffifth son wee set out the firt division of meddow vallued at three pounds 10 shillings ye forth divition of meddow vallued at 3 pounds 10 shillings ye swamp lot vallued att five pounds: then one half of ye land at Shellter rock valld at nine pounds the land on Shellter rock hill valld at six pounds the halfe of the Cotfeeld valld att 5 pounds ye half of the baran plain lot and the half of the six acre divition vallued at three pounds and ten shillings-so that the whole of what hee received was 34-10-0.

To Sarah Picket the wife of Thomas Picket the eldest daughter wee set out In moveables of many particulers in all to the vallue of 34-0-0.

To ye second daughter Esther Abbit the wife of John Abbit we set forth in moveables in many particulers and many due ye estete in all to the vallue of 34-0-0.

To ye third daughter Hannah Barnam wee set out moveables in many particulers and depts due to the estete in all to the vallue of 34-0-0.

To ye forth daughter Wee set out Ruth Barnam by name-in moveables in many particulers and depts due to the estete in all to the value of 34-0-0.

To ye fifth daughter Abigall Barnam by name wee set out in movabels and depts due to ye estete in all to the value of 34-0-0.

signed: //James Beebe// & //Joseph Starr//, Distributers.

Know all men by these presents that I Sarah Barnum of Stratford in the county of Fairfield and Coloney of Connecticut have received of the heirs of my late husband Thomas Barnum of Danbury deceased in full of all accounts due to me by virute of a contract made between my husband Barnum and my self before marriage therefore I doe soe order remit release acquit exonerate & discharge the administrators Heirs and assignes of the above sd Thomas Barnum deceased from all further demands whatsoever upon [illegible] of any money due to me my Heirs of assigns by virtue of any contract before mentioned in witness wherof I have herewith set my hand in Stratford this fifteenth day of March Anno Domini 1702 (date difficult to read).

Witnesses: //Ambros Tompson, Senior// & //John Tompson//.

Her mark //Sarah Barnam//

Probate: 1696 #359 FHL Film #1018731. [Note: the bequests of £34 which Thomas left to many persons in his will is the equivalent of approximately £3,830 in 2010].

It should be noted that, while the connection between Thomas and the English line of Barnham is shown here, that connection should be considered “probable but not certain,” because of a lack of reliable documentary evidence to absolutely confirm it.

The Barnum Family, 1517-1904 states (without providing documentation) that Thomas Barnum was the 15th child of Sir Francis Barnham and his wife Lady Elizabeth Lennard (or Leonard), Baroness Dacre, and that Thomas left England in 1640 to come to the American Colonies, where he first settled in what is now Bethel, Fairfield County, Connecticut. Tradition, however, says that Thomas Barnum came first to New York and afterwards to Norwalk, Connecticut. Thomas is the immigrant ancestor of the Barnum family and the progenitor of those Barnum lines of descent so far documented in the Americas.

Thomas purchased land in Fairfield, Connecticut on 28 Feb 1673, and received a grant of land in Norwalk five years later. The grant reads: “Granted by the plantation unto Thos: Barnam a certaine swampe lyinge neere the west side of Stonie brooke and not far of Soabatucke hill, the sayed swampe containinge five acres more or lesse and lyeth bounded of west north and south with the common land. Aprill the 30th, 1678.” That same year, he sold his land in Fairfield to Alexander Bryan and removed to Norwalk. Hall’s History of Norwalk says: “Thomas Barnam [sic], of Fairfield, had a grant before 1663.” The same history gives the assessment of his estate in lands in that town in 1671 and 1687 as 40 pounds [the equivalent of approximately £6,160 in 2010]. There is also a mention of Thomas in a Fairfield book of records as follows: “28 Feb. 1673 Thomas Barnam [sic] has by purchase of John Crump one parcel of land at Maximus, being in quantity by estimation three quarters of an acre more or less.” The next record is in Norwalk, dated 30 Apr 1678, and another at the same time says that the plantation granted to Thomas Barnum was “three acres lying by the land said Thomas purchased of John Rayment.”

At a town meeting in Norwalk, 8 Nov 1681, Thomas was appointed to “oversee and keep good Decorum amongst the youth in times of exercise on the Sabbath and other Publique meetings; and the town doe impower him if he see any disorderly, for the keep of a small stick to correct such with; onely he is desired to doe it with clemency; and if any are incoridgable in such disorder, he is to present them either to their parents or masters; and if they doe not reclaime them, then to present such to authority.” Cutter, in Connecticut Families, notes that Thomas Barnum was one of the first eight settlers of the town of Danbury, Connecticut, in 1684. The History of Stratford and The History of Connecticut make the same statement. The other settlers are listed as: Thomas Taylor, Francis Bushnell, John Hoyt, James Benedict, Samuel Benedict, James Beebe and Judah Gregory. Those eight individuals purchased from the local Indians a large tract of land which now includes the towns of Danbury, Bethel, New Fairfield, Redding, Ridgefield, and a portion of Derby, and established there the settlement of Danbury. Thomas located his homestead in a portion of the new settlement which in 1855 became a part of the town of Bethel, and is known today as the Old Homestead at Grassy Plain. The town patent bears the date May 20, 1702.

Thomas was charged by his fellow settlers with the formulation of the articles of agreement establishing the form of civil government which they were to have in their new town. From that, and other references found in contemporary records of the locality, it appears that Thomas Barnham/Barnam/Barnum was a man of more than ordinary intelligence among the immigrants of his time, and was very active in both church and town affairs.

Thomas died on 26 Dec 1695, aged about 70 years. His estate, which amounted to 330 pounds, 4 shillings, 4 pence [the equivalent of approximately £37,200 in 2010], was divided among “five sons and five daughters, the eldest son to have a double portion. His widow Sarah returned to Stratfield, in Stratford, and died there in Jun 1718, aged 76 years.


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