American Dentons

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Reverend Richard Denton BA (1603-1663) – 3C11

One of the ‘Great Migration’ ships of the 17thcentury

Dentons became pilgrims, choosing to escape the religious conflicts of their time and take their chances in the New World.

The Reverend Richard Denton BA (1603-1663) was clearly a driven man. Born in Warley, Halifax in Yorkshire, in his twentieth year he graduated from St Catharine’s College Cambridge. He was ordained a deacon in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire on 9 March 1623, became a priest on 8 June 1623 and married Lady Helen Windebank in Wiltshire the same year.

By 1628 he was the pastor at the Chapel of Turton, just north of Bolton in Lancashire (today it is St Anne’s). He then became the curate at Coley Chapel back near Halifax. Thus at this stage he was still an establishment religious figure.

It is not recorded when or why Richard became non-conformist Presbyterian but these were trying times for religion as the king and parliament were about to spark the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, one of which is better known as the English Civil War.

Charles I and Archbishop Laud were at odds with their subjects in the three kingdoms (England [and Wales], Scotland and Ireland) and, frustrated by his parliament, the king did not assemble it for eleven years (from 1629-1640) and unilaterally re-introduced a host of old feudal taxes and levies to raise tension. Charles I had taken a Roman Catholic wife and many of his and Laud’s religious reforms appeared to many to be a return to the rituals of Catholicism.

Presbyterians believed that the church should be run by a council of church elders, not the parishioners (Congregationalists), not the bishops (Episcopalians) and certainly not a pope (Roman Catholics).

This prompted the ‘Great Migration’, a series of emigrating fleets to New England, Jamaica and Barbados during the 1620s and 1630s. These were mostly Puritans pursuing Presbyterianism. The first fleet to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony was led by John Winthrop from Suffolk who was elected governor of what he described as a ‘city upon a hill’. He led the colony’s development for its first twelve years.

Reverend Richard Denton decided to leave England in the early 1630s. I have identified various ships on which he is said to have sailed (the James, the Arabella…) but as yet can find no manifest that actually lists him. However, there is no doubt that Richard took members of his family and flock on the four-month voyage to New England. He was restless on arrival though, moving between the early religious communities until he founded his own on Long Island.

Richard went first to Watertown, Massachusetts. This was initially known as the Saltonstall Plantation. He taught at the church there in 1634 but he arrived after most of the land had already been claimed and soon became at odds with the church leaders, or as they called themselves, the oligarchy of the divines. He did not stay for long.

Plaque commemorating the 1630s landing at Watertown

Back in 1633 a group had explored the Connecticut River where Richard arrived to establish the Wethersfield community with himself as leader. It makes claim to be Ye Most Auncient Towne in Connecticut. Richard took twenty-five families with him and was personally allocated a house plot close to the church, indicating his significance. However, factional disputes, more political than religious, came to a head and Richard and his supporters left the community.

By 1638 a further group had established the New Haven colony and in 1641 Richard was an early settler in one of its six towns – Stamford in Connecticut. When I visited and stayed there in the 1970s it proudly proclaimed itself as the ‘Insurance Capital of the World’, not a description used today.

Clearly Richard was persuasive as eighteen of the twenty-five families that followed him to Wethersfield also followed him on to Stamford. Here he was allocated fourteen acres as part of an initial twenty-eight family community. Their first church meeting was held on 19 Oct 1641. However, Richard stayed there for only a short while. Further disputes arose when he apparently opined that only church members should be permitted to vote in town meetings.

He charged two of his followers, Rev Robert Fordham and John Carman, to cross the Long Island Sound and investigate moving on to what was then Dutch-controlled Nassau Island (today it is Long Island). The pair negotiated with the local indigenous Indians – Marsapeague (Massapequa), Mericock (Merrick), Matinecock and Rekowake (Rockaway) – acquiring 64,000 acres in exchange for items that would not fetch $100 today. However, the trinkets had symbolic and spiritual importance to the indigenes. A subsequent deed dated 13 December 1643 was obtained from Dutch Governor Kieft who agreed they could create a town. This was named Hempstead. Richard’s colleague John Carman was born in Hemel Hempstead in the UK.

Richard and his brethren at Hempstead lived under Dutch rule but managed to stay neutral in the first Anglo-Dutch War, earning the praise of the local leader of New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant (later to lend his name to the cigarette brand!). Local Dutch churchmen declared Richard to be sound in faith, of a friendly disposition, and beloved by all. They described his congregation as both Presbyterian and Congregationalist.

In 1657 Richard fell out with the community over his salary and moved off to Virginia, but he didn’t settle here either and so he was back by 1658. When he was left a legacy of £400 by a friend in England in 1659 he sailed back to England and based himself in Essex where he died in 1663.

His tombstone says in Latin Here lies the dust of Richard Denton. O’er his low peaceful grave bends the perennial cypress, fit emblem of his unfading fame. On earth his bright example, religious light, shown forth o’er multitudes. In heaven his pure rob’d spirit shines like an effulgent star.

Cotton Mather, a famous preacher with whom Richard worked, said in his memoirs, Rev Denton was a highly religious man with strong Presbyterian beliefs. He was a small man with only one eye, but in the pulpit he could sway a congregation like he was nine feet tall.       More here...

Lady Helen Windebank (1596-1656) – wife of 3C11

Richard’s wife Lady Helen Windebank had significant connections of her own. She was born in Hurst, Berkshire, her parents were Thomas Windebank and Lady Frances Windebank, she died in Dorset.

Her mother’s maiden name was Dymoke and was directly descended from Sir Henry Percy, better-known as Hotspur in Shakespearean drama. Her sister Mildred was the great-grandmother of George Washington.

Daniel Denton – 4C10 – (1625-1703)

Richard’s son Daniel remained on Long Island and became a local official. He made one trip back to England and while in London in 1670 published his A Brief Description of New York. This was the first English account and it was intended to promote settlement of the area that had been recently taken from the Dutch. In it he described the geographic and topographic features from Albany to Delaware Bay in the south, from the eastern tip of Long Island to today’s New Jersey. He detailed the local plants and animals and outlined the customs and livelihood of the Indians of the region.

He showed it as a place ripe for English settlement and agriculture. He set out the opportunities, detailing an early vision of the ‘American Dream’ – if there be any terrestrial happiness to be had by people of all ranks, especially of an inferior rank, it must certainly be here […] tis surely here, where the Land floweth with milk and honey. He was ignoring the presence of the native Indians.

Subsequently the settlement of Hempstead supported the British crown during the American Revolution. During the 19thcentury the Vanderbilts and Belmonts built houses there giving it some status for the American elite. Later in the 1880s/1890s it was where Eleanor Roosevelt spent her teenage summers. In 1927 Charles Lindberg also based himself in Hempstead when preparing for his flight from nearby Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget, Paris, France.

Richard’s second son Nathaniel served for most of his adult life as the Town Clerk of Jamaica, Long Island and acquired a great deal of property. Jamaica became the first incorporated village on Long Island. Its name has nothing to do with the Caribbean island but is from the local Lenape language yameco for ‘beaver’. The island of Jamaica’s name is from its local Arawak language, the word Xaymaca meaning ‘land of wood and water’.

Jamaica is a middle-class neighbourhood of Queens. Donald Trump (as I write this he is a presidential candidate), Nelson DeMille (one of my favourite authors) and the rapper 50 Cent (whom I was too old to appreciate) all hail from Jamaica, Long Island.

US Denton Ground Zero?

There are (unlikely) suggestions that all (or at least some 32,000) of the Dentons in the USA descend from the Rev Richard Denton. He and Helen did have twelve children to start the process.

He is heralded as perhaps one of forty key immigrants responsible for much of the original WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) stock. Certainly I have encountered some impressive family trees that run to many thousands and they appear thoroughly documented – but ‘all Dentons’ appears a bit of a reach. These sources go on to indicate we have lots of relations in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia… that a number of our folk interbred with Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw and Choctaw locals. I will content myself here by reviewing just two of these American cousins.

You will recall that the Denton name derived from a topographical term in England, and not an individual. Just as there are seventeen places in the UK called Denton, it turns out that there are seventeen places named Denton in the States. Most of these were named for people, thus reversing the English process. Denton communities are located in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. The Denton in Texas derives from an individual called John Bunyan Denton whom we will look at below.

Denton County TX, old (1896!) courthouse

There is also a Denton Trail near the Tonto National Forest, thirty-eight miles from Scotsdale in Arizona. I challenge anyone of my age when they see that forest’s name to resist saying– ‘Hi Ho Silver Away’ and/or ‘Kemosabe’ – forgive us, but the Lone Ranger was very popular in our youth!

Andrew Russell Denton (1839-1863) – 10C4

Andrew was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee. In the Civil War he enlisted in the 43rd Tennessee Infantry at Knoxville where he worked his way up to becoming first sergeant.

He was part of a unit that attacked a Yankee position. The attack was successful but he was among twenty-seven injured. Hit between the legs, he survived for four days but eventually died from blood poisoning. His only child was born four months after his death.

Andrew R Denton from ‘The Denton Despatch’

Andrew R Denton from ‘The Denton Despatch’

Looking at his picture one can’t help but wonder if he was the result of some of the reported Denton inter-breeding with local Indian groups.

John Bunyan Denton (1806-1841)

John was born in Tennessee and orphaned at eight; his foster family moved him away to Arkansas. He ran away and worked as a deckhand on Arkansas flatboats and then became an itinerant Methodist minister in Arkansas and Missouri. He crossed into Texas with a fellow preacher in 1836/7 where he studied law and established a partnership in Clarksville. He served in the Texas Militia as captain and in 1841 his unit engaged in the Battle of Village Creek against the Kichai Indians, six miles east of Fort Worth. He was leading an attack when shot and killed. His body was taken on horseback and buried in an unmarked grave next to the confluence of Oliver Creek and what became Denton Creek. His body was later disinterred by a local cattleman, placed in a wooden box and buried at his home. In 1901 it was dug up again and buried with appropriate ceremonies in the southeast corner of the Denton County Courthouse lawn. The city of Denton in Texas and its broader area Denton County were named after the preacher/lawyer/militia captain. Denton Texas was probably most notably the home of two Miss Americas in 1971 and 1975.

Denton, Texas in 1883

So much more to be done here, acquired a file of some 5,000 American Dentons, but I am in my final year of my History MA and can’t get to this as yet – any volunteers?

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