Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Weathervane Wednesday ~ A Genealogical Connection!

UPDATED August 3, 2018 (see below)

Are you wondering why I started my Weathervane Wednesday series?
What have weather vanes to do with genealogy?

Shem Drowne (1683 – 1774) is my first cousin 8 generations removed.  He is most famous as the artisan who made the grasshopper weather vane atop of Boston’s Faneuil Hall.  This is a beloved landmark in Boston, and is reproduced on souvenirs, Christmas ornaments, jewelry, postcards and you-name-it.  However, he was by trade a tinsmith.  He produced ordinary objects out of tin for household use, cups, pails, lanterns.  The stuff no one particularly remembers.  If it weren't for his giant grasshopper, we wouldn't know much about Shem Drowne the tradesman.

Weather vane #101
The famous grasshopper above Boston's Faneuil Hall

Besides the weather vane at Faneuil Hall, the famous grasshopper, there are other well-known weather vanes around Boston attributed to Shem Drowne.   Nathaniel Hawthorne used Shem Drown as the main character in his story “Drowne’s Wooden Image” in his book Mosses from an Old Manse.  In this book, Hawthorne styled Drowne as a carver of figureheads and ornamental wooden decorations.  However, Shem Drowne never made a  wooden pump head, like the image of the mythical Admiral Vernon in the book.
Drowne’s  other  weather vanes are the Indian Chief now on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the weather cock on top of the Congregational Church in Cambridge.  He also made the banner shaped weathervane on the steeple of the Old North Church in Boston.

How do we know that Shem Drowne made the famous grasshopper?  In 1852 the weather vane was removed for repair.  Inside there was a slip of paper, barely legible, which read:
May 25, 1742
To my Brethren and Fellow Grasshoppers
Fell in y'e year 1755 Nov 15th day from y'e Market by a great Earthquake ... sing ... sett a ... by my old Master above.
Again Like to have Met with my Utter Ruin by Fire, but hopping Timely from my Publick Situation came of with Broken bones, and much Bruised, Cured and again fixed....
Old Master's Son Thomas Drowne June 28th, 1763. And Although I now promise to Play ... Discharge my Office, yet I shall vary as ye wind.  
From the Boston Daily Advertiser, December 2, 1852

The Drowne family lived in Kittery, Maine, where Shem was born in 1683.  His father, Leonard Drowne, an immigrant from England, was a shipbuilder.  He moved his family from Kittery, Maine to the safety of Boston during the French and Indian War.  Leonard is buried at the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End.   It was here, in the North End, that Shem Drowne began his trade as a tinsmith.  He was also a deacon at the First Baptist Church, where many of my other ancestors belonged, and can be found in the marriage and church records at this same time period.

The Drowne genealogy:

Generation 1:  Leonard Drown, born about 1646 in Penyn, Cornwall, England, died 31 October 1729 in Boston; married first about 1675 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Elizabeth Abbott, daughter of Walter Abbott and Sarah Steward (my 8x great grandparents).  She was born about 1652 in Portsmouth, died on 5 May 1704.  Leonard and Elizabeth had nine children.  He married second to Mary Abbott, sister of Elizabeth, on 4 November 1707 in Boston.  Mary was the widow of William Caverly and also the widow of Thomas Guptill.   Mary is my 7th great grandmother, through her daughter Elizabeth Caverly, who is my 6x great grandmother.  See the chart below if you are confused!

This makes Leonard Drown both my 7th great grand uncle by marriage, and also my Step 7th great grandfather.  

Generation 2:  Shem Drowne, born 4 December 1683 at Sturgeon Creek, Kittery, Maine, died 13 January 1774 in Boston; married on 18 September 1712 in Boston to Katherine Clarke, daughter of Timothy Clark and Sarah Richardson.  She was born 6 April 1687 in Boston, died 21 April 1754.

Also in Generation 2:  Mary Drowne, sister to Shem, born about 1693, died 24 January 1732; married on 24 April 1712 to James Kettle my 7th great grand uncle, brother to Jonathan Kettle (1681 – 1764) my 7th great grandfather.   That makes Mary Drowne my 7th great aunt by marriage, as well as my first cousin 8 generations removed.

                                Walter Abbott m. Sarah Steward
           I                                                                  I
Elizabeth Abbott m. Leonard Drown  m. Mary Abbott m. William Caverly
          I                                                                                        I
Shem Drowne m. Katherine Clarke                Elizabeth Caverly m. Thomas Wilkinson
                                                                         James Wilkinson m. Hannah Mead
                                                                          William Wilkinson m. Mercy Nason
                                                                          Aaron Wilkinson m. Mercy F. Wilson
                                                                         Robert Wilson Wilkinson m. Phebe Munroe
                                                                         Albert Munroe Wilkinson m. Isabella Bill
                                (my grandparents) Donald Munroe Wilkinson m. Bertha Roberts

For more information see Yankee Weathervanes by Myrna Kaye, New York:  E.P. Dutton and Co., 1975

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Wow! Shem had quite a talent, and talented friends as well. I wondered why you always posted weathervanes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. At last! I love weathervanes, Heather, and have enjoyed these posts very much! Thank you!

  3. Shem is my 1st cousin 10X removed through the line of Walter Abbott. I love weathervanes too!

  4. Wow, I never knew any of this! Shem Drowne, Faneuil Hall, the letter to "Brethren and Fellow Grasshoppers" (priceless), or the Hawthorne connections. What wonderful invention!

    And I have indeed been curious about the origin of the weathervane series. This post brings it all home.