Saturday, September 23, 2017

Surname Saturday ~ BEARSE of Cape Cod


My 9th great grandfather, Augustin (AKA Austin) Bearse (1618 – 1686) arrived on the ship Confidence from Southampton, England on 24 April 1638.  He came to Barnstable on Capt Cod with the first settlers in 1639, and had a twelve acre house lot bounded by John Crocker and Isaac Robinson (another one of my 9th great grandfathers).  He joined Rev. Lothrop’s church in Barnstable in 1643.  The road from the town of Hyannis to his land was known as “Bearse’s Way”, and is now Bearse Road, near Iannough Road at the Airport Rotary.  He was made a freeman in 1652.

Augustine Bearse’s name is at the head of the list of members of Rev. Lothrop’s church.  His wife was Mary, and they had eleven children, with baptisms all recorded at the Barnstable church on the first Sunday after their birth.  These babies include who was carried 2 miles to church at 2 day old in the cold of January for his baptism.  Apparently he was a very devout Puritan to want to save the souls of his children so promptly.  These are the facts we know about him from primary source material.  He was living in 1686, but dead sometime before 1697. There is no death record for Augustine Bearse.

Most of the compiled genealogy books and local histories of Barnstable written up until the 20th century repeat these simple facts about Augustine Bearse.  Then another story began to emerge that described Augustine Bearse as a Gypsy, who had to leave England because of his Romany origins, so he came to Massachusetts.  No Puritan woman would marry him, so he married “Mary Hyanno”, the daughter of the sachem Iannough (Hyannis), who was a red headed princess with Viking blood.  Yes, these fantastic details were told and repeated about the Bearse family in several books, journals and online. 

These stories originated with a paper written in the 1930s by Frankin Bearse, also known as Ele-watum, “From Out of the Past – Who Our Forefathers Really Were, A True Narrative of our White and Indian Ancestors” who filed this with the State of Connecticut to obtain benefits as an American Indian.   These claims were based on a diary written by a Zerviah Newcombe, a descendant of Augustine Bearse.

“Austin Bearse and His Alleged Indian Connections”, by Donald Lines Jacobus, The American Genealogist, 1938,  Volume 15, pages 111 - 118  rejects these claims of an Indian marriage, based on the fact that the supposed diary of Zerviah Newcomb has never been examined, and is perhaps false. No record of this diary has ever been found.  Jacobus wrote 8 pages in TAG refuting each detail of the Indian and Gypsy story written by Franklin Bearse.

Even so, the Indian princess story continued to flourish.  You can read about it in books like Bearse-Bears-Barss Family: Genealogy of Augustine Bearse (1618 – 1697) and Princess Mary Hyanno (1625 – 1702) of Barnstable, Massachusetts, by Dale L. Burley, 1979.  This myth of Mary Hyanno, “the flame haired princess of the Wampanoags”, is even repeated in a 2005 book Kindred Spirits: A New World History of the Families of Henry Wickoff Rogers & Grace Dean McLeod, by Geordon Hartt Rogers.   The genealogy of the descendants of Augustine and Mary Bearse is accurate in these books, but the origins of the original immigrant husband and his native wife are lacking in evidence.

However, there is an interesting essay in the NEHGS journal NEXUS, 1985, Volume 2, pages 95 -96, “Keeping an Open Mind” by Rev. Robert J. Good, Jr.  This essay about Austin Bearse and his supposed Wampanoag wife refutes some of the claims made by Jacobus.  “We tend to take the word of those who have rightly earned a position as unassailable as Jacobus’s.  Yet there are mysteries like this one which continue to haunt us and remain unresolved.  They require that we make our own decisions.”  Rev. Good makes several good points about mixed marriages during the 1600s in Massachusetts between the Puritans and the native people.  It was not as improbable as Jacobus imagined. 

I encourage you to read ALL these journal articles, and the primary source material, before making up your own mind.

For more information:

See the books and journal articles mentioned above

“Bearce/Bearse/Bierce Descendants” group on Facebook (where the argument continues!):

My BEARSE genealogy:

Generation 1:  Augustine Bearse, born about 1618 in England, died about 1686 in Barnstable, Massachusetts; married to Mary Unknown.  Eleven children.

Generation 2:  Sarah Bearse, born 28 March 1646 in Barnstable, died 30 March 1712 in Barnstable; married in August 1667 in Barnstable to John Hamblin, son of James Hamblin and Anne Unknown. He was born 26 June 1644 in Barnstable, and died in 1718 in Barnstable.  Twelve children.

Generation 3:  Benjamin Hamblin m. Hope Huckins
Generation 4:  Hannah Hamblin m. Jonathan Crosby (removed from Cape Cod  to Nova Scotia)
Generation 5:  Ebenezer Crosby m. Elizabeth Robinson (descendant of Isaac Robinson above)
Generation 6:  Rebecca Crosby m. Comfort Haley
Generation 7:  Joseph Edwin Healey m. Matilda Weston (removed from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts)
Generation 8:  Mary Etta Healey m Peter Hoogerzeil
Generation 9:  Florence Etta Hoogerzeil m. Arthur Treadwell Hitchings
Generation 10:  Gertrude Matilda Hitchings m. Stanley Elmer Allen (my grandparents)


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “Surname Saturday ~ BEARSE of Cape Cod”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted  September 23, 2017, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. Hmm. Another cousin connection? In the line beyond my old John Cutter West brickwall is my 6x ggf Elisha West, who married a Mary Bearse in Plmpton, Ma in 1718. One online message board says she was the daughter of James Bearce & Experience Howland and thus granddaughter to Augustine & Mary Bearse.

  2. Austin's son James married Experience Howland granddaughter of John Howland but GSMD will not accept the line - no documentation to prove the marriage! You would think the last names of Experience's children as Bearse would work??! my forever thorn...