Are There Any Clues to Identify Susannah, Wife of Thomas Burnham (1673-1749) of Ipswich, MA?

Susannah has been a mystery to Burnham researchers for generations. First of all, there are no obvious clues to her maiden name or else someone at the New England Historic Genealogical Society would have come up with a maiden name for her, or at least shared the clues. I’ve seen no information of that sort ever about Susannah.

One piece of misinformation needs to be debunked immediately. One Thomas Burnham supposedly married one Margaret Boardman in Massachusetts. That marriage record doesn’t appear on American Ancestors and may or may not have happened. HOWEVER, someone has morphed this person into Susannah/Margaret Boardman, which is totally and completely 100% WRONG!!!

Susannah is Susannah, with no other known names. In the few records in which she makes an appearance, she is always called Susannah.

There are at least two big problems here in trying to identify Susannah’s maiden name. First, Ipswich records are not complete. The births of Thomas’s and Susannah’s children are not even recorded. Therefore, it is possible that Susannah was born right in Ipswich, but her birth went unrecorded, too.

Second, there are a LOT of Thomas Burnhams hanging around Ipswich. I know this list is not complete, but take a look:

Thomas, born c1613; died June 1694
Thomas, born c1640; died 21 February 1728, aged 88 yrs.
Thomas, born 1646; married Lydia Pengry
Thomas, born 19 January 1666; died 1697
Thomas, born 1695; died 1730
Thomas, born 1673; died 1749
Thomas, born 1705; died 1794
Thomas, born 1726; died 1792

I even read one will – that of Susannah’s son Nathan, in which one of the witnesses was called Thomas Burnum ye 6th, meaning there were five other Thomas Burnhams over the age of 21 running around who were older than this man!

Creating the Thomas and Susannah Burnham FAN club isn’t impossible, but with some of the records involving Thomas Burnham, it is next to impossible to figure out to which Thomas an individual record belongs.

For anyone who is hoping for a definitive answer to Susanna’s maiden name, I won’t lead you on. I don’t have one, but I’ve never seen anyone post a FAN club as a starting point. I decided I’ll be the one to begin the conversation. If you have more data or suggestions to make, please jump in and share your thoughts. 🙂

Susannah’s birth year has been estimated using three other dates. Her husband’s birth record states that Thomas Burnham, son of John and Elizabeth Burnham, was born 22 September 1673 in Ipswich.  It has been assumed that Susannah was younger than Thomas, which is likely true given that her youngest child, Nathan, married on 22 November 1744. New England men typically didn’t marry much before the age of 25, which would place his birth at no later than 1719 and possibly earlier. If Susannah was as old as 45 when she had her last child, she would have been born no earlier than 1674. Lastly, her first child, Thomas, was born c1700, meaning she and Thomas probably married c1699. Women usually married around the age of 21 in this time period, which would put her birth year c1678.

It is probably quite safe to estimate that Susannah was born no earlier than 1674 and, if she married very young by New England standards at, say, the age of 18, she would have been born c1681.

Now, we have a starting point of a birth year between 1674-1681 and most likely sometime in the second half of the 1670s. If we assume that Susannah’s birth was, indeed, recorded, there are quite a few possibilities to investigate.

This is going to be a multi-post project spread out over several months, given that various Susannahs need to be eliminated from Thomas Burnham due to childhood death or marrying someone else in the same time period.

Today, I’d like to propose one possibility. When Thomas Burnham, husband of Susannah, died in 1749, he left no will, but there was an estate administration. One document indicated that he owed money to several people:

Caleb Burnum 25/0
Isaac Parsons £10.15.0
Benjamin Jewett 12/6
Joseph Lee 6/0

Caleb was his own son and Isaac Parsons was his son-in-law married to Thomas’s daughter, Hannah. I know of no family tie to Benjamin Jewett. However, there is one connection to the Lee family here that piqued my interest.

One of the Ipswich births was Susannah Lee, daughter of Richard Lee, born 20 February 1675.

Next, I had to track down Richard Lee. The births of his children were recorded in Ipswich: Thomas, 20 February 1671, then Susannah, Jonathan, 29 June 1677, Richard, 20 January 1679, Joseph, 16 October 1680, Mary, 20 January 1681, Benjamin, 25 November 1685 and Eleanor, 10 April 1688.

However, I found no further records for Richard Lee in Ipswich and it appears he removed to Connecticut, where he died before his wife, Sarah, who left a 1735 will. Richard supposedly died c1713, but I have not found any probate or other records to support that date.

Some online family trees show Susannah Lee marrying Thomas Knowlton between 1694-1698, but with no documentation whatsoever. Torrey’s New England Marriages Before 1700 only indicate that Thomas Knowlton’s wife was named Susannah, but no maiden name even suggested.

I did find a land deed dated 1702 in Ipswich whereby Thomas Knowlton and wife Susannah sold land to Richard Lee, also of Ipswich, but no familial relationship was mentioned and Richard Lee paid £135 for the property. It wasn’t sold for love and affection!

Perhaps my imagination is a bit overactive here, but Sarah Lee’s will had a very curious phrase in it, at least it seems very curious to me.


Will of Sarah Lee, 1735, Hartford County, CT
Source: Ancestry

In the Name of God amen, the seventh day of September, 1726. I Sarah lee of Norwich in the county of Newlondon and colony of Connecticut in New England being very sick and week in body, but of parfect mind and memory, thanks be given unto God: there calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowingthat it is appointed for all men and women once to dye, do make and ordain this my last will and testement, that is to say, principally and first of all i give and recommend my soul inot the hands of God that gave it and my body I recommend to the earth, to be buried in decent Christian burial at the descretion of my executor, nothing doubting but at the general Resurreciton I shall Recieve the same again by the might power of God, and as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it hath pleased God to bless me in this Life, I give demise (sic) and dispose of the same in the following manner and form —-

Imprimis I give and bequeath to my well beloved daughter mary Lee whome I Likewise make and ordain my sole executor of ths my Last will and testement my Rideing mare and three Loads of hay

Item i give to my Granson Beniamin Lee an Equal share of my Estate with my children after my daughter mary and grandaughter Elener has got what is perticulerly to them given

Item I give to my well beloved Grandaughter eleanor Andruee all my wairing clouse, and afeather bed and bolster with covering sufficient for such a bed and also a black mare and sucking colt and aparrel

Item (?) with that all the Rest of my Estate shall be Equally devided among my children which are living in the colony of connecticut, and I do hereby utterly disallow revoke and disannul all and every other form (?) testements wills Legacies and bequests and Executors by me in any way before named willed and bequeathed, confirming this and no other to be my last will and testement, in witness whereof i have hereunto set my land and seal the day and year above written.

Sarah Lee her (X) mark

signed sealed published
pronounced and declared
by the said sarah Lee as
her Last will and testement
in the presence of us the subscribers
John Welch. mark
John Rath Juner. His J
dorothy Lee her mark o

Sarah did NOT name all her children, just her daughter, Mary, who she named sole executrix. She also named grandson Benjamin Lee and granddaughter Eleanor Andruee (Andrews?).

Here is the strange phrasing:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . all the part of my Estate shall be
Equally devided among my children which are living
in the colony of connecticut. . . . .

Doesn’t that sound like Sarah has children NOT living in Connecticut?

In addition to this will, part of the Burnham family in Ipswich also left Massachusetts and settled in the Hartford County area of Connecticut. Could Thomas Burnham have gone visiting relatives and married Susannah there and brought her back to live in Massachusetts???

The Burnham family still in Ipswich knew the Lee family, proven by the fact that Thomas Burnham, deceased, owed 6 shillings to Joseph Lee at the time he died.

I don’t yet know if the Joseph who was owed the money was the same Joseph, brother of Susannah Lee born in 1675, but, if not, he was closely related to her and probably her first cousin.

This is definitely a slim thread tying together Susannah Lee to Thomas Burnham, but I can’t yet cross her off the list as NOT being Thomas Burnham’s wife, Susannah.

I have learned something in all my years of researching. When I find someone who appears to have few or no ties to anyone else, someone, like a parent, either died young or moved elsewhere.

Readers, can anyone provide any sort of documentation that Thomas Knowlton’s wife was really Susannah Lee? Or, can you provide a family sketch for Richard and Sarah Lee with citations?

This is just the beginning of a long work in progress. I have no idea where it will lead me!

 

 

 

 

 

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