Daniel Witham & Lydia Sanders, Gloucester, MA, 1700s

Many times, as I piece together lives of ancestors in my family tree, they unfortunately become little more than a family grouping of births, marriages and deaths.

Today’s family is much different even though they lived in the 18th century. Although there was a life of community service, there was also much sadness at home.

Daniel Witham and Lydia Sanders, the subjects of today’s sketch, seemed to have much going for them as they began married life.

Daniel Witham was born 30 August 1700, the son of Thomas Witham and Abigail Babson of Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts.

Daniel must have shown great intellectual promise as a child because he graduated from Harvard in 1718. He spent his first post-academic years teaching school first in Dorchester and then in Gloucester.

After his teaching career, Daniel took up the occupation of doctor. He was active in town affairs, serving as Gloucester Justice of the Peace and town clerk for 32 years.

Perhaps because of his interest in community service, Daniel was a bit older than the typical male age for marriage when he wedded Lydia Sanders on 7 January 1734/35 in Gloucester.

Lydia Sanders was 14 years younger than Daniel, having been born 20 March 1713/14, also in Gloucester, the daughter of Thomas Sanders and Abigail Curney.

Before we delve into the many children born to Daniel and Lydia, a comment is necessary. Gloucester, Massachusetts vital records are known to be incomplete. I never realized that one of my own ancestors is partly to blame, given that Daniel was town clerk for about 32 years.

Even the records of his own family are in disarray, with missing years  and a lack of even death dates.

I found a digitized version of the original Gloucester town books on Internet Archive. The entries are a mess!

Therefore, you will see a number of places where assumptions have to be made regarding vital dates of this family.

Children: (All events in Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts)

1. Lydia, born 3 June 1735; died 15 March 1736/37

2. Daniel, born 27 September 1736; no further record

3. Thomas, born 1 June 1738; died July 1757 at Bayonne (France?) while on a voyage with Joshua Haskell, commander of the schooner, on the way to “Bilboa” (Bilbao?)

4. Daughter, born 11 October [1739?]; died 12 October [1739 or 1740?]

5. John, born 10 September 1740; died 26 January 1740/41

6. Lydia, born 3 March 1741; married James Porter, 25 November 1762

7. Mary, born 15 January 1743; married Jacob Hodgkins, 12 November 1767. Four children (Jacob, Mary, Judith and William) were born to this couple of Gloucester. They may be the Jacob Hodgkins family found in Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts in 1790. Otherwise, no further record.

8. Judith, born 24 August 1746; died 17 December 1749

9. Martha, born 10 May 1748; married Enoch Grover, 14 November 1771. This couple had two daughters, both named Martha, born in 1773 and 1777 in Gloucester. No further record.

10. Daniel, born 27 June 1750; died 12 July 175_

11. Judith, born 28 June 1751; died 29 January 1846, New Gloucester, Cumberland, Maine; married Nathan Haskell, 27 October 1771. This couple removed to New Gloucester, Cumberland, Maine and had three children born in Gloucester, followed by eleven more in New Gloucester.

12. Daniel, born 8 August 175[3?]; married (1) Susanna Rowe, 11 April 1780 (2) Mrs. Mary Humphreys, 31 December 1793. They had two sons, Daniel and Joseph, born 1781 and 1783. There is a Daniel Witham in Gloucester in the 1790 census with two males under 16, no females at home. Susannah had apparently died by then, but her death isn’t in the Gloucester vital records.

The heartache must have been terrible for Daniel and Lydia. Four of their first five children didn’t survive childhood and the fifth, son Thomas, died as an unmarried young mariner.

Only one living child after 7 years of marriage was an unusual pattern even for the colonial era when infant mortality was expected.

Of the seven youngest children, two more died soon after birth, leaving only daughters Lydia, Mary, Judith, Martha and son Daniel, who reached adulthood and married.

Daniel and Lydia must have believed that God was watching over them from 1741 onward and their lives had much less sorrow.

In spite of burying so many children, Daniel kept a strong presence in the town of Gloucester. He was first appointed town clerk in 1733 and he is often addressed either as “Doctor” or “Esquire” through the years.

Daniel and Lydia sold but one piece of property in Gloucester on 9 July 1761. Without reading land deeds and town meeting minutes, one would be tempted to say that Daniel died not long after. However, that assumption would be incorrect.

On 28 October 1762, Robert Gardner, mariner, married Lydia Witham, widow. At first, I thought this was Lydia (Sanders) Witham, but now I believe she was Lydia Hidden (yes, that’s her recorded maiden name), the widow of William Witham, although as with so many Gloucester residents, there is no death record. They married on 17 February 1757.

The reason I know it’s not my Lydia is a deed filed on 22 December 1772, whereby Robert Gardner, mariner, and Lydia his wife sold land. It was witnessed by Daniel Witham, Justice of the Peace, Lydia Witham and Sarah Smith.

In addition to the deed, on Christmas 1772, there was a town meeting held at the 4th parish meetinghouse, which was attended by Daniel Witham.

Daniel Witham reportedly died in 1776 although I find no evidence of that. His last appearance in town records is found on 6 and 7 September 1774 when the Essex County Convention was held in Ipswich to discuss the worsening relations with England. Gloucester chose five men to serve on the Committee of Correspondence  – Daniel Witham, Peter Coffin, John Low, Samuel Parsons and Samuel Whittemore. Peter Coffin and Daniel Witham were the two men who attended the Provincial Congress, as it was called, representing the town of Gloucester.

Thus, Daniel’s final service to his home was to support the patriot cause in the upcoming American Revolution.

Lydia’s last mention in records in the 1772 deed and it’s likely that both died during the war years.



2 thoughts on “Daniel Witham & Lydia Sanders, Gloucester, MA, 1700s”

  1. Researching my ancestors brought me to this post. Thank you for writing it. I have been researching the parents of Judith Witham off and on since I became a member of the Haskell Family association and found that they believe Judith Witham—the Judith Witham who married Nathan Haskell—was daughter of one Samuel Witham, not Daniel. Given that Daniel Witham was Justice of the Peace and town clerk it is impossible to believe that he would mess up the marriage record of his own daughter. But I keep looking at the record on page 319 of Gloucester, Massachusetts, births, deaths, marriages, and marriage intentions, 1640-1861, and it appears to read: A Purpose of Marriage between Nathan Haskell and Judith Witham Daughter of S. Witham of this town was entered October 26, 1771. … Nathan Haskell and Judith Witham were married October 27th 1771 by Daniel Witham Justice of Peace.

    I haven’t found if and how the S. Witham in the above record became “Samuel” for the HFA. Maybe you’ve cleared up this mystery and put it behind you already. If you have, I would love to know what you know. Please write me.

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