I Wear Tight Genes

Wherein I attempt to relate the trials and tribulations of tracking down information on people who are dead, but bear some resemblance to me...when they were alive.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Enigma of Timothy Cummins

As you may or may not have read in Frances Davis Cummins' recounting of her husband's earliest Cummins ancestor, Timothy Cummins, no one knows from where he originated himself. Here's a quick time line of what we know about Timothy:

1689(?): Born in Scotland(?).
1727, Sep 26: Marries Agnes Horton.
1731, Aug 4: Buys lot of land from Thomas Wells in Dover, Delaware
1731, Sep 3: Daughter Hannah born
1737, Jul 28: Son Daniel born (future Senator from Delaware that would ratify the US Constitution)
1742, Apr 12: Bonds himself with land to a Michael Cummings, his wife and son. No one knows who this Michael Cummings is, or from where he came either.
1746, Apr 12: Timothy dies.

Sure, there were any number of other land purchases in between that time, and his the original inn that he built on his first land purchase apparently still stands (in some fashion) in Dover, but prior to 1727, we have absolutely no hard evidence on Timothy.

There are a number of issues that bar us from finding anything more:

1. J. Thomas Scharf, the author of "History of Delaware", a multi-volume publication that hit the shelves in 1888, does not attribute his information about Timothy Cummins to any source. I'd imagine that his most authoritative information on Timothy was family history, and we all know that's easily embellished. I tend to think that Scharf embellished a bit himself, as there should have been any number of other pieces of evidence to support his claims.

2. No inbound ship to Oxford, Maryland (an important port, at the time, and the place that Scharf claims Cummins entered) lists a Timothy Cummins on their lists of passengers. That isn't authoritative evidence that he didn't enter that port, mind you, as he certainly could have been on the crew of one of those ships, or simply come in prior to the time when passenger lists started to become a requirement for the new government of the land.

However, a William Cummins landed in Oxford as a passenger of a ship transporting Jacobite prisoners from Scotland in 1716. In the book "Oxford, the first 3 centuries" by Dickson Preston, a librarian in Oxford related to another researcher: "… 106 rebels. Some were sold to Talbot planters and the rest were sent over to Annapolis for sale there." So, if Timothy had come from Scotland on the boat in 1716, spent 7-8 years as an indentured servant (during which time indentured servants were not allowed to marry), and then spent his time after serving to find himself a wife, it would fit nicely into the time line.

However, the William Cummins aboard the Johnson that came over in 1716 also has no records that I can find, so he may just as well have been a coincidence.

3. Frances Davis Cummins suggests in her book that there's no authoritative evidence across the pond that Timothy came from there during the period that Scharf documented. I don't know what this research entailed, but none of my searches on the publicly available indexes for the UK turn up anything on a Timothy Cummins (Cummings, Comyns, etc) either for that time period.

4. A singularly large migration of Cummins/Cummings lived in Virginia at the time that Timothy popped onto the genealogical scenery. They predate our line by nearly 100 years. If Timothy, rather than coming over himself, had originated from that family, this might explain the complete lack of immigration information on him, and might also provide us with a solid connection to the Michael Cummings to whom he generously gifted land 4 years before his death. As with all research for this person, that idea came up with another fat zero.


So, what are we left to assume? Edith Cummins, my great-grandmother, swore up and down that she was half Scottish and half German. She disdained all other races, and, being from a general Presbyterian and Lutheran family background, had a high disdain for the Catholics (I'm saying that nicely). Certainly, folks will occasionally get themselves to believe something is true by saying it's true all of their life, but that doesn't lend it any more credence than an anecdote. We could probably settle the ancestry with a DNA test, but there's no telling where the Scottish may have crept in from other lines of the family, as we're all a good deal mutt just about now.

As more and more records come online, perhaps earlier evidence of Timothy will become available. Until that time, he's left to us as an enigma: Was he escaping the clutches of a Cromwell-fueled anti-Catholic London, was he the 4th or 5th generation of Scottish tobacco farmers in Virginia, or was he simply yet another of the endless stream of colonists to the new world, shedding his earlier life for an identity that encompassed everything about the early American dream?

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