In the Rhode Island Historical Society library is a strange heraldic treasure — a grant of arms, from 1631, to a George Thorold of Boston, Lincolnshire. It is a copy, probably from the beginning of the 18th century, darkened and greasy with long handling and haphazard storage. The copy is inexpert—the lettering is unstudied, and the painting of the arms is atrocious. This copy of the grant apparently belonged to another George Thorold, who came to the other Boston, in New England, around 1700 and died at New York in 1721, leaving three ‘Orphaned’ unmarried daughters, one of whom in 1773 summoned her minister (who happened to be Ezra Stiles, later president of Yale College) to write down, on the back of the same document—probably condensing and paraphrasing from her rambling narration—a curious genealogical memoir: “Mrs. Anne Sabin, widow, aet. about 70, now living in Newport, desires me in her Presence to write this account…”
The account is of the descent of her father George Thorold of New England from the earlier George Thorold of the grant, with of course the added drama of a lost legacy of £1500 due to New England George’s three ‘Orphan girls’, and a stoutly claimed kinship to another George — Sir George Thorold, Bart., Lord Mayor of London at the time of his New England namesake’s death, and supposedly second cousin of the girls. Despite machinations and some Newport friend’s trip to London, all that came of the long-sought legacy and claimed kinship was one guinea, hastily proffered by a London Thorold, for gowns for the three needy Thorold girls in the colony. After fifty years it still rankled. So, as Stiles concluded, “at Mrs. Sabin’s desire and in her Presence I have here made her memoir for the Gratification of her Posterity.” One can almost feel Stiles’ sense of this tale as improbable, or at best futilely burdensome. Why pass on such a tale—would it ‘gratify’ her posterity?
There were several Thorold families well established in Lincolnshire by the 16th century, and a quick perusal of Maddison’s Lincolnshire Pedigrees shows that the precise genealogy given in Stiles’ memorandum is in fact false: the Lord Mayor George Thorold was not descended from George Thorold of Boston, the grantee of 1631; rather he descended from a younger son of the Thorolds of Marston, whose arms were distinct. Maddison does include a pedigree of the Thorolds of Boston, including George who received the 1631 grant, who had no known connection to the main Marston line or the Lord Mayor—but naturally 1631 grant included a coat of arms that was similar to that of the Marston Thorolds, but distinguished by a bordure, a typical gesture by the heralds to create similar arms for a family of the same name which claimed some unprovable but not implausible remote kinship to an older armigerous family.
The Stiles memorandum and the Lincolnshire material have me hooked. Even discounting the tale of the lost legacy and kinship to Marston-London line, Mrs. Sabin’s tale shows us how this particular colonial woman thought of her family and her origins, with a fabled connection to power which somehow evolved into a false genealogy and the story of a lost legacy. But more concretely we can assume that possession of a copy of the grant is sufficient evidence to tie George Thorold of Boston in New England to his namesake in the old Boston (Lincolnshire) 75 years earlier. There are some tantalizing leads in Lincolnshire Pedigrees and in the IGI extractions for Boston, Lincolnshire, which might allow us to verify this particular precolonial line at least back to the 1631 grantee. The saga of George’s New England descendants is a challenge as well: Mrs. Sabin and one of her sisters left issue but they are proving hard to trace in eighteenth-century Newport and New York. Still, I have hopes to further illuminate this greasy relic of colonial genealogical memory.