Creating a family tree is a complicated business. The generations grow in number, names become confusing as they are repeated from family to family, and, to an outsider, the result can be just plain boring. But there’s always a starting place – a first person – who is either at the bottom (on the trunk) or on the top of the tree.
I’ve always pictured our genealogy looking like the growing Christmas tree in the Nutcracker Ballet with the star family member at the top and the heirs and assigns adorning the branches below like ornaments lovingly collected over the years.
Our star, the Hall at the top of our tree, is John, The Immigrant. Sometimes called “The Emigrant” and sometimes “The Immigrant,” he was twenty-five years old when, in 1630, he left his home in Old England to come to New England. I’ve read that he traveled on the ship “The Griffin,” but haven’t been able to verify that. What I do know is that he got on a boat one day and left his home, never to return. Did he bring with him on his journey a treasured pocket watch, a family Bible, a lock of a loved one’s hair? Did he hold close a letter, or a journal, or a map of this new land? Maybe his crossing was rough and his cabin small and dark. It can’t have been easy, and I wish I knew more details so I could have a sense of who he was, what he felt, and what he left behind.
Alexis de Toqueville said of the Puritans, “I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.” It would be a good guess to suppose that John was a Puritan, and that he left England to pursue religious freedom.
But I also want him to be an adventurer, eager to cross an ocean and build a country. His travels took him first to Boston and then New Haven. He married Jane Wollen, fathered seven children, and in 1670 helped establish the town of Wallingford, Connecticut. Three of his sons were among Wallingford’s first settlers, and were it not for this great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather venturing into the unknown, there would have been no Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill.
In the middle of a field on the farm stands a lone maple tree. I visit it every time I go back to Wallingford. When I stand under its branches I can see the farmland, and I imagine how it used to look. The tree makes me think of John, and I thank him for this place.
On Wednesday: Wilderness