Fiction Versus Possibility in the Tracy Genealogy

By John G. Hunt, B.S.C., of Arlington, Va.

Several persistent efforts have been made over the last hundred years to connect Thomas Tracy, ship carpenter in 1637 of Salem, Mass., and in 1659 a proprietor of Norwich, Conn., with the noble family of the same surname long seated in Gloucestershire. The identifications claimed for him were criticized and in part disproved by Donald Lines Jacobus in The Waterman Family (vol. 1, 1939, pp. 691-94). As he has noted, It would have been unusual for a member of the gentry to be styled "goodman" in early New England, as was our Thomas Tracy of Norwich, Conn.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dwight Tracy did not view the problem of Tracy's origin so dispassionately. In 1908 he published a pamphlet entitled "The Tracys in America--Recently Discovered English Ancestry of Governor William Tracy of Virginia, 1620, and of his only son, Lieutenant Thomas Tracy of Salem, Massachusetts, and Norwich, Connecticut."

From a mass of documentation Dr. Tracy showed that William Tracy, formerly of Toddington and Hayles, in Gloucestershire, by his wife Mary Conway, had children Joyce and Thomas, and that the latter about 1621 returned to England, an orphaned lad of slender fortune. On page 24 of his pamphlet, Dr. Tracy asserts: "exhaustive searches in the ancient records of England, in parish books, courts of chancery, English graveyards, and fugitive papers and letters in antiquarian archives, have failed to give one word that even mentions his [Thomas Tracy's] return to England."

While such records may not have mentioned young Tracy's return, it must be recalled that young Tracy was nephew to lord Conway, president of his majesty's privy council, a powerful nobleman. Further, the Conway papers are extant in the Public Records Office in London, and as might have been guessed they include holograph letters from young Thomas Tracy to his uncle, lord Conway. One, dated in 1625, shows the youth serving as ensign in the Netherlands and hoping for a lieutenancy. The other missive, dated in July 1630 at London, is from Lieutenant Thomas Tracy to lord Conway, asking him "not to forget a poor kinsman & servant of your honours to Sr. James Coote for a compani this voiage."

Before Conway's death in 1631, he would seem to have obtained for young Lieut. Thomas Tracy some overseas duty, for under date 23 Oct. 1631 Tracy drew up his will, now preserved at Somerset House, London, ref. 41 Russell. Styling himself Thomas Tracy, gent., of London, he left 50 pds. to Margaret Hudson, widow, of St. Sepulchre without Newgate, London, the residue to go to the testator's sister, "Mary, wife of George Savidge of Walton of the Ole, Leicestershire." This sister proved the will 29 May 1633, when it was recorded that the testator had died overseas.

Turning to George Francis Armstrong, The Ancient and Noble Family of the Savages of the Ards (London, 1888), we note on page 77 that George Savage, archdeacon of Gloucestershire [who died ca. 1600: see TAG, supra, 39:86] had a son, "George Savage of Walton on the Wold, Leicestershire, who married Mary, daughter of William Tracy, Esq., of Toddington House, Gloucestershire.

In the light of the foregoing, it is clear that Thomas Tracy, erstwhile of Virginia, did return to England, but leaving London around 1631, he went overseas and died before 29 May 1633. So it is not possible for him to have been our New England settler of the same name. It seems hardly necessary to add that the handwriting of Lieut. Thomas Tracy of London in 1630 is dissimilar to that of Thomas Tracy of Norwich, Conn. Doubt on that score was resolved by looking at the facsimile of the New England proprietor's handwriting in Dr. Tracy's pamphlet, at page 31, and then studying the totally different handwriting of Lieut. Thomas Tracy of London in 1630; ref. State Papers, 16/171-46, in the Public Record Office.

In the Rare Book Room, Library of Congress, are preserved some of the MSS of the late Col. Charles Edward Banks. In them is found mention of one Thomas Tracy of Norwich in England who in 1631 was presented for not attending church, as of St. Clements in that year. The following year, he was likewise cited for failure to attend St. Peter Hungate, also in Norwich. The fact [Frances M. Caulkins, History of Norwich] that Thomas Tracy of New England was the sole English witness, aside from the great John Mason, to the deed in 1659 whereby the sachem Uncas granted land to the Norwich proprietors, leads one to believe that both Tracy and Mason may have been natives of Norwich in England. Mason is a Norfolk name, and Norwich is the county seat of Norfolk. See Sims' index of the Heralds' Visitations in the British Museum, which reveals that there were Masons in Norfolk whose pedigrees were recorded in the visitations. Tracy was often found in company with Mason. In 1669 he served as Mason's "ensigne" in carrying a letter to Gov. Winthrop of Connecticut [Winthrop Papers quoted in Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., 4th Series, 7:426-27]. Search of church records in the area of Norwich, England, seems indicated for both Tracy and Mason.