Earl of Exeter

George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.1

When starting research on a new family, the first thing I typically do is ask the family what they already know. Often, there are documents, pictures, oral histories, and stories that contain glimpses of the family’s past. Next, I look at the meaning and origin of the surname, which often provides further insight. Once I have a firm grasp on this information, in order to get the lay of the land of existing research, I take a gander online to see what others have already found. Someone else may have already done the work.

However, especially when no sources are cited, I never accept as fact what I find. Instead, I use this information, along with what I gathered in the above steps, as a starting point for my own research. If, on the rare occasion, someone does actually cite sources, then I double-check them, and, if they’re legit, I praise the genealogy gods. This is a rare thing.

Impatient and overeager descendants too often force together pieces of information that don’t fit. Then other impatient and overeager descendants copy this information without question. These erroneous family trees spread quickly.

Be wary. Be skeptical. Be careful. Or you’ll end up with a miraculous family tree where men father children ten years after shuffling off this mortal coil.

For the Kings of Erie County, Pennsylvania, the discussion thread found here is typical of what I’ve consistently found online. Everyone seems to trace the family back to an Earl King of Exeter, Rhode Island in the mid to late 1700s. (Note: this is not the same Earl King who married Persiana Brown in North East, Erie County, Pennsylvania. If the Earl in question is, in fact, the ancestor of the Kings of Erie County, he would be the other Earl King’s grandfather.)

The earliest record I’ve found for Earl King is for his marriage to Content Richmond in 1768 in Exeter. Just below the lines that record Earl and Content is the marriage of Stephen King to Dorcas Watson in 1789. Stephen, it is claimed by most online family trees, is the son of this Earl King and the father of the Earl King who we find married to Persiana Brown a few decades later in North East, Pennsylvania.

Record for the marriage of Earl King to Content Richmond, daughter of Stephen Richmond, and the marriage of Stephen King to Dorcas Watson. It appears Earl was originally from South Kingston. 2

The next mention of Earl King I can find is in the book Rhode Island in the Continental Congress.3 A digital copy is available here. Rhode Island was the only colony to hold a referendum on the proposed Constitution of the United States. Rhode Islanders, including Earl King and his father-in-law, Stephen Richmond, voted decisively to reject it.4 The vote was 2,708 to 237.

Earl King can also be found in Exeter on the first United States Census taken in 1790.

Earl King in Exeter, Rhode Island on the 1790 United States Census.5

And, with that, we must, for now, say goodbye to Earl of Exeter. I’ve already spent too much time on him. We’re not even certain he is the ancestor of the Kings of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Time is better spent by starting from the present, working with what we know for certain, and slowly making our way to each preceding generation. Once we make it back far enough, perhaps we’ll bump into him again. If so, we’ll already know a bit about him.

Beach Pond in Exeter, Rhode Island.6

Sources:
1 Stearns, Junius Brutus. Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. 1856, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
2 Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636-1899.
3 Staples, William R. Rhode Island in the Continental Congress. Edited by Reuben Aldridge Guild, Providence Press Company, 1870.
4 Wood, Gordon S. “The Great American Argument.” New Republic, 30 Dec. 2010.
5 United States Census. Year: 1790; Census Place: Exeter, Washington, Rhode Island; Series: M637; Roll: 10; Page: 142; Image: 87; Family History Library Film: 0568150
6 Munro, W.H. Picturesque Rhode Island. J.A. & R.A. Reid Publishers, 1881.

The King Family

King Henry I of England. Miniature from illuminated Chronicle of Matthew Paris (1236-1259), from BL MS Cotton Claudius D. vi, f.9, showing Henry I of England enthroned. Held and digitised by the British Library.

From the Dictionary of American Family Surnames:

English and Scottish: nickname from Middle English king, Old English cyning ‘king’ (originally merely a tribal leader, from Old English cyn(n) ‘tribe’, ‘race’ + the Germanic suffix -ing). The word was already used as a byname before the Norman Conquest, and the nickname was common in the Middle Ages, being used to refer to someone who conducted himself in a kingly manner, or one who had played the part of a king in a pageant, or one who had won the title in a tournament. In other cases it may actually have referred to someone who served in the king’s household…

The specific King family I’m researching can be traced back to the 1750s in Rhode Island before the trail grows cold. Based on the surname, location (New England), and their marriages with, exclusively, members of other English families, it can be safely assumed that the Kings originally came from England. They migrated west to Erie County, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, settling in the Greenfield, Harborcreek, North East area.

My goal, which will be extremely difficult (and very likely impossible), is to discover their town of origin in England. I’ll be writing about the family and the documents that I find along the way, which will be a fun undertaking regardless of whether I can trace them back to England.

The North East Meehls Part II: A Saunter through the Cemetery

Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard by Eugene Delacroix

Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard by Eugene Delacroix

While researching family history, there comes a time when it’s extremely beneficial, if not downright necessary, to go grave hunting. Despite websites like findagrave.com constantly adding mountains of tombstone images online, many graves can still only be found the old-fashioned way. And so it is that cemeteries are haunted chiefly by three miserable creatures—ghosts, the grieving, and genealogists.

Depending on the size of the cemetery, it may be prudent to find out who the record keepers or caretakers are. If contacted, they can likely provide the plot and row of the deceased to help locate them (or they can inform you that no such person is buried there). Otherwise, it’s possible to end up wandering the cemetery rows for hours without a guarantee of ever finding their final resting place. Though, if time isn’t an issue, it’s not at all a bad idea to do some wandering. One may stumble upon other relatives, known and unknown, along the way.

Getting nowhere with the information about Michael Meehl’s birth provided in the first North East Breeze article, I wanted to track down other sources. Michael’s tombstone, if it existed, seemed a good place to start. It was not on findagrave or anywhere else online that I could find, so it was time to head to the cemetery itself. I contacted the North East Cemetery Association to see if they had burial records for Michael, but I never heard back. If he was buried there, we would have to find him on our own.

And so there we were (Steph, her parents, one of her sisters, a nephew, and myself) in the cemetery on a sunny day in May of last year, visiting the dead with new life sprouting up around us. After paying our respects to Steph’s grandparents, great-grandparents, and great aunts and uncles, we headed to the old cemetery to look for Michael and Sallie Meehl, her great-great-great-grandparents and the original settlers of the family in North East. It turns out that North East Cemetery (also known as Oak Hill Cemetery) is full of Meehls. Though we were left scratching our heads trying to figure out how each one was related, I took pictures of every Meehl stone that we came across. These images proved invaluable later on as I worked on filling out the various branches of the family tree.

In the old cemetery are many old stones with faded, weather-worn engravings. Neither names nor dates were visible. As we passed them by, I hoped that none of them were Michael’s. He had died, so we were told, in 1895. Rarely are stones that recent worn to the point of illegibility, but, still, the thought pestered me. As I examined one of these stones, I heard a shout of discovery behind me.

In the end, it had taken us only about an hour. Michael and Sallie were indeed buried in North East Cemetery. Born thousands of miles away in another country, Michael Meehl’s bones rested within sight of Lake Erie, where he had brought his family in 1865. The modest inscription on his grave reads: “Michael Meehl 1811-1895”. He was born in 1811, not 1807. The more I read the first North East Breeze article on the origins of the Meehls, the more the cracks began to show. If it had the year of birth wrong, perhaps the place of birth, San Quintain, France, was wrong as well.

Michael Meehl's final resting place in North East Cemetery, North East, Pennsylvania

Michael Meehl’s final resting place in North East Cemetery, North East, Pennsylvania

Salomé Vollmer Meehl, 1810 - 1873.

Salomé Vollmer Meehl, Michael Meehl’s wife, 1810 – 1873.

The North East Meehls Part I: A Family Legend

French 4th Hussar at the Battle of Friedland

Vive L’Empereur by Édouard Detaille

I’ve been digging into the family history of my wife Stephanie, a Meehl from North East, Pennsylvania. To aid my research, her family gave me a copy of two articles detailing the history of the Meehl family first published in the North East Breeze in the 1930s. The first of these articles covers a family legend which the Meehl clan has passed down from generation to generation.

It goes something like this—Michael Meehl, the earliest Meehl ancestor to come to North East in 1865 (after living in Erie County, New York for approximately 35 years), had a father, Jacques de Mealle, who was a captain in Napoleon’s army during the disastrous Moscow campaign of 1812. Also, according to the legend, Jacques had two brothers, James and Louis, who, at 6 feet and 11 inches tall, were bodyguards for the Little Emperor himself. All three survived the Russian campaign and lived to tell the tale.

If the prestige of the above-mentioned Meehls wasn’t enough to stoke the family pride, the article assures us that the de Mealles were “an important people in France” and briefly mentions some 17th and 18th century adventures of the family in the New World. We are told that they were “sent” there to help with the colonization of the new French settlements. Whether these de Mealles stayed in the New World or traveled back to France is not mentioned. So from this story we cannot tell whether Jacques and Michael were descended from these particular de Mealles or from another branch that remained in France. We’re also never told why Michael, a scion of such a noteworthy family, emigrated to America, only that the de Mealles were well off and were able to live in some comfort (which makes one wonder why Michael emigrated at all).

Additionally, this first article states that Michael Meehl was born in 1807 in San Quintain, France. Using this information about his birth and his father’s name, Jacques de Mealle, I spent countless hours scouring the internet for records. I never found any.

Repeatedly frustrated by my lack of progress, I started my search over from scratch. I worked from the present backward in time to build the Meehl family tree. All of the records and clues found along the way eventually led me to the truth. And it turns out that Jacques de Mealle and his impossibly tall brothers are, in fact, pure fiction. Who knows how these stories started and took root. They were the creations of some mischievous prankster perhaps. Regardless of their origins, this legend, like many family legends, has withered under the eye of scrutiny.

That said, the second of the North East Breeze articles was tremendously helpful with information about the family after their arrival in America. But most everything said about the family in the first article is nothing but good old-fashioned yarn spinning.

Over the course of the next several posts, I plan on laying out in detail how I discovered Michael Meehl’s actual parents—George Meehl and Anne Wolff, his place of birth—Geudertheim, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France, and the original surname of the family—Mühl. There are descendants out there still looking for Jacques de Mealle, but they’ll never find him. I want to set the record straight in the hopes that they will stumble upon these posts and learn the true origins of the Meehls.