ancestryink fisherman

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sons of Sea Captains Create Headstone Confusion

A lot of alliteration in that title cannot disguise the fact that headstones can sometimes create a lot of confusion about who is who on a family gravestone  - including that of a well-known local sea captain.

This headstone is in the Old Burial Ground of Falmouth, MA.

William Thatcher "fell from aloft on board ship Eagle of Nantucket while in the harbour of Edgarton... 1821,  Aged 16 years."

But wait - below his name a second person is shown to be buried (or memorialized) here -  a Capt. Thomas L. Gibbs.  Captain Gibbs was lost at sea en route from Baltimore to Charleston, SC in 1830.  He was 23 years of age.

Two very young men lost to the sea in the early 1800's.  The stone is interesting insofar as it details the circumstances of their deaths, giving us another glimpse into a mariner's life and travels in the 1800's.  It is both touching and informative, historically, to read these details.

My interest in local sea captains and their mariner sons prompted me to do a little research on  Yes, I had read the fine print on the bottom of the stone.  I saw that the men were "Sons of Heman and Martha Gibbs."  Yet, I wanted to reconcile the Thatcher - Gibbs different surnames.  Was the Thatcher boy an adopted son? After researching Gibbs and then Thatcher, the very first record I uncovered was for the 1763  marriage of a John Gibbs of Sandwich, Mass. and Jerusha 'Thacher.'

Hmm, perhaps in some way, the boys on the stone were cousins, and as was not unremarkable in the 1800's, children often lived in the homes of aunts, uncles, grandparents - even neighbors.    Or, maybe the blending of the "Thacher-Gibbs" families in 1763, eventually lead to the blending of those names, in the following generations.

I then researched the "Thacher" name alone (since the spelling was different from the stone.)  This surname pops up in great frequency in Sandwich, Mass. Many early Falmouth residents settled in Sandwich before moving to Falmouth.  I considered the possibility that "Thatcher" was perhaps misspelled on the headstone.  Again - experience has shown me that this happens more often than you would expect.

Perhaps because of the way the stone was carved with "William Thatcher" being such a dominant name at the top of the stone, and Gibbs below being smaller and including the "Captain,"  the two identities persisted in seeming to be two unrelated men - certainly not brothers.

In fact to further support this idea, the website has a memorial page created by someone, for "William THATCHER" -with a picture of this gravestone.  All it included was the stone inscription, but no further biographical information. (click to view)  Taking this at face value (at first) I assumed this was further proof that Thatcher was one of two separate surnames, on one stone.

Finally, I did the obvious search:  The Heman Gibbs family of Falmouth, Mass.  A Captain Heman Gibbs married 1st Temperance Burgess of Sandwich Mass. in 1795.  In 1803, he married 2nd, Martha Lewis in Falmouth, Mass.  Falmouth town records (Falmouth, 1750-1831) lists Captain Heman's family as the following: (click for larger view)

The Capt. Heman Gibbs family, 1803 - 1820

The eldest son is "William Thatcher Gibbs b. 9 July 1805, and the second eldest son is Thomas Gibbs, b. 21 April 1807.  Mystery solved!  The icing on the cake was finding through a family tree posted on, that Heman Gibbs was actually the son of John Gibbs and Jerusha Thacher, of Sandwich, Mass. Eureka!  My theory proved correct:  Heman blended the two surnames of his parents, in his son William's name.

Why the headstone was carved in this fashion is an unknown.  Why not either include "Gibbs" with "William Thatcher," or remove "Gibbs" from Thomas's name below, and let the parent's names at the bottom of the stone explain the relationship between the two men?

Either way, it certainly led to some confusion for me, and obviously for the person who posted the memorial page for "William Thatcher" on  My next errand is to drop her a message and share the news that her "Thatcher" mariner, should in fact be a "Gibbs" mariner who fell to his death aboard the Eagle, in Edgartown harbor,  at the young age of 16.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this information. My name is Jason Speer, my mothers maiden name is gibbs. I have recently inherited the unfinished geneological work of my late grandfather mr. Max gibbs.
    There Re several enigmas in my families history. In 1810 there are 6 gibbs children living with an overseer named surname price. The eldest of the children is named Thomas and has gone missing. Legd nd has it that the NC gibbs we're helping the brittish prepare for the war of 1812 and perhaps that could explain why the parents disapear and the elsest go missing while 6 remaining kids who are listed as literate on the 1810 SC census . Are sbown living with an illiterate overseer from NC. On the 1810 census, jim price is listex as white, then on the 1820 census the same jim price is listed as black!
    This case is very illusive, I coulx really use the support of an experienced sleuth like you. Could h ou please email me at jasonspeer32@
    Thanx and God bless you.