The Brown/Tomlin Problem

Genealogical research can be very irritating at times.  You go along merrily, accepting findings in seemingly well-researched secondary sources that appear to be highly regarded, and supporting it as much as possible with primary records.  Then, one day, BLAM - someone casts doubt on a single marriage, and an entire lineage is suspect.

That's what happened here.  We had believed, although it was not conclusively proven, that the Dekessa has four Mayflower ancestors.  The link to three of them goes through a single marriage:  John BROWN married Mary TOMLIN in 1750 or 51 in Little Compton, Rhode Island.  They had a son, also named John Brown, in 1752.  Sometime thereafter, the elder John died.  Mary married Stephen MACOMBER in 1758, and in about 1760 they moved to Newport, Nova Scotia.  From there forward, the line is well-known, although we are still trying to assemble the supporting primary records.

Now according to Wilbour's well-recognized book Little Compton Families, the John Brown who married Mary Tomlin was the son of John Brown and Sarah WHITE, who were themselves married in 1726 in Tiverton, Rhode Island.  From here back, the ancestry to Mayflower passengers Francis Cooke, Richard Warren and William White is well-documented, including in the "Five Generations" project from the Mayflower Society.  This lineage is shown on the Web site you are browsing right now.

But there are some problems.  For example, if you check the dates, it appears that John and Mary were married when they were about 17 years old.  This is possible, but it is unusual.  As you dig deeper into children mentioned in wills and other data, the problems deepen.  None of it is impossible, but it is somewhat troubling.

We had been networking for some time with several Brown researchers in Canada, and from them a new challenge recently surfaced.  A family tradition in a line unquestionably descended from the Brown/Tomlin marriage is that the Browns were Scottish.  This does not fit well with the Brown/White ancestry.  More importantly, an alternative ancestry has been suggested, with considerable supporting detail.  It goes like this:

John Brown arrived in Massachusetts from Scotland aboard the ANN in 1632.  His son John, born about 1631 in Scotland, married Sarah MAKEPEACE in Boston in 1635.  Their son John, born in 1664 in Marlborough, Massachusetts, married Elizabeth INGERSOLL in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Their son John, born in Gloucester, was a shipwright. His son, John, was a mariner, and First Mate of the Massachusetts.  He married Mary Tomlin on January 7, 1751 (new style) at Little Compton, R.I.  His will of October 4, 1752 named his wife as his sole heir, perhaps suggesting that his son was not yet born.
One source reported that he had seen the will mentioned here, which could be the key proof.  But it was long ago when he was an inexperienced genealogist, and he did not write down where he found it.  We have not yet located it  So the Brown/Tomlin marriage remains a mystery, and the one weak link in our Mayflower lines.

It should be obvious that much of the difficulty we have is due to the fact that there are so many John Browns.  In addition, one volume of the Little Compton vital records has been missing for many years.  And as Murphy's Law requires, the one critical entry we do have in the Little Compton records differs from its neighbors.  Most of the marriage records give parents names, like this:

        James Smith, son of James and Thankful, married Joan Brewster, daughter of John and Sara.

But the marriage record we are inteersted in says only:

    John Brown married Mary Tomlin.

Does this support the notion that John Brown was a mariner from another state?