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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Pye in PyePlate

When you’re a little kid and your last name is Pye, there are moments in your day when you wish your name was Smith or Jones or Williams, anything but Pye. After a while, you got used to, or immune to, all the various ways the meanies could twist your name into some barbed dart. I used to plague my father with questions about where the name came from. I’m sure he spent his childhood dodging the same name calling missals I did, as did every other kid who grew up with the last name of Pye.

Fortunately, for me, other, older members of my family had not only questioned the source of the name but had actually done something about finding the history behind it. This led my life long interest in history, archeology, genealogy and a whole lot of other…-ology type studies. Using the framework provided by earlier family researchers, I have been able to verify a great deal of what had been done and discredit some statements and conclusions drawn by others. I have always kept in mind that in the era ‘bc’ (before computers), data mining was done in a laborious way in dusty town halls, records offices and in the stacks at libraries. The other thing that I have had to remember well, is that sources available 70-80 years ago were considered reliable, yet today have been soundly discredited. There was a time, in polite society, where it was considered a feather in your cap to have a highly connected, if not Royal, pedigree. People paid good money to have the ‘proper’ pedigrees drawn up for them, just so they could circulate in the upper echelon.  The upshot of this is that many pedigrees are skewed or may be totally inaccurate. 

So my labor of love began sometime when I was a teenager. I started gathering information about anyone named Pye. I borrowed or bought books on Medieval England and studied the cultural, social and political conditions of the day.  I soon discovered that really serious historians did not put much stock in names and dates before 1000 AD. That was still a time of oral tradition and many, if not most, things were not recorded. It was after the year 1000, at some point, that recorded history began to happen. So the first thing I did was put aside anything  that claimed to be a carved in stone birth, marriage or death, if it was before the year 1000.

There were many claims that the Pyes sailed with William the Conqueror across the channel to The Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Falaise Rolls and The Battle Abbey Rolls have both been discredited as reliable sources concerning the men who left Normandy for the English shore. There are only about 15 names that have been verified out of the many who must have been in that army. He obviously had many more than 15 men to help him defeat King Harold. The Battle Abbey Rolls date to the 16th century, but the original has been lost to time. A resurrection was created in 1889 by Catherine Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland, and contains many biographical details of Anglo-Norman families of Victorian times. The Falaise Rolls were created in 1931 for a dedication. There are only 3 unimpeachable sources of names for the men in William’s Army:

1.  Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum ("The Deeds of William II, Duke of the Normans") by William of Poitiers, written between 1071 and 1077

2.  Historia Ecclesiastica ("The Ecclesiastical History"), by Orderic Vitalis (1075-1142)

3.  The Bayeux Tapestry – 11th Century

There is a list of Probable, Likely and Maybes who were in that army. William’s Army was made up of men from Normandy, Brittany, Flanders, France, and some from as far away as southern Italy. They were a mixed bag of nobles, mercenaries and troops, more horse than foot, as the Norman Army carried the reputation of the best cavalry in all of Europe. It would be hard to determine which list the Pyes were on. I believe they would be on ‘Probable’ because they did receive lands as compensation for serving William.

An older cousin had been to England several times and had dug into the old and dusty books looking for records of the Pyes. It was definitely a hit or miss thing for him. He did have some help though. More recent generations of Pyes, living in Newfoundland, confirmed the family had originated in England, although different branches of the family came from different locations in England. The pivotal point seemed to be Herefordshire, so that is where he began. This is where the progenitor of the Pye family was located. But, of course, he was not a Pye. Surnames didn’t come into common use until the 12th/13th century, so this family was known by its Norman name – de la Mare, which means “of the sea.” The people from this area of France were known as Normans, or Northmen because they had invaded, conquered and then settled this piece of the French coastline. They were said to be from Norway and Denmark. A great many of the men from this region joined William’s Army and fought at Hastings. The de la Mares must have been one of them as they had been awarded lands along the Welsh border, including a castle called Kilpec. It was their duty to help protect the border from the unruly and warlike Welsh. Castles dotted the entire border of Wales and these noblemen were called Marcher Lords.  The de la Mare’s had other duties as well. They were to be the overseers of the King’s hunting lands, The Forest of Dean and the Forest of Hay. They were also required to send a certain number of men off to join the King’s Army, should he put out a call to prepare for war.

William FitzNorman de la Mare was in evidence in the area of Erging, or Archenfield, a fiefdom of the old British Kingdom. In 1086, the Domesday Survey, shows Kilpeck (registered as Chipeete) was given by William the Conqueror to William FitzNorman. The castle is thought to have been built in 1090.
One reference says the de la Mares were ‘kinsman of King William I’, which leaves the connection wide open. This is taken from the “Guide to the Parish Church of SS. Mary and David”, Kilpeck, p.1.  It states: “After the Conquest Kilpeck was given by the Conqueror to his kinsman William Fitz Norman. William was the builder of the castle (some slight remains lie to the west of the church) and William’s grandson Hugh – by this time styled De Kilpeck – was the builder of the church.” The Domesday Book also shows William holding lands in many other areas, for example:

Place name:
Suckley, Herefordshire
180v Great Domesday Book
Domesday place name:
People mentioned within entire folio:
Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Cormeilles; Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Lyre; Aelfric; Aethelric brother of Bishop Beorhtric; Alweard; Ansgot; Ansgot, man of William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford; Beorhtric; Burgess of Worcester; Drogo fitzPons; Druward; Durand of Gloucester, the sheriff; Earl Edwin; Earl Oda; Earl of Roger de Breteuil Hereford; Earl of William fitzOsbern Hereford; Godwine; Gruffydd ap Maredudd, the boy; Herman; Hubert; Hugh l'Asne; Ilbert; Joscelin the huntsman; King William as landholder; Leofwine Latimer; Eadgifu, Abbess of Leominster; Lyfing, Bishop of Worcester; monks of Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Lyre; Osbern; Queen Edith; Ralph de Bernay; Ralph de Mortimer; Ralph de Tosny; Ramkel; Regenbald the chancellor; Richard; Roger de Lacy; Saumur, Abbey of Saint-Florent of Saumur; Siward, thegn and kinsman of King Edward; Urse d'Abetot; Walter de Lacy; William d'Ecouis; William fitzBaderon; William fitzNorman; Wulfgeat

This was found at:  The National Archives:

So at this point, we see how the de la Mare name has been changed to the de Kilpeck name. As the names were changing, it’s important to remember that not all the de la Mares took the de Kilpeck name. Only those entitled to inherit the castle and lands seemed to have kept that name. Others moved on to neighboring territories and their names became something completely different.  For the purpose of this blog, William FitzNorman will be considered the progenitor of the people who became known as Pye.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Brush with Fame

A Little Brush with Fame

So many memories of growing up in Winthrop are fun to revisit and think about the carefree time it was, for the most part. We still had air raid sirens that blasted off and we would duck into the nearest friend’s home until the all clear sounded. We knew we were supposed to do this and to know what to do in case there was a real attack, but for the most part, it was a very loud annoyance that interfered with our afternoon of fun. There was also the occasional polio scare in the summer when some of the beaches would be closed down, or even those powerful storms, Nor’easters, that could scare the pants off you.  But seriously, Winthrop was “Happy Days” and Beaver Cleaver rolled into one. The memories are truly cheerful and rosy.

 One that stands out is playing with the girl across the street.  My mother had graduated from Winthrop High with this girl’s aunt, her mother’s sister. She was a bit younger than me but she had a sandbox, something I didn’t have in my yard. I remember quite a few happy afternoons playing in that sandbox. In the summer, there was often another girl there, a bit older than me. This girl was a cousin who had come to visit from New York City.  She stayed with her grandparents on Point Shirley most of the time, but she came to the house across the street frequently, too.  These two cousins were so blonde. I remember thinking what beautiful hair they had and wished my more honey colored blonde head looked more like theirs.

As time trudged on, my family moved away from Winthrop and I soon forgot about some of those earlier activities as other interests took my focus. We always got the shop at home catalogs and scoured through them for all the latest fashions. A friend, who still lived in Winthrop, sent me a letter telling me to look at one of the models in one of the catalogs.  There, modeling teenage clothes, was the girl from NYC who had come to visit her cousin. There, looking so grown up, was my sandbox friend. Wow! I was so impressed. Not long after, I got another letter from my friend in Winthrop, saying that this young model was going to be in moving pictures. My Winthrop friend and the family we had lived across the street from were friends, so there was much exchange of news.

 Then in 1958, my Winthrop friend wrote to me telling of a special even to be held in the Winthrop Theater. A special viewing of Walt Disney’s, A Light in the Forest, by invitation only, was to be held there. My friend was able to go, but I lived too far away. This special premier type showing for family and friends was to honor Carol Lynley who had spent so many of her younger years on Winthrop’s beaches and in her cousin’s sandbox.




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Black gold, Texas tea?

Black gold, Texas tea?

It was 1962 and there was a new comedy series starting that fall on TV. It was  about a not very well-educated family who found they had come into a fortune because oil had been found on their land. All that money meant they needed to improve their living situation so they trucked (literally) off to California, bought a huge mansion with a “cee-ment pond” and quickly became a very popular comedy series for the next eight years.  As we watched the first episodes and the credits at the end, my mother, nonchalantly, mentioned that she had gone to school with Richard Whorf. What? There was his name on the TV screen. He was the Director of this show filled with misdirections and misconceptions, which turned out to be pretty funny, if not silly.

 So now I needed to know more about Mr. Whorf. In my mother’s yearbook, his name is repeatedly mentioned in connection with class plays and theatrical productions. He also served as Art Editor for the yearbook. My mother hadn’t followed his career so really didn’t know much except he had gone off to New York City and had appeared on Broadway. Then I learned that his family had lived just a couple of blocks away from my childhood home. Another Winthrop son had gained fame and fortune.

His parents, Harry and Sarah Whorf lived at 94 Somerset Ave. in Winthrop. The 1910 census shows three boys, Benjamin, John and Richard, who was about 4 that year. His father was a commercial artist and designer in Boston. A death certificate was found for an older sister who died in 1904. By the 1920 census, all three boys were still living at home and a paternal grandmother and a maternal aunt had joined the household. When Richard finished high school, he went off to NYC and the start of his career.

That the arts ran strongly in this family is not to be questioned.  The Whorfs were in the Barnstable area of Cape Cod in the 1700’s associated with the sea as mariners, whalers and traders. The name is still known there today and many of them have been noted artists. Not only was Richard into the theater, movies and TV, but he was quite an artist himself, having sold his first painting at the age of 15 for $100. His film career covered the 30’s and the 40’s, but many of the classics from this era can still be seen on TV from time to time. My favorite is Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Richard’s older brother, John, became famous as a watercolorist, having studied with many accomplished artists, including John Singer Sergeant. John took up residence in Provincetown, MA and remained a resident there until his death in 1959. The oldest brother, Benjamin was a linguist, an authority on the Mayan language and a professor at Yale. He died in the 1940’s at the age of 45.

Richard apparently married a woman named Margaret but not much can be learned from searching on-line about his personal life. He died Dec. 14, 1966.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A church, a bell, a minister

A church, a bell, a minister

          What does Washington DC, Paul Revere’s family and a kid from Winthrop have in common? Let’s start with Washington DC for it was there that the history began in 1815. Benjamin Henry Latrobe had been appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as Surveyor of Public Buildings and Architecture of the Capitol. This man was responsible for building the White House, the Capitol, and the Decatur House, all of which have ties to significant historical events. But in 1815, he began another project, the design of a church. This church would become the second building on Lafayette Square, right after the White House. He took no fee for his design and, in addition, composed the dedication hymn and played the organ on Dec. 18, 1816 at the consecration of St. John’s Church, which became known as The Church of the Presidents. Every president since James Madison has attended this church.
          Now, enter in the son of Paul Revere. Joseph Revere cast a bell in his Boston Foundry in August 1822 and the bell was installed on St. John’s Church on Nov. 30 1822.  It tips the scales at 1000 pounds and has been in continuous use since its installation. The Revere Co. also had a smelter in Winthrop MA later in the 1800’s.
And, now we go to the kid from Winthrop.  John Carsten Harper was born there around 1925, the son of Rev. Ralph M. Harper and graduated from Winthrop High School in 1942. His father was the minister at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Winthrop who married my parents, my aunt and uncle, my sister and who baptized my sisters and me. We called our minister Mr. Harper because that’s what he wanted.  His children were quite a bit older than my sisters and I so we had no interaction with them.  Imagine our surprise when we heard the announcement in 1963 that our Mr. Harper’s son had been called to St. John’s in Washington DC.  That was quite an honor for another one of Winthrop’s sons.
       So there is the connection between Washington, the Revere family and a Winthrop kid. Dr. John C. Harper graduated from Harvard in 1946 and from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge MA in 1953. In between those two events he spent some time in the Navy, serving in the South Pacific, and then taught school in CT for awhile. After graduating from the seminary, he married and began his ministerial duties in MA, RI and NY. When he was called in 1963 to be Rector of St. John’s in Washington DC, it would be the start of a 30 year career, preaching, teaching and guiding what was to become a diverse flock.

          Soon after he was installed as rector of St. John’s, he had a most distinguished visitor, President John Kennedy. This was Kennedy’s first visit to a Protestant church, as President, which was followed by his attending Mass at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. As I noted in an earlier post, JFK’s grandparents had a summer home in Winthrop, where the President and his older siblings learned to swim and sail. Mr. Harper had been invited to the White House a few days before the President visited the church. One can only imagine the conversation considering they had Harvard, Winthrop, the Navy and WWII in common.

       During his 30 years as Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, The Church of the Presidents, he preached to eight presidents and brought about reforms to this national historical church that took it from a ‘society church’ to a church of the people. He retired in 1993  and devoted his time to raising funds for an International Study Centre at Canterbury Cathedral. He was instrumental in organizing Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the USA and was its first chairman. He died on Friday, Sept. 13, 2002 at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC from a heart attack.  He was 78.