Friday, July 21, 2017

Where Did Nicholas Ackley Come From?

The short answer to this question is we don't know, and I'm afraid I won't be able to answer the question in this post. But just like the question of Nicholas' wives surnames covered in an earlier post, the information about Nicholas' origins has been widely reported without any reliable sources to back up the information. While it is somewhat dissatisfying to ask the question without providing an answer, I believe we should bring the issue out in the open so it can be discussed, and hopefully inspire someone among us to do further research.

There has been much speculation about where Nicholas Ackley came from. All of the various locations mentioned have one thing in common -- there are no sources cited for any of the purported origins for Nicholas. What is also notable is that none of the commonly cited sources for information on Nicholas Ackley even mention where he might have come from; for example, the Dawes-Gates genealogy cited frequently in this blog mentions nothing about Nicholas' birthplace or place of origin. The first line of the section on the Ackley line in that work simply says "Nicholas Ackley was of Hartford, Connecticut, probably as early as 1649, and certainly in 1655..." [1]. Another respected source for information on Nicholas, "Memoranda Relating to the Ancestry and Family of Sophia Fidelia Hall" by Sophia Fidelia Hall Coe also has nothing to say about Nicholas' origins [3]. "The Ancestry of Lorenzo Ackley & His Wife Emma Arabella Bosworth" does mention England, but provides no source for that information [4].

Frequently Mentioned Places of Origin for Nicholas

Before getting to the discussion at hand, permit me a small rant. One of the things that has always been puzzling to me is how information like this gets propagated all over the place without a reliable source attached to it. I don't think someone would make this stuff up (at least I hope not), so someone somewhere had to have seen this information in a source, and either chose not to list the source or it got copied all over the place without the original source. Either way, this is something that baffles me and I will continue to fight the good fight to include sources for everything I post. OK, rant over. Here are the most frequently mentioned places of origin for Nicholas:

England - England is a logical choice if one wanted to make an educated guess as to Nicholas' origins. Given that Connecticut was founded by Puritans from England under royal charter, it would not be a stretch to assume that Nicholas came from England. Many online trees list England as his birthplace, but as mentioned above, no source for this information can be found.

Shalford, Essex, England - This location is reported on many Ancestry member trees, WikiTree, and many Pedigree Resource Files and International Genealogical Index on Family Search. There are thousands of member trees on Ancestry that have Nicholas Ackley in them, and over 3,000 of these trees state he was born in Shalford, Essex, England. Although I couldn't check every one of these trees for sourcing, I checked the first 50 and not one had a source for this information (other than user supplied information such as other trees, Millenium files, Find-A-Grave, etc.). WikiTree and the Family Search resources are similar to Ancestry member trees in that they contain user supplied information, and like the Ancestry member trees they do not typically have any source citations associated with them.

Hopton Castle, Shropshire, England - There are some trees online that cite Hopton Castle as Nicholas' birthplace (a much smaller number than Shalford). Although none of those trees gave a source for the information, I would guess that most people who cite Hopton Castle as Nicholas' birthplace probably got the information from the Hackley manuscript discussed in a previous post.

Wales - I have even found a few trees online that give Wales as Nicholas' birthplace. As with the other locations mentioned, no sources are given to support this information.

Other Theories

Before beginning this discussion, I want to point out that I have absolutely no proof that any of the locations mentioned below could be Nicholas Ackley's birthplace or place of origin. I bring them up as food for thought and as a starting point for further research.

The Secretary of the State (SOTS) of Connecticut has a useful web page discussing the origins of the cities and towns in Connecticut. According to that page:

"Until 1700 almost the only official action of the colonial government (General Court) in regard to town organization, was to authorize the town name, usually chosen by its leading man, from his home in England." [2]
Knowing that, could the places where Nicholas lived in Connecticut provide a clue to his origins? We know that Nicholas first came to Hartford, Connecticut, possibly as early as 1649. Here is what the SOTS web page has to say about the origins of Hartford:

"Hartford, Dutch trading house, 'House of Hope,' 1633; settled as Newtown in 1635; named 1637 from Hertford in Hertfordshire, Indian name, 'Suckiag.'" [2] 

There are a couple of things to think about here. First, Hartford took its name from Hertford in 1637, at least 12 years before Nicholas arrived there, so he was not around to have had any influence over the naming of the town. Further, according to Wikipedia, Hartford was named for the hometown of Rev. Samuel Stone, one of its founders [5]. Having said that, it is entirely possible that Nicholas was from Hertford and was drawn to Hartford because there were people there from Hertford with whom he or his family were acquainted.

We also know that Nicholas was one of the original proprietors of Haddam, Connecticut; i.e., one of the group of 28 young men who founded the town. Here is what the SOTS says about Haddam:
"Haddam, settled in 1662; incorporated, and named Oct., 1668, from Much Haddam parish in Hertfordshire." [2]
So, the situation with Haddam was slightly different than Hartford; Nicholas was present when it was named, and being one of the original proprietors could have had some influence on deciding the name. Again, there is no evidence that this was the case, but it is at least worth considering as a possibility.

It is worth noting that Hertford (blue marker on map below) and Much Haddam (red marker on map below) are both in Hertfordshire in England; in fact they are only about 12 miles apart. Further, although Shalford (green marker on map below) is in the county of Essex in England, it is only about 25 miles from Much Haddam (Hertforshire and Essex are adjoining).

Google Map showing Hertford, Much Haddam, Shalford

Again, I should emphasize that I have no information that actually suggests that Nicholas came from either Hertford or Much Haddam; I am only proposing that these locations might be logical places to look.  Naming conventions for early Connecticut towns could provide a clue as we try to solve the mystery of his origins.

Discussion Questions

  • Does anyone have any reliable sources for any of the more popular birth places cited in various trees? 
  • Does anyone have any other viable possibilities for Nicholas' origins (supported by sources)?

Quote of the Day

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." 

--Thomas A. Edison

Link of the Day

Today's link is for the Connecticut Secretary of the State web site mentioned several times in this post:


1. Ferris, Mary Walton, Dawes-Gates Ancestral Lines: A Memorial Volume Containing the American Ancestry of Mary Beman (Gates) Dawes Vol. II (Wisconsin: Cuneo Press, 1931), p. 33-54.

2. Connecticut Secretary of State, "Connecticut Towns in the Order of Their Establishment; With the Origin of Their Names", (accessed June 27, 2017). 

3. Coe, Sophia Fidelia Hall, Memoranda Relating to the Ancestry and Family of Sophia Fidelia Hall (Meriden, Connecticut: Curtiss-Way, 1902), p. 217-223.

4. Jacobus, Donald Lines, The Ancestry of Lorenzo Ackley & His Wife Emma Arabella Bosworth (Woodstock, Vermont: Elm Tree Press, 1960), p. 1.

5. Wikipedia contributors, "History of Connecticut," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 13, 2017).

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