A couple of days ago, Thanksgiving Day, I thought about a Puritan ancestor of mine, whose name was Samuel Corning. Like other pilgrims, he journeyed from England to America in pursuit of religious freedom. His ship arrived in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, only a few years after the Mayflower, which landed there in 1620.
Samuel ‘s arrival was too late for him to participate in America’s first Thanksgiving, which was celebrated in November 1621.
The excerpts below are from an article I wrote about him and his descendants. It was published at EzineMark.com.
As much as he enjoyed visiting other New England states, such as New Hampshire, my father’s roots in Connecticut were as deep as the Atlantic Ocean. His paternal grandmother, the former Ann Matilda Corning, was born in Preston, Connecticut. Preston was also the birthplace of his dad, Frank Everett Peckham.
According to family records, our Cornings have traced their roots to Saundby Parish, Nottinghamshire, England, to the late fifteenth century.
The first Corning to settle in America was Ensign Samuel (sometimes spelled Samuell) Corning, who was born in 1616 in Norfolk, England. After arriving in Massachusetts, he first lived in Salem but didn’t stay there long. He and his wife Elizabeth chose to settle down in the smaller town of Beverly, approximately four miles north of Salem, because of its better opportunities.
It turned out to be an auspicious move. In 1641, Samuel became a freeman, a title that conferred franchise and other privileges in the community. He also established himself as a trusted citizen of Beverly by serving as a selectman, a responsible job given to a town officer who, because of his capabilities, had been chosen to manage certain public affairs.
Samuel was a Puritan in his religious beliefs. This was not a problem in Massachusetts, as it had been in England. There, as he learned through his own disheartening experience, the domineering Church of England harassed Puritans because of their belief that people should use the Bible as a guide in social, financial, and even—-much to the horror of British authorities—-political issues. Puritans believed that when the Bible reigns as supreme authority in the foregoing matters, religion stays simple, pure, and unscathed.
Undoubtedly his tenacious hold on Puritan beliefs was the precipitating factor that brought Samuel to the New World, where he was sure to find religious freedom. And find freedom he did. Historical records indicate that he was one of the founders of First Church in Beverly, where he and his family enjoyed worshiping freely and in peace. As evidence that he was a hard worker, another trait of the Puritans, he himself built the church’s meeting house. Because he wanted to keep his mind on God, Samuel had no use for ornate rituals or vestments, thus ensuring that the meeting house’s interior was kept spartan.
He carried his religious beliefs into his home by living a simple lifestyle, although it is known that he had some real estate holdings within the community. It is also known that he was fairly well off financially in his later years (which he interpreted as a blessing from God).
In 1868, a descendant of the first Corning in America became entwined in the Peckham family tree. In that year, Ann Matilda Corning, granddaughter of Uriah Corning (a Revolutionary War hero), married James Riley Peckham of Norwich, Connecticut. As a result, two clans with deep roots in New England were forever united. Ann Matilda became the mother of my grandfather, Frank E. Peckham, and thus my father’s grandmother.
More information about my family’s roots is contained in my book, A Salute to Patriotism. Here’s the link: