Section 11: ???. Chapter X xxxx

Section 12
The Great American Mystery

Chapter x

Brush families in the USA

There are far more members of the BRUSH clan in the United States than in England. Many of them (maybe most?) can trace their descent to either Thomas BRUSH or Richard BRUSH of Huntington, Long Island. The million dollar question for those in the US (and for those of us in England who would wish to have a comprehensive network of remote transatlantic cousins) is where did Thomas and Richard come from? The search for the answer is the BRUSH genealogical search for the Holy Grail. Conklin Mann in a footnote to his 1935 article(1), which we will turn to repeatedly, optimistically wrote "research in England might readily establish the progenitors of Thomas and Richard Brush". Sadly it has not proved to be so. It remains 'the great American mystery'.

Particulars of the BRUSH families descended from those two early colonists are contained in a comprehensive three volume work by Stuart and Russell BRUSH , The Descendants of Thomas and Richard Brush of Huntington, Long Island. (2)

The Rev. Stuart Brush of Connecticut became a personal friend of my parents and in 1991 they went to stay in his parsonage for 7 weeks while Stuart was on a sabbatical trip to the Holy Land. My mother Marilyn, a Methodist local (i.e. lay) preacher, took on some of his church duties while he was away. I had the privilege of meeting him in 200x during a brief trip to New York.

Stuart was also the driving force for a BRUSH Millenium reunion held in 2000 in Huntington, NY, U.S.A. There has been talk of another event but so far nothing seems to have come of this. If the UK origins of Thomas and Richard should ever be identified I hope we will be able to organise a celebratory event this side of the great pond.

A "Coat of Arms" was designed for the Brush Millennium reunion. Not a design likely to be approved by the College of Arms! There was apparently a model of car in the USA called Brush and I guess there was a baseball player. But I cannot recall what the racehorse link was.

Seventeenth Century New England

Before tackling the great question of where Thomas and Richard came from let us take a look at the American material. With a few exceptions we are looking at material from Long Island, the finger of land sticking out eastwards from New York. Since 1665 it has been part of New York State but for a few years previously it was part of Connecticut. Before that there were simply isolated settlements or townships on the north shore of Long Island Sound, settled mainly by groups from towns in what is now Connecticut.

The key locations in the story are Southold and Huntington on Long Island and Fairfield County in Connecticut on the North Shore of Long Island Sound. Fairfield County includes the towns of Fairfield, Norwalk, Greenwich and Stamford which feature later on in the Brush story. Other Connecticut places mentioned in the story are New Haven and Hartford. Further afield, to the North West, is the state of Massachusets - centred on Boston - but also including the very early community of Plymouth and the towns of Salem and Cambridge. To the South West is Virginia.

Genealogical research sometimes exists inside a bubble of records about family members but, in reality, the movements of individuals are part of broader historical events. In the early colonial times from 1630 -1700 these events were not simply going on in the background. The Brush families were, in a real sense, part of those events helping to shape the new country. It seems helpful therefore to have some understanding of the broader picture.

This period of American history is fuelled by the simmering religious and political pot in England. Following the accession of Charles I in March 1624(5) there were two connected strands of unrest. One was political. Parliament and the King were clashing over who called the shots and in March 1628(9) Charles had dissolved Parliament and embarked on a period of Personal Rule without calling any meetings of Parliament until 1640.

The second area of tension was religious, and religion was at the time a very political matter with serious consequences for those stepping out of line. Elizabeth I and James I had managed to persuade the various factions to go along with a compromise church structure and to keep a lid on the differences but this uneasy peace began to break down under the ineffective management of Charles I. It was eventually to contribute to the English Civil War but in the period 1625 to 1640 the Anglo-Catholic faction was in the driving seat and the Puritans - the "godly" persuasion of Calvinist Protestentism - felt increasingly repressed. The 'Great Migration' to the new American colonies began in earnest in 1630 and continued for about 10 years. In American Colonies(3), Alan Taylor writes "the Great Migration was brief, for emigration [to New England] declined to a trickle after 1640, amounting to only seven thousand for the rest of the century". By the mid 1640s, with Parliament winning the war, the pressure to emigrate for religious freedom disappeared.

As a broad rule of thumb, New England (initially just Massachusets and Connecticut) attracted Puritan emigres, which in socio-economic terms meant broadly the middle class and Virginia attracted Church of England/Anglo Catholic settlers - led by the upper classes and initially sustained by England's labourers and unemployed. However the motivation for emigrating to New England was not exclusivly a search for religious freedom. An oft repeated reference is to the phrase "traders and adventurers", which has a slightly disparaging tone. In a modern idiom many, after the initial flush, were economic migrants and puritanism was a social and polical view not just a religious one. By 1653 England was governed by the victorious parliamentarians and Charles had been executed. The continued settlement of Long Island was not solely in the hands of groups of religious Puritan refugees but also of traders, adventurers and entrepeneurs. The need for Puritans to escape England in search of religious freedom had largely ceased by the early 1640s. It is probably more helpful to regard later departures from England as economic migration though the selection of colony to go to will have been influenced by religious preferences.


The town of Southold was a very early (4) English settlement on the eastern end of Long Island. It is often stated to have been founded by a religiously motivated party of settlers from Norfolk in England in 1640, led by Rev John Youngs. According to a History of New Haven("histNH") (5) it appears the group arrived in New Haven direct from England, possibly in the third ship ever to arrive at New Haven in the late summer of 1639. The following year, possibly with others from New Haven, they crossed the Long Island Sound to establish their own community. The New Haven colony (or Quinnipiac) was itself only established in 1638 by groups moving south from Massachusets but it seems that not everyone was happy with the regime established there by its leader Mr Davenport. Among the early population of New Haven was one group from Yorkshire, who we will return to later. (histNH p129). New Haven rapidly became a port; and there are occasional references to ships arriving there direct from England and there was sea trade with Barbados [and elsewhere].

Although most descriptions of Southold refer to its establishment by Rev. Young and his party, I have seen reference, particularly in an article about the 'Osman deposition' to there having been some individual settlers there before this - at least one of whom sold his land to the incoming group. { or was this the sub-sale by New Haven which made the original purchase from the Indians} It seems to have been a slightly precarious foothold on the eastern margins of the Island serviced by sea links to mainland Connecticut and under the jurisdiction of New Haven. There is a reference that Rev Youngs "gathered his church anew on 21st of October 1640" - presumably at Southold (also known in the early days as Yenni-cot). The BRUSH family were not apparently members of this original 1640 church group. In 1641 the General Court at New Haven declares itself to be a colonial legislature with jurisdiction over the three plantations of New Haven, Southold and Stamford - which is further west along the north coast of the sound, later to be part of Fairfield County and a famous university town.


According to huntingtonny.gov, the towns official website:

"The formal European history of Huntington dates to April 2, 1653 when three English settlers from Oyster Bay-Richard Holbrook, Robert Williams and Daniel Whitehead-secured a deed from Raseokan, Sachem (i.e. leader) of the Matinecocks for six square miles of land stretching from Cold Spring Harbor to Northport Harbor ."

There seems to be quite a lot of debate about the exact nature of the practice of formally documenting 'purchases' of territory from the native American tribes living (a semi-nomadic life) in areas of New England. Given the different cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the two parties to these documents (in an English legal format) it seems likely that the two sides had a different understanding of them. I have seen it suggested that the tribes believed they were consenting to shared occupation and making a peace treaty rather than disposing of a right of property. According to Peter Olsen-Harbich the colonizarion of Long Island by English settlers from 1640 onwards by English settlers involved a much more peaceful interaction with the native occupiers than had been the case in "the blood drenched Connecticut River Valley". There was, he says, no "organized violent resistance to the expansion of Anglo imperium over their lands".

The 'formal establishment' of Huntington, dated to the 'First Indian Purchase' of 1653, , is later than Southold. However, unlike Southold there is no record of any defined group or "company" creating a ready made community and the motivation seems to have been less determindly religious. The Great Migration of the 1630s had ended around 15 years previously and the new towns of the 1650's were creations of families who were already established in New England rather than of new immigrants. The identities of the three men signing the First Indian Purchase indicates that Huntington may be considered as an expansion eastwards by the residents of Oyster Bay.

It also seems ( from later legal disputes about land ownership) that there had been some residence or economic activity by a few English families or individuals for a few years before the 1653 document. It seem likely therefore that the 'purchase' was regulating and settling an existing state of affairs rather than gaining consent prior to first entry onto a parcel of land. The areas of land acquired by purchase' documents of this type were substantial.

In a 2005 article , John Strong reviewing work by Faren R.Siminoff quotes her as saying that "an aspiring landholder" had to obtain permission from an "appropriate colonial authority," and then "obtain an Indian deed". He agrees with this description of the procedure but then disagrees with the details of an example she gives. I will return to this example a little later. One comment made by Siminoff is that :

"The English did not converge on Connecticut as a single monolithic group but quickly divided into separate and competing communities of interests staking out conflicting and overlapping claims to the area, along with those of the Dutch and native groups."

From this article it seems clear that long before the Indian deeds mentioned in town histories, as New England was being colonised, the English King was granting rights or 'patents' over large areas of territory. John Strong mentions the Stirling Patent granted by and the role of ….Eaton, who was one of the parties in the land ownership disputes mentioned above. He writes:

It seems evident that Eaton's primary concern was English imperial policy rather than immediate settlement. Eaton began this campaign a few years after he had gained ownership of the Stirling Patent from James Farrett by default. Farrett had used what was left of Lord Stirling's Long Island lands as collateral for a loan from investors led by Governor Eaton. Farrett returned to England and never paid off his loan. Eaton purchased Indian lands in Huntington, East Hampton, and Southold, which he later sold to prospective settlers. He hoped, of course, that in addition to his own profit, he would convince the settlers in the new towns to join New Haven Colony. He was successful with Southold, but Huntington and East Hampton had no interest in putting themselves under the strict Puritanical rule personified by the Reverend John Davenport in New Haven.

Inter-Community Links

Although Southold and Huntington were separate communities there was a good deal of interaction between the towns right along Long Island, from East Hampton on the eastern tip to Jamaica at the Western end and the Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam, later to become New York City. The waters of Long Island Sound, some 20 miles wide, were no obstacle to regular interaction with towns on the southern seaboard of Connecticut - Norwalk, Fairfield, Stamford, Stratford, New Haven. Early in the records of Huntington there is a reference to the Town meeting directing that the boat . Residents of one town (merely villages by contemporay English standards) frequently appear in the records of others, acquire land and attend court in other towns.

The BRUSH involvement

Into these two small pioneer towns came two Englishmen, Thomas and Richard Brush. They put their roots down in Huntington and began families of some 6000 descendants bearing the BRUSH name. Despite the references to the two founding fathers, Thomas and Richard BRUSH, as a pair of names we must look at them separately. There is, perhaps surprisingly, no evidence of what family link there is between them. The stories of Thomas and Richard follow in the next chapter.

    Section 12: Chapter X Thomas & Richard

(1) back to text    The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Vol LXVI No 3 July 1935 from p201

(2) back to text    The Descendants of Thomas and Richard Brush of Huntington, Long Island. A Source Book. Compiled by Stuart C. Brush with the collaboration of Russell B.Brush. Gateway Press 1982. There are now 4 supplements to the original work. Supplements I & II published Gateway Press in a single volume 1995 , Supplements III ( by Stuart Brush) and IV (by David McDonald) published Gateway Press in a single volume 2005.

(3) back to text    American Colonies, The Settlement of North America to 1800. by Alan Taylor, Penguin Books 2001

(4) back to text    The Mayflower's trip to Plymouth had only been in 1620, Boston dates from 1630.

(5) back to text    This piece of detail, and others about New Haven comes from a History of the Colony of New Haven to it's absorption into Connecticut by Edward E. Atwater published in 1881 and available online at http://sites.rootsweb.com/~ctcderby/books/honhct00.html and https://archive.org/stream/historyofcolonyo00atwa_0/historyofcolonyo00atwa_0_djvu.txt
This detail was at p163 New Haven 1881

The BRUSH Families of the British Isles
       © David Brush 2006 to 2020

The BRUSH Families
of the British Isles
© David Brush 2006 to 2020