Thursday, 26 April 2012

Swimming With Olympians

When I began researching the ancestries of lgbt Olympians I didn’t know I’d be related to any of them. What has intrigued me in my research is that of the 4 lgbt Olympians I know I’m related to, all of them are swimmers!

For several years I’d known that I was related to Daniel Veatch and Francilia Agar Schofield. We all descend from the Beaufort family who were great-grandchildren of King Edward II, that well-known “Queen” of England. Dan Veatch’s ancestry is mentioned briefly in my Christmas post on Sir Noël Coward.

More recently I discovered I was related to 2 more lgbt Olympic swimmers – Mark Chatfield and Susan Gray McGreivy. All 3 of us descend from Richard Gawkroger Platts of Sowerby, Yorkshire, who was buried in 1575.

The unusual surname Gawkroger originates from a place-name. The “roger” comes from “rocher” which is a Yorkshire dialect word for a rock or crag, and “gawk” is dialect for “left”. So Gawkroger could mean “the rock on the left” – perhaps on the left of a prominent landmark or road. When surnames began to become hereditary in the late Medieval period one family adopted a surname from the place where they lived. They lived near the “rock on the left” in the Halifax area. So they became the Gawkroger family. This seems to have been around 1400.

The Gawkrogers also owned property called Platts farm, and this they began to use as a surname as well – Gawkroger Platts – to distinguish themselves from cousins who lived near Sowerby bridge, the Gawkroger Briggs family.

My ancestor Michael Gawkroger Platts’s cousin Mary married John Prescott of Halifax in 1629. Mark Chatfield and Susan McGreivy descend from this couple (as do both Presidents Bush, and astronomer Perceval Lowell and his lesbian sister, the writer Amy Lowell).

John and Mary Prescott had emigrated to Barbados by 1638, and by 1640 had moved to New England and became the founding settlers in a place they named Nashaway (after the local native tribe). Other settlers wanted to rename the town Prescottville in the family’s honour, but the local council decided to name it after John’s place of birth in England, Lancaster.

By profession John was a blacksmith, quite a good one apparently because he had his own suit of armour, presumably one he made for himself. This he wore during attacks from the Nashaway tribe. As with many other colonial settlements on native lands Lancaster came under attack, so John Prescott would have worn his armour a lot, especially in 1675 and 1676. This was when the Nashaways attacked the settlers quite violently, pillaging the town and killing men, women and children. Among the victims were John and Mary Prescott’s son-in-law Lt. Jonas Fairbanks, and 2 of their grandsons. Another grandson, 6-year-old Jabez, was lucky to survive, and he is ancestor of Susan Gray McGreivy.

The eldest daughter of John and Mary Gawkroger Platts Prescott was called Mary. She married into the Sawyers of Connecticut and was ancestor of Mark Chatfield. Other settler ancestors of Mark were Stephen Gates (ancestor of Bill Gates), and John Fobes (ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales).

With research never reaching an end I await further revelations of my blood relationship to famous people.

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