Thursday, 6 March 2014

Out Of Their Tree - Peggy Seeger

The death of Pete Seeger in January at the age of 93 came at a poignant time. Last year, when I was planning my musical theme for 2014 I began to write up my research on the ancestry of Pete’s sister Peggy for this blog.

One of the important links I was writing about, which had been known to genealogist for some time, was the Seeger’s Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry. Pete Seeger was well-known as a folksinger and writer of some iconic songs (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had A Hammer”, etc.) and equally well-known as a campaigner for social issues. I’d like to think that Peter would have had huge respect for his Mayflower ancestors who were driven out of their country because of intolerance to their way of life.

Peggy Seeger is just one of several other musical members of the dynasty. A singer and musician in her own right she met British folksinger Ewan McColl in 1957 and they later married. Ewan wrote the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” about Peggy. Peggy met Irene Scott in 1964, bringing another musical talent into the family circle. Ewan died in 1989, and Peggy and Irene found themselves moving into a closer relationship. They became Civil Partners in December 2006.

There’s no mystery as to where the musical talent in the Seegers came from. Peggy’s and Pete’s father was renowned musicologist, composer, professor and enthusiast for American folk music, Dr. Charles Louis Seeger (1886-1979). He was a pioneer in the study of ethnomusicology. His second wife, Peggy’s mother, Pete’s stepmother, was the equally talented Ruth Crawford Seeger, consider by some to be the most significant female composer in America during the 20th century.

There was little discernable musical talent in Peggy’s grandfathers. One was an international shipping merchant and the other was a Methodist minister. The concern for social issues seems more evident. Charles and Ruth Seeger combined both. There were on the left side of politics, and Ruth in particular was keen to have their music accepted by “ordinary folk” as Ruth would consider them.
We’ll go back to the Mayflower and work our way forwards. Peggy Seeger is descended from at least 6 Mayflower Pilgrims through her ancestor Lydia Cooke (see diagram). Lydia’s grandfather was Francis Cooke (c.1583-1663), who was from the village of Blyth which isn’t far from my home village.

Questions arose in 2006 concerning Francis Cooke’s place of origin. American genealogist Charles Edward Banks suggested Cooke was born in Kent and not Blyth, as has been traditionally believed. However, I have ancestors in Blyth from around the same time as Francis’s birth and like to think that I may be related to him.

Francis Cooke was living in Holland when the Separatists that later formed the Pilgrims arrived to escape religious persecution in England. Francis joined some of these Pilgrims on their Mayflower voyage with his son John, leaving his wife Hester and younger children to join a later voyage. Francis became one of those members of society who didn’t seek great public office or power and worked in his own small way in good works for the new colony.

Francis’s son Jacob married Damaris, daughter of two more Mayflower passengers, Stephen Hopkins and his wife Elizabeth. Stephen may have been the only one of the Mayflower who had already been in the Americas. He is probably the same Stephen Hopkins who was shipwrecked on Bermuda en route to Jamestown colony. The Mayflower Hopkins became assistant to the governors of Plymouth colony.

A son of Jacob and Damaris Cooke was named Francis after his Mayflower grandfather. In 1687 he married Elizabeth Latham, also a grandchild of a Mayflower Pilgrim, Mary Chilton, who was on the Mayflower with her parents James and Susannah. Mary Chilton is said to have been the first European woman to set foot on American soil.

Elizabeth Latham’s parents, however, can not be said to have been typical members of the young Puritan colony. In 1655 Robert Latham was found guilty of beating and mistreating a servant who died from his injuries. Robert’s wife Susannah didn’t face prosecution. Perhaps her own family background put most people off testifying against her. Susannah was a member of the powerful Winslow dynasty. Her father was John Winslow (husband of Mary Chilton, above), a brother of Edward Winslow, Governor of Plymouth Colony three times. The Winslows were one of the very few wealthy Pilgrim families, with estates in Worcestershire and a royal descent from King Edward III (1312-1377), which Peggy Seeger has inherited (the royal descent, not the estates!).

Elizabeth Latham’s grand-daughter was the Lydia Cooke mentioned above. Lydia married Ebenezer Adams (1744-1820) and is ancestor of Peggy Seeger’s grandmother Elsey Simmons Adams, the mother of Dr. Charles Louis Seeger.

I’d love to cover the ancestry of Peggy Seeger’s mother, but I think this article is running long. Perhaps another time.

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