This week sees the start of the judicial year. In the UK it was celebrated with a service at Westminster Abbey attended by many judges and lawyers. This year is special because, for the first time in history, England has a woman as the most senior judge in the country, Lady Hale. The mark the start of the judicial year I’ve looked into the ancestry of the most senior out lgbt female lawyer in the USA, Eleanor D. Acheson.
Eleanor D. Acheson was an
Assistant Attorney General of the USA. The Attorney General is the head of the
Department of Justice and the chief lawyer of the US government. Within the
department the Attorney General has a number of smaller departments which are
all headed by an Assistant. Eleanor Acheson was appointed Assistant Attorney
General of the Office of Policy Development by President Clinton in 1993 and
served until 2001.
Both sides of Eleanor’s
family contain lawyers and legislators. We’ll start with her paternal line. Her
father is David Acheson (b.1921) who was a lawyer and US Attorney for the
District of Columbia in the 1960s. His father was the more famous Dean Acheson
(1893-1971) who was US Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. The
legal profession is not known in the Acheson family further back. Dean Acheson
was the son of an Episcopalian Bishop of Connecticut, but the bishop’s wife
Alice had legal roots. Alice’s father was Louis Crandall Stanley (1855-1945)
who was a lawyer with the Grand Trunk Railway System based in Detroit for 40
Mrs. Alice Stanley Acheson
(Dean’s wife) herself exhibited another family talent, painting. This she
inherited from both parents. Her own mother Jane was another accomplished
artist who exhibited at several prestigious galleries. Alice’s grandfather,
John Mix Stanley (1814-1872) is one of America’s leading painters of Native
American life in the “Wild West”.
evidence on the ancestry of the Stanley family. There are several families John
Mix Stanley could be descended from. All of them are of pioneer colonial stock.
What is definite, however, is that DNA analysis of descendants of the
aristocratic, royal-descended, Stanley family in the UK and descendants of the
pioneering American Stanleys do not show that they share the same roots.
The situation regarding
the ancestry of Eleanor’s great-grandmother, the above-mentioned Jane (née
Mahon) (1863-1940) is different. Her surname clearly suggests Irish roots, and
indeed that is where her ancestors came from. We can trace Jane’s mother’s
family, the Le Stranges, through County Roscommon to Norfolk in England, where
there is a direct bloodline to King Edward III. Also through the Le Strange
family Eleanor Acheson is descended from Adam Loftus (1533-1605), Archbishop of
Dublin, and ancestor she shares with Oscar Wilde.
Moving on to Eleanor’s
maternal ancestry we see a lot of politicians and statesmen. Since American
independence Eleanor’s ancestors have served in an almost unbroken line as
Governors, Senators and Congressmen. Many of Eleanor’s cousins through this
side of her family still hold political office.
From the pre-independence
era one ancestor of note was Hon. David Owen (1732-1812), Chief Justice and
Lt-Governor of Rhode Island. The US National Archives contains a letter written
by Owen to George Washington confirming that Rhode Island has ratified the US
Constitution and Washington’s reply.
Eleanor Acheson’s colonial
settler ancestry connects to my own life. Eleanor’s maternal great-grandmother,
Mrs. Anne Bailey James Smith (1866-1933) was descended from the Ripley family.
Joshua Ripley (1658-1739) married Hannah Bradford (1662-1738), the
grand-daughter of the Mayflower Pilgrim William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth
Colony. A large number of Mayflower passengers came from the area where I was
born and raised.
There were two main groups
of Puritan worshippers who became Pilgrims – the Scrooby group and the
Gainsborough group. The Gainsborough group worshipped in secret at the home of
a local aristocrat. This building now known as Gainsborough Old Hall and I
worked there for ten years. The Old Hall is currently preparing for the big
400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing in 1620. A leading preacher of the
Gainsborough group was Rev. John Robinson. He helped to organise the Mayflower
voyage but was unable to join it, and he died in Holland in 1625. John
Robinson’s son Isaac is a direct ancestor of Eleanor Acheson. Gainsborough
commemorates this gentleman in the town’s United Reformed Church (pictured
below) which is known as the John Robinson Church, another building I know well.