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Early Elstons in America and their origins

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Introduction: Elstons in America

This free-space project page is an attempt to gather sources of relevant information about the origins of some members of the Elston family in America, between about 1630 and about 1750. Other Elstons than those considered here have undoubtedly migrated to America, so I will begin by trying to specify which Elstons are covered here. As stated under the section, Purpose and Goals, the Elstons under consideration are John Elston of Salem and his son, John Jr., three men, John, Peter, and William Elston, first noted in the history of Staten Island, New York, and Woodbridge, New Jersey in the 1670's, and their descendants (the Elstons of Woodbridge), some of whom then migrated along three major paths that the author is aware of: (1) to Orange County, NY, and from there to (at least) Thompkins County and Chemung County (1830's); (2) to southeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania and from there westward through the Ohio valley; (3) to Wilkes, County, North Carolina (1780's), and from there to (at least) Henry County, Kentucky (1790's), Smith County, Tennessee (1780's), and the Gulf Coast, particularly Alabama and Louisiana. However, I will later limit this work to the ancestors of one man, Abraham Elston, because this effectively covers all three migration paths, as path (1) is thought to have been the most recent of the three.

There have been many attempts to link the Elstons of Woodbridge, ca. 1673 - 1700's, to earlier immigrants and their descendants - in particular to John Elston of Salem, Massachusetts, who is recorded in John Winthrop's journal (on July 26, 1631) as having been rescued from a boat (a twelve-ton bark) overturned by a gust in Massachussets Bay. None of these attempts have succeeded in establishing convincing documentary evidence of the link, although one author, Orra Monnette,[1] suggested that John of Salem was the first Elston recorded in Woodbridge, New Jersey, in 1673, who will be referred to as John (Elston) of Woodbridge. Another author, James Strode Elston[2] (also unable to establish a direct link) suspected that the Elstons of Woodbridge were grandchildren of John of Salem, but again without having found direct proof, despite having investigated many men, with surnames that are possible variants of Elston, alive at the time (roughly 1630 - 1700).

Three Elston men appear in early records of Woodbridge, New Jersey: John, William, and Peter (named here in the order in which they appear in the 1942 publication of "The Elston Family in America".[2] This source will be frequently referred to as “EFIA”, and its author as "JSE".

A preliminary remark is in order: many professional and experienced amateur genealogists consider the many family histories written in the first half of the twentieth century to be unreliable. Monnette's work was written in the 1930's, and Elston's EFIA was published in 1942. An earlier person who studied the Elston family and other New Jersey area families in the nineteen-teens was Charles Gardner, and he occasionally informs the work of James Strode Elston (JSE); I have not had occasion to look for an archived online version of the work of Gardner. Taking this reputation of unreliability to heart, I have taken to using these works as guides and sources of hints, and have worked to use sources closer to the lives of those profiled, whenever possible. I will comment, however, that when I have checked JSE's stated facts in EFIA against sources he cites, I have almost always agreed with his conclusions, and if JSE's work is read carefully, his narrative makes it clear when he is speculating.

Unfortunately, early (pre-1750) records are spotty, and completely lost in some cases, so speculation is often necessary in tracing ancestries in a continuous-over-time manner. Many of the early Elston family were first settlers in their homelands, and they were possibly too busy staying alive to keep comprehensive records and those records were often kept in family bibles that have become lost over the years.

Purpose and Goals

To reiterate, this free-space project page is an attempt to gather relevant information, with sources, known about the origins of members of the Elston family in America, up to about 1750, with emphasis on the line that leads to Abraham Elston, (m.n. Samuel?) born about 1745 in Westfield, Union Co., New Jersey, and his known siblings, John Elston-612, Joseph Elston-613, and possibly Mary (unprofiled on WikiTree because of uncertainty of her identity). Its goal is to provide a multi-generational overview of what is known, and what is unknown and/or unproven, about the family, and to facilitate updates and corrections to existing WikiTree profiles that are currently either unsourced or incompletely sourced and which contain information in conflict with profiles elsewhere on WikiTree and with recorded histories of the areas in which the family members lived, without "breaking (too many) branches."

The main source of information for this, and my starting point, is “The Elston Family in America”, by James Strode Elston[2]. As noted in the Introduction, this source will be frequently referred to as “EFIA”, and its author as "JSE". EFIA has been digitized by the Google Books project and is in the public domain, as are two other works of JSE that report his findings in the twenty (or so) years following the publication of EFIA in 1942. These appear as two volumes entitled, “Descent from 79 Early Immigrant Heads of Families.”[3] These 2 volumes will be occasionally referred to as “Descent...”. Most professional genealogists would probably consider JSE to be an amateur genealogist, as he did not work for hire in that capacity, and was by profession an actuary who published widely in that field. He published genealogies of families in his lines of descent, including the Tice and Strode families, as well as Elston. There are accounts in EFIA and Descent... that indicate that he corresponded with well-known New Jersey genealogist Charles Carrol Gardner (one such correspondence is important to this account) and he published at least once in The American Genealogist.[4] His professional publications as an actuary appear to have taught him the importance of careful sourcing, and when he speculated about a relationship in his genealogical work, he made that clear, and attempted to leave hints and suggestions for further research.

Persons profiled in EFIA are referenced here by their entry number and the page number on which their profile appears, rather than by the page of the first appearance of their entry number, which is typically at the end of the parent’s profile in EFIA. For example, Abraham Elston is profile/entry 103 on p. 88 in EFIA: "Abraham was almost certainly the son of Samuel and Sarah Elston. He lived in Essex Co., now Union Co., N.J., near Westfield and moved to Orange Co., N.Y., near Port Jervis. This is the only Elston family before the Revolution where we have public records of both the marriage and baptism (or birth) of the children. [and so on . . .]"[5] The move to Orange County was in fact to the Town of Minisink in Orange Co.[6]

Many of Abraham's descendants are fairly clearly recorded, down to the time of publication of EFIA[2]; the main purpose of this project is to attempt to clearly establish what is known about his ancestors.

Ancestry of Abraham, Joseph, and John; Origin of Samuel(s) and Sarah(s)

As noted earlier, according to EFIA, "Abraham was almost certainly the son of Samuel and Sarah Elston."[7] Samuel appears as entry 40, p. 64 in EFIA, where he appears as "undoubtedly" the son of an earlier Samuel, entry 10, p. 49.[8]. This is a good place to repeat a 'complaint' that JSE makes somewhere in EFIA - that every early generation of the Elston family seems to have had at least one, if not several, members named John, William, Samuel, Abraham, Joseph, Peter, and/or David, and unraveling the relationships between them is a considerable challenge, and sometimes impossible in the face of incomplete surviving records. Documenting those unraveled relationships, and making clear the residual uncertainties adds additional challenges, both for the author and the reader. JSE makes the case for Samuel (entry 40) being the father of Abraham by reference to a family Bible originally belonging to an Asa Elston, known descendent of Abraham, and in the possession of Asa's great-grandson, Sidney Elston, at the time research for EFIA was done (late 1930's to early 1940's). From Asa's Bible: "Asa Elstone's G. Grandfather his name Samuel Elston Born 1721, G. Grandma named Sarah."[9] Note that no maiden name is given for Sarah - many online family trees have identified her as Sarah Spencer, but the source of this identification is not EFIA via Asa Elston's family Bible, and the author of this free space profile has not (yet) been able to track down a reliable source for this identification, or a record of the existence of a Sarah Spencer at an appropriate time period.

On WikiTree, prior to October 2020, the father of Abraham Elston-487 was given as Samuel Elston-145, b. abt. 1692, d. abt.1785. Samuel's wife was listed as Sarah Spencer (Spencer-4097); his parents were William E. Elston (Elston-147) and Elizabeth Jane Cole (Cole-4270). This information appears to have been entered through import of a GED, possibly from Ancestry.com or from FamilySearch, but without further citations or reasoning. To incorporate Samuel Elston's son, Samuel (b. 1721) in the line of descent to Abraham, I added Samuel Elston, in accordance with (using as a source) EFIA[10], along with Samuel's wife and children, including Abraham Elston-487. This created the somewhat unusual (but not impossible) situation of a father and mother, Samuel and Sarah (Spencer, presumably) having a son Samuel who then married another Sarah. I often wonder whether, in the online trees imported to WikiTree via GEDCOM's, these two Samuel-Sarah partnerships had been merged for economy, or because ambiguity in birth and/or death dates, their profiles appeared to represent one male and one female.

The profile of Sarah Spencer, the presumed wife of Samuel Elston, the elder, and mother of Samuel Elston, the younger, as of August 2022 has a bare, unsourced, profile produced by GEDCOM import, with no parentage.

When I created the profile for Samuel Elston (the younger), I added his spouse, Sarah, with "unknown" for a maiden name. I have an typewritten manuscript from my father, who died in 1973, before the internet was even dreamed of (by most people, anyway), listing Samuel (the elder) married to Sarah Littell, daughter of Isaac Littell, and Samuel (the younger) married to Sarah Spencer. There are obvious problems with this, to be discussed in later additions to this work, and opportunities for future research and resolution. I have no idea where my father got this information, other than that he occasionally corresponded with James Strode Elston, who was his second cousin, once removed, and may have gotten it from him. But I am also certain that I did not get all of my father's papers and files, so I may have lost the reasoning that led him to this conclusion.

Origin and Ancestry of William Elston of Staten Island

Following the Elston line further back on WikiTree, William Elston-147 is listed as having parents John Elston (abt.1634-abt.1700) (Elston-148) and Joan (Clapp) Elston (abt.1638-abt.1681). John is given as having been "born in 1634 at Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey to John and Joanna Warwick Waddock. He married Joan Clapp June 16, 1656 at Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts" (Quoted from John's bio on WikiTree as of 14 May 2021). The marriage of John and Joan Clapp is given as 1658 in New Jersey in the data fields, however.

John's (Elston-148) parentage is given as John Elston (abt.1608-abt.1701) (Elston-246) and Joanna Warwick (Waddock) Elston (abt.1612-abt.1693). John Elston (abt.1608-abt.1701) (Elston-246) is given in the data field of his profile as having been born in England, and thus is likely a participant in the Puritan Great Migration. In his bio, we learn that he was recorded in John Winthrop's journal as having been shipwrecked in 1631, with "two of Mr. Cradock's fisherman", in "the bay" (Massachusetts Bay) and rescued by Henry Way.[11][12] That he is recorded by name suggests he was well known by either Winthrop or someone close to Winthrop and not a mere fisherman, and probably close to on par with Henry Way. Joseph Felt, in "Annals of Salem", also records John Elston as a resident of Salem in 1631.[13]

The connection implied here (so far) between Abraham Samuel Elston (abt.1745-aft.1823) (Elston-487) and John Elston (abt.1608-abt.1701) (Elston-246) seems clear in the world WikiTree. Yet at the time of writing of EFIA[2], and later with Elston's Descent...[3], James Strode Elston was unable to find any documentary evidence of a link between John Elston of Salem (John Elston (abt.1608-abt.1701) (Elston-246) on WikiTree) and the John Elston (John Elston (abt.1634-abt.1700)) and William Elston (William E. Elston I (abt.1658-1727)) on WikiTree, who were among the first settlers of Woodbridge, New Jersey and ancestors of Abraham Samuel Elston (abt.1745-aft.1823) (Elston-487). The purpose of the next sections is to identify facts in dispute in some early Elston profiles on WikiTree, and to demonstrate that the stated connection is still uncertain and that the lines of descent involved are possibly, even probably, inaccurate.

Historical Context

Several items entered as facts or biographical elements in early Elston profiles are subject to dispute because of conflict, potential or actual, with historical records. The earliest documented record of an Elston in colonial America, John Elston (abt.1608-abt.1701) (Elston-246) and the subsequent history of this man as recorded in EFIA[14], along with the possible connection between this man and the Elston family that were original settlers of Woodbridge, New Jersey,[1] make the early colonial history of New England, New York (in particular, Long Island and Staten Island), and New Jersey relevant.

New Jersey

According to the official web site for the state of New Jersey[15], "Around 1524, Giovanni de Verrazano became the first European to explore New Jersey. He sailed along the coast and anchored off Sandy Hook. The colonial history of New Jersey started after Henry Hudson sailed through Newark Bay in 1609. Although Hudson was British, he worked for the Netherlands, so he claimed the land for the Dutch. It was called New Netherlands.

"Small trading colonies sprang up where the present towns of Hoboken and Jersey City are located. The Dutch, Swedes, and Finns were the first European settlers in New Jersey. Bergen, founded in 1660, was New Jersey's first permanent European settlement.

"In 1664 the Dutch lost New Netherlands when the British took control of the land and added it to their colonies. They divided the land in half and gave control to two proprietors: Sir George Carteret (who was in charge of the east side) and Lord John Berkley (who was in charge of the west side). The land was officially named New Jersey after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. Carteret had been governor of the Isle of Jersey."


"The Township of Woodbridge is the oldest original township in the state of New Jersey. It was settled in the early autumn of 1664 and was granted a charter on June 1, 1669 by King Charles of England. Joseph Dally, in his history of Woodbridge (Woodbridge and Vicinity, published 1873), records that it was so called in honor of Reverend John Woodbridge of Newbury, Massachusetts."[16][17]

New England

Disputed Origins and Facts

to be continued


  1. 1.0 1.1 Monnette, Orra Eugene, First Settlers of Ye Plantations of Piscataway and Woodbridge, Olde East New Jersey (7 vols) (Los Angeles, CA: Leroy Carmen Press, 1930), vol 4, p. 583, and vol 7, p. 1543; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library (https://www.hathitrust.org, accessed 14 Jun 2020)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Elston, James Strode. The Elston Family in America. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Pub. Co., 1942; available online (public domain, Google digitized) at the HathiTrust Digital Library: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/4484786.html.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Elston, James Strode. Descent from 79 Early Immigrant Heads of Families. 2 Volumes. Burlington, VT: Chedwato Service, 1962; available online (public domain, Google digitized) at the HathiTrust Digital Library: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89062948021.
  4. Elston, James S., Two Revolutionary Stephen Meads of Fairfield County: Joseph Mead (c. 1657 - 1714) and Son Jeremiah American Ancestors in The American Genealogist, New Haven, CT: D. L. Jacobus, April, 1968 (Vol 44 (1968), Pages 65-75) accessed online January, 20, 2014.
  5. Elston, The Elston Family in America, p.88
  6. U.S. Federal Census. Year: 1790; Census Place: Minisink, Orange, New York; Series: M637; Roll: 6; Page: 365; Image: 330; Family History Library Film: 0568146. Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: First Census of the United States, 1790 (NARA microfilm publication M637, 12 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  7. Elston, The Elston Family in America, p.88
  8. Elston, The Elston Family in America, p.64, p.49
  9. Elston, The Elston Family in America, p.64.
  10. Elston, The Elston Family in America, p.64.
  11. James Savage, editor, The history of New England from 1630 to 1649, by John Winthrop, esq., from his original manuscripts. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1853), vol I, p. 70; digital images, Google Books (https://books.Google.com: accessed 8 Aug 2016).
  12. Joseph B. Felt, Annals of Salem, 2 vols. (Salem: W. & S.B. Ives, and Boston:James Munroe & Co., 1849), vol I, pp. 522-523; also vol II, pp. 210-211; digital images, Google Books (https://books.Google.com: accessed 15 Oct 2020).
  13. Felt, Annals of Salem, vol I, p.548.
  14. Elston, The Elston Family in America, pp. 25-37.
  15. A Short History of New Jersey, https://www.nj.gov/nj/about/history/short_history.html, accessed 6Nov2021
  16. A Brief History, Woodbridge Township, New Jersey. https://www.twp.woodbridge.nj.us/313/A-Brief-History-of-Woodbridge-Township, accessed 6 Nov 2021
  17. Joseph W. Dally, Woodbridge and Vicinity (New Brunswick: A. E. Gordon, 1873); available online (public domain, Google digitized) at the HathiTrust Digital Library: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002014691811, accessed 6 Nov 2021.

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