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Possible Profile of Origins of Thomas Bird of Hartford: An unproven theory

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Some new clues about Thomas Bird of CT, d. 1662 - related to composer William Byrd's family?

Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2002 20:54:07 -0500

I have been chipping away at a theory for some time about the origins of Thomas Bird of Hartford, CT (d. 1662). He is the immigrant ancestor for the Birds of Hartford and Farmington, CT; later generations moved west to VT, central NY state, and WI.

There has been a theory circulating for what I assume has been a long time that Thomas Bird of Hartford was related to the famous Elizabethan composer William Byrd (1540-1623). Those advancing this theory have usually identified the composer's grandson Thomas Bird (son of Christopher, and b. 1595 in Stondon Massey, Essex) as the same person that appears in Hartford by 1644. However, there has not been much evidence to support this theory.

Recently, I attacked this problem from a different direction, that of attempting to trace the ancestry of known associates of Thomas Bird of Hartford. In the probate/inventory of Thomas Bird's estate (apparently not a will - he may have died suddenly), published in CT Probate Records (Hartford district), I noticed the names of several individuals outside of the immediate family mentioned: Thomas Cole, John Belden, Thomas Bunce, Sgt. Watts. Most sources (including Torrey) identify the wife of Thomas Bird as Mary Belden, based on the association with John Belden in the probate record. A recent issue of TAG (in the 2000 volume) has identified the origins of the Beldens of Wethersfield, CT as Heptonstall parish, Yorkshire, England. (This is also the home parish of Christopher Wadsworth, as it turns out.)

A Mary Belden was baptised there in 1601, the dau. of Lawrence Belden (and sister of Richard Belden of CT). Although there is no direct evidence of a marriage between Thomas Bird and Mary Belden, the circumstantial evidence is convincing enough to accept identification of Mary as Thomas' wife at the time of his demise. (It may not have been his first marriage, though.) All of this information is well known, and is provided merely as background.

When I examined the family of John Belden, I noticed that his daughter-in-law (married to Jonathan Belden) was named Mary Wright. I also remembered that there was a John Wright (1580-1661) of Kelvedon Hatch, Essex that was named in 1604 as a "popish recusant" along with William Byrd (the Elizabethan composer, who lived across the meadow from the Wrights of KH). I did some quick investigating of the Wrights of CT. Although they were certainly not Catholics, they were indeed descended from the Wrights of Kelvedon Hatch! They are descendants of Robert Wright (1516-1587), the second son of "Sir" John Wright (1488-1551) of KH. His great-grandson is the John Wright recusant of 1604, and THAT John Wright is second cousins with the John Wright who married Grace Glasscock, and who was the father of Thomas Wright (d. 1683) of Wethersfield, CT! (There are *several* other John Wrights, including three brothers known as "Elder" John, "Myddle" John, and "John the Younger"; all brothers of the above Robert Wright.)

I noticed that the Wrights of CT intermarried several times with the Beldens over the next two generations. They also intermarry with the Woodfords, another important family in the Birds of CT genealogy. Interestingly, they do NOT appear to intermarry AT ALL with the Birds of CT. Perhaps there was previous intermarrying in England?

A little music history: The most important English composers of Elizabeth I's and James I's periods were Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, John Bull, Orlando Gibbons, and Jeremiah Clarke. It is a matter of historical record that all of these people had extensive contact with each other, except for Clarke and Tallis (who were at opposite ends of this historical period).

Here are several facts. One of Thomas Bird's sons was named James. Thomas Bird of CT's other son, Joseph, married a Mary Clarke. It is well established that the Bunce family intermarried with the Thomas Bull family. There is a William Gibbons in Hartford during this time. These people all lived near each other on the "south" side of Hartford or the "north" side of Wethersfield. Some of you may know where I'm headed with this by now. Is it possible that a little "artist colony" (or more accurately, relatives of Elizabethan/Jacobean musicians) made up a certain section of early Hartford?

There's more. John Harley (a recent English Byrd biographer) successfully identified the family of the composer WB in his book "William Byrd: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal" (1997), and gave his brother's name as Simon Bird (there is also a John Bird, another brother, who had no descendants). Simon Bird lived in London, and had a son Thomas Bird, who was an Anglican rector in the county of Berkshire. Thomas had four children, Thomas, Simon, John and one other child, whose name I've forgotten for the moment; all were born by 1615, when Thomas the rector died.

Harley also states, with fairly compelling supporting evidence, that the grandson of William Byrd (Thomas, b. 1595) was unmarried in 1634, and that he was a Catholic at least until May 1638; whereupon he disappears from the record, and that he probably was "dsp". I am inclined to agree with his assessment.

My theory is that Thomas Bird of CT is descended from the line of William Byrd's brother Simon, rather than from William himself. However, Harley does not provide the baptismal records (or birthdates) for the four children of Thomas Bird of Berkshire.

In a followup article in the Oxford University publication "Music and Letters", John Harley also identifies Sir Thomas Smith, "Customer Inward to Queen Elizabeth", as a close associate of William Byrd, the Mercer ("Customer Outward" - Smith's partner at the customs office). This namesake of the composer is probably related to the composer, according to Harley. WB the Mercer is descended from the Birds of Yowley, Cheshire (Visitation of 1580, Chester; Visitation of 1634, Essex). Now the question arises, are the Smiths of Hartford, CT related to Sir Thomas Smith? Have you ever tried to research "Thomas Smith" on the internet? Ouch! It makes the plethora of Thomas Birds look paltry by comparison. :-)

Another possible clue is the witness to the "will" of Thomas Bird of CT, Thomas Cole. According to Emmison's "Elizabethan Life - Morals and the Church" (p. 51), there was a John Cole of Kelvedon Hatch named, who was the rector of Ongar/Stanford Rivers. I don't know if the two are related yet.

It's a lot of semi-connected associations for now, but because of the establishment of a definite link between the Wrights of Wethersfield and the Wrights of Kelvedon Hatch, I believe that this theory is worth investigating. To anyone who's read this far, I would love to collaborate with individuals who have done some serious research on the possible connection between William Byrd the composer and Thomas Bird of CT. I could also really use some help with the records at the Essex Records Office, if anyone on this list lives within a short distance of Colchester.

Please e-mail me privately if you wish to collaborate. Everyone else, please don't quote this as established fact!!! It's still just a working theory.

Best regards, Steve Bird

Dr. Steven Bird, Director of Orchestras, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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