Family ties to revolution: A historical legacy

Thursday July 4, 2013

Special to Berkshires Week

A curious thing happened about three decades ago, when my father got a call out of the blue from a woman who claimed to be related to him. She was a descendant of a Boston branch of the family that believed it had arrived in this country in 1684 via an Englishman named Francis Fullam.

An Englishman? Heavens, no. My father’s family were Irish, from Dublin, arriving in 1848. They were bricklayers, tough guys. They grew up in the Bronx, went to Catholic schools, got drunk and tookthe fireman’s test. They played football as a blood sport. They boxed. In fact, one of them was crowned the 1931 U.S. National Amateur Boxing Middleweight Champion. Every Fullam in pants felt he had to defend that title.

Brick by brick, they built the city they loved.

They loathed Englishmen as traditional foes.

My father’s caller, on the other hand, was aghast that she might be related to Fullams who were Irish and Catholic. She had a decidedly different outlook. Her ancestor, Colonel Francis Fullam, was a member of the Colonial Militia. He suffered the death of his son Jacob at Lovewell’s Fight. Five of his greatgrandsons, Timothy, Francis, Phineas, Jacob and Oliver, were soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

My father asked me to investigate. After he passed, in 1997, my cousin gave me a letter my father left for me. In it, he asked me to investigate his grandfather’s murder, and while I was at it to clear up the mystery of where we originated.

So I started delving into the paper trail left by Fullams. It’s taken me back to the Doomsday Book census of 1066 A.D. and brought me forward through centuries of history to meeting with the present day Dubliners named Fullam, my distant cousins by four generations.

And, along the way, I solved the mystery of Francis Fullam.

Incidentally, neither my Dad nor his caller was right.

We are English Catholics, a rare breed that Lord Cromwell, in service to King Henry VIII, believed he exterminated during his pogroms of the 17th century. However, we survived. And it was during that time of repression that young Francis Fullam was sold into bonded service for eight years to pay off his dead father’s debts.

Documents I unearthed at the London Municipal Corporation, through the British Library portal, contradict Volney Sewall Fulham’s 1909 published 291-page genealogy of the Francis Fullam line.

(More on the spelling later.)

"Francis Fulham," writes Volney, "from London, England, died in Weston, Ma. Jan. 15, 1758, in his 88th year. No record of his nativity, made in his lifetime, is known."

Ever careful, Volney, a lawyer, hedged his bets before proceeding: "The Author’s father, in writing of this ancestor five generations before him says: Francis Fulham was born at Fulham’s P(a)lace near London, England, in the year 1669; when about 14 years old he was sent to America by his brothers -- his father being dead -- to be educated at Harvard College; the man with whom he was intrusted kept the money sent to pay the expenses of his education."

Poor Francis -- who set sail as an indentured servant -- arrived in Boston well dressed enough though that those who met him believed his story. Where did he get his finery? And what happened to the son of Peter Noyce, a young man sent to Dublin to retrieve his father’s servant? He died on the return trip to America. And, I am sure, therein lies a tale.

Francis distinguished himself as a founder of Lunenburg. Before his death and burial at Farmer’s Burial Ground, Weston, he traveled the circuit as a judge and his homestead remained in the family until the early 20th century. His son, Jacob, is memorialized in Fryeburg, Maine, on a monument erected by Volney to the heroes of Lovewell’s Fight, also known as the Battle of Pequawket where, on May 9, 1725, the New Englanders fought the Abenakis over settlement rights along the Kennebec River.

Jacob, who is buried with his father at Farmer’s, inspired his sons and their sons to enlist in various militia, fighting in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. Jacob’s grandson Phineas was a post rider, like Paul Revere. He was hired to spread the word of the April 19, 1775 engagements at Concord and Lexington, the opening salvos of the war.

An eyewitness account of the Battle of Concord, which Phineas wrote, can be read online at The Guilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Descendants of Francis continued to distinguish themselves in the U.S. Military. Perhaps the most renowned was Rear Admiral William Freeland Fullam, after whom the destroyer U.S. Fullam (DD-474) was named.

As to the spelling? "Fullam is what you write when you’re out in the country," a Dubliner told me. "When you’re in the city (Dublin), you put down Fulham. It’s more English. It’s dressier."

And, that boxing champion? His name was Frank Fullam. He was baptizedFrancis.

Just a few weeks ago, I got an email from the daughter of the woman who called my father. Her name is Annie. She had found my facebook page. What did she write?

"We look like sisters!"


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