|Fox Island, Rhode Island. Wikipedia.|
At least six published genealogies, beginning in 1893, refer to the ancestry of the Rhode Island/New York Tanner family. John Tanner, the most well known of the family, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1832. His descendants number in the tens of thousands, his son Sydney Tanner, alone, had 5073 descendants in 1982. Despite John Tanner’s extensive family, little scholarly attention has been paid to his ancestry. The published genealogies repeat, without critical comment, the conclusions of the Reverend George C. Tanner, in his 1905 book, who admits having done little original research. Many of the original source records that were previously difficult to obtain or even consult, have now been made available either on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah or in on-line sources. Some of the books that are now out-of-print, are readily available online (See links below in footnotes). The newly available sources provide an incentive to re-examine the early conclusions about John Tanner’s progenitors beginning with the immigrant, William Tanner.
Since the traditional printed family histories contained very scant source citations, In the course of these posts, my goal is to identify the existing source material available to either confirm or deny the traditional line of descent. In this regard, I will examine both published and microfilmed records. The microfilms will include the town records for Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island from the late 1600s through the 1800s. These records contained wills, deeds, earmark registrations, tax records and some probate information.
The earliest ancestor of John Tanner (1778 – 1850) and supposed immigrant, William Tanner is reported to have been born in approximately 1660 in England. Although it is apparent that the more recent books are uncritical copies of the original research, each of the books cite as the first evidence in America of William Tanner’s arrival, his signature as a witness on a disclaimer deed signed 12 May 1682. A search of the early immigrant passenger lists shows only one individual with the name of William Tanner who came to America in that time period. Although in the published books there is only a reference to “William Tanner” as a witness on a the disclaimer deed signed 12 May 1682, later that same year, a second deed was also signed and witnessed by William Tanner. In both cases, William Tanner acts as witness for the signature of Francis Houlding, the wife of Randall Houlding in making a disclaimer deed to her husband’s transfer of property. The real property, for both deeds, was located in “warrick” described as in “Narrangansett countrey” and included “Fox Island.” Fox Island is located in Narragansett Bay. Examination of the original record verifies the entry for both deeds.
It is interesting that this same Randall Holden (also known as Houlding) appears in Rhode Island history as a friend and supporter of Samuel Gorton, who, in the fall of 1643, with some of his supporters, barricaded themselves in a house in Massachusetts and held local soldiers at bay for two days, in an attempt to avoid imprisonment for “vituperative and blasphemous behavior.” Gorton’s crimes included truculence toward authority and lack of respect for the colony’s judges. Gorton joined Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and other free thinkers in Rhode Island. William Tanner’s association with these notorious radicals as well as his residence in Rhode Island, known for its nonconformity to the rest of New England, may reflect his own views.
In future posts, I will examine the evidence available documenting the life of William Tanner and his descendants.
Tanner, George C. William Tanner of South Kingstonand His Descendants. Faribault, Minnesota: Self Published, 1905.
Tanner, George C. William Tanner of South Kingstonand His Descendants. Faribault, Minnesota: Self Published, 1910.
Tanner, Maurice. Descendants of John Tanner, BornAugust 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, R. I. Died April 15, 1850 at South Cottonwood,Salt Lake County, Utah. The Tanner Family Association, 1942.
Tanner, George Shepherd. John Tanner and His Family. Salt Lake City, Utah: The John Tanner Family Association, 1974.
De Brouwer, Elizabeth, Compiler, and George Shepherd Tanner. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants, Pioneer Freighter ofthe West, 1809 - 1895. Salt Lake City, Utah: Sidney Tanner Family Organization, 1982.
 Since there is no verified connection between the William Tanner listed as an emigrant to America and William Tanner of Rhode Island, it is possible that William Tanner may have been born in Massachusetts or New York and moved to Rhode Island.
 The name of William Tanner’s father has not been substantiated, although many family group sheets refer to him as Francis without citing any source for the information.
 Representative men & old families of Rhode Island, genealogical records and historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and of many of the old families (Chicago, Illinois, J.H. Beers & Co., 1908, Page 1344. The source states as follows: “William Tanner, the first of the Tanner family of whom any data can be had, first appears on the Rhode Island records in 1682, and was probably born between 1660-1665, and died after 1735. He was one of the constituent members of the original Seventh Day Baptist Church of Westerly, now Hopkinton, and the records show that he paid Governor Andre's tax in 1687, bought land in 1693, on which he was buried, and was a man of influence and deep religious convictions. He is thought to have come from the west of England, and to have been a "yeoman" or "planter." He was admitted a freeman in South Kingstown. By his third wife, Elizabeth Cottrell, he had a son, Francis Tanner, born in South Kingstown, R. I., July 3, 1708, who died Jan. 3, 1777.”
 Cole, J. R. History of Washington and Kent Counties, Rhode Island Including TheirEarly Settlement and Progress to the Present Time; A Description of TheirHistoric and Interesting Localities; Sketches of Their Towns and Villages;Portraits of Some of Their Prominent Men, and Biographies of Many of TheirRepresentative Citizens. New York, New York: W.W. Preston Co., 1889; Salem, Massachusetts: Higginson Book Company. Facsimile.His burial location has also been cited as Usequepaugh, Kent, Rhode Island.
 James N. Arnold, Editor of the Narrangansett Historical Register, Compiler, The Records of the Proprietors ofNarrangansett. Otherwise Called the Fones Record, Rhode Island ColonialGleanings, n.d. Pages 79 and 108.
 Gale Research. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2005. Original data: Filby, P. William, ed.. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2005.
 Peter Wilson Coldham, Bonded Passengers to America, 9 vols. in 3. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. Vol. 6. Oxford Circuit, 1663-1775: Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire. 95p. Page: 54. (This compilation of records did not exist at the time any of the four previously cited compiled genealogies were written)
 Arnold, Fones Record, Pages 79 and 108. As a matter of note, Reverend Tanner cites page 70, the incorrect page for the reference to William Tanner. He also fails to note the reference to the second deed on Page 108.
 See American Indian Place Names In Rhode Island Database, http://www.rootsweb.com/~rigenweb/IndianPlaceNames8.html#_ftn89 Native American names associated with Fox Island include Sonanoxet , Sowananoxet, Azoiquoneset, Nonequasset, and Nanaquonset.