Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Current Status of the Family of William Tanner of Rhode Island

Prescott Farm, Middletown, Rhode Island. From susteph at Flickr.

The facts surrounding the birth and death of William Tanner of Rhode Island, the Great-grandfather or Great-great-grandfather of John Tanner (b. 1778, d. 1850) are only very scantily documented in the printed genealogies and undocumented entirely by the thousands of his descendants who have copied the records from the printed genealogies. I have begun the task of adequately documenting his life, to extent possible, from the original records in Rhode Island or wherever they may be found.

The absence of a death record for William Tanner has some recently compiled family group records showing a death date as late as the 1770s making him over 110 years old at death. This assumption is not impossible but is only a very remote possibility. The last record of William Tanner may date from 1735 although it is not clear, from the existing records, and certainly more likely, that references to “William Tanner” after 1712 refer to his son, William Tanner who was born in 1687. The lack of any further records makes it possible that the immigrant died in, or shortly after 1735.

If the record is correct concerning the identity of “William Tanner” as a witness on a the disclaimer deed signed 12 May 1682,[1] and later that same year, a second deed also signed and witnessed by William Tanner and if in both cases, William Tanner acted as a witness for the signature of Francis Houlding, the wife of Randall Houlding in making a disclaimer deed to her husband’s transfer of property, then at the time of the attestation, he must have been “of age.”[2]  In England and the Colonies at that time he could have been as young as 14. If that is the case, he was born no later than 1868 but quite possibly earlier. Examination of the original record verifies the entry for both deeds.[3] However, as I note below, he was likely married and having children by, at least, 1686 or 7 so an older age for the witnessing of the deed would be indicated.

I give the Ancestral File numbers for the individuals mentioned in this post for the reason that the information in the Ancestral File is widely copied without further examination or question and has been incorporated, in part, in the program, Family Tree. Should you find this family among your ancestors, you are certainly encouraged to do more research or provide more information. However, the current status of’s Family Tree does not permit a further investigation into the subject due to unresolved duplicate entries. Any adjustment in the generations reported will contradict the extensive copies of this family in a variety of published surname books and thousands of online family trees.

Some of the unsubstantiated family group records show that William married (1) Hannah Tibbetts[4], daughter of Henry Tibbetts and Sarah Stanton, about 1686 in North Kingstown (or Kings Towne), Rhode Island. Hannah was born in 1664 in Kings Towne, Rhode Island, died in 1713 in Kings Towne, Providence Plantation, Rhode Island at age 49, and was buried in Rhode Island. Although many family group records show up to seven children for this marriage, it is very unlikely that this information is correct. Given the dates of his subsequent marriages, there are only two children possible; an unidentified child and William.

  i         Tanner was born on 19 Jan.[5]

 ii         William Tanner[6] was born in 1687 in North Kingston, Rhode Island, died on 13 Jun 1757 in Rhode Island at age 70, and was buried in Rhode Island.

William next married (2) Mary Babcock, daughter of Job Babcock and Jane Crandall.  They had four children: Benjamin, John, Avis, and Mary.[7]

iii         Benjamin Tanner was born on 24 Dec 1692 of Rhode Island.

iv         John Tanner.

v          Avis Tanner was born in South Kingston, Kings, Rhode Island.

Avis married Thomas Barber on 18 Apr 1723 in South Kingston, Kings, Rhode Island.[8]

vi         Mary Tanner was born in South Kingston, Kings, Rhode Island.

Mary2 married Lawrence Willett.[9] Lawrence was born of North Kingston, Kings, Rhode Island.[10]

William next married (3) Elizabeth Cottrill[11] in South Kingston, Rhode Island.  They had six children: Francis, Nathan, Anna, Rebecca, Elizabeth, and Abigail.

2 vii     Francis2 Tanner[12] was born on 3 Jul 1708 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island, died on 3 Jan 1777 in Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island, at age 68, and was buried in Jan 1777 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island.

viii       Nathan Tanner was born on 20 Feb 1709 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island and died on 12 Sep 1807 at age 98.[13]

Nathan2 married Mary Cottrell on 28 May 1734.[14]

ix         Anna Tanner[15] was born on 15 Mar 1712 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island,18 died in Rhode Island, and was buried in Rhode Island.

x          Rebecca Tanner[16] was born on 2 Jul 1714 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island and died about 1739 in Westerly, Washington, Rhode Island, USA about age 25. 

Rebecca married Benjamin Brand.[17]

xi         Elizabeth Tanner[18] was born on 14 Nov 1717 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island. 

Elizabeth2 married Benjamin Burdick.[19]

xii        Abigail Tanner[20] was born on 17 Oct 1719 in South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island, died in Rhode Island, and was buried in Rhode Island. 

William next married (4) Elizabeth Colgrove, daughter of Francis Colgrove and Anna Colgrove. Elizabeth was born about 1686 in Kings Towne, Rhode Island and died on 10 Nov 1745 about age 59. The John Tanner Family book by Maurice Tanner[21] has Elizabeth Colgrove as the third wife of William Tanner. However, the book also says that Elizabeth Cottrill is the "third wife." The information given is confusing and incomplete. I am listing Elizabeth Colgrove as the fourth wife with no children. Elizabeth Cottrill[22] becomes the third wife and the mother of Francis2 Tanner. The children of William Tanner are listed in an additional source, an article found in the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine for January, 1939.[23] Although this article, a transcription of an early journal, seems to support the order and names of William Tanner’s children, it may simply reflect the listing of the published genealogies cited above. 

If I were going to speculate, I would guess that the marriages of “William Tanner” to both Elizabeth Cottrill and Elizabeth Colgrove were the son, William Tanner and not the immigrant.

Present Conclusion

There is still a considerable amount of research left to be done on the progenitors of John Tanner. There is little or no support for the identification of the wives of his great-grandfather, William Tanner or the order or identity of William Tanner’s wives. Although there have been extremely scanty citations to source material in the published histories, subsequent research has confirmed the basic outline of John Tanner’s pedigree. Local town records recorded his birth, his parents’ names and other documents, including his grandfather, Francis Tanner’s will, confirm the members of these families.

Despite the additional research, it is still possible that there is a generation skipped. William Tanner (abt 1660 – abt 1735) may not have been the father of Francis Tanner (1708 – 1777). William Tanner’s son, also named William Tanner, may have been the father. This issue remains entirely conjectural. Although I have examined extensive source material there still remains a significant amount of research of the history to be done.

[1] Arnold, James N., Editor of the Narrangansett Historical Register, Compiler, The Records of the Proprietors of Narrangansett. Otherwise Called the Fones Record, Rhode Island Colonial Gleanings, n.d., Pages 79 and 108. As a matter of note, Tanner, George C., Reverend, William Tanner of South Kingston and his Descendants, Faribault, Minnesota (Self Published, 1910). 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.
[2] Blackstone, William, and William Carey Jones. Commentaries on the Laws of England. San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney Co, 1915, Book 1, Chapter  17.
[3] Ibid Arnold, James N.
[4] Austin, John Osborne , 1849-1918, and Moriarty, G. Andrews (George Andrews), 1883-1968, Rhode Island Genealogical Dictionary The genealogical dictionary of Rhode Island : comprising three generations of settlers who came before 1690 (with many families carried to the fourth generation), originally published in Albany, N.Y. : Joel Munsell's Sons, 1887, revised edition, Baltimore, Maryland Genealogical Publishing Inc.,  The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1969 cites will of Henry Tibbets leaving land to his grandson, William Tanner.
[5] Ibid. Austin, John Osborne , 1849-1918, and Moriarty, G. Andrews (George Andrews), 1883-1968.  Month and day of birth is given but no year.
[6] Ancestral File (R), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ancestral File (R) (Copyright (c) 1987, June 1998, data as of 5 January 1998). Ancestral File Number: GXLP-FD.
[7] Tanner, George C., Reverend, William Tanner of South Kingston and his Descendants, Faribault, Minnesota (Self Published, 1910).
[8] Tanner, Maurice, Descendants of John Tanner, Born August 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, R. I. Died April 15, 1850 at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah, The Tanner Family Association, 1942.
[9] Ibid Tanner, George C., Reverend. His name was also spelled Violett, Vilate, and Vilet.
[10] Ibid Tanner, Maurice.
[11] Ibid Tanner, Maurice. Also deed from William Tanner to Benjamin Tanner, 1723 shows wife of William Tanner as Elizabeth.
[12] Ancestral File Number: 3BK0-DL.
[13] Ancestral File Number: 3BK1-FW.
[14] Ibid Tanner, Maurice.
[15] Ancestral File Number: 3BK1-G3.
[16] Ancestral File Number: 3BK1-H8.
[17] Ibid Tanner, Maurice.
[18] Ancestral File Number: 3BK1-JF.
[19] Ibid Tanner, Maurice.
[20] Ancestral File Number: 3BK1-KL.
[21] Ibid Tanner, Maurice.
[22] Ibid Tanner, Maurice. Author has name listed as Elizabeth Cottrell (probably name of former husband) also
listed as Elizabeth Gardiner (but former husband is also named Gardiner)
[23] The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Salt Lake City, Utah, The Genealogical Society of Utah, Vol. XXX, January, 1939. Page 215, “Finding the Ancestors of Susanna West.”


  1. You know, I've been working on William Tanner for 30+ years, which is most of my adult life. I am a direct descendant of Wm and Mary Babcock. I recently hired a Genealogist from England who was willing to see if they could locate the correct William b. Abt 1660. It took just about 8 months to find the right William. He was found in St. Margaret, Chipstead Parish, Surrey,
    England. His father's name was NOT a Francis, but a John Tanner b. 1631 and his mother was an Elizabeth. Wm had 3 siblings, all were females. The Genealogist also felt that Wm had a brother named John b. 1656. This John died in CT. This John's birth was not recorded in Chipstead, but rather in Maidstone, Kent, England. This John's parents were also a John Tanner and Elizabeth, both born with the same dates. So, Walla, Wm almost certainly had a brother named John. There are no ship records for Wm and John coming to US, because many records were destroyed in earlier fires that pertain to this time period. Getting back to Wm and his true birth date. This is again recorded in the Chipstead Parish records as having been 10 Mar 1657. His parents again are, John Tanner b. 1631 and Elizabeth. Interesting to note, that John Tanner b. 1631 father is William, mother is Anne Hill. They had two children, one of which was John just mentioned. The second son was named Francis Tanner b. Abt 1635. Sound familiar??? So, it would appear that Francis was a UNCLE of Wm and not his father. I have found that all of the books written on Wm's genealogy and origins are very confusing and based on pure speculation at best. This Wm b. in 1657 ( oh yes, this is a baptizm record of 10 Mar 1657 and not his actual BD). This new information obtained by the Genealogist I believe is accurate and the real William Tanner is now accounted for. He was not a prisoner. This also was checked by the Genealogist. So, you can all do whatever you want with this information, as for me, this is the right Wm with proof.

    1. Hello Peggy,
      Thank you for posting this research. I am currently helping John D. Tanner with his family history and this helps somewhat to understand the confusion about this early ancestor. I would be interested to know if you have had any comments about your assertions and speculations.
      Thanks, again.
      Maurine Nuttall
      Granite Bay, CA

    2. Hi Maurine,

      You might want to follow the additional discussion here:

      The Colonial Heritage of John Tanner

    3. Hi Peggy,

      I have seen your comments here and elsewhere and am fascinated by them. My connection to William Tanner is through a son named Nathan (b.1709). My mother's research shows Nathan's mother to be Elizabeth Colgrove, but after reading your post, I think Mary Babcock might be the better choice. Does your research show a son named Nathan?

      Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.


      Tom Castele

  2. Maurine,

    Thank you for your assertions and speculations! No further comment to you.