John Hancock by Charles Willson Peale. Courtesy of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

I attended a meeting of the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter this past Saturday, to support the accomplishment of this year’s Good Citizen essay contest winner. So far, students from the high school where I work have a three-for-three record of winning, and last year’s entrant even went on to win the state competition!

Along with the essay contest winner, her friend, and a couple of others, I was introduced as a guest … and was surprised that one lady commented on my blog posts for Vita Brevis. She mentioned that I might be a prospective member, probably recalling something I wrote several months ago that mentioned an ancestor’s connections to John Hancock.

Ironically, just the day before I attended the DAR meeting I’d read with great interest J. L. Bell’s “Boston 1775” blog post about miniatures of John Hancock and his two children being rediscovered. How exciting that the three portraits have been reunited![1]

But here’s the deal: while distant cousins became members of the DAR through James Athearn (1725–1814) of Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, he has since been “red-lined,” meaning that he is currently not recognized as a proven patriot. Of course this makes me sad and a little perplexed, given the documents that I have been able to locate – even from my location in the hinterlands of the West Coast.

First is the letter in the NEHGS collections, sent by John Hancock from Philadelphia and dated 22 June 1776. It is addressed to “James Athearn Esq. Commander in Chief in and over the Sons of Liberty in the free County of Dukes County,” and the final line is: “I shall write you further by Mr. Bant who sets out from this City to morrow.”

Two letters from William Bant (1738–1780) to John Hancock, which mention “Col. Athearn,” are included in Historical Manuscripts in the Public Library of the City of Boston, published in 1900. One was sent from Rehoboth on 25 March 1776: “I wrote to Col. Athearn this morning … I am now ready to go to Dartmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, and any, or every, where else that you may want on your Business…”

“I hope The time won’t be long before I may have ye Happiness of seeing you & the good Lady your aunt once more Settled in your once Pleasant & Peaceable Habitation.”

The other was written from Boston and dated 19 October 1776. “I have had the pleasure of a Visit from Col. Athearn, inclosed you have a Letter from him, by which you will see that he has received of Capt. Kendrick[2] (who is gone on a Cruize against the Enemy) for your Account… [He] tells me he has wrote you fully what prospect he has of selling the other Vessells.”

These allusions to Colonel Athearn (likely an honorary title) and his handling of John Hancock’s economic interests perfectly coincide with the contents of several letters between John Hancock and James Athearn. The most interesting one was sent to John Hancock in Philadelphia and dated “Martha’s Vineyard 14 Septr 1775”:[3]

“The Present Situation of Publick affairs in which you have Taken so Large a part Requires your Presence at Philadelphia therefore am Deprived of the Pleasure of your Company when I have been at Watertown &c.[4] I hope The time won’t be long before I may have ye Happiness of seeing you & the good Lady your aunt once more Settled in your once Pleasant & Peaceable Habitation.[5] Sir your Brig Undutied Tax, now Lies here.…

“Upon Capt. Kendrick’s arrival he applied to me[.] I Thought he had best Lay the Vessel up at Nantuckett as being more Safe, but She is Still here …

“Conclude with my best Wishes for your Health & Prosperity & Success in your Worthy & Glorious Strugles for Liberty. Present my Duty to the Good Lady your Aunt[6] & respects to Miss Dolly[7] at the Same time.”

Dear Daughters of the American Revolution: I rest my case.


[1] The whole article, written by Pamela Ehrlich in Antiques and Fine Art magazine and at the “Incollect” site, can be found here.

[2] Capt. John Kendrick (1740–1794) commanded the privateer Fanny, which played a significant part in the Continental Navy. He was also reputedly a participant in the Boston Tea Party. In 1787, he and Capt. Robert Gray commanded the two vessels involved in the Columbia Expedition, the first circumnavigation of the globe by Americans.

[3] In the collections of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

[4] John Hancock and James Athearn were both elected to the Third Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which assembled at Watertown on 31 May 1775. However, John Hancock had also been elected to serve in the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia that same May, and therefore was not present in Watertown.

[5] The Hancock mansion in Boston had been damaged by British forces in April 1775, and was used as a hospital and also as the headquarters for General Henry Clinton.

[6] Lydia (Henchman) Hancock (1714–1776) helped rear the orphaned John Hancock, who became heir to her husband’s fortune and business.

[7] Dorothy Quincy (1747–1830) had just married John Hancock on 28 August, and the news evidently had not yet reached James Athearn on Martha’s Vineyard. With Lydia (Henchman) Hancock, she had been present at the commencement of hostilities at Lexington on 19 April that year.

About Pamela Athearn Filbert

Pamela Athearn Filbert was born in Berkeley, California, but considers herself a “native Oregonian born in exile,” since her maternal great-great-grandparents arrived via the Oregon Trail, and she herself moved to Oregon well before her second birthday. She met her husband (an actual native Oregonian whose parents lived two blocks from hers in Berkeley) in London, England. She holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon, and has worked as a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon; she was most recently the college and career program coordinator at her local high school.

18 thoughts on “Red-lined

  1. This probably happened because of Grey’s Raid on Martha’s Vineyard in 1778. Because the residents of the island gave the British livestock, arms, and the money intended for the Continental Congress, DAR deems this “last verifiable act” to be pro-British.It doesn’t matter under what circumstances. If you can prove that your ancestor either a) wasn’t on the island at the time, or b) contributed to the cause in some other way, somewhere else after 1778, you can submit your paper. Believe me, you are NOT alone. No one can submit papers for anyone on Long Island because of Tryon’s List. All previous Patriots have been, or will be coded because of that.

      1. Long Island and most of the NYC area was occupied by the British during most of the Revolutionary War. As a result, some people took oaths of allegiance to the King for economic reasons e.g. if they wanted to conduct business in the area. Others took the oath because they were loyal to the King or believe that the British would win the war. Many people who did not wish to sign left the area, and supported the American cause. In some cases, the property of those who left to support the American cause had their property confiscated by the British.

  2. Red-Lined doesn’t mean forever not recognized only that he was not proven by today’s genealogical proof standard. It appears that you may have substantial proof that he was a patriot. Don’t give up on membership.

  3. Thanks for the explanation! I know the Massachusetts General Court requested a flag from George Washington so that James Athearn could travel to New York to get restitution from the British for the livestock exacted by Grey, but there’s no evidence that ever happened. I know the folks on Massachsetts’s Islands felt isolated and abandoned by the government on the mainland. I mean what ARE you supposed to do when well-armed alien troops demands food and there’s no one around to protect you??

    1. Lots up people gave up food and livestock unwillingly to save their lives at the time. I know NJ has some records of citizens claiming restitution losses, but don’t know about Massachusetts. I would think a record of the Court requesting a flag etc. would have some validity. I know some DAR members are working on red-lined cases. I could make inquiries if you’d like.

    2. And why would the MA General Court make such a request? Because James Athearn ASKED them to do so. There’s your FIRST post-Grey’s Raid pro-Patriot action by JA right there. Does MA S&S in the Rev have an entry on him re post 1778? Are there more letters re JA in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum re post 1778 activities & etc.

      As the next two posters indicate, you just have to decide to apply and work on it. You will succeed and that will make a lot of future membership applications so much easier to get through for others. And its good to have goals!

  4. The red line just means there is something in the original lineage that needs to be looked over carefully and proved. Don’t give up hope! Simply fill out a full set of DAR papers with proofs and submit. You may be just the one to remove that red line.

  5. I have had the honor and fun of getting several PAtriot ancestors out of red line status with DAR. Anyone can do it. The caveat is that you prepare an application using the Patriot or a supplement if you are already a member. You document the persons line to you, clear up any issues such as proof of residency and or service and submit and if your research is good paperwork is approved and no more red lined ancestors.

    1. I tried to have a person red-lined. About 18 months later I was informed that it wasn’r going to happen.I live near Washington, DC so I dropped in. The action was taken by a volunteer. They couldn’t tell me what research she did to ascertain my report wasn’t correct. It is fairly easy to find out that there were two men with the same name. Two different estate settlements. They didn’t do it!

      1. There are no volunteers in the Genealogy Dept. If acceptable documentation, it’s will be reviewed and evaluated.

  6. Pamela, the most recent member entering on Athearn’s name was approved in 1966, over 50 years ago. The patriot file is not closed to new applicants, but the applicant must prove acceptable documentation of service to the correct James Athearn. DAR reviews documentation received with an application, but does not do the research themselves unless working on a “cold case”. You may contact me via the chapter you attended on Saturday.

    1. Sometimes they are red-lined for very simple reasons. I just had a prospective become a member via a “red-lined” patriot and the “red-line” is now removed. He was red-lined simply because no one had joined using him since 1894.

  7. DAR does make mistakes. I have tried to correct one of theirs for a decade, and they are very stubborn. However, I have not given up on them and MAY again submit papers to clean up their information – or not. I do have seven approvals in my mother’s line and one in my father’s but know of 12-15 more. Sometimes it’s just not worth the aggravation.

    1. The Staff at the NSDAR are not stubborn. It takes ALOT to code and close a line- the correct terminology, not red-lined- and it requires acceptable documentation to re-open a line, whether it is for service or lineage. Service for the DAR is last act: if the last act was deemed to be in association with the British, then the line is closed. In order to re-open it, acceptable service for American Independence from an acceptable source must be submitted with a new application or supplemental showing said service as occurring AFTER the act that closed the line. And yes, I am a staff genealogist at the NSDAR, I am on the Corrections Team, and I code ancestors that may result in their lines being closed or opened.

  8. Pamela, I feel your pain. Correct me if I am wrong here, but it seems that all you are asking for is to be heard out on your ancestor – and not to have doors closed??

    I think I read once (here someplace…) that we “out here in the hinterlands” are often the most knowlegable of, and the best representative for, any one of our ancestors. Not ever having had plans of joining the NSDAR anytime soon, let me just say I that having argued lineage proofs elsewhere (Plymouth are you out there?) and that there is nothing more devilish than the stodgy and unreasoning court of approval and denial. (I have heard of the NSDAR returning applications for punctuation formats – wow…) I guess that’s what makes them all so wonderfully prestigious, amazing, and utterly petty at the same time. However, after all is said and done I think you are just asking to be “proven wrong.”

    So far I am not seeing that you have been, but I often don’t play by the rules. In very my humble and unsolicited opinion:

    You go girl, you got this one!!!

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