A Tale of Two Brayton Descents

Home of John Summerfield Brayton, built ca. 1870, once stood at 369 Highland Avenue, Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo from author’s copy of “Fall River, 1911, A City of Opportunity.”

Anyone who lived in Fall River, Massachusetts more than fifty years ago would recognize the Brayton name as a power family from the city’s glory days. A block away from my childhood home, the boundary of the baronial John Summerfield Brayton estate was marked by a substantial granite wall with a pointed cap, stretching along Highland Avenue and bending the curve to New Boston Road. What a great place for kids to play, imagining we were behind a medieval fortification. Not even in my flights of fantasy would I have contemplated kinship with this wealthy family.

By the late 1950s, the Brayton mansion was razed to make room for the new Brayton wing of the Union Hospital. In those days before HIPA, my father—a staff physician at Union Hospital—would sometimes take me along on his rounds on Sunday afternoons. In the lobby of the hospital I encountered an imposing portrait of late hospital President John S. Brayton, Jr. (1895-1961), whose father had built the mansion. Then in the late 1960s, I had the opportunity to meet his son, Jack Brayton (1924-1997), when he served alongside my mother as founding trustees of the Marine Museum at Fall River. I was struck by how much he resembled the portrait of his father—it was like history coming to life!

Union Hospital (now Charlton Memorial Hospital), 1966, on the site of the Brayton estate.

It did not occur to any of us to search for common ancestors back then. The divorce of my mother’s parents in 1943, and her subsequent adoption by her stepfather, cut off access to her paternal ancestry. At 16, I met my grandfather Emory Morse, and the floodgates to learning about his forebears opened. Emory’s ancestors over two centuries never moved very far from Plymouth and Barnstable counties, Massachusetts. For a long time, I was able to ride on the coattails of earlier genealogists and published works. Then, I began to find the brick walls—such as those within the Wrightington family.

Elizabeth Wrightington was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on 16 September 1733, daughter of Thomas Wrightington and Sarah Dennis. Documenting this family opened new roads to early Rhode Island families, some of whom eventually moved to Fall River. With the collaboration of Cherry Fletcher Bamberg FASG, we published three articles on the Wrightingtons in Rhode Island Roots.1 I uncovered a record of the marriage of Elizabeth Wrightington’s parents at Trinity Church, Newport, but it offered no clues to Sarah’s parentage. From an incomplete sketch in Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, I surmised her parents were John Dennis and Ann Brayton, married circa 1710.

I was able to prove that connection with the help of an underappreciated source: Newport Town Council Records. In her will, spinster Mary Brayton, daughter of Stephen and Ann,2 left her “best riding hood” to her “cousin” Margaret Wrightington, elder sister of my Elizabeth Wrightington. 3 While Margaret was actually Mary Brayton’s grand-niece, this evidence cements the relationship between the Brayton and Wrightington families, through the marriage of Sarah Dennis to Thomas Wrightington.

Mary Lin Dwyer [4] and John S. Brayton III at the signing of the charter for the Marine Museum at Fall River, June 1968.
Little did we know, as my mother and Jack Brayton stood side-by-side for this photo, that they were really seventh cousins once-removed. My now 88-year-old mother recently quipped, “Only you could have found something so far out.” I’ll take that as a compliment!

While the chart below outlines two lines of descent from Francis Brayton of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, it does not convey the tremendous divergence of wealth between these two branches, beginning at the end of the 18 th century. For example, comparing census data at generation 8: Thomas Pierce, sawyer of Wareham, held $700 worth of real estate, whereas Israel Brayton, farmer of Somerset, held $15,000 of real estate. The gap only widened with time. Though only 30 miles apart from one another, these two branches of Brayton progeny lived in different worlds.

Two lines of descent from Francis Brayton

  1. Francis Brayton, at Portsmouth, R.I., 1643, d. 1692
  2. Stephen Brayton, m. Ann Tallman, d. 1694
3. Ann Brayton, 1683-1747 Preserved Brayton, 1685-1761
4. Sarah Dennis, b. ca. 1712, d. aft. 1781 Israel Brayton, 1727-1791
5. Elizabeth Wrightington, 1733-1827 John Brayton, 1762-1829
6. Betsy Gurney, 1771-1852 Israel Brayton, 1792-1866
7. Thomas Pierce, 1795-1860 John Summerfield Brayton 1826-1904
8. Anthony Pierce, 1843-1920 John Summerfield Brayton, 1864-1923
9. Myrta Pierce Morse, 1888-1958 John S. Brayton, Jr., 1895-1961
10. Emory Morse, 1907-1993 John S. “Jack” Brayton, 1925-1997
11. Marilyn Morse Dwyer, living



1 Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, Michael F. Dwyer, “Margaret (Ward) (Bradley) Wrightington,” Rhode Island Roots 38 (2012), 169–83, 39 (2013), 1–14, 57–84.

2 Arnold, Rhode Island Vital Records, 1:1:8, 58.

3 Newport Town Council Records, 18:97, from a will proved ca. 1757. W

4 My mother first saw her original birth certificate only in 1974, when she changed the misspelling of her first name to Marilyn.

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he is a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist and The American Genealogist. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

20 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Brayton Descents

  1. Great post! My grandmother was a Brayton (Elizabeth Agnes Brayton b.1898 d. 1947). She goes all the way back to Francis Brayton. (As an aside, I’m literally driving through your town – or at least the town where your church is located – as I write this note. I’m the passenger. 😉 Would love to see you at the upcoming Mayflower event in Vermont!

  2. Thank you for providing me with the ancestry of my several times great grandmother Betsy Gurney. I’m excited to learn of my connection to the Braytons. And we’re cousins as well!

      1. Well, I was going to write you about William but now I see you,too, have encountered the brick wall. My hopes are dashed.

      2. We don’t know where William, called “a straggling man” on his marriage intention, came from. But recently I was able to prove his service in the American Revolution and establish him as a new patriot ancestor in DAR.

  3. Didn’t John Anderson Brayton do a pretty authoritative volume one and two genealogy of the family? It looked pretty well documented

    1. The two-volume Brayton genealogy, published in 1978 and 1982, is by Clifford Ross Brayton Jr. However, John A. Brayton is also a descendant of this immigrant. He listed the men in his male line when he published his transcript of the Daniel⁶ Brayton family Bible in NYGBR in 2007 (138:300-2). He and I are both descended from Stephen⁵, Isaac⁴, Stephen³, Stephen², Francis¹, I via a daughter.

  4. “. . . recognize the Brayton name as a power family” LOL! The family gave its name to Brayton Point across the river in Somerset, which gave its name to the massive 4-stack coal/oil power plant that dominated Mount Hope Bay through the 20th century. At the end of its life came the brief dominance of its two cooling towers, while they stood, the tallest structures in New England outside Boston; now, thankfully, gone.

  5. Greetings from another distant Brayton cousin! Thanks for your entertaining article and all of the research you did to prepare it.

    My most recent Brayton ancestor was my 2nd great grandmother, Lucinda Ann nee’ Brayton Brown (b. 1847 Illinois d. 1881 Iowa). Her Brayton lineage goes back to Francis, the brother of your Stephen.


      1. Yes! my branch was a story of Brayton family split by the American Rev War. Some went to Canada after their land was confiscated! But returned to the US and then on west eventually to IL and IA.

  6. Michael, i enjoy this story, the long time that elapsed, the hope to continue, a genealogy path to the research results. Your father taking you to work, I can imagine the excitement. Recently I had a conversation with my son about my granddaughter, his daughter. Children need exposure to more than children focused events.” Never underestimate the power of rubbing off ”. Taking children to work days are important. I myself loved it, as a child.

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