A Murdaugh Mayflower Mystery

Statue of WIlliam Bradford next to photo of Alex MurdaughThis post is a collaboration between myself and Vita-Brevis contributor Jeff Record , as we were both watching Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal on Netflix, as well as news coverage of the recent murder trial of Alex Murdaugh . Jeff alerted me to a possible Mayflower descent for the family, and similar to my post on Jeffrey Dahmer and Other Infamous Mayflower Descendants , we sought to verify the proposed lineage.

Jeff found a lineage of Alex Murdaugh’s mother Elizabeth “Libby” (Alexander) Murdaugh (b. 1939) on FamilySearch (this profile, which had repeated the hoax of her death, has since been deleted , but we will summarize the sources below, and the profiles of her parents remain). Jeff found Libby’s great-great-grandparents: Stephen/Stevens and Nancy (Ripley) Simmons were a couple that married at Swansea, Massachusetts in 1810 and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, with purported descents to the Alden, Bradford, Brewster, Mullins, and Warren families on the Mayflower!

Nancy Ripley6 (Margaret5 Bradford, Abner4, Israel3, William2, William1) appears in our Mayflower AncestTREES database as a sixth generation Bradford descendant, with additional descents to the Alden, Brewster, Mullins, and Warren families. Stevens Simmons was born at Kingston, Massachusetts, 21 February 1787, son of Noah and Molly Simmons, and Noah Simmons6 (Hopestill Stetson5, Abigail4 Brewster, Wrestling3, Love2, William1) is in our Mayflower AncesTREES database as a sixth generation Brewster descendant. Descendants of six of Noah’s other children have joined the Mayflower Society.1

Swansea Vital Records, Book C, page 159

Stevens Simmons of Somerset married Nancy Ripley of Swansea on 22 March 1810 (Nancy’s father Calvin Ripley was enumerated in the 1800 census in Kingston, but had moved to Swansea by the 1810 census where he was recorded). There is a “Stephen Simmons” enumerated at Somerset, Bristol County, Massachusetts in 1820, in a household consisting of one male and one female aged 26 through 44, and three males and two females under ten, although no births of any children of Stephen Simmons are found in Somerset Vital Records during this period. Noah Simmons of Kingston left a fairly detailed will dated 13 May 1824 , and while Noah leaves land to his other sons (as well as grandsons of deceased children), he leaves his son Stevens Simmons one hundred dollars, to be paid out twelve months after the death of Noah’s widow. This language could mean that Stevens Simmons had left the area.

Okay, so Stevens/Stephen and Nancy (Ripley) Simmons married in 1810, were possibly still in Massachusetts in 1820, but were out of state by 1824. Were they the couple that went to Charleston, South Carolina?

Stevens/Stephen Simmons frequently uses the title “Captain,” and appears in Charleston newspapers with the first name Stephen or Stevens somewhat interchangeably. The earliest reference to him we have found in Charleston was a list of people who had letters remaining at the Charleston post office on 1 February 1824, as “ capt Stevens Simmons .” In 1830, “ Capt. Stephen Simmons ” was living at 3 Water Street in Charleston (I walked right by this house when I was in Charleston last year!). On 8 October 1834, an announcement was made for “friends and acquaintances of Mr. Zenas and Mr. Stephen Simmons, are requested to attend the Funeral of the former, from his late residence …” While Zenas is not directly indicated as a son of Stephen, it is worth it to note that Nancy (Ripley) Simmons had a brother named Zenas Ripley.

Jeff and I have identified four other children of Stephen/Stevens and Nancy with specific information of note, summarized below:

  1. Caroline Elizabeth Simmons (1812-1891), wife of John Thomas Wooddy, of Charleston and Chicago. Her entries in the 1860 1870 , and 1880 censuses, and death record note a birthplace in South Carolina, with the 1880 census noting her parents were born in Massachusetts. The 1924 death record in Philadelphia of her daughter Isadora notes Caroline as born in Massachusetts.
  2. Philander Simmons (1815-1871), who married in New York and moved to Illinois . A biography of his grandson Edwin Eugene Rugg (1863-1937) of Liberal, Kansas, described Philander as from “an old Southern family from the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina.” One of his sons was Stephen Simmons (1843-1923).
  3. Margaret Simmons (1826-1868), who married Francis Edward McKenzie at Charleston on 27 May 1848. Her marriage record notes her as the “youngest daughter of the late Capt. Stephen Simmons, of this city.”2
  4. Calvin Ripley Simmons (1830-1904). While most records list him only as “Calvin R. Simmons,” the 1951 death certificate of his daughter Anna lists his middle name as Ripley, and Anna’s obituary referred to Calvin Ripley Simmons as a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Calvin’s 1904 death certificate lists his birthplace as Rhode Island, although Swansea was right on the border, and Calvin’s namesake maternal grandfather Calvin Ripley (1748-1839), later lived in Providence, Rhode Island, per his Revolutionary War pension.

While migrations from New England to the South were not particularly common in the early nineteenth century, they certainly did occur. Capt. Stevens/Stephen and Nancy (Ripley) Simmons either moved to South Carolina right after their marriage in 1810, or within a decade or so. The below chart outlines the five Mayflower descents (with passengers in bold) of the Murdaugh family of South Carolina, followed by sources for the last five generations. More information about the Simmons family of Charleston is certainly welcome!

Chart showing relationship between William Bradford and Alex Murdaugh

Sources: Gravestones of J.C. Alexander and Sarah Elizabeth Alexander (with linked images of Joseph’s obituary and death certificate); Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776-1985 (Columbia, S.C.: Univ. S.C. Press, 1986), 46 (biography of Joseph Carson Alexander, who served as a private in the Greenville Regiment for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and later in the South Carolina State Senate); gravestones of Richard Henry and Emma Elizabeth (Knox) Alexander; Death Certificates of Richard H. Alexander and Emma Knox Alexander; gravestones of Milton Donald Alexander and Nelle Jones Alexander Arant (and linked obituary); engagement announcement of Milton Donald Alexander and Nelle Blanche Jones; 1950 Census entry of Elizabeth J. Alexander marriage announcement of Elizabeth Jones Alexander and Randolph Murdaugh III; gravestones of Randolph Murdaugh IIIMaggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh (and linked obituaries).



There was also a Stephen Simmons, born at Dighton, Massachusetts, 15 October 1785, son of Seth and Abigail (Brown) Simmons, who married Nancy Hix at Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in May 1813, with the marriage record describing both of them as both from Rehoboth. This Stephen likely died young, as Nancy married Nathan Bowen at Rehoboth on 19 March 1825 . A findagrave memorial for this Stephen has his death given as May 1823 but also indicated as between 1823 and before 1825. Some online trees have confused this Stephen with Capt. Stevens/Stephen Simmons of Massachusetts and South Carolina.

There may have been a second Capt. Stephen Simmons of Charleston, or Margaret’s marriage notice is in error regarding her father as deceased in 1848, as a funeral notice for Capt. Stephen Simmons of Charleston appears on 6 September 1852 .

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

9 thoughts on “A Murdaugh Mayflower Mystery

    1. If Nelle Blanche (Jones) Alexander is the mother of Elizabeth Alexander, how can they both be born in 1939?

        1. See _Ship Registers and Enrollments of Providence, Rhode Island, 1773-1939_ (WPA, Providence, 1941), p. 510, for the sloop “Hope” of Providence, the license of which was surrendered in Sept. 1828 at Providence, RI, and again in April 1829 at Charleston, SC, the master being listed both times as “Steven Simmons.”

          1. John – This is an excellent if not perfect source to help paint the picture and timeline of the Murdaugh’s ancestral journey from New England to SC. Thanks for sharing this.

  1. Just in case the Netflix series Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes inspires a search for possible Mayflower ancestry for Gacy, let me save you from going down a rabbit hole. FindAGrave.com, FamilySearch.org, Geneastar.org (as submitted by Tim Dowling), Ancestry.com, Geni.com, WikiTree.com, and I’m sure numerous others, all claim Gacy’s maternal grandfather is Albert Robison. Albert happens to be a Mayflower descendant of Francis Cooke, Richard Warren and Edward Fuller. The only problem is John Wayne Gacy’s grandfather is not Albert Robison. Just a little bit of research on Gacy’s mother Marion would quickly reveal who her parents really were. (A hint, all four of Gacy’s grandparents were from Europe.)

      1. There ya go, Jeff! Here’s a title for the project: Royal and Mayflower Ancestors of Famous American Murderers. Get this up and running as a website and all the major cable news networks will come running for interviews with you. Plus there are all the podcasts of true crime and web-stations like Law & Crime, etc., that will line you up for interviews and plus, etc. Not too dissimilar to Gary’s 900 books. If the Society won’t print it, go LuLu or others on Amazon.

        I waive my fee if you do this and make any money. Which you would!

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