Catholic Mayflower Descendants

Cover of the summer issue of Mayflower Descendant. Photo: Cimetière Saint-Jean, St. Barthélemy, burial location of Louis Charles Lambert and his wife Jeanne Augustine.

Our summer issue of the Mayflower Descendant includes an article by myself and Michael Leclerc entitled “The Family of Louis and Lydia (Fosdick) Lambert Ma(s)cillier of Boston, Virginia, and Guadeloupe: The First Known Catholic Mayflower Descendants in Massachusetts.” When we first announced our digitization project of the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2016, I was interested to find such descendants. I wrote about the first person I found in the records with colonial New England ancestry, Caroline (Plimpton) Francoeur (1759-1827)—however, she had no Mayflower ancestry. I only needed to go eighteen pages further in the parish records to find the baptism of the eldest child of Louis Lambert Ma(s)cillier and his wife Lydia Fosdick, who was an eighth generation-descendant (two times over) of Mayflower passengers William and Mary Brewster.1

Throughout the colonial period, no official Catholic congregations were allowed in Massachusetts. Local laws forbade any Catholic priest even to enter the colony. The 1780 Massachusetts Constitution established religious freedom in the new state, and the first public Catholic Mass was held in Boston in 1788. The below baptism of Mary Catherine Elizabeth Lambert in 1796 (who died suddenly in the following year), and that of her sister Amelia Mathilda in 1798, represent the earliest known Catholic Mayflower descendants in Massachusetts. I cannot qualify this beyond the Bay State, as there were early Mayflower descendants in England, Netherlands, and elsewhere in North America. I state in the article that if any readers can find earlier examples in Massachusetts (or elsewhere), I will happily publish an update.

Baptism of Mary Catherine Elizabeth Lambert, 19 March 1796, Holy Cross, Boston

The story of the Lambert and Fosdick family turned out to be of much more interest beyond their Catholic first. Louis Lambert was a native of Guadeloupe, an island group in the southern Caribbean Sea which remains under the jurisdiction of France to this day. Lambert was in Boston by the early 1790s, and married Lydia in 1794 at the Second Church in Boston. Lydia’s parents were originally from Connecticut. Louis Lambert and Lydia’s father Alvan Fosdick were business partners together in Boston in the 1790s (more on that later). The Lambert family’s residence in Boston was relatively brief. They moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and Louis died in his native Guadeloupe in 1805, aged 49 years. Afterwards, Lydia and her three young children moved back to Connecticut, but the family would continue to travel extensively.

As Michael and I pieced the family together, I came across a very valuable record set at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. known as “French Spoliation Claims.” During the Quasi-War between the United States and France, several American vessels were seized by French privateers. Lambert and Fosdick’s schooner Three Friends sailed on a commercial voyage from Boston in 1798 bound for Guadeloupe. It was captured by a French privateer called Les Amis and carried to Port Liberty, Guadeloupe where the schooner was “condemned as good prize” by a French Tribunal and ordered to be sold.

Nearly a century later, the U.S. Congress passed an act in 1885 empowering the United States Court of Claims to hear and examine evidence relating to outstanding “French Spoliation Claims” that originated before July 31, 1801. A total of 5,520 petitioners presented their claims, including the heirs of Fosdick and Lambert. Alvan Fosdick was the surviving partner, although all of his descendants were through his daughter Lydia (Fosdick) Lambert, as Alvan’s three other children died without having children of their own. By 1885, all of Lydia and Louis’s children were also dead, and Gilbert Clement Huntington (1841-1893), a grandson of Lydia and Louis, applied to the United States Court of Claims as the family’s representative to pursue this claim for their family’s loss in 1798.

I should note that getting this record from the National Archives was not easy. My colleague David Lambert (no relation to Louis Lambert) was in Washington, D.C. while I was researching this family, and was not able to even get someone to give him the finding guide while he was there. Fortunately, he connected me with Gopher Records, who are at the National Archives weekly, who were able to get this record quickly and at a great price. There were 329 pages in this claim, in both English and French, which revealed a lot of information about Lambert, Fosdick, and their business. Ultimately the estate of Alvan Fosdick was awarded $13,517 in 1895—by that point, Gilbert Clement Huntington, who began the proceedings, had also died.

Additionally, Alvan Fosdick (1750-1831) never had an estate probated in Suffolk County, Massachusetts—he actually died in New Hampshire (I’m not sure if his living descendants in the 1880s knew this; you can read more about that in the full Mayflower Descendant article). So, Gilbert Clement Huntington also started probate proceedings in Suffolk County in 1886 regarding the estate of his ancestor. The payments did not begin until 1900, seven years after Gilbert’s death. At this point, the living descendants of Alvan Fosdick were all through six of Lydia’s grandchildren. Complicating the distribution was that two of these grandchildren had not been heard from for forty years, so the heirs were listed with shares with two theories of distribution, either in quarters or in sixths, with each sixth or quarter being further divided if the grandchild was also deceased.

Louis and Lydia’s descendants lived all over the world, especially in the Caribbean. Their daughter Amelia Mathilda largely lived in Connecticut, their son Louis Charles in St. Barthélemy, and their son Gabriel Jean/John in New Orleans, Guadeloupe, and Georgia. The next generation also lived in Sint Maarten, Philadelphia, Australia, Texas, New York City, and Key West (unfortunately, American Ancestors did not approve my request to actually travel to these places!). All told, this article used records written in English, French, Swedish, Dutch, and Spanish.

The heirs took out notices in newspapers to try to find their missing relatives (the daughters of the youngest child Gabriel Jean/John), but to no avail, so their shares were sent to a receiver in 1904. I was able to locate one of the two daughters, who moved from New York City to Key West, Florida with her husband and children. Perhaps we can still get very small amounts of money to their descendants. The other heirs of Alvan Fosdick received the money paid from his estate in 1901, seventy years after Alvan’s death, based on the proceeds of the French Spoliation Claim of Fosdick and Lambert’s ship seized in 1798. The chart below shows the amount every living descendant received (or was entitled to receive), ranging anywhere from 1/6, 1/30, or 1/54 of the total estate.

Fosdick family tree showing division of estate



[1] The second Brewster descent of Lydia Fosdick 8-8 (Alvin Fosdick7-7Ezekiel Fosdick6-6Samuel Fosdick5Mercy Pickett4Ruth 3 BrewsterJonathan2William1Susannah Turner 5 [wife of Samuel Fosdick5], Ezekiel Turner4Mary 3 BrewsterJonathan2), is the result of an article by Keith Edward Wilson, “Three Husbands for Mary Turner and One More for Susannah Turner of New London and Lyme, Connecticut,” appearing in this same issue of Mayflower Descendant.

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.

21 thoughts on “Catholic Mayflower Descendants

  1. So, Chris – do you have a theory on why a couple married in a congregational church in 1794 and two years later baptized their daughter in a Catholic church? I’m disinclined to believe there were conversions to Catholicism at that time in Boston….

    1. Mike, they were a couple of two faiths, Louis Lambert was from Guadeloupe and was almost certainly Catholic since birth and part of the new Catholic population in Boston in the 1790s of mostly French immigrants, while Lydia was raised Congregationalist and they married in a church of her faith. I do not know if Lydia herself ever converted to Catholicism but their children were baptized Catholic. Not every witness on the Catholic baptism record shown above was even Catholic (which include Lydia’s parents).

  2. Good question, Great answer!
    As a Holy Cross grad and the co-author of of a book about the Pilgrims, I found the laws against Catholics in the early days of Massachusetts and the Mass Bay Colony to be fascinating – I never knew that! Thank you! kmd

  3. My 9th Great Grand Parents are John Alden and wife Pressilla Mullins.
    I do not know what if they were Catholic or not.

  4. I was under the impression that the first public Catholic Masses in Boston were said during the Revolutionary War, while the French Navy was in town repairing and refitting. In particular, I recall reading somewhere that the first Mass was a requiem for the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur, a 28 year-old Naval officer killed during a riot and buried at the KIng’s Chapel Burying Ground.

  5. I used French Spoliation Claims records in tracing descendants of the Falconer family, which were useful, but my example never had the detailed distributions you found.

    1. The summary of the distribution of heirs was actually in the Suffolk County Probate Records of Alvan Fosdick which began in 1886 as relating to the claim. The French Spoliation Claim record was mostly items relating the 1798 seizure and items relating to Gilbert Huntington as the representative of the heirs. The claim records also included a certified copy of Louis Lambert’s naturalization record.

  6. Dear Chris,

    Were there Mayflower descendants among the numerous New England captives taken to Canada by the Natives and French who remained in Canada?

    Don Friary

    1. Dear Don,

      That is a very good question. Not to my knowledge but I will certainly take a look. I’ve encountered several captives from Groton and Deerfield where there were descendants that remained in Quebec but none of the ones I researched had Mayflower ancestry. My ancestor John Stebbins (1685-1760) was taken captive in the Deerfield raid of 1704 with his parents and five siblings. He returned to Deerfield with his parents, while his five siblings remained in Canada, married into the French families there and had numerous Catholic descendants. Thanks!



      1. I have a Mayflower descendent that converted to Catholicism as well as an abductee from Groton that converted to Catholicism. My Maternal Grandmother was a Mayflower Descendent from both sides of her family (she only knew of one her Mayflower Ancestors, I discovered five others plus a victim of the Salem Witch Trials!) She married my Catholic Grandfather in the 1930s.

        My Father was adopted, so we had no idea about his ancestry until we had his DNA checked. A second cousin of his contacted me and informed us that he is descended from Mathias Farnswoth III, who was abducted from Groton and taken to Canada, rescued by Priests and converted to Catholicism so that he could marry and own land in Quebec and Montreal.

        1. Hi Karen, thanks for your comment. Matthias Farnsworth aka Claude Mathias Phaneuf (1690-1773) is my first cousin nine times removed through his maternal grandparents John and Sarah (Eggleston) Nutting of Groton. The Canadian and New Zealand actress Anna Paquin is a descendant of Mathias.

          Here’s an older post I wrote relating to my Nutting ancestors of Groton –

          1. Wasn’t the actor from Law and Order a descendant of Mr. Farnsworth also. Think I saw that on Prof. Gates’ PBS show.

            Also, I’m curious as to what the schooner Three Friends was transporting back and forth to Guadeloupe in 1798. Sugar? Rum? Slaves? I’d hate to see the tax dollars reimbursing for that!

            Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

          2. Hi M. Smith,

            Yes Christopher Meloni is a descendant of Mtathias Farnsworth. See below for his lineage and see my next comment regarding your second question.

            1. Matthias Farnsworth (d. 1689) m. Mary Farr
            2. Matthias Farnsworth m. Sarah Nutting
            3. Matthias Farnsworth later Claude Mathias Phaneuf (1690-1773) m. Marie Catherine Charpentier dit Lapaille
            4. Paul Phaneuf m. Marie Anne Blais
            5. Francois Paul Phaneuf m. Anastasie Nathalie Cormier
            6. Marie Desanges Phaneuf m. Joseph Renaud dit Blanchard
            7. Jovite Blanchard dit Raynaud m. Aurelie Gaboury
            8. Lydia Blanchard m. Edmond Chagnon dit Larose
            9. Joseph Jean Charles Edmond Chagnon m. Mariette Carmel Dancoes
            10. Cecile Lydia Chagnon m. Charles Robert Meloni
            11. Christopher Peter Meloni (b. 1961)

          3. M. Smith, the inventory of seized cargo was summarized as follows:

            That the Schooner Three Friends, James Shepherd, Jr., was an American vessel, duly registered, of the burden of 98 20/95 tons, is proved by the copy of the register filed in this claim. That having sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, on or about 29th June, 1798, she was, when captured, lawfully pursuing a commercial voyage from that place to Guadaloupe, having on board a cargo not contraband of war, and violating none of the obligations of neutrality, is proved by the certified copy of clearance, and of decree of council of prizes, filed in this claim. That this cargo consisted of 127 barrels of beef, 19,214 lbs. of butter, 14 pr. (wh.) and 28 hlf. pr. hlf. boots, 326 tbs. cheese, 42 hogsheads of fish, 4 thousand hoops, 110 grindstones, 5 boxes of hats, 2 chs. of manna, 107 bx’s of oil, 22 barrels of pork, 1 bx. of ribbons, 2 tbs. of scammony, 2,359 prs. of shoes, 7 thousand staves, wares iron qty., do tin do., and other articles of merchandise, and that the said schooner and cargo were owned by the said firm of Fosdick & Lambert, is proved by certified copy of clearance, register, decree of council of prizes, and of petition of Arnaud, Paillet & Co., to Tribunal of Commerce at Basseterre, supra, considered together.

  7. Absolutely amazing detective work! Kudos to you and Michael LeClerc on pulling it all together and writing such an interesting piece. You guys are great!
    I also have Matthias Farnsworth ancestry in my family.

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