John Winthrop, Massachusetts, Charles Banks

Genealogist, Charles Banks

Master Works of Charles Edward Banks: A Great Great Man and a Gifted Genealogist

Students of New England genealogy recognize Charles E. Banks (1854-1931) as one of the patriarchs of genealogical scholarship. During his lifetime, he was widely acknowledged to be one of the leading authorities on northern New England families. His two-volume History of York, Maine (a third volume was in preparation at the time of his death) is still the starting point on its subject. Though removed from his primary geographical area of expertise, Dr. Banks’ three-volume history of Martha’s Vineyard is also a model local history.

Notwithstanding his fame as a genealogist, Banks’ first calling was as a physician and surgeon. A graduate of Dartmouth Medical School, Charles Banks enjoyed a distinguished 40-year career in the U.S. Public Health Service. Dr. Banks was involved in many activities, including early efforts to thwart polio and to enforce sanitary laws. He achieved the position of assistant surgeon-general of the USPHS, retiring with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Besides his interests in genealogy and history, Banks was a skillful artist. His drawings adorn several of his publications. He is also reckoned to have been gracious, kindly, and un-self-serving. He was never reluctant to share the fruits of his research with friends and colleagues.

Wearing his hat as Genealogist, Banks is probably best known today as the author of four works focused on the origins of English Protestants who came to Massachusetts Bay between 1620 and 1650. These four titles are considered genealogy classics indispensable to anyone tracing English emigration to 17th-century New England.

The first of these books, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers, features sketches of every passenger who came to Plymouth on the “Mayflower” in 1620, the “Fortune” in 1621, and the “Anne” and the “Little James” in 1623, the first four ships to New England. Along with data on the passengers’ origins, family connections, and later histories, it substitutes proof for guesswork and blows holes in many cherished traditions. Many little-known facts about their places of residence in England and their parentage and ancestry are given.

Banks published two books the following year: The Winthrop Fleet of 1630 and Planters of the Commonwealth, 1620-1640The Winthrop Fleet of 1630 is an authoritative list of the 700 passengers who are believed to have come to New England with John Winthrop in 1630. Based on research undertaken in England and America, it provides as much data as could be verified on each passenger – name, place of departure, places of residence in England and America, occupation, church affiliation, dates of birth, marriage, and death, and relationships to other passengers. Scrupulous in every detail, Planters of the Commonwealth, 1620-1640 contains the names of 3,600 passengers on the 96 ships that brought them to New England between 1620 and 1640. Working with the same records employed by Savage, Drake, and Hotten, and with records unknown or inaccessible to them, Dr. Banks here pulls the several classes of records together to form the most complete and authoritative collection of passenger lists for the period ever published. In addition to the names of passengers and ships, places of origin, and places of residence in America, the book includes indexes to surnames, ships, English parishes, and New England towns.

The fourth of what are considered Banks’ master works on English emigration to 17th-century New England, the Topographical Dictionary of 2885 English Emigrants to New England, 1620-1650 was actually edited and published by Elijah Brownell in 1937, six years after the good doctor had died. This book extends the author’s published findings by another 10 years. This “Dictionary” comprises notes on nearly 3,000 emigrants, giving their English homes, names of ships in which they sailed, towns in which they settled in New England, and references to the printed or manuscript sources from which the information derived. The passengers are arranged by English county (shire) and, when available, are identified by parish, ship, New England town of destination, and source.

Image credit: Portrait of an early governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, Attributed to Anthony van Dyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


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