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In America

Members of the Heysham family emigrated to America in at least five separate events.

In about 1677 John Heesom, my ancestor, settled in the Quaker colony of Burlington, West Jersey. Read about him on the John Heesom page.
At about the same time Giles and William Heysham set up as sugar merchants on the island of Barbados, in alliance with their brother, Robert, in London. Their's, however, was a temporary settlement and they returned to England in about 1700. Read about them in the Merchants of Lancaster page under the "In England" heading.
In the 1740's their nephew's, Thomas, William and Christopher Heysham, merchant ship-captains, settled in New York City. Their story is on the William Heysham page.
Just before 1800 John Hysom of Bristol settled in Maine. Read about his family on the Hysom's Of Maine page.
Finally, in the 1830's George Howard Hysham of Portsea, Hampshire settled in Kentucky. His family's story is on the Drake-Hysom Line page.
So far as I presently know, this comprises the total movements of the Heesom/Heysham family from England to America. There were Heesom families that emigrated to Canada and Australia, but I haven't researched them yet.

Heyshams also emigrated to India, as officers of the East India Company. First William Heysham, the son of Dr. Heysham of Carlisle, moved there at the beginning of the 19th century. His family remained there until the end of the Raj in the mid-20th century. Robert and Barrington Heysham took commissions with the Company in the middle of the century, but returned to England for their retirements.

What moved these people to emigrate? Opportunity and freedom are the obvious answers. Young men went to Barbados to make quick profits and then go home. Those that came to North America, however, did so on a permanent basis and principally for the land which was so scarce at home. While it was a scary proposition to leave their homes and take the long ocean voyage, it was for many the only way to improve their condition. Craftsman too were drawn to a land where their skills would be in great demand.

Men who had emigrated wrote letters encouraging the stay-at-homes to follow their example. They described the great opportunities available, the rich lands there for the taking, fish and game of unheard of bounty, and the absence of landlords.

Who Were the Immigrants?

". . . the immigrants were largely young adults, sometimes accompanied by children, and a disproportionate number were male. And, as is also characteristic of most contemporary voluntary movements, they came in the main as single families or individuals rather than in larger groups, although clusters of kinfolk or former neighbors would frequently arrive sequentially in a "chain migration" . . . contrary to popular belief, poverty was not the chief spur driving the hopeful across the ocean . . . More probably, a certain critical threshold of incipient affluence, and the appetite for even more, had to be breached before passage was booked . . . Quite clearly, the immigrants tended to favor the aberrant creeds, whether of the theological left or right. Thus we find gross overrepresentation in colonial America of such non-establishment groups as the Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Mennonite, or Moravian, and perhaps British and German Baptists; and virtually all the French minority in the American colonies were Huguenot." - from "The Cultural Geography of the United States" by Wilbur Zelinsky

These were people who put an emphasis on individual initiative and social mobility, who belived in economic progress, and who were comfortable with technological change. In the main, they held by an achievement-oriented, mechanistic world view in which anything could be fixed and improved.

An interesting point to remember when considering the differences between England and America is that the divergence between them did not start in 1776, but as soon as the immigrants reached this shore. For our family that was in about 1687. The historical events that so shaped the evolution of English society and politics, for example the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the triumph of Parliament over the King, were heard in the Delaware river valley as faint echoes.

Another inducement to emigration was freedom of religion, but this might better be called freedom for religion. It was hard for people of the early 17th century to comprehend people of different religions living together peacefully, and being, at the same time, "right" with God. The Puritans who settled New England aimed not for religious freedom for all, but to create a pure society in which there was no deviation from their "truth." By the end of the century, however, enclaves did exist where freedom of religion was a fact. These included Rhode Island, West Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Puritans, Mennonites, Baptists, Moravians and Quakers each set out to create their own utopia's in America. These were based not only on their particular religious beliefs, but in ideas about the relationship between citizens and their government. Not surprisingly, these ideas had the goal of leveling the social pyramid. The openness of Quaker governance made Philadelphia a magnet for emigration and it quickly became one of the largest cities.

Another push to emigration were the tide of events in England. The 17th century was an unsettled time. The century saw the English Civil War, the defeat and beheading of King Charles I in 1645, the reign of a dictator, Oliver Cromwell, until 1658, the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 and the attendant settling of scores, the Monmouth rebellion in 1686, the crisis of a Catholic King in James II, and the resultant English Revolution in 1688. Much of the unrest and bloodshed occurred in the north of England and a number of supposed rebels were rounded up and deported to America. For background see the swashbuckling novel by Sabatini or movie starring Erroll Flynn, "Captain Blood."

It was also a century of religious friction and controversy with High Church Anglicans, Catholics and Puritans frequently at war both verbally and physically. It was because of these kinds of problems that our “Pilgrim Fathers” first emigrated to the Netherlands and then to America.

The Puritans in England

The Puritan movement arose within the Church of England. It was a militant, biblically-based, Calvinistic Protestantism with an emphasis upon the "purification" of the church of non-scriptual dogma and ritual, hence its name. Popular with the lower and middle classes, they emphasized education and the improvement of daily life through hard work and innovation. They were strongest in the south and east of the country. In the north, an especially in Lancashire, the Catholic faith remained strong and there was much support for the more conservative tenets of the Church of England. The Puritans called the area a center of “papists and witches.”

Pockets of Puritan strength did exist in the north, most notably at Bolton, in Lancashire. Bolton Puritans founded the utopian community of Toxteth Park.

While Queen Elizabeth had been able to ride these religious tides, the Stuart Kings were far less deft. The first decades of the 17th century saw a rise in religious stridency and the development of a sharp political divide between King, aristocracy and Church of England on one hand, and Parliament, the middle class, and the Puritan church on the other. When King and Parliament came to blows, it became a religious war as well.

The victory of Parliament in the Civil War meant that Puritan mores became the law of the land. The theaters were all closed, many inns were shuttered, sports were banned, swearing was punished and even the wearing of bright clothes was discouraged.

Frightened by Puritan extremes and dismayed at the laxity current amongst Church of England clergy, many Englishmen turned to new religious sects, including the Anabaptists, Levellers, Ranters and Seekers that sprang up at this time. The ideas and many of the adherents of these doctrines, known as Dissenters, found their way into the Quaker faith. This religion got its start in Lancashire when its founder, James Fox, had a personal revelation atop the hill of Pendle, near Lancaster, in 1652. The influence of the religion was strong, if not pervasive, in the North and Lancashire was known as a base of support for the religion.

Finally, who didn't emigrate? The satisfied and the established; that is, those who had more to lose than to gain. The timid, those who may have had little to lose, but no faith that they could do better somewhere else, also remained where they were.

In about 1607 the English were, after the debacles of Sir Walter Raleigh, finally successful in founding a colony in America, at Jamestown in Virginia. However, the Dutch were the first to colonize the Hudson and Delaware river basins that are of most interest to us. They began in about 1620. In 1631 Sweden also founded a small colony on the Delaware. By the mid-1660’s the English had taken over these colonies, forcing the Dutch and Swedish settlers to swear allegiance to the British King. In 1675 the Quakers purchased and began settling West Jersey along the Delaware river and by 1681 there were over fourteen hundred Quakers living in the new province. The first member of our family I have found in America was living in the Quaker colony of Burlington, New Jersey in 1687.

Historical Timeline: Colonial America
1606 James I established 2 companies made up of merchant-adventurers eager to plumb the tantalizing riches of North America--these were the London Company and the Plymouth Company.
1607 English colonists, led by Captain John Smith, found Jamestown colony in Virginia.
1620 Pilgrims (Puritans), led by William Bradford, found Massachusetts Bay colony.
1626 Dutch buy Manhattan for $26.

Settlers stream into the new colonies in America seeking opportunity and the freedom to practice their own religion and their own ideas of government.

In David Hackett Fischer's formulation, the British colonies in America were settled in four great waves of emigration from England.

- East Anglian Puritans came to New England between 1629 and 1640.
- West Country Cavaliers and their Servants came to the Chesapeake between 1640 and 1675.
- North Midland and Welsh Quakers came to the Delaware Valley between 1675 and 1725.
- British, Scots and Irish from the borderland, the so-called "Scotch-Irish," came to the American Backwoods of Appalachia, between 1717 and 1775.
Each of these migrations produced a distinct regional culture which can still be seen in America today.

At the same time large numbers of Germans, mainly from the Rhineland, settled in New York and Pennsylvania, the "Pennsylvania Dutch." There were so many of them, in fact, that it triggered the first anti-immigrant sentiments.

Historical Timeline: Colonial America
1664 British took Dutch colonies in New York and New Jersey. These lands were given to the King's brother, James, the Duke of York, hence New York.
1677-9 Burlington and Trenton (Falls of the Delaware) founded by the Quakers in the colony of West Jersey (western New Jersey).
1681 William Penn founded Pennsylvania colony. Philadelphia founded the next year.
1700 Total population of the colonies reached 250,000. The largest city, Boston had a population of 7,000 followed by New York with 5,000. At this time the population of England was only 6 million.
1702-1713 Queen Anne's War. First of several conflicts between England and France that resulted in major Indian conflicts.

My family, that of John Heesom, settled first on the Delaware river, just north of Philadelphia. They later moved up the river to the region of the Pocono mountains. Some members of the family remain there still. While there was a brief migration to the Susquehanna river valley, around 1800 most moved to the Ohio river valley.

A Dutch Connection

The Dutch Reformed Church comes up repeatedly in the early American history of our family. I think this should be ascribed to the influence of wives. Catherine Kleyn, Elizabeth Brink and Elizabeth Bush were all descended from Dutch emigrants. I think it most likely that weddings and christenings took place in the Dutch Church because it was the religion of these women (the men staying home on Sunday and watching the ball game, most likely). But it also leaves an impression that their husbands may have picked wives from the Dutch community because they were part of it themselves. The Heysham/Hissem family may have, like the Pilgrims, first moved to the Netherlands before coming to America where they picked up the religion . . . though I doubt this.

The Dutch Reformed Church was also a center of "discontent" with British rule that led to the American Revolution. Many patriots were of this church.

The Dutch Reformed Church

Also known as the Reformed Dutch Church, it was established in the Netherlands in the 16th century during the rebellion against Spanish rule. It followed the Calvinist doctrine and was akin to the German Reformed, Swiss Reformed, Presbyterian and Puritan movements. Its members were encouraged to read the Bible and interpret it themselves without the intervention of a priest. Because of this, literacy was prized amongst its adherents.

In America the church flourished in the Dutch colonies. After their surrender to the English, and especially after the failed Dutch revolt of 1673, they came under pressure from the Royal governors to adhere to the precepts of the Church of England. Many of the churches, with help from the colonial assembly's, were able to obtain charters guaranteeing their ecclesiastical independence, but the oppressions of the New York Governor's drove a large number of Dutch families into New Jersey.

The church was always faced with an inadequate number of ministers, few being willing to leave the Netherlands for America after the colonies were taken over by the English. The mother church was also unwilling to allow ministers to be trained in America. In 1737 there were three times as many churches as ministers. In some cases Presbyterian ministers were used. This problem was not resolved until after the Revolution.

As a final comment on a possible Dutch connection, there is in the Netherlands a village called Hessum (or Hessem). Its only notoriety is that it was the site for a V2 missile battery, SS 500, in WWII from 31 December 1944 until 30 January 1945. I have also found the names Van Hessum and Van Hessem, in very limited numbers, used on Dutch web sites.

Naming Practices

English naming practices were generally followed by the early Heysham / Hissem line. The first child was named after their grandparents, usually the first son being named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather, the first daughter being named after the maternal grandmother and the second after the paternal grandmother. The third son was named after the father and the fourth son after the father’s eldest brother. There were exceptions to this naming pattern. For example, if the wife were a widow when married, the first child might be named after her deceased husband. The same held true if the husband were a widower and then the first daughter might be named after his deceased wife. Then the usual naming pattern got moved down by one. They often took turns in naming the children, usually the husband's side would go first and then the wife's side.

The American Genealogy of Heysham

In describing the descent of our family, the earliest references are of necessity the least well documented. Once in America we move into an area where more documentation exists, but it can still sometimes be maddening to interpret.

First, as has been noted previously, the spelling of the name varies. In establishing our forebears I’ve tried to establish a pattern. Did they have a common Hissem first name, such as Thomas or Abner? Does their surname approximate a phonetic spelling of Heysham / Hissem, such as Hisam or Hesom? Are they in the right place at the right time to be a forebear? Thus, a Thomas Hesom, who gets married in Northampton county, Pennsylvania in 1745 qualifies as one of our earliest identified forebears in America.

Second, birth dates, especially in the older records, move around a bit. I don’t think people of earlier eras felt that the year of their birth was as important as we do today. While our lives are tied to anniversary dates, such as getting our first driver’s license, signing up to vote, or qualifying for Social Security, their lives were tied to the seasons. It reminds me of the story from the movie “Crocodile Dundee.” When recounting his life among the aborigines, Dundee said he asked his foster aborigine father when he was born and was told, “In the spring.” Our ancestors also had few documents to refer to for this information, outside the family bible. There were no birth certificates, no Social Security administration, no all-encompassing bureaucratic environment such as we live in today; so when the census man asked them their age they might have been a trifle vague, especially as they became older. I have a census report from 1880 for a Thomas Hissom who claimed to be 101 years old! I suspect he was stretching the truth.

Before we address the descent of our line of Heysham/Hissems in this country there is a Heysham to take care of who is not relted to the family, Peter Heysham.

The Interesting Case of Peter Heysham, alias Peter Heyman

(19) Peter Heysham

Esq. The earliest known Heysham in the country? There is some confusion with Peter's name, as you'll read below. I've been trying to dig up information on him assuming that he may be John Heysham’s son, one of the "some" that emigrated. He was living in America and does, after all, have the uncommon name of Heysham when the total population of the colonies was only 250,000. If he was John's son, that is the son of a prosperous Lancaster merchant, he would have arrived in America with certain advantages; a better education than most, smooth manners, a good set of clothes, and probably a letter of introduction. These things would have helped him acquire a position.

The problem is that as I found more information about him, it became less likely that his name was Heysham, and more likely that it was Heyman or Hayman.

Peter lived in Virginia - probably in the James river area of Hampton, Jamestown, and Williamsburg - and is buried in Hampton, across the James river from present day Norfolk. In 1692 he was appointed postmaster for all the plantations in Virginia and Maryland.

The Colonial Post Office

April, 1692. A patent to found a Post Office is given to the Englishman Thomas Neale was first put into effect in Virginia, where his deputy Andrew Hamilton did much to organize the postal service.

At the time of his death in 1700 Peter was the collector of customs for the James River District. Based on his service, he could not have been born later that 1670 and more likely much earlier. In 1699 Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia. Could Peter have lived there as a customs official? Virginia's population in 1700 was 58,560 including 16,390 slaves.

Hampton, Virginia

Located on the southeastern tip of the Virginia peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton is the oldest continuously settled English community in the United States. As an Indian village called Kecoughtan, it had been visited by the first English colonists before they sailed up the James River to settle in Jamestown. The name Hampton dates from the 17th century English Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. The area was named in his honor by the first royal governor, Lord de la Ware, in the early 1600s.

Here is the first reference to Peter, using his Heysham surname. Annals of Philadelphia And Pennsylvania, Vol. II:
“There is at present a large marble tombstone, in a grave place half a mile out of Hampton [Virginia], on the Pembroke farm of John Jones, Esq., which had been placed there by governor Nicholson in 1700, which records the death of Peter Heysham, Esq., collector of the customs, who had been killed as a volunteer on board the king's ship, the SHOREHAM, in a brave encounter with a pirate on the coast; most probably, from the date with Kidd [highly unlikely]. The action lasted seven hours, and the governor was also present.“

Captain Kidd

The Notorious Captain William Kidd was a Scotsman, born about 1645, who immigrated to America. By the 1690's he lived in New York, owning his own merchant ship and with a distinguished record of service against France in the West Indies in 1689. He was commissioned by the governor of New York to be a pirate hunter, but was accused of becoming a pirate himself. In 1701 he was hung for piracy in London.

Other Pirates

In 1718 Captain Henry Maynard, a citizen of Hampton, killed Edward Teach, alias Blackbeard, the most notorious of all the Colonial brigands of the sea, and helped bring piracy to an end. Blackbeard's Point in Hampton marks the place where Captain Maynard set the head of 'Blackbeard' on a pole.

Here is a fuller account of the battle referenced above, but now using the surname Hayman. I am willing to assume that a clerk putting together a record with many names and references could record Peter's uncommon name incorrectly, especially when he was not alive to correct any mistakes. I would also assume that the tombstone mentioned above would be far more likely to have the correctly spelled name.

From The Colonial Records Project-Library Of Virginia: "Survey Report No. 4385, 13 May 1700. This document contains 21 depositions sworn before the Court of Oyer & Terminer for the trial of pirates in Virginia before Peter Beverly, Clerk of Arraigns. Some of the depositions are sworn by individual mariners, others by groups of mariners from different ships captured by Lewis Guittar [this is the real name of the pirate involved]. All ships were outward bound from Virginia, except the PENNSYLVANIA MERCHANT, which was inbound from England. On 17 April (1699) the BALTIMORE was captured; on 18 April the GEORGE of Pennsylvania bound for Jamaica. The master of the FRIENDSHIP of Belfast-Hans Haniel-was killed when the pirates fired on his ship. On 28 April 4 ships were captured within the Cape of Virginia including the PENNSYLVANIA MERCHANT, and the INDIAN KING of Virginia and the NICHOLSON. The PENNSYLVANIA MERCHANT was burnt. The crews taken prisoner were confined in the hold of the pirate ship which was call LA PAIX (PEACE); some other being made to throw cargoes of tobacco and other goods to Lyn-Haven by the pirates. On 28 April Captain John Alread, Commander of H.M.S. ESSEX {also called the ESSEX-PRIZE] having heard of the pirates' exploits came ashore and informed H. E. Francis Nicholson H.M. Governor General of Virginia and Captain Passenger of H.M.S. SHOREHAM that there was a Pirate in Lyn-Haven Bay. Whereupon captain Passenger and His Excellency, together with Captain Alread and Peter Hayman Esquire, [this is Peter Heysham, the customs agent] went aboard H.M.S. SHOREHAM and in coming out of the James River engaged the Pirate ship. Captain Guittar fought under a blood red flag. Peter Hayman Esquire was slain. After an engagement which lasted 6 to 8 hours John Lympany, a passenger from the PENNSYLVANIA MERCHANT, was ordered by Lewis Guittar to swim aboard the SHOREHAM to inform H. E. the Governor that there were English prisoners aboard his ship and that they and the ship would be blown up unless H. E. was prepared to grant Quarter to Guittar and his men if they surrendered. The Governor gave his promise. About 124 pirates were taken prisoner and some 25 to 30 pirates were slain. Between 40 and 50 English prisoners were liberated."

Pirate Chasers

Chesapeake Bay was invested by pirates and privateers in the employ of the Dutch during wars with that nation. After many false starts the armed Merchantman, WOLF, successfully plied the bay in defense of the pirates from 1690 till 1791. She was joined by HMS HENRY PRIZE, but by 1692 she needed to be careened and cleaned, and in 1693 was deemed unfit. HMS DOVER PRIZE arrived to replace HMS HENRY PRIZE, the man-of-war commanded by an ex pirate, Thomas Pound. He was effective at his job, and the Southern Bay continued to remain relatively pirate free. HMS ESSEX PRIZE joined them in 1698 with Captain John Aldred.


A Royal Navy ship built in Shoreham, England in 1693. She had a length of 82 ft. and supported 32 guns (making her a large frigate). She was mainly engaged in convoy duties.

Yet another account, from a WPA Guide to Hampton, Virginia, with more about Peter himself. Surname again misspelled, this time as Heyman.
"The community knew too well the pirates that infested the Virginia coast in the late seventeenth century. Hampton citizens continually protested the drunkenness and inefficiency of Captain Aldred, who commanded the ESSEX-PRIZE, a pirate-chaser that always lay up for repairs when its services were needed. When the man-of-war SHOREHAM replaced the ESSEX-PRIZE in 1700, Peter Heyman, collector of customs for the James River, was among the Virginians killed in a ten-hour battle that resulted in defeat of the pirates. Governor Nicholson, who had risked his life aboard the SHOREHAM to watch the engagement, reported that 'Peter Heyman had behaved himself very well in the fight.' Heyman was appointed postmaster in 1692 for all the plantations in Virginia and Maryland, and endeavored to set up an efficient Colonial postal system."

I would have been happy assuming these differences in surnames were all the errors of a clerk, but the next reference is more damning. The WPA Historical Inventory Project in Virginia:
"The VHI Project also encouraged its field-workers to submit reports on community cemeteries, reports that in many cases preserved inscriptions rapidly fading away in the face of time, weather, or encroaching change. Between March 1936 and August 1937, for example, field-workers Sadie A. Anderson, Mary Bullifant, and Eleanor S. Jacobs researched several small cemeteries scattered about the twenty-year-old Langley Field in what was then Elizabeth City County. Bullifant noted what she could from the eroded text of a 1697 grave. She was able to decipher far more, however, from a stone in memory of Peter Heyman, a customs officer shot and killed "as he stood.., on ye Quarter Deck" in a bitter 1700 battle with pirates in Lynnhaven Bay. "

However, I have since determined that a Peter Heysham definitely existed in pre-1700 Virginia. He may or may not be the same man as Peter Heyman/Hayman, above. From Virginia Colonial Records:

Court of Chancery. Bills and Answers. Hamilton’s Division. 1698/99, 1701/02. Heysham, Peter – lawsuit involving – 1698/99-1701/02, SR 13590, p. 1 Bill of Complaint of Benjamin Braine c. Peter Willart, John Burton, John Rawson, Peter Heysham and James Wagstaffe.

“In January 1696/97 Francis Tyerence and Valentine Crugers promised to buy from the plaintiff hogsheads of tobacco. They became bankrupt before full payment was made. He has kept the tobacco until he receives all the money but Willart and the others, assignees of the bankruptcy are claiming it."

The dates, 1698/99-1701/02, do not necessarily imply that Peter Heysham was alive on those dates. The suit, started in 1696, would have continued until resolved even if one of the principles had been killed in a sea battle with pirates.

So, who was Peter Heysham and how did he come to be in Virginia at such an early date? At this point I don’t know, nor how he figures into the family descent, though it is possible he founded the family that resulted in James Heysham of Pittsylvania county, Virginia, below.

Other items of interest:

The 1624 census of Jamestown lists no surname close to Heysham.

Just to keep things interesting, I’ve also found an early biography of Peter Heyman. He was the grandson of Sir Peter Heyman, of Summerfield, in county Kent, England. He was collector of customs for the lower James river in 1699, and in 1692 one of the deputy postmaster generals for the colonies. He was killed on board the SHOREHAM in a fight with a pirate ship near Cape Henry on 29 April 1700. Buried at Hampton “where his tombstone was lately seen.” Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Volume VI – Burgesses and Other Prominent Persons.

So Peter Heysham, whoever he was, was not involved in a fight with pirates, at least as far as I know . . .

An Irish Connection

I have read claims that the Hissom family derived their name from Hisson and originally from O’Hoison, an Irish name. Supposedly this refers to the family of Oison, an ancient Irish poet/bard. The family was said to come from county Galway, in Ireland. However, I haven’t seen any documentation to back this claim, nor can I find any O’Hoison in the LDS database. Also, while I’ve found a number of Hisson’s in England, France and Denmark, none were listed in Ireland.

Steve Hissem
San Diego, California