The Beecher Family in America… and Woodbridge

What do we know about the origins of the Beecher family in America, and how do the Beechers who lived in long ago days here in Woodbridge connect to the more famous members of this family?

The noted Presbyterian minister and social reformer Lyman Beecher (born 1775 in New Haven, CT and died 1863 in Brooklyn, NY) is buried in Grove Street cemetery. He had 3 wives and 13 children; nine with first wife Roxana Foote, and four with his second wife Harriet Porter. Of his five daughters and eight sons, nine became noteworthy writers. His children include those pictured with him in this circa 1858 photograph by Matthew Brady — standing in the back row left to right; Thomas, William, Edward, Charles, Henry Ward, and seated from left to right, Isabella, Catherine, Mary, and Harriet.

But what of Lyman Beecher’s family of origin? His father was the blacksmith David Beecher (1738-1805) and his mother was Esther Hawley Lyman, David’s 3rd wife. Esther died at age 27 on October 16th 1775┬ájust a few days after giving birth to her only child. Esther’s sister Katherine Lyman and her husband Lot Benton, who had no children of their own, raised Lyman from infancy.

What more can we learn about David Beecher? There were several members of the Beecher family named David who lived contemprarily in the greater New Haven area, so let’s begin by identifying which is which. Lyman’s father David was a son of Nathaniel Beecher (1706-1786), who himself was a son of Joseph Beecher (1647-1728), one of the five sons of Isaac Beecher who arrived in New Haven with his mother in the spring of 1638 to discover that his father John Beecher had become the first European to die in the newly founded colony.

Lyman’s grandfather Nathaniel Beecher married Sarah Sperry (1712-1796) who was a daughter of Ebenezer Sperry and Abigail Dickerman. Ebenezer and his brother Nathaniel, sons of Richard Sperry, married sisters — so it is quite likely that, through his mother Sarah, David Beecher was well acquainted with the branch of the Beecher family that settled in the area of the old New Haven colony that came to be incorporated as Woodbridge, where Sarah’s parents and namesake Aunt Sarah along with her husband Nathaniel Sperry lived (it is within this timeframe that their son Nathaniel Sperry, Jr. sells part of the family’s land to establish the East Side Cemetery on today’s Pease Road).

According to the Beecher genealogy, Lyman’s grandfather Nathaniel Beecher was also a blacksmith and when he died in 1786 left to his 47 year-old son David his house, blacksmith tools and shop in New Haven. David’s brother Hezekiah was a blacksmith too and lived and worked with David, near the corner of George and College streets. Let’s look at some maps to picture that location:

1748 map
“A plan of the town of New Haven: with all the buildings in 1748 taken by the Hon. Gen. Wadsworth of Durham to which are added the names and professions of the inhabitants at that period”
The asterisk marks the location of Nathanial Beecher’s blacksmith shop (labeled “Nath. Becher, Smith”) near the corner of College and George street within New Haven’s original ‘Nine Squares.’

Meanwhile, further away from this downtown New Haven location, another David Beecher has established himself in the community of Amity…

He is known as Captain David Beecher (1743-1780) and he is buried in the Old Bethany Cemetery. Born just five years before the blacksmith David Beecher (his 2nd cousin once removed), Captain David’s parents are Isaac Beecher (1717-1801) and Mabel Hotchkiss (1719-1798) who are also buried in the same cemetery having outlived their son David. Isaac is a son of Hannah Farrington and Samuel Beecher (abt. 1687-1760) whose mother was Joanna Roberts and father was Isaac Beecher, Jr. (1650-1708), namesake son of the first Isaac Beecher to arrive in New Haven, and brother to blacksmith David Beecher’s grandfather Joseph. Joanna’s gravestone is one of the limited number of stones that were removed from the original burying ground on the upper Green in the center of New Haven’s Nine Squares and placed along the wall of Grove Street Cemetery — the other members of her family from this time period no doubt were also buried on the Green, but their gravestones have been lost to time.

Interestingly, Captain David also has a brother named Hezekiah — he is Deacon Hezekiah Beecher (1755-1828) and he is buried in the Sperry Cemetery in Bethany.

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