European Origins of the American Gossetts

Source of the Myth

Evangeline Gossett Newcomer, in her book The Family of Gossett,  pp. 43-44, relates that Thomas Henry Gossett, a prominent industrialist in South Carolina, commissioned a genealogical study in the early 1900s.  Thomas Henry's quest began with a family tradition that asserted his ancestors were French Huguenots, and therefore he dispatched his genealogists to Jersey Isle, a known, initial destination of Huguenots who fled persecution in France at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  Newcomer writes,

"Thomas Henry Gossett of Spartanburg, South Carolina, made the search for the records of his branch about 1900. He secured membership, March 15, 1924, in the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution as a great-great-grandson of John Gossett, son of Peter Gosset.

"The lineage of Thomas Henry Gossett was accepted in England for Burke’s directory. It is published in Burke, The Landed Gentry, Including American Families with British Ancestry. The lineage reads, as follows:

'Peter Gosset, of Jersey, Channel Islands, who settled in Chester Co., Penn., ca. 1760, b. 1705; m. Catherine du Four, and by her had issue, a son, John Gossett, a private in the Virginia Continental Line in the American Revolution; m. Martha Groom, and d. 1818.'

"The line of descent of Thomas Henry Gossett is, likewise, published in Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy by Virkus, II, 123-4, which follows:

'Thomas Henry Gossett, b. May 5, 1865. Thomas Henry Gossett, son of Pleasant Tollison Gossett, planter and stock financier (1826-1870) and Elizabeth Steen (1833-1869), who were married 1854; Pleasant T. Gossett, son of John Gossett (1796-1869) and Catherine Kirby (1797-1858), who were married 1816; John Gossett, son of John Gossett (1766-1844), moved from Virginia to Spartanburg District, South Carolina, in 1786, and Anna Le Master Gossett; John Gossett, son of John Gossett (d. 1818) and Martha Groom Gossett; John Gossett, son of Peter Gossett (b. 1705) and Catherine Du Four Gossett.'

"In recent volumes of Burke this prominent branch is recorded under the name of Benjamin Brown Gossett, manufacturer and banker of Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a nephew of Thomas Henry Gossett. "

If you examine the narrative carefully, you will notice that all of the supposedly authoritative sources that are cited about two brothers from Jersey Isle coming to America -- Burke's Landed Gentry;  Virkus;  and later books on Jersey immigrants to the New World -- all ultimately depend on the study commissioned by Thomas Henry Gossett.   They are not independent pieces of evidence.  So, one has to ask how good is the evidence compiled by the genealogists in 1910?   In our opinion, the evidence is not at all compelling.

Newcomer observes, for example (p.47),

"While Payne’s Armorial of Jersey gives only the brief fact that John, the eldest son of John and Susan D’Allain Gosset of Jersey, was born in 1699, there can be little doubt that the lack of further details was due to his removal to America rather than to his death. Had he died in Great Britain, that fact would have been known and recorded. Had he remained in Great Britain, he would have been named his father’s heir. Abraham was the heir and was the second son."

This well-illustrates what appears to have been the genealogists' evidence:   Based upon a family story of French-Huguenot origins, records were sifted on Jersey Isle.  Two brothers were found – Jean and Pierre – who:  (1) were near the correct ages to match a John and Peter known to be living in mid-1700s Pennsylvania;  and (2) appeared absent from later records on Jersey Isle. Payne's An Armorial of Jersey (1859) reported no death-dates for either brother;  for Jean, no record of marriage or children;  and for Peter,  a wife and children but no further record of their descendants.   The genealogists concluded that John and Peter of PA were, indeed, Jean and Pierre of Jersey, and that their emigration was the reason there was no further mention of their lines in the Jersey records. 

That Burke's Peerage Ltd. should accept this deductive reasoning for the Jersey origins of John and Peter should not be taken, by itself, as evidence of its validity. Burke's is not a primary source.  It is, in effect, a commercially motivated "vanity publication."   Recall Oscar Wilde's play A Woman of No Importance, in which a character recommends, "You should study the Peerage.... it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done."  Or consider the New York Times' opinion, sarcastically expressed (April 22, 1904) in a note about an imminent visit by the Duke of Newcastle:  "For, in that pleasing work of deftly mingled fact and fancy, Burke's Peerage, two pages and a half of very fine print are devoted to a statement of what, we suppose, are ... weighty reasons why the Duke of Newcastle far outranks the vast majority of his fellow countrymen and should be treated with awed respect."   The lawyer and genealogist, Noel C. Stevenson (Genealogical Evidence; A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History, Laguna Hills CA, Aegean Park Press, 1989 revised edition, 233 pp), cautions about the use of published genealogical directories, a number of which he criticizes -- Burke's in particular, to which he devotes some eight pages of scathing indictment (see pp. 31 and 33-39).  Stevenson also quotes opinions of other respected genealogists and historians:  Donald Lines Jacobus,  "...only genealogical novices rely on Burke;"  and Edward Augustus Freeman, "What for instance can be the state of mind of Sir Bernard Burke?  Does he know, or does he not know, the manifest falsehood of the tales which he reprints year after year?  He may, one is tempted to say, be reasonably called on for a more critical examination than we can ask from people who simply send him the stories which they have been taught to believe about their own families."  Freeman notes Burke's claim that he subjects his editions to extensive revision and amendment, "But such is the abiding life of the fables that they live through all revision and amendment."

We have viewed the application of Thomas Henry Gossett to the Society of Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). Unfortunately, the SAR records consist only of a completed application form. Thomas Henry Gossett completed it and the approvers signed.  Thomas Henry had no children;  however, his nephew, Benjamin Brown Gossett, was a very prominent industrialist in Charlotte, NC.  His papers are archived at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, including 12 pages of genealogical information.  We obtained copies, but found upon their examination that no sources are listed for any of the information;  and the information is mostly a recapitulation of the same lineage presented earlier by Thomas Henry, with a few differences (the most remarkable of which is that no mention is made of John, with Peter and wife Catherine Du Four – arriving about 1760 –listed as the first Gossetts in America).

Other commonly cited sources for Jean the Huguenot as patriarch of the American Gossetts include the aforementioned Frederick Virkus, Marion Turk, and Grace Jerkins.   Virkus is quite self-aggrandizing, noting in the preface that "...the work was born of a patriotic spirit to meet a national necessity and that national service is the ideal upon which it is founded."  However, Virkus' source is the lineage presented by Thomas Henry Gossett.   A review of Virkus' work has well-summarized its shortcomings: 

"The publishers are so well satisfied with their efforts that they call this work the mark of the third epoch in the development of genealogy (for which development they apparently accept the responsibility) and refer to the 'dependable ancestral lore' contained therein.  Professions, however, and self-congratulations are not the test of merit.  In the first place, we are confronted with many thousands of pedigrees and lineages.  Who is responsible for them?  It is soon obvious that the authors of these volumes are legion, that responsibility can not be placed at any one point.  Shall the unestablished claims of several thousands of persons inexperienced in genealogical methods be accepted as 'dependable ancestral lore'?  Do the publishers expect any discerning reader to accept as reliable the statements of contributors most of whom can not have the slightest conception of the technical and scientific elements involved in the case, some of whom may be honestly perpetuating ancient errors, some of whom are so covetous of a distinguished pedigree that they willfully pervert the plain facts or leap over unbridged chasms in order to secure their end?" --  Arthur L. Keith.  Reviewed work:  The Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy; First Families of America:  A Genealogical Encyclopedia of the United States by Frederick A. Virkus.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 399-402 (December 1929).

A review of Virkus by The American Genealogist (Vol. 49, p 61, January 1973) stated, of a reprinted version of A List of 2500 Immigrants to America Before 1750, "The list should not have been reprinted any more than the work in which it was first published should have seen the light of day."

Turk, for her part, is quite forthright in acknowledging that her purpose is to provide leads for further investigation by interested parties – and thus she cast a broad and uncritical net.   She writes, "Proofs of Channel Island ancestry are not easy to find... If family tradition alone says that the family came from the Islands, it has been accepted here as true, there being little reason to claim it if it were not so."  (p. 46).  "A great deal of the information here included is admittedly speculative, based on memory, tradition, and sometimes doubtful handwriting." (p. 48).    Turk's sources for the assertion that Jean the Huguenot is our patriarch?  Virkus and Newcomer!  

Newcomer is also the source cited by Jerkins for the Normandy/Jersey origins of the American Gossetts.  However, Jerkins expresses quite a bit of skepticism (p. 7):  "The story persists in the family that we are descended from the nobility of France.  Every article I have seen and those to whom I have talked who are interested in the family history, insist upon this.  I cannot prove otherwise but neither has it been proven to my satisfaction that we are.  I cannot believe that John, born in 1699, renounced his inheritance and came to America."

Jerkins (p. 5) also mentions, among early Gossetts, a John Gossett who petitioned the court in Lancaster Co., VA, for his freedom from indenture. [Note:  she incorrectly cites the year as 1705 — it was actually 1703/4].  Insightfully, Jerkins -- while not providing any evidence -- states (p. 8) that "It seems much more reasonable that John mentioned in the court record of 1705[sic] is the proper ancestor. It is my hope that records will eventually be found that lead us to the truth."

In summary, linkage of the American Gossetts to Jean the Huguenot of Jersey Isle is – upon close inspection – based solely on the genealogical study commissioned by Thomas Henry Gossett in the early 1900s.  Its conclusions were based upon the absence of evidence for the continued presence on Jersey of two brothers (Jean and Pierre) past 1730/1760, and the concurrent appearance in PA of two Gossetts (John and Peter) whose origins presented a similar mystery to the genealogical researchers.    However, as the late astronomer, Carl Sagan, noted, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  Against the genealogists' deductive logic, one must weigh the implausibility that two prominent sons of a prominent Jersey family (and first-born Jean being, no less, the heir to considerable family wealth) would have forsaken all to move to the wilds of mid-18th-century Pennsylvania.  For Chester and Cumberland Counties, PA, were comparatively "the wilderness."

And, as we shall show, there is compelling evidence of Gossetts in America as early as 1703/4;  and evidence that Jean and Pierre of Jersey Isle were never immigrants to America.  Furthermore, the YDNA analyses suggest that, of all American Gossetts yet tested, none descends from Jean the Huguenot.

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