With American roots that she knew stretched back “not to the Mayflower, but pretty close,” Prospect resident Patricia Zappone had long been interested in her family’s history. But as often happens, hints about famous ancestors sometimes get confused, embellished or lost over time.
Family secrets or legends, lost documents and misremembered facts can muddy the picture. With help from the Cheshire chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Zappone began searching for documents that would give an accurate picture of a family tree leading from her own family to her parents and grandparents all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
The Daughters of the American Revolution is a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to “promoting patriotism, preserving American history and securing America’s future through better education.” Founded in October of 1890 by a group of women including the great-grandniece of George Washington, Eugenia Washington, DAR includes in its current membership such prominent political figures as former First Ladies Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush, along with current Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth.
The list of notable women who belonged in the past is also prestigious, from celebrities like Ginger Rogers and Lillian Gish, to activists like Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams and Clara Barton. From the artist Grandma Moses to the engineer Emily Warren Roebling to cryptanalyst Gene Grabeel to Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the profound influence of patriotic women on United States and world history is clear to see. Membership is open to any woman “regardless of race, religion or ethnic background” who can prove her lineage to a “patriot of the American Revolution.”
Patricia Zappone is now officially one such person. She was admitted to Cheshire’s Lady Fenwick chapter this summer, after several years of genealogical research allowed her to confirm her lineage.
Cheshire’s local chapter is named after Alice Apsley Boteler Fenwick, Lady Boteler, or Lady Fenwick, whose own story is remarkable. She arrived in Connecticut alongside her second husband and helped establish the colony at what is now Old Saybrook. Two locks of the Lady’s hair are kept in the historical collection: https://cypresscemeteryosct.org/lady-fenwick/
To that end, Patricia used several research methods. She and a sister had visited archives in Rhode Island back in the 1970s to gather family information but the story remained incomplete. Online resources such as ancestry.com provided initial help in establishing some names and lineages, but the DAR requires solid archival proof. This meant finding official documents like birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, wills and testaments, newspaper articles and deeds of land.
Her search led her beyond the borders of the United States to southern Quebec where “knowing some French came in handy,” she says. That skill allowed her to examine a Sherbrooke newspaper that detailed another family connection.
After the war had ended, British Lieutenant-Governor Sir Alured Clarke began a program of granting land to people of English descent in Canada, hoping to use them to offset growing numbers of French Catholic settlers. Among these recipients was Sergeant Joseph Perkins of New Hampshire, who took advantage of his former enemy’s largesse to acquire a sizeable holding near what is today Windsor Mills, Quebec.
Perkins proved to be the connection to the Revolution whom Patricia had sought all those years. Throughout the war, he had fought in several engagements with the New Hampshire militia, despite being less than 20 years old at the time. He married one Sarah Fowler, a Vermonter who defied British troops herself. During the War of 1812, he became a Captain in the Canadian forces, but did not pursue active warfare. Despite his adventures and hardships, Perkins lived to be 87, dying in Shipton, Quebec, in January 1846.
Among his descendants, Patricia says, were participants in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, not to mention Major Henry Rathbone, who was sitting with President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre the night of his assassination.
Family history can be interesting on its own, but “it was important to me to pass along that legacy,” Patricia says. One major benefit of her efforts is that her son, Nicholas Zappone, was able to use her research in order to join the General David Humphreys Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. Its namesake, General Humphreys, was born in Derby and, among other accomplishments, introduced Merino wool into the United States.
While the process for joining the DAR can be lengthy, help is available for those interested in pursuing it. Becoming a member allows a person to feel a continuity to the history of the Republic and a newfound respect for the sacrifices of those who went before.
“I wanted the satisfaction of proving the theory,” Patricia says, “of knowing where we came from.”