12. Frances Latham, The Mother of Governors: Her Marriages and Ancestry

Except for limited notes at the end, all references and additional information on the persons in this entry are given in two volumes. The first is The Omnibus Ancestry. It updates and corrects, in brief form, a number of works including the more detailed volume, Foster Ancestors: Some Europeans, Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers. Both volumes are available for download through Lulu.com. They are referenced below as OA and FA, respectively.

This Mother’s Day it seems appropriate to recognize one of the most celebrated of my immigrant ancestors, Frances Latham (1609/10-1677). Born to a family in royal service, she successively married a perfumer, a nephew of an Earl, and a Baptist minister [OA,FA]. By this unlikely assortment of husbands she had twelve children, destined to be ancestors through direct descent or marriage of attorneys-general, speakers of the House, Revolutionary officers, a British rear admiral, an American ambassador to Russia; and Julia Ward Howe, writer of The Battle Hymn of the Republic [1].

But above all, Frances was The Mother of Governors. This name was bestowed on her by Louise Tracy, a genealogist who in 1908 listed as Frances’ descendants, directly or by marriage, 13 colonial or state governors and 9 deputy or lieutenant governors [1]. Recently this list has been expanded by an additional two governors. Even if the count is restricted to direct descendants, and redundancies are eliminated (e.g., by not double-counting lieutenant governors who became governors), Frances was the ancestor of an impressive 10 governors and 3 deputy or lieutenant governors [2].

Frances’ BirthLewis Latham

Frances was baptized on 15 February 1609/10 in Bedfordshire, England, the daughter of Lewis Latham and his first wife Elizabeth [6, OA, FA]. Lewis was of Elstow, two miles south of the town of Bedford. He was an “under falconer” in 1625 and a Sergeant of the Hawks in 1627, receiving £65 a year. His patron was King Charles I, a relationship that began prior to Charles’ coronation when he was the Prince of Wales. With Charles’ execution Lewis’ income fell dramatically, to the extent that when he made his will in 1653, his bequests were in pence rather than pounds. He died in 1655. In 1662, following the Restoration, his widow Winifred applied to King Charles II for arrears of his salary, and was granted £40 a year [OA, FA].

Frances’ Marriages

Frances, born into this background of royal service, was married in 1629 to William Dungan, a perfumer by trade. They lived in Waterside, an area of London situated between the Strand and the River Thames. William had been baptized only the year before as an adult, in the local parish church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Originally indentured to an innkeeper, he became involved in distilling oils for perfumes, which he sold from a shop at his home. The marriage was not of long duration, for William died in 1636. He left a widow only 26 years old and four young children; another is believed to have predeceased him [OA, FA].

Frances next married, in 1637 in England, Jeremiah (Jeremy) Clarke. Through his mother Mary Weston he was a nephew of Richard Weston (1576/7-1634/5), 1st Earl of Portland [3,4]. His father William Clarke was of the London merchant class, a son of grocer James Clarke. Jeremiah’s brothers Weston and James, both of London, were respectively a merchant and a grocer [3]. It therefore seems likely that Frances, widow of London perfumer William Dungan, met her second husband through mutual acquaintances among the merchants of London.

Frances soon immigrated to America with Jeremiah, who in 1638 was admitted an inhabitant of Aquidneck island, part of the colony of Rhode Island. Their seven children were all born in the colony and survived to adulthood. Jeremiah died in January 1651/2 [FA].

Frances last married, by January 1656/7, a Baptist minister named William Vaughan. It is believed the couple were childless. After Frances died in 1677, her gravestone gave her name as “Frances Vaughan”, yet described her as “ye mother of ye only children of Capt’n Jeremiah Clarke” [FA].

Frances’ Ancestry

The parentage of Lewis Latham, Frances’ falconer father, has long been a matter of supposition. In 1632, the will of a William Latham named as brothers both Lewis and Simon Latham. Simon was a famous falconer in his own right, who authored books on the subject including Latham’s Falconry [OA].

Alfred Justice, author of an influential Clarke and Dungan genealogy, believed that the brothers were the children of John Latham, Jr., of Brigstock, Northamptonshire [5]. While he was correct as to location, it is now known that Lewis and his brothers were actually the children of John’s uncle Oliver Latham (ca 1516-ca 1572), gentleman keeper of the Little Park of Brigstock [OA].

Oliver, in turn, was named as a son in the will of Thomas Latham (ca 1488?-1558), of Culworth and Kingsthorpe, co. Northampton. He was keeper of the Game Park in Moulton and Kingsthorpe. A violent man in defense of his territory, it was testified at a hearing in 1542 that he had killed a mastiff and a dog, and had forbidden the inhabitants of Boughton to use long bows in their fields. Further, he was said to have beaten and wounded shepherds and herdsmen in the fields at Kingsthorpe. It was even alleged that his servant had killed a man, and that Thomas himself had beaten to death another [OA,FA].

Thomas’ parentage is unclear but was almost certainly not that advocated by Justice, who suggested that he was the son of Nicholas Latham. Nicholas, whose now-missing will was dated at Lathom, Lancashire, in 1461, was of a completely different, distant county. It is more likely that Thomas was the son of James Latham, underkeeper of the fields of Kingsthorpe, co. Northampton, ca 1485-ca 1497. He was also, like Thomas, at some time keeper of the Game Park at Moulton [OA].

A fascinating deposition given by one Simon Mallory indicates that James was a man of very different character than his turbulent successor. Mallory admitted “That the said James Latham did oftentymes take the deponent in stellyng and kyllyng of conyes [rabbits] in Pysford feld w’ hys bowe, and dyd oftyn take away the bowe of this deponent, but upon the gentle entretye of this deponent the said James Latham did always restore to this deponent his bowe agayn” [OA].

Clearly the locals perceived a big difference between the stewardship of this keeper and possible ancestor, and that of Thomas Latham, who was otherwise the earliest known Latham ancestor of The Mother of Governors [OA].


[1] Tracy, L. (1908). An Historic Strain of Blood in America: Frances Latham — Mother of Governors. New Haven, Conn: Reprinted from The Journal of American History.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Latham (2015).

[3] The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, v. 74, pp. 68-76, 130-140 (1920).

[4] Weis, F.L. (1992). Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.

[5] Justice, A.R. (1922). Ancestry of Jeremy Clarke of Rhode Island and Dungan Genealogy. Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Co.

[6] “Split dates” like that cited — 15 February 1609/10 — may seem imprecise to those unfamiliar with them, but the contrary is true. Before 1752 in England, the Julian calendar was followed in which the new year began not on 1 January, but on 25 March. Thus a split date is one in January, February, or most of March (in this case February), with the year first given as shown in contemporary records (1609) and second as understood in today’s calendar (1610). Genealogical novices frequently “simplify” by leaving the date as one or the other (15 February 1609 or 15 February 1610). This is a mistake because it fails to differentiate between two distinct days, a year apart.

Picture attributions:

Lewis Latham — Public domain.

Featured image of hawks on Facebook, etc. — Thomas O’Neil – http://www.thomasoneil.com/photo.php?f=416, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

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