Origins of the Driggs Family

2011:  While visiting with a friend, Golden Moore, who also happens to be a distant relative (third half cousin once removed, I think), he informed me that perhaps we are not Dutch, but Portuguese!  Here is the long explanation from an e-mail he forwarded me.  EBF

E-mail from Richard W. Davis of Provo, Utah to his cousin James Robert Driggs Jr. of Provo, Utah September 6, 2010


Following is information that, I believe will help you better understand why I feel confident that Joseph Driggs (1686-1748) of Middleton, Connecticut was born Jose Rodrigues and was from Portugal, possibly from the Azore Islands.

There are four questions that we need to address:

1. Are we Dutch and descended from Josias Dratz of Brooklyn as our Driggs Family in America book leads us to believe?

2. What is the origin of the tradition that says our Driggs family came from England?

3. Is there a tradition that the Driggs family came from any place other than England?

4. Is the Driggs name English or Portuguese?

My research on the above leads me to the following conclusions:

Number One

Are we Dutch and descended from Josias Dratz of Brooklyn as our Driggs Family in America book leads us to believe?

No, we do not descend from Josias Dratz of Brooklyn. I and others have researched the records of Brooklyn and there is nothing in them that would indicate that our Joseph Driggs was from that family. Moreover, the Dratz family was never known as DeRaet as indicated in the Driggs Book. Josias Dratz and his two known sons that lived to maturity (John and Casper) could all read and write and took the name Drake. All of Josias’ children were born British citizens and could speak, read and write English. Our Joseph Driggs could not read nor write and supposedly according to tradition could barely speak English when he first arrived in America.

There is no genealogical paper trail that would lead any genealogist to believe that Josias Dratz Jr. of Brooklyn could be our Joseph Driggs of Connecticut. Of course the best evidence that these two are not the same person is the Y-DNA test that your father took almost two years ago which when compared to the Y-DNA test of known Josias Drake descendants, clearly demonstrates that these two men are not a close match at all. The test was conclusive evidence that the Driggs and the Dratz families were two separate families and not related as all.

Number two

What is the origin of the tradition that our Driggs family came from England?

Years ago when I believed that the Dutch boy story (Dratz) was incorrect, I set about to find the origins of Joseph Driggs. Since he was living in New England in the early 1700s you would suppose that he was from Great Britain. Also the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the LDS website shows that at least 50 Driggs family members can be found in early English church records, including baptisms and marriages. There are also some American biographies and obituaries that show that the Driggs family originated in England.

So of course it must be so that we are English. Not so. I searched the Driggs names found in the IGI and in every case in which I was able to find the original record, that record was transcribed incorrectly. In most cases the name was actually written, Briggs, Diggs or some other variation of the name, but never Driggs.

Here is an example from the IGI: You will find a Dudley Driggs, a Knight baptizing his children at Chilham, Kent County, England from 1620 to 1631. When the original records were checked the name was actually Dudley Diggs!

Here is another example from the IGI: At Austerfield, Yorkshire Robert Driggs married Alice Hansen on 23 Sep 1593. When the original record was checked the names were actually Robert Briggs and Alice Bradfourth! Both last names were incorrect. I am afraid that a number of the Mormon extractors of these records were not very good at deciphering the old English script. The IGI simply cannot be trusted as a source of a Driggs-English connection.

I have numerous other examples. Here is one from a census record: In the 1841 census you will find Robert Driggs age 70, with his wife and daughter living at Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. I checked the original record and the last name does appear to be Driggs. However, neither he nor his wife is found in any other census record or church records as “Driggs” in Kirkbrightshire. A search of the 1851 census record shows his name to be Briggs and his baptismal record shows him as Brigg/Briggs. This man is clearly a Briggs not a Driggs. Everywhere I look in British records I find the same problem. In fact, in all my research I have not found any extended “Driggs” family in early England, Scotland and Wales. Driggs is not an English name.

As to the biographies and obituaries, they too are not good sources of a Driggs-English connection.

In 1856, Seth Beach Driggs wrote a book called “The Driggs Family in England” in which he claims to have traced the Driggs family back to the year 735 (1300 years ago!). He wrote the book while living in Carcaras, Venezuela. When Shadrach F. Driggs of Pleasant Grove, Utah (our ancestor) died in 1898 his grandson Benjamin W. Driggs Jr included this genealogy from this book in Shadrach’s obituary. The problem was that the genealogy was completely fictitious. This “fake” genealogy shows Thomas Driggs and wife Hannah Sterling’s family beginning with son Stephen Driggs, born 22 Jun 821 in London and the family living in London until “on April 16th, 1512 when their descendant George Driggs, watchmaker went from London to Sheffield”. The book continues by asserting that on 4 Feb 1703 Joseph Driggs left Liverpool with his two children and arrived in Boston on 7 Apr 1703.

The problem with Seth B. Driggs’s genealogy is that surnames have not been carried down for 1300 year in England. Englishmen did not start passing on their surnames to their children until about the 1200s and in most cases much later. Also it would have been a miracle for Seth Beach Driggs to be able to find birth dates for people dating back 1300 years ago. We would be the only family in the world to be so lucky to have such information. Surviving church records at the oldest, typically go back to about the 1500s. Seth Beach Driggs’ genealogy also shows that Joseph arrived in Boston, Massachusetts from England on 7 Apr 1703 with his two children, yet Joseph did not marry until 1716 in Connecticut and his two sons who lived to maturity, Joseph born in 1718 and Daniel born in 1721, were both born in Connecticut. I would think that any repected genealogist who was to examine this supposed Driggs family genealogy would call it a hoax, pure fabrication.

I searched the records of Sheffield and London and found no sign of a Driggs in any church records in either area. I also searched the birth, marriage and death indexes for all of England and found no Driggs listed in any of them. If the Driggs family really did live in England for 1300 years one would think that they would have left a couple of offspring with the name living there!

Incidentally, I did some research on Seth Beach Driggs the author in question, and found that he following information about him on the internet:

From “Modern American Spiritualism: a twenty years record of the communion” by Emma Hardinge Britten page 474 (on Google)

Seth Driggs held seances in Caracas, Venezuela and in Trinidad in 1856 and 1857. By his letters dated 1857 he had been in Laguayra, Trinidad, 27 years previous where he knew Buenaventura Dominguez. He considered himself a medium between this world and the spirit world.. He was in Caracas, Venezuela in 1865.

During his seances, Seth wrote that the movements of a table that he would sit at would indicate a yes or no answer to his questions which he would ask of deceased people who were present but unseen in the room.

from “Venezuela and the United States; from Monroe ‘s hemisphere to petroleum’s empire” by Judith Ewell (on Google) page 59

Occasionally, claims patently trivial or fraudulent that diplomats hesitated to act on them even unofficially. One scoundrel, Seth Driggs, was imprisoned for falsifying an affidavit he had registered in support of a claim.” He then sued the government of Venezuela over his imprisonment and treatment “Driggs’s antics were too much for Charge Vespasian Ellis, who wrote that in June 1845 that Driggs was “probably the most artful reckless villain who has ever come to this country, from the United States”.

From Driggs Family in America, on page 23 we learn that Seth Beach Driggs was born 14 Dec 1792 at Middleton, Middlesex, Connecticut and died 20 Jan 1884 at New Haven, Connecticut. He lived in Trinidad, Venezuela, New York City and then back to Connecticut. “In 1856 he published his Driggs Family in England book at Caracas, Venezuela, and directs that records may be sent to him, or left with Chester Driggs in New York City. He was evidently living in Venezuela at the time”.

Perhaps Seth received all of his genealogical information on the Driggs family during one of his seances!

I believe that the idea of Joseph Driggs being England was born of the fictitious genealogy found in Seth Beach Driggs’s 1856 book. Benjamin Woodbury Driggs Jr., one of the three Driggs family members who, sometime between 1899 and 1909, spearheaded the project of collecting data on all Driggs families in America, apparently believed Seth Beach Driggs’ book and the information in the book continued to be noted in letters written in the early 1900s by Driggs family members.

There are two biographies written on the Driggs family after 1900 as follows:

From “Genealogical and Family History of the State of Connecticut”, 1911 New York, Lewis Historical Publishing company

Joseph Driggs, immigrant ancestor, was born in 1686 in England died November 1748 at East Haddam, Connecticut. He came to America in 1712 and settled in Saybrook, then to Middleton and in 1746 to East Haddam”.

New England Families, genealogical and memorial: a record of the ...., Volume 3, edited by William Richard Cutter. 1913

Joseph Driggs emigrant ancestor, was born in 1686 in England, died November 1748, at East Haddam, Connecticut. He came to America in 1712 and settled first at Saybrook, Connecticut: from there he removed to Middleton, and in 1746 to East Haddam. He married first September 13, 1716 at Middletown, Mrs. Elizabeth (Martin) Boarne, of Middletown, widow of Joseph Bourne. She was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Martin, of Middletown and was born September 24, 1689, died there March 3, 1725-1726".

The two bios are identical, and I believe that the information was ascertained from letters that were sent out in 1909 by three Driggs researchers, one of which was Benjamin Woodbury Driggs Jr. The letters they sent out stated that they were collecting for publication, family information on Joseph Driggs who arrived from England in 1712 and who first settled at Saybrook, Connecticut.

There was also a biography written in 1909 on the life of Marshall S. Driggs who lived in Brooklyn, New York and the bio stated that his immigrant ancestor was Joseph Driggs who was born in London, England. A search of the letters on LDS microfiche #399 shows that in 1870, Benjamin Woodbury Driggs Sr. (our ancestor) stopped to visit with Marshall S. Driggs in New York City on his way to Europe as a missionary. Benjamin Woodbury Jr was corresponding with Marshall 29 years later, in 1899. The information on the origin of the Driggs Family from Marshall S. Driggs’ bio could easily have come from Benjamin W. Driggs Jr.

I my estimation, there is no a legitimate source or tradition that shows that Joseph Driggs came from England. It appears that well meaning Driggs researchers were spreading incorrect family information found in Seth Beach Driggs’ book printed in 1856.

In 1909 three Driggs researchers, Laurence L. Driggs of New York City, an attorney, Dr. James Monroe Cooper, MD of Detroit and Benjamin Woodbury Driggs Jr., an attorney of Salt Lake City sent out letters to every Driggs that they could find in America, asking them for information on their families and if they knew the origin of Joseph Driggs who came from England to Saybrook, Connecticut in 1712. They received a number of replies and some of those letters can be found on microfilm #399 at the LDS Salt Lake City Family History Library. Most of the replies contained only a generation or two of the respondent’s family. However, there were four letters that I found that mentioned the origin of Joseph Driggs and in all four letters, Portugal was mentioned.

Did Joseph Driggs (1686-1748) came from England? There is no credible oral tradition supporting such an assertion, nor are there records to that effect of any extended Driggs family in England. At best, I would say that it is highly doubtful that Joseph was an Englishman.

Number Three

Is there a tradition that the Driggs family came from any place other than England?

The answer to number three is Yes! As noted above ther were four respondents of the 1909 letters that mention Portugal. Other than these four letters there is no mention at all by any respondent of England as being nation of origin.

Remember that the 1909 letter sent out by Benjamin W. Driggs Jr and the others mentioned that they were collecting information on the family of Joseph Driggs who came from “England” in 1712 to Saybrook.

Here are the letters:

LDS film 399

Letter from Mrs. Kate (Humphreys) Coe of Hartford, Connecticut dated 29 Sep 1911

The story I used to hear when I was quite young concerning my ancestors on the Driggs side was this: That a vessel sailing from Portugal was wrecked and the only surviving soul on board was a boy lashed to a part of the wreck and he was so young that could not talk distinctly. But he was rescued and when they inquired his name he insisted that it was Driggs. That was all they could make out of it (and it was the first time the name had been heard in America) and all the Driggs in America, so my Aunts and mother said, are descended from that boy. I remember I used to joke my mother about being some kind of a “goose” as I would call it, meaning of course, a “Portugoose”. How true the story may have been, I do not know, but I was young enough when I first heard it to believe it, and I have never heard it contradicted. I do not know as there is anything to it, for the reason that you tell me in the papers that I am a lineal descendent of Daniel Driggs and I see that he was the son of Daniel and his grandfather, Joseph Driggs came from England in 1712 and settled at Saybrook, Conn. According to that he could not have been a Portugoose”.

Kate seems to be saying “Well we always thought we were Portuguese but you say we were English-I guess we were wrong!” However, she was not the only one who had heard that the Driggs family had come from Portugal [comment by RWD].

LDS film 399

Letter from James Monroe Cooper, MD of Detroit to “My Dear Friend Driggs” (Benj. W. Driggs Jr.) Undated but is probably about December 1911.

The Line of Daniel Dow Driggs (#74) is a new one and very interesting to me. He was without doubt a brother of your ancestor Urial. A curious fact is that his descendants also have a tradition that their first ancestor in this country was one of two brothers who came from Portugal. Could you tell me whether or not the same tradition was handed down in your branch of the family? Kindest regards to you and yours. We also have a new boy born November 29, 1911.”

The original letter of the Daniel Dow Driggs family was not found on the microfisch-only referenced by Dr. Cooper. Urial Driggs is our ancestor and was born in 1780, apparently his older brother Daniel Dow Driggs passed on the Portuguese tradition to his children.[comment by RWD]

Film 399

Letter from E. H. Driggs, General Merchandise, Guida, California to Mr. Laurence L. Driggs of 43 Cedar St. New York, dated 26 Jan 1910

Your letter of December 8th at hand...You wish to know something about my ancestors. I will give it to you just as my father and grandfather gave it to me. They said our family started from Bartholomew and Solomon Driggs who sailed from Portugal for America in the early part of the eighteenth century in their own vessel landing at Saybrook, Conn. (Whether we are of Portuguese or English descent, I do not know). They followed the coasting trade for a time, after which Bartholomew, great-great grandfather moved to what at that time was known as Lunenburg, New York. Here he raised seven boys, Seth (probably nickname for Joseph), Elliotte, George, Spencer, Dyer, Grisal and Bartholomew Jr. Elliotte and George lived at Batavia, New York and moved from there to Michigan. Spencer, Dyer, Grisal and Bartholomew Jr. we know nothing about”

E. H. Driggs also stated in his letter that he was now 52 years old and lived at Berkeley, California for many years and was the son of Jeremiah Driggs who died in Ohio last July age 83 and had also named his brothers Charles and William.

It is interesting to note that again the writer of the letter knew they came from Portugal, but because of the inclusion of Joseph Driggs of “England” in the 1909 letter he had to add “Whether we are of Portuguese or English descent, I do not know”. E. H. Driggs confused the names Bartholomew and Joseph [comment by RWD]

film 399

Letter written at Smyra, Delaware by either Samuel Driggs or Mrs. E. K. Turner to Dr. Cooper, dated 26 May 1915. (Mrs. E. K. Turner was daughter of Samuel B. Driggs and it appears the information was from her father as his name is written on the Driggs family outline she sent to Dr. Cooper).

The name Driggs supposedly to have come from a place named Drigg on firth of Solway, England. The first Joseph Driggs came to Saybrook, Connecticut from England via Portugal about the year 1712”.

The letter contains names and dates of the family and it appears someone had done a lot of research on this family and compiled the information, which would indicate that someone probably searched place names in England and found Drigg in England and that this was not carried on as a tradition, but rather a grasping for a place of origin. Again, you see that Portugal is mentioned, but England is thrown in with Saybrook and the year 1712 probably due to the fact that those things we all mentioned in the letter that was received from B. W. Driggs and others. [comment by RWD]

Jim, there were apparently other letters received stating that the origin Driggs family originated in Portugal. Not all of the letters they received are found on the LDS film #399. I am not sure where they are.

The next four letters I find very interesting as they show that two of the three researchers came to the conclusion that Joseph Driggs was from Portugal. Laurence L. Driggs believed it by 1915 and James Monroe Cooper by 1921. It appears from one of the letters written below that the people who still believed that Joseph Driggs was English were influenced by Seth Beach Driggs’ book written in 1856. However, with the discovery of the Dutch Dratz family of Brooklyn information in the 1940s, everything changed and the Dutch history unfortunately became our t official, albeit incorrect, family history. Laurence L. Driggs went to England numerous times and in fact lived in England for a while during the first world war. He apparently did extensive research while in England. The results of some of that research follows:

Film 399

Letter written by Laurence L. Driggs at Clarendon, Texas to Dr. Cooper (of Detroit), dated 10 Jan 1915.

I searched through the real estate transfers, the marriage, the births and deaths in the English records, from the beginning down to 1720, or thereabouts without finding one mention of the name I wrote before, these records did not include those from the County York” Laurence wrote at the end of the letter “I determined to go to Portugal as I emerged out of the door of Somerset House, London. I have never been there and it would make a good trip anyway. When the English records failed I felt sure I would find some in Lisbon”.

The indexed birth, marriages and deaths for all of England (except for Yorkshire) are located at Somerset House in London. I have searched numerous Yorkshire Church records and I have failed to find one mention of a Driggs. [comment by RWD]

film 399

Letter written by Laurence L. Driggs on 9 Jun 1915 at Clarendon, Texas to Dr. Cooper (of Detroit):

While writing of his frustration on not finding Driggs’ while in England Laurence wrote

There flew up the spout all the romances invented and handed down through the generations to the effect for English complete was the vacuity that I immediately harked back to the suggestion we unearthed somewhere, to the effect that the Driggs family came from Portugal, and was a contraction from the name De Rigues. Where was the starting place of that story; do you remember?”

film 399

Letter written from Laurence L. Driggs at Clarendon, Texas to Dr. Cooper of Detroit. Dated 17 Sep 1915

I feel satisfied that Portugal, not England, was the place of Joseph’s origin. It is surprising to see the number of letters we received at the beginning of this work from entirely different branches of the family, stating that the family came from Portugal. Some said via England, others said from England direct, but these were clinging to the Spiritualist book of Seth Driggs”.

film 399

Letter from James Monore Cooper of Detroit to B. W. Driggs (Benjamin Woodbury Driggs Jr), undated but later forwarded by Benjamin W. Driggs to Jean Driggs, with Benjamin writing on 28 Mar 1921 to Jean “Following is a copy of a letter just received from Mr. Cooper of Detroit”:

Dear Friend Driggs”

I was delighted to hear from you again....I have found several references to the name in unusual places, where investigation showed a misprint. A notable instance is one of the Colonial Governor of North Carolina (sic-Virginia-RWD) whose name was frequently printed Driggs, His name, however was Diggs. There was a sailor on an English vessel who witnesses a will in 1680 who signed his name as Driggs. I think the tradition as to Portugal is correct. Joseph certainly had some connection with Portugal. The tradition is widely spread among members of the family that have been separated from the rest of the family since the Revolution, as well as being known to all the better known branches. He arrived at the Connecticut River about 1712 all traditions agree on this”

It would appear that the real family tradition of the origin of our first ancestor in America, Joseph Driggs, is that he came from Portugal.

Number four

Is the Driggs name English or Portuguese?

The Driggs name was born in America. It is the Americanization of the name Rodrigues. Most Non-English speaking immigrants who arrived in America in the 1700s and the 1800s, who had “different” sounding names would often change their last name to make it easier to pronounce for others. I have seen this over and over while doing research on our early Swiss/German ancestor who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s.

It is obvious that there is a Portuguese tradition in our family but how do I know that Driggs came from a Portuguese name?

The answer lies with other Driggs immigrants who came after our Joseph Driggs. I think that most of us Driggs cousins have been led to believe that all the Driggses in America (or in fact in the world) descend from our Joseph Driggs. This is incorrect. Our Joseph Driggs first appears in America in a record of Connecticut troops who were raised to fight the French in Canada in 1709. On the list of soldiers appears the name of “Joseph Drigges”.

Here are some of the other Driggs immigrants;

1. Manuel Driggs (1767-1845). Manuel arrived in Falmouth, Massachusetts in about the year 1800. He married an “English” girl there in 1802 and had a number of children. He died in 1845, which is unfortunate because if he had lived 5 years longer he would have been asked his place of birth for the 1850 census. To find his place of origin I searched the death records of his children. In some death records, the names and places of birth of the parents are asked. Sometimes the surviving relatives know the answers, sometimes not.

When Manuel’s second daughter Sophronia (Driggs) Hathaway died on 19 Mar 1864 at New Bedford, Massachusetts, the death record shows that her father Manuel Driggs was born in the Western Islands. The Western Islands was another name for the Azore Islands, which were part of Portugal.

When Manuel’s second son Leonard Driggs died on 24 Jan 1885 at Falmouth, the death record showed that his father Manuel Driggs was born in Portugal.

These two records above would indicate that Manuel Driggs, the second Driggs immigrant to America was born in the Azore Island, Portugal.

2. Annie Roe Driggs (1821, Brava, Cape de Verde Islands, Portugal-2 Jan 1906, Wareham, Mass). She married Babbitt Gomes. Her death record showed that she was age 85 the widow of Babbitt Gomes and was born in Brava, Cape de Verde Islands the daughter of Manuel Roe Driggs and his wife Mary, both born at Brava and the informant was Manuel Gomes, her son of Wareham. She was buried on 4 Jan 1906 at Patrick’s Cemetery. The name “Roe Driggs” was probably originally “Rodrigues”.

3. Joseph Driggs (b. 1830). He was called Joseph Driggs in1860 when he lived at New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, a seaman born in Portugal age 30.

4. Antone Driggs (1848-1883). Census records of Massachusetts show that he was born in the Azores and his death record shows that he was born on Flores Island in the Azores. He lived at Tauton but died at Worcester.

5. John Driggs (b. 1865). Census records show that he was born in The Azores. He lived at New Bedford, Massachusetts.

6. Joachin Driggs (b. Mar 1868). Census records show that he was born in the Azores and immigrated in 1885. He lived at Falmouth, Massachusetts.

7. Antone Driggs (b. May 1870). He lived at Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts in 1900 and the census record shows that he was born in the Azores. He immigrated in 1890.

8. Joseph Driggs (1887-c1925). Joseph Driggs lived at East Bridgewater, Massachusetts in the 1920 census with his wife Justin and son Joseph. It showed in the census record that all were born in Portugal and that Joseph immigrated in 1914 and Justina and son came later. I was not able to find Joseph or Justina in the 1930 census under the name Driggs. However, I did find Justina living as a widow at East Bridgewater in 1930 as “Justina Rodricks” with her son Joseph Rodricks. By this time I was curious-was the name Driggs or Rodricks? I searched the passenger lists of immigrants and found Justina Rodrigues and her son Joseph Rodrigues arriving in Boston on a ship from Portugal! The name had transformed from Roderigues to Driggs and Rodricks. I then searched other census records for this part of Massachusetts and discovered a large number of Driggs and Rodrick/Rodricks who had imigrated from Portugal living there.

As you can see, there were a number of other Driggs families in America that did not descend from out Joseph Driggs and all came from Portugal. From Joseph Driggs (1887-c1925), #8 above you can follow and see how the name evolved from Rodrigues to Driggs and also to Rodricks.

Considering that there was a strong tradition of our Driggs family being Portuguese in many different early Driggs families and the fact that every other Driggs family that immigrated to America before 1920 was from Portugal, it appears that our Joseph Driggs was, indeed Portuguese.

Finally, you will remember that in the first record of our Joseph Driggs in 1709, his name was written “Drigges”. If you put an “RO” in front of the Drigges you get Rodrigges. According to my daughter Barbie, who speaks Portuguese, the name Jose is not pronounced the same as the way the Spanish pronounce it, as in San Jose. The Portuguese “J” in Jose is a hard J and pronounced like the J in the American name Joseph, so the name is a little similar to the American name Josie. In any case, both the Spanish and Portuguese translations of “Jose” in English are “Joseph”.

This letter has gone on a little too long, but I wanted to give you sufficient information that will help you see my thoughts on the matter.

Best regards