Family Tales of a Connection to Paul Revere
Stories I heard as a child sparked an interest in genealogy and inspired me to write One April In Boston
by Ben Edwards | 01.31.20
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for history. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and in grade school collected stamps and coins. Anything with a connection to the past fascinated me. Antiques certainly fit into that category. In the early 1970s, I can recall occasional weekend trips to the town of Woodbury—the “Antiques Capital of Connecticut”—to visit the ‘Tique Mart, the state’s first weekly, open-air antique show. Founded in 1966, the antique show operated through 1989 in an open field off Route 6. In the 1970s, there was an A&W Root Beer stand adjacent to the field. Burgers, hot dogs, root beer floats—they had it all—and the waitresses came right out to the car! I can still see the tray attached to the window. Mom drove my brother and me on these trips and sometimes we picked up a special passenger on route: my father’s aunt Mary Elizabeth Edwards, the family genealogist. We called her “Aunt Biz.”
Aunt Biz was born in Naugatuck, Connecticut, in 1888. To me, then a 10-year-old child, that fact alone was amazing. She had spent a lot of time researching the Edwards family history in an effort to find an ancestor who had fought in the American Revolution so she could become a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). On those weekends at the ‘Tique Mart in Woodbury, after an initial pass checking out all the vendors—especially the coin dealers—there was the much-anticipated lunch break at A&W. We wouldn’t always eat in the car as the picnic tables on the side of the root beer stand were Aunt Biz’s preferred option. During these lunch breaks, I would listen in on my Mom’s conversations with my dad’s aunt. I don’t remember much, but I did eventually learn that Aunt Biz’s early research led her to Boston where she discovered the marker for a Captain Benjamin Edwards in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. I was told that he was a relative, but I knew little else about him. On a trip to Boston in the summer of 1964, on what amounted to my first walk along the Freedom Trail at the age of 2 1/2, the family made a point to visit Copp’s Hill. Remarkably, I have vague memories of that day and the fuss the family made about taking one particular photo that seemed pretty inconsequential at the time to a toddler. My uncle Pete took the black and white picture shown here of my father and me next to the marker for Captain Edwards. The words “Capt. Benjamin Edwards Tomb” were carved into the slate, which had already begun to crack, and no dates of birth or death were visible.
During the research Aunt Biz performed, she also uncovered some sort of family connection to Paul Revere. I became aware of this growing up, and my dad had learned about it from his aunt when he was a child. He even mentioned the Revere link to his friends one day in grade school and recalls being teased about it. Not believing his claim, the other children replied, “if you’re related to Paul Revere, it’s probably through his horse!” Whether it was through his horse or by some other means, the family lore of a connection to the patriot and midnight rider intrigued me. I began to write books in grade school including one that mentioned both Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party. Thankfully, my mom saved much of my early writing and I can share a bit of it below. Paul Revere’s famous ride was on my mind, even though the history conveyed by my 10-year-old self was far from accurate! I can recall being quite proud at the time of my illustration of the Boston Tea Party. In hindsight, it is early evidence of the need to hire a professional illustrator like Cortney Skinner in the future, as my own skills in pen and ink advanced very little from this early rendering.
A few years before Aunt Biz passed away in the bicentennial year of 1976, she fulfilled a request to put in writing her recollections of the Edwards family history. I have that sheet of paper next to me as I write this blog post, admiring her very legible cursive writing in red ink. There is no mention of a family tie to Paul Revere but she does note that her father, Joseph Bragdon Edwards, was born in New York City on February 8, 1861; her grandfather was Benjamin Edwards, born in Boston; her great- grandfather was either Joseph Bragdon or Benjamin from Boston; and her great-great-grandfather again was either Joseph Bragdon or Benjamin. Aunt Biz may have gotten some of her initial genealogical clues from an Edwards Family Bible in the possession of her father (see photos below). It was printed in 1812. The family record section listed the births, marriages, and deaths of numerous members of the Edwards family. Tradition says it was passed down from eldest son to eldest son, and when I grew up my father kept it in a closet in our home. I began reading the family records when I was 10. The earliest birth records were for four siblings, including a Benjamin Edwards born in 1793 and a Joseph Bragdon Edwards born in 1799. The earliest death record was for a Benjamin Edwards who “died June 9, 1808 age 43 years.” As a 10-year-old, this entry intrigued me the most. Born in 1765, this Benjamin Edwards would have been my age when Paul Revere made his Midnight Ride and the American Revolution began. Was he the Captain Edwards buried at Copp’s Hill and—if not—how was he related? The recollections of Aunt Biz and the records in the 1812 Edwards Family Bible are all the clues I had to begin my genealogical journey.
Through high school, my interest in the family history never waned entirely. You might say that it was simply put on the back burner. It was reignited for a short time when two of my favorite mini-series aired on ABC: Roots in January 1977 and Roots: The Next Generations in February 1979. Whenever I did reconnect with the Edwards genealogy, there was always that nagging, unanswered question: was there really a family connection to Paul Revere? I needed to answer that question once and for all. Yet, even with that added motivation, little progress was made through my college years at Bryant University (where I majored in marketing) and, after that, my work left little free time. Finally, as if part of a larger plan, something remarkable happened at a family reunion in 1994. Ruth Edwards, a relative who shared my interest in genealogy, gave me a copy of an old newsletter called The Edwards Journal. The issue included extensive information from Jeannie Edwards Cook, a woman in Cody, Wyoming who claimed to have a Bible from 1708 belonging to her ancestor Captain Benjamin Edwards of Boston! The article listed all the family entries from the Bible and gave other information. That information included a reference to the Captain’s granddaughter, Sally Edwards, and noted that she had married Paul Revere Jr. It also listed her siblings, including a brother named Benjamin Edwards.
I sent Jeannie a letter and we began to correspond. Research she possessed noted the baptism date of Sally’s brother, Benjamin, as April 14, 1765. Other entries in our family Bibles served to confirm the relationship. I learned that Benjamin Edwards was my direct ancestor (fourth-great-grandfather). As an adult, he worked as a cooper in Boston. Ben and his sister Sally were the children of Captain Edwards’ son Dolling. Jeannie was related to the Captain’s firstborn son, Benjamin 2nd. A photo of the earliest entries in the 1708 Edwards Family Bible appears below.
Jeannie began telling me stories passed down in her family about the Sons of Liberty and how family members were involved in this organization. Research conducted later at the Massachusetts Historical Society confirmed that one of Captain Edwards’ sons, Alexander, was indeed a member. She spoke about the family tomb at Copp’s Hill and stories of how it had been scarred by British musket balls. I told her that I was familiar with the Edwards marker over the tomb, and she was quite surprised when I was able to describe its exact location. I promised to send her a copy of the photo of my father and me next to the marker. Jeannie even connected me with relatives in Plymouth, Massachusetts who had a painting of Captain Benjamin Edwards and other family treasures. That painting can be seen in the PDF to which I’ve provided a link at the end of this post.
After that big break in 1994, I hired a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston to help me learn more details about the Edwards family. Research continued on and off through the end of the decade when I came up with the idea to write a children’s book called One April in Boston based on what I had learned about my Boston ancestors and their connection to Paul Revere. The main character would be my fourth-great-grandfather, Benjamin Edwards. A 10-year-old orphan in April 1775, he and his siblings live with their aunt and uncle, Sarah and Alexander Edwards, right down the street from Christ Church (Old North Church) in the North End. The idea for the story would grow beyond the American Revolution to include connections to the Civil War and World War I. One April in Boston also teaches children the value of goal setting. I’ll save those elements for a future blog post.