Genetics & Genealogy
The Bassetts of New England:
A Comparison of Five Early Immigrants
by Jeffrey N. Bassett (originally written for NEHGS)
Many Bassetts in the United States can trace their ancestry to one of five
early Bassett immigrants who arrived in New England during the seventeenth
century. Little is known of the origins of these five early New England families.
The immigrants were:
1. William Bassett of Plymouth, Massachusetts,
who arrived on the Fortune in 1621
2. William Bassett of Lynn, Massachusetts,
who arrived on the Abigail in 1635
3. John Bassett of New Haven, Connecticut,
who died there in 1652
4. William Bassett of New Haven, Connecticut,
who died there in 1684
5. Thomas Bassett of Fairfield, Connecticut,
who arrived on the Christian in 1635.
In addition to these New England Bassetts, many Bassetts in the South descend
from Thomas Bassett of Virginia, who arrived on the Truelove in
1635, or from Francis Bassett, first seen in records in 1772 in Mecklenburg
County, North Carolina, who later settled in Barnwell County, South Carolina.
I have researched Bassett families for twenty-five years and have been documenting
descendants of the above immigrants. I have always wondered from whence these
different Bassetts came in England, and whether or not they were related.
I first learned about genetics and genealogy and the possible benefits of
DNA testing by attending a lecture by Dr. Bryan Sykes at the GENTECH 2002
Forum in Boston. Three months later, in an effort to show how these families
might be linked, I began a Bassett family Y-chromosome DNA study. The Y chromosome
is passed from father to son and, except for occasional mutations, remains
unchanged from generation to generation.
I decided to start with my family of (1)William Bassett of Plymouth, born
say 1600, who arrived in 1621 on the Fortune. He was married
to his first wife, Elizabeth (__), by 1623. His origin is unknown, but he
was well educated and his inventory included more than twenty books. It also
included his blacksmith tools. He moved from Plymouth to Duxbury, Massachusetts,
and served in various town offices. He died in April or May 1664, leaving
a widow (his second wife, Mary [Tilden] Lapham) and six children, including
three sons — William, Nathaniel, and Joseph. I found one male descendant
from each of these three sons who agreed to provide a DNA sample. We were
not surprised to find that all three of us matched on twelve out of twelve
markers. Based on the results of these first tests, I decided to open
the project to Bassetts worldwide and contacted many of the people for whom
I had undertaken research during the previous ten years. We soon had two
As part of our DNA study, we have now tested over one hundred male Bassetts
from England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. We chose
Family Tree DNA to perform the testing. The results so far show twelve
or more distinct groups of Bassetts worldwide.
Several sources mention the possibility that (4)William Bassett of New Haven
was a son of (3)John Bassett. However, William was not listed as a son
in the will of Margery ___, wife of John Bassett, so I always wondered whether
this information was correct. One descendant of (3)John and one of (4)William
took part in the early rounds of testing. On the twelve marker tests, only
four of twelve markers matched. Several months later, with another descendant
of (4)William, we found a connection. The descendant of (3)John and the new
descendant of (4)William matched on twelve out of twelve markers.
This match does not prove that (4)William was the son of (3)John, but does
indicate that they have common Bassett ancestors. William and John could
have been nephew and uncle, for example, or first or second cousins. To be
absolutely sure of results, it would be best to have two distantly related
descendants of (3)John whose markers agree, and two distantly related descendants
of (4)William whose markers agree. The mismatch of the first set of tests
shows the importance of testing more than one descendant. Because of “non-paternity” problems
(adultery, unrecorded adoptions, illegitimacy, and poor genealogical research),
one cannot exclude the possibility of relationship based on a comparison
of single descendants.
More than three dozen online family trees identify (3)John Bassett of New
Haven as the John Bassett christened May 17, 1589, in Heyshott, Sussex, England,
son of Robert Bassett. Although the timeframe is suitable and the name is
the same, I have found no evidence that this record refers to the Connecticut
John Bassett. Recent DNA testing shows that both (3)John Bassett and (4)William
Bassett of New Haven share a common ancestor with the Bassetts of Claybrooke,
Leicester, England, where the Bassett line can be traced to 1600. More research
in England is required. We are currently upgrading these tests from twelve
marker tests to the more precise twenty-five marker tests to see what additional
information we might discover about these three family lines.
While (4)William Bassett and (3)John Bassett share a common ancestor, the
results from descendants of (1)William of Plymouth, (2)William of Lynn, and
(5)Thomas of Fairfield have shown no connections to each other.
Of the five New England Bassetts, (2)William Bassett of Lynn is the only
one whose parents are known. He was the son of Roger Bassett and Ann Holland,
married in St. Martin’s Church in Dorking, Surrey. William was baptized
May 30, 1624, also in St. Martin’s Church, and arrived in Massachusetts
in 1635 on the Abigail with his mother and stepfather, Hugh Burt.
He lived in Lynn, served in an expedition against the Narragansett, and died
in Lynn March 31, 1703, leaving a wife, Sarah (___), and twelve children,
including four sons. Descendants of two other Bassetts, both with known English
origins, have matched 12/12 with our William Bassett of Lynn. The first is
a pair of brothers, William and Elias Bassett, who left England about 1829
and settled in Ohio before 1840. They were both born in Folkestone, Kent.
The other is a Bassett whose family left Kent, England and emigrated to New
Zealand in the 1800s.
Several descendants of (5)Thomas Bassett of Fairfield took part in our study,
as well as two descendants of Elias Bassett of Granby, Connecticut. (5)Thomas
Bassett, of unknown origin, was born about 1598, arrived in 1635 on the Christian,
and lived in Windsor, Stratford, and Fairfield. He was a carpenter who
owned little land other than his homelot. He died about 1669, leaving his
second wife, Joanna (___) (Beardsley), their (probable) son Thomas, and perhaps
other children. The Elias Bassett of Granby family was assumed to be related
to Joshua Bassett (of the (1)William Bassett of Plymouth family) because
of different sets of circumstantial evidence and the intermarriage of their
descendants in the mid-1800s. We were quite surprised to find that the Elias
and (5)Thomas descendants matched 12/12. Further testing has shown that almost
all Bassetts with known roots in Cornwall (including Bassetts from Australia,
Canada and the United States) fall into this group as well. It is thus probable
that (5)Thomas Bassett also comes from Cornwall.
I could devote a whole article to the results matching unconnected Bassetts
to the (1)William Bassett of Plymouth family. In fact, we have more Bassetts
with unknown connections to (1)William of Plymouth in our study than we have
Bassetts with documented descents. The DNA results enable these descendants
to focus their research.
Of the five New England Bassett immigrants, four have descendants with DNA
matches to Bassetts with known roots in England. The immigrant without such
a link is (1)William of Plymouth. Some sources have identified him as the
William Bassett baptized October 24, 1600, in Stepney, Kent. While this identification
is possible, no DNA evidence has been found to link Bassetts in Plymouth
to Kentish Bassetts. So far we have two different lines of Bassetts in Kent.
One, that of (2)William Bassett of Lynn, is discussed above. Another group
is descended from three different Bassett families in Kent and Surrey. Two
of those lines settled in the United States (William Bassett of Ripley County,
Indiana, and Frederick Bassett of Nebraska) and one settled in Canada (Benjamin
Bassett of Kent).
Of interest too is a line of Bassetts with mid-1700s roots in County Down,
Ireland. This line has descendants in County Down, Illinois, and New Zealand.
A member of the New Zealand family matched our original three test takers
on 11/12 markers. All tests matching the (1)William Bassett of Plymouth family
have now been upgraded to twenty-five marker tests. We are eagerly awaiting
results for the New Zealand participant.
These early test results show great promise in helping determine the origin
of these different Bassett immigrants. We have had good participation with
Bassetts living in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia,
but by only two participants who still live in England. We continue to add
about one new participant per week and hope to add Bassetts from many of
the different concentrations of Bassetts still in England.
1 Robert C. Anderson, The Great Migration Begins (Boston: NEHGS,
2 See test cases #2721, #2837, and #2749 at bassettbranches.org/dna/BassettDNA.xls.
4 James Savage, A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers
of New England (Boston, 1860–62, reprint Baltimore: GPC, 1977)
I:136; Report of the Proceedings of the First Reunion of the Bassett
Family Association of America (September 1897) (Seymour,
CT: The Association, 1897).
5 Robert C. Anderson, The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England
1634–1635, Volume I, A-B (Boston: NEHGS, 1999), 190–95.
6 Test case #5703.
7 Anderson, The Great Migration, vol. 1 [note 5], 188–190.