Who Were the Parents of Thomas and Is He of Royal Lineage?
Due to the publication of a false genealogy in 1870, there has long been confusion as to whether this Thomas was
- The half-brother of William, a well-known early settler of Rhode Island and ancestor of the infamous Benedict Arnold;
- A descendent of a Roger Arnold (1442) and his wife Joan Gamage who traced their lineage back to Ynir, King of Gwentland (~1150) and Alfred the Great, King of the Britons (849).
Read on for the details about these claims and more. Spoiler alert: Both claims are untrue.
In 1870, Horatio G. Somerby compiled an erroneous, possibly fraudulent, genealogy of the Arnold family, which was published separately and in NEHGR, vol. 33, pp. 432-38, as ”Mr. Somerby’s Genealogy of the Arnold Family”. This false genealogy claimed Thomas was the half-brother of William, a well-known early settler of Rhode Island and ancestor of the infamous Benedict Arnold. It further claimed that the half-brothers were sons of another Thomas whose ancestry traced back to a Roger Arnold born in 1442 and his wife Joan Gamage who traced their lineage back to Ynir, King of Gwentland (~1150) and Alfred the Great, King of the Britons (849).
Somerby’s false genealogy was widely used for over four decades before being soundly disproven, and has been the source of considerable confusion long since. For example, Edwin Hubbard’s, “Early Records of the Arnold Family” [NEHGR, vol. 33, pp. 427-432] documents six generations of Arnolds from 1553-1776 [No relation to us, DEA]. At the end of this article he presents “One line of the Arnold Family” which copies Somersby in stating that half-brothers William and Thomas both came to America.
In another example, Arnold Luckey Family Ties, 1931 uses the Somersby document. [Note: The Arnold-Luckey book led this writer to believe he had Royal ancestors until he did his own research. DEA]
In 1915, Edson S. Jones discusses in detail the errors of Somersby in the article “The Parentage of William Arnold and Thomas Arnold of Providence, R.I.” [NEHGR, vol. 69, pp. 64-69]. Among other things, Jones proves that the Immigrant William Arnold’s father is Nicholas Arnold not Thomas as stated by Somerby. So, even if our Thomas the immigrant of Watertown was a half-brother to immigrant William — and he is not — that does not make our Thomas a descendant of royalty because Nicholas’s ancestry goes essentially nowhere. Jones also disputes the findings of some that Thomas came to America on the Plain Joan.
The specific origins and parents of this Thomas Arnold are not known. Jones in his 1915 “Parentage” article discusses the will of a certain Richard Arnold, goldsmith of London, where he leaves a portion of his estate to a couple of his Arnold cousins — Richard Arnold of Killingworth/Kenilworth, Warwick and Richard Arnold of Kelshall/Kelsale, Suffolk — and instructed them to make payment to their siblings, with the exception of Thomas Arnold “who is now supposed to be in New England or some other part beyond the seas”. Jones makes the case that both “Richard cousins” had a brother named Thomas, but that he believed there was a “speculative preference” — due to proximity to George Parkhust, and daughter Phebe of Ipswich, Suffolk — that the Thomas Arnold of Kellsale, Suffolk is our Thomas the immigrant, and that his parents are farmer William Arnold of Hollesley, Suffolk, and his wife Katherine. Thomas married Phebe Parkhurst, either before or after emigrating to America.
Fred A. Arnold, Rhode Island Historical Society, agrees in his account of three early proprietors of Providence:
No proof has been found that his father Thomas, the half brother of William, ever emigrated, or that Thomas’ children died young, as stated by Somerby and Austin, but without any evidence of record by either. The Thomas Arnold who was in Watertown, Mass., before July, 1636, and who removed about 1656 to Rhode Island, is not that half brother, but is probably the son of Richard, and grandson of William and Katherine Arnold of Kelsale Co., Suffolk, about 20 miles N. E. of Ipswich, where his wife Phebe Parkhurst, daughter of George Parkhurst, was baptised 29 Nov., 1612, and where they were probably married. His cousin Richard Arnold, Goldsmith, London, in his will 8 Nov., 1644, leaves a legacy of 20 shillings to be paid to “Thomas Arnold who is now supposed to be in New England or some other part beyond the seas” or to his assigns. No other Thomas Arnold appears in New England before 1644.An Account of the English Homes of Three Early “Proprietors” of Providence, Fred A. Arnold, 1921.
In fairness, there is reason for confusion on this issue. For example, in the following excerpt Thomas the alleged half-brother of William, was born in 1590 AND was age 30 in 1635 on the Plain Joan, all in one sentence:
Anold, Thomas (Bap. Eng., Apr 18, 1590 … half-bro of William; embarked at London, Eng., May 15, 1635, to sail for Va., in the “Plaine Joan;” ship’s record says “age 30 yrs.”The Magazine of American Genealogy, March 1930, p, 78.
In 1944, G. Andrews Moriarty joined Fred A. Arnold and Edson S. Jones in concluding that Thomas Arnold was probably of Hollesley, co. Suffolk, father William Arnold of Hollesley, husbandman. However, he adds another reason for his belief:
Watertown, where Thomas Arnold first settled, on coming to New England, was almost entirely an East Anglican settlement, made up of persons from Essex and Suffolk.G. Andrews Moriarty, The American Genealogist, Vol 20, pp 120-121, 1944
Richard H. Benson cautions on any preference for William and Katherine as parents based solely on the Parkhurst connection:
However, we now know that Phebe had an earlier marriage in England on 23 March 1635/6 and Thomas received a grant of land in Watertown, Massachusetts, on 25 July 1636, just a few weeks later. This would not seem to leave enough time for Phebe’s first husband to die and for her to remarry and the two of them sail to Massachusetts!The Arnold Family of Smithfield Rhode Island, Richard H. Benson, 2009, p. xiii.
Benson believes that Richard and Alice Arnold are also strong contenders:
The possibility that Thomas was the son of Richard Arnold of Offchurch, Warwickshire, cannot be dismissed, particularly since three of the seven aunts and uncles of Richard the goldsmith were from Warwickshire. According to veteran genealogist Jerome Anderson, the fact that two of the sisters were living in Warwickshire gives support to the theory that the family was originally from that county.The Arnold Family of Smithfield Rhode Island, Richard H. Benson, 2009, p. xiv.
So, with confidence, we can state that our immigrant, Thomas Arnold was most likely the son of either:
- William and Katherine Arnold of Hollesley, Suffolk, England
- Richard and Alice Arnold of Offchurch, Warwickshire, England
Both had a son named Thomas and both appear to have been fine farm families!