Descendents of the pilgrims are alive and well

George Brown
By George Brown

A small band of the descendants of Mayflower pilgrim Edward Doty gathered in Columbus a couple of weeks ago for the annual “Doty Cousins Reunion.” For many years two of my cousins have faithfully planned this event, which is annually attended by various cousins of the four daughters of Robert T. Doty, 1890 – 1937. The Doty daughters had 15 children among them that lived to adulthood, of which 12 are still living, so having 8 in attendance this year (plus several spouses, children, and grandchildren) is somewhat remarkable. This was only the fourth time I’ve attended, but, hopefully, it won’t be the last.

As I shared in a column a few years ago, Edward Doty, at the age of 21, was among the100 or so brave souls who arrived in Cape Cod Bay in the year 1620 to found Plymouth Colony. I nor my cousins have been DNA tested to prove our linage with Edward Doty, but thanks to genealogical records readily available on the internet it is easy to trace our ancestry not only to Edward Doty but all the way back to our Great( multiple times removed) Grandpa, Christopher Doughtie, born in the year 1474. (Given the spelling of the name at that time, perhaps Grandpa Christopher came from a long line of bakers.)

We cousins – mostly retired now – have, for the most part, done our best to become upstanding citizens, but such cannot be said of some of our Doty ancestors, including Edward Doty himself.

We tend to think of those brave souls who arrived on the Mayflower as individuals of great piety, but Grandpa Edward seems to have been the exception. He boarded the Mayflower not in pursuit of religious freedom but as an indentured servant, obligated to fellow pilgrim Stephen Hopkins. Edward’s apparent lack of religious piety became evident when, within a year of arrival, he got into a heated argument with another pilgrim, fellow indentured servant Edward Leister who also happened to be his cousin.

The subject of their argument is not known but both, being in their early 20s, were not about to back down. A dual was challenged and accepted, with swords and daggers as the chosen weapons. At the appointed time they met and each managed to inflict minor injury upon the other before wiser heads intervened and ended the dual.

This was the first and only dual ever held in Plymouth Colony, possibly so because of the punishment exacted upon them by (I presume) Myles Standish. As a deterrent to such un-pilgrim-like behavior the young men were bound together at neck and foot and ordered to thus remain for 24 hours; but within an hour their cries of remorse were so great that Standish showed mercy and released them.

In the ensuing years Edward Doty found himself the subject of multiple civil suits for alleged dishonest and fraudulent business dealings, but by the time of his death at age 57 he had fathered 11 children, and had become a good citizen of the community with significant holdings of land and possessions.

One of the more nefarious characters of the Doty clan was my distant cousin, Sile Doty. Cousin Si, born in the year 1800, spent all but the very earliest of his 76 years cheating and stealing from whomever he could, as is well documented in his posthumously published autobiography, “The Life of Sile Doty, the Most Noted Thief and Daring Burglar of His Time”. [NOTE: Sile’s story and that of Edward Doty are drawn from the online resource, Wikipedia.)

The apple does not fall far from the tree, at least this is so according to the stories Mom told us about her Dad, our Grandpa, Robert Doty. Mom said that during the early days of Prohibition Grandpa would put moonshine in a hot water bottle (the old fashioned kind with a plug on top and a hose on the bottom with a clamp on it close to the nozzle.) Grandpa, according to Mom, would put the water bottle under his coat and slide the hose down a sleeve to his hand so he could release the clamp to fill a man’s cup or glass with moonshine…for a small fee, of course.

According to Mom, the day came when Grandpa Doty was caught selling moonshine in this manner. He was summarily arrested and locked up in the county jail. As the story goes, someone slipped a hacksaw in to him (perhaps in a cake?), which he used to saw his way through the bars of the window. Before making his exit by dark of night he left a note stating, “Tell them that you saw me but you didn’t see me saw”, signed Bob Doty.

As all of my cousins know, my Mom (their Aunt Tudy) was a great story teller, so I cannot attest to the veracity of the stories Mom told us about Grandpa Doty. But as an eyewitness to the events of my own childhood, I can attest that Mom, to a small degree, lived up to her Doty heritage.

Mom’s bent was more toward the Gypsy talents of hypnotism and fortune telling. She limited the use of these skills to the entertainment of family and friends. Hypnosis was purely for fun, which I and at least a couple of my cousins succumbed to a time or two. She would have us perform silly acts while hypnotized, like taking off our shoes and socks so we would discover we had done so when she woke us up.

But when it came to fortune telling Mom was dead serious. This too was limited to family and friends, though I believe she could have easily attracted paying customers. Mom would use playing cards or read a person’s palm, sometimes describing in the most awful detail an impending misfortune that would soon befall the person whose hand she was holding. As I recall, the essence of her fortune telling sometimes occurred.

As for misdemeanor “Doty crimes”, the worst I can recall is Mom having our Stepdad stop the car along the edge of a cornfield to pick a couple dozen ears of corn for supper (and I think maybe a watermelon or two, on occasion.)

I’m happy to report that the great majority of Edward Doty’s descendants followed the example of charity and goodwill he exhibited in his later years. One example of this was my Great Grandpa (several times removed), John Doty, who served as a minuteman in a New Jersey regiment during the Revolutionary War. Later, one of his sons migrated to Knox County Ohio to occupy the land claim awarded for his father’s military service. This explains how it is that I and my Doty cousins happen to have Ohio roots.

Reflecting on the tough times (with but few exceptions) we cousins experienced growing up, I believe we all turned out pretty well. Like all families a few among us have a bent toward weirdness, but I’m not going to name names. After all, this may be their perception of me, plus I have to face all of them again at next year’s Doty Cousins Reunion.

George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.