My 9th great-grandfather is an English doctor, John Stites, who came to the American colonies in the aftermath of the restoration of the monarchy. He allegedly lived to the improbable age of 122 years, being born in 1595 and dying in 1717. Whatever the truth may be about Dr. Stites' longevity and career, the same basic story is repeated in several different genealogies, biographies and web sites, often with some embellishment, although there doesn't seem to be any evidence from "primary sources" for any details about his life.
The following brief biography and genealogy appeared in the July 1897 issue of The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. It seems to be the source of many other biographical sketches of Dr. Stites which have proliferated on the internet and in descendants' gedcom files. It was sent to me by cousin Cheryl Rothwell, who commented:
The 1897 magazine is one of the oldest and most respected genealogical journals going. I imagine it was the best information available at the time, "at the time" being key.
THE STITES FAMILY.
By EDMUND J. JAMES, CHICAGO.
THERE have been inquiries from time to time in THE RECORD concerning various members of the Stites family. I have collected from different sources the following items relating to the early history of this widely spread family, which may be of use to those interested in the subject.
There is a brief list of items in Littell's "Early Families of the Passaic Valley" under the name Stites. This is catalogued in Munsell's Index as Stiles instead of Stites. Many of the references to the Stiles in current genealogical mention should be to the Stites instead. I find in looking over old deeds, wills, etc., that it is a very common mistake for the copyist to write Stiles instead of Stites, the former being a much more common name, than the latter.
There is also a brief account of some portion of the Stites genealogy in Clayton's "History of Union and Middlesex Counties, N. J.," page 362 and following; as also in the "History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, N. J.," by the same person. The "Annals of Hemstead, L. I.,"1 Hatfield's "History of Elizabeth, N. J.," "Records of Mt. Bethel (N. J.) Baptist Church"; "Lydia Sexton's Autobiography," Dayton, O., 1882, page 54; Brink, McDonough & Co.'s" History of Marion and Clinton Counties, Illinois," page 78, and Reuben Guild's "Life of James Manning" are also to be consulted.
Otherwise the chief sources are wills, deeds, and other documents in the records of Central New Jersey, especially of Union, Middlesex, and Somerset Counties, and in Southern New Jersey, of Cape May and Atlantic Counties. The early history of Cincinnati (one of whose founders was Major Benjamin Stites) and of the surrounding country contains many references to members of the same family, as also the annals of Frankfort, Henderson, Louisville, Ky., Clinton and St. Clair Counties, Ill., and various oounties in Missouri and Kansas, where later descendants of the family have settled.
- 1. John Stites, M.D., born in England, 1595. Came from England as surgeon to a band of colonists in the time of Cromwell. Settled at first in New England, later at Hemstead, L. I., where he died in 1717 at the age of one hundred and twenty-two. According to family tradition, he was a man of powerful physique and wonderful physical endurance. When nearly one hundred years old he walked forty miles in one day to visit some relatives. Children:
- 2. i. Richard2, born, 1640, in England; died, 1702, at Hemstead, L. I.
- 2. Richard22 (John1) was at Hemstead, L. I., as early as 1657, where his name is in the list of those having cattle in Rocaway Neck Pasture. He appears twice as plaintiff in lawsuits, January 21, 1660, and February 3, 1675. He appears in 1685 among those who paid a tax to defray the expenses of obtaining a patent for lands in Hemstead. The amount of the tax was £2½ per acre, and he was assessed for 352 acres. Cf. "Annals of Hemstead, L. I.," pp. 24, 28, 38. Sons:
- 3. i. Henry3.
- ii. Benjamin.
- 4. iii. William.
- 3. Henry3 (Richard2, John1), born at Hemstead, L. I.; removed about 1680 to Cape May Co., N. J.; married Hannah Garlick of East Hampton, L. I., about 1692. Children:
- 5 i. Richard4, and others.
- 4. William33 (Richard2, John1), born at Hemstead, L. I., 1676. Removed later to New Jersey near the present Springfield, and purchased seven hundred acres of land on the south side of the road and west of the Rabway River, where he built a log house, there being but few dwellings in the town at that time. He died at Springfield in 1727, May 13, and was buried in his own private burying ground. This burying ground, known as the Revolutionary burying ground, is on the Mathias Denman farm at Springfield. John's tombstone, died April 23, 1782, age 76, and that of Margaret, his wife, died September 6, 1784, aged 69, are also still standing. Married Mary _____; born 1677, died August 21, 1728. Children:
- 6. i. John4,4 born 1706; died April 21, 1782.
- ii. Richard, born 1708; died February 10, 1738.
- iii. Hezekiah, born 1715; died May 15, 1727.
- iv. Rebecca, born 1717; married Jacob Carle.
- 7. v. William, born 1739; died 1810.
- 8. vi. Elijah, born 1721; died 1769 (65 ?).
- 9. vii. Benjamin, born 1724.
- 5. Richard4 (Henry3, Richard2, John1) had children:
- i. Elijah5.
- 10. ii. John, 1755.
- 11. iii. Richard.
Even though Mr. James' article presented the best information available at the time, that information was still very limited. The only evidence for Dr. John's arrival in America in the late 1650s is the appearance of his son Richard's name in a list of cattlemen in 1657. I personally doubt that a boy of 17 would have traveled alone to the New World. Either his father, or other relatives, accompanied him. It is possible, though, that Richard was born earlier than the 1640 birth date we usually see for him.
It is often stated that he came to Massachusetts before settling in Long Island, but Dr. John Stites isn't mentioned in A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England, by Richard Savage, so he may not have stayed in New England long enough to be noticed. If Dr. Stites indeed witnessed, or advocated, Charles I's execution in 1649, then served as a physician in Cromwell's army, he may have seen the writing on the wall by 1657 and decided to make his escape to America, well in advance of the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The details of his life in New England or Long Island may be sketchy due to his desire to keep a low profile and avoid persecution.
I found the following information at a Family Tree Maker site, which also contains considerable detail about Richard and other descendants:
Notes for JOHN STITES, M.D.:
[Broderbund WFT Vol. 1, Ed. 1, Tree #5154, Date of Import: Aug 21, 1998]
John Stites, a Surgeon in Oliver Cromwell's army, after witnessing the beheading of King Charles 2nd,5 fled to safety to the New Land. He landed in New England but settled later in New Hempstead L.I.N.Y.1 He was born in 1595 and lived to 1717 to be 122 years old which has been officially documented as true. He brought one son from England with him, Richard born in London in 1640. Up to this year (1992) Dr. John Stites has 3800 Descendants documented...
"Edmund Titus, born in England in 1630, came from Massachusetts to Long Island in 1650 in company with one William Stites, then upwards of 100 years old, who, it is said, came on foot from Seekonk to this place, Hempstead, where he lived to the great age of 116 years." -- from THE HISTORY OF LONG ISLAND, by Benjamin F. Thompson, NY, 1843, Vol. 2 in footnote, pages 53-54.
The site gives John Stites' wife's name as Alice Stote, and alleges she died in 1676. I've seen similar names for his wife on other sites, but don't know whether anybody really knows who she was.
The following quotation was provided by a fellow Stites descendant, David Kent Coy, from the Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy:
Stites, Dr. John (1595-1717 aet. 122) surgeon in Col. John Hampden's Regt. in revolution of 1640 & was said to have been one of the physicians designated to certify to the death of Charles I., was excepted from the amnesty proclamation of Charles II. & had to flee for his life to Holland; came to Plymouth, Mass. 1633;6 to Hempstead, L.I. 1657. He was a surgeon and physician to the colonists.
I have never seen any actual document showing anything on Dr. John Stites - it all comes from secondary sources. I find it hard to believe that he could have lived that long. I belong to an email group called "The oldest people in the World" or something like that and they get excited when someone turns 110. The oldest DOCUMENTED person only made it to 121 [actually 122!] - Jeanne Calment. I would doubt he made it, but it makes for an interesting story.
Another descendant's site takes a similarly skeptical view of the great age to which Dr. Stites is supposed to have lived:
John STITES was reputably [reputedly?] born in 1595 in England. He died in 1717 in Long Island, NY, USA. It is widely acclaimed that he was 122 years old. Whether this is a propagated myth which has grown on its own momentum over the years, or has some basis of fact will never be properly determined unless a baptism for him can be found (if extant). One Stites Genealogy has him born in Derbyshire, England.7
There is also the popular story that he was a surgeon in Cromwell's Army, and was a witness to King Charles I execution and the certification of his death, and that he fled England in fear of his life during the Restoration. However once again no evidence of this has been found to date.
While I regret the sketchy nature of the information on this ancestor, I wanted to make it available to my family. I welcome any additional information you might wish to contribute. Send me e-mail!