Sources separate from one another state that this man was a Huguenot minister who came to America from France in the 1600s.
Rev. William Gillette.
We are seeking help from some "angel of mercy" out there in "genealogy land" or "Huguenot research land" who will take an interest in this research need, and hopefully help us achieve a breakthrough.
Various spellings of his name could be Rev. William Gillett, Rev. William Gillet, Rev. William Jillet, Rev. Guillaume Gillett, etc.
A letter about Gillette family genealogy written in the 1860s by a descendant of this man, stated that in France the man was not only a Huguenot pastor, but a medical doctor as well. When the authorities in France forbade him to preach to his flock, he was able to attend to them by visiting their homes as a medical doctor. This tradition has also circulated widely. So he is also sometimes written as "Dr. William Gillette" and "William Gillette, M.D." He is written as "Rev. William Gillette, M.D." in a book.
Numerous descendants of his in America today have had the tradition passed down in their families that William came from France in 1688. Some of us think that 1688 could be an error that went into circulation back in the 1800s. A date of 1688 presents some difficulties, not the least of which is the math involved when his age is considered, and his marriage date, and the dates of the births of his children.
William Gillette appears in other written sources besides family histories. Looking at everything combined leads us to believe that he travelled in the colonies extensively. He is mentioned as being in New Jersey, and in Milford, CT (which is in New Haven Co), and in New Milford (which is in Litchfield Co), CT. And he is mentioned as being in Huntington, in Suffolk Co on Long Island, NY, and is mentioned also in connection with Saybrook.
Marriage records at Milford, CT show him marrying Elizabeth Welch there, November 14, 1722, and they had at least nine children there. A descendant had the tradition passed down to him that William was occupied in Milford as a blacksmith.
The death & burial of William Gillette is said by some to have been at Milford, but said by others to have been at NEW Milford.
One of William's sons, Elisha, was a member of the Seventh Day Baptist church, which of course is sabbatarian, eventually becoming a pastor of that denomination. We do not know if the belief today that his father William (the Huguenot) was a sabbath believer was assumed simply because Elisha was, but in any case that is said of him by sabbatarians: The book, Seventh Day Baptists in America Prior to 1802 by Rev. L. A. Platts, written between1888-1899 and published I think in about 1909, refers to our "Rev. William Gillette, M.D." as a "Sabbath-keeping French Huguenot refugee," and says that "through his teaching Mr. Noble accepted the Sabbath doctrine." Again, it is possible, that the son, Rev. Elisha Gillette, being a pastor in this denomination led to the belief that his father was also sabbatarian. That information may even have been supplied to their denomination by Elisha. It is those same SDB denominational sources that speak of "Rev. William Gillette, M.D." being in (or at least traveling in or visiting) New Jersey
For the reader who is not entirely familiar with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination, and who might instinctively think that "Seventh Day" and "Huguenot" is a bit like "oil and water," difficult to reconcile, let me explain: Unlike the more recent Seventh Day ADVENTISTS, the Seventh Day BAPTISTS are not Arminian. The SDB springs from a Calvinist-Baptist theological background.
Rev. Abram D. Gillette, a Baptist pastor, was a great grandson of our William Gillette. Abram was born in 1807 in Washington County New York and had his career in the clergy in Philadelphia, and Washington DC, eventually retiring at his birthplace. ADG took an interest in the genealogy of his family, and even undertook to travel to some specific New England towns and cemeteries in attempts to fill in the gaps where he was lacking information. He put what he knew in a document he titled "Family and Ancestral Record, made by Abram D. Gillette D.D. at Washington D.C. this 21st day of March, 1867."
He was another of those who had received the tradition that his great grandfather William was a Huguenot who came to New England from France, and he stated it in his "Family and Ancestral Record." He also stated that in search of information on William, he visted Milford, CT and found mention in the town records concerning the brand wherewith William Gillette "marks his geese."
An additional "Huguenot" dimension needs to be joined to this investigation:
Many people in the United States who are descendants of the above William Gillette of 1722 Milford, trace their family tree back to HIM, but stop right there, because their information is that he came over from France as an adult, a Huguenot preacher, as stated above.
But there are other of their relatives, likewise descended from William, who have an entirely different body of genealogical research. Rather than William coming from France, they have him born in Connecticut. And they have who his parents supposedly were, and their parents, and so on, clear back into the 1500s.
And, this too, is a HUGUENOT line. That is, they track back to HUGUENOT Gillettes from France who came through Scotland and ended up in England. THEN, in 1630-1633 three Gillette brothers from this family left England and settled in Connecticut.
So, either tradition one accepts, concerning this Gillette family in America, it is still a HUGUENOT background.
Yours truly, the webmaster, wonders if a mixup might have occurred in approximately 1799/1800 in this family, in the telling of their family history. The reason I suspect the possibility is simple: Above, we have been discussing a "Rev. William Gillette" to whom Huguenot background is ascribed. But, those who have the OTHER story ALSO have a "Rev. William Gillette" to whom Huguenot background is ascribed. I spoke of the three Gillette brothers who came to Connecticut from England in 1630-1633. It should be stated that their father was "Rev. William Gillette" who was the Rector of the Church at Chaffcombe, Somerset, England. And genealogists are unanimous in saying that THIS Rev. William Gillette's father was a HUGUENOT who fled from France. I should qualify that: There are two names of RELATIVES contemporary with this William, and residing in the same place. It just is not proven if one was an uncle or not. With William in Somerset was a relative named Jaques, and one named Richard. People today doing the family tree differ on whether Jaques was William's father, or if Richard was. Some think Richard was Jaques' brother. Some make three generations out of it, differing on which was the oldest. Was Richard Jaques' father, or was it the reverse? Complicating matters, some think Richard was none of the above, but was a BROTHER of William. And finally, to really make the going rough, William had something like eleven children, and one may have been named Richard. So we could have two related Richard Gillettes to deal with in Somerset. But ALL researchers are UNANIMOUS in the assertion that this Rev. William Gillette's family background was HUGUENOT. As stated, some think that "the Huguenot" fled from France to Scotland, and from thence to England, where Rev. William Gillette was subsequently born.
I mentioned that I have a theory of a possible mixup in the family story. I can see it happening very easily. Ponder the following "ingredients" going into the mix:
A child is told his "ancestor" was a "Rev. William Gillette," a clergyman.
As a separate bit of information, a child is told that "our ancestor was a Huguenot who fled from France."
No other "ingredients" than those two are necessary, in order for a "mixup" to occur.
Leap up to say 1800 when the later "Rev. William Gillette" (who lived in Milford, CT) had been dead for some years, and his grandchildren are chatting about the family history. William Gillette at Milford, and his wife Elizabeth Welch, had at least nine children, the earliest being born 1723. By 1800 the ages of William's children would range between 77 - 54 years old, all of them having children of their own, and most having grandchildren of their own, and a couple already having great grandchildren. All it takes in about 1800 is for half-listening children to hear, on the one hand, their ancestors were Huguenots, and, to hear separately, their "ancestor" or great, great grandfather, was "Rev. William Gillette." How easily children could mix up "Rev. William Gillette" of Connecticut with "Rev. William Gillette" of England. It remains only for someone to incorrectly assume that "Rev. William Gillette" of Connecticut was the Huguenot ancestor who fled from France, when in fact he was born in Connecticut. Add to the mix the fact that half of William"s children moved away from Milford (some to New York) and that these kin were somewhat out of touch with their Connecticut kin, and keeping the family story intact can get pretty dicey.
In summary, I am only saying that it is not impossible that around 1800 some grandchild or great grandchild of the "Milford" William put the "Huguenot ancestor" appellation on the wrong ancestor, and, that this form of of the family story went into wide circulation.
If indeed this happened (and it is nothing but a mere theory I am pondering), it has huge ramifications. It would mean that every descendant of the "Milford" William who recieved that story would be "broken off" in his genealogical research from the Connecticut parents of this William, and from all those Connecticut Gillettes who track back to the Huguenots residing in England. Having the "Milford" William the one who "fled from France" is completely irreconcilable with him being born in Wethersfield Connecticut in 1699, the son of John Gillette and Sarah Tryon. This John Gillette descended from Jeremiah Gillette, one of those three brothers who came to America 1630-1633, sons of the "Rev. William Gillette" of England (of Huguenot background).
A couple of noted genealogists in their time subscribed to the belief that indeed the "Milford" William was born in Wethersfield, the son of John Gillette and Sarah Tryon. Donald Linus Jacobus, and Flora Clark.
The American Genealogist (TAG) was founded in 1922 as The New Haven Genealogical Magazine by Donald Lines Jacobus to cover early immigrant families throughout the American Colonies, with particular emphasis on New England. The publication took its current title (The American Genealogist ) in 1932. Jacobus published his belief in TAG, vol. 25, July 1949, that indeed the "Milford" William was the son of John, and traces back to Jeremiah and to England. Likewise a body of genealogical work, much of which treats of the same Gillette family, is known as "The Flora Clark Records." They say the same thing as the Jacobus material. However, Jacobus and Flora Clark were contemporaries and colleagues, and at least one person that I know of has said that Jacobus primarily relied on Flora Clark's work for his opinion on the Gillettes.
That the aforementioned John Gillette & Sarah Tryon had a son named William at Wethersfield is known. But I still have not seen conclusive evidence proving he is the William that ended up marrying Elizabeth Welch in Milford in 1722.
SO THERE IT IS. THAT IS THE CENTER OF THE MATTER. THAT IS THE PROBLEM:
BASICALLY WE NEED TO FIND OUT WHERE THE "MILFORD" WILLIAM GILLETTE "CAME FROM." WAS IT WETHERSFIELD, CT OR WAS IT FRANCE? WAS HE HIMSELF THE HUGUENOT WHO FLED FROM FRANCE, OR, WAS HE THE DESCENDANT OF THE ONE WHO DID?
It may be worth noting that all those who have the tradition that the "Milford" William came from France seem to me to ALL have gotten it from one single source. As I stated above, my theory is that someone in the family around 1800 got to telling the story that way. And it looks like that "telling" of it went into wide circulation. Today, individuals with no contact with or knowledge of one another tell it, with the exact details. To me, this can ONLY mean it all derived from the same source. For instance, the year of his coming from France is always given as 1688. Always, these people have the story that William was a medical doctor as well as a pastor, and that during persecution he used his medical practice as the excuse to visit his church flock in their homes. They all cite Rochelle, France as where he was "from," etc. These are not generalizations. The details MUST derive from one storyteller. And I place the "genesis" of that story circa 1800. Above, I mentioned that in 1867 Abram Gillette wrote it in his "Ancestral Record." Well, what he wrote was precisely this form of the story, with the same details. It has been proven that Abram's "Ancestral Record" itself was mimeographed, and copies were distributed. They ended up in the hands of most of the Gillette families related to Abram. But, what he wrote was only a faithful telling of the tradition already in circulation. In his "Record" he used the phrase, "I was told." As I stated above, others, earlier than Abram, had the same story with the same details, and it ended up recounted to Seventh Day Baptist writers, in books. Both they, and Abram, received that "telling" of the story from an earlier distributor of it.
Yours truly, the webmaster, had the privilege of knowing my paternal grandfather. He had been a medical missionary in China for 35 years, but was living back in the U.S. by the time of my birth. He was in his 90s when he died in 1966 in Los Angeles. In my childhood I spent summer vacations in L.A. with the relatives there, and had the privilege of spending time with my grandfather and hearing stories of mission work in China and stories about our family. He was a devout Christian, and he presented me with a children's Bible as a gift. My grandmother passed away when I was an infant. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor descended from Nathaniel Weed who was with the Long Cane Presbyterian church in Abbeville, SC, circa 1770. The reason why I mention my grandfather here, is for the simple reason that it was from him that I first heard the word "HUGUENOT." He told me that our family went "clear back to the Huguenots." I have a humorous memory of when the movie "Jason and the Argonauts" came out when I was a kid. I was all excited, thinking it was going to be about "the stories that grandfather Gillette talks about!" Very gently and kindly my dad broke the news to me that the "Argonauts" were not the "Hugenots." Then he sharpened up my knowledge on the Huguenots somewhat. Dad was the son of missionaries, after all. He was born in China during the mission years, and was raised there until he was 13. I had a similar word "mixup" from one of my dad's conversations. I think I was asking questions about Catholics and Protestants and making sure of what we ourselves were. Dad told me that "for hundreds of years we have been sort of 'Bohemians.'" I asked if Bohemians weren't like "beach-combers" or "beatniks," and he laughed out loud, and said "No, I mean the Bohemians who threw the Pope's men out the window of the tower!" I had a mental picture of popes in their robes being flung out of some tower window." My dad loved jokes and was always laughing about something. I asked if the Pope's men died when we threw them out the window and dad laughed and said "no, they were lucky enough to land in a big pile of cow poop." It wasn't until I was a little more grown up that I realized that my family before me had always had a keen grasp on the Huguenot tradition and things like the religious wars of Europe, and felt that those things help to explain who we are today and why we are the way we are.
BUT TO REITERATE, IT IS OUR HOPE TO SOMEDAY RESOLVE THE PROBLEM OF WHERE THE "MILFORD" WILLIAM "CAME FROM." IF ANY VISITOR TO THIS SITE IS WILLING TO TAKE UP THAT QUEST, OR, HAS ANY INFORMATION TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE INVESTIGATION, OR JUST PLAIN GOOD ADVICE FOR RESEARCHING THE MATTER, IT WILL BE HEARTILY WELCOMED.