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Charles Edward Banks: Great Genealogist & Great Man

Students of New England genealogy recognize Charles E. Banks (1854-1931) as one of the patriarchs of genealogical scholarship. During his lifetime, he was widely acknowledged to be one of the leading authorities on northern New England families. His two-volume “History of York, Maine” (a third volume was in preparation at the time of his death) is still the starting point on its subject. Though removed from his primary geographical area of expertise, Dr. Banks’ three-volume history of Martha’s Vineyard is also a model local history.

Notwithstanding his fame as a genealogist, Banks’ first calling was as a physician and surgeon. A graduate of Dartmouth Medical School, Charles Banks enjoyed a distinguished 40-year career in the U.S. Public Health Service. Dr. Banks was involved in many activities, including early efforts to thwart polio and to enforce sanitary laws. He achieved the position of assistant surgeon-general of the USPHS, retiring with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Besides his interests in genealogy and history, Banks was a skillful artist. His drawings adorn several of his publications. He is also reckoned to have been gracious, kindly, and un-self-serving. He was never reluctant to share the fruits of his research with friends and colleagues.

Genealogist Banks is probably best known today as the author of four works focused on the origins of English Protestants who came to Massachusetts Bay between 1620 and 1650. The first of these books, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers, features sketches of every passenger who came to Plymouth on the “Mayflower” in 1620, the “Fortune” in 1621, and the “Anne” and the “Little James” in 1623. Banks published two books the following year: The Winthrop Fleet of 1630, the appendix to which accounts for every Puritan who traveled to Massachusetts Bay with John Winthrop; and Planters of the Commonwealth, 1620-1640, a chronological list of all vessels and their passengers known to have docked in New England during this era. Banks’ Topographical Dictionary of English Emigrants. . . 1620-1650 was actually edited and published by Elijah Brownell in 1937, six years after the good doctor had died. This book extends the author’s published findings by another 10 years. The passengers are arranged by English county (shire) and, when available, are identified by parish, ship, New England town of destination, and source.

Banks’ four books on English emigration to 17th-century New England are genealogy classics. Since it is unusual for us to have all of them in print simultaneously, now is an excellent time to avail yourself of the findings of one of the greatest students of our Yankee origins.

The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers

This critically acclaimed work contains biographical sketches of 112 passengers who sailed on the first four ships to New England. Along with data on the passengers’ origins, family connections, and later histories, it substitutes proof for guesswork and blows holes in many cherished traditions. Many little-known facts about their places of residence in England and their parentage and ancestry are given. View Book Details

The Winthrop Fleet of 1630

This is an authoritative list of the 700 passengers who are believed to have come to New England with John Winthrop in 1630. Based on research undertaken in England and America, it provides as much data as could be verified on each passenger–name, place of departure, places of residence in England and America, occupation, church affiliation, dates of birth, marriage, and death, and relationships to other passengers. View Book Details

Planters of the Commonwealth, 1620-1640

Scrupulous in every detail, this work contains the names of 3,600 passengers on the 96 ships that brought them to New England between 1620 and 1640. Working with the same records employed by Savage, Drake, and Hotten, and with records unknown or inaccessible to them, Dr. Banks here pulls the several classes of records together to form the most complete and authoritative collection of passenger lists for the period ever published. In addition to the names of passengers and ships, places of origin, and places of residence in America, the book includes indexes to surnames, ships, English parishes, and New England towns. View Book Details

Topographical Dictionary of English Emigrants. . . 1620-1650

This “Dictionary” comprises notes on nearly 3,000 emigrants, giving their English homes, names of ships in which they sailed, towns in which they settled in New England, and references to the printed or manuscript sources from which the information derived. View Book Details

9 thoughts on “Charles Edward Banks: Great Genealogist & Great Man

  1. Is it true that there is no copy of John Winthrop’s sermon, City Upon the Hill…A Model of Christian Charity and perhaps Winthrop didn’t even write it? I have been reading Van Engen’s book, City ob the Hill A History of American Exceptionalism. References have been made that not much is really conclusive. . I have read that Winthrop wrote the sermon and gave the sermon aboard the Arbella, however before the trip or upon arrival, no one can say. This has been disputed and claims have been made that it is just not true. MY ancestor, John Daggett, was on the Arbella. I often wondered if he heard Winthrop’s famous words. There is also much skepticism around the Puritans and how they treated the native Americans and each other. The author of City on the Hill spent years delving into proving that the Pilgrims were not the founders America. and our nation’s history did not start there on Plymouth Rock. I didn’t know we all believed that, but the claim is our children’s history books do not tell the truth….Do they today?? The 1619 Project? My ancestor, Captain Nathan Daggett, ended the Revolutionary War. He piloted deGrasse and the French fleet, from the West Indies to the Chesapeake Bay surrounding Cornwallis at Yorktown by sea. I am writing his story as well as that of John Daggett’s, a two part story. I can’t leave out the Indians and the slaves, but it is only part of the story, whereby today the progressives want it to be the whole tale. History is complicated and unless you are a scholar and see the big picture along with time lines, the events occurring in other countries during each era, you will get it wrong.

    1. Dear Judith, I can’t confirm the existence of a copy of the Winthrop sermon one way or the other; however you may want to check out Lies My Teacher Told Me, by the late James Loewen, which addresses many of the concerns about how social studies is taught in the U.S. Finally, after reading John Barry’s book, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul–which I highly recommend–there is little doubt in my mind about who was the greatest American of the 17th-century and what his message was.
      Joe Garonzik

  2. One thing that is left out of this article on Charles E. Banks is his research on the men and journals of the 1775 Expedition to Quebec led by Benedict Arnold. He found the names of more men who were on the expedition than anyone before his time. He clearly spent numerous hours working on that effort and produced a roster that unfortunately was never published.

    I used his work to produce an updated roster which was included in my book “Voices from a Wilderness Expedition” published in 2011. I appreciate his important work on that aspect of an event in the Revolutionary War.

    Thanks for helping to recognize his accomplishments!

  3. One thing this article leaves out about Dr. Banks is his important research on the 1775 Expedition to Quebec led by Benedict Arnold. He was the first to produce a roster of the men who served on that expedition which has never been published. He would have spent many hours researching that event. I used his roster as a starting point for my 2011 book “Voices from a Wilderness Expedition” and produced an updated roster of 1125 men. His research was extremely valuable to me.

    Thanks for highlighting the man and his accomplishments. He deserves it.

    1. Dear Mr. Darley,

      Thanks very much for your fascinating comments about Dr. Banks. If you would care to send me a couple of paragraphs about what led you to study the Quebec expedition, as well as the book itself, I would be delighted to insert a postscript about Banks [and you] in a subsequent “Genealogy Pointers.”
      Joe Garonzik

  4. Was any portion of the unpublished Volume III of the History of York Maine ever made available anywhere? Volume I referenced the Adams family history is in Volume III. Thank you!

    1. I am not aware of Volume III being reprinted. Have you checked with the Maine Historical Society?

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