Who are William Ennis' Parents?

    There are two different stories passed down in the Ennis family. One is that our ancestors were Scottish. Another is that they were Irish. Both of these stories were recorded by Calvin Ennes in his privately published book, A Bit About the Ennes (1969). He called William Ennis (who was the earliest known of the Ennis/Ennes ancestors) "a farmer of Scot descent" at one point. However, Ennes also cites a legend, saying, "Another Ennis legend (there are many versions of it) tells of three brothers who left the Erne River Valley near Enniskillen, Ireland, and went to Holland. From there they sailed to American with the early Dutch who settled along the Hudson River. Here they intermarried."
    I have heard nothing further on these three Irish brothers settling in New Netherland, particularly any by the name of Ennis. The idea that William was Scottish, however, was recorded by Rosalie Fellows Bailey in Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses (1936).
    Both are possible- variations on the name can be found in Scotland and Ireland. William B. Saxbe Jr., in his article "Four Fathers for William Ennis of Kingston: A Collective Review" (New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 129, No. 4, October 1998, pgs. 227-238) suggested another possible nationality for William- Frisian.
    The Frisians are a people living in what is now part of the Netherlands. There was, in fact, a Rebecca Ennes, wife of Frans Goderis, living in Kingston, Ulster, New York (where William and his wife, Cornelia, lived and raised a family). She was William's contemporary. It has been established that her father was Enne Tebbes, a Frisian cloth worker, who never actually came to America. As Frisians, Enne's children would have been using the patronymic system, where a child uses his or her father's first name as their last name. Thus, they would have been called Ennes.

    So, what were the nationalities of William Ennis' parents? Were they Irish, Scottish, or Frisian?

    One vital clue is the names of William and Cornelia's children. There is a strong tendency in certain cultures to use a specific pattern in naming children. The Dutch and Frisians typically named their eldest son after one of his grandfathers, usually the paternal one. The second son was named after the other grandfather. The third son was named after the father. The naming of daughters followed a similar pattern, paternal grandmother first, maternal grandmother second, mother third. If a child died young, the next child of the same gender was named after the child who died. The Irish and Scottish used this naming pattern also.
    William, whether Frisian, Irish, or Scottish, would probably have used this naming pattern. Cornelia's parents were Dutch and French and the Enneses lived in a Dutch community, thus strengthening the theory that William and Cornelia used the above-described naming system.
    According to the Kingston baptismal record, William and Cornelia's children were, in order of birth:

    The first son, Alexander, and the second son, Cornelius, and the second daughter, Jannetje, must have died young because their are younger children with the same names. So, if you exclude the third and fourth sons and the third daughter, the list of children's names looks like this:
        -Cornelius (named after Cornelia's father, Cornelius Viervant)
        -Jannetje (Dutch equivalent of French name Jeanne; named after Cornelia's mother, Jeanne Le Sueur)
        -William (named after father)

    According to the naming tradition, the eldest son, Alexander, and the eldest daughter, Catherine, would have been named after their paternal grandparents, William's parents. This alone does not exclude Enne Tebbes from being William's father. The Frisians who came to New Netherland/New York did not often give their children names that were uniquely Frisian.

    However, there are other factors. The name Alexander was not used by any other family in Kingston at or before that time, as a search of the baptismal records will show. It is not a traditional name in the Dutch or Frisian culture. It is also not a typical Irish name. It is a very popular name among the Scottish.

    One other clue is an analysis of the Kingston baptismal records made by William Saxbe. Many times in the Kingston records, brothers and sisters would use some of the same baptismal witnesses for their children. He found that there was no such overlap for Rebecca's children and William's children. This makes it even less likely that Enne Tebbes was William Ennes' father.

    The most likely candidates for William Ennes' parents, in my opinion, are Alexander and Catherine Innes of Block Island, Rhode Island. Saxbe, in his article, held a like opinion. Alexander, it is known, was a Scot who fought against Cromwell in the Battle of Dunbar. He was captured and sold as an indentured servant to the Saugus Ironworks. After his term of indenture was finished, he moved to Taunton, where his wife is recorded on the Plymouth Colony court records. They show her as being Irish. The Innes family moved to Block Island, part of Rhode Island, where Alexander died.

    There is one more final clue. One of William's sons, Alexander, had as a baptismal witness one "Thomas Herris". There are no Thomas Herrises recorded in Kingston at that time. However, Saxbe records that Alexander died at the home of William Harris, naming Harris as his heir on his deathbed. William Harris was married to an Elizabeth "Enos" (spelling variation on Innes). Because of these facts and the fact that they had children named Alexander and Catherine, Elizabeth "Enos" is believed to be a daughter of Alexander and Catherine Innes.
    Elizabeth and William Harris had a son named Thomas, who moved to Poughkeepsie, New York before the aforementioned baptism. Therefore, this Thomas Harris may have come to Kingston to be his younger cousin Alexander's baptismal witness. The other witness for the baptism was a "Cathryn Honnist". This may be an attempt by the dominie (Dutch Reformed Church minister) to spell the name Innes as he heard it. This type of phonetic spelling was typical at this time.

    So, who were William Ennis' parents? Probably, Alexander Innes, the Scottish prisoner of war, and his Irish wife, Catherine.

(c) 2002 by Michelle Boyd, All rights reserved.

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Last updated Jan. 7,2002.