Great Barrington — Confinement has allowed time for meaningful local history research. I’ve been reconstructing the south end of Main Street as it was in the eight years and 10 months William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) lived here 200 years ago.
I stumbled on the Famous Kin website that scoured family trees to come up with surprising branches of the Cummington-born, Williamstown-educated, Great Barrington-nurtured poet, lawyer and editor.
Keep in mind, Bryant was descended from Mayflower passengers: on his mother’s side to his fourth great-grandfather John Alden and wife Priscilla Mullins, and on his father’s side to his fifth great-grandfather Francis Cooke and wife Hester le Mahieu.
What a lineage! This is only part of the extended family.
In the listings, a first cousin is a descendant of a parent’s generation; a second cousin is an offspring of someone from a grandparent’s generation. The term 3x means three times removed, or three generations later, and so on. Via means through a particular branch, such as John Alden or Francis Cooke.
Starting with politics, Bryant was related to seven past and future United States presidents: John Adams, (third cousin twice removed via John Alden); John Quincy Adams (fourth cousin once removed via Alden); Ulysses S. Grant, (seventh cousin via Jacques le Mahieu); William Howard Taft (fourth cousin 2x via Thomas Hayward); Franklin D. Roosevelt (seventh cousin 1x via le Mahieu); George H.W. Bush (fourth cousin 5x via John Washburn Jr.); and George W. Bush (fourth cousin 6x via Washburn).
Among American astronauts, he could claim ties to one-time Stockbridge resident Story Musgrave (sixth cousin 4x via Francis Cooke) and Alan Shepard (seventh cousin 2x via le Mahieu).
The Hollywood links are remarkable in their diversity. Actors on the Bryant family tree include Henry Fonda (fourth cousin 4x via Experience Mitchell); and, it goes without saying, Jane and Peter Fonda (fourth cousins 5x via Mitchell); Orson Welles (fifth cousin 4x via Thomas Mitchell); Dick Van Dyke (fifth cousin 4x via John Alden); Jodie Foster (fifth cousin 5x via John Alden); Linda Hunt (fifth cousin via Alden); Paget Brewster (fifth cousin 6x via Alden); Zac Ephron (fifth cousin 6x via Alden); Benedict Cumberbatch, fifth cousin 6x via Alden); Ellen DeGeneres (fifth cousin 7x via Alden); Vincent Price (fourth cousin, 5x via John Howard); Marilyn Monroe (fourth cousin 5x via Experience Mitchell); Christopher Lloyd (fifth cousin 4x via Thomas Mitchell); and Raquel Welch (fifth cousin 4x via Mitchell).
Also Chevy Chase (sixth cousin 3x via Samuel Edson); Richard Gere (sixth cousin 4x via Francis Cooke); James Spader (seventh cousin 5x via Jacques le Mahieu); and Wil Wheaton (second cousin 6x via Abiel Packard).
Two stars in the Great Barrington-filmed “Pretty Poison” (1968) are on this list: Anthony Perkins (fourth cousin 4x via John Washburn Jr.) and Tuesday Weld (fourth cousin 5x via Thomas Snell).
In literature, Henry David Thoreau (fourth cousin once removed via Thomas Hayward) is interesting because Bryant’s 1817 “Thanatopsis” is said to have prodded the Transcendental thinking of Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both in Concord. Also on the list is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (fifth cousin 1x via John Alden), who honeymooned in Pittsfield and owned land in Stockbridge — and Laura Ingalls Wilder (seventh cousin 3x via Jacques le Mahieu); Horatio Alger, (fourth cousin 2x via Thomas Snell); and Annie Proulx (fourth cousin 5x via Samuel Washburn).
Musically talented family include Amy Grant (third cousin 5x via Jonathan Howard); Pete Seeger and Burl Ives, (both fourth cousins 4x via John Washburn Jr.); Taylor Swift (fifth cousin 6x via John Shaw); Beach Boys Brian, Dennis & Carl Wilson (sixth cousins 5x via Francis Cooke); and Mary Chapin Carpenter (another sixth cousin 5x via Cooke).
There are two artists: John Trumbull (fourth cousin once removed via John Alden) and Grandma Moses (sixth cousin 1x via Francis Cooke).
Microsoft founder Bill Gates (fifth cousin 4x via Thomas Mitchell) starts our commerce compendium, followed by Cadwallader Washburn, founder of General Mills (fourth cousin via Samuel Washburn); Lewis Henry Lapham of Texaco (fifth cousin 2x via Thomas Mitchell); railroad and real estate speculator Hetty Green, known as the richest woman in the country in her day (fifth cousin 2x via Thomas Mitchell); Charles Edward Merrill of Merrill Lynch (fifth cousin 3x via Thomas Mitchell); Henry Sturgis Morgan of Morgan Stanley (fifth cousin 4x via Mitchell); Gilbert Clifford Noble of Barnes & Noble booksellers (sixth cousin via Samuel Edson); J.A. Folger of Folger’s coffee (sixth cousin 1x via Francis Cooke); and William Durant, a founder of General Motors (sixth cousin 3x via Cooke).
Not handily classified are French chef Julia Child (second great-niece via Peter Bryant); crown princess of Greece Marie-Chantal Miller (third cousin 6x via Zacheus Packard); advice columnist Emily Post (fourth cousin 3x via Jonathan Alden); suffragist and Adams-born Susan B. Anthony (fifth cousin 1x via John Alden); Princess Diana of Wales nee Diana Frances Spencer (cousin 6x via Thomas Mitchell); and Erskine Childers, the fourth president of Ireland (fifth cousin 3x via John Alden).
I don’t know if this listing puts Bryant in any particularly interesting contest as far as local history goes, but it does nicely segue into an invitation to join me for a downtown Great Barrington historical walk under the auspices of the Great Barrington Historical Commission for Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area’s annual autumn Heritage Hike series. I’m not giving a date, as I’m not sure the event won’t be postponed.