The Origins of the Danielson Family

By Marcella Pasay

Reading early histories of the area one may be led to believe that James Danielson arrived in Connecticut almost directly from Scotland. Some texts refer to his being "of New Shoreham" (now Block Island, RI) at the time he buys land in Pomfret in 1706. Where did he come from? In RI Genealogies, in the chapter entitled "Early Block Island Families, we read:

"Some of the first proprietors in Dorchester and Braintree did not go to Block Island in person but sent agents and factors, among them several of the Scots from the Braintree iron works, who left numerous descendants on the island. Among these may be mentioned William Tosh (McIntosh, Duncan Ross alias Tormut Rose, Alexander Enos (Innis), Duncan McWilliamson, Robert Guttridge, James Danielson, and others."

What was James Danielson’s connection with the Braintree iron works? Established in the mid-seventeenth century on the Saugus River, the iron works recruited "…skilled and unskilled…free and indentured…" workers. Among the indentured were a number of Scots prisoners taken at the Battles of Preston and Dunbar and Worcester. Was James Danielson, namesake of the Borough, a Scots prisoner? No. James was born in 1648/1649. These battles took place within a few years after his birth. Searching the New Shoreham records, however, we read:

"James Danelson Juner his Marke being the marke…."

It was, in fact, his father, James, who first arrived in New England, probably not as a prisoner, but as a skilled worker from Scotland. Prisoners were not allowed to bring their families and were not paid much. According to the New England Genealogical Register (vol. 6, p. 250) and the Essex Quarterly Court Files, a James Danielson resided in Braintree and gave a deposition in 1653. It states he was twenty years old but he was most likely older. (If James, Jr., was born in 1648 his father would only have been fifteen years old in 1653.)

There are no further records of this first James, his wife, or what happened to them. It may be that when his work was completed he returned to Scotland and left his son as an apprentice in Braintree. James, Jr., must have been a trusted employee and exhibited good business sense to be selected as an agent for the New Shoreham enterprise. He must also have had some capital of his own in order to begin his land purchases.

James did very well on the island buying and selling property and building a cattle herd. He married twice and each wife bore him a son. When he arrived in Connecticut, James and Samuel accompanied he and his wife, Mary.

At least one historical account mentions a son, William, but there is no record of his birth or death and he is not mentioned in his father’s will. There is a William Danielson in the Pomfret land records but the property does not seem to be in any way adjoining or part of the Danielson property. There are no land transactions recorded between the aforementioned William and the other Danielsons. The surname of William may well be a corruption of Dennison as the early text is not clear. Until other records are found, we must exclude this William from the family of James.

Vol. 1, p. 703

Ironworks On The Saugus, page 186.

Ironworks On The Saugus, page 199.

New Shoreham Town Book #1, page 179.