A teenager is abruptly and unexpectedly startled from a peaceful sleep in the middle of the night.
Before dawn, he will leave on an adventure that is certain to be filled with danger and life-threatening hazards. Although he has no way to know, he will not return for four or five years.
It is 1756, and the location is New England. Benjamin is only sixteen. Now, before the sun rises, he finds himself among a company of men heading off on an expedition. They are marching off through the wilderness to Canada in the French and Indian War.
Benjamin is the second child, and the oldest son, in a large family. Some of his ancestors came to America more than a century earlier. Others of his ancestors have lived their entire lives in New England. A number of his ancestors have lived into their seventies and eighties.
But at this moment in time, the odds of Benjamin living a long life are not very promising. Even less so, if the crystal ball could reveal that after surviving his brutal initiation into manhood, he would go on to be a soldier in the American Revolution and participate in the battles of Bunker Hill, Long Island, White Plains, Trenton, Monmouth, and others.
But he did beat the odds. Not only did he survive the expedition and the Revolutionary War, he lived a long and prosperous life. He became a successful farmer, married twice, and fathered thirteen children. All of his children married. They gave him at least 87 grandchildren, and maybe more.
Before the end of the nineteenth century, his descendants had spread into a great number of families. In addition to being profusely scattered throughout New England, some were in the Mid-Atlantic states, some in Mid-West states from Kansas to Wisconsin, and some had even reached California.
How many little (or large and dramatic) twists of fate during Benjamin’s life had impacted the lives of all those families?
Five of his children were born before the Revolutionary War, three were born during the war, and five were born after. How many times could part or all of the subsequent chain of events of the unfolding of family history been eliminated by an arrow, a musket ball, disease, accidents, or nature’s wrath?
What I wonder is, how many of his own descendants know that Benjamin even existed?
By now, his genes could be shared by many thousands of families, most of which, because of marriages of so many female descendants, have surnames very different than Benjamin’s. Some of the ones I have entered in the database (as of more than a century ago, 1885) are Ames, Avery, Batchelder, Boardman, Bowers, Chamberlain, Clark, Cotlee, Culver, Dorchin, Fessenden, Hillyer, Hobart, Hodge, Howell, Kendrick, Lyon, Martin, Miller, Mower, Perry, Phillips, Pratt, Raymond, Richards, Robinson, Ryder, Twitchell, Wadsworth, Waite, and Willson.
Could Benjamin be one of your great-great-great-great-grandfathers?