Distant Branches of the McClain Family Tree, Part I: Richard Lane

This will be a departure from the “Photo of the Day” format, since photography wasn’t available in the 17th and 18th centuries. We will get to some visual depictions of people, though not in this post.

I’ve been doing some research into the distant branches of my family tree. In my (and some of your) McClain ancestry there is a branch with the family name “Lane.” I’ve come across interesting (I think) information about some of the Lanes that I thought might interest you also. I shared some of this information verbally with a few of my siblings and at least one urged me to write it out. So here it is.

By way of orientation: my “McClain” great grandmother was Mary Elizabeth McClain. She is mentioned in at least nineteen posts on this blog, and there are a number of photos of her. Her husband was Nathan Coffee McClain. Mary Elizabeth McClain’s mother was Mary Elizabeth Lane. It is this “Lane” branch that I’ll cover in this post and one or two more. Mary Elizabeth Lane’s fourth great grandfather was Samuel Lane. In the early 1660s he immigrated to Maryland from England and settled in Anne Arundel County. There he was involved in civic affairs and held the rank of major in the militia. I mention him just as a reference point. This post is about Samuel’s father, Richard Lane. (The Richard Lane that is the subject here unquestionably had a son named Samuel, but a few genealogists question whether that Samuel Lane is the same person that ended up in Maryland in the 1660s. It seems to be generally accepted that he was, though. Regardless, Richard Lane’s story is fascinating even if it should turn out that he isn’t really our ancestor.)

Early Life

Richard Lane was born in Hereford, England in 1596. His parents Roger and Beatrix Lane both died when he was very young. In 1613 he became an apprentice tailor in London, and completed his apprenticeship in 1620.

If the year 1620 doesn’t immediately ring a bell, that is the year the Pilgrims landed in the New World and established the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. The significance of this chronological reference point to the life of Richard Lane will become clear in due course.

Richard married Alice Carter in London in 1623. They had sons Samuel in 1628, John in 1630 and Oziell in 1632. A daughter Mary followed in 1634.

Richard became a Puritan, or at least developed Puritan leanings, either before he married Alice or in the early years of their marriage. In 1630 his views became known to William Laud, Bishop of London in the Church of England. Laud had been actively seeking to stamp out Puritanism. In keeping with that, he ordered a church examination of Richard. Richard, knowing this would not end well for him, sought to leave England.

Providence Island Colony

As it happened, that same year a Puritan colony was to be established on Providence Island, a mere speck of land in the western Caribbean Sea, off the coast of present-day Nicaragua. The colony was financed by the Providence Island Company in England, similar to the way Plymouth Colony had been financed by the Plymouth Company.

The map above shows the location of Providence Island, now known as Isla de Providencia or Providencia Island. It is (non-intuitively) part of the country of Colombia.

So in February 1631 Richard joined the group of settlers that left England and sailed aboard the Seaflower to Providence Island, leaving Alice and the children behind. Over the next three years he worked with the other settlers, attempting to make the colony productive through the cultivation of various crops, as directed by the company back in England.

In 1634, Richard returned to England aboard the Elizabeth, seeking money he believed the company owed him. The company convinced him to return to the island, so he sailed back aboard the Expectation, this time with Alice and the children.

Back on the island, Richard was put in charge of an attempt to cultivate the madder plant (used to make a red dye). This, and subsequent similar projects, both on the island and on nearby land along the coast of the Central American mainland, were almost entirely unprofitable. Nevertheless, Richard gained such respect among the other colonists that they chose him to be governor of the colony when then-governor Nathaniel Butler left in 1640. However Butler had appointed his own successor, Captain Andrew Carter (contrary to the company’s instruction that the colonists be allowed to choose the next governor).

Carter was unwilling to step down and instead had Richard and the two Puritan ministers in the colony arrested and sent back to England with a letter of complaint to (now) Archbishop William Laud, stating the prisoners were Puritans and separatists. Carter was expecting that Archbishop Laud would get these men out of his hair permanently.

However things were changing rapidly in England as the conflict between King Charles I and Parliament escalated. Parliament began arresting the king’s highest officials, among them Archbishop Laud. So by the time Richard and the others arrived back in England, Laud, being in prison himself, was in no position to deal with them. They were freed and welcomed by the company, which then sent instructions ordering Carter and his cronies to leave the island. Richard and one of the Puritan ministers, Nicholas Leverton, were eager to return to the island, and the company encouraged them to do so. They left, bound for the island again, in early 1641.

To Bermuda, Then the Bahamas

However, once again conditions were changing more rapidly than ships could sail across the Atlantic. After several unsuccessful attempts, the Spanish succeeded in invading Providence Island and expelled the English in May 1641, not long before Richard, Nicholas Leverton and their shipmates arrived in the area. It must have been a shock to discover that their families and homes were gone and the Spanish were in control.

The Spanish took 350 English prisoners to Cartagena, among whom, presumably, were Alice and the children. Women and children were sent back to England (or at least English territory) immediately. Even the men were treated well and allowed to buy their freedom over the course of the summer.

Alice and the children evidently ended up in Bermuda, where there was another colony of Puritans. Richard caught up with them there eventually, though I have seen no account of how that happened. But in the late 1640s, something else caught up with them there: the English Civil War. By that time the Puritans, formerly a majority on the island, had become a minority, and the new majority was loyal to the Crown. Friction between the majority and the Puritans and other supporters of the Commonwealth led the latter to seek refuge elsewhere. Many joined in the settlement of the Bahamas (900 miles to the southwest) which began in 1648, led by William Sayle. (The Bahamas were previously Spanish territory, but the Spanish had done little to establish a presence on the islands and had primarily exploited and enslaved the native population, which was severely reduced by the time of the Puritan migration there.) The Puritans settled first on the island they named Eleuthera (meaning “Freedom” in Greek).

The map above shows the location of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, where the Puritans first settled. Bermuda is to the northeast (upper right), probably off the edge of the map as displayed. If you zoom in sufficiently (tap/click the “+” button), the red marker will show the location of Preachers Cave on the island, where the first settlers took refuge after being shipwrecked off the coast.

There were apparently several waves of migration from Bermuda to the Bahamas, and I have seen no indication as to when the Lane family arrived. It is certain that they did arrive, though, because sometime before August 1657, Richard and his youngest son Oziell drowned off Eleuthera. The deaths may have occurred during the family’s migration from Bermuda. In that case they must have happened a number of years before 1657. Alternatively the drownings may have occurred after the family settled on Eleuthera, and in that case the deaths may date to as late as 1656 or 1657.

After the deaths of her husband and son, Alice returned to England with her remaining children. (It is possible that Samuel, and even John, had returned there earlier in pursuit of education.) In England, in August 1657, she petitioned the government for £702 she believed her husband was owed for his service. This was denied, but she was granted a pension of 10 shillings (half a pound) per week. Alice died in London in 1678. At half a pound per week, it would have taken about 27 years for her to receive the £702 she originally asked for. So in the remainder of her life she managed to collect a bit over three-fourths of what she requested.

Afterword

What I found particularly fascinating about this story was the existence of Puritan colonies elsewhere in the New World besides Plymouth—and in the Caribbean, of all places! I had no idea. But these colonies ultimately fell to the Spanish—Providence Island in 1641, as mentioned, and the Bahamas in 1684. But even during their lifetimes these colonies, unlike Plymouth, were never economically viable.

Another thing that struck me was how commonplace ship travel across the Atlantic had become by the 1630s. The harrowing voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 gives the impression that passenger travel across the Atlantic was dangerous and rare. Not that it ceased to have an element of danger, but judging from all the activity in the Caribbean, and even just in the life of Richard Lane, there were a lot of ships crossing the Atlantic in the 1630s.

Lastly, it is rare for family history and the world history to intersect in any major way unless one is descended from royalty or something. And it is rare for knowledge of the lives of one’s ancestors in the 17th century to go much beyond dates and places of birth, marriage and death—if even that. Yet the life of Richard Lane is intimately connected with the the Puritan movement and the events leading up to the English Civil War, and his activities on Providence Island, especially, are documented in some detail in the still-extant records of the Providence Island Company.

I have made no effort to tell the entire story of the Providence Island Colony here. That would take much more text that I would care to write or you would care to read, probably. Books have been written on the topic. I have given just a summary as it relates to the life of Richard Lane. The Providence Island Colony, at least as originally conceived, very likely would not have survived even if the Spanish hadn’t taken it. It seems the island was best suited to being a privateering base (which it was in part during the later years of the colony and became again after the Spanish abandoned the island).

The initial settling of Eleuthera was harrowing, involving shipwrecks, lack of supplies, and emergency help from colonies in both Virginia and Massachusetts. In the end, the situation was similar to Providence Island in that the island was not well-suited even to subsistence agriculture, let alone production of exports. By 1670, only twenty families remained on Eleuthera. The situation was much different on neighboring New Providence island, which was settled starting in 1666. It quickly became the center of population and commerce for the Bahamas.

Incidentally the name of New Providence Island in the Bahamas led to the original Providence Island being referred to as “Old Providence Island” in English circles—a name that still persists in a few places (though the Spanish name “Providencia” is far more common). It has also led to confusion for people looking at the life of Richard Lane. They see that he died in the Bahamas and assume the references to “Providence Island” in records about him are to New Providence in the Bahamas (since few have heard of the Providence Island Colony, and even a web search for “Providence Island” is as likely to bring up results for the Bahamas as it is anything about Providence Island in the western Caribbean). The idea that Richard Lane was on New Providence Island in the Bahamas doesn’t work historically, though, since the Bahamas were nearly uninhabited during 1631-1641 when the Providence Island Colony was active.

Further Reading

If you have any interest in learning more about either the Providence Island Colony or the initial English settlement of the Bahamas, Wikipedia isn’t a bad place to start:

The series of nine podcasts (transcribed) starting here tells the story of Providence Island in great detail.

This Daily Mail review of Tom Feiling’s book The Island that Disappeared gives a nice overview of the Providence Island Colony and has lots of nice photos of the island.

The profile for Richard Lane on the genealogical site wikitree.com has a biography that includes some details not included in this post.

I am aware of three books about Providence Island (the colony and/or the island). I have not read them, so I am merely noting their existence, not necessarily recommending them:

  • The Island that Disappeared by Tom Feiling (link to review above). This book comes in US and UK editions with different subtitles.
  • Providence Island, 1630–1641: The Other Puritan Colony, by Karen Ordahl Kupperman.
  • Island Anecdotes, by Riva Fidel Robinson, contains historical anecdotes about Providence Island (Providencia) and its sister island San Andres.

4 thoughts on “Distant Branches of the McClain Family Tree, Part I: Richard Lane”

  1. What amazing, in depth research, Lloyd. LOVE IT! Wish some of our more recent descendants could have appreciated all this information. Will read and reread to be able to better comprehend these details. How astonishing that some family members ended up in Oregon…when there were so many other possible locations for them to land in! HUGE THANKS, Lloyd. Think this could have been worth a dissertation for your Ph.D!!!

  2. So good to see you back! Your patient search for information is amazing!

  3. All of this is very, very interesting! Thank you, Lloyd, very much!
    I am under the impression that Aunt Hannah’s maiden name was Lane. It would be interesting to know if she is Richard’s descendant also. I hear occasionally from John’s youngest son, so next time I do, I will ask him.

    1. Yes, I wondered about that too, but hadn’t looked into it. But since you asked, I checked. Aunt Hannah’s Lane line comes from Ontario, Canada back to the 1780s. That doesn’t absolutely rule out a connection to Richard Lane, but it seems unlikely. Richard’s other surviving son, John, remained in England, although it appears that some of his descendants ended up in Virginia and Maryland near their cousins. No sign that I can see right off of anyone going to Canada among the descendants of either Samuel or John, though.

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