Origin of Henry Luce

The English Origin of Henry Luce
by Justin Swanström
Copyright 1989, 2006

Henry (1) Luce was an early Massachusetts immigrant and progenitor of a large family on Martha’s Vineyard. His origin is unknown, but it has been suggested that he might have come from Horton in Gloucester. I believe there is some reason to believe he might have come from Chepstow in Monmouth.

He first appears indisputably on November 13, 1666 as a juror at Scituate. He married Remember (2) Litchfield circa 1666, probably at Scituate. In 1668 he owned land at Rehoboth. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard before February 1, 1671, where he and his wife raised a family of ten children[1].

There is no proof of Henry’s antecedents, but an early tradition points to a Welsh origin for the family[2]. A descendant born in 1800 wrote, “My great great great great grandfather Israel Luce lived and died in Wales. My great great great grandfather Henry Luce was born in about 1645 and brought up in Wales. He married Remember Munson. He sailed with his wife and three children to America in 1676, and landed and settled at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. where he reared a family of seven children”[3]. This statement contains many inaccuracies, but is broadly consistent with the known facts.

There is no reason to doubt that Henry came from a Welsh family, although contrary traditions exist[4]. The surname Luce is found along the Welsh border, and Banks himself accepted the Welsh origin of the family. In 1990 I obtained a list of all telephone directory listings for the surname Luce in southwest England[5]. The name is not common; there were only 118 listings. I found that these listings fall naturally into two groups: one to the north and northwest of Bristol, and the other in the Channel Islands. There were 52 listings in the Bristol area, most of them concentrated in and near Amesbury, Bristol, Bath, Cirencester, and Plymouth. There were 66 listings in the Channel Islands, most of them in Jersey. This listing did not include Wales.

Banks argued that Henry (1) Luce was probably born in or near the parish of Horton[6] in Gloucester, 16 miles from the Welsh border. In reaching this conclusion, Banks looked for earlier evidences of the name Luce in New England. He found a Harke Luse named on a muster roll at Scituate in 1643. On finding a marriage October 8, 1604 between Abraham Luce and Cecily Darke at Horton, Banks came to the conclusion that “Harke” was probably a copyist’s error for “Darke.” He then used the hypothetical Darke Luse to suggest a link between Henry (1) Luce and the Luces of Horton[7].

In further support of this theory, Banks pointed to a contemporary of Henry (1) Luce, also resident at West Tisbury: Arthur (1) Bevan, who first appears on Martha’s Vineyard in 1677. Bevan’s antecedents are unknown, but his surname is Welsh. An Arthur Bevan is named in the parish registers of Yate in Gloucester[8]. Banks’ theory about Henry (1) Luce is considerably strengthened by this demonstration that two men, both apparently Welsh, and living in West Tisbury, might have come from villages only four miles apart in Gloucester.

However, Caroline Lewis Kardell, sometime Historian General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, has since shown that Harke Luse is more probably an otherwise unknown Archelaus Lewis, brother to George (1) and John (1) Lewis of Scituate[9].

Without the existence of a hypothetical Darke Luse, the theory that Henry (1) Luce came from Horton is considerably weakened[10]. In the light of Ms. Kardell’s theory, the origins of Henry (1) Luce must be re-examined.

Peter Coldham Wilson’s book, The complete book of immigrants, has undoubtedly provided many exciting clues for those researching the origins of immigrants. In the case of the Luce family, there is one intriguing entry:

November 4, 1659, Henry Lewes, tanner, of Chepstow, Monmouth, bound to serve Thomas Bickford, planter, for three years.[11]

Savage does not show another Henry Lewis or Luce who could be this Henry Lewes[12], except Henry (1) Luce[13]. The dates are consistent with the known facts. Henry (1) Luce is thought to have been born about 1640[14]. If he was indentured to Thomas Bickford in 1659, he would have been about 19 years old. The date of immigration is no problem. Henry Lewes was bound in 1659, while Henry (1) Luce is known to have immigrated before 1666. Unfortunately, we have no evidence that Henry (1) Luce of Martha’s Vineyard was a tanner, or had any other skilled trade.

Assuming that the ship on which Henry Lewes departed Bristol landed at New England and not in some other area, such as Barbadoes[15] or Virginia, this begins to create a pattern which suggests that Henry Lewes, a tanner, of Chepstow might have been Henry (1) Luce.

The same document which records the indenture of Henry Lewes also names William Weekes of Salisbury, Wiltshire to serve Augustine Greenwood for four years. The names Weekes and Greenwood are also connected with Martha’s Vineyard. The Greenwood family even became connected with the Luces in the generation following Henry (1) Luce. Samuel (1) Allen of Braintree had a daughter Mary (2) Allen who married 1656 at Weymouth to Nathaniel (1) Greenwood, of Boston[16]. Samuel (1) Allen’s children later settled at Martha’s Vineyard. His granddaughter Sarah (3) Allen married a son of Henry (1) Luce[17].

There was also a William Weekes at Martha’s Vineyard[18]. His origin is unproved, but he seems to have been from a Middlesex family of that name and not from a Wiltshire family[19].

If the Henry Lewes of this indenture is to be identified with Henry (1) Luce of Martha’s Vineyard, the question becomes one of locating a Thomas Bickford in the New World and testing whether there is any reason for believing that Henry (1) Luce, later of Martha’s Vineyard, might have come to America as his indentured servant. The answer, intriguing as it is, is not conclusive.

A John(1) Bickford immigrated from Devon circa 1623 and settled at Dover, New Hampshire. He was married twice and had nine sons, among them the eighth Thomas (2), born at Dover in 1640[20], and the ninth Samuel, born [at Dover?] in 1642[21].

Thomas (2) Bickford would have been only 19 at the time of Henry Lewes’ indenture. At this age, it is unlikely that he was conducting business at Bristol on his father’s behalf or that he would be described as a “planter.” However, the siblings of John (1) are unknown. It is plausible to suggest a hypothetical brother Thomas [22], uncle and namesake of Thomas (2), and to suppose that the older Thomas might have been conducting business on behalf of his brother John (1) in North America.

Even more intriguing is the Bickford connection with Martha’s Vineyard. Samuel (2) Bickford was in Marblehead by 1666 when he married (1) Christian Rand[23]. He later married (2) Mary Cottle, and lived briefly at West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard. He was mentioned in a land transaction of 1678[24]. He was at Tisbury in 1680, as son-in-law of Vineyard resident Edward (1) Cottle.

We have, then, a document recorded at Bristol in 1659 which names a Henry Lewes, Thomas Bickford, William Weekes and Augustine Greenwood, among others. Then at Martha’s Vineyard we find a Henry (1) Luce whose origins are unknown but who might have been Welsh, a Samuel Bickford, a William Weekes, and a Nathaniel Greenwood. I suggest that the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to warrant a new hypothesis: that Henry (1) Luce of Martha’s Vineyard is identical with the Henry Lewes, a tanner from Chepstow, Monmouth, who was indentured at Bristol in 1659. This tentative identification has some interesting possibilities, opening new avenues of research for the Bevan, Bickford, Greenwood, and Weekes families, as well as for the Luce family.

I have not yet been able to identify the Henry Lewes of Chepstow in local records [25]. The same statement which gives Henry (1) Luce’s origin as Wales, says that Henry’s father was Israel Luce[26]. If Henry Lewes the tanner is found to have been son of an Israel Lewes, or to have been connected with a Munson family (tradition gives a connection with the Munson family: Henry’s wife was not Remember Munson as stated, but his mother might have been […] Munson), this identification would be much strengthened.

There was Lewes family at Llysnewydd, Cardigan. They adopted the surname Lewes as a contraction of ap Lewis, temp. James I[27].


[1]Charles Edward Banks, History of Martha’s Vineyard (Baltimore 1966), 2 (West Tisbury):55.

[2]The different Luce families discussed have often claimed descent from the famous Norman family de Lucy, although none of them has been able to show the intervening generations in the 400-500 years between their earliest known ancestor and the ancestor of the de Lucy family.

The de Lucy family originated with Richard de Lucy (d. 1179), Chief Justiciar of England, under Henry II, a hundred years after the Norman Conquest. He took his name from the commune of Lucé, outside Chartres in the French province of Maine. He was a self-made man and assembled a barony for himself, composed of primarily of fees in southeastern England (Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Devon, Essex), and to a lesser extent in southwestern England (Gloucester and Cornwall). See Douglas, The reign of King John, XX; and Complete peerage, 8:257n.

Leslie Pine considered it unlikely in the extreme that the surname Luce could be derived from Lucy, although Lucy is easily documented as a variant of Lucé [Private Communication, July 19, 1985].

Finally, it may be added that there is no connection between any branch of the Luce family on the one hand, and Luce Bay and Glenluce, Scotland on the other. Those places take their names from a Gaelic word meaning “light.”

[3]Banks, 3:246-247. Although Banks does not give the name of his informant, he adds that the descent was through Eleazar (2) Luce.

[4]In fact, there is a vigorous tradition of French descent, but this has become mixed with claims to a descent from the de Lucy family.

Wilmot (5) Luce, born 1788, a descendant of Robert (2), changed his name to d’Luce (Vineyard Gazette, June 26, 1959.

The descendants of Eleazar (2) have given us the tradition that their ancestor was a “Count Eleazar de Lucé”, a Huguenot.

It been suggested that the Luces came from the Channel Islands, where there is indeed a Luce family. Many of the settlers at Marblehead and Gloucester, Massachusetts came thence (see David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s seed (New York, 1989), pp. 152, 785), so this suggestion is not implausible.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Benjamin Masury, of Salem, Massachusetts, married April 2, 1671 to Mary Luce, originally of Guernsey in the Channel Islands (Martha McCourt, The American Descendants of Henry Luce of Martha’s Vineyard 1640-1985 (Vancouver, Washington, 1985), 4th edition, p. 11.)

The family of Luce, settled in the parish of St. Lawrence [Jersey] prior to 1500, claims to have migrated from Wales, and to be a branch of the famous Norman house of Lucy, or Lucie, settled in England since the Conquest.” (see J. Bertrand Payne, An armorial of Jersey (London, 1862), pp. 259ff). This source traces the descent of this family from Perrin Luce, living 1510, and his wife Alice Gibault. The information given does not seem to be comprehensive, but it should be noted that it shows no “Henry” or “Israel”, names which we would expect to find if there were a close relationship with the Martha’s Vineyard family. Indeed, the only name this family has in common with the Martha’s Vineyard family is “John.” The names “Perrin”, “Martin”, “Raulin”, and “Helyer” which appear in the Channel Island family are not used by the Martha’s Vineyard family.

Despite the claim that the Jersey family descends from the de Lucys, this family does not use the de Lucy coat of arms (Gules three pikes or luces hauriant), but uses Azure a crescent Argent. This difference suggests a separate origin for the two families. The names in this family also differ significantly from those in the Vineyard family, however.

It may be noted that a number of Channel Island Luces settled in Canada in the 19th century.

[5]My thanks to Rodney Neep for downloading this information for me from a computerized database available in the United Kingdom.

[6]Since Banks wrote, it has come to the attention of Luce genealogists that the family of Admiral Sir John Luce (1870-1932) and of Admiral Sir John David Luce (b. 1906) originated in Pucklechurch, X miles distant from Horton. Leslie Pine, in a 1989 letter to the author, stated his opinion that the Luces of Horton and Pucklechurch probably have a common origin. The Pucklechurch family traces its ancestry to a John Lucie, a contemporary of the Abraham Luce who married Cicely Darke. John Lucie lived a Tytherington, Gloucester. His son, John Luce, removed to Pucklechurch.

The Luce family of Pucklechurch also claims a descent from the Norman family of de Lucy, but also uses the coat of arms Azure a crescent Argent.

[7]There is no way to positively prove or disprove this hypothesis as it stands. The baptismal records of Horton are missing for the years 1624-1653. Henry (1) Luce would have been born during this period, as probably would Harke Luce. If Harke was born at Horton, then he must have been 19 years or younger when he was named at Scituate. The register shows a 1605 baptism for an Israel Luce, son of Abraham Luce and Cicely Darke. Most Luce genealogists have assumed that this Israel was the father of Henry (1), in accordance with the family tradition given above, and have supposed that Harke (1) Luce was an uncle of Henry (1).

[8]Banks, 3:522.

[9]Caroline Lewis Kardell, Letter dated July 2, 1990 to Mrs. James E. McCourt.

[10]The reciprocal identification of Arthur (1) Bevan, of West Tisbury, with the Arthur Bevan who appears the parish registers of Yate, Gloucester, is also weakened, but not destroyed.

[11]Peter Coldham Wilson, Complete book of immigrants (Baltimore, 1987), p. 444, citing Bristol Records Office.

[12]The difference in spelling need not trouble us. Banks makes the point that the spelling of the name in America has been uniformly “Luce”, but he cites a contrary example from the Tisbury records where the name is spelled “Lewes” (see Banks, 2 (West Tisbury):55). This is precisely the spelling we see here. The records of Horton, Gloucester also show the name spelled “Lewes”, “Lewce” and “Lewis.”

[13]James Savage, A genealogical dictionary of first settlers of New England (Baltimore, 1965), 3:86, 127.

[14]Based on the birth of his wife Remember Litchfield circa 1644. Henry was probably a few years older. See Banks, 2 (West Tisbury), 55.

[15]Barbadoes would be an interesting alternative to New England. A Luke Luce, merchant, of London, is mentioned in 1668 as owning a plantation in Barbadoes (see Wilson, pp. 399, 475). Burke attributes the same arms used by the Jersey family to a Luce family “of London, formerly of Antwerp.” This cannot be taken as conclusive of a relationship, but suggests that some claim of relationship was made.

[16]Savage, 2:311. He was born at Norwich, son of Miles.

[17]Banks, 3:3.


[19]Banks identifies him as a son of William Wickes of Staines, Middlesex, and therefore a brother of John Weeks of New England.

[20]He deposed that he was age 36 in 1676.

[21]Mahlon C. Bickford, The Bickford Family Association, Letter dated May 14, 1991.

[22]Recent research by Mahlon Bickford suggests that John Bickford of Dover, originally from Devon, indeed had a brother Thomas. Mahlon C. Bickford, email dated Jan. 7, 2005.

[23]Bickford (1991).

[24]Banks, 2 (West Tisbury), 68n.

[25]Chepstow records are missing for the relevant period. There is a Welsh family with the surname Lewes, who took their name from a 17th century ancestor. They claimed descent from Ednowain ap Bradwen, and used his arms. However, this cannot have been the family of Henry Lewes of Monmouth.

[26]Henry Luce named one of his sons “Israel.” This might have been after his wife’s brother of that name (Israel Litchfield). If it was also the name of Henry’s father, then it might be significant that the given name Israel is also used by the Lewis family of Westerly, Rhode Island. That family and the Luces of Martha’s Vineyard share the given names Israel and David, but the names are common and nothing firm can be adduced from the fact. Henry Luce and John Lewis (1669, of Westerly) both had sons by these names (see Banks, p. * and Savage, p. 87). Perhaps coincidentally, Williams Weeks of Edgartown operated a ship between Rhode Island and Martha’s Vineyard (see Banks, 2 (Edgartown), 119, 120.)

[27]Burke’s genealogical and heraldic history of landed gentry, (London, 1937), H. Pirie-Gordon ed., pp. 1368-1369.

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