1447. Briscoe


  1. Edward Briscowe m. ____; “Crostananby” (Crosscanonby?), Cumb., Eng.
  2. (poss.) Rev. Guy Briscowe (d. ca. 1595) m. Mary Wilson (d. aft. 1594); Halstow, Sundridge, Kent, Eng.
  3. William Briscoe (ca. 1590–bef. 1667) m. (1) Jane ____ (d. 1637); Watford, Herts., Eng.; Boston, Mass.
  4. Joseph Briscoe (1627?–1658) m. 1652 Abigail Compton (d. aft. 1670); Boston, Mass.
  5. Joseph Briscoe (1658–aft. 1724) m. ca. 1678 Rebecca ____ (d. aft. 1724); Boston, Mass.
  6. Abigail Briscoe (1683–bef. 1766) m. 1703 William Palfrey (1682–1766); Boston, Mass.

Related surnames

5891. Compton · 723. Palfrey

Comment: Toward the English Origin of William Briscoe

Some suggestive data have been produced on the origin of William1 Briscoe of Boston, but not enough research has been carried out to confirm the suppositions made in earlier publications. My line reads provisionally as set about above.

Evidence for William’s supposed filiation has been drawn mainly from two documents. The first of these is a reference to William Briscoe’s known son Benjamin[1] as “cousen” in the will of Rev. John Wilson of Boston.[2] The other document is the will of Rev. Guy Briscowe, Wilson’s uncle by marriage, which names a son William.[3] It has been proposed that Guy’s son was identical with the same-named early settler of Boston,[4] who thus becomes Wilson’s first cousin. If the supposition is correct, then Benjamin was Wilson’s first cousin once removed.

John Wilson’s associates have been subject to little research in England since 1908.[5] At first there seems to be little reason to suppose it more than coincidental that Wilson’s cousin, who last appears in the existing research as a little boy, should bear the same name as an untraced New England immigrant, however uncommon the name. Yet Guy’s will exhibits certain peculiarities that should give pause to too dismissive a view. First of all, it covers a remarkably wide geographical range, placing his father in Cumberland, his wife’s relatives in Berkshire, himself in Kent, and his “cousins” in Hertfordshire. It can also be shown that Watford, Hertfordshire, the home of one of Guy’s “cousins,” was subsequently the home of one William Briscoe, and at least three sons whose names match the Boston immigrant. The parish registers show the following entries:[6]


1592/3 January, John sonne of Jo. Bryse. 28.

1594 Octobr, Nathaniell sonne of Jo. Bry: 6:[7]

1617 November, thomas Son of willm brisco the 16.

1619 October, Daniel son of wm Brisco and Jane his wife 20th day.

1621 Aprill, Nathaniel, sonn of wm Briscoe and Jane his wife, 8.

1621 September, Mary, daughter of Gawin Brisco and mary his wife—11. day.

1623 October, John, Son of Williã Brischoe & Jane his wife—27.

1624 October, William, sonne of W.m & Jane Briscoe—24.

1625/6 March, Elizabeth, daughter of Wm [interlined: &.] Jane Briscoe— 5.

1627 August, Joseph, Sonne of William and Jane Briscoe—19

1629 Aprill, Beniamin, sonne of William and Jane Briscoe—19

1631/2 February, Lidia daughter of William and Jane Brisco—26

1639 Aprill, Ezekiell sonne of Willyam & Sislee Bisco[8]—i6


1603 June, George winkfeild & mary Brisco, 5.

1637 August, William Brisco & ciclye Deale—17


1576/7 January, Richard sonne of Mr Briscoe of Lond 7

1605 December, the son of mrtris [?] bristo: the 5.

1630 June, An infant of william Briscoe—19

1637 may. Jane ye wife of william Bisco—3.

1637/8 February, John ye sonne of William Bisco—i:

1638 April, [Lydia?] Daug[illegible] Bisco—25

This family appears to match all known American records of William of Boston. The immigrant’s wife Cicely died in Boston on 9 December 1661.[9] At least one capable researcher has presumed her to be the mother of William’s son Daniel,[10] who was admitted an inhabitant of Boston on 28 March 1642.[11]

Daniel died shortly afterward,[12] but three other men of this surname lived to marry: Joseph in 1652,[13] Benjamin by 1656,[14] and Ezekiel by 1679.[15] In short, each of the immigrant’s sons first appears in Boston as an adult between 23 and 40 years after the baptism of his namesake in Watford. Excluding Ezekiel, the maximum baptism-to-marriage interval drops to 27 years. Chronology favors the identification.

On 9 September 1662 Robert Gibbs and his wife Elizabeth granted a house and land in Boston to William Brisco. Upon William’s death, one half of the land was to remain to William’s youngest son Ezekiell Brisco, and the other half to Benjamine Brisco, another of his sons, on the condition that Benjamine pay to William’s grandchild Joseph Brisco the sum of thirty pounds upon his age of twenty-one years.[16] Since neither Benjamin nor Ezekiel had a known child of that name,[17] the grandchild in question can be identified as the posthumous son of Joseph Briscoe by his wife Abigail Compton. This Joseph was born on 21 August 1658, and was therefore aged four years as of the date of the deed.[18] Furthermore, in December 1679 Joseph Brisco, grandson of William Brisco, deceased, sued the estate of Ezekiel Brisco, also deceased, for the sum of thirty pounds left him as the gift of his grandfather under the authority of the deed.[19] Joseph must have been born no later than December 1658 in order to enter this action. Since his mother belonged to the Compton family, it follows that his father, Joseph, must also have been William’s son, and that the Briscoe family in Boston was largely composed of men with the same names as are found in William’s family at Watford.

The 1639 baptism fully warrants the deed’s description of Ezekiel as William’s youngest son. Its date marks the last appearance of the family in England, and fits neatly with the first appearance of William at Boston: on 24 February 1639/40, “William Briscoe, taylor, is Allowed to be an Inhabitant, and to have a great Lott, for eight heads, at the mount.”[20] Even the later tendency to drop the r from the surname has been observed in another, similarly named family that migrated from Hertfordshire to Massachusetts.[21]

Records therefore appear to justify placing the English origin of William Briscoe of Boston in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. Given the known, if unspecified, kinship between families in the neighborhood of that parish and Rev. Guy Briscowe, last of Sundridge, Kent, it is quite possible that this family ultimately descends from Edward Briscowe of Crosscanonby, Cumberland. That possibility cannot be validated, however, without further research in English sources.


1 Suffolk Deeds, Liber IV (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, City Printers, 1888), 68.

2 William B. Trask, “Abstracts from the Earliest Wills on Records and on the Files in the County of Suffolk, Mass.,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 17 (1863): 343-6, at 344. Here and elsewhere, the term “cousin” is put in quotation marks to reflect that in the seventeenth century it was rarely used in the modern manner, to designate a descendant of a collateral ancestor.

3 Henry F. Waters, “Genealogical Gleanings in England,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 42 (1888): 172-85, at 174-5, citing Register Scott, 20, reprinted in Henry F. Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England: Abstracts of Wills Relating to Early American Families, with Genealogical Notes and Pedigrees Constructed from the Wills and Other Records, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1901; reprint: Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981), 1:267-8.

4 Joseph Gardner Bartlett, “Ancestry and Descendants of Rev. John Wilson of Boston, Mass.,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 61 (1907): 36-41, 127-33 at 36-7, 41; followed by George S. Porter, “English Ancestry of William Briscoe of Boston, Mass., in 1639,” typescript (n. d.); FHL microfilm 1,015,840, item 15.

5 One prominent exception is John Brooks Threlfall, “An Extension of the Sheafe Ancestry,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 137 (1988): 291-307, but it does not treat the Briscoe family.

6 FHL microfilm 991,355.

7 These records may relate to a family named Price that also resided in Watford; these records are included in the interest of completeness. The new year was held to begin on different days from year to year, including 1 January in the early 1590s; all dates in this summary reflect the standard date of 25 March.

8 The surname in this entry has been mistranscribed in the International Genealogical Index [IGI] as Byrd. I shall have more to say about this variant spelling in the text accompanying note 21.

9 William S. Appleton, A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, Containing Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths, 1630–1699, 9th Report of the Record Commissioners (Boston: Municipal Printing Office), 81.

10 Annie Haven Thwing, Inhabitants and Estates of the Town of Boston, 1630–1800, CD-ROM (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society and Massachusetts Historical Society, 2000), refcodes 13035-6.

11 [William H. Whitmore,] Second Report of the Record Commissioners: Boston Records, 1634–1660. & Book of Possessions, 2nd ed. (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, City Printers, 1881), 68.

12 Appleton, Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths, 12. He is thought to be the “godly young man” whose drowning at Boston on Mo. 4. 8 [June] 1642 is recorded in John Winthrop’s journal, though the diarist misnamed him as “One Nathaniel Briscoe” (Richard S. Dunn, James Savage, and Laetitia Yeandle, eds., The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630–1649 [Cambridge, Mass., and London, Eng.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996], 393 and n. 68).

13 Ibid., 34.

14 Ibid., 56.

15 Ibid., 148.

16 Suffolk Deeds, Liber IV, 68-9.

17 Thwing, Boston Inhabitants and Estates, 1630–1800, refcodes 7271 and 7277.

18 Appleton, Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths, 61 (death of Joseph2, 1 Jan. 1657[/8]), 65 (birth of Joseph3).

19 Records of the Suffolk County Court, 1671–1680, 2 vols., Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vols. 29-30 (Boston: Published by the Society, 1933), 2:1076.

20 [Whitmore,] Boston Records, 1634–1660, and Book of Possessions, 48.

21 See Henry Bond, Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1855–60), 1:149, 2:733, and Susan Woodruff Abbott, Families of Early Milford, Connecticut, ed. Jacquelyn L. Ricker (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979), 114-6.

Created 10 May 2003; last updated 16 April 2012.
Austin W. Spencer | email: spencer@rootedancestry.com