Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Comstock Family History in America - The Great Mystery of our Coat of Arms
Quick note…this is a long story and I often times make the same point in a few places where it makes sense in the context of the story. Best thing to do is read it a few times as there are many names and dates. Hope you enjoy!
Hello. Welcome to the Comstock Family History Genealogy Mystery story. My name is Raymond James Comstock IV. I am a 12th generation Comstock in America (or 13th depending on who you believe, which is the point of this story) and I am originally descended from Christopher Comstock of Fairfield, Connecticut. And that's the reason that I am authoring this site. Because common American mythology holds that all Comstock's are descended from William Weathersfield Comstock who came to America in 1635. Countless books and articles refer to William (who supposedly had a four, five or six boys depending on who you believe and one girl - I believe it was three boys maybe only two) as Christopher's father.
However, in my research of Comstock genealogy, I have found that there appears to be a lot of evidence to suggest that Christopher was not William's son, but rather, the son of Frederick Komstohk of Frankfurt. If this is true, the implications affect thousands of Christopher's descendants and the whole Comstock family. This story is about my research into this mystery and what I started discovered. It all started with the origin of the Comstock family code of arms.
To be honest, I didn't intend to start trying to solve this mystery. I didn't even know there was a mystery until recently. But the Comstock mystery has been going on for over 150 years and it all starts with the Comstock family crest or code of arms. That's initially what prompted me to start researching the Comstock family history; the interest I have in our family crest. But as I did some research on the crest, I discovered that it lies in the center of this great mystery.
The Comstock family crest is a shield with two bears on both sides of a cross that is a sword in the middle of the shield. The sword is piercing a crescent and the top of the shield is adorned with a German baronial helmet and an elephant. My initial research was focused on discovering the origin and meaning of the crest. And that's when I discovered this page which explains the meaning of the crest:
So according to this article and others I have read, there is no record of the Comstock family crest that extends to the old country and so many people believe that DR John Lee Comstock who lived in the early 1800s made the crest up around that time. The reason people believe that is:
1) No older copy can be found than from around 1850.
2) John Lee Comstock claims that someone found a history of the German Komstohks for 9 generations in Germany that ended with the migration of Carl von Comstock in 1547 to Wales to escape religious persecution (some event referred to as the Benedict treason). This lineage was apparently copied and given to him by someone who had visited the Muniment Office at Frankfort on the Main. No record of this has ever been found since.
3) no record of the "Benedict Treason" or of Carl von Komstohk can be found.
There are some other contributing factors we will discuss as we go but that's the general story. And to be honest having a 150 year old coat of arms that applies to the entire Comstock family is still a wonderful thing and I would not have been disappointed to discover John Lee did make up the coat of arms.
However, after hours and hours (and more hours) of research, I do not believe that John Lee Comstock made up the Comstock family coat of arms. I believe that it is authentic and that the owner of the coat of Arms was Christopher Komstohk. Unfortunately the implication of that is that there are two Comstock lines in America, one started by William and one by Christopher and that Christopher's line is the rightful owner of the arms (unless William and Frederick are somehow related which is possible but not probable).
This conclusion (which I will present reasons for shortly) makes me a little sad because it implies that as an ancestor of Christopher, I am not related to the countless Comstocks of amazing virtue from William's line. However, I just want to uncover the truth and I am hopeful that this Web site will provide the foundation for all Comstocks and other family members with different names to come together and try to prove one way or another, what the real story is.
First though, let's recap the story as most people have understood it until now. And then we will tell the story as it seems to be based on the "Komstohk" perspective. Then I will explain why I believe that the "Komstohk" perspective is correct.
The original story: There is no doubt that in 1634 (or 1635), William Comstock was the first Comstock to migrate to America and he settled in Connecticut. He was thought to have the following children:
John, Daniel, Samuel, Christopher and daughter Elizebeth.
William is thought to be the father of all Comstock's in America. Because CB Comstock and others could find no trace of the Komstohk family origin, they suspected that John Lee Comstock made up the story around 1850, for some ulterior motive (which has yet to be explained).
The alternative story is that Christopher Comstock is not actually William's son and in fact there is no hard evidence to be found that can prove he was. Rather, his ancestors claim he was the son of Fredrick Komstohk from Wales who was the grandson of Carl Von Komstohk. Carl was a baron in Germany until he fled to Wales in 1547 because of religious persecution (he was protestant). There seems to be a reasonable amount of evidence to support this story as I will explain.
Here are the reasons why I believe that Christopher Comstock of Norwalk, Connecticut is not William Comstock's son, but rather Frederick Komstohk's son, who is the original owner of the Comstock arms:
1) There is no direct evidence that Christopher was related to William. He is not listed in William's will. In all books I have read, he is listed as the "probable son" of William and in Ralph Hinman's book about the early colonists that he published around 1850, famous historian Hinman (and many others) have claimed that the reason for supposing Christopher was Williams son is only the fact that they had the same last name, some of their sons had the same names and both lived in Connecticut.
Here are the reasons that Hinman and CB Comstock have attributed for Christopher being William's son:
Ralph Hinmans Book:
CB Comstocks Book:
CB Comstock was an American general who lived in the early 1900s, who went to Germany to try to verify the story that John Lee Comstock told of finding a 9 generation pedigree of Komstohks at Frankfort on the Main. He was unable to locate the document or any knowledge there of a Komstohk family. However, it is not surprising that seventy five years after John Lee Comstock first heard of this story, it was impossible to find a record of it. If the Komstohks left Germany 200 years prior as a result of religious persecution, there would probably be no memory of them left at that time.
It is regrettable that he was unable to find the document John Lee Comstock claims to have found. CB Comstock says that John Lee was probably misinformed. Others have speculated it was a prank by John Lee Comstock. All of which is speculation based on CB Comstock's inability to find proof of John Comstock's story.
2) In Ralph Hinman's book, he tells the story of the family tradition of Carl von Komstohk and the German decent but still claims William as the founder of all Comstocks. This is significant because the while John Lee Comstock and Ralph Hinman (the historical author) lived around 1850, the first written record of Christopher Comstock being the son of Karl von Comstock is in the early 1900s in the History of Norwalk book, about 60 years after Hinman's book is published.
It is my contention that John Lee never knew about Carl von Komstohk or that Christopher was his son. I believe that John Lee knew that William Comstock was the earliest Comstock on record and that he assumed that William would somehow be related to the nine generations of Comstocks he had found in Germany. This is the cornerstone of the argument for me. Because this is the reason that John Lee thought he was related to the Komstohks of Germany. Otherwise, had he known that Christopher Comstock was the son of Frederick and not William, he would have known that he was not related because the book that Hinman wrote in 1852 clearly states that John Lee was descended from Williams child Daniel Comstock.
This is the biggest piece of evidence to suggest that the Komstohk story is real. If it were not real, John Lee Comstock, a well respected author and historian of great religious conviction, would have had to make up the whole Komstohk story with the end result being that he, himself was not related to the coat of arms or the German Komstohk family. He would have also had to make up the marriage document of Carl Comstock that appears 70 years later in the History of Norwalk book. Clearly however, he believed this story, and so did his family, as is evidenced by the coat of arms in his brother's obituary.
The only scenario that makes sense is that John Lee Comstock was doing research about his family. He found evidence of the original line of Komstohks in Germany who fled to England to escape religious persecution in 1547 (an event consistent with the Battle of Muhlberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_M%C3%BChlberg). Because John Lee didn't know that Christopher Comstock was not related to William Comstock as most had speculated, he had no idea to look in Christopher's direction for the answers to the family mystery. Instead, he assumed that William was somehow related to the German line and therefore assumed that all American Comstocks shared in that lineage.
Otherwise, why would he make up a story that clearly proved he was not part of that lineage? There would be no motive to do so.
3) Ironically, Hinman and Dr John Lee Comstock are friends! There is a passage in Hinmans book about John Lee where Hinman describes John Lee telling him the horror stories of John Lee Comstock's experience as a surgeon in the War of 1812.
Hinman’s write-up of John Lee Comstock -
The fact that they were friends is probably where Hinman gets his story of the Komstohk family:
(bottom of this page).
This same story is repeated in a number of texts appearing after the publication of Hinman's book, almost word for word.
But, in this story, note that only Carl Von Komstohk is mentioned and that the family is from Wales. No mention of Frederick Komstohk is found in this book nor any other writing or story that I can find that is attributed to Dr John Lee Comstock (if you know of one, please show it to me!).
4) All of this implies that if the coat of arms is made up by John Lee Comstock, he would also have to have made up the story of Carl von Komstohk, the German decent and everything having to do with that story. If he made everything up, then we are all William's ancestors and there was no German coat of arms and no Komstohk family. He would also have had to make up the story of Frederick being the father of Christopher Comstock. Everything related to the Komstohk name would have to have been fabricated by Dr. John Lee Komstohk for it to not be authentic because he is the one who claimed to have found the documented proof and told not only his friend and Historian Ralph Hinman who published it in his book, but also said the same to his sister, which she repeats in a letter that she references when asked about the document after his death:
Therefore he would have had to make up this story in order to be able to claim that the code of arms was his and that he had a German family history. But here is where the logic doesn't make sense because if he went to all the trouble to make up this story for some obscure motive (pride, social status, etc), then why would someone of John Lee's considerable writing ability make up a story that clearly he would not be a part of because he was descended from Daniel and not Christopher. Especially, when William Comstock's (Daniel's father) origins are still unknown to this day. If John Lee wanted to fabricate this story, he could be just made up a document showing that William was the son of Carl and no one could have proved otherwise.
5) Conversely, if Carl von Komstohk really existed (Grandfather of Fredrick) and Frederick Komstohk was Christopher’s father, then the family coat of arms is authentic. If Christopher was the original bearer of these arms in America, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone why the coat of arms is such a mystery to all of William's descendants.
So a quick summary before I proceed: One of two cases exists here: Either the coat of arms was made up by John Lee Comstock or, it is authentic and there is a German history of one line of the Comstock family that is descended from Christopher and that's where the coat of arms came from (this is what I believe).
Ok so let's take a look at the possibility that John Lee Comstock made up the coat of arms. It had to have been John Lee if it was anyone, because it is his story that he found a document in Germany that verified the existence of a Carl von Komstohk. But here is where the story doesn't make sense for a number of reasons.
Dr John Lee Comstock was a famous doctor and an even more famous writer and philosopher. He has a number of books listed in the library of Congress and was a renowned person in his time. He certainly didn't need to make up a coat of arms to impress anyone. And as a historian himself, it isn't consistent with his character. If you look up any books in Google books by John Lee Comstock, you will see what I mean. He is a very serious man concerned with the proper order of things, chemistry, geology, and philosophy. The contention that this was somehow a joke doesn't make sense because there is no motive, no punch-line and it is contrary to the character of the man. Also, considering how intelligent John Lee was, if he wanted to make up a story about his family history, why not fabricate the story around William's father, who to this day remains unknown.
However, let us consider that despite all these facts, that contrary to his observed character, Dr. John Lee Comstock made up this whole story and wanted to perpetrate this myth for whatever reason.
This means that he would have had to have lied to his friend Dr. Hinman who wrote the story in his book as well as his own sister. See this quote where she verifies that he went to Germany and found a record of the Von Komstohk line
It seems far outside of John Lee Comstock's character to do done such a thing, but again, let's pretend he did for the sake of argument.
This means that he would have had to have talked to his friend Ralph Hinman about what Hinman had learned of the Comstock family before Hinman published his book. If John Lee Comstock was going to invent a story about his family lineage and create a code of arms that would stand up to the public scrutiny of the academic society of which he was a part of, he would have had to made sure his story was consistent with what his friend Ralph Hinman already knew about his family so as not to contradict anything written by him.
This would mean that it is probable (certain) that Dr John Lee Comstock knew what Ralph Hinman reports in his book; that John Lee Comstock was a descendant of William's son, Daniel and not his supposed son Christopher. So if John Lee Comstock made up the story, he made up a story that created a separate line of the Comstocks that he was not a part of. And so he would not be entitled to use the coat of arms that he made up (but he and his family both did). It doesn't make any sense for him to do that.
And clearly he would have had to lie to his whole family because his brother, T Griswold's obituary contains the same story of the German decent (although no mention of Frederick, which means clearly the family believed it).
I think a recap is in order again. I am trying to prove by deductive reasoning that John Lee Comstock did not invent the Comstock coat of arms. And if he did not, then it must have been authentic because it is John Lee's story that is reported in Hinmans book in 1852 about the Komstohk coat of arms and Baron Von Komstohk. So if John Lee did make up the coat of arms, he also had to have made up the story about Carl Von Komstohk, Carl being the Great Grandfather of Frederick and Christopher being Frederick's son.
The reason that its important to note that neither Hinman or John Lee or John Lee's brother's obituary mention Frederick Komstohk (or that he was Christopher's father, or that his wife's name was Mary MacDonald or the names of Frederick's other brothers and sisters), is they did not know that was the missing link in the story. This information appears for the first time publically (that I can find) some 50 years after John Lee's death:
Also note in this book it is claimed that Christopher was in Norwalk as early as 1640, which would make him only 5 years old if you believe the 1635 birth date that is given to him by those who believe he was William's son. This would be impossible although this book is the only reference I can find that puts him there that early)
and again a couple years later in the footnote of this page:
More about this book in one second.
Both of these books were published long after John Lee Comstock's death.
If you believe that John Lee Comstock did not make up the story, then you can understand how he found a document in Germany that had a line of Komstohks up until the escape of Carl Von Komstohk from religious persecution in 1547 (1547 in Germany is a well documented year of conflict between Catholics and Protestants). He would not have known at that point who Carl's children were or how they were related to William Comstock, who in his mind, was the father of all Comstocks in America (according to his friend Ralph Hinman). It would not have occurred to him that Christopher might not be Williams son, although it is Christopher’s ancestors in Hinmans book that donate the cup with the code of arms to the church, so the clues were there.
John Lee Comstock died in Hartford, Connecticut, 21 November, 1858
However, 44 years later, a man named Charles Melbourne Selleck, a town historian of Norwalk Connecticut of 30 years and someone with no personal interest in the Comstock mystery, authored a book called the History of Norwalk in 1896 (referenced above). And in his book he says that ancestors of Christopher Komstohk claim he was the son of Frederick Komstohk, who was the great grandson of Carl Von Komstohk.
He writes that Christopher's descendants claim that Frederick married a Mary McDonald in Edinburgh England in 1611 and that they had 5 children, the third of which Christopher, came to Connecticut in 1652. It is interesting to note that NONE of this information appears in Hinmans book and John Lee would have had to have made this up and somehow communicated it to this author who wrote this book 50 years later.
Additionally, this author would not have used Hinman as his only source as he lived in Norwalk his whole life and would have interviewed descendants of Christopher directly. This second source about the Komstohk family with additional information about Christopher seems to be the key to disproving that John Lee made up the whole story. Also the author claims that the information is from descendants of Christopher, and John Lee is not a descendant of Christopher which was already know from Hinman’s book fifty years prior.
The Author Charles Melbourne Selleck is one of the most famous and well respected men in the history of Norwalk, and after you read his biography you will see that the authenticity of his work seems amazingly compelling:
In this text it claims that the city of Norwalk is like his "twin brother". He lived there all his life, was a principle of the school for many years, was in charge of the 350 year anniversary and wrote this book that he dedicated to the town of Norwalk. It is a good bet that he personally interviewed the ancestors of Christopher Comstock and knew of their families as he was a school principle and owned a private school.
At the bottom of this page in The History of Norwalk written by Selleck is the story of Frederick Komstohk:
(see note 2 on the bottom of this page in Google Books)
This book was written after the death of John Lee Comstock and since John Lee never mentions Frederick anywhere, it is improbable that the author of the book who has lived in Norwalk his whole life, would be using John Lee's story as the basis for what he is writing.
Additionally, here is another book written by another independent author that mentions Frederick and it was written after the death of Dr. John Comstock:
It’s called "American Ancestry, Giving the name and decent in the male line. Vol 11" and it was written in 1898. This book says that Christopher is the son of Frederick and that Frederick married Mar MacDonald in Edinburgh England in 1611. It also lists their children: Samuel, Daniel, Christopher, John and Catherine. The names of the boys are all the same as Williams, or least who William was supposed to have fathered.
History of Norwalk was written in 1896, contains the same information plus birth dates, so it could have influenced this book. The same as it could have influenced the other mentions of Frederick found in early texts:
Listed in Mathews American Armory:
http://www.archive.org/stream/reportoftriginte00yalerich/reportoftriginte00yalerich_djvu.txt another reference to Frederick
All of these would have to have been somehow influenced by John Lee Comstock if the story were made up.
Also, here is the reference to Christopher being a Welshman (although this was also written after History of Norwalk):
This is significant because William Comstock is thought to have originated from Devonshire England in a place called Culmstock.
I believe, if you look at John Lee Comstock's character, the fact that he wouldn't have been related to this coat of arms based on the story he supposedly created, and that his story was verified and expanded on by a well respected historian who lived his whole life in the city where Christopher Comstock lived, it seems compelling that Frederick Komstohk is Christopher Comstock's father.
I don't believe these facts were ever considered by the author of this book who claims the code of arms is a prank:
Also interesting is that Christopher Comstock was noted to be a Welshman, whereas William, who some claim to be his father, was from Devonshire (although William's origin is still being debated).
http://www.archive.org/stream/comstockgenealog1907coms/comstockgenealog1907coms_djvu.txt reference again where John Lee Comstock's sister confirms that John Lee claims to have found the Komstohk line in Germany (do a search for "Komstohk" within the document).
Note this document makes no mention of Frederick and attributes Christopher to William which is consistent with the story of what John Lee would have thought.
This, in my opinion, is because John Lee Comstock never discovered Frederick and didn't understand that Christopher wasn't William's son. I believe John Lee Comstock was trying to find a link between William (who he thought was the father of all Comstock's in America and Baron Carl Von Komstohk who was the last person he had a record of in Germany). Remember that Carl Von Comstock (Komstohk) was the one who went from Germany to Wales in 1547. Fredrick was his grandson and father of Christopher Comstock who supposedly came here around 1640.
Also in this document it mentions Hinman writing about Christopher coming from England with a silver cup which supposed had the coat of arms engraved on it, which is curious, because if he was William’s child according to the common belief, he would have been an infant at that time when he came to America and the cup would have certainly been in William's custody.
Also interestingly, many people who believe Christopher was William’s son also believe that he was born in America which is clearly contrary to what Hinman writes. There is a lot of confusion about Christopher in most genealogy references.
Also amazing is according to The History of Norwalk, Fredericks boys had the same names as Williams but in a different order! Frederick had Samuel, John, Christopher and Daniel (and Catherine) while William had John, Daniel (also called Gideon), Samuel, William, and Christopher (probably not). But, these are all very common biblical names. Many of the early American inhabitants shared these names as well so the fact that William and Fredrick named their boys after biblical figures is not very strong evidence to support them being related.
William’s sons were John, Daniel, Samuel (also not proven conclusively) and Christopher (if you believe it).
There are also records of another William and a Gideon in some books that I may or may not be true. I believe that the William who some have claimed is Williams son is actually a reference to Williams son John. Gideon died as an infant in England but the confusion started because Daniel baptized many of his children in New London using the name Gideon. So I believe that William (John) and Gideon (Daniel) are names and references belonging to existing children. If you cross reference the names of spouses and children for both situations it becomes apparent:
Compare these two references:
It seems unlikely there was more than one Zipporah Comstock at that time and every record I can find of him states he is Daniels son.
Also it is a matter of record that Maj. Samuel Comstock (great grandson of Christopher Comstock) donated in his will to the Church at Wilton a silver cup that had an emblem on it. This cup is described in the will as being a family heirloom of venerable generations and it is speculated that it had the coat of arms on it and is the same cup that Hinman refers to (Hinman says it had the code of arms on it in the same reference cited above). This is Christopher's cup that I mentioned earlier.
This would all be consistent with a story of a Carl Von Komstohk fleeing Germany (the bears on the family crest are German in origin, as they almost never appear in English heraldry) to Wales (the family motto is Welsh - note that William was from Devon, a different part of England and that Christopher was claimed to be a Welshman) and that his grandson Fredrick had a son named Christopher Comstock who settle in Fairfield and then Norwalk.
It also seems odd that if John Lee made this story up that he would choose a Welsh family motto. This seems more likely to have been added by the family after they escaped Germany. The motto being:
"No Wealth without Contentment".
This motto would seem pretty consistent with a family that gave up some wealth in order to enjoy religious freedom.
It would also explain why may Comstocks years later would wonder about the origin of a family crest that had never been part of their family. And in John Lee's case, I don't believe that he ever knew about Fredrick being Christopher’s dad (which was not in Hinman’s book) because he would have been able to put together that the crest wasn't part of his line. This is a critical point. The story of the Komstohks means he is not an owner of the crest and that the Komstohk lineage not his as his family was descended from Daniel (Williams son).
The record in Germany would only have been up to Carl Von Komstohk and since John Lee thought William was Christopher's father, he would not understood the connection between William and the Komstohk family (of which there is none but coincidence, unless Frederick and William were related or unless you believe that John Lee Comstock made up the story, and that a noted town historian of 30 years would validate the story some 50 years later with no motive).
It should again be noted also that in every book I can find on the Comstock history, there is no proof that Christopher Comstock was William's son.
It should also be noted that while it appears that Samuel and Daniel are related (both Williams sons) because they owned land next to each other, there is no proof they were related. Only Daniel and John's son William (John had passed) were cited in William's will although Samuel had also already passed so it is hard to draw much conclusion (Samuels children were not in Williams will though). The other curious thing is that there is a reference to Samuel being a Welshman also which is why I would say there is room for speculation. Also Frederick is supposed to have had a son Samuel which leaves open the possibility that Samuel Comstock of Rhode Island was also Frederick’s son.
Also, a noted historian of Connecticut, Caulkins, writes in her book that she believes it is probable that William only had two boys (Daniel and John) and a girl named Elizabeth:
(bottom of this page)
So there are some hints that it is a possibility but nothing substantial and there is probably as much evidence to the contrary so it’s hard to say. However, unless a public document can be shown where John Lee Comstock mentioned Frederick Komstohk and Mary MacDonald, it would seem that The History of Norwalk would provide strong evidence that the Komstohk story of German decent is true.
However, there are a lot of facts still to be discovered to prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. My purpose in creating this site was to frame the mystery as I see it, get feedback from others and hopefully some proof one way or the other as to whom Christopher Comstock's father was (William or Frederick) and where the Family Crest originated from. Please contribute to the story if you have relevant information! More to come...