........ Conjecture, noun, the formation of judgments or opinions on the basis of incomplete or inconclusive information. Source: Encarta Dictionary

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Conjecture 1: Penelope was of English heritage.

Four lines of reasoning support the theory that Penelope was of English heritage.

1. Historically, only in Greek and English cultures was Penelope a common first name. It is implausible that she was Greek because Greece was under the restrictive rule of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until its independence in 1821. The original Penelope was the patient wife of Odysseus in Homer's classic, The Odyssey.

2. My Dutch friends have never heard of a Dutch woman named Penelope. In June 2005 I spent a day in Amsterdam and visited a municipal archive building where the Amsterdam marriage records for several centuries have been transferred to cards and sorted by first and last names. I found no records for the name Penelope in the 1600s and 1700s. I know very little Dutch but the hand-printed cards were quite legible. Unfortunately the clerk spoke only conversational English and I have no idea how complete their collection is. On a whim, I checked for Smith and found several entries.

3. After her rescue, Penelope settled in Gravesend, composed entirely of English families in 1645 and for many years afterwards. Her other choices were the new English (and Puritan) village of Hempstead, several Dutch villages or else New Amsterdam, a very cosmopolitan town where seventeen languages were spoken and only half the population was Dutch. Admittedly, Gravesend was the closest village to her shipwreck site across the bay at Sandy Hook but Gravesend was located about a mile from the coast and wasn’t convenient for boats.

4. Penelope married an Englishman, Richard Stout, and lived in the English village of Gravesend. Around 1665 the Stouts moved to New Jersey and helped found the village of Middleton, also comprised only of English settlers. All ten of their children had English first names and married into English families.

On the contrary side, Edward Morgan’s 1790 pamphlet Materials Towards a History of the Baptists says Penelope was born in Amsterdam in 1602. However, it also says she sailed to New Amsterdam about 1620, several years before the colony was founded. Which parts of Morgan's information that was gathered by a clergyman talking to Penelope's descendants 50 years after her death are plausible?  Besides, she could have been born in Amsterdam to English parents.

I welcome discussion about Penelope and my conjectures. Together, we can combine our incomplete knowledge and arrive at better conclusions.


  1. Author is testing comment section.

  2. All excellent points! The fact that Gravesend was largely settled by English colonists, and English was officially spoken there, I think is the most important factor here. If she had been Dutch and spoke Dutch, she more likely would have settled among Dutch speakers. Everything points to Penelope being of English extraction. It is also entirely possible that she was born in Holland to ex-patriots.

    However, I will also point out that it has never been proven that Richard Stout was in fact English, as claimed by tradition. When Harald F. Stout wrote his first book on the Staudt-Stoudt-Stout Family, c. 1934, he suggested that Richard was perhaps not English, described a number of Staudt families from the Palatanate, and wrote that "our" Richard Stout's father was "Probably a descendant of the Staudts of the German provinces who fled to Holland in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Historians like to give his residence as an English shire, but so far as is known, nothing can be proven one way or the other. The reputed early spelling, "Stouce" is certainly not English."

    So throw that in the mix!

    --Nick Sheedy (nsheedy@yahoo.com)