Our Swift Family History

 

The most famous cousin in our Swift line is Jonathan Swift, famed satirist and author of Gulliver's Travels.  He was the first cousin of my sixth great grandmother, Ann (Nan) Swift.  She was married to James Perry, a fellow Jonathan Swift mentions in his Journal to Stella, not in the kindliest light.

This Swift line has been traced to 1509 in Sheffield, England.  This ancestor was named Henry Swifte.  We do not know his wife's name.  They had at least one son, Thomas, who was born in 1535.  Thomas married Margaret Godwin.  They had four sons.  Their first son, William, was born in 1566 in Harbledown, County Kent, England.  He is my ancestor.  William married Mary Philpott on October 5, 1592.  They had one son, Thomas, and two daughters, Katherine and Margaret.  Thomas was born in Canterbury, County Kent, England in March 1595.  He married Elizabeth Dryden in 1624.  They had fourteen children. Apparently they moved to Ireland just before my ancestor their son, Adam was born.  The brother born just before him was Jonathan, father of the famed Jonathan Swift.  Adam married Margery Ann Cottrell.  They had two children, Ann (Nan), my sixth great grandmother and one son, William.  Ann was born in 1661 in Greencastle, County Down, Ireland.  Ann married James Perry and four sons and two daughters.  My direct ancestor is their son, Joseph Perry who married Isabella Charlton.

Note:  Some notes about my first cousin (8 x removed), Jonathan Swift.  He was highly education and became Vicar of Kilroot, Anglican Church, Belfast, Ireland.  Although he was born in Ireland, he was English to the core and didn't care for anything Irish.  He never married but had a long time companion, Stella, who is buried beside him in Dublin, Ireland in St. Patrick's Cathedral.  

A book I have about Jonathan (by David. F. R. Wilson) says Jonathan Swift was the most extraordinary man ever born in Ireland.   He states that no pubic character has been so unfortunate in his earliest biographies and more untruths have been told, more have been set down in malice or in ignorance about Swift than about any other celebrity in history.

Jonathan was a precocious child, able to read fluently at the age of three. When he was six his uncle Godwin Swift sent him to Kilkenny College, then the foremost school, the Eton of Ireland. He entered Trinity College, Dublin when he was fourteen. 

The is no trace of licentious behavior in his whole career. (He was often confused with other students in College named Swift, and little wonder, his three uncles in Dublin were much married men. They had eleven wives in succession and left numerous offspring.

When Swift was taking his degree the times were momentous. William of Orange, was in England and King James was preparing flight, taking Ireland on his way. The Revolution of 1688 sent many fugitives flying from Ireland to England. Swift took refuge with his mother at Leicester, her native place. For the first time he learned to know her and to lover her. He formed a deep attachment for her. We would like to know more about Abigail. She was an active wholesome body, living cheerfully on her annuity of 20.

When Jonathan was 22 he became private secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park in Surrey. One of the inmates at Moor Park, was the housekeeper's daughter, a bright, pretty, delicate child whose engaging ways and childish prattle made sunshine in this grim house. This was Esther (or Hester) Johnson, known to all the world by Swift's name for her, Stella.  Swift was her tutor. The only teacher she ever had.

Swift was twenty seven when he was ordained for the parish of Kilroot near Larne. He stayed there for two years, then he returned to Moor Park.

When Stella was eighteen she was a healthy, beautiful girl. Between her and her tutor there were the tenderest associations as between a devoted father and his loving child. Swift began his Journal to Stella in 1710. It is intimate, light hearted and compact with humor.

For forty years Stella was "the bright particular star" of Swift's life. She died in Dublin. Swift had seventeen more years to live. He wrote in his Diary "This day being Sunday 28th January, 1728 about 8 o'clock at night a servant brought me word to say that she was dead." "The truest, most virtuous and most valuable friend that I had or any other person was ever blessed with."

After he died, one of Stella's tresses was found wrapped in a paper which was written "Only a woman's hair!"

Stella and Swift were never married. All of her business documents have Hester Johnson, Spinster.

In 1699 Swift was appointed to the parish of Laracor near Trim. 

Writers in his day and age held a place they never held before or since. The writers supplied them with arguments they had not the brains to think of on their own. It was the golden age of literature. Swift's cousin, Dryden was near his end.

A great friend, Joseph Addison, the greatest of English essayists wrote in a book of his that Jonathan was the truest friend, the most agreeable companion and the greatest genius of his age. 

In June 1773 Swift became Dean of St. Patrick's. He was the best Cathedral Dean we ever had. He started having black periods which seemed largely due to the pain in his head which tortured him for fifty years and died in agony. It is infinitely sad to learn from a Dublin surgeon that ten minutes under an anesthetic and a small operation would have given him instant and lasting relief. I believe I read somewhere it was a tumor in the front of his brain. He was never mad as many said. 

He gave away one third of his income every year to help the poor. He was idolized by the people. He loved those poor simple souls. Swift was a wonderful pastor. 

The author continues to say he was the greatest man born in the city. The most careful and efficient Dean of that old Cathedral in the heart of the city which is the heart of Ireland. They say that the Deanery is haunted. I should like to meet the ghost of Swift, not to ask any impertinent question, if ghosts can speak, but to tell him, if ghosts can hear, that today he has more understanding friends than ever before, for animosity perishes but humanity is eternal."

Back to Our Mortenson Story

Top of Page