Christopher Leaming

The earliest known ancestor of the Leaming family was Christopher of Breton Or Burneston, Yorkshire, England who was born circa 1585. He was married to Margaret Metcalf. It is possible that the family name came from the nearby village of Leeming. Leeming village, three miles east northeast of Bedale, is so called from its situation on Leeming Lane, a portion of the old Roman road (Watling Street), which extended northwards into Scotland. The name is compounded of two British words, "Lhe Maen," signifying the "stony way," in allusion to the stones wherewith it was paved. A more probable origin is lime, which is here abundant, and which, in the old Frisian dialect of Yorkshire about the time of the Conquest was called "leahm."

Christopher and Margaret's son, John lived in London and in 1634 married Joanna Polly, daughter of Giles Polly. They had at least two sons, Christopher and Jeremiah.

Christopher Leamyng (Leaming), the emigrant, was born in England about 1649 as is recorded by his son and grandson in their diaries, and he died May 3, 1697 at age 48 years. According to the Visitations of York, Christopher sold the manor of Lemming in York to an ancestor of Sir Thomas Bland. Possibly the proceeds of the sale financed the voyage to America. About the year 1670, Christopher embarked for the New World with his brother, Jeremiah, who died during the voyage. It was at or near Boston that Christopher landed alone in America. From there he went to East Hampton, Long Island and went to work as a cooper which trade he followed there for twenty years. It was the custom that men seeking passage to America at that time, signed themselves as having a trade to make a livelihood, and since Christopher worked as a cooper and coffin maker, he no doubt had learned this trade in England or soon after coming to New England. There was a great need for casks and barrels in which to store or transport whale oil as well as food and other commodities of the time.

About 1674 he married Esther/Hester Burnett, daughter of Thomas Burnett and Mary (____). In many published genealogies, Hester is listed as the daughter of Aaron Burnett, but Aaron was her brother, not her father. This mistake originated from the diaries of Aaron Leaming, Christopher's grandson. This Aaron does indeed incorrectly give his grandmother an erroneous ancestry. Hester's father gave her a tract of land in Southampton which for many years went by the name of Leaming's Lot or Leaming's Corner. It was here the seven children of Christopher and Hester were born and spent the early years of their lives.

At left: a copy of Christopher Leaming's "bill head" courtesy Cape May Historical Society.

To supplement his income for his growing family, Christopher turned to fishing and whaling in the proper season. From the beginning fishing was very important to colonists living along the Atlantic, as close to shore were clams, oysters, scallops, lobsters, smelts, shad and sardines, which were abundant and easily taken. The whaling became important late in the colonial period as whales furnished oil for candles and lamps, whalebones for corsets and ambergris for making perfume. Hunting the whale is seasonal and even in Christopher's time there was a need to travel a greater distance to get them, and so it was that during the "season" Christopher sometimes traveled to the Jersey coast in search of the huge mammals. He would follow his trade as cooper at Sag Harbor during the off season and during the winter he would have to leave his little family to follow the whales.

About 1690/91, the whaling interest having become large and the purchase of land in Cape May, New Jersey having become a more easy matter, a large number of persons came from New Haven and Long Island to settle permanently. Cape May town sprang up on the bay shore, for the accommodation of the whalers in the county, where quite a business was done. This is considered to be the first town built in Cape May county. Among the first settlers was Christopher Leaming and his son Thomas, Jacob Spicer, John Persons, John Shaw, Thomas Hand and his sons John and George, as well as many others from Long Island and the New Haven area.

These people could have known each other before they ever left Long Island, as Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Southampton are all towns close together at the east end of Long Island.

The discovery of whales in great numbers in the Delaware Bay on the west coast of New Jersey and the opportunity to purchase land at a low price was causing a general awakening to greater opportunity which was early grasped by Christopher and especially since he could make casks for the whale oil. So leaving his family in 1691 when the winter was coming on, which was the time the whales migrated south, he established himself at Cape May for the whaling season, returning to his family on Long Island the following spring when the season was over. His eldest child Thomas was then seventeen years of age and his youngest child Elizabeth, was recently born. The following winter Christopher took Thomas with him. Thomas soon established himself also as a whaler as recorded in his memoirs and remained at Cape May throughout the year except for an occasional visit to Long Island.

Jeremiah Basse sold the whalers tracts of land that had been cleared or burned over already by the Lenape Indians to plant corn. These plots were larger than those the whalers had held on Long Island but small enough to preclude the development of a tidewater planter gentry. Christopher Leaming thus owned 12 acres on Long Island and over 200 acres on Cape May. The Cape May whaling families became owners of modest plantations, most between 200 and 500 acres, where they raised small herds of cattle and planted fields of corn and wheat. The first landowners embodied the English concept of a yeoman as an owner of a small landed estate who cultivated his own land and held a respectable standing in the community below the rank of gentleman. Indeed, they referred to themselves in wills and other documents as yeomen. These whaler yeoman families established control over Cape May County's political and economic development. Through intermarriage and raising large families they increased that domination.

The exposure required for winter fishing and whaling was hard on the system and but a few years sufficed for Christopher who became attacked with pleurisy and had a withered hand from the affliction, and Thomas tells in his memoirs of taking him to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for treatment. This withered hand remained throughout his life. Christopher died in Cape May on May 3, 1696. It is recorded by his son Thomas in his diary "we went whaling, and we got eight whales, give of them we drove to the Hoarkills, and we went there to cut them up and stayed a month. The 1st day of May, 1696 we came home to Cape May and my father was very sick and the third day he died at the house of Shamgar Hand." Christopher, therefore, followed his work at Cape May six years going back to Long Island his family each summer and returning to his fishing and whaling at Cape May in the winter, until his death at Cape May town in the spring of 1696. Cape May town was then a village grown to 13 houses near the bay.

Christopher was buried at Portsmouth (or Town Bank) in the 14-acre cemetery on the Newton Plantation, now located about one-half mile out in the Delaware Bay, due to the fact that tremendous storms have washed this area out to sea. Aaron Leaming, grandson of Christopher, records in his diary that in 1734, he saw the graves. They were then "about 50 rods (approximately 825 feet) from the bay, and the sand was blown up to the graves" at that time. Due to the fact Christopher had purchased land in Cape May, New Jersey, he could well have been planning to move his family to this area in the future, but his early death prevented this. His land fell to Thomas, his eldest son.

Some records say that Christopher and Hester Leaming settled at Southampton and also at East Hampton, Long Island. It is possible they lived at or near both places as the towns are close by each other, as well as is Sag Harbor where it is also reported Christopher first settled. The first Book of Records of Southampton gives the name of Christopher Leaming who appears as a witness to a contract November 15, 1670. The same year he appears to witness regarding the parsonage lands.

Page 85, Town Records: "May the 11 1677. An accomp made and given to the Towne this day at a General Towne Meeting, (By ye layers out of land by the town appointed) of the division of land this spring laid out viz of ye place, order and manner of the laying of the said devision as followeth, Imprimis The South ffurlong at Sagaponack contains eleven Lotts, every lot being of 150 lb. denomination. Whereof No 1 begins at the highway which is laid out adjoining to the parting boundes between our Towne of Southampton, and East HamptonÉAt the Southward end of the sd 11 lots is laid out a large highway, And between the land of Christopher Leaming and Josiah Stanborough his close, only there is a highway Betweene Christopher Leaming his land and the 12th lot running down to ye beachÉ(page 88) The distribution or disposition of the aforesaid devision of land by lott & agreement at the pubique meeting of the Towne is as follows. At Sagaponack - At Meacocks - Lot No. 11 Thomas BurnetÉ"

Page 138, Town Records: James Horick sells to Christopher Leaming Lot 23 at Sag Neck for which he is to receive "one board of ayle and two good ayle boards next spring." June 21, 1680. Page 133: Abstract of Deed. Christopher Leaming sells to Isaac Williams "20 acres adjoining east side of long fence, bordered south by land of John Woodruff and Samuel Clark on the north side." The estimate of the Town of Southampton Poll list for 1686, shows Christopher Leaming at £053.13. A description of the land, 1680 "which goes right up into ye woods by Christopher Leaming's house." Suffolk county wills, page 45: "John Greenoble, in his will March 19, 1682 contains the following: Item: My will is that my nor-wester coat and one pair of shoes and stockings, may be given to Christopher Leaming."

October 17, 1692. Christopher Leaming sells to Ezekiel Sandford "two lots of meadow lying at Brushy Neck, at Noyack, called Smith meadow, being a £150 lot of the out meadow of Hog Neck Division, lying in Lots 29 and 23."

The name of Christopher "Leaman" appears on a return of survey for 204 acres, dated April 4, 1694, since conveyed to Thomas Leaming, his son.

July 23, 1698. John Woodruff and wife Hannah sell to Esther Leaming, widow of Christopher Leaming, "All my lot of land at a place called Sagabonack, and was laid out to me by lot in the Lower Division of the 20 acres to a £150 lot, being 26 acres, bounded west by Sagabonack Pond, south by Theophilus Howell, and a highway north and east. Hester Leaming, of Bridge Hampton, widow of Christopher Leaming, sells to James White, carpenter, "16 acres of land at a place formerly known by the name of Sagaponack, now Bridge Hampton, bounded south by land of Capt. Theophilus Howell, west by Sagaponack Pond, east by highway, north by Hester Leaming's land." Price £56. April 10, 1703. (Note: The above is the south part of the land sold by John Woodruff to Hester Leaming. The land of Capt. Theophilus Howell was his homestead and the ancient house remained until recent years.)

April 2, 1717. Robert Norris sells to Abraham Pierson and Josiah Pierson, "one acre of land that was Christopher Leamings, bounded east and south by Abraham Pierson, west by highway." They give in exchange, "one acre of land, bounded west by highway, north by Commons, east by Josiah Pierson, south by Robert Norris."

Hester Leaming continued to live in the home on Long Island and to raise her family to maturity. She died at the residence of her brother-in-law, Enoch Fithian at Sag Harbor, Long Island near East Hampton Suffolk County, New York on November 5, 1714.


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See lineage of Leaming Family

Read about Christopher's son, Jeremiah Leaming

Read about Christopher's grandson, Matthias Leaming

Read about Christopher's great grandson, Judah Leaming

Read about Christopher's great, great grandson, Judah Leaming

Read Aaron Leaming's Diary

Read the Autobiography of Lydia Leaming Miller

Read the Autobiography of Martha (Mattie) Caroline Rogers Leaming

Read the Biography of Dessie Elizabeth Hayter Leaming

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