Daniel Denison was born in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England in 1612, and came to America with his parents William Denison and Margaret Chandler on the ship “Lyon” in 1631. When Daniel Denison’s son John died unexpectedly, Denison left an autobiography for his grandchildren, which told about the journey to America and their heritage.
“I thought meet to acquaint you with your predecessors, and your descent from them. Your great grandfather my dear father whose name was William, had by my dear Mother whose name was Chandler six sons, and one daughter, two of which one son and the daughter died in their childhood. Your grandfather (great-grandfather) my father though very well seated in Stratford, hearing of the then famous transplantation in New England, unsettled himself and recalling me from Cambridge removed himself and family in the year 1631 in New England, and brought over with him myself being about 19 years of age, and my two younger brothers, Edward, and George, leaving my eldest brother John behind him in England.
Daniel Denison married Patience Dudley, daughter of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Dudley. When Denison arrived with his young bride in the new settlement in 1634-35, then twenty-three years old, he received the grant of a two acre lot, adjoining John Fawn’s, which extended to Union street toward the Mill. In 1635 he had already built his house, but within two years had constructed a larger home behind the Meeting House on the hill. Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that the General’s estate was where the house at 17 County Street now stands. (View location on Google Maps). They lived there for 25 years until the house burned, believed to be an act of arson by the maid, who was charged with stealing from Denison, and was sentenced to be whipped ten stripes for lying about it.
Denison began his civil life as town clerk, but soon was chosen for the legislature. He was most distinguished in his military career, and rose to the post of sergeant-major, which he held for the remainder of his life. In King Philip’s war he was one of the greatest and most distinguished leaders in the eastern front.
He became Major General of the colonial forces and represented Ipswich for several years in the general court. Denison was Speaker of the House for the colony of Massachusetts in 1649, 1651 and 1652, Secretary of the colony in 1653, justice of the quarterly court in 1658, and commissioner of the united colonies in 1655-1662. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Massachusetts troops in 1675.
General Denison was given the highest of responsibilities. In May, 1658 the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony voted “that Major Gen’l Daniel Denison, diligently peruse, examine and weigh every law, and compare them with others of like nature; such as are plain and good, free from any just exception, to stand without any animadversion as approved. Such as are repealed or fit to be repealed, to be so marked and the reasons given; such as are obscure, contradictory or seeming so, to be rectified and the amendations prepared. When there is two or more laws about one and tiie same thing, to prepare a draught of one law that may comprehend the same; to make a plain and easy table, and to prepare what else may present, in the perusing of them, to be necessary and useful, and make return at the next session of this Court.” The study was conducted by the General and the book was published.
Denison was remembered with high esteem by the people of Ipswich well into the 19th Century but is mostly forgotten today. One of the great events of Independence Day, 1817 was the appearance of the Denison Light Infantry Company in full uniform, recently organized under the command of Capt Robert Kimball. A procession of citizens was escorted by the band and the military through the Town to the training field on the South side and back to the meeting house of the First Parish.
A descendent of Daniel Denison contacted me regarding her plans to restore the crest to his grave, which had been removed decades ago by family members to copy. It has long been believed that the crest was never returned. She took some photos to Randall Nelson, a Connecticut based stone carver, and they noticed that the space where the crest presumably once sat might have something in it. Randall suggested that it be cleaned and inspected before proceeding further, and that the area of the may actually be inscribed with an interesting image.
I headed over to the Old Burying Ground this morning to take a look for myself. The stone was still moist from this week’s storms, so I poured a bottle of water on the crest and started rubbing with a fine China bristle brush. It didn’t take long to see that the crest had indeed been replaced with a duplicate, still in perfect condition under thick moss and algae. It took even less time to rub the algae off the name plate. A thin line of mortar attaching the two plates to the stone is visible, and it quickly became clear that the crest and the nameplate are replacements in excellent condition.
You can visit Denison’s grave at the Old North Burial Ground at section C124, referenced in the map above from the book Memento Mori, produced in 1935. The inscription reads, “Here lyes the Worshipful Major-General Daniel Denison who Deceased Sept. 20, 1682, in the 70th year of his age.”
Lying on the ground next to the General’s tomb is the broken tombstone of Rebecca Denison. The lower half is broke off, but fortunately it is recorded in Memento Mori: “C 47 — Here lyes the remains of Mrs. Rebecca Denison, the Dearly Beloved, faithful and obedient Wife of Mr. John Denison, who departed this life May the 4th, 1752, in the 52d year of her age.”
General Denison’s daughter Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers (Elizabeth Denison) is buried at location C-103 in the Old North Burying Ground. Her husband was an early president of Harvard College.