Monday, May 25, 2015

John Willett, Patriot - 52 Ancestors #21

For this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from blogger Amy Crow Johnson of No Story Too Small, the theme is Military, in honor of Memorial Day.

I have used the tag Military Monday on all posts about ancestors who have served in the military, from Revolutionary War to World War II.

I joined the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) under Patriot John Gorin, who served as soldier from Virginia. Did you know that a NSDAR Patriot is anyone who supported the Revolutionary War cause, not just those who served as soldiers? The list of acceptable patriotic service can be found at the NSDAR website.

One of my ancestors is in the NSDAR Patriot database because his support of the Revolutionary War effort was as a shipbuilder.

Thames River, New London County, Conn., 1854
MAGIC Historical Map Collection - Connecticut
John Willett (or Willet) was born in Groton, Connecticut, on May 1, 1727, to John Willett and Mary Clark, and spent his life in New London County, Connecticut. The map at right shows the length of the Thames River in the southern central part of New London County.

Groton is the pink town at the bottom of the map at right, across the Thames River from the city of New London (in yellow).

John became a shipbuilder and owned the Willett Shipyard in Norwich, Connecticut, one of the three major shipyards on the Thames River in that county.

Norwich is the yellow town at top left of this map.

His patriotic service consisted of building the ships Confederacy, the Oliver Cromwell, and the Governor Trumbull, all of which were used by the American government during the Revolution.

He also served as a civil officer during the war years. At a December 14, 1778, Norwich Town Meeting, John Willett was chosen as one of the surveyors of highways for the following year. At another Town Meeting on July 5, 1780, he was chosen as one of the Inspectors of Provisions.

John Willett married Elizabeth Leffingwell on October 4, 1748, and had 8 children with her. She died on February 1, 1818, at the age of 88. He died on July 3, 1819 at the age of 92.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, his son, Jedidiah Willet followed him as a shipbuilder and became the owner of the Willett Shipyard after his father.

Much of the information I have about John Willet/Willett is from Albert James Willett, The Willett families of North America, (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc. 1985); online images, InternetArchive ( This author acknowledges that family tradition says that John descends from a John Willett of Wales and others claim that he is descended from Captain Thomas Willett of Plymouth and Swansea, but there is no proof to support either of these claims.

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