About 20 direct descendents of the Rev. John Davenport, the namesake of Davenport College and the founder of New Haven, and their families congregated at Yale Wednesday to kick off a two-day celebration of their family heritage.
At yesterday’s talk, they learned new information about their famous ancestor as speakers, including historian Frances Bremer and Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld, highlighted Davenport’s influence on religion and education during New Haven’s birth as a city, decades before Yale was established.
Bremer, who is researching a biography on Davenport, said he hopes the event will help expand the public’s knowledge of Davenport’s background.
“John Davenport is a man worth honoring and remembering, especially, perhaps, in our current time,” Bremer said.
The talk and the family’s recent collaborations with Bremer effectively answered many long-open questions that living Davenports had about their famous ancestor, family members said. The few students who attended the talk shared in the family’s curiosity.
“It’s our fourth year under his name,” Lauren Taft-McPhee ’06 said. “We have John Davenport Day in the spring, and it would be nice to know who we’re celebrating.”
The Davenport family reunion will continue today with a tour of area historical sites related to the New Haven founder. The participating descendents said they hope this tour will supplement the knowledge they have gained about Davenport through their collaboration with Bremer and their attempts to trace the entire genealogy of the John Davenport line.
According to Stephen R. Davenport III, who is working on finding living members of the Davenport family tree, there are about 1,900 living descendents that have been counted so far, 22 of whom share the first name John. Due to this research, reunions around the country have been made possible, including one last April at the opening of an exhibit on Davenport at the Stamford Historical Society in Stamford, Conn. The genealogy can be traced at a Web site, davenportdna.com.
Knowledge within the family about Davenport became much more available once Churchill Davenport ART ’80 discovered that Bremer, chair of the history department at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, had begun research on their ancestor’s biography. Bremer had previously written a biography on another New England colonial leader, John Winthrop.
In return, Bremer has embraced the opportunity to educate Davenport’s descendents and everyone else who is interested about the historical figure.
“It’s easy to find a group of fellow historians to listen to you, so it’s harder and more important to find normal people [to speak to],” Bremer said.
He said he believes studying Davenport’s influence on colonial American religion and education is especially relevant in this age of religious fervor and controversy.
Bremer said holding the event in Davenport College was inspiring. In 1638, when he founded New Haven, Davenport had been a staunch supporter of widely available education. Though Yale was founded in 1701, three decades after Davenport’s death, as New Haven’s first institute of higher education, Davenport had been a critical influence in the city’s decision to found the college, Bremer said. Davenport had long believed that an education is important to daily life, especially in a Puritan society, in which literacy was an important skill.
The talk was well received by the Davenport family and scattered Davenport students in the audience.
“All my life I’d heard about John Davenport, so while I was at Yale, I researched everything I could about him,” co-organizer Churchill Davenport said. “But there was not much written on him because he had done most of his work in England.”
Despite the lack of abundant knowledge that the Davenports possess about their ancestor, his legacy is still present among some of descendents.
“I was the eighth generation [Yalie],” said George Davenport ’80, the honorary chair of the event. “And hopefully my daughter will be the ninth.”
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