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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Steeped in Town History: Descendant Goes High-tech to Tell Family's Story

Greenwich Time, Greenwich, Connecticut USA
August 7, 2001
by Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer

Historian Spencer Mead published the original history of Greenwich in 1857. (*Correction: It was actually Daniel Merritt Mead who wrote that history. Ye Historie of Ye Town of Greenwich would be published by Spencer P. Mead in 1911. JBM). 

Hester Bush Mead, an African American and painter, was the daughter of Candice Bush, a slave owned by David Bush. She acquired the Mead name after marrying a freed slave who was once owned by the Mead family.

Oliver Deliverance Mead, a prosperous farmer, sold his 120 acres of land at Field Point as homesites in the area now known as Belle Haven. He lived to the age of 96 and was president of the Greenwich National Bank.

From the early days of Greenwich, the Mead clan- which appeared in town before 1700- has had a powerful formative influence on the town of Greenwich, a legacy which is still evidenced by the scattered 18th and 19th century houses they built and several graveyards around town.

Now, a family member has created a Web site at www.meadburyinggrounds.org in hopes of garnering the attention of family descendants.

The Web site maintained by Jeffrey Bingham Mead, a 12th-generation descendant of the Mead family and Greenwich native, centers around three Mead burial plots -one in Cos Cob on the Mill Pond, one in North Greenwich and one on North Street at the intersection of Taconic Road-and a twice yearly newsletter he writes about the family's history.

"We felt our family descendants and friends would benefit from having a forum in which the history of these sites and the family could be explored and published without traveling far to acquire it," Mead said, who now lives on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and is a social science professor for the University of Phoenix, which has a branch on the island.

Mead, an expert on Greenwich's burial grounds, also undertook a project to restore the three family burial plots in the early 1990s as part of Greenwich's 350th anniversary celebration.

He has also written a book on the freeing of slaves in Greenwich titled Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipations in Greenwich, Connecticut. 

The online site includes details about the local burying grounds and who is buried there, as well as articles and essays on the Meads and other aspects of town history.

In the spring online newsletter, Mead writes about Hester Bush Mead and a painting she may have made of the house of Jabez Mead. Hester Bush Mead's other artwork and the fact she was a free employee of Jabez Mead's family lead him to believe she is the artist of the unsigned painting.

"She could be the mystery artist of this painting," he said. "It's quite an amazing example of early American folk art." 

Several Mead homes are still in existence in town including the home of Oliver D. Mead on Pear Lane, Susan Richardson, an archivist for the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich said. A handful of Mead descendants also remain in the area, and the historical society has amassed a large collection of documents, artifacts and clothing from the Mead family, Richardson said, but she had not seen the Web site.

"The Mead's were great savers, and they love to write history," she said. "They intermarried quite a lot so there genealogy is very challenging."

The Mead family was unusually large and made up of local farmers, merchants, business people and lawyers, Richardson said.

Jeffrey Mead expressed disappointment about the impending demolition of the Benjamin Mead Homestead on Cliffdale Road. The land was bought by Benjamin Mead in 1707 and contains one of the burial plots that Mead restored. The new owner of the house has permits to level six colonial-era buildings to make way for a new residence.

"There are a lot of Mead houses left in Greenwich but it's sad to see that one go," he said.

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