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The Dunbars of Chatham

My ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) married Rhoda Hall (1784-1850) at Chatham, MA in 1805. I do not believe he was a native of Chatham.

According to our family history, The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin, he was born at Halifax in Plymouth County to Benjamin Dunbar and Hannah Hathaway. Other researchers disagree, saying his mother was Hannah Latham.

Regardless of his parentage, my Benjamin appeared in Chatham about the time he married Rhoda. Do the Chatham records contain any clues to the identity of his people?

Benjamin purchased Chatham land shortly before his marriage. The sellers were John Ryder and his wife Fear Dunbar.

I wondered if Benjamin was closely related to Fear. Perhaps this was a family transaction.

All the Massachusetts Dunbars descend from Robert Dunbar, so I decided to investigate the degree of kinship between Benjamin and Fear.

Using the family history mentioned above and the resources available on the American Ancestors database (, I learned that the lineage split early, and the two descended from separate sons of Robert. My Benjamin’s line was through Joseph Dunbar (1661/2-1725). Fear descended from a different child. They would have been distant cousins.

Nothing in the land transaction tells me that they knew one another before this sale. Perhaps a conveyance from one Dunbar to another was no more than a coincidence.

I might be tempted to dismiss it as such but for one more interesting piece of evidence. John Ryder, the husband of Fear Dunbar, had a great-aunt named Eunice Ryder Nickerson. Eunice left a will in 1808 wherein she named numerous legatees. John Ryder was one. Benjamin Dunbar was another.

Was this Benjamin the same man as my Benjamin? If so, he must have had some relationship to Fear and the Ryder family. I must investigate the associates of the Ryder family in my quest to document the family of Benjamin E. Dunbar.

Perhaps I will learn that two Benjamin Dunbars were living in 1808. Or maybe, If I am lucky, there was only one. In that case, I will be a step closer to finding my Benjamin’s true roots.

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