The Besoms of Marblehead

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Marblehead Harbour in 1763

The story of a sea captain and privateer from Jersey, and his brothers, who founded a dynasty in a Massachusetts port


Marblehead was founded in 1629 as a commercial fishing operation. In 1660, in an official report to the English king, Marblehead was acclaimed as "the greatest Towne for fishing in New England". Its earliest settlers were primarily from England’s West Country. They were a unique mixture of non-conformists whose hardiness and seafaring adventures brought prosperity to the town by the mid-1700s when it became a popular destination for adventurous young men from Jersey, including four members of the Le Gros Bisson family.


There were three, or possibly four, Le Gros Bisson brothers who went to the US, one of them taking nephew Nicolas. The brothers were the sons of farmer Jean Le Gros Bisson and Jeanne Le Cras. Philippe, Richard and Josué emigrated together in 1749. They were aged 20, 18 and 15 then, and were the second, third and fourth sons. Eldest son Jean probably had to stay at home to work the farm with his father. In any case he married in 1751 and had eight children, including Nicolas, with wife Jeanne Le Seelleur between 1752 and 1772.

At Marblehead Philippe married Sarah Boubier, also from Jersey[1], on 18 Nov 1751. They had sixteen children. Richard married Sarah Gale, of Marblehead, on 31 Jul 1753, and their ten children, Sarah, Jane, Mary, Richard, John, Mary, John, Susanna, John, Susanna, Richard and John (four attempts to get a John to survive childhood!) were born between 1754 and 1776.

Josue did not settle down in Marblehead and went back to Jersey, but he returned in 1766 with his brother Jean’s 11-year-old son Nicolas, and there are suggestions that Jean accompanied them. Josue later returned to Jersey again, as must have Jean, if he did indeed reach America with his son, because his last two children were born in 1768 and 1772.

Nicolas remained in Marblehead and married Elizabeth Laskey in 1784. They had nine children and shed died at the age of 65 in 1827. Nicolas then married his sister-in-law Hannah Bessom, nee Lasky, the widow of his cousin John. Nicolas died on 17 Jun 1838 at the age of 82.

The settlers, in common with many other emigrants to America with French surnames, changed their name to Besom. There is some suggestion that the name metamorphosed via Bissom and Bessom, but this may be because of the trouble American officials had in writing down the names of immigrants, many of whom probably could not even write their own name. Some members of the family adopted the spellings Bessom and Beasom in later years.

Captain Philip Besom

Philippe Bisson, who became Philip Besom, acquired land next to Marblehead Harbour and also a substantial lot in the town of Lyndsborough, New Hampshire. He appears to have followed his father in farming both at Marblehead and Lyndsborough, but he was also a renowned mariner, and left the schooner Peacock when he died. His son, also Philip, was a seaman, too, and both were known as Captain Philip Besom. The younger of the two first went to sea at the age of eleven, and joined the crew of a privateer when 17.

Notes and references

  1. Other records suggest that Sarah (Sara) was born in the USA, but it is possible that she had more distant Channel Island origins
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