Some time ago I published a two-part series on the religious practices of our family entitled “Faith of our Fathers (and Mothers).” In it I promised to provide equal time for some Pearces (this spelling represents the generic family) who were of less than righteous repute. Surely every family has its share of these. Whether you’re a proponent of the “Nature” or the “Nurture” theory of human development, you can always expect some genetic mutation or unfortunate mishap to interfere with the otherwise perfect plan of our ancestors. If you believe in “Original Sin,” you have to agree that some just never got “The Word;” apparently, they simply enjoyed that separation from our Maker too much to join the rest of us. Best of all, if you’re a Mormon, you believe that “it’s never too late;” a little prayer and once again we’re just one big happy family. I’m delighted to report that I couldn’t find very many examples of absolute evil beings under the “son of Peter” umbrella, so I’ve included several short stories of Pearces with only secondary connections to Bad Boys or Bad Behavior at the end of this; these kin were on the right side of the law, but were either victims of crime or perpetrators of justice. In the middle are a few Pearces that may have been thought poorly of at one time but, through the generosity of time and perhaps a change of political values, manage to be seen today with some redeeming virtues. So first, let’s begin with a few stories about people with our name who might be considered “scoundrels,” or “skeletons,” or “sinners.” Please remember, as the old adage says, “There but for the Grace of God go you and I:”
PIERS OF GAVESTON (1284 –1312), the son of a knight, was raised as a foster brother and playmate to English king Edward I. So much a favorite of Edward II, he is rumored to have been the younger king’s homosexual lover. Some historians (Chaplais, 1994) explain the destructive relationship as simply a “brotherhood-in-arms.” Hamilton, in History Today, says, “Piers was consistently described in contemporary chronicles as handsome, athletic, and well mannered: in short, he was a suitable role model after whom Prince Edward might have been expected to pattern himself.” The Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II claims that the younger Edward “tied himself to [Piers] against all mortals with an indissoluble bond of love.” Edward even neglected his young French wife Isabella. After the father and son fell out, Prince Edward was banished from his father’s presence and cut off from financial support, which included the household duties of Piers. In real life, Piers was eventually executed, but in the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, he is pushed off the castle wall by the angry father/king. Other versions include Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II, Derek Jarman’s 1991 film of the same name, and Maurice Druon’s 1960 historical novel The She-Wolf of France (WWW.BRITANNICA.COM].
WILLIAM PEARCE/PIERCE (1580-1670) was Bishop of Peterborough [this Lincolnshire city is just southwest of the hamlet of Bourne, about which we wrote in an earlier article as a possible site of our family’s origination according to the Original Family Narrative], Bath [this famous town in Wiltshire is near Aldbourne, another possible family home], and Wells. He was appointed to the rectory of Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire in 1609; served as Vice-Chancellor in the Christ Church at Oxford where he used his authority to crush the Calvinist Party (Reformed/Presbyterians) from 1621-24, the time the Puritans arrived in America to escape similar persecution. For his mean deeds he was awarded the office of Bishop by the Church of England in 1630.
HUGH SMITHSON PERCY (?) or 1st Duke of Northumberland was husband of Elizabeth Keate Macie, a lineal descendant of King Henry VII. He was the biological father of the illegitimate James Smithson (1765-1829), the British scientist who provided funds for the world-fmous Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Percy’s bastard son’s heirs died without issue, so James Smithson’s will gave his estate to the United States for our great museum. He so deeply resented the circumstances of his birth, and probably his own mistreatment by his father, that he stated, “My name shall live in the memory of a man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten.”
JOHN PEARCE (1763/83? – ), of Leigh Delamere, Wiltshire, England, had at least three illegitimate children to Elizabeth Alsop/Elsop: Moses (1807 – ?), Rachael (1809 – ?), and Richard (1818 – ?). They later used their biological father’s surname. The mother had at least two other children, Eddy (female 1812 – ?) and Sarah (1815 – ?), who used her surname exclusively, but only the dead know who the father was [HTTP://GENFORUM.GENEALOGY.COM].
(?) PEARCES (?) were allegedly involved in what today is known as the “Mountain Meadows Massacre,” where 121 emigrants from Arkansas were murdered on a wagon train headed for California. Apparently a group of radical Mormons known as the Iron County Militia had allied with a group of renegade Indians in an attempt to prevent further western settlement. All but 18 small children, thought to be too young to talk, were killed. As was the norm in those days, our Native Americans took most of the blame, and some 20 years later, when the Federal trial was held, only one man, John D. Lee, was indicted and executed for planning the massacre. William “Bill” Pearce of Texas, an E-mail partner of mine but not a relative, says, “My Pearces left Utah for Arizona (still a territory then) at some point to flee a Federal indictment and avoid prosecution. Some returned to Utah for burial, but the rest remain in Arizona to this day.” Several books and at least one Internet site are devoted to this terrible chapter in American history, but I haven’t located any Pearces yet. I really hope I don’t.
Now, depending upon which side of the law and politics one is on, these Pearces may today be considered heroes, or at least men who acted out of conscience:
FRANKLIN PIERCE (1804-69), a New Hampshire native, son of a Revolutionary War hero, and 14th President of the United States (1853-57), is often blamed for the political atmosphere that became the American Civil War. A Jacksonian Democrat, he failed to deal effectively with the corroding sectional controversy over the issue of slavery [WWW.BRITANNICA.COM]. With signature on the “Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854),” the western territories were effectively opened up for slavery, thus repealing the Missouri Compromise. According to The Universal Almanac, “Pierce continually appeased the South by backing proslavery ruffians in ‘Bleeding Kansas,’ encouraging slavery expansionists who coveted Cuba, and buying land known as the Gadsen Purchase from Mexico for a southern railroad.” Republicans campaigned that the White House was run by “Slave Power.” He carries the dubious distinction of being the only incumbent denied his own party’s renomination in a presidential election. Pierce was nearly lynched by his fellow New Englanders when he openly criticized Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” He died a forgotten, depressed alcoholic, the only President ever elected from New Hampshire. Like Herbert Hoover some 75 years later, who happened to be President prior to the stock market collapse, he was perhaps just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
PATRICK HENRY PEARSE (1879-1916) was undoubtedly and ironically named for the American patriot/martyr who coined the immortal phrase from the gallows, “Give me liberty or give me death” in an earlier struggle against Great Britain. A leader of Irish nationalism, he was a poet and educator. Pearse signed a declaration of independence from England, which was proclaimed on Easter Monday, 1916. As elected President of the Provisional Irish Republican Government and chief planner of the insurrection, he was captured, arrested, and executed by a British firing squad. The repercussions of this are still felt today in the continual strife in Northern Ireland.
In order that this article doesn’t get too depressing, I’m including several briefs about Pearces who lived on the right side of the law and died either innocently or having done their civic duty. I think you’ll agree that the criminals they came in contact with were rather scary:
LULA MAY PEARCE (?), of the native Florida Pearces, married James Langford, whose great-great niece, Frances Slater, was murdered during a convenience store robbery. The killer, John Earl Bush, was convicted and executed in Florida’s electric chair in 1982. The victim, a clerk in the store at the time of the hold-up, was just 18-years old. She was an heiress to the Evinrude outboard motor fortune through her grandfather Ralph Evinrude, who was married to actress Frances Langford (Ocala Star-banner, Oct.22, 1996).
MARY E. PEARCE (?) married Dr. Reece M. Bourland, who practiced medicine in Lovelaceville, KY, and Troy, MO. He was a famous and successful bounty hunter who, in 1846, was paid $1,000 for the capture of the infamous criminal Edward Alonzo Pennington inside the Chickasaw Indian Nation near the Red River. Bourland was assisted by his five brothers. Pennington was returned to Kentucky, tried, convicted, and hanged in the first legal execution in Christian County. This story dominated the newspapers in the Midwest during that time similar to the OJ Simpson trial of today. Apparently, Mr. And Mrs. Bourland were forced to move to Missouri after the trial to escape harassment from allies of the Pennington family. One of his brothers was eventually killed in the aftermath (“Pearce Bulletin” 36, 1965-97).
Thus ends one of those articles where I ask the readers to be on the lookout for strange and unusual stories involving persons with the surname Pearce, or variations thereof. Send the details to me at LRYPEARCE@GMAIL.COM and I will publish them in future revisions of this series. We never wish to imply that there is any connection whatsoever between our family and any of the persons you’ve read about above. We still believe that most of the persons named Pearce in our stories are on the right side of the law, politically and morally.
E-mail address revised 3/25/22