As another patriotic celebration with backyard barbecues, parades, picnics, and July 4th fireworks fades into memory, it's well to remember there were centuries of American history that predate the birth of our nation.


Hesperia resident Bill Chapman researched his family to the pre-1776 era to learn of their participation in the making of the United States of America. On Aug. 30, 1611 Bill Chapman's ancestor Thomas arrived on the ship Tryall from his home in London to take up residence on the shores of the James River in a place they named Henrico. The United States may be 235 years old but the Chapman family is among those who can trace their roots back an additional 165 years when Henry the teenage son of King James of England authorized a mission to save the ill-fated settlement at Jamestown.


This new planting of settlers came with the intention of staying. Thomas had to leave his new bride Ann at home in London until he could establish himself in America. He was among the early settlers who evaded attack by warships intent on keeping the continent for Spain; and once here they observed the burning of the Berkley Plantation by the native population. They set up commercial trade with England; planted tobacco brought from Trinidad, and used the leaves as the first legal tender. This participation in the first organized English-based movements to establish communities in the new world was thirteen years earlier than the Plymouth Rock settlement when the settlers seeking religious tolerance ran out of beer on their way to the James River settlements and chose to establish their roots in Massachusetts instead.


Thomas was among those who commuted back and forth to London for the purpose of bringing new settlers. Bill said that reading the old documents from this period is like reading the King James translation of the bible or Shakespeare. That's not surprising when you learn that the play The Tempest was based on the ill-fated mission to Virginia that ran ashore in the Bermuda Islands during a storm. That fleet of ships carried settler John Rolfe and his pregnant wife. John's wife and his newborn child died in Bermuda; and four years later back in Virginia he married Pocahontas. Unfortunately, when Rolfe took his Indian princess bride to England, she died in Gravesend from disease for which she had no immunities. The ship that would have brought Pocahontas back home carried Ann Chapman to the new world to join Thomas her husband.


Bill has systematically documented each place his ancestors lived during their first years on the continent. He has these locations marked with push-pins on a 15-foot-wide map hanging on the hallway wall of his Hesperia home. He observed that his ancestors were carried by the rivers and settled on the shores. These Chapmans were always among the first frontier families as settlers moved into the Shenandoah Valley, Kentucky, and the Ohio territory into present day Indiana and Illinois.


Bill's wall map ends at the Mississippi River. When the railroads arrived, the family moved across the Rockies into Los Angeles and when their westward trek had to stop for lack of frontier territory to settle, Bill's great-grandparents homesteaded along the Mojave River in 1910.


Bill is not the first of these Chapmans to settle in Hesperia. His great-grandfather's younger brother had a son who moved here prior to the 1980s. Unfortunately the families have not kept in touch over the years but perhaps that can change now. Bill has a website http://www.chapman-ancestry.com/ where members of that branch can contact him if they wish to compare notes on personal family history and traditions.


The newest tradition for 14th generation Bill Chapman will be to honor August 30th for 400-years-and-counting of blessings. Bill believes that the courage needed at each phase of the trek across the continent was possible because of the example set by each previous generation. It started 400 years ago with their primary immigrant ancestor. It would be interesting if we could know what Thomas and Ann would think about the family they spawned from the first steps they planted on our eastern shores and of the country that later developed.