The story of Jonathan Dunham alias Singletary is a complicated one. There is a lot of information available concerning him, but it appears that there is also much that is unknown. What is known has been the subject of a range of speculation and different interpretations. There is no question that he was a prominent man, who was held in high esteem by many for much of his life. Some of the records are very harsh and critical of Jonathan and his actions, and they have led to the speculation that there were two very different sides to him and his life. My personal interpretation is that it is doubtful that he was a "dual personality" as has been speculated. It seems much more likely to me that he was a forceful and prominent personality, who was deeply involved in the political and religious dynamics of his time, and who was seen as very controversial by his detractors. There is evidence that he was involved with the Quakers, who at the time were seen as bizarre by the Puritans and were persecuted by them. It seems very possible that this is the root cause of much if not all of his controversy.
The records show that he was born as Jonathan Singletary on January 17, 1639/40, in Salisbury, Essex County, Massachusetts. His father was Richard Singletary and apparently his mother was Susanna Cooke. There is speculation that he might have been the child of an earlier and at this point unknown wife of Richard. What is known is that he after he moved with his wife's family to Woodbridge, New Jersey, he called himself Jonathan Dunham alias Singletary. The speculation about his mother is that perhaps her name was Dunham, and Jonathan began to use it in deference to her. It has also been speculated that he changed his name to flee from or in some way hide from his controversial past in Massachusetts. The biggest problem with this explanation is that he doesn't seem to have broken his ties with Massachusetts and he does not seem to have made any effort to lose the Singletary name completely. In many records, he and his family members identified themselves as Dunham alias Singletary.
Another explanation came from the following story, which has been passed down through the family for many years. Although it seems perhaps farfetched, in many ways it also seems more plausible. As passed on to me by Bea Webb, she related that her grandmother told her that Jonathan's father Richard Singletary, was actually a son and heir of the House of Dunham in England. There were apparently two branches of the Dunham family and Richard was reportedly the last male heir of the older branch. Reportedly, if he were to die, the title and estates would pass to the nearest relative in the younger branch. According to what was told by Richard's former nanny on her deathbed, she was hired to murder the child, but could not bring herself to do it. She said that instead she took the child on an arduous trip on a ship to New York, and she that left the child in New York with the Captain of the ship, and she returned to England. She stated that because the child was alone and separated from all family ties, she had given him the name of 'Single-Tarry.' Reportedly the Captain adopted Richard and kept the name the nanny had given him. The conclusion of the story is that Jonathan reverted to the name of Dunham because he felt that this was his true family name.
Jonathan grew up in Essex County, Massachusetts, which is where he met and married Mary Bloomfield, daughter of Thomas and Mary Bloomfield. The date of their marriage is apparently not known, but it must have been before 1662. There is a record in that year of Jonathan's parents conveying a piece of land to Mary, identified as the wife of Jonathan. It was about that time that Jonathan seems to have been involved in his first controversy. He was apparently drawn into in a series of legal disputes with a John Godfrey. At one point he was jailed for a time and at another point he reportedly accused Godfrey of witchcraft.
Sometime around 1665, Jonathan and Mary left Essex County, Massachusetts and relocated to Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey, apparently with Mary's parents. It is not clear why they did this, but apparently Thomas Bloomfield was one of a number of prominent men invited to emigrate there by the newly appointed Governor of New Jersey. As noted above, with this move Jonathan began to call himself Jonathan Dunham alias Singletary.
Jonathan became a prominent citizen in Woodbridge. In 1670 "Jonathan Dunham, alias Singletary, and Mary his wife, formerly of Hauesall in ye Massachusetts colony" are given a 213 acre grant of land in consideration of Jonathan building the first grist mill in Woodbridge Township. He later acquired a number of other tracts of land also. The old mill that he built was apparently used for many generations and was reportedly still standing in 1870. The millstone itself is still in existence, and can be seen on display at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, New Jersey. The house that Jonathan built in 1671, adjacent to the mill, was reportedly built of brick from Holland that was used a ballast in ships. Although it has apparently been significantly refurbished, it is still standing. It currently serves as the Rectory of the same Trinity Episcopal Church. In 1671 Jonathan was listed as acting as the foreman of a jury, and also as the overseer of the highways. In 1673 he was elected as member in the New Jersey Assembly. In 1675 he served as the Clerk of the Township Court.
As mentioned above there are some controversial and somewhat disturbing records concerning Jonathan. In 1677 he was called a "mad man" by the Council of War for the Achter Colony and apparently punished in some manner. Later that same year he was arrested for removing goods from Governor Phillip Careret's house and he was condemned for the act. There were a couple of stories from about 1681 involving Jonathan and apparently several Quakers, which were recorded by Cotton Mathers about 20 years later. The first apparently took place in Long Island, New York and involved Jonathan and a group of Quakers, one of whom was brutally and mysteriously murdered. The second apparently occurred in Plymouth, Massachusetts and involved Jonathan and a couple Quaker women, including a Mary Ross. They reportedly engaged in some bizarre behavior, including the killing of a dog. There is a Court record from Plymouth from 1683, which apparently concerns this later incident. Jonathan was condemned by the Court for his actions, and ordered to be publicly whipped and to leave town.
It is hard to make sense of these controversial records, particularly in light of all the good things that Jonathan seemed to have been involved in during this period. A number of researchers have reported the derogatory statements made against Jonathan as if they were completely objective reports, and then filled in the blanks with what amounts to conjecture. In all likelihood there is a great deal of bias and prejudice in these records, and there is much that is unknown about them. I think that there could be a political explanation for the earlier incident and a religious explanation for the later one. It was suggested that Jonathan left Woodridge and abandoned his family as a result of the problems from 1677, and that he later became involved with the Mary Ross in some very inappropriate way. There is nothing to support this. In a document from 1689, Jonathan writes, "being frequently abroad in parts remote." It seems clear that whether it was for business, religious, or personal reasons, Jonathan seems to have traveled between New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. In 1702 he was given the power of attorney to dispose of the lands given him by his parents in Massachusetts. This seems to indicate that despite the problems he had there, he still maintained ties. There is nothing to support that he ever abandoned his family and responsibilities in Woodbridge. The same Mary Ross from the incident in Plymouth, was in Woodridge in 1689, and involved in some sort of legal transaction with both Jonathan and his wife Mary. The fact is, the dynamics of these events and relationships are not at all clear from the information that is available.
Jonathan's wife Mary reportedly died in Woodbridge in 1705. Jonathan is reported to have lived there another 18 years. He was involved in several more land transactions in 1717, 1720, and 1721. I am not aware of any record of his death, but there was document dated April 24, 1724, in which his son Jonathan noted that his father Jonathan Dunham had lately deceased. Reportedly Jonathan is buried near his house in Woodbridge.
Oliver B. Leonard reports that a Woodbridge historian named Mr. Dally, wrote of Jonathan, "This Dunham was a man of great energy. When he determined upon an enterprise he pushed it forward to success with indomitable perseverance. So many of his relatives settled in the north of the Kirk Green that the neighborhood was known as Dunhamtown for many years."
There are two known DUNHAM lines of early colonial ancestry. One line descends from Deacon John Dunham of Plymouth, Massachusetts (ca 1630). Another line descends from Richard Singletary (born 1599 England, died 1687 Haverhill, Massachusetts).Richard Singletary's eldest son, Jonathan Singletary, for some unclear reason, changed his name to "Jonathan Dunham alias Singletary." This change came about when he moved his family from Massachusetts to Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey about 1674. He became one of the early founders of that community. He and his children signed their names as "alias Singletary" in a known deed record. Thus all DUNHAMs (and its variants of DONHAM, DUNNAM, etc.) who descend from Jonathan are actually SINGlETARYs according to genetic link and only DUNHAM by surname. Jonathan is the only son of Richard Singletary who took the surname DUNHAM. All of Richard's other children continued to bear the surname of SINGLETARY, as do their descendants.
A recent (2002) DNA testing of one bearing the SINGLETARY surname and one bearing the DUNHAM surname proved a common ancestor...that being Richard Singletary. Thus this SINGLETARY-DUNHAM genetic line does not match with the other DUNHAM line out of early Massachusetts.
Just why Jonathan changed his name from Singletary to Dunham is unknown, and at this time various theories, stories, & legends arise to its evolution.