The WIGHTMAN name is said to have come from Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, who was nicknamed "WYGHTMAINS." Accounts differ as to where this nickname came from; one says it was because "he had the most beautifully shaped white hands," but another says that he contracted leprosy in the crusades which turned his hands white. He died in Duras, Greece in 1190 while in the crusades. His descendant, Thomas Whiteman de Beaumont (b. abt. 1297 in Leicestershire, England) had a son named William Wightman (b. abt. 1330), who married Agnes ???

One of their descendants (several generations later) was Edward Wightman (1566-1612), who was known as a "notorious heretic" to the established Church of the time, but to the Protestants (Baptists, Puritans, Separatists, etc.) he was a heroic "martyr." He had presented a manuscript to King James in 1611 stating his beliefs. (His "heresy" was saying that baptism should be for accountable persons instead of infants, as practiced by the church, and that the doctrine of the trinity as taught by the church was untrue, among other things.) Edward Wightman was put on trial, officially found guilty of "blasphemies against the Trinity", and then (when he refused to recant or renounce them) publicly burned at the stake for heresy in 1612. There is a large monument in the marketplace of the town of Litchfield, Staffordshire, England commemorating the spot of his martyrdom, and the plaque reads,

was burnt at the stake in this Market Place
for heresy 11th April 1612,
being the last person in England so to die."

(Others after this date were killed in this way by mobs, etc., but in England, he was the last to be executed by due process of law by being burnt at the stake.)

He had been arrested and thoroughly questioned about his beliefs. After a public trial from 19 Nov. to 5 Dec. 1611, conducted by Bishop Neile of Litchfield, the sentence was publicly pronounced in the cathedral, following a sermon. He was excommunicated and sentenced to death at the stake the following spring, 9 March 1612. On that date, after he was chained to the stake and the fires lit, in pain he cried out what was taken to be a promise to recant, and was taken down from the stake, "the crowd assisting" (some scorching themselves in the process), and taken back to prison. But in prison he refused to recant formally in a signed statement, and "reiterated his heresies" (in the words of Bishop Neile, he "blasphemed more audaciously than before." There is evidence indicating that he said he believed that men could become like God). So after a month, the sentence against him was renewed. On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, Edward Wightman was once more taken to the marketplace below the cathedral, chained to the stake, and the flames lit. It is said that "by this time so much public sentiment had been aroused, and so heroic was his death, that another who was to have suffered a like fate was released."

Edward Wightman's family moved to London after his death. His son John and grandson George Wightman, along with George's brothers (Valentine, Daniel, and John) later moved to the New World in search of freedom of worship, and settled in Rhode Island. They undoubtedly knew Roger Williams (1605-1683), the founder of Rhode Island colony and a "Seeker" for truth. He may have even personally invited them to settle there. Roger Williams' only sister Katherine was married to Ralph Wightman, a citizen and merchant tailor of London, so they were kinsmen.

Roger Williams was a minister, a friend of the Indians and scholar of their languages, advocate of fair treatment for the Indians, and of religious freedom and tolerance for all. He founded the colony of Rhode Island after the colony of Massachusetts sentenced him to be forcibly sent back to England for his beliefs and teachings; he fled in the middle of winter and was helped by the Indians. He was also the founder of the first Baptist church in America (realizing that baptism by immersion was necessary for salvation, from his study of the scriptures, he and a few of his associates who had come to believe similarly, drew lots to see which one of them would do the baptizing). Williams baptized the others, but within a few months he withdrew from the church he had helped to found. Stating that all organized churches on earth at that time were lacking the proper authority to administer the saving ordinances, he said he was "waiting for the Lord to send new apostles" to restore the true church. He was truly a man ahead of his time. Largely because of his efforts and publications, the other colonies gradually came to accept many of his ideas such as tolerance and freedom of conscience in religious matters, and the separation of church and state. These became an important part of our American heritage, and were necessary in paving the way for the restoration of the gospel.

Most of our ancestors who lived in Rhode Island had gone there because they were dissenters from the established churches of the day; and many left or were driven out of Massachusetts because of the inflexible Puritan beliefs. Another ancestor, (Rev.) Obadiah Holmes, was publicly whipped in Boston because of holding worship contrary to the established church of that state (see HOLMES biography). He was also one of the very earliest Baptists in America, and was for many years pastor of the Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island.

Another early American ancestor was Elizabeth Updike. Her father, Gysbert (Gilbert) "Opdycke" or "Op den Dyke" had helped settle New Amsterdam (now New York City). He was an officer in the Dutch West India Company, and owned all of Coney Island and several other islands. He lived in New Amsterdam, the Dutch Colony, before it became New York City. Gysbert Op den Dyck's daughter Elizabeth Updike married George Wightman in 1663, and they were among the earliest settlers of Rhode Island.

Elizabeth Updike's maternal grandfather, Richard Smith, once owned a large portion of Long Island, and also a trading house called "Smith's Castle" in what was then the wilderness south of Massachusetts. Later this area became part of Rhode Island. He leased a very large tract of land from the Indians for the period of 1000 years, payment to be "one red honeysuckle flower every midsummer's day, when lawfully demanded."

Roger Williams later wrote that Richard Smith "broke the ice, and put up in the thickest of ye barbarians the first English house amongst them. He kept possession coming and going, he, his children, and servants," on his sloop "Welcome," in which he traveled back and forth between Long Island, his trading house in the wilderness, and the Massachusetts colonies. Smith's Castle was situated on the wilderness road down the coast, known as the "Pequot Path," which had been used by the Indians for centuries and later by the whites. It eventually became U.S. Highway 1. Richard Smith gave hospitality to many famous persons who stopped with him on their travels.

Reverand Valentine Wightman (1681-1747), as a young man was asked to come over to Connecticut from Rhode Island, to become the minister of a congregation of Baptists. As dissenters from the established Puritan Church they were subject to much persecution. Rev. Valentine Wightman introduced singing as a part of public worship, and wrote a book or pamphlet defending this practice. (It is interesting that the name Valentine was passed down in the Wightman family from the 16th century; Edward "The Martyr" Wightman had a brother and also an uncle named Valentine, and the name has occurred in almost every generation since then, down to the Valentine C. Wightman who is buried in the Payson Cemetery, son of William Charles Wightman). Many of the Wightmans in America were ministers, most of them Baptist, and were very prominent in Christian leadership, especially in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

Daniel Wightman was the son of Rev. Valentine Wightman of Connecticut. He was a prosperous farmer in Connecticut for most of his life.

Valentine Wightman (1731-1814) was Daniel's son. He became a Deacon in the Baptist Church, and lived in Connecticut his entire life. Many of the Wightmans began moving to upper New York State before the Revolutionary War. Valentine also bought land there, and left it to his sons in his will. Although he never moved there himself, several of his brothers did. All but one of Deacon Valentine Wightman's children moved to the area of German Flats, Herkimer County, New York.

Joseph Wightman (1773-1843) was the youngest son of Deacon Valentine Wightman (who was the son of Daniel Wightman, son of Rev. Valentine Wightman). Joseph was married to Amy Sholes (1776-1861). Grandfather Joseph Wightman moved with the rest of his family to Kirtland, Ohio, where he died 21 September 1843, at age 69. Grandmother Amy Sholes Wightman died in Kirtland in December 1861, at age 85. They are buried there, near the old Kirtland temple.

Wightman graves near Kirtland temple

Charles Billings Wightman (1815-1895) was the seventh of eight children of Joseph and Amy Sholes Wightman. The autobiography of William Charles Wightman, Sr. (a nephew of Charles Billings Wightman) says:

"Grandmother, Uncle Erastus, Father and Mother, Uncle Charles, and Aunt Jane Wightman Dixon ... were baptized in the Mormon Church at Rushford, Allegany Co., New York, in January 1834. (Allegany County is about 50 miles southwest of Palmyra, New York, and the Wightmans had moved here just before 1830). Grandfather never joined the Church."

Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra Shuler Bray