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Jonathan Singletary Dunham (1640-1724) and My Cousin Barack Obama

Jonathan Dunham House, Woodbridge, New Jersey

I share a common ancestor with Barack Obama.  Jonathan Singletary Dunham is my 8th great grandfather and is also Obama’s 8th great grandfather.  Obama’s mother was Stanley Ann Dunham, so Obama’s ancestry path goes directly back through Dunhams.  My path is the following:  RWA → Vera Esler Abbott → Martha Tappan Esler → William Tappan → Jonathan Tappan → David Tappan → Sarah Wilkinson Tappan → Mary Dunham Wilkinson → Jonathan Dunham, Jr. → Jonathan Singletary Dunham and Mary Bloomfield

Jonathan Singletary Dunham was an interesting person of many contradictions.  The first of these is his name.  His father was Richard Singletary, but for reasons that are not clear, he changed his last name to Dunham after he moved from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to New Jersey around 1665. 

Jonathan grew up in Essex County, Massachusetts, born at Salisbury in 1640. He married Mary Bloomfield, daughter of Thomas and Mary Bloomfield. The date of their marriage is not known, but it must have been before 1662.  It was about that time that Jonathan seems to have been involved in his first controversy. He was 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 with Mary's parents. It is not clear why they did this, but Thomas Bloomfield was one of several 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 several other tracts of land. The old mill that he built was used for many generations and was reportedly still standing in 1870. The house that Jonathan built in 1671, adjacent to the mill (pictured above), was reportedly built of brick from Holland that was used as ballast in ships. Although it has been significantly refurbished, it is still standing. It currently serves as the Rectory of the Trinity Episcopal Church.

As mentioned above there are some controversial and somewhat disturbing records concerning Jonathan. In 1677, he was arrested for removing goods from Governor Phillip Carteret's house and he was condemned for the act. There were a couple of stories from about 1681 involving Jonathan and several Quakers, which were recorded by Cotton Mather about 20 years later. The first 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 occurred in Plymouth, Massachusetts and involved Jonathan and a couple of 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 concerns this later incident. Jonathan was condemned by the Court for his actions and ordered to be publicly whipped and to leave town.


Dunham, Isaac Watson. 1907. Dunham Genealogy: Emglish and American Branches of the Dunham Family. Bulletin Print.

Dunham, Kenneth Royal. 1987. Dunham-Singletary Genealogy. Rochester, NY: Royal Press.


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