John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Shaggy Dog Chronicles
Chapter 1, Part 1 - A Lot About Beavers - Concerning the General Stream of One Branch of the Bridgers Family

A Lot About Beavers
Concerning the General Stream
Of One Branch of the Bridgers Family

"A Good History"

He was more or less a passing acquaintance -– well-liked but slightly and briefly known - a first-year resident physician in obstetrics and gynecology when I was a junior medical student at The Duke University School of Medicine.

That was just at a half-a-century ago and I haven't seen Charlie Pete since, nor do I know what has happened to him.

However, he left me with a small insight which has loomed large in my sundry endeavors over the years since.

He once mentioned that if one “takes a good medical history and does a good physical examination he will practice good medicine.”

Much of our study had been spent learning to do these things, so I suppose such disciplines were becoming habitual and intuitive with me, but in my mind, they are indelibly bound with my memory of Dr. Charlie Peete.

In time I came to appreciate that investigating the genesis and background of a given proposition is a rational approach to learning about it and explaining it. 

Whether working up” a patient, getting to better know a new friend, tackling some new subject, giving a talk or telling a story I always try to start with “a good history.”

This, now, is my intent.

Those who persevere with these ramblings will come to know Baynard Milton, another old friend and shipmate with whom I flew in World War II, and who is still an occasional and cherished correspondent. 

He now lives in Jasper, Florida, his small home-town on the banks of the Suwannee;  and like myself, he spends much of the time his retirement accords in writing.

Just recently he sent a vignette, The Eyes Have It, about five young women he had squired about in his formative years.

He got in touch with one of them, sent her a copy of his treatise, and as well, sent her a copy of a piece I had written about him -– Down on the Suwannee.

This will turn up as a short chapter in this book.

Anyway, my surname was noted by this lady’s son, a genealogy buff who had found the name “Bridgers” in his family records.

He asked “Milt” to see if I had any family information I would share with him.

He may be sorry he asked for his query placed in train the setting down of information I've been accruing for two score years.

So these writings serve several purposes, and I'll start with “a good history.”

Genealogy is, after all, only history woven around family members.  Family life goes back into the dim mists of human existence.

Man and family emerged together, vis-à-vis, as cause and effect of one another.

Society, as we know it, cannot be imagined without family life.

In one way or another families have been the building blocks of every human culture, those learned about from the past and those we know today.

But the story of a specific family can be told only if the connection and continuity of kinship can be identified.

However, though we know not the individuals, the background of pre-history offers insight into who we are.

So, if I'm to tell who are “the Bridgers” of the line of which I'm a part, it’s well to start with who are the English and from whence we come –- both before and after there were English surnames.

Emerson said:  “There is no history, only biography,” but there can be no biography without family names.

Here then the story of the genesis of the English people and their surnames seems a reasonable starting point for chronicles to be told in the best “shaggy dog” tradition. 

________   _   ________

The Watershed of Headwaters

The Iberians and the Celts:
In his epic, The History of the English-Speaking People, Sir Winston Churchill says the first folk to enter the British Isles came from the Iberian Peninsula, the site of modern Spain and Portugal.

Next, some thousands of years later came the Celts.

The Celts were not an ethnic group per se, but a heterogeneous collection of early mid-Europeans who shared a common language.

They originated as salt-miners in the Austrian Alps, and as this commodity had great value, they were led to travel broadly.

The headwaters of the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone all arise within a twenty-five mile radius of one another in the Black Forest area of present day Germany.

All are famously long streams with the Rhine running west to the North Sea, The Danube east to the Black Sea, and the Rhone south to the Mediterranean.

This juxtaposition has determined -- over the ages –- that the tandem use of these waterways allowed travel across and up-and-down Europe before the days of roads.

Thus, in one instance, the Celts traveled down the Danube through the Black Sea to the Anatolian Plateau -– Asia Minor in the ancient world and now the area of Turkey. 

Later the Romans called the Celts “Gauls,” and in Asia Minor gave name to the city of Galatia, which we know mainly from one of Paul’s missionary epistles in The Bible.

This was the homeland of the olden Hittites, the folk who brought in “The Iron Age,” a technology assimilated by the Celts.

The Celts migrated not only eastward to Asian Minor, but also westward to the vicinity of The Rhine, and hence down the Rhine across Europe to the North Sea and the British Isles.

They brought the working of iron to all these areas, and gave the name “Gaul” to most of Europe.

The tongue of the Celts was of two main dialects.

“Gaelic” was spoken mainly by those who populated Iceland and later Scotland, first called Caledonia.

“Brythonic” was spoken by those who entered the southern reaches of Great Britain, and brought the name of the isles as well as “British,” “Briton” and “Breton.”

The Britons forced the older Iberian settlers north, squeezing them against the Irish Celts entering the northern highlands of Caledonia, and these sequestered earlier migrants became known as the “Lowlanders.”

This traces, in part, the diversity of the “Highland Scots,” the “Lowland Scots” and the southern Britons, who in time would become the English.

The Scots would get that name when came the Romans.

The Romans:   In the centuries the Celts were making their way across Europe currents of migration were astir elsewhere, and in the end would bring lasting changes to all these lands and to worlds yet to be found.

Early in the last millennium before Christ folks from Asia Minor -– perhaps by sea -– moved into the Mediterranean peninsula that’s now known as Italy.

They settled along the Tigris and Po Rivers and established a realm which became Eritrea.

The Etruscans were skillful engineers and builders, laying down roadways and waterworks which caused them to prosper, as particularly did their principal city, Rome.

After two centuries the Etruscans in Rome took over, not only Etruria, but gradually the whole peninsula.

Thus started one of histories great empires.

Around the hinge of the Christian era Roman legions, ever reaching outward, took over Gaul and occupied the British Isles, making them Roman provinces.

The Romans brought a new tongue which gave an enduring language to scholarship, and spawned a family of new speech.

They brought new names wherever they went.

They called the Celts of Eire “Scots,” and as these Gaels moved into Caledonia its name adapted to “Scotland.”

The “Lowland” Iberians, who dyed their faces blue, became “The Picts” –- “the painted men” –- to the Roman legions.

“The Picts” were a wild lot which led the Legions to build a stone wall across the waist of Great Britain to help keep these marauders out of Briton.

It had interspersed garrisoned forts and was named “Adrian's Wall” in honor of the Roman Emperor of that particular day.

Its ruins still stand, though much reduced as the stones have been reclaimed over the years for other building.

As is usual with all impinging peoples, these folk mixed to an extent.

The Roman Legions of Britain became infused with Celtic recruits, and long-term Roman occupiers took on Celtic wives, this giving impetus to the name “Britons” for the admixture.

Romano-Celtic Britain flourished under “Pax Romani;”  however, this happy state of affairs was to wind down and eventually end in  the 4th century, A.D.

The Roman Legions in the provinces were gradually withdrawn to protect the seat of the empire from so-called “barbarians.”

The Anglo-Saxons:  The Romans had considered the Rhine the upper limit of their empire, and had considered the tribesmen beyond to be savages.

The folks of the Mediterranean were wont to think all people with cultures different from their own as “barbarians,” a usage started by the Greeks in the 4th century B.C. and continued by the Romans.

They, indeed, seemed feral enough to warrant being called “barbarians” as we now construe the term, but they had enjoyed a well-organized culture for the two millennia before they introduced themselves to those of the self-styled “civilized world.”

About 200 B.C. the Romans in Austria were surprised by onslaught by hordes of warriors who emerged from the northern forests, who fought naked, and who initially prevailed against the Roman’s vaunted legions.

They had also given rise to so-called “Germanic tribes” against whom the Romans had long struggled –- tribes living just beyond the Rhine –- the Angles, the Saxons and the Franks.

Unknown to the Romans there were other tribes farther up in alien lands – the Scandinavian Peninsula and Jutland -– the Danish promontory which bulged up into the Baltic;  those who would come to be known as Norsemen –- the Goths, Vandals and Jutes.

These were the warriors causing the Romans to pull back to the Italian peninsula.

However, it was the Germanic tribes which would spell grief for the Britons.

Authoritative government gone with the Romans, brigandage ran rampant in Britain.

Unable to foster safely through the country-side some of the Celtic tribes invited Anglos, Saxons and Jutes from across the Channel to come into Britain and help maintain order. 

These still war-like tribes did impose order of a sort, but then began to take over the land for themselves.

Some of the Celts resisted and the conflicts between them and the Anglo-Saxons became the stuff of the Arthurian legend.

Others were defeated and assimilated, but some fled.

One such tribe, the Cymry, retreated to the west –- they were called “Weales” by the Anglo-Saxons – their word for “foreigner,” and this gave the name “Wales” to the bulge of land they occupied to the west of The Severn River and to the east of the Irish Sea.

Others of the Cymry went south to the peninsula now called Cornwall and are today the Cornish.

It’s possible, with their proximity to Gloucester these blood-lines figure in the ancestry of the Bridgers.

Other Celts crossed the Channel to the east, became known as the Bretons, and gave the name “Brittany” to the section of the French coast they took over.

As has ever been, English history is a story of shifting folk and changing names.

In any event, whatever peace was brought by the Anglo-Saxons was shattered by the coming of the Danes -– the Vikings.

The Vikings:   No people in Denmark and few in Norway and Sweden live more than a few miles from the ocean. 

In their “golden age,” around 2000 B.C. when the weather had undergone one of its periodic warming periods, the climate in Scandinavia was much like it is today in southern France.

Their culture moved apace during that stretch, which enhanced their agriculture, -- and with their double-prowed, clinkered long-boats the Northmen became great seamen, first trading widely through the Baltic.

This had to do with the sack of Rome and abandonment of the provinces.

Not only did the Barbarians go after Rome, but the Scandinavian sea-farers nationalized piracy, and these doughty sea-rovers started an era of marauding the Channel and estuarine provinces of Britain and Europe.

Here were “The Vikings,” who in the first millennium A.D., gained control of all the Anglo-Saxon domains in Britain south of “Adrian’s Wall” save Wessex, and gave grief to the Welsh as well.

However, the Danes got no further by direct assault though indirectly those of Norse blood eventually took over southern Britain.

Here then came the Normans -- French descendants of the Norse –- setting the stage for a monarchy which persists today, which took over not only Britain and Iceland to become a world empire by exploring and settling old and new worlds.

The Normans:   Among the Vikings was a Norse chieftain named Rollo who, in the 9th century, established a colony in the Orkney Islands just above Scotland. 

In a short while he reached down the French coast of the Channel and established another colony on the estuary of the Seine, which, under his son, Robert I, became the Duchy of Normandy, taking its name from the Northmen.

Robert’s son, William, became the Duke of Normandy when only 15 and he built up a powerful feudal state 

The Burundians, seated in Paris, were said to have been much relieved when William’s covetous eye fell across the Channel rather than up the Seine.

The Duke treated (sic)to succeed Edward the Confessor as the king of Anglo-Saxon Britain, but when this failed to transpire in the King’s death, William invaded the Isles, and after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 took his place in history as “William the Conqueror.”

He changed the language, brought sophistication socially, politically and economically;  and for our immediate purposes brought family surnames.

________   _   ________


"The Naming Time"

When William of Normandy took over the British Isles after the Battle of Hastings the land was sparsely settled by Celtic-Roman-Anglo-Saxon people, who along with the Normans would come to be the English people from whom the Bridgers have descended.

At the time of the Conquest these folk lived in scattered small farming villages or in towns and small cities, which agglutinated around the feudal manors of the nobility.

The commoners rarely wandered far from the villages of their birth, and thus, had little need for other than the single name with which they had been christened.

This estate, however, would not suffice for the Duke of Normandy who brought with him a ruler’s need for taxes and rolls, which would facilitate collection.

Among the early task assigned to his administrators was to fan out across the country-side and organize a complete census of the Conqueror’s new minions.

This collation was initially called “The Domesday Book,” meaning a listing of properties and values.

As this denoted judgments by the King’s men, it is small wonder that it became known as “The Doomsday Book,” and in the minds of the people was connected with “The Day of Judgment.” 

For practical purposes “The Doomsday Book” was nothing more than a census tract and tax rolls.

As these folks had no surnames, and as Christian names were often duplicated, the first job of the Norman tax assessors was to assign family names to all the King’s subjects.

Families were named either for where they lived, the vocation or trade of the head of the household or some personal trait such as hair color, height, etc.; that is, place names, trade names or trait names.

“Bridger” is the way our English family name was first spelled.  It could have denoted someone who lived near a bridge, who built bridges or who tended a bridge.

The name undoubtedly arose for more than one group, in more than one location and in more than one connection.

The so-called “Naming Time” lasted approximately two centuries, and by the mid-13th century virtually all English people had surnames. 

The Normans brought theirs from France –- as, for instance, DuPont, which was the Gallic equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon “of the bridge.”

The first name recorded in “The Doomsday Book” with any possible connection with our family was “Walter Bridgere” which is said to have first appeared in the mid-12th century.

For some reason the Angles, rather than the Saxons, gave name to the southern region of Britain embracing the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia.

It is supposed that when the Normans moved the seat of their government from Winchester to London that the name Anglia gave rise to England.

Rev. Lawrence Bridger (1548 - 1631) was the first direct ancestor on whom we can definitively put a finger, the rector of Slimbridge Parish in Gloucester, England, this an estuarine sea-port on the Severn River just above the Bay of Bristol.

It is not know whether he was reared there or elsewhere, though the fact that there are crabs on the family coat of arms suggest that his forebears may have been fishermen, which would fit the locale. 

Lawrence Bridger was a fellow of Magdalene College, Oxford, and he earned his B.A. degree in 1570 and his M.A. in 1574.

Magdalene College was patron of the Rectory of Slimbridge, and thus he received his appointment of the position he held for 55 years until his death.

Remembering that education in those days existed primarily to groom the clergy –- and that they were among the few literate people in early English society –- it is not surprising that he was reported to have “died very rich and very honest.”

This affluence may well have figured in the manner of the movement into the New World of his descendents and our ancestors.

It is not known to whom the Rev. Bridger was married, but it has been said that he had at least two wives.

This brings up a situation in genealogy that bears comment.

It must be remembered that our records mainly trace patronymic lineage, so that following maternal lines –- particularly in more remote generations –- gets somewhat short shift.

Even when known, the tracing of collateral family lines needs to be limited, for the divergence of family branches tend to take us away from what we can practically identify as family.

Obviously, one of the fascinations of family annals is that they provide a virtual unending search, which can be pursued ad infinitum.

However, genealogy at best can be dipped into rather than encompassed lest one find he’s trying to embrace the whole of human existence.

This is when we need resort to the generalities of history.

Emerson said:  “There is no history, only biography.”

But, at once, unlimited biography flags one’s interest and exhausts one’s patience.

We will strike for some balance here.

In any event, the Rev. Bridger and his wives had a bevy of children.

He initially willed all of his land to his son, Lawrence Jr., following the habit then of primogeniture, but this son died early, and instead, he divided his considerable estate equitably among his numerous other offspring, several of whom also attended college.

However, it is to his son, Samuel, oldest survivor –- perhaps by his second wife –- in whom we have prime interest form the standpoint of our lineage.

Samuel (1594 – 1680) and Mary Bridger:  Samuel followed in his father’s footsteps by matriculating at Magdalene College in 1602.

In time he became the Sub-dean and Auditor of The College of Gloucester.

His wife was said to have been named Mary, though again, here surname is unknown.

They had a full household of children and all were treated well in his will probated in 1681 –- he willed his position as Auditor to his son John.

 Among his younger offspring was son Joseph who elected to make his way in the New World, and was our original American ancestor.

Samuel died in Gloucester and was buried in the city’s cathedral under this epitaph:


Little things of enormous potential, likely unappreciated in a secondary river-port, were afoot in other parts of the realm.

________   _   ________

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