Lounging on the grass, enjoying a huge spread of food, and conjuring stories of ages past, the Sherrill family, one of East Hampton’s oldest (with roots dating back to 1640), reunited on Saturday afternoon at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church. The family gathering, the first of its kind in decades, drew 75 people from all over the country including Texas, Hawaii, and Washington State, some of whom had never met and some who hadn’t seen one another for 40 years.
“We used to have a yearly family picnic but it’s been 15 or 20 years since we all got together. No one even remembers how long it’s been,” said Julia Mumford, an 11th-generation member of the Sherrill family and one of the catalysts behind the reunion. “We began planning last summer and then I sent out an e-mail in January to everyone I could get ahold of, telling them to send it along to any family they were in contact with as well. We were expecting maybe 40, 50 people at most, but there are about 75 of us here! It’s really wonderful.”
Stories swapped during the gathering included two amazing tales: one from the oldest member of the clan, Ed Sherrill Jr. of East Hampton, and one from the self-appointed genealogist Ed Denné.
First things first: The story goes that circa 1640, Elizabeth Parsons ordered a chest to be delivered from New Haven. A dapper sailor by the name of Samuel Sherrill, who was carrying Elizabeth’s chest (among other sea-touted treasures of course) was shipwrecked and washed up on the beach.
“This is the part that really titillates everybody though,” Mr. Sherrill said with a grin. “Apparently he was the most handsome man anybody had ever seen. Everyone wanted to marry him, but Elizabeth was the one who did.” And that, readers, is the utterly romantic story behind the name Sammy’s Beach — a wayward sailor with a penchant for wooing — according to Mr. Sherrill.
Next came a tale stranger than fiction but satisfyingly true. Mr. Denné began researching the family history in 1986, scouring every resource available including the National Archives, meticulously reconstructing the family’s milestones and stories — 2,400 pages of them to be exact. One day Mr. Denné was combing through the cockles of the World Wide Web for more information on his particular surname, Denné, and made a discovery so lucky, surely it was preposterous providence.
“I came across a long German article with Denné written all over it, and it’s a rather unusual name so I decided to translate it,” said Mr. Denné, eyes twinkling. The article revealed itself to be the genealogy of the Denné name, but also part of a will, a will written by someone who had died two weeks prior. “It said that the personal history of the family wasn’t something he wanted floating around in the public, but if someone was carefully looking and really cared, here it was — but only for a month after his death and then the Webmaster had explicit instructions to have it destroyed. It was quite a coincidence.”