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Olin Family Origins

There are various accounts from different branches of the family as to his embarkment in Rhode Island. No one knows for sure, but there are a few things we do know for sure. It is stated in the Vermont Historical Gazette that John Olin, the first of the name in America, settled in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, in 1678. He was 14 years old at the time. We know he died July 13, 1742 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.[1] We also know that he was married to Susannah Spencer born on April 6, 1680, Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts[2] .

Several family historians have expressed their opinions and I have included them below. But also, please watch my short presentation which summarizes the research. (7 minutes) Comment below on your own theories and research.

Hopefully, the new generations of researchers will be more successful in determining John Olin’s origins. DNA results for the Olin family put us in the R-M269 Haplogroup. One cousin took the more advanced test and got us to Z16944. This puts our ancestors in England and Belgium.



Henry Olin

From Henry Olin, I’s descendants: “John Olin, the first of the name to arrive in this country, was a Welsh boy who had been pressed on board a British war vessel. On the arrival of the vessel in Boston harbor, he was permitted to stroll upon he streets, where he observed a man driving a yoke of oxen hitched to a cart, and never having seen such a strange sight before, he begged permission, which was readily granted, to ride in this odd conveyance. For some unexplained reason his ride into the country was so prolonged that when he did return his vessel had sailed away without him.”

John, John, John, Henry

Gideon Olin

From the Gideon Olin family. “The first one of the family in this country was a boy of Welsh birth who filled the responsible position of “powder monkey” on board a man-of-war and was landed in Boston Harbor, where he deserted at the first opportunity and migrated to Rhode Island. This account was taken from the John Olin Family History. The book goes on to state that he must have been an extraordinary boy to have taken the steps that he did without friends, very little experience and of course, the risk of capture by the ship’s crew. For this reason, I would believe that it was an act of desperation and therefore the risk was worth the freedom. As for his physical characteristics, he is portrayed as both tall and of medium stature, well-proportioned and red-haired.

C.C. Olin

From: COMPLETE RECORD OF THE JOHN OLIN FAMILY, The first of the name who came to America in the year a.d. 1678. Containing an account of their settlement and genealogy up to the present time – 1893. by C.C. OLIN, Historian. preface

The puritans of 1620 came to America to enjoy civil and religious liberty, but our ancestor, John Olin, became a citizen of this country by compulsion. He was arrested on the coast of Wales in 1678 and forced aboard a British man-of-war and was landed in Boston Harbor, where he deserted at the first opportunity and migrated to Rhode Island. This high-handed transaction took place when he was only fourteen years old. He must have been an extraordinary boy to have taken the steps he did without friends, and but a very little experience in the ways of the world to have run the risk of capture by the ships officers and crew. No doubt but that he was a boy of extraordinary energy and sagacity, or he would never have attempted to secret himself in a new and sparsely settled country, as New England was at that early day. What an interesting account it would have been to the descendants of this young man if we had the records of the day and month of his landing in Boston Harbor, and also the time of his arrival in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. In that event, we could celebrate with a good deal of zeal his arrival in a country that gave him shelter and the right to become a loyal citizen, although he was still a minor in the eyes of the law. But no doubt he was a resolute boy and had made up his mind to overcome all obstacles to his progress in the new country in which he was an unwilling subject. No doubt he was very strong for a boy of but fourteen, being tall and well proportioned, as his descendants are that came after him. For all that he felt it a great sacrifice to be taken ruthlessly from his native land, without friends, or even a hope that he would ever see them again, as there was no communication whatever, only through an enemys country.

Thomas F. Olin

Thomas F. Olin had always been intrigued with the origins of John Olin and particularly of the name, Llewelyn. On a visit to Wales in 1986, he made an interesting discovery. Tom has felt that it was no coincidence that Llewelyn was arrested and that he may have been related to the royal family in Wales, most notably, Llewelyn the Great. Once again fate stepped in as Tom and his wife Gloria’s original destination was Dolwyddelan, the birthplace of Llewelyn. They were forced to go to Llanrwst as the road was closed due to an accident. The Gwyndyr Chapel is connected to the old church in Llanrwst.

I will quote Tom’s letter exactly now: “Contained therein was an ancient carved stone coffin that had been Llewelyn’s. There on an aged brass plate was his formal title:


Sort of jumps right at you, doesn’t it?? When I looked at it-it was like an electric shock.”

Tom goes on to say that Leolinus married Joan the daughter of King John. King John (of Robin Hood fame) was the brother of Richard the Lion-Hearted. Tom has a very strong hunch that we are related to this family. It would certainly explain the mystery surrounding John Olin’s arrival here and why he may have been pressed on board a man-of-war. It will be interesting to see the research that will inevitably develop from this theory.


Geo Nye

Taken from Biographical Sketches and Records of the Ezra Olin Family

by Geo. S. Nye, the Family Historian. Chicago: W.B. Conkey Co., Printers and Binders. 1892.

John Olin, the first of his name and race in America, settled in the vicinity of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, about the year 1700. He was a native of Wales, and is said to have come to this country when but 14 year of age. We may never become familiar with the circumstances that attended him on his arrival here, or the object that induced him to leave home and native land, and seek one among strangers, in a new and strange country, which at that time was but little known.

Of his personal appearance tradition tells us that “he was of medium stature” and had “red hair.” Like the great majority of his posterity he was “tiller of the soil”.

He also references the below:

“From a work entitled “The Genealogical Record of James Edmonds and his wife Cordelia Spear: among whose ancestors were certain members of the Olin family, the following is taken:

About the year 1690, John Olin, aged fourteen, was pressed on board a man-of-war on the coast of Wales. He deserted at Boston, married at Greenwich, Rhode Island, and he had one daughter and three sons, John, Henry and Joseph.” Also, “John Olin came over as a cabin boy in 1690, and deserted at Providence, Rhode Island, being fourteen years old.”


Warren Olin

From 300 Years of Joseph Olin and His Descendants, Volume 1 b Warren Olin 1996. The Olin name originated in France in 1200. The Olin/Ollin families lived in Normandy, just east of the Seine River, near the city of Rouen. The Spencer family originated a few miles north of Rouen in the year 900. The Spencers arrive in England about 1200. Apparently, some of the Olins escaped France by crossing the English Channel, reaching the shore of England and being allowed to live in a specific are north of London City. Olin family tradition states that John Olin knew his wife’s Spencer family back in Bedford, England and Olin/Ollin families existed in that area in the 16th and 17th centuries. Warren believes (until proven wrong!) that our ancestor, John Olin, was born in England and his ancestors originated in France.

John-Joseph-Joseph-Reuben-John-Earl-Orva-George-Warren G. OLIN

Stephen Henry Olin

From a paper written by Stephen Olin Was John Olin who migrated to Rhode Island circa 1678-1690 a Frenchman? 1920

Stephen’s arguments are:

That John Olin, the first in America, married and died in Rhode Island is certain. There is no reason to doubt that he was pressed by a British man-of-war on the coast of wales, and that he deserted at Boston at the age of fourteen and went to
Rhode Island. This story could hardly have been invented and it seems to have been handed down in different branches of the family in forms which do not widely differ. We may well accept it.
But the statement that John Olin was Welsh by birth is published for the first time in Mr. C. C. Olin’s book. It is given in neither of the three volumes from which he quotes. A tradition that makes its appearance two centuries after the fact which it describes may be received with caution. Mistake was easy. A man or woman who in childhood had been told of an ancestor who came from wales might be pardoned for speaking in old age of a Welsh ancestor’ The two statements are not equivalent but the difference between them might readily be unnoticed or forgotten. That a boy, during the seventeenth century, was impressed by a man-of-war on the coast of Wales raises no presumption that he was of Welsh birth. The law of impressment gave a king’s ship the right to recruit its crew from seafaring men between eighteen and fifty-five years of age. It was harshly enforced and a boy younger than eighteen might well be taken. By a statute of Elizabeth, concerning vagrancy, justices of the peace could also press and send on shipboard rogues and vagabonds, but naval officers for obvious reasons preferred to use the king’s press in harbors, or, better still, to stop merchant ships at sea and take out the sailors whom they wanted.
In the seventeenth century Wales was a pastoral and agricultural country. It had little commerce. Fishermen there were, but they had extensive exemptions from impressment. Ships in Welsh harbors or sailing the Bristol Channel would with their crews, ordinarily be English, and John Olin may have been taken from a passing vessel which had never touched the welsh shore and had no Welshman in its company.

The ordinary test of nationality is name.If a ship brings from the coast of Italy a
man called Atkins or Pedersen or Schwartzkopf or Chang we do not suppose him to be an Italian. John Olin is not a Welsh name. Olin is not found in Bardslea’s Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames. It is improbable that John Olin, if a Welshman, would call his sons John, Henry, Justin and Joseph. Neither of these names is Kymric or Keltic. We should expect to see David, or Owen or William which is English for Gwillim. This difficulty must have occurred to the “member of the Gideon Olin family” who said that John Olin “ran off into the woods and changed his name from Llewellyn to Olin”. No one else tells this story and it is on its face improbable. If a Welsh boy in the English Colony of Rhode Island laid aside Llewellyn, the noblest of Welsh names, he would choose in its place either a Welsh or an English name one taken from his past or from his present, surroundings-but Olin is neither Welsh nor English.
Some years ago I guessed that Olin.was of French derivation and my opinion was afterwards supported by that learned woman of letters who writes in Paris under the nom de plume “Femina”. “Olin” she said “is French-Gothic French”. I also guessed that John Olin was a Huguenot, driven from home by the revocation of the Edict on Nantes in 1685; but this guess was wrong. Olin is not one of the family names in the Huguenot records kept in Paris.
It is worth noticing that John, Henry, Justin and Joseph are names which a Frenchman might give to his sons. All of them are and two centuries ago were on the calendar of saints from which godfathers might lawfully select.
I do not believe that there are any Olins nowadays in France. Indeed I have never noticed the name anywhere in Europe except in Brussels.

Stephen’s paper can be found on the Olin Family Society website.

Note that DNA does show some Brussels as a country that individuals with our Y-DNA populated.


C.O. Bailey

“John Olin is stated to have been a native of Wales. In a published genealogy of another branch of the family he is stated to have been of French descent. I can find no authority for either statement except family tradition. I have a surmise that he was neither of Welsh nor French ancestry, but that in all probability he was a native of Sweden or at least of Swedish descent. The name Olin is not found in either England, Scotland, or Wales. John Olin was the only man of his name in New England or in fact in any of the American Colonies. All the Olins of New England and New York descent are his descendants. There are, however, a large number of Olin families in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, and other western localities all of whom are of Swedish extraction, and the name is not at all an uncommon Swedish name.[3] The traditional description of John Olin, as it comes down to us, would not indicate that he was of Welsh origin but rather that he was possessed of Scandinavian blood. The fact that he was a sailor would also indicate a possible Scandinavian origin. I have, of course, no proof upon the subject, but I doubt very much his traditionary Welsh origin.”


[1] John Olin II was granted administration of the estate of his father, John Olin, late of North Kingstown deceased, 13 July 1742. Quoted from the Rhode Island Genealogical Register by descendant, Robert Behra of Newport, Rhode Island.
[2] From the New England Genealogical Register gives Susannah’s death date as April 12, 1719 which is impossible considering her daughter Eleanor was born in 1721.

Click on any name in the chart below to access that line.

Last Updated on May 29, 2021 by rootie

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  1. Great website! My Ancestry.com showed mostly Northern European followed by Irish and British. I was specifically researching John, Henry and Caleb line.

    1. I don’t envy you! The John > Henry line has been somewhat difficult because of the multiple marriages. If you haven’t already, I hope you will join the Olin Family Society. You may be able to link up with others in your line. Thank you for your comments.

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