Peter Penno of Norton, House Fire 1806

The Norton Historical Society in Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts has a gold mine of unpublished documents dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately many of the documents were damaged by water.  An outside vendor was able to preserve much of the collection, however they were returned in random order.  The documents now sit in boxes at the society .  No one has time to sort through and organize them (if only I lived closer!).

While there last month, I was able to go through one of the boxes, and photographed a few documents of interest, even though there seemed to be no link to my family.

One such document was a signed by the mark of Peter Penno, 26 January 1806. Peter lost his home, possessions, clothes and provisions in a house fire, causing his family, which included young children, to be separated.  He asked for assistance, during this “inclement season”:

 To the Church of Christ and Society in the Town of Norton – Greeting,

The Petition of Peter Penno of said Norton Humbly shows and would beg leave to represent that on the 21st day of January instant while his family were at Dinner his house suddenly took fire and baffled every exertion of the family to stop its progress, in a few moments that, together with most part of their furniture, Beds, some Cloaths and their whole stock of Corn and provisions were wraped in, and consumed by that all devouring element fire, whereby himself, Wife and Children (and some of them quite small), are bereft of their little ___ and turned out of Doors at this Inclement season without Cloaths, Provisions, or Furniture, and his family are now Separated and must remain so unless relieved by the Charitable assistance of the Benevolent and can not we say with good old God? who can withstand Gods mighty cold? Soft eyed pity is the Child of Goodness and is the native inmate of every virtuous mind, and he that puts forth his hand to the relief of the distressed, and to save the wrathed from perishing we are to Sin the sacred Volume, are lending to the Lord, and will assuredly receive their reward by Contributing a  small portion from your abundance, to the relief of a Poor, but really Industrious family, you will raise them from Wretchedness and  Wants, and this Cumforth into their almost disponding minds.

Norton January 26, 1806

History of the town of Norton,  details “dwelling houses burned” and mentions Peter Penno’s house burned midday, 21 January 1806 :


Who was Peter Penno?

Peter Penno was born about 1756.  He married Elizabeth Munro, 15 Apr 1779, at Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1790, Peter was enumerated in Providence; his household included six members: one free white male over 16; two free white males under sixteen and three free white females.

In 1794, when Peter signed a petition against Bristol Rhodes, he was residing in Providence in the neighborhood near the Congregational Church.


By 1800, the family had relocated to Norton, Bristol, Massachusetts and was enumerated with eleven household members:

Free White Persons – Males – Under 10 2
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25 3
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over 1
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10 2
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15 1
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25 1
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over 1
Number of Household Members Under 16 5
Number of Household Members Over 25 2
Number of Household Members 11

Thus, the Penno family likely included nine children at the time of the fire, four of them under the age of ten!  Online unsourced trees include only John, Hannah (Woodcock), Nathaniel, Benjamin, William and Jeremiah.

Although additional research is needed, there are a number of marriages that were recorded in Norton that have potential to be some of Peter Penno’s children:

Norton Marriages.png

Providence, Rhode Island vital records point to additional candidates:

penno nathanial.png

Penno deaths.png

In 1810, Peter was enumerated in Norton, a neighbor of my 5th g-grandmother Abiah (Crossman) Hall and her sons, Silas and my 4th g-grandfather Brian Hall. John Penno resided nearby (perhaps Peter’s son).

Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over : 1
Number of Household Members Under 16: 2
Number of Household Members Over 25: 2
Number of Household Members: 6


Land Deeds

Land deeds mention the fire and my ancestors.

In a deed filed March 1812, Nathaniel Munro transferred land to Peter Penno (Bristol, book 95, page 448).  It reads in part:

….A lot of land being in Norton and on the southerly side of the road that leads from Brian Hall’s to George Leonard’s Esq. bounded as follows…..

…..Land that I purchased of Brian Hall and Silas Hall by deed, January 15, 1794, and the same land I gave to Penno’s wife, a deed of which they say is burnt, whereon a house has been lately burnt and if said deed is found, this deed to be void….in witness whereof I, the said Nathaniel with my wife Nancy… this 27th day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and six….

Brian and Sally Hall sign as witnesses.


My family was likely present the day of the fire!  Perhaps they assisted in extinguishing the flames and took in a few of the children. I like to think they would have come to the aid of their neighbors.

Peter later coveyed this land to Nathaniel Penno [his son] of Cranston, Rhode Island, June 11, 1813 (Bristol, book 95, page 448/9).

In 1818, Nathaniel Penno of Providence, leased this same land to his parents, the deed reads in part (Bristol, book 106, page 63):

I,  Nathaniel Penno of Providence…for love and affection I have for my honorable father Peter Penno and my affectionate mother Elizabeth Penno, the wife of my father, both of said Norton….

….A lot of land being in Norton and on the southerly side of the road that leads from Brian Hall’s to George Leonard’s Esq. bounded as follows…..the same lot that I purchased of my said father by deed, be it the same more or less together with a dwelling house and barn….also 10 acres of land adjoining land of Josiah Hodges and Nathanial Munro that I purchase of John Penno by deed….

Nathaniel and wife Phebe [Dyer] sign…..

Brian Hall signs as a witness.


Pension file

The fire was mentioned in Peter’s pension file. In 1818, he was awarded a Revolutionary War pension of $8 a month. In an affidavit, he states:

  • he was nearly 62 years old and a current resident of Providence;
  • he participated in the Revolution as a “gunner’s mate” aboard the “Picket Galley”;
  • his discharge papers were consumed, along with his house, by fire.



After Peter died (intestate),  my 4th g-grandfather, Brian Hall, esquire, along with Peter’s widow Elizabeth and John Munro, yeoman, on 4 July 1820, appeared in probate court, Bristol County, and posted bond. Elizabeth was named Administrix. The deceased was said to be of Norton.

Silas Hall, Elisha Crossman and John Munroe Jr., were assigned to take an inventory, as the Penno estate was more than ten miles from the Judge of Probate’s home.  Brian Hall signed the authorization as Justice of the Peace. The estate was valued at $184.41.

Peter was not found as a head of household in the 1820 census. He was likely deceased (the census was conducted 7 August 1820).   Elizabeth Pennos whereabouts are unknown. She is later found, as a widow, in the 1830 Providence city directory, residing at 13 Pawtuxet.  She is not found in the 1930 Federal Census, and the city directory gives no insight as to with whom she was residing (Brian Hall had also relocated to Providence, and was residing on Hope). Record of Elizabeth’s death has not been located.


Side note for future research:

Brian and Silas Hall had a sister Nancy (aka Anna) Hall who married Nathaniel Munro[e] at Norton, 29 Mar 1786.  In 1790 Munro was recorded in the census next to Nancy’s mother Abiah Hall, brother Brian/Bryant Hall and Benjamin Stanley [Stanley was related to Silas Hall’s wife Nancy Stanley].

Nathaniel was perhaps related to Elizabeth (Munro) Penno.  Recall that Nathaniel and his wife Nancy were the ones who sold land “to the wife of Peter Penno” (Bristol, book 95, page 448).

Nathaniel’s parents have not been identified.

In Nathaniel’s will (admitted to probate April 1844), he mentions his wife Nancy, his children (1) Betsey Munroe, wife of John Munroe, (2) Nancy, wife of Crocker Babbitt,  (3) Nathanial and (4) William, and his granddaughter Nancy Chace, wife of Buffington Chace. His sons Nathanial and William are deceased and their unnamed heirs are awarded real estate.


The moral? Record the names of all the folks who were associated with your ancestors and keep an eye out for them as you research! The FAN Club (friends, associates and neighbors] will mention your ancestors and give you insights to their lives.


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