From the editor: Fantasy Island

James E. Mattson | 08/30/2016

Nurse researchers must be truth seekers.​

Image of New York City

On 27 August 1664, 352 years ago this past weekend, Colonel Richard Nicolls, commissioned by the Duke of York, sailed into the harbor of New Amsterdam and commanded Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, to surrender the colony to the British. Stuyvesant, ill-prepared to argue, complied, and Nicolls renamed the colony Province of New York and became its first governor.
In 1639, 377 years ago, Francis Nichols was among the first 17 settlers of Stratford, Connecticut, where he was appointed sergeant of a training band. Sometime between 1645 and 1649—depending on the source—he married Anna Wines, his second wife, in Southold, Long Island.
James E. MattsonWe’re family!
My wife, Mary Ellen, and I didn’t know a thing about either of these men until the late 1980s, a couple of years after we moved to Smithtown, Long Island, 50 miles west of Southold and 50 miles east of Manhattan’s Times Square. That’s when we learned that Sgt. Francis Nichols, the older brother of Richard Nicolls—spellings vary—was a direct ancestor of Mary Ellen’s. This was great! We walked around like we owned the place, and, for years, have been proud of our connection to the man who named New York.
While doing some Google research this past Friday, I was disappointed to learn that, although Mary Ellen is, indeed, a direct descendant of Francis Nichols, we’ve lost our claim to the Big Apple. No longer will Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” stir our heartstrings like it once did.
Great uncle? Not.
Apparently, Richard Nicolls, the military commander who gave New York its name and was its first British governor, is not Mary Ellen’s uncle, 10 generations removed. I should also mention that Richard Nicolls’ mother, Margaret Bruce, was a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. If Sgt. Francis Nichols of Southold, Long Island, wasn’t a brother of Richard, the taker of Manhattan, it follows that Mary Ellen is not a progeny of the revered Robert the Bruce. Double bummer! Shortly after absorbing that devastating information, I took the plunge and informed my spouse of her diminished status. “Mary Ellen?” I ventured.
Mary Ellen Mattson and her motherHow do I tell my wife she’s not who she thinks she is? Talk about where angels fear to tread! It was a situation where even the bravest of seraphim would don Hush Puppies. I consoled her with the fact that Francis Nichols arrived on Long Island—what the Dutch called ’t Lange Eylandt—25 years before Richard. Put that in your almanac, Richard! Did I mention that Mary Ellen is also related to Benjamin Franklin? Through the Folgers—yes, the coffee people, but hope for financial gain? Groundless.
For me, this is all reflected glory, an unexpected benefit of my marriage vows. My grandparents, Swedish-speaking, lutefisk-eating residents of Finland, would not arrive in New York until the 1880s and later.
In search of truth
What to do? We will go on. The reproduction painting of a couple walking on a residential Manhattan street will remain on the wall in our bedroom. We enjoyed the six years we lived in New York, and the painting with its glowing, turn-of-the-century streetlights reminds us of that.
Coincidentally, we had just started reading together—aloud—a book titled The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. Written by Russell Shorto and based on long-overlooked original records, it’s a fascinating history. In any case, taking a cue from Winston Churchill to “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” I determined not to let our calamitous self-identity crisis be for naught, so here you are—a column about truth seeking. You must go where the truth leads. Truth trumps fantasy.
Truth be told, I was planning to write a column that tied in somehow to Richard Nicolls and his taking of New Amsterdam and New Netherland and was in the process of confirming what we knew about him when I came across what we didn’t know about him, that he was not a brother of Mary Ellen’s Grandpa Francis. And since hanging on to misconceptions conflicts with the principles of evidence-based practice, I repurposed this column to be about truth seeking.
Following the evidence
I’m not sure how I happened to come across the disappointing information, but there it was: Even though the claim continues to circulate in genealogies across the internet and has even appeared in what one would consider a reliable source—Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry—“evidence from original records proves it just ain’t so.” It was after reading that and absorbing its implications that I hazarded, “Mary Ellen?”
Yes, Richard Nicolls did have a brother Francis, but not that Francis. When Richard wrote his will in 1672, he asked that a monument be erected at St. Andrew’s Church of England at Ampthill, north of London, and that it be inscribed with the names of his parents, his brother William, and his own name, Richard. The inscription on the monument should also acknowledge, he directed, that his brothers Edward and Francis had died earlier—Edward at The Hague and Francis in Paris. Mary Ellen’s Francis died in Connecticut, not in France. And there went our bite of the Big Apple. Incidentally, Richard Nicolls’ monument at Ampthill incorporates the naval-battle cannonball that put him there.
Which brings me back to nursing research, truth seeking, and truth telling. One reason Florence Nightingale is called the founder of modern nursing was her determination to get at the truth and then clearly communicate it—in writing, as in Notes on Nursing, and through graphics, for effective presentation of policy-influencing statistics. Getting out in front of the evidence is not evidence-based practice. We must follow the evidence and go where the truth leads.
The seven steps of evidence-based practice, as refined in 2011 by Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk and Ellen Fineout-Overholt, include cultivating a spirit of inquiry and searching for and collecting the most relevant best evidence. That’s going where the truth leads. These directives and a wealth of other truth-seeking guidance are provided in the recently published STTI book Implementing the Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Competencies in Healthcare. Click here to read a sample chapter, which includes all seven steps mentioned above.
A colonial governor and his garden-variety relative
By the way, the source provided above also indicates that Colonel Richard Nicolls, former governor of New York, made a bequest in his will to “Sergeant Francis Nicolls of Stratford, Connecticut.” That’s the same Francis Nichols who is Mary Ellen’s direct ancestor. So Richard and Sgt. Francis probably were related.
Unfortunately, Francis died without a will. Fortunately, an inventory of his property reveals there was little for his posterity to fight over: A bed, bedding, some pots and pans, a few clothes, a bandoleer and sword, five bushels of Indian corn, 12 bushels of peas. Total appraised value about £28. And that, I think, is the truth!
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James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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