Roots and Recessive Genes: The Lambert-Linnell Legacy and the Deaf Population on Martha’s Vineyard

deafness martha's vineyard 18th century
Robert Traynor
November 2, 2023

Last week, we delved into the journey of Thomas Lambert, a resident of Tenterdon in Kent, England, who, along with his third wife, Joyce, became part of the “Great Migration” to the New World on the ship Mary and John. This migration, involving many Puritan Separatists, marked their transformation into American Pilgrims. In our previous post’s conclusion, Thomas and Joyce had established their home in Barnstable, Massachusetts, where Thomas served as an innkeeper for the Plymouth Colony.

However, the historical account of Thomas and Joyce is somewhat fragmented as they were known by various last names—Lombard, Lumbard, and Lambert. Despite this, records indicate they had ten children, nine from their union and one from Thomas’s prior marriage in England.

Another participant in the Puritan “Great Migration” was Robert Linnell, who, in his 50s, ventured from Middlesex, England, just outside London. Similar to Thomas Lambert, he left England due to his affiliation with Reverend John Lathrop’s nonconformist London church congregation, which rejected the King as the head of the Church of England. After taking his oath of allegiance to the colony in 1638, Robert Linnell, also known as Linnet or Linnett, became a Freeman and flourished in the New World.

pilgrim church new england

Remarkably, Robert Linnell and Thomas Lambert owned neighboring properties in the Barnstable area of Massachusetts. In this close-knit community, where everyone knew each other, they worked, prayed, and celebrated together, facing challenges such as the wilderness and potential threats. Robert, tasked with defending the Barnstable area, collaborated with Captain Miles Standish, a Mayflower colonist involved in colony administration and military defense.

The narrative then shifts to Joshua Lambert, born in 1627 just before the Lambert family left England. Joshua became a farmer in the Barnstable area, inheriting land from his father in 1661. The story takes an unexpected turn when Joshua marries Abigail Linnell, the daughter of Robert Linnell, creating a joyous occasion that would later intertwine the destinies of these two colonial families. As Abigail inherited part of her father’s farm, it added to their property.

However, unbeknownst to them at the time, both Joshua and Abigail carried recessive genes for deafness. Their union resulted in two deaf children, with their son Jonathan becoming the first deaf person on Martha’s Vineyard. This occurrence would later lead to the establishment of the most significant population of hearing-impaired and deaf individuals in America.


Congenital Deafness as it Affected Martha’s Vineyard

Audiologists recognize congenital hearing loss or deafness as one of the most prevalent birth defects, affecting up to three out of every 1000 newborns. According to the AAOHNS (2014), inherited genetic defects contribute significantly, accounting for around 60% of deafness in infants and playing a role in hearing loss among older individuals.

Throughout a person’s life, various factors such as medical problems, diseases, noise exposure, trauma, and medications can contribute to hearing impairment. Non-syndromal congenital hearing impairment constitutes about 70% of these cases. The AAOHNS (2014) further explains that autosomal-recessive inheritance is responsible for 80% of non-syndromic hearing impairment, autosomal-dominant genes contribute to 20%, and less than 2% of cases result from X-linked and mitochondrial genetic malfunctions.

It is believed that Joshua and Abigail Lambert carried autosomal recessive genes for deafness. Among their seven children, two were deaf, some were unaffected, and others became carriers of the autosomal recessive gene for deafness.

In the next installment, we will explore the impact of this genetic issue on the population of Martha’s Vineyard during the 18th and 19th centuries.



  • Stoutenberg, m. (2014).  Decedents of Robert Linnell.
  • Wikitree (2014).  Thomas Lombard.
  • (2014).  Robert Linnell.
  • American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head Neck Surgery (AAOHNS) (2014).  Genes and Hearing Loss.  Retrieved Decemer2, 2014
  • National Genetics and Genomics Education Center (2014). Autosomal recessive inheritance.
  • Genetics Home Reference (2014).  Autosomal Recessive.  Retrieved December 2, 2014:


About the author

Bob Traynor - Co-Host, This Week in Hearing

Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager and author.  He has decades of experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. He serves as Adjunct Faculty in Audiology at the University of Florida, University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado and The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.


**this piece has been updated for clarity. It originally published on December 2, 2014

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