The descent of James and Eleanor Featherstone of Wiveliscombe

Notes by David Beswick, November 1998

[Note: For a research update, October 2000, re Featherstone Somerset background in the 1600s see Featherstone alias Blackmore.]

From the work of Peter Bennett on the parish registers of Wiveliscombe, Somerset, we have identified James Featherstone and Eleanor Salter who were married on 9 May 1836 and emigrated to Tasmania in 1842. James was the son of John and Ann Featherstone. He was baptized 21 February 1813. His parents, John Featherstone and Ann Govier, were married at Wiveliscombe, 25 September 1792. One point of interest in the photocopy of the register which is discussed below is that John was a widower at the time of this marriage, according to Peter Bennett's report, but another opinion on the register indicates that the word might have been "weaver" rather than "widow". [More on this later]. The other children of John and Ann Featherstone baptized and/or buried at Wiveliscombe were:-

Thomas bapt. 10 Feb. 1793; bur. 28 Dec. 1794

John bapt. 20 Dec. 1794 (privately) and received into church 12 Feb. 1797

Thomas bapt. 12 Feb. 1797; bur. 27 April 1800 aged 3

Ann bapt. Feb-Mar 1800

Edward bapt. 30 Jan. 1803

Robert bapt. 17 Feb. 1805

Thomas bapt. 16 Nov. 1806

William bapt. 12 Feb. 1809, (then followed James in 1813).

Eleanor Salter's family of origin also lived Wiveliscombe, but her parents were married in another parish, Chipstable, where we may need to look for more information. The marriage registration shows that Thomas Salter married Jane Hobbs at Chipstable 13 October 1811, and that they were both from that parish. They must have moved to Wiveliscombe within the next few years for three children Eleanor, John and Maria were baptised there 2 June 1816. Two later children were baptised 2 May 1824, Thomas (born 14 February 1820) and Jemima. For each of these registrations Thomas Salter was described as an Agricultural Labourer, as he was for the census of 1841.

Neither Thomas Salter nor Jane could sign their names, making their mark only on the register for their marriage. The same was found for John Featherstone and Ann Govier, and for James Featherstone and Eleanor Salter's marriage. Along with this we might take Peter Bennett's finding that in the period for which records of wills survive, there were no wills of any Featherstone. So our people came from a consistent background of relatively poor and illiterate agricultural labourers in Somerset.

Which John Featherstone?

Besides the father of those children named above there was another John Featherstone, of a similar age, who married Mary Chorley in 1786. From Margaret Pring in Queensland we know of an ancestor of her husband who was a child of this other couple, Mary Ann b. 1788, who married James Pring at Wiveliscombe in 1816. Other children of John and Mary (also from Margaret Pring) were: William who married in 1829, Nancy, Thomas, Harriet (who appears from Peter Bennett's data to have been buried at Wiveliscombe 27 August 1823 aged 31) and Edward John. I have no other dates for these children.

When we come to look for the parents of these two John Featherstones, we have a problem to decide which one married Mary Chorley and which married Ann Govier. If the two deaths we have from the parish register are those of the men who married Mary and Ann, one John Featherstone was buried 8 February 1833 aged 78 [so born about 1754/5] and the other 21 May 1833 aged 71 [so born about 1761/2],. We have likely baptisms of two John Featherstones: one bapt 31 August 1760, son of Robert and Elizabeth Featherstone [the mother actually recorded as Mary, but thought to be the same Elizabeth as for births of apparent siblings]; and the other baptised in 1749, son of Edward and Mary Featherstone.

Peter Bennett assumed for good reason that the older man would have been the one who married Mary Chorley, and that the younger would be James's father had who married Ann Govier. We have two deaths which appear to match the likely ages of the wives of the two Johns: Mary Featherstone bur. 11 Feb. 1837 aged 83 , and Ann Featherstone 11 May 1837 aged 68. The age of Ann at death is significant because being born in or about 1769 she would have been about 44 when James was born, the last of that family and four years after the next youngest - a fairly typical pattern for the completion of a family at that time. Ann would have been about 23 when she married John in 1792, and if the younger of the two Johns was her husband, and he was the one baptised in August 1860, he would have been 32 in September1792. The other John would have been about 42 at that time.

James was probably not a widower

A slight doubt arose when you take into account that Ann's husband was a widower according to Peter Bennet's reading but a weaver accoding to Gordon Morley's reading of the register. The probability is that a man of 42 is more likely to be a widower than a man of 32. The younger man would have been about 26 at the time of the other marriage in 1786, but if Mary Chorley was 83 when she died in 1837 she would then have been about 32 and a less likely, though not impossible partner, while the older of the two men was then about 37 and perhaps a more likely match.

There is no record of the death of a married Featherstone woman described as the wife of John at Wiveliscombe in the twenty or so years before 1792. Several other women in the register of burials in that period were recorded as the wife of so-and-so. The only possible burial of a wife of John would appear to be Elizabeth Featherstone in1790 who was described as a "pauper". I do not know what was required for that designation but it would seem unlikely that she would have been so described if her husband were living and young enough to be earning an income, even as a labourer which is how John was described at the time of James' baptism. It seems more likely that this unfortunate lady might have been the wife of Robert Featherstone and thus possibly the mother of the younger John. In any case there no evidence of the death of someone who could have been the wife of the older John at a time when the younger John was too young to have been widowed; so we are left with the speculation that arises from the most likely ages of the couples at the time of marriage without the status of widower being a decisive point against the younger John marrying Ann Govier.

In any case I am inclined to believe from the context that Gordon Morley's reading is correct and that John was recorded as a weaver rather than a widower. However I do not follow him in the claim that the Mary Featherstone who died in 1837 was an unmarried woman who was the mother in 1770 of the same John as later married Ann Govier. It seems to me much more likely that the Mary who died in 1837 was the one born Mary Chorley who married the other John Featherstone. There is an alternative death for the the unmarried Mary Featherstone on 24 Nov. 1793, as 'Mary Featherstone (pauper)'. See Peter Bennet's findings for the list of burials.

The pattern of naming children

Another point of comparison is the names of the children of the two Johns. John and Ann named their children with names which included both Edward and Robert, the names of the two possible fathers of John (if we discount the son of Mary bron 1770). Interestingly the name Edward was used (1803) before Robert (1805) and there is no Edward among the brothers, uncles or ancestors of John as far as we know if his father was Robert. We cannot make this comparison for John and Mary's children because apart from the proposed Edward as his father we do not know of earlier generations for them; but we note that one of their sons was named Edward John and the other Thomas. John would probably have known his grandfather Thomas, that is if Thomas was the father of Robert and John the son of Robert. If Thomas died in 1782 and John was born in 1760 John would have remembered Thomas. The significant point is that the name Thomas was given to no fewer than three sons of John, ie two had died young and the name was reused, as was common in those days. What we would really like to know is whether there was an equally or more significant Thomas in the family of Edward the father of the one of the John Featherstones. Eleanor had a brother Thomas as well, and a John. As for the other brother of James, there was a William among the children of Robert; but no James was found in that line. So what do we say? The naming pattern is not inconsistent with John being the son of Robert, and these patterns are never more than suggestions of where to look for other evidence, but the possibility that our John was the son of Edward is not out of the question.

Looking back further we see more evidence of continuity. The name John, the father of Thomas, was repeated for the eldest son after three generation, and so was the name Thomas. If we then look at the names of the children of James and Eleanor born in Tasmania we find that the pattern of naming the eldest son after the paternal grandfather of the father is maintained, for their children were Robert b. 1844, Mary Ann (my mother's maternal grandmother) b. 1846, James b. 1848, Ellen (Dawn Burton's mother's maternal grandmother) b. 1851 and Jane b. 1854. That is probably to good a fit to be a co-incidence, although of course James himself was the youngest and not an eldest son (as were the others in this pattern) and so presumably he was not under the same obligation, but he may well have chosen to observe it for their first child in a new land.

Featherstone alias Blackmore or Blackmoor

[For research update, October 2000, re Featherstone Somerset background in the 1600s see Featherstone alias Blackmore.]

Another complication arises from the fact that several of the Featherstones are listed for baptism and burial with an alias of Blackmore or Blackmoor, and it appears sometimes one name was used and sometimes the other. So we have early in the 1700s for the children of the first John, grandfather of James' father, the record: burial, Lazarus Son of John Featherstone als. Blackmore, and for the baptisms of several children of "John Featherstone, als. Blackmore". If we are right in assuming that John was the son of Robert Featherstone and his wife Elizabeth we have the following confusing record of the marriage and children of the Featherstone grandparents of our James.

Wiveliscombe, marriage: 2 Sept. 1746 Robert Blackmore & Elizabeth Darch

Wiveliscombe, baptisms, children of Robert & Elizabeth Featherstone/Blackmore:

19 Oct. 1747 Mary ye Daughtr. of Robert & Elizabeth Blackmoor

7 June 1752 Margery ye Daughter of Robert & Elizabeth Featherstone

2 Jan. 1757 Ann the Daughter of Robt. and Elizth. Featherstone

31 Aug. 1760 John ye Son of Robt. & Mary Featherstone

20? Feb. 1762 William ye Son of Robt. & Elizab. Featherstone

23 Oct. 1763 Sarah Daugr. of Robert & Elisab. Featherstone

Note has already been taken of the apparent error in the name of the mother of John, who the researcher assumed to be Elizabeth because no marriage or other children were found for any John and Mary Featherstone. In the regard to the first child Mary, who is record for her baptism simply as Blackmoor, it is worth noting the burial in 1784 of a child "Elizabeth daugr. of Mary Blackmore Alias Featherstone": apparently a child of the John's eldest sister who had continued to use the name Blackmore, but is it here given with the alias which was not used for the baptism of Mary or the marriage of her parents. We are fairly safe in assuming that they are all the one family.

We conclude that the researcher, Peter Bennett, made a reasonable assumption and so set out the descent of James through his father John, from Robert and Elizabeth, Robert being the son of Thomas, who in turn was probably the son of an earlier John Featherstone who married Frances Midlam 29 July 1698.

The earliest evidence

We do not have the marriage of Thomas and Margery Featherstone, but their family is clear from the following evidence of baptisms:

Wiveliscombe, baptisms, children of Thomas & Margery Featherstone/Blackmore:

13 Nov. 1724 Robert ye Son of Thomas Featherston was Baptiz'd

26 Jan. 1727/8 Eleanor ye Daugr. of Thomas & Margery Featherstone

17 Feb. 1730/1 Margery ye Daugr. of Thomas & Margery Featherstone

14 Oct. 1733 Thomas ye Son of Thomas & Marjory Featherstone

21 Feb. 1741/2 John ye Son of Thomas & Margery Blackmoor

For the previous generation we have:

Wiveliscombe, marriage:

29 July 1698 were married John Featherstone & Frances, Midlam A Day labourer

Wiveliscombe, baptisms, children of John & Frances Featherstone:

1712 Thomas, Mary, Martha & Sarah, ye Son and

Daughters of John & Frances Featherstone, als.

Blackmore were Baptiz'd upon Good Friday Ap. 18th

Thomas being 11 years old ye 8th of September last

Mary being 10 years old ye 8th of March next

Martha being 6 yrs. old ye llth of this Instant Apr.

Sarah being 3 yrs. old ye 2d. of June last

12 July 1713 Lazarus ye Son of John & Frances Featherstone

27 Sept. 1715 John ye Son of John & Frances Featherstone

2 Feb. 1717/18 Joseph ye Son of John & Frances Featherstone als. Blackmore

4 Oct. 1720 Moses ye Son of John & Frances Featherstone

There are a few interesting observation in regard to deaths, but this sets out the descent of James Featherstone fairly well from John Featherstone and Frances Midlam through Thomas Featherstone/Blackmore and his wife Margery, their son Robert Featherstone/Blackmore and Elizabeth Darch, and their son John Featherstone and Ann Govier, all in the registers of Wiveliscombe Parish. For Eleanor Salter we have only found the generation of her parents, Thomas Salter and Jane Hobbs, who were married in another parish. Undoubtedly there is more to be discovered in Somerset, but the origins of James and Eleanor Featherstone who came to Tasmania in 1842 can be said now to have been established with reasonable confidence.

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