For the Mother’s Day post, I wrote about my female ancestor who had the most children (that I know of). This Father’s Day post is somewhat similar, but the subject matter is quite sad. Of all of the ancestors I have found thus far, John Bray lost the most children. For him, as with many men, fatherhood was mixed with great joy and great sadness.
John Bray, my 12th great grandfather, lived and worked in the City of Westminster in London for the majority of his life. No baptismal record exists, and his parentage is unknown. The earliest mention of a John Bray in Westminster is in the will of Edward Dudley, also of St. Margaret’s Parish in the City of Westminster, on 1 July 1542. Dudley made the following bequest to John: “Item, I bequeth to John Bray, my horsse, brydell and saddell, and my new colloryd cloke.” This is likely my John Bray, but other than similar names and location, no other identifying information can prove it one way or the other.
The first record absolutely associated with my John Bray is the record of his marriage at St. Margaret’s Church on 13 August 1553 to Margaret Haslonde. St. Margaret’s is a beautiful church that served (and still serves) the parishioners in Westminster. It is located next to the famous Westminster Abbey and is the church for the House of Commons. The church was largely rebuilt in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and this “new” church makes up the majority of the present church today.
Interestingly, this church and my ancestors who lived in the parish have a connection with another of my ancestors, William Seymour Duke of Somerset (15th great grandfather). In 1540, William planned to dismantle the church and use the building materials in Somerset House, his mansion on the Strand. He was prevented from doing so by armed and angry parishioners. If the Bray or Haslonde families were living in the parish in 1540, they may have been some of the protestors protecting the church.
John Bray became very involved with St. Margaret’s and was appointed a churchwarden in 1554, 1555, and 1556. In 1555, he gave witness testimony in the case of William Flower, a protestant man who assaulted a priest of St. Margaret’s Church on Easter during a service. John was attending church during the incident. Flower was convicted, his hand was cut off, and he was burned alive in St. Margaret’s churchyard.
John was also a successful tailor and a member of the Merchant Taylor’s Company, the most prestigious guild in London. In 1607, John provided some of the wine for a dinner held by the guild for King James I and his family, which John most likely attended.
He was also involved in local government, serving as a Burgess for the City of Westminster in 1585.
John and Margaret’s first recorded child was John, likely named for his father, baptized on 30 Dec 1554. Sadly, little John only lived to be almost 4 months old. He was buried on 28 April 1555.
Their next child was a girl, Margaret, baptized on 17 Feb 1557 at St. Margaret’s. She only lived to be about two weeks old and was buried 2 March 1557.
In about 1558, Margaret gave birth to her third child, Lawrence, who was baptized at St. Margaret’s on 11 October 1558. Lawrence was the first child to live to be older than 4 months old. This must have been such a happy change for John and Margaret.
Margaret and John’s fourth child, Joan, was likely born in June 1560. Joan lived long enough to be given a name, but not long enough to be baptized. She was buried on 27 Jun 1560, probably a few days after she was born.
Thomas, the couple’s fifth child and third son, was most likely born around 1562, although his baptismal record has not been located. He also lived past his first year.
Mary, my ancestress, was baptized on 24 December 1564 at St. Margaret’s Church. Mary was John and Margaret’s only child who lived to adulthood and had children of her own.
John and Margaret’s last two children, both boys and both named Henry, also died young. The older Henry was baptized on 6 October 1566, and younger Henry on 4 Feb 1568. The older Henry must have died prior to the birth of the younger Henry, and the younger Henry likely also died young as no other record of him has been found. He was certainly dead by 1615, but likely much sooner.
By 1570, John was the father of 3 living children – Lawrence, Thomas, and Mary – and possibly 4 if the younger Henry was still alive. However, 1570 would prove to be a difficult year for a father. Thomas died at the age of 8 and was buried on 22 March. Lawrence died within days of his brother, and was buried two days later on 24 March at the age of 12. Thomas and Lawrence likely died of the same disease.
John was the father of 8 children, 7 of whom died as children. Only Mary lived to be an adult, married, and had children herself. Similarly to her parents, only 3 of her 9 children lived to have children of their own.
Margaret was buried on 28 March 1588, and it seems that John never remarried. He continued to live in Westminster until his death which took place before 6 December 1615. Mary (Bray) Whitney and her husband Thomas were named as executors of John’s will. Unfortunately, the will no longer exists. But it does show that Mary probably continued to have a relationship with her father, and I hope that it was a good one. I hope that John was a good father to the only child that he saw grow up. He certainly worked hard to provide for his family, even if it wasn’t as large as he would have hoped.
John, having no living sons of his own, seemed to take quite an interest in his namesake, his grandson John Whitney. in 1607, the same year as the guild dinner for James I, John Whitney entered into an apprenticeship to be a tailor just like his grandfather. As an adult, John Whitney also became a full member of the Merchant Taylor’s guild. Even though John’s father placed him in the apprenticeship, his grandfather John probably had a hand in it.
Some fathers experience more hardship than others, and John was certainly one of those. Loosing so many children (as well as his wife) would naturally be hard on any father, but I hope that he found some solace and comfort in his daughter and his grandchildren.