See new, updated post.
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.
This ancestor, Reverend William Swift, is one of my favorites because I have been able to conduct so much original research on his life and family. After spending so much time with William (even visiting England for research and to see places associated with his life), I feel as though I know him fairly well! Or as well as I possibly can without actually meeting him.
William’s life was a quite interesting one, even though it was short. He sadly only lived to be 39 years old. His grandfather and father were both gentlemen of some means from southern England. William was the middle son, and as such, he did not inherit the leases held by his father. Instead, he was slated for a career. At the age of 15, he was sent to London to attend the Merchant Taylors School. It was a famous public school that by the early 18th century was competitive to enter as it almost guaranteed the pupils would attend a university after their training was complete. William was one of the 33 fortunate boys to matriculate on 7 March 1710/11 under the guidance of Headmaster Thomas Parsell. As William was not from London, he boarded at the school while it was in session.
After finishing school, he was accepted to Emmanuel College at Cambridge University as a sizar on 16 June 1714. This meant that he was essentially a scholarship student. He likely assisted wealthier students in some way or performed other jobs around the college as a way to pay for his education. William studied divinity, and he graduated with a BA in 1718.
He received his deacons order on 8 June 1718 from Bishop Francis Atterbury, a Jacobite who openly supported Bonnie Prince Charlie over the Hanoverian rulers. Atterbury later examined William for his ordination on 5 December 1719.
William passed his examination, and 15 days later, he was ordained a priest by Bishop John Robinson at the newly rebuilt St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
William accepted a curate position in Kent, which he held for several years until he accepted a ministerial role on the island of Bermuda as the rector of the Southampton, Sandys, Warwick, and Paget parishes. After living in Cambridge and London for many years, Bermuda would prove to be a huge challenge for William. On 8 May 1722, he received the King’s bounty of 20 pounds for his appointment in Bermuda. Two months later, on 6 July 1722, he married Dinah Hodgkins at the St. Dunstans in the West Church in London. William and Dinah likely sailed for Bermuda soon after their marriage. William and Dinah traveled 3,447 miles to Bermuda.
William and Dinah were first mentioned in public records in Bermuda on 7 January 1723/4, where it was recorded that he was paid for his services in the parish of Southampton. In September of 1726, it was recorded in the minutes that William had still not taken the oath of allegiance to King George I, and on 2 April 1728, he was allowed to carry a pistol to the Devonshire Church.
Living conditions were not very good on the island, and William was being paid very little. He and Dianh became unhappy with their situation after just four years in Bermuda. To make matters more difficult, William and Dinah’s oldest children, William and Thomas, were both born in Bermuda. Sometime in 1726, William requested to be transferred to a new parish somewhere other than Bermuda. The Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, granted his request, and he was supposed to wait in Bermuda until his replacement arrived. But by May 1728, William was no longer willing to wait, and he and his young family sailed from Bermuda to Virginia. This was a journey of 759 miles.
His arrival in Virginia was reported by Governor William Gooch to Bishop Gibson in a letter written on May 26, 1728 from Williamsburg:
“The last week came in hither the Revd: Mr: Wm Swift from Bermudas: He shew’d me his orders, and a Letter from your Lordship…Upon which I told him that I was sorry to find he had not complied with your Lordship Instructions. He is much esteem’d by Those that are acquainted with him, and appears from the little knowledge I have of him, to be a Gentleman very deserving. I must confess from the general Character of that Place (Bermuda), where all sorts of Provisions are very scarce, and consequently dear, and the allowance to Ministers but small, how he could stay there so long as he did, which he said was wholly owing to your Lordship’s letter, that abated both my wonder & resentment, especially as he had a Family to provide for. I hope therefore your Lordship will not blame me, if to relieve a man from such circumstances, I immediately sent him to a Parish in this Country St. Martin’s in Hanover County, where I am confident he will be very easie, and faithfully discharge his duty in the care of souls.”
Reverend James Blair, the minister of the James City Parish in Williamsburg and founder and president of William and Mary College, also wrote to Bishop Gibson of William’s arrival and character:
“Williamsburgh in Virginia, June 8, 1728
There is lately come into this Colony from Bermudas a Clergyman, who seems to promiss well. He has a wife and three children, I have a good character of him from some Gentleman that knew him in that Country. He gives a good description of the … straits to which he was reduced in it. His name is William Swift. His deacons orders are June. 8. 1718. from the late Bp of Rochester and his Presbyters orders Dec. 20. 1719 from Bp John Robinson. I find by a letter of your Lordship to him about two years ago, you was acquainted with his design of removing out of that Countrey; but but he had not then your Lops positive permission. I thought it my duty to acquaint your Lop of this.”
William and his family settled into the new parish, which had just been created that year in Hanover County. Throughout 1728 and 1729, William also ministered at the King William Parish in Goochland County, where he purchased 2000 acres of land in 1730. A few years later, he purchased an additional 800 acres, and sold off a few smaller portions.
Sadly, William did not enjoy his life in Virginia for very long. William died between 1 April 1734, his final land transaction date, and 11 August 1734, when his death was reported to the Bishop of London. Reverend James Blair wrote:
We have lately lost two Ministers, the first Mr Swift, who came some years ago from Bermuda with a wife and several children, whom he has left in very poor circumstances.”
Although William died when he was still young, he traveled an impressive 4,206 miles, from London to Bermuda to Virginia during his life, plus travel between his home town and London, and Cambridge and his home town, and his travels throughout Virginia. He and his wife died very far away from the places of their births, and due to the struggles they endured during their marriage, I wonder if they thought traveling so far from home was worth it in the end.