Correspondence with Margaret McGregor

Any number of publications state as a fact that James West came to America from Bristol, England.  As documentation of this fact is offered the birth of a son to James West and his wife Prudence in Bristol on 12 5m 1681, recorded in the Quaker records (Bristol, Gloucestershire, England; Collection: Society of Friends; 1680 – 1700; Film 815490).  This birth date suggests that Prudence, if not James, was not in the Colonies at this time.

Wanting to know more, I initially contacted BAFHS (Bristol and Avon Family History Society) by email, asking for suggestions for further research.  The responding member, Janet Hiscocks, kindly provided me with a copy of the document listed above and the names of local family history researchers.  From the list I chose AGRA (The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) member Margaret McGregor.  I plan to work with her over time, cost being the factor determining the pace of our research.

Content of the First Report, July 8,2012:

The starting-point of this search is as follows:

“… a shipwright named James West who came to the colony of Pennsylvania shortly before William Penn arrived (between 1676 and 1681) and built a shipyard on the edge of the Delaware River.  His wife was named Prudence, surname unknown at this time.  The birth of their son James was recorded in the Quaker records as occurring 12 5m 1681 (Bristol, Gloucestershire, England; Collection: ; Society of Friends (Quaker); Date Range: 1680 – 1700; Film Number: 815490) and the record notes they were living on Marsh Street in Bristol.  It is unknown what became of the child James: I have found no record of his death in the American colonial Quaker records, nor is he mentioned in his parent’s will.”

I was able to establish that James WEST became a burgess or freeman of Bristol on 13th December 1679. The entry is as follows:

James West shipewright was admitted into the liberties of this Citty for that he was the apprentice of George Wight, hath taken the Oath of Alleg[iance] & paid 4 6d

The fact that he took the Oath would indicate that he did not at that stage hold Quaker beliefs, since it was not until 1697 that Quakers could be admitted to the freedom by solemn affirmation.

I was able to locate the related apprenticeship entry by visiting Bristol Record Office. There is no modern index to apprenticeships at this date but the original volumes are indexed by the name of the master and I was able to locate the entry in that way. It was written in Latin but I have translated it as follows:[1]

15th June 1672

James West son of Robert Robert West of Cleverton in the county of Somerset husbandman places himself apprentice to George Wight and Prenel [or Precel] his wife for 7 years, father to find apparel.

Claverton is a parish in northeast Somerset 2 ½ miles ESE of Bath. Its parish registers commence in 1582.

A husbandman is a small farmer.

“Parnell” and variants is a form of the name Petronella but the reading could equally be Precel and as he had a daughter Presilla [see will below] that is perhaps more likely.

My next step was to search the Bristol Quaker Digests of marriages and deaths. The Digests are arranged by initial letter of the surname so all those starting with W were arranged chronologically together. I searched marriages 1679 to 1690[2] and burials 1680 to 1696[3] but I saw no reference to James WEST.

Since James and Prudence’s son James was born in the 5th month of 1681, which is July (since at the time March was regarded as the first month of the year), we must assume they married around September or October 1680 or a little before.  It was usual at this time for apprentices to marry soon after they completed their term and became burgesses, in James’s case December 1679.  Since we know he was willing to swear an oath in 1679 it is likely that his marriage is to be expected in one of Bristol’s 17 parish churches. We have already seen that he was not recorded amongst Quaker marriages.

I searched Marriage Licence Bonds[4] without success, but of course only a minority of marriages were by licence, the vast majority were by banns.

I then turned to the original marriage registers for churches near Marsh Street and searched St. Stephen June 1679 to November 1681 and St. Nicholas April 1679 to November 1681. I also checked the published register of St. Augustine the Less[5] but without success. Obviously there are many other parishes still to check.

My next step was to see whether the master George WIGHT could provide us with any clues. I found[6] that he lived in a property on the east side of Marsh Street[7] which by 1674 was part owned by George White carpenter and his wife Mary, the sister and co-heir of Thomas Stringer merchant….this share then sold to Thomas Watkins…in May 1678 it was sold to William Bentley merchant.

I found that George White of the City of Bristol shipwright made his will on 15th August 1678. He mentioned John White my son, Martha White my daughter, Martha and Anne my daughters, Precilla Long my daughter the wife of Henry Long & Mary White my other daughter as well as my wife Joan. The will was proved by his son John 7 September 1678 at Bristol. Unfortunately the will contained no reference to his apprentice or to his business; it was also clear that White was not a Quaker. I had thought it possible that WEST might have been introduced to the Quakers by his master.

The Minute Book of the Men’s Meeting of the Society of Friends in Bristol 1667-1686 has been published and thoroughly indexed[8] but contains no reference to James WEST. I took some notes from this volume at the beginning of my search concerning a George White carpenter who died 1715 and who married in 1703 a widow Mary Hollister formerly West. However, my subsequent searches detailed above show that this material was not relevant.

Further searches could be undertaken in Bristol’s marriage registers in the hope of tracking down the marriage of James WEST and Prudence. It would also be possible to look at Claverton parish registers in the hope of finding James’s baptism but as it is likely to have taken place circa 1658, a time at which many registers have gaps due to the political and religious upheavals of the time, that search may not prove successful.

[1] Bristol Record Office ref: FC/AB/1(k)4 frame 29; printout to be supplied by post.

[2] Bristol R.O. ref: FCNC/SFB/2/3/7-8

[3] Bristol R.O. ref: FCNC/SFB/2/5/8 and FCNC/SFB/2/6/4

[4] Marriage Bonds for the Diocese of Bristol 1637-1700 ed. by E. Ralph, Records Section BGAS.

[5] The Registers of the Church of St. Augustine the Less Bristol 1577-1700 ed. by A. Sabin, Records Section BGAS.

[6] The Topography of Medieval and Early Modern Bristol Part 1 Bristol Record Society vol. XLVIII

[7] property identified as “No. 2 in schedule, 1766 Act, former monastic or chantry property”.

[8] Bristol Record Society volume xxvi


Content of the Second Report, August 24,2012: Search for the marriage of James WEST of Bristol.

 From the previous report[1]:

I searched [Quaker] marriages 1679 to 1690[2] and burials 1680 to 1696[3] but I saw no reference to James WEST. Since James and Prudence’s son James was born in the 5th month of 1681, which is July (since at the time March was regarded as the first month of the year), we must assume they married around September or October 1680 or a little before.  It was usual at this time for apprentices to marry soon after they completed their term and became burgesses, in James’s case December 1679… I searched Marriage Licence Bonds[4] without success…I …searched St. Stephen June 1679 to November 1681 and St. Nicholas April 1679 to November 1681…also St. Augustine the Less[5] but without success.

This present search has been devoted to a systematic search of the city’s marriage registers as detailed below:

Bristol’s 17 Ancient Parishes

 All Saints searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

Christchurch searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Augustine the Less searched previously

St. Ewen searched Jan 1679 to Dec 1681

St. James searched Jan 1679 to Dec 1681

St. John the Baptist searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Leonard searched marriage index 1674-1768

St. Mary le Port

Parish registers destroyed in the blitz in World War II. Bishop’s Transcripts survive and have been indexed. I searched this index without success. However I note that the BT for 1680 has not survived; BTs  usually cover April to April.

St. Mary Redcliffe searched April 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Michael on the Mount Without  searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Nicholas  searched previously

St. Peter

Parish registers destroyed in the blitz in World War II. Bishop’s Transcripts survive and have been indexed. I searched this index 1667-1697 without success but I note that the BTs for 1679 and 1681 have not survived.

St. Philip and Jacob searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Stephen  searched previously

St. Thomas searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

St. Werburgh searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

Temple

Parish registers rendered illegible in the blitz in World War II. Bishop’s Transcripts survive; I searched those for 1678, 1679, 1680 and 1681 without success.

 

I also searched some parishes adjoining the City.

Bedminster searched Jan 1678 to Dec 1681

Westbury-on-Trym published transcription searched index

Hanham and Oldland published to 1681 searched index

Clifton typed transcription searched index

Brislington typed index 1637-1713 searched

 

I also searched the Somerset pre-1754 marriage index which contains 146,765 entries for that county.  There is no equivalent index for Gloucestershire. However, the I.G.I. coverage is quite good for Gloucs. but I was not able to find a marriage for James WEST through the website www.familysearch.org  which includes the I.G.I.

Although further searches could be conducted in the registers of South Gloucs. parishes I cannot recommend that course. Not every rural parish has records as far back as we need. In any case I believe it is equally probable that the marriage would have taken place in Bristol and its record is either lost through the missing documents mentioned above, or perhaps never properly recorded in the first place.

I also took the opportunity of searching Claverton baptism register in the hope of finding James WEST’s entry. The normal age at apprenticeship was 14 so as James was place apprentice in 1672 we expect his birth to be c. 1658. Often baptisms were not recorded during this troubled period of  English history and I noted that the register contained only three baptisms in the whole period 1652-1663.

Report for Carol Thompson by Margaret McGregor, AGRA Member, 24 August 2012 ref: Q357Thompson2.


[1] Q357Thompson1.

[2] Bristol R.O. ref: FCNC/SFB/2/3/7-8

[3] Bristol R.O. ref: FCNC/SFB/2/5/8 and FCNC/SFB/2/6/4

[4] Marriage Bonds for the Diocese of Bristol 1637-1700 ed. by E. Ralph, Records Section BGAS.

[5] The Registers of the Church of St. Augustine the Less Bristol 1577-1700 ed. by A. Sabin, Records Section BGAS.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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