Bubonic Plague in Coylton, Devon 1540-1599 and 1646

While poking around in Coylton, Devon records for the recent post on the three Follett brothers who emigrated to New England around 1640, an interesting set of statistics was discovered.

Annual burials registered in Coylton for 1540 to 1599, particularly in August, September, and October in 1557, 1558, and 1592, were in excess of the annual average.

J.F.D. Shrewsbury writes in “A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles”:

Plague returned to London in 1543 as the parish register of St Pancras testifies, for 18 of 19 burials registered during the year are entered as plague burials. …

The monthly analysis of the burials [for Coylton] affords a strong presumption that these excessive mortalities are due to outbreaks of bubonic plague. The reason why Colyton was more frequently visited by plague than Ludlow [in Shropshire] was because it was only about 3 miles inland from the fishing port of Beer and midway between the coastal ports of Lyme Regis and Sigmouth, whereas Ludlow was a central inland town and too far up the river Severn to be a river-port.

Ludlow had also shown an excessive mortality but lacked the same geographical factors.

It was believed that sea-oriented communities such as Coylton received “repeated infusions of fresh, virulent strains of the microbe by maritime importations through the port of London, and then erupting in unrecognized epizootics and subsequent epidemics of varying extent and malignancy from time to time when these fresh strains arrived.”

In the next century, between 1640 and 1646, the registered number of burials peaked again in Coylton. By December 2, 1646, the registered number of burials reached 459 “in a population that cannot have exceeded 1,000 souls and in which the average of the annual burials for the decennium immediately preceding 1645 was 65.5.”

FH Map Coylton, Devonshire

“A small market town in Devon, Colyton dates back to Saxon times. The town, lying in a rich farming area, prospered through the middle ages on the wool trade. Colyton is a town of narrow streets and fine Georgian buildings. The fifteenth century church houses some interesting monuments. The map below shows the features of the city, its streets and houses as they were in the mid twentieth century.” OldeMaps.co.uk

It was during the 1540 to 1599 time period that the Follett brothers’ parents and grandparents were born. It would require close examination of parish records to determine whether there had been an impact on the family.

The report on the plague also provided background on the sea-faring tendencies of the brothers — they had grown up within a whiff of the salty sea air.

. . .

See: J.F.D. Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp 177, 178, 411. It is available via Amazon and as a Google eBook.

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The “Missing” John Follett

There are early historical reports about members of the Follett family, Nicholas, William, and John, who emigrated to New England. While there have been speculation and suggestions about their relationships to one another, nothing concrete has been found.

William and John were in Dover and Oyster River, New Hampshire in 1640. Nicholas first appears on the record in 1652, when he purchased a house and land in Oyster River of Thomas Johnson.

A presumption has been made that he was the son of either William or John.

He was, in fact, the slightly younger brother. No records of the Follett brothers’ departures from England or arrivals in New England have been found. We can assume that the two older brothers, William and John, came around 1640 and that Nicholas came a while later — or it is possible all three came at the same time. Nicholas had reached his majority around 1639.

As there are no reports that any of them came as servants, we have to assume that they paid their own passage.

The “missing” John Follett quickly appears in Dover around 1640 but soon vanishes from the record. There is an explanation for that, which comes a bit later.

First of all, John was the oldest of the three brothers, baptized July 17, 1614, in Colyton, Devonshire. William was the second oldest, baptized there March 10, 1616. Nicholas was the youngest of the three, baptized April 13, 1617, in Colyton.

The brothers were from at least the fourth generation of the Follett family born and raised in Colyton. Their parents, interestingly, were both members of the Follett family — which is abundantly represented in Colyton.

Their father, Charles Follett, baptized September 27, 1584, in Colyton, was the son of William and Unknown Follett.

Their mother, Ebbott Follett, baptized September 29, 1588, in Colyton, was the daughter of John and Unknown Follett.

FH BDM Follett, Ebbott d_o John Follett

“Ebbott Follett daughter of John Follett of Coylton” baptized September 29, 1588, Devon Baptisms (findmypast.com)

Between 1640 and 1684, William Follett left behind marriage, tax, and land records in both Dover and Oyster River. His occupation is unknown but he was likely a fisherman. He left behind no male heir and his nephew, Nicholas Follett Jr., was the recipient of his estate.

The records for Nicholas, who was a mariner, which began around 1652, are much the same. The date of his death is uncertain; it was obviously prior to his widow Abigail’s marriage in 1706 to Richard Nason of Kittery.

He owned substantial property, including a wharf and a landing place for his boats “just where Stony Brook broadens into Stevenson’s Creek.”

Customs-house returns noted in September 1692 that The Friends Endeavor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Nicholas Follett, commander, had arrived from Barbados with sugar, molasses, and salt.

John, the “missing” Follett, slips into and quickly out of the historical record.

John was at Piscataqua in 1640, when he signed the Dover Combination and petition against Dover (then called “Northam”) coming under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts in March 1640.

Early New England marriage records show John and an unknown bride married around 1640 in Dover.

Other records show John Follett with a house on Low Street in Dover between 1640 and 1649, at which time his brother William Follett was at that location. However, there is no proof that John resided there the whole time.

The probability, then, was that he either died or left New Hampshire.

The latter is the most likely. The brothers’ parents both died in 1645-6. Charles Follett was buried December 28, 1645; Ebbott Follett was buried January 29, 1645/6.

Charles Follett’s will was probated in 1646 in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Administration of the estate was granted to his eldest son, John.

The mystery of the “missing” John Follett is resolved. It is most likely that John, possibly accompanied by a wife, returned to England.

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Many of Our Ancestors Were Mariners

It endlessly amazes — and amuses — me as to how little we know about our colonial ancestors.

Were any of your ancestors merchant adventurers? mariners? seamen? ship masters? crewmen? dock or warehouse workers?

These were very knowledgeable and worldly people. Foreign shores and trade goods were not foreign to them — nor their friends and families back home in England, Scotland or Ireland — nor had they been for centuries.

1 map Atl coast of Eur and N Afr 1331

Map of the Atlantic Coast of Europe and North Africa c1331.

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Americae 1570

How much do we really know about the world our early colonial ancestors left behind?

Do we see them only as primitive uninformed pioneers carving out the New England landscape and building new homes, creating pastures, orchards, and gardens, and eventually villages?

Or do we see them as a bit more sophisticated? A bit more worldly?

After all, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian explorers had poked and probed the North Atlantic coast for well over a hundred years before the earliest colonists stepped foot on sandy soil. Even longer than that, fishermen were well-versed in the sea bounty to be found off the coast of Newfoundland and as far south as Nova Scotia.

The notion that our ancestors had no idea about what the New World held for them is pure nonsense.

One prime example comes from the Library of Congress, the Theatrum orbis terrarum, a map book of the charted world published in 1570 by noted Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius.

FH Map Theatrum orbis terrarum. Typvs orbis terrarvm 1570

Typvs orbis terrarvm. Theatrum orbis terrarvm. 1570. Library of Congress.

The first map section, which shows New France, including what are now known as the Atlantic Provinces, and the one that follows, which shows a more detailed view of the north east, especially Canada and New France, come from a global view of the world.

Note the French missions north of the St. Lawrence River in Canada and further south, scattered east-to-west across North America, north of Florida.

The second map prominently depicts the land of Norumbega, the Northern New England Frontier.

It is identified as “Americae”, North and South, as it was known in 1570, long before many of our immigrant ancestors were born.

FH Map Theatrum orbis terrarum. Americae sive novi orbis 1570

Americae sive novi orbis. Theatrvm orbis terrarvm. 1570. Library of Congress.

. . . . .


. The Library of Congress call number for the map book is G1006.T5 1570, and it is located in the Library’s Geography and Map Division in Washington, D.C.

. Emerson W. Baker, et al., eds., American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega (1994).

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The English origin of Edward Babbitt, the immigrant ancestor, has long been uncertain.

Not even The Babbitt Family History, published in 1875, offers any meaningful guidance.

Edward Bobet-Bobbett-Babbitt, according to the history, first appears in Plymouth court records in 1643, where his name is found among fifty-four men aged sixteen-to-sixty able to bear arms.

Edward would have been a minimum of sixteen years of age, and is further described as having been “a mere boy” at Taunton. If Edward met the minimum age of sixteen in 1643, this would give the earliest possible birth year as 1627.

Edward’s next appearance in Plymouth court records comes from 1649, when he reportedly received payment for “stollen wampon”. Again, using 1627 as a birth year, he would now have been twenty-three.

In November 1652, Edward, yeoman, aged approximately twenty-five, purchased his first land in Taunton. Two years later, on September 7, 1654, in Boston, he married Sarah Tarne, daughter of Miles Tarne.

Beyond an approximate year of birth, 1627, there are few clues to follow to find Edward’s home town in England.

Once again, I am ever so grateful to those online sources — FamilySearch.org, FindMyPast.com, and especially TheGenealogist.co.uk — for helping me to not only locate his home town but also identify his parents and grandparents.

Edward’s fairly unique surname and the estimated year of his birth were key. He was baptized April 9, 1626, in Docking, Norfolk, England. His parents are Thomas Bobbet and Elizabeth Unknown.

It was correctly suggested in a few online sites that Edward’s father was Thomas.

However, pure confusion comes from another claim that Thomas and his siblings were all born in St Clement Danes, Middlesex, England — and that Thomas’s children were all born in Docking, Norfolk. Also, Thomas’s purported father, Roger Bobbet, had married in Norfolk County.

Although this scenario was not impossible it did seem unlikely.

The reality is that Thomas Bobbet was baptized July 30, 1598, in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick Parish, Norfolk, as were his siblings.

1plague.jpgThomas and wife Elizabeth both died in July 1636 in Garboldisham, Norfolk. It is possible that they both died from the plague, as the pestilence continued to ravage London 1636 to 1648 “without interruption” and was carried into the countryside as the urban population sought to escape it.

Four children, including Edward, apparently grew up in Garboldisham. However, as Thomas and Elizabeth Bobbet both died in 1636 when their oldest child, Edward, was under ten years of age, and their youngest child, Clementius, was less than three years of age, it is unknown who raised these orphaned children.

We can be fairly certain that it was not the Bobbet grandparents.

Thomas’s father was Robert Bobbet, born sometime around 1550. He died and was buried in March 1598/9 in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick, Norfolk.

Robert’s first wife, Jonne Feunt, whom he married January 18, 1572/3, in St Peter, was buried there March 20, 1586/7. Robert and Jonne had a son, William, who was baptized October 13, 1575, and a daughter, Catherine, baptized September 16, 1579, in St Peter. Catherine was buried there March 1598/9 before she reached her tenth birthday.

Robert married second, Dyanes/Dianes Unknown, September 20, 1587, in St Peter, Repps with Bastwick, Norfolk. They were the parents of Thomas and a second son, John, who was baptized July 13, 1588.

It is possible that the children’s uncle, William Bobbet, raised them. He would have been slightly over sixty in 1636. Their younger uncle, John, would have been forty-eight. And, of course, the children’s maternal family may have taken them in to raise.

In any case, an under-aged Edward Bobet-Bobbett-Babbitt made his way to New England by 1643, purchased land in 1652, and was married in 1654.

Sadly, Edward did not reach age fifty. Various sources repeat much the same story. On June 15, 1675, two days after King Philip’s War broke out in Swansea, Massachusetts, Edward was struck down by a party of Indians while traveling an old footpath with his family headed for the safety of Taunton.

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Canterbury Connections

Do you have ancestors who were born, baptized, married, or buried in Canterbury, Kent, England? After coming across this magnificent map of the ancient city it only seemed appropriate to post it and a bit of information here as a teaser post.

FH Map Canterbury 1588, Wm Smith's Particular Description of Eng, BritLib

1588 Map of Canterbury from Wm. Smith’s Particular Description of England in the British Library

One brief sample of immigrants known to have come from Canterbury or surrounds comes from the passenger list of the Hercules of Sandwich, which sailed to New England in 1635:

. John Best, tailor, of Sandwich, settled in Salem.

. Thomas Boney (Bonney), shoemaker, of Sandwich, settled in Charlestown and Duxbury.

. Isaac Cole, carpenter, of Sandwich, and his family: wife Joan, children Isaac, Jane or Anne. He settled his family in Charlestown and Woburn.

. William Hatch, merchant, of Sandwich, and his wife Jane. He settled in Scituate.

. William Holmes, of Sandwich, servant of William Hatch. He settled in Scituate and Marshfield.

. Robert Jennings, of Sandwich, servant of William Hatch. He only appears on the passenger list. Nothing more is known of him.

. Margaret Johnes, of Sandwich, wife of William Johnes, painter. Her name appears on the passenger list only.

. Joseph and Simon Ketchell (Ketcherell), of Sandwich, servants to William Hatch. Their names appear only on the passenger list.

The few passenger lists available, of course, only provide a snapshot of the number of immigrants who came in the Great Migration, 1620-1640.

Sources for Further Research for Canterbury

. Canterbury, Kent at familysearch.org.
. The Canterbury Connection at findmypast.uk.com.
. The Great Migration Directory.
. Canterbury, U.K. at VisitBritain.com.
. The Canterbury Trail: exploring the city’s medieval streets on foot.

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Wheeler Power in Old Concord

The stories of two, three, four, and even five brothers who left the Old World and came together to settle in the New World are legend.

But have you heard about the Wheeler clan of Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England? The adult children of Thomas Wheeler and his second wife, Rebecca [Sayre] — six sons and two daughters — Timothy, George, Susannah, Joseph, Elizabeth, Richard, Ephraim, and Thomas — some with spouses, some with children, left their homes in Cranfield between 1635 and 1640. The majority of them settled in Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts.

That’s a lot of Wheelers! In fact, that’s a very powerful community of Wheelers — which multiplied more abundantly than any other immigrant family that settled in Concord.

. Richard Wheeler emigrated in 1635, a passenger on the Thomas as “Ricr Wheeler.” He was baptized June 13, 1614, in Cranfield, and died February 10, 1676, in Lancaster, Worcester, Massachusetts. He reportedly was the “victim of a massacre.” Richard married first, May 4, 1644, in Dedham, Norfolk, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Turner, and second, August 2, 1658, in Lancaster, Sarah Presscott.

. Capt. Thomas Wheeler emigrated in 1635 as a passenger of the James of London. He was baptized April 9, 1620, in Cranfield, and died March 4, 1686, in Concord. Thomas married October 10, 1657, in Concord, Hannah Harrod (Harwood). Thomas came as a servant to August Clement. He was first at Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, and moved next to Lynn.

FH Map Mass Bay 1630-1642. Sgt. Ephraim Wheeler emigrated in 1638. He was baptized March 16, 1619, in Cranfield, and died November 11, 1670, in Concord. He married Ann Turner in 1641 in Concord.

. Elizabeth Wheeler emigrated in 1638 with her husband and two children. She was baptized July 18, 1602, in Cranfield, and died before 1656 in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts. Elizabeth married Allen Breed of Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire, on November 14, 1622.

. Capt. Timothy Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized December 28, 1604, in Cranfield, and died July 30, 1687, aged 86, in Concord. Timothy married three times. He married his first and second wives in Cranfield: Susan Knight, April 30, 1632, and Jane (___) in 1633. Following Jane’s death February, 12, 1642, in Concord, he married third Mary Brooks, daughter of Thomas and Grace Brooks, founders of Concord.

. George Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized March 25, 1606, in Cranfield, and died about June 2, 1687, in Concord. He married Katherine Penn/Pin on June 8, 1630, in Cranfield. Katherine’s parents, Henry Penn/Pin and Katherine Hull, both emigrated and died in Concord. At least three of George’s eight children were born in England and emigrated with their parents.

. Lt. Joseph Wheeler emigrated in 1639. He was baptized February 18, 1610, in Cranfield, and died about 1681 in Concord. His wife was Sarah.

. Susannah Wheeler emigrated in 1640. She was baptized May 31, 1607, in Cranfield, and died March 24, 1649, in Concord. She married Obadiah Wheeler, son of John Wheeler and Elizabeth Breed. It is most likely Susannah and Obadiah married in England. He died October 27, 1671, in Concord.

. . . .


. Great Migration Directory for dates of emigration, if known.
. A History of the Town of Concord, Massachusetts.

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