Archive:TAG Volume 86

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Archives > Archive:Extracts > Archive:The American Genealogist > TAG Volume 86

Burke, Adrian Benjamin, "A Note on the Ancestry of John1 Whitney of Watertown, Massachusetts," TAG 86 (2012):209-212.


[p. 209]

In the October 2006 issue of The American Genealogist, Robert Leigh Ward and Tim Doyle published the third article to appear in this journal relating to the English origins of the immigrant John1 Whitney (20 July 1592-1 June 1673).1 They proposed that John's purported father, ThomasA Whitney, of Westminster, was identical to Thomas, third son of RobertB Whitney, of Castleton, Herefordshire, son of RobertC Whitney, of Castleton. This hypothesis was based on Michael A. Faraday and E. J. L. Cole's abstract of RobertB Whitney of Castleton's will.2 The author of the present note subsequently requested a copy of the will itself from the Herefordshire Record Office (HRO). At first the HRO reported that the particular Bishop's Book containing Robert's will could not be found, at which point the author contacted Faraday, who then called Rhys Griffith, Senior Archivist at the HRO, and asked him to look into the matter. After about six months, Griffith not only located the misplaced book, he sent me his transcription of the will. Unfortunately, by this time Ward and Doyle's article already had been published. RobertB of Castleton's will contains information not included in Faraday and Cole's abstract, suggesting that Ward and Doyle's identification of ThomasA as Robert's son is incorrect. With this in mind, Tim Doyle and I continued to research the medieval and early modern Whitney family with the hope of publish-

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1 Robert Leigh Ward and Tim Doyle, "The Whitney Lineage of John I Whitney of Watertown Massachusetts," TAG 81 (2006 [pub. May 2007)):249-62; see also Donald Lines Jacobus. "Pre-American Ancestries: John Whitney of Watertown, Mass.," TAG 10(1933-34):84-88. and Paul C. Reed, "Whitney Origins Revisited: John1 Whitney of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Henry1 Whitney of Long Island and Norwalk, Connecticut," TAG 69(1994):9-14.
2 M. A. Faraday and E. J. L. Cole, eds., Calendar of Probate and Administration Acts 1407- 1541 and Abstracts of Wills 1541-1581 in the Court Books of the Bishop of Hereford, Index Library, microfiche, British Record Society (London, 1989), 297 (hereafter cited as Faraday and Cole, Hereford Calendar). A partial transcript of this abstract was provided to Ward and Doyle by Paul C. Reed, FASG, but Ward asked the author to examine Faraday and Cole's Hereford Calendar at the New York Public Library, New York City, in the hope of locating its source (Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81 (2006):251-52 n. 12). Faraday subsequently revised and enlarged his Calendar, but the abstract of Robert Whitney of Castleton's will remains the same (M.A. Faraday, ed., Calendar of Probate and Administration Acts, 1407-1550, in the Consistory Court of the Bishops of Hereford, with an Appendix of Will Abstracts, 1552-1581, A Revised and Augmented Version of the Calendar of Similar Title, ed. M. A. Faraday and the late E. J. L. Cole [Herefordshire: Logaston Press for M. A. Faraday, 2008], 369).


[p. 210]

ing a definitive article on John's ancestry. But after several years' work, we were unable to conclusively document John's descent from the knightly Whitney of Whitney family. Our research project is currently on hold, but in the meantime, this note presents Griffith's transcription along with my analysis and the resulting implication as to John1 Whitney's male-line ancestry.

In order to understand the full significance of RobertB of Castleton 's will, it is necessary to re-examine Faraday and Cole's abstract 555/1 Robert Whitney of Castleton, gent., Will: made 17 July 1555; Executors: his wife Elizabeth and his son Nicholas Whytney; Beneficiaries: his unmarried daughters Elinor and Margaret and his son Thomas Whytney; Witnesses: Sir Androwe vicar of St [---] and [---] ap John and Howell David and William Morgan and John Wyllis. [damaged and faded] (f. 28v).3

Taken at face value, this abstract suggests that Nicholas was likely the eldest son, and that Thomas was probably a younger son receiving his inheritance. Ward, Doyle, and I concluded that this younger son was identical to John1 Whitney's father, ThomasA Whitney, of Westminster, who Ward and Doyle state was born "say 1550" and buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 20 May 1637.4 After a detailed analysis of a large quantity of contemporary and near-contemporary evidence--much of which had not appeared in print before--Ward and Doyle proposed a descent for John1 Whitney from RobertB of Castleton's father, RobertC who they described as "perhaps" the son of Robert Whitney (ca. 1436-after 1492) of Whitney.5 As I concluded in a later article, there can be no doubt that RobertC was a younger son of Robert Whitney of Whitney, Esq., "Lord of Whitney," by his second wife, Elizabeth Vaughan.6 The problem instead lies in the identification of RobertB of Castleton's son Thomas with ThomasB of Westminster.

Faraday and Cole's Calendar is primarily a research tool, intended to provide basic information about the kind of data contained in the Bishop's Books and detailed references so that researchers can obtain the actual records from the HRO. The abstract does not indicate what precisely Thomas was supposed to inherit. Were ThomasA of Westminster born say 1550, he would have been barely more than an infant when his father wrote his will. It is not inconceivable that a man of RobertB of Castleton's social and economic status would provide for an

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3 Faraday and Cole, Hereford Calendar, 297.
4 Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81 (2006):252, 258.
5 Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81(2006):262.
6 Adrian Benjamin Burke, "The Two Wives of Robert Whitney, Esq., Lord of Whitney: A note on the proof of royal descent of John Bevan," Foundations 2 (5) (Jan. 2008):350-57; "Addi¬tional Notes," 2 (6) (July 2008):451-54. Gary Boyd Roberts makes passing reference to Ward and Doyle's article (Gary Boyd Roberts, The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants 10 the American Colonies or the United States [Baltimore, 2008)}, 816).


[p. 211]

infant son [despite the high infant mortality rate at the time7 and the fact that such a young son would not be able to hold property until attaining his majority]; without further details of the bequest, it seemed possible to conclude Thomas was a little boy when his father died.

Griffith's transcription of the will of "Robert awhytney of Castleton in the countye of hereford gent," dated 17 July 1555 [date of probate not given], provides the full wording of this key clause [emphasis added]:

In the name of god Amen. The XVIIth daye of Julye in the yeare of our lord god 1555 I Robert awhytney of Castleton in the countye of hereford gent being sycke in bodye and nevertheless of a good and perfytt mynd and remembrance laud and prayse be unto god do make this my last wyll and testament in maner and forme folowynge. First I commend my soule unto allmyghtye god and my bodye to be bureyed in the parish churche. Item I bequeath to the cathedral churche of hereford iijd. I gyve and bequeath to the vicar of clyfford for a mortuarye iijs. iijd. Item I gyve and bequeath all movable goodes unto nyclas awhytney my sone and unto Elizabeth my wife to be equally divided between them. Item I wyll that the sayde nyclas and Elizabeth geve towards the maryge of Elinor and margarete my daughters acordyng to theyr dyscrecions. Item I geve and bequeath unto Thomas awhytney my sone and to his heyres and assygnes forever my landes and diyrye [dairy?] called lloyne whayene [Welsh: Llwyn y Waun?] sett lying and beying in the lordship of craswell in the countye--of hereford aforesaid whyche is now in moregage in the handes of John Baskervele [illegible word] for the some of tenne poundes wyche seyde landes--I wyyll that this sayde Thoma awhytney his heires or assygnes shall redeme at the feast of the purification of our Ladye in eny yere when he wyll. Item I wyll that the foresayde nyclas my sone and Elizabeth my wife shall pay all my debtes. And of this my sayde laste wyll and testament I do make the sayde niclas and Elizabeth my wife my executore this being wytnes Sir Androwe vicar of St marye church John ap John, Howell David, Wylliam Moregan, John Wylliams, and divers others.8

As the earlier abstract suggests, Nicholas is evidently the eldest son,9 as he serves as co-executor along with Robert's widow, Elinor, and only receives a portion of Robert's moveable goods--the eldest son automatically inheriting land belonging to his father.10 Robert leaves to his other son, "Thomas awhytney," his "landes and diyrye [dairy?] called lloyne-whayene [Welsh: Llwyn y Waun?] sett lying and beying in the lordship of craswell in the countye of Hereford," which at the time of the writing of the will-were mortgaged to John Baskerville. Robert directs that Thomas [ or his heirs] can redeem the lands from Baskerville for £10

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7 James C. Riley, Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History (Cambridge, 2001), 32, citing: E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541-1871: A Reconstruction (Cambridge, 1989), 230.
8 Will of Robert Whitney, Gent., of Castleton, Weston Deanery, 1555-56 (folio 28v), Herefordshire Record Office, Hereford, U.K.
9 Ward and Doyle identify Robert's elder sons, viz., Nicholas, eldest son, born say 1538; and William, born say 1542, later of Isleworth, Middlesex (Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage." TAG 81[2006] 1:258). 10 Herber, Ancestral Trails, 173--74. NB: There are exceptions to this generalization, and other forms of inheritance law existed in early modern England, however; in the case of Herefordshire at this time, primogeniture inheritance was in effect.


[p. 212]

at any future Feast of the Purification of Our Lady [also known as Candlemas], celebrated forty days after Christmas, i.e., 2 February.11

I initially considered the possibility that Robert wanted to give his underage son land, and as "lloyne whayene" was at the time encumbered by a mortgage, this gave Thomas the opportunity to acquire his inheritance in the future when he was old enough--and had the £10. But admittedly, no such detail is spelled out: to the contrary, the language indicates that Robert is giving Thomas his inheritance outright, which he would only have done if Thomas were an adult. Otherwise, Robert likely would have left it to his executors to decide [as he did for his two unmarried daughters] what portion of his remaining estate was to be given to Thomas if he survived childhood. And note that Robert does not mention his youngest son, Richard, identified in pedigrees discussed by Ward and Doyle, who give Richard's birth date as "say 1556." Robert's date of death is unknown, but presumably it occurred not too long after 17 July 1555. Perhaps, then, Richard was a posthumous son, or born earlier than Ward and Doyle supposed. If the latter were true, it would be quite telling that Robert left land to his second youngest son, but not to the youngest son.

The wording of RobertB of Castleton's will suggests that his son Thomas was an adult in 1555 and thus born by say 1534--much older than Thomas of Westminster, who Ward and Doyle suggest was born say 1550.13 In fact, given the 1583 date of marriage for Thomas and his wife, Mary Bray,14 a birth in say 1559 seems more plausible, assuming he was around the age of 24 when first married. Further research is required, but the unpublished data compiled by me and especially by Tim Doyle elaborate on the Whitneys of Castleton, an important--if ignored--cadet branch of the Whitneys of Whitney. I hope that eventually Tim Doyle and I may complete the research and finally prove or disprove John's long-posited descent from this distinguished medieval family of the marches of Wales.

Thanks are due to Rhys Griffith, Michael A. Faraday, FSA, Elaine Talbot, Einion Wyn Thomas, Muriel Tonkin, and the staff at the HRO, Tim Doyle, the late Allan E. Green, and Robert Leigh Ward of the Whitney Research Group <http://wiki.whitneygen.org/wrg/index.php/Main_Page>, John Blythe Dobson, FASG, Janet Chevalley Wolfe, and Paul C. Reed, FASG.

Adrian Benjamin Burke, JD, of New York City <adrianbenjaminburke@gmail.com>, is an 11h great-grandson of John1 Whitney.

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11 C. R. Cheney and Michael Jones, A Handbook of Dates: for Students of British History (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 67.
12 Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81(2006):250-51 on. 9, 10, 259.
13 Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81(2006):256.
14 Ward and Doyle, "Whitney Lineage," TAG 81(2006):258.


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