John Whitney's English Ancestry

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John1 Whitney's English Ancestry

by Robert L. Ward

Much has been written on this subject. My distillation of what is now believed to be correct is given below. As more English records are examined we will gradually know more and more, we hope! There are, however, some doubts about the correctness of the identification of the immigrant with the John WHITNEY baptized 20 Jul 1592, St. Margaret's Westminster, son of Thomas and Mary (BRAY) WHITNEY.

When John1 WHITNEY and his family embarked for New England, their names were recorded on the passenger list of the Elizabeth and Ann, Roger Cooper, master, which sailed about the middle of May, 1635, arriving in Boston in midsummer. They are listed as

John WHITNEY, 35
Ellin WHITNEY, 30
John WHITNEY, 11
Richard WHITNEY, 9
Nathaniel WHITNEY, 8
Thomas WHITNEY, 6
Jonathan WHITNEY, 1.

No known information in New England records provides any clue to their English origin.

The following records, discovered by Henry Melville and Frederick C. Pierce, are extremely likely to be those of the family of John1 WHITNEY, although the identification is based entirely on similarity of names and ages, and order of birth. This is true in spite of the fact that the ages of this family do not agree well with the ages of the Watertown WHITNEY family as given in the passenger list.

WHITNE, Mary, dau. of John and Ellen, bapt. 23 May 1619, All Saints, Isleworth, Middlesex, England
WHITNE, John, son of John and Ellen, bapt. 14 Sep 1621, All Saints, Isleworth, Middlesex, England
WHITNE, Richard, son of John and Elinor, bapt. 6 Jan 1623/4, All Saints, Isleworth, Middlesex, England
WHITNEY, Mary, dau. of John, bur. 15 Feb 1626/7, St. Mary Aldermary, London, England
WHITNE, Thomas, son of John "dwelling in Bowe lanne", bapt. 10 Dec 1627, St. Mary Aldermary, London, England
WHITNEY, Mary, dau. of John, "taylore, dwelling in Bowe lanne", bapt. 29 Dec 1629, St. Mary Aldermary, London, England

No record of the baptisms of either Nathaniel2 (about 1625) or Jonathan2 WHITNEY (about 1634) have been found, nor of the burial of the second Mary2 Whitney, above, nor of the marriage of John and Ellen/Ellin/Elinor. It also seems likely that there was an additional child b. about 1632, who also died young.

Supporting this identification is occupation data. John Whitney of St. Mary Aldermary, London, is identified as a "taylore" at the baptism of his daughter Mary, 29 Dec 1629. John1 Whitney of Watertown is identified as a tailor in a deed dated 22 Dec 1651 (Bond, Watertown, p. 197, apparently referring to Middlesex Co. Deeds, liber 1, folio 192).

Once we accept this identification, we search for the parentage of John1 Whitney in the vicinity of Isleworth and London. Sure enough, Melville found a certain John, son of Thomas Whitney, baptized on 20 July 1592 in St. Margaret's, Westminster, London. The allegation for the marriage license of this Thomas Whytney of Lambeth Marsh, gentleman, and Mary Bray, daughter of John Bray, on 10 May 1583, is recorded in the first act book of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster (Joseph Lemuel Chester and Geo. J. Armytage, eds., Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, 1558 to 1699 ..., Harleian Soc. Pubs., 23[London, 1886]:8). "Lambeth Marsh" is a name still applied to a locality near the Surrey end of Westminster bridge. The marriage took place on 12 May 1583 at St. Margaret's, Westminster. This gives us a clue to the Bray family. Sure enough, we find that Mary Bray, daughter of John Bray, was bapt. 24 Dec 1564, St. Margaret's, Westminster, and her parents John Bray and Margaret Haslonde were married there 13 Aug 1553. (The baptisms of her siblings, who all died young, are found at St. Margaret's, Westminster, too.) Probably Mary (Bray) Whitney was the "Mrs. Mary Whittney" who was buried at St. Margaret's on 25 Sep 1629. For their children, see below.

In 1611 it is recorded that Thomas Whitney paid the subsidy tax, and December 6, 1615, on the probate of the will of his father-in-law, John Bray, he and his wife were appointed executors. February 22, 1607, he apprenticed his son John, and November 8, 1624, his son Robert. The record of the last, like the marriage license, describes Thomas Whitney as a "gentleman." September 25, 1629, he buried his wife, and on May 20, 1637, was himself buried. Administration of his estate was, on May 22, 1637, granted to his sons, Francis and Robert. The administration accounts show that the deceased was in comfortable circumstances, with a final value of his estate on Mar 10, 1637/8, of £233.

Buttressing the identification of the immigrant John1 Whitney with John, son of Thomas Whitney of Westminster is the following information from the records of the Company of Merchant Tailors, connecting Thomas of Westminster to his son John, and John to his brother Robert. Furthermore, the social standing of Thomas Whitney, "gentleman", is consistent with John1 Whitney's status in Watertown.

Extracts from the books of the Merchant Taylors' Company, of the city of London, England:
  • July, 1592, Thomas Whitney, son of Henry Whitney of Minehall, in the county of Surrey, gentleman, apprenticed to William Persie of Watling street.
  • April 14, 1600, Thomas Whitney made free by Henry Pratt, his assigned master, from Mr. Rowe, who was his assigned master from William Persie, his first master. The report of Mr. Rowe for two years and by Mr. Persie for two years and three months, certified by their letters to Henry Pratt for the residue.
  • June 23, 1593, Thomas Whitney, son of Nichols Whitney of Carsleton, in the county of Hereford, gentleman, deceased, apprenticed to Robert Davies of St. Andrews in Holborn.
  • July 19, 1602, Thomas Whitney made free by Robert Davies, his master.
  • Feb. 22, 1607, John Whitney, son of Thomas Whitney of the city of Westminster, yeoman, apprenticed to William Pring of the Old Bailey.
  • March 13, 1614, John Whitney made free by William Pring, his master.
  • April 26, 1613, Richard Whitney, son of Robert Whitney of Ugley, in the county of Essex, yeoman, apprenticed to William Searson.
  • June 28, 1620, Richard Whitney made free by his service with William Searson, his master.
  • March 8, 1624, Robert Whitney, son of Thomas Whitney of the city of Westminster, gentleman, apprenticed to John Whitney of Isleworth.
  • 1632, Robert Whitney made free by John Whitney, his master, upon the report of his master.

Thomas and Mary (Bray) Whitney had the following children, all baptized at St. Margaret's, Westminster:

i. Margaret, bp. 18 Oct 1584. Apparently bur. 12 Jan 1603/4, at All Saints, Isleworth, Middlesex, unmarried.
ii. Thomas, bp. 25 Jul 1587, bur. 19 Aug 1587.
iii. Henry, bp. 11 Nov 1588, bur. 4 Jan 1588/9.
iv. Arnwaye, bp. 2 Feb 1589/90, bur. 11 Aug 1591.
v. John1, bp. 20 Jul 1592, m.(1) before 1619, Elinor -----; m.(2) 29 Sep 1659, Watertown, MA, Judith (-----) Clement; d. 1 Jun 1673, Watertown, MA.
vi. Nowell, bp. 30 Oct 1594, bur. 28 Feb 1596/7.
vii. Francis, bp. 27 Jan 1598/9, apparently the "Mrs." Francis Whitney bur. 26 Aug 1643. He married Elizabeth (_____), buried St Margaret 15 January 1670[/1]. Two children, both deceased before their mother, names unknown. In her will Elizabeth requested that she be buried "by her husband and two children at the west end of the new Chappel by the greate window" (Dean and Chapter of Westminster 6:48).
viii. Mary, bp. 2 Aug 1600, bur. 8 Aug 1600.
ix. (possibly) James, "Mr.", bur. 13 Mar 1636/7.
x. Robert, bp. 10 Nov 1605, apparently d. young.
xi. Thomas, b. ca. 1608, bur. 15 Apr 1637, St. Margaret's, Westminster. He m. 31 Jan 1631/2, St. Gregory by St. Paul's, London, Margaret (MOGGE) GEORGE, widow of Thomas GEORGE, butcher (b. ca. 1590, d. after 8 May 1637). His adminstrstation was granted 8 May 1637, Westminster, to his widow Margaret Whitney, and he left an estate of £56. Probably no children.
xii. Robert, b. ca. 1610, apprenticed 1624, freed 1632, m. 18 Jan 1636, St. Dunstan's, Stepney, Middlesex, Mary TOWER of Tarvin, Cheshire (b. ca. 1609, bur. 27 Oct 1667, St. Peter's Cornhill, London), bur. 3 Apr 1662, St. Peter's Cornhill, London. They had the following children:
a. John, bp. 10 Feb 1638/9, St. Peter's Cornhill, London. It was he who in 1676 submitted the false pedigree claiming to be the heir male of the Whitney family of Whitney, Herefordshire. He m. before 1667, Elizabeth -----. Known child:
1. Jane, living in 1667.
b. Thomas, bp. 27 Dec 1640, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
c. Robert, bp. 30 Oct 1642, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
d. Thomas, bp. 29 Jul 1645, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
e. Richard, bp. 14 Oct 1647, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
f. Margaret, bp. 31 Jul 1651, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
g. Robert, bp. 13 Jul 1654, St. Peter's Cornhill, London, apparently d. young.
h. Mary Frances, b. after 1646, since she was a minor in 1667.

The ancestry of Thomas Whitney of Westminster is not known. Melville claimed that he was identical with Thomas Whitney, the third son of Robert Whitney and Elizabeth, daughter of Morgan ap Gwillims, who was in turn third son of Sir Robert Whitney of Whitney, Herefordshire. This theory has been discredited on chronological grounds in two articles, one by Donald Lines Jacobus and the other by Paul C. Reed.

A recently-discovered clue is the baptism of a certain Thomas WHETNEY, parentage not stated, on 14 Jul 1560 in the parish of St. Andrew's Holborn, London. This person is of the right age to be Thomas of Westminster.

John, in whom we are most interested, probably received a good education as a child, since he had very good handwriting in the Watertown records when he was Town Clerk. On February 22, 1607, at the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed by his father to William Pring of the Old Bailey, London. The latter was a "Freeman" of the Merchant Tailors' Company, then the most famous and prosperous of all the great trade guilds, numbering in its membership distinguished men of all professions, many of the nobility, and the Prince of Wales, and, on March 13, 1614, Whitney at the age of twenty-one became a full-fledged member. Marrying soon after he took up his residence at Isleworth-on-the-Thames, eight miles from Westminster, and there three children were born. There, too, November 8, 1624, his father apprenticed to him his youngest brother, Robert, who served seven years. Soon after the latter date he moved from Isleworth, probably back to London. Entries in the registers of the parish of St. Mary Aldermary indicate that he lived there - in "Bowe lanne," near Bow church, where hang the famous bells - for several years, during which time Mary died, and his son Thomas was baptized. In September, 1631, he placed his eldest child, John, Jr., in the famous "Westminster School," now known as St. Peter's College - where, according to the registers, he remained as long as the family were in England.

This is the extent of the current knowledge of the ancestry of John1 Whitney of Watertown, MA.

Copyright © 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group