Last Saturday I ran a day school at the Percival Guildhouse about reading old documents. This was my cunning plan to teach members of the Rugby Family History Group how to read old handwriting, so that they would be more useful at our transcribing evenings.
Accordingly, I started with Parish Registers. We looked at pages from Harborough Magna, stating in 1900 and working backwards in 50 year jumps. I explained changes in the handwriting and a bit about how the registers were written. I also got the class to transcribe a few lines – I find the only way to learn something is have a go at doing it yourself. This exercise was an expansion of my blog Transcription Tips 2.
The second set of documents we looked at were Wills – it was surprising how many people had not consided using this useful source. Surveying my collection of Madder wills for examples, I came across the following three documents that tell a story.
The first is the PCC Will of Thomas Mather (TNA ref: PROB 11/386/357)
Thomas writes, on 8th Mar 1685/6) that he is a Mariner of London and “intending a voyage by Gods permission to the Citty of New Yorke and other parts in the West Indies ….in the Shipp called the Thomas and Anne Mr Andrew Elton Captaine “. He leaves all his goods and estate to his sister Martha Coppocke, whom he also names as execetrix. This Will was proved at London on 7th March 1687 by the said Martha Coppocke.
All perfectly straightforward, except that there is another PCC Will. This one is for a Thomas Madder (PROB 11/387/70). It dispenses with all the usual preamble and reads:
“In the Name of God Amen
These are to satisfy whom it may concern that this being the last Will
and Testmoney of Thomas Madder belonging to the Pinke Thomas and Ann
Andrew Elton Master That the said Madder doe will and desire that first what
I doe now possess or hath owning to me May be delivered into the hands of my loveing
Master Henry Tharpe and the said Tharpe to satisfy himselfe for what sumes of
money I am indebted unto him And I doe will and desire the said Tharpe after he
hath satisfyed himselfe of his debt to give the residue of what may be left to my
welbeloved Sister Mathew Coppock and in soe doe you will doe the Will and
desire of your poor servant Dated on board the Thomas and Ann being in the
Latitude of 19d- North Latt Whereunto I sett my hand this 24 day of
december Anno 1686 The mark of Thomas Madder
In the presentes of
Andrew Elton Simeon Butler Isaac Moyne”
It was proved by George Thorpe, Henry Thorpe’s representative on 1st Apr 1687.
This is interesting for several reasons. This is obviously the same person, so proves that the name Madder and Mather were interchangeable at this date. The sister’s name is written as Mathew – something to watch out if you come across the name – is the person male or female? Also the spelling of Thorpe as Tharpe – could this be an indication of the accent of Thomas Madder?
So why two wills? I have written about finding this before, in my post A Problem with Wills but I think in this case it is because the second was considered to be a Nuncupative Will. This is an announcement by someone, usually on their deathbed, made in the presence of witnesses but not legally written down and signed. A nuncupative will could not invalidate a previous, properly written Will. Although this second will appears to be properly signed and has the same effect, someone thought that they should both be recorded.
But I mentioned a third document. This appears in the TNA catalogue as PROB 4/24852 Madder, Thomas in parts beyond the seas, batchelor 1 Apr 1687. Unlike the PCC Wills which can be downloaded, this document had to be ordered at the TNA. It arrived in the searchroom in an envelope: a tightly rolled piece of parchment a few inches square – it looked like an old cigarette! After carefull unrolling this is what appeared:
This was a good exercise on Saturday, but for those of you who were not in my class, here is the transcription:
An Inventary of the / goods Debts and Credits of / Thomas Madder late in parts(?) / beyond the seas bachelor deceased /
Made this first day of April / 1687 and is as follows
Inprimis wages due to the deceased for his service aboard / the Thomas and Ann Pink £4 8s
Item what he had aboard and his wearing cloathes and debts aboard £20 0s
Sum xxiiii (24) viii (8)
It is an account of the wages due to Thomas and the money raised by selling his possessions – probably to his fellow shipmates on board the Thomas and Ann.
What we can learn from this is that Thomas Madder left London in March 1686 on a voyage to New York and the West Indies. It might have been his first time at sea, acting as servant to Henry Thorpe. Knowing how dangerous life at sea could be, he wrote his will before he left. By Christmas Eve that year he knew he was dying, whether of disease or injuries is not known – probably the former, as the West Indies were renowned for their unhealthy climate (Latitude 19 deg North would be on a level with the Caribbean – no Longitude at this date of course). Not knowing if his original Will would have survived or perhaps thinking that Henry Thorpe would be the best person to look after his interests, he made the new Will. By the end of March 1687 Henry (or George) had returned to London, together with the inventory he had made of Thomas’s possessions, to settle the estate.
I hope Thomas’s sister Martha Coppocke got her £24 8s (worth a bit over £2000 today) but not much recompense for losing her brother.
I think one of the amazing things about these documents is that they survived – especially the Inventory, perhaps brought back on the ship. Such a small piece of parchment to be kept in the archives for over 300 years, without ever getting lost, to be produced when I ordered it up. I wonder if anyone else apart from the archivists had ever looked at it before me?