Captain William Greene, 17th century mariner

In my last post I stated that London goldsmith Joseph Greene was my earliest confirmed ancestor, and the first person in my family tree to have been born in the 17th century. (Joseph was my 7 x great grandfather: his granddaughter Elizabeth Gibson married Joseph Holdsworth and their granddaughter Eliza Holdsworth married Daniel Roe).

However, I can now go one stage further and confirm the identity of Joseph’s father, and thus my 8 x great grandfather, William Greene. I mentioned before that the family vault constructed by Joseph in Stepney churchyard contains the remains (among others) of ‘Capt. W. Greene late of Ratcliff mariner who died the third of January 1682 aged 60 also of Mrs. Eliz Greene who died the 14th of December 1712 aged 80’. I suspected that these were Joseph’s parents, but further research (and conferring, once again, with my trusty fellow researchers Ron Roe and Adrian Holdsworth) has now confirmed it.

A rare view of ships in London dock, early 18th century

In my update to the last post, I noted that I’d found the record of Joseph Greene’s baptism. The family vault states that Joseph died in 1737 at the age of 60, which means he would have been born in about 1677. On 14 March 1677 Joseph, son of Capt. William Greene of Ratcliff, mariner, and his wife Elizabeth, was christened at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. He was twenty-two days old at the time.

If the information on the tomb at St Dunstan’s is correct, then William Greene was born in about 1622 and his wife Elizabeth about ten years later. I’ve yet to find a definitive record of their marriage, nor have I been able to confirm whether (as seems likely) they had other children besides Joseph.

On 6 December 1691 a William Greene, ‘son of William Greene of Ratcliff, mariner’ and his wife Elizabeth, was baptized at St Dunstan’s. However, even if the date on the tomb is wrong and ‘our’ William died later than 1682, he and his wife Elizabeth would have been quite old by this date. It’s more likely that this child (who appears to have died in infancy about a year later) was the son of a different mariner named William Greene – perhaps ‘our’ William’s son?

I’ve purchased the will of a Captain William Greene of Stepney, written in 1694, but this too appears to be the wrong man – though this person is also a mariner, and is married to someone called Elizabeth. However, the will makes no reference to Joseph, and instead mentions a son Edmond and daughter Mary, the wife of another mariner named George Perkins. The will was written because its author was ‘now bound out on a voyage to sea’ and was signed and sealed on 14 May 1694, this being ‘the sixth year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary over England’ (the so-called Glorious Revolution, deposing James II, had taken place in 1688). Was this also ‘our’ William’s son?

Mary Green of Wapping had married George Perkins mariner of St Botolph Aldgate three years earlier, on 16 July 1691, at St Dunstan’s Stepney. I’ve yet to find any definitive records for Edmond Greene. More work is obviously needed to establish the relationship, if any, between the William Greene, mariner, who was the father of William, Edmond and Mary, and the William Greene, mariner, who was the father of Joseph.

Whatever the outcome, it’s fascinating to have discovered an ancestor so far back in English history. If William Greene was indeed born in 1622, then he was born three years before the accession of Charles I, and the Civil War would have begun when he was about 20, making it possible that he saw action during this conflict (and perhaps explaining the difficulty in finding evidence of his marriage: the war interrupted the keeping of parish records). Most of William’s adult life would have been lived under Cromwell’s Commonwealth, while his son Joseph was born after the Restoration of Charles II.

Ratcliff, from Rocque's 1746 map of London

Ratcliff, where William and Elizabeth Greene lived, was at this time a separate hamlet liying between Shadwell and Limehouse. It was originally known for shipbuilding and later for provisioning ships, and in the 16th century a number of voyages of discovery departed from there. There was a strong association with Dissent and Nonconformity. By the early 17th century, Ratcliffe had the largest population of any village in Stepney,  with 3500 residents. From the early 18th century, the ships of the East India Company sailed regularly from this part of London, and many of its captains lived in the Stepney area.

Derek Morris’ pioneering history of Mile End Old Town in the 18th century includes a wealth of detail about the maritime associations of this area. In his discussion of local educational provision, he mentions the opportunities for young boys to gain experience of life at sea, and cites two famous examples from the 18th century: the future preacher and hymn-writer John Newton and James, the son of explorer Captain James Cook. Incidentally, Derek also notes that seven young men from the district were apprenticed to goldsmiths during this period: was Joseph Greene one of these, and was his fee paid out of wealth gained from his father William’s involvement in maritime trade?

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