Is this my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather?

A couple of months ago I wrote about Captain William Greene, mariner of Ratcliffe, who appears to be my earliest known ancestor. His son, City of London goldsmith Joseph Greene, had a daughter Mary who married a Lieutenant John Gibson. Their daughter Elizabeth was married twice: first to John Collins and then to Joseph Holdsworth. Joseph and Elizabeth’s son William Holdsworth had a daughter Eliza, who married Biggleswade shoemaker Daniel Roe, and their son, another shoemaker named Daniel, had a son Joseph Priestley Roe, who was the father of my maternal grandmother (my ‘Nan’) Minnie Louisa Roe.

I’ve been trying to find out more about Captain Greene. I’ve discovered three wills for people who might be him, one of which I mentioned in my earlier post. This was written in 1694 and mentions a wife named Elizabeth, but no son by the name of Joseph: this William Greene’s children were Edmond and Mary. I also came across a second will at Ancestry, which has just made a splendid collection of London wills and probate records available online. This will, written in 1702, is for another Stepney mariner named William Greene, who was about to set sail on ‘the good ship the Burford’. He, too, had a wife named Elizabeth, but no children are mentioned.

Frost fair on the Thames, 1684

However, a third will, also found via Ancestry, looks more promising, and I’m including my transcription of it below. The William Greene who composed this testament specifically mentions Ratcliffe as his abode, and in addition to a wife named Elizabeth, he has a son named Joseph. What’s more, this son has not yet reached the age of twenty-one, which (since the will was written in 1685) is consistent with what we know of ‘our’ Joseph, who was born in February 1677. This William Greene has two grandchildren, William and Mary: the fact that their surname is Greene suggests they are the children of another son, who is not mentioned in the will, so had probably died by the time it was written. William also has a daughter, Mary, who is married to someone by the name of White.

In his will William Greene mentions the ‘Elder Brothers of Trinity House, of which I am a member’. Trinity House was (and still is) a charitable guild of mariners which in the 17th century was granted exclusive rights to license pilots on the River Thames. The Elder Brethren constituted the ‘court’ of the corporation and were all master mariners. This suggests that Captain William Greene (if this is indeed him) was not a seafearing mariner (like the other two whose wills I’ve considered) but probably a pilot on the Thames. Unfortunately the records of Trinity House are not online, so a visit to the Guildhall may be necessary if we want to find out more about Captain Greene’s career.

Trinity House, Tower Hill, London

The major problem with this will, however, is its date. The will was signed on 22nd October 1685, and the Latin inscription at the foot of the page indicates it was ‘proven’  a year later.  This contradicts the information on the family tomb in Stepney churchyard, which claims that ‘our’ Captain William Greene died on 2 January 1682. However, the person who copied the inscription conceded that the last numeral of this date might be wrong. But even if William died in 1686 rather than 1682, would there have been a delay until October before the will was proven? On the other hand, the fact that this William was ‘weak and infirme of body’ when he wrote his will in October 1685 is consistent with him dying the following January.

Clearly, we need more information before we can confirm that this is definitely my 8 x great grandfather’s last will and testament. In the meantime, it’s thrilling to entertain even the possibility of identifying an ancestor who lived through the brief reign of England’s last Stuart monarch, James II.  James came to the throne in the year this will was written, but would be driven from power within three years by the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ headed by William of Orange. And within a few decades my Aberdeenshire Robb ancestors would be joining the doomed struggle to restore James, and later his son the Bonnie Prince, to the throne.

As before, I’ve kept the spelling and punctuation of the original will, though I’ve removed most of the initial capital letters on words:

In the name of God Amen I William Greene of Ratcliffe in the parish of St ?? at Stepney in the County of Middx mariner being weak and infirme of body but of sound purpose and disposing (?) mind and memory (thanks be to God for the same) doe make publish and declare this to be my last will and testament in the manner and forme following (that is to say) First I commend my soule into the hands of Almighty God my Creator hoping through the merits of Christ to obtaine pardon of all my sinnes And as touching that outward estate which it hath pleased God to bestow upon me in this world I doe hereby dispose thereof as followeth  viz (?) imprimis I give devise and bequeath unto my son Joseph Green all my silver plate gold rings and jewells whatsoever But in case my said son Joseph Green should happen to dye and depart this life before he attaine unto the age of one and twenty yeares that then and in such case I give and bequeath one moiety or half part of the said silver and jewells to my two grandchildren William Greene and Mary Greene equally to be divided betweene them and the other moiety or half part thereof unto my dear and loving wife Elizabeth Greene if she should be then living But in case of her death also that then my said two grandchildren shall have and enjoy the moiety or half part last mentioned to be given to her of the said promises Item I further give and bequeath unto my said son Joseph Green his executors administrators and assigns the house I now live in and all the interest and terme of years that I have therein and yet to come and unexpired after the death of his mother my said wife Elizabeth Greene But it is my expresse mind and will that she doe enjoy the same during her life and no longer att and under the ground rent payable for the same Item I further give to my said son Joseph Green all my debts and moneys whatsoever to me due and owing by bills bonds specially (?) or otherwise howsoever Item I give and bequeath unto my said loving wife Elizabeth Greene all the other houses and ?? which I had with her upon my ?? marriage with her Item I give and bequeath unto my loving daughter Mary White late Greene the sum of seventy shillings of lawfull money of England And I desire that my said wife Elizabeth Green will att my funeral give unto such and so many my worthy friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House (whereof I am a member) whose names are mentioned in a note under my hand delivered to my said wife to each person a ring to wear in remembrance of me and to such other of my friends and acquaintance that may be invited and be present at my funeral gloves And lastly I do hereby make and ordain my said loving wife Elizabeth Greene the full and sole executrix of this my last will and testament revoking all other former wills and testaments whatsoever by me at any time heretofore made published and declared In witness whereof I the said William Greene have to this my last will and testament contained in one sheet of paper set my hand and seale the two and twentyeth day of October in the first year of the reign of our sovereigne lord James the second by the grace of God King of England Scotland France (?) and Ireland defender of the faith or. Annoq. Dni. 1685

Signed sealed and declared by the said William Greene the testator to be his last will and testament of us who have subscribed our names in the presence of the said William Greene

Tho Rolson (?)

Barnard Glover (?)

Saml Knowles

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