What do we learn from the will of Elizabeth Collins?

In my last post I reproduced a transcript of the will of Elizabeth Collins, spinster of Epping, who died in 1761 and who I believe was the aunt of the John Collins who married my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth nee Gibson (1733 – 1809).

What do we learn from Elizabeth Collins’ will, and what light can it throw on John Collins and his connections with my family’s history? The will certainly confirms that Elizabeth, like her brother Richard (John’s father) was a wealthy woman, owning a number of properties in the Epping area. The main beneficiary of her will appears to be her nephew William (John’s younger brother) who was born in 1739 and thus would have been about twenty when the will was written in 1759: the document makes reference to him inheriting when he reaches the age of twenty-one. Another Elizabeth Collins – the sister of William and John – is also a key beneficiary of the will.

A nephew by the name of Joshua Small is also mentioned. He seems to be the son of Elizabeth Collins’ younger sister Sarah, born in 1688, who married Henry Small in 1708. Interestingly, their marriage, like a number of others in the Collins family, took place in London – at St James, Dukes Place – even though the parish register describes both bride and groom as being ‘of Epping’. Joshua, born in 1722, was probably Henry’s and Sarah’s youngest child: they had at least two older children, Richard (1711) and Sarah (1713). According to the will, two other nieces named Sarah Collins, also beneficiaries, married a John Franklin and a Mr Dillworth, and another (great) niece, Jane Reynolds (daughter of another niece with the same name) is also an heir. There is also mention of a cousin Susannah, married to a William Clarke.

St James Duke's Place

Elizabeth Collins’ nephew John, the person who I think married my ancestor Elizabeth Gibson, is referred to three times in the will. Although William seems to be the main heir of his aunt’s property, he is directed to make provision from it for his brother John:

That he my said nephew William Collins his heirs or assigns shall and do out of the said messuage or tenement lands and premises so devised to him and them as aforesaid well and truly pay or cause to be paid unto my nephew John Collins one other of the sons of my said late brother Richard Collins deceased one annuity or yearly sum of forty shillings of like lawfull money for and during the term of his natural life free and clear of all taxes and charges whatsoever ?? upon two of the most usual feasts or days of payment in the year (that is to say) The feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Michael the Archangel by even and equal portions the first payment thereof to begin and be made at or upon the first of the said feasts which shall next happen after my decease.

A similar instruction is given to William’s sister Elizabeth, who will have to pay John an even larger annuity of eight pounds in a similar twice-yearly fashion. Later in the will, provisions are put in place to compensate John if his brother or sister should ever default on their payments.

Why John should be a secondary, rather than a primary beneficiary of his aunt’s will is not clear. Perhaps he was already established in property of his own, and did not need the kind of assistance offered to his brother William? However, what is clear from this will, and of importance for our purposes, is that John was obviously still alive in 1759. He married Elizabeth Gibson in 1753 when he would twenty, and we know that he must have died by 1763 when she married her second husband, Joseph Holdsworth. The evidence of his aunt’s will is that John died some time between 1759 and 1763, and the fact that no mention is made of his death at the ‘proving’ stage may indicate that he died after 1761. No mention is made of his marital status or of any children in the will, but it may be that only husbands had legal claim over their wives’ inheritance, and not vice versa, so there was no need to specifically mention his wife.

Modern map, showing North Weald in relation to Epping (South Weald is just off map, below Pilgrims Hatch)

The other intriguing thing about Elizabeth Collins’ will is the location of her properties. The properties she bequeaths to her niece Elizabeth are in Epping itself, and in Epping Bury, but her nephew William is to inherit lands in the parish of North Weald or North Weald Bassett. This village was about three miles to the north-east of Epping. It was somewhat further – about eleven miles – to South Weald, but perhaps it is more than just coincidence that this is where Elizabeth Gibson and her second husband, my 5 x great grandfather Joseph Holdsworth, would live after their marriage? Does this begin to suggest ways in which Elizabeth might have met her second husband? Perhaps John Collins also inherited lands in this part of Essex, and he and Elizabeth lived there until is death (though that wouldn’t explain why Elizabeth and Joseph were married in Southwark)?

Searching for the record of John Collins’ death – perhaps in Essex, in Epping or nearby, probably between 1761 and 1763 – might be the next step in discovering more about him and his marriage to my 5 x great grandmother.

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