The ‘other’ William Greene, revisited

In my last post I returned to the story of my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, who died in 1686, setting down everything that we know for certain about him. When I last explored William Greene’s life, I found it difficult not to confuse him with other people sharing the same name, also living in the Stepney area in the second half of the seventeenth century. In particular, it was hard to disentangle his story from that of another mariner named William Greene, who died in 1696. As part of the process of ‘clearing the ground’ before renewing my search for information about my ancestor, I want to use this post to review everything that we know about the ‘other’ William Greene.

Ships of the Royal Navy in action, 17th century

My first encounter with this William Greene was through his will, signed and sealed on 14th May 1694, which I came across when I was searching for records of ‘my’ William. I knew at once that this was a different person – the date was at least a decade too late, and the names of his children were different – but there were also some striking, and confusing, similarities between the two men. This William Greene was also a mariner in Stepney, and like my ancestor he too had a wife named Elizabeth. He wrote his will when he was ‘bound out on a voyage’ and the Latin record of the will’s ‘proving’ seems to indicate that he died at sea: the will was proven in  August 1696 and mentions that William died on board the ship the Friendly Society, a hired vessel operated by the Royal Navy between 1693 and 1695.

St Paul’s church, Shadwell

What else do we learn about this ‘other’ William Greene from his will? He mentions only two surviving children: his son Edmond, and his daughter Mary, who is married to one George Perkins. As already noted, William also mentions his wife, Elizabeth. We can use this information to fill in some of the details of William’s biography. The only Edmond or Edmund Greene who fits the bill was born to ‘William Greene of Wapping Wall mariner’ and christened at the church of St Paul’s, Shadwell, on 20th July 1676: this would mean he was eighteen years old when his father wrote his will. As I noted in my earlier post about this William Greene, the fact that Edmund’s mother’s name was Mary and not Elizabeth need not concern us: second and even third marriages were not uncommon at this time, given mortality rates.

As for William’s daughter Mary: on 16th July 1691 (three years before William wrote his will), George Perkins of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, mariner, married Mary Greene of Wapping, spinster, at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Mary is almost certainly the person of that name who was christened at St Paul’s, Shadwell, on 28th April 1672, the daughter of William Greene of Wapping Wall, mariner, and his wife Mary, meaning that she was 19 when she got married. As I noted in an earlier post, George and Mary Perkins appear to have had three children: George (1692), Jeremiah (1694) and William (1696).

Besides Edmund and Mary, I’ve also found evidence of a third child born to William Greene of Wapping: Rebecca Greene was born at Wapping Wall in 1674 to William and Mary and christened at St Paul’s, Shadwell, on 11th March of that year. She died at the age of 5 and was buried at the same church on 4th June 1679.

Wapping and Shadwell c 1650

There is one further record that may refer to this ‘other’ William Greene, and which creates further potential confusion with his namesake and fellow-mariner. As I reported some time ago, the parish register of St Dunstan’s, Stepney records the christening on Christmas Eve, 1682, of someone whose name seems to be ‘John Boy’, described as ‘a black of Capt. Will. Green of Wapping mariner aged 19 years or thereabouts’.  As I noted at the time, this person was probably a servant or slave, perhaps brought back from a sea voyage. The location – Wapping – seems to indicate that this is the ‘other’ William Greene, of Wapping Wall, rather than ‘my’ William. The latter is described in every record we have of him – his son Joseph’s christening record of 1677, his will of 1685, his burial record of 1686, and the inscription on his tomb – as living in Ratcliffe – not very far from Wapping, admittedly, but still a separate hamlet. So the evidence appears to point to ‘John Boy’ belonging to the ‘other’ William – who, confusingly, also turns out to have been a ship’s captain.

However, there is one piece of evidence pointing in a different direction. We know that the vessel on which the ‘other’ William sailed on his last voyage, the Friendly Society, was commanded in 1694 by another man, one Habbakuk Wiles. Does this mean that William Greene of Wapping Wall was not, after all, a captain? And if not, then did ‘John Boy’ belong to ‘my’ William? These questions can’t yet be resolved.

On 4th December 1676, Mary, wife of William Greene of Wapping Wall, mariner, was buried at St Paul Shadwell – just five months after giving birth to her son Edmund. We know, then, that William Greene must have married his second wife Elizabeth some time between the death of Mary in 1676 and the writing of his will in May 1694.

I’ve found records of at least two marriages between a William Greene and someone named Elizabeth from this period and in this area. It’s possible that one of them is this ‘other’ William, while the second might well be my ancestor, William Greene of Ratcliffe. I’ll write about these marriages in my next post.

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