Was my 9 x great grandfather a barber-surgeon?

My recent posts have explored the seventeenth-century seafaring Greene family, from the hamlet of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stepney, east London. I’ve been trying to discover whether my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene, a Ratcliffe mariner who died in 1686, was connected to this family in some way. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yet to identify any such link.

Ratcliffe, from the river (painting by Benjamin Burnell, 1794)

William Greene the elder of Ratcliffe, who died in 1634, had three sons, all of whom were mariners like him. Two of those sons, Bartholomew and William the younger, had sons named William, but these died either in infancy or youth. The third son, John, remains something of an enigma: he lived in Newcastle, whose records are less readily accessible, so we can’t be sure he didn’t have a son called William.

One of my difficulties in identifying my ancestor’s origins is a lack of precise information about the date of his birth. William died in January 1686 and his tombstone indicates that he was 60 years old at the time. However, the second digit of his age was unclear when it was transcribed a hundred years ago, so he might have been anything from 60 to 69 when he died, meaning that he could have been born any time between 1617 and 1626. My recent discovery of a marriage allegation that might relate to William could provide another clue: when he married Elizabeth Elliott in March of 1676 or 1677, this William Greene was said to be 60 years old ‘or thereabouts’.

If we are looking for a William Greene, born in the Stepney area in the mid-1620s, there are only a few possible candidates. William, son of silkweaver Samuel Greene and his wife Mary, was christened at St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 20th Mary 1627. Since the family lived in White Horse Street, on the edge of Ratcliffe, this record initially looked promising. However, the same couple had another son named William baptised three years later, on 23rd January 1630, suggesting that the first William had died in the meantime. This second child could be my ancestor, but if so, he would only have been 56 when he died.

Another, more promising candidate is the William Greene who was christened at the same church on 14th March in either 1623 or 1624 (the parish register is unclear about the year). If he survived, this William Greene would have been somewhere between 61 and 63 years old in January 1686, depending on exactly when he was born. Like the sons of Samuel and Mary Greene, he also has in his favour the fact that he was born in Ratcliffe.

Anatomy lesson being given to barber surgeons by John Banister (1530 – 1610)

This William was the son of another William Greene and his wife Agnes, about whom I wrote in two earlier posts. William senior was a chirurgeon or barber-surgeon – and this is the main reason that I’ve resisted the theory that he was the father of ‘my’ William Greene. Surely it’s more likely that Captain Greene would come from a seafaring family? On the other hand, growing up in Ratcliffe, young William would have been surrounded by mariners – some of them perhaps members of his own extended family – and that might have been enough to tempt him to the seafaring life. It’s also possible that William senior was a ship’s surgeon.

In any case, the fact that the William Greene christened in 1623/4 was born in Ratcliffe and seems to have survived (at least, I’ve yet to find a burial record for him), means that we can’t dismiss him out of hand as a possible match for my ancestor. I want to use the remainder of this post to revisit William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, and review what we know about him and his family – just in case he turns out to be my 9 x great grandfather.

The christening record for his son, William, is in fact the first definite record we have for this William Greene – that is, the first to mention his profession. However, given that we know his wife’s name was Agnes, it seems likely that the William and Agnes Greene of Ratcliffe who had a daughter Margaret baptised two or three years earlier, on 14th November 1619, were the same couple. Both of these children were born in the closing years of the reign of King James I, who died in 1625.

It’s also possible that the William Greene of Ratcliffe and Agnes Hursh (?), a widow, who were married at St Dunstan’s on 29th December 1606 were the same couple, though this date seems a long time before the birth of the above children. As I noted in an earlier post, their wedding took place a year after the Gunpowder Plot, and three days after Shakespeare’s King Lear was first performed before King James in the Banqueting House at Whitehall.

St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in a 1615 map of the parish

Margaret Greene was christened at St Dunstan’s on 14 November 1619 and William on 14 March 1623 or 1624. The record of William’s baptism is the only one to give an address for the Greene family. They lived in Cow Lane, Ratcliffe, though I’ve yet to identify a street of this name on old maps of the village. The nearest Cow Lane I can find ran from east to west between Farmer Street and New Gravel Lane, a little to the south of Ratcliffe Highway and Upper Shadwell.

In one of my earlier posts about this family, I said that William’s wife Agnes died in 1625 and was buried at St Dunstan’s. However, reviewing my notes I see that the record I have is for a burial at St Mary, Whitechapel, and the parish register makes no reference to Agnes being the wife of William. It’s possible that this is the same person, but unlikely, given that all the other records we have for the family are from St Dunstan’s. I think I was responding to the fact that christening records for later children of William Greene give his wife’s name as Anne. However, as we saw in the case of Bartholomew Greene’s wife, the names Agnes and Anne seem to have been interchangeable in the records at this time.

Since writing that earlier post, I’ve also discovered an additional child born to the couple. On 25th October 1626, a child whose name is partly obscured in the register but who seems to be called Anne was christened at St Dunstan’s. She was said to be the daughter of  William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, and his wife Anne. Of course, it’s possible that Anne was William’s second wife: but given that the only burial date we have for an Agnes Greene was just over a year before, this would seem like undue haste, and probably unlikely.

On 17th January 1628, William Greene of Ratcliffe, ‘barber and chirurgeon’, and his wife Anne, had a son named Emmanuel baptised at St Dunstan’s. Emmanuel died in infancy and was buried on 16th July 1632. William and Anne Greene would have four more children: Mary, christened at St Dunstan’s on 21st October 1631; Elizabeth on 24th January 1633; Ellen on 14th October 1636; and Abigail on 1st July 1639.

All of these children were born during the reign of King Charles I. There is then a gap in the family records, though we know that William’s wife Anne or Agnes must have died some time between the birth of Abigail and July 1645, when William married for a second time. In the meantime, the Civil War had broken out, and indeed the wedding took place one month after the Battle of Naseby, which effectively ended the war and led to the surrender of the King. On 28th July 1645, at St Dunstan’s church, the marriage took place of William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, and Anne Roades (or Rhodes) of Brook Street (also in Ratcliffe), widow.

Confirmation that this is the same William Greene, and not (for example) his son William (who, if he survived, would have been 20 or 21 years old by now) comes in William’s will, written nine years later, which refers to the property he owned ‘before my marriage to my wife Anne Rhodes’, and also mentions his daughters Mary, Elizabeth, Ellen and Abigail from his previous marriage.

I’ve been unable to find evidence of any children from this second marriage – William’s will refers to the children named above as ‘my foure youngest daughters’ – and perhaps we should not be surprised, given that his second wife was a widow and that William himself must have been at least in his mid-forties by this time.

William Green ‘of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex chirurgeon’ composed his last will and testament on 25th August 1654, in the second year of Oliver Cromwell’s rule as Lord Protector. William divided most of his ‘worldly estate’ between his four youngest daughters, who would have been aged 23, 21, 18 and 15 at the time.  However, the failure to mention his other children, Margaret, William and Anne, does not necessarily mean that they did not survive. Indeed, the description of Mary, Elizabeth, Ellen and Abigail as William’s ‘youngest daughters’ suggests that older offspring (or at least, daughters) were still alive. Margaret would have been 34, William about 30, and Anne 28, so it’s likely that, if still living, they would now be married. The brevity of William senior’s will indicates that he wasn’t a man of great wealth, so perhaps he didn’t have sufficient property to leave to his non-dependent older children, or to any grandchildren for that matter.

Almshouses of the Coopers’ Company, Ratcliffe

William Greene’s will was proven on 24th April 1656, suggesting that he died in that year, though I still haven’t come across a record of his burial. Nor have I found any record of the death of his widow, Anne, though two and half years later, on 28th October 1658, Anne Greene from the Coopers’ Almshouse in Ratcliffe (which I wrote about here) was buried at St Dunstan’s.

Given their very common surname, and in some cases their Christian names, it’s difficult to identify definite marriage dates for William Greene’s children. However, I’m fairly sure that the ‘Elen Greene of Ratcliff Mayde aged 20 yeares’ who married Henry Newbury of Spitalfields at St Dunstan’s on 20 December 1656, some months after William’s death, was his daughter of that name.

So, was William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather? I’ll need to do some more digging around in his family history, starting with some of the other names mentioned in his will, before I can come any closer to answering that question.

Update: 27th September 2012

I’m grateful to my US-based fellow researcher Kori Lambert, who is interested in the connections between the Greene family of Stepney and the New World colonies, specifically Virginia, for sending me details of a story that might involve William Greene the Stepney chirurgeon. I don’t know the exact source for this account, but it reads as follows:

On April 30, 1623, William Green (Greene), a surgeon, who came to Virginia on the Temperance, stated that he had been in the colony for 17 months. Court testimony dating to June 12, 1625, indicates that he had provided medical treatment to John Stephens and his servants while at sea and had witnessed the wills made by Stephens and by Robert Mansteed (Monstidge). Because William Green was planning to leave Virginia, he asked the General Court to see that he was paid for the medical care he had rendered to the late John Stephens. The justices agreed and ordered John Southern to pay Green on Stephens’ behalf….On January 30, 1629, the General Court determined that William Green was indebted to mariner William Barker and ordered John Southern to give Barker some tobacco notes that Green had recovered from Richard Digges.

Could the William Greene of Ratcliffe that I wrote about yesterday have been in Virginia at this time? Certainly, he could have been there in 1625, between the birth of his son William in 1623/4 and that of his daughter Anne in 1626. His presence there in 1629 is less likely, given that his son Emmanuel was born in 1628: but perhaps he did not stay around for the court’s verdict? And if it is the same person, it provides some confirmation of my suspicion that he was a ship’s surgeon…

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