Exploring the Manser family

I’ve recently established that Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex and author of a famous diatribe against the Quakers, was my maternal 9 x great grandfather. He and his first wife Ann were the parents of John Byne (1651 – 1689), a London citizen and stationer. John and his wife Alice were the parents of Mary Byne (born in 1683) who married London goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737). Joseph and Mary Greene were my 7 x great grandparents.

Investigating my newly-discovered Byne ancestors, and perusing William Charles Renshaw’s exhaustively detailed history of the Bynes of Sussex, I discovered that the parents of Magnus Byne – and thus my 10 x great grandparents – were Stephen Byne of Burwash and his wife Mary Manser or Maunser. According to Renshaw, Mary was the daughter of John Manser of Wadhurst, who died in 1598, in the closing years of the reign of Elizabeth I.

Countryside near Wadhurst, Sussex (via argus.co.uk)

Countryside near Wadhurst, Sussex (via theargus.co.uk)

The discovery of someone with the surname Manser in my Byne family tree solved a question that had been prompted by the will of another Stephen Byne, the London citizen and upholsterer who was the brother of my 8 x great grandfather John. In his will of 1674, Stephen leaves ‘my cosen John manser the sume of forty shillings’ and appoints the same man as one of the two overseers of the will (the other being his father-in-law, Thomas Whiting). We learn from Renshaw that John Manser was an apothecary in East Smithfield, London, and that in his own will, drawn up in 1680, towards the end of the reign of Charles II, he appointed ‘my kinsman John Byne of Tower Hill’ as the overseer of his own will.

It’s reasonable to assume that, if John Manser was a ‘cosen’ and ‘kinsman’ of Stephen and John Byne, it was because he was related to their maternal grandmother, Mary. But what exactly was the connection between John Manser, the London apothecary, and Mary Manser, the husband of Burwash yeoman Stephen Byne?

East Smithfield, from Rocque's 1746 map of London

East Smithfield, from Rocque’s 1746 map of London

I’ve tracked down the will of John Manser of East Smithfield and have begun to tease out what it tells us about his family. We learn from the will that John’s wife was named Jane and that he had two sons, John junior and Abraham, and two daughters, Rebecca and Jane. As well as his kinsman John Byne (who was also a witness to the will), John Manser appointed his own brother Nicholas as an overseer, and his wife Jane as executrix. There is mention of a sister whose married name is Deborah Barber and, in the same sentence, of a nephew and godson named John. Finally, the will refers to money given to John’s daughter Rebecca by her aunt Rebecca Sawen.

I plan to transcribe the whole of John Manser’s will at a later date, but for now we can conclude that, at the time of his death in 1680, he was married to a woman named Jane and they had four surviving children: John, Abraham, Rebecca and Jane. If we search for records of this family, we find that on 12th December 1675, Rebecca, daughter of John and Jane Manser of East Smithfield was christened at St Botolph’s, Aldgate. I’ve yet to find a baptismal record for their daughter Jane or for their son Abraham.

However, on 21st January 1653 (the year in which Cromwell became Lord Protector of England),  John and Sarah Manser of Tower Hill had two sons (twins, perhaps?) named John and Thomas baptised at St Botolph’s church. I’ve also found baptismal records at the same church for two other children born to (what I assume is) the same couple: Joseph, born in 1657 at Tower Hill, and Elizabeth who was born in 1663 in East Smithfield but died there aged 12 and was buried in February 1675. There is also a burial record for Nicholas Manser on 9th January 1677. This last record is interesting because it describes the deceased as the son of John Manser of East Smithfield, but makes no mention of his mother’s name. I believe this is because John’s wife Sarah had died five years earlier: on 23rd October 1672, Sarah, wife of John Manser of East Smithfield, was buried at St Botolph’s.

St Botolph without Aldgate

St Botolph without Aldgate

My theory is that Jane, who was the mother of Rebecca and Jane junior, married John Manser some time between 1672 and 1675, probably in 1674, a year before the birth of Rebecca, though I’ve yet to find a record of their marriage. Presumably, John’s sons Thomas and Joseph from his first marriage had died by the time he came to write his will.

Searching for records of John Manser’s second wife Jane, I came across an interesting probate document in the Ancestry database that had been wrongly labelled with her name. In fact, the document concerned one Rebecca Sawen, the person described in John Manser’s will as his daughter Rebecca’s aunt. Jane was actually a witness to this will, which was dated 16th January 1679, a year before her husband John Manser’s death. The document informs us that on this date ‘appeared personally’ Jane Manser of the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate, aged about 40 years, with Margaret Tailor of the same parish, and swore that they were well acquainted with the late Rebecca Sawen, also of the same parish, and that they had been with her in her last sickness in the previous December when she ‘had a mind to make her will’. This will included the bequest to her niece Rebecca Manser mentioned in John Manser’s will. The deceased had also left property to her ‘brother and sister’ John and Jane Manser and had made John the sole executor of her will. It appears that Rebecca Sawen had made her declaration orally, and that John Manser had then written it down. John’s hastily written note is attached, and it begins ‘December 19 1679 my Sister Rebeckah Sawen was taken sicke and Sunday 21 the small pox came out the 23 she made her …will as followeth’.

John Manser's record of Rebecca Sawen's will

Part of John Manser’s record of Rebecca Sawen’s will

It’s not clear from this document whose sister Rebecca Sawen was – John’s or Jane’s – nor whether Sawen was her maiden or married name. However, by browsing through the burial records at St Botolph’s for December 1679, I eventually found one for Rebecca Sawin of East Smithfield on 30th of that month. Crucially, the parish register describes her as a ‘maiden’: this means that she has to be Jane’s sister, since any unmarried sister of John’s would have had the surname Manser. From that, I concluded that Jane Manser’s maiden name was also originally Sawen or Sawin, unless of course she was a widow when she married John.

Parish church, Little Hadham

Parish church, Little Hadham

I then found a christening record for a ‘Rebecka’ Sawen in Little Hadham, Hertfordshire, on 15th March 1641 (the year before the outbreak of the Civil War); her father’s name was Thomas. A further search led me to a record of the christening on 6th January 1638, at the same place, of Jane Sawen, daughter of Thomas and Ann Sawen. I believe this is almost certainly the Jane who married John Manser. It emerges that Rebecca was the youngest, and Jane the next youngest, of nine children. My guess is that Rebecca lived with Jane and the Manser family in East Smithfield.

Finally for now, I’ve discovered from an online family history that John Manser’s sister Deborah was the wife of William Barber of Ticehurst in Sussex. They were married there on 6th February 1671 and had five children. According to the same source, Deborah was born in 1648 and christened at St Bartholomew’s church in Burwash on 29th October in that year. Now I just have to find a Manser family living in Burwash in the 1640s, who had children named John, Nicholas and Deborah, and work out the connection with my 10 x great grandmother, Mary Byne née Manser.

As for the four surviving children of John Manser, whether his two sons by his first wife Sarah, or his two daughters with his second wife Jane: there is a bewildering number of later records that might possibly refer to them, and I’ll consider these in another post.

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