I’ve written before about John William Bonner (1762 – 1817), who (according to Ancestry) was my first cousin six times removed. John William was the son of Captain Michael Bonner, a mariner, and Frances Gibson. Frances was the sister of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson, who married Joseph Holdsworth, and both were daughters of Lieutenant John Gibson and his wife Mary Greene, daughter of goldsmith Joseph Greene. Elizabeth Holdsworth nee Gibson and her nephew John William Bonner are both buried in the Greene family vault in the churchyard of St Dunstan, Stepney.

I’ve found some new information about John William, which helps to flesh out the background of my ancestors’ lives in 18th century London. John William Bonner was born early in 1762, in the second year of the reign of George III, in Darby Street, which ran between Rosemary Lane and the churchyard of St Botolph’s, Aldgate (see map below); he was christened in the parish church on 17 January. He was the elder of the two sons of Michael and Frances Bonner: by the time John’s younger brother Michael was born six years later, the family would be living in Bird Street, Wapping.

Part of Aldgate and Whitechapel, from Rocque's 1746 map

I’ve found an entry in the Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures which appears to refer to John William. The entry was made on 6 November 1776 (the year of the American Declaration of Independence), when ‘our’ John would have been fourteen years old. The name of the apprentice is given as John William Bonner, while the ‘master’ is a merchant of Lime Street, London, with the curious name of ‘Other Winder’. Is this a mis-spelling of ‘Arthur’ or is something else meant by the word ‘other’ here? At any rate, the only merchant by the name of Winder that I can find in contemporary directories is Joseph Winder, who is listed in Wakefield’s Merchant and Tradesman’s General Directory for London of 1790, as a ‘stock broker financial/broking services’ between 1776 and 1800, and whose address is given as Garraway’s Coffee House in Change Alley, Cornhill (opposite the Royal Exchange). Lime Street is somewhat to the east of this, between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street.

Five years later, on 22 December 1781, two months after the British surrender to George Washington, and when John William Bonner was within a month of his twentieth birthday, he married Sarah Ford at St. Mary, Whitechapel. Both John and Sarah were said to be ‘of this parish’. One of the witnesses to the marriage was Susanna Ford, and from this information I’ve been able to build up a likely family tree for Sarah. Sarah and Susannah were both daughters of John Ford and his wife Elizabeth, who lived for most of their lives in Rupert Street, which was to the east of Goodmans Fields and ran south from Aycliff Street towards the Rosemary Lane area where John William Bonner was born (see map above). I haven’t been able to discover John Ford’s occupation, but there are a number of contemporary wills for mariners of that name, and it’s possible the Fords were friends or associates of the Bonner family.

St Mary's church, Whitechapel

It’s possible that John and Elizabeth Ford are the couple who married at St Leonard, Shoreditch in December 1748. Their first child, Hannah, was born in 1751; Mary was born in 1755; Edward in 1757; Sarah, born in 1759, was their fourth child and Susannah, 1760, their fifth; their last child, Ann, was born in 1763. All of these children were born in Rupert Street and christened at St Mary, Whitechapel.

Susanna Ford was one of three witnesses to her sister’s marriage to John William Bonner. One of the others was George French, who may be the person of that name born in Shadwell in 1763, the son of mariner George French and his wife Ann.

But it’s the name of the first witness to the marriage that is most intriguing. There are three words, but from the digital image (see above), it’s difficult to be sure if these constitute one name or two. The second and third words are definitely ‘Jno Gibson’, but the first word could either be a prefix to this, or another name followed by a dividing line. This first word certainly begins with a capital ‘B’ and is followed by an ‘o’, but is that third letter a ‘w’ or a ‘u’, and is there a loop to the final line, making it a ‘y’ or even a ‘g’? Is this John Gibson’s title, and if so, what on earth is it?

The John Gibson who springs immediately to mind is, of course, John William Bonner’s maternal grandfather, the father of his mother Frances. We don’t have a definite record of his death, so it’s possible he was still alive in 1781. However, since he married his wife Mary in 1729, he would have been an old man, probably around seventy years old, by this time. At the time of his marriage he had the rank of Lieutenant, but by this time he might have acquired a different status. Or is this witness a completely different John Gibson?