Captain William Greene: what do we know?

I’m turning my attention back to my earliest confirmed ancestor, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, Stepney (died 1686), and it’s useful to begin by setting down what we already know for certain about him.

The Thames at London, 17th century, before the Great Fire

We first found out about William from the inscription on the family tomb in Stepney churchyard, part of which reads as follows:

Here lie the remains of Capt. W. Greene late of Ratcliff mariner who died the third of January 1682 aged 60 also of Mrs. Eliz Greene who died the 14th of December 1712 aged 80 Also of Mr Joseph Greene Citizen and Goldsmith . . . late of the parish of St B(otolph) who died the 26th of December 1717 aged 60 years

The transcription from which this is taken was made in the late 19th century by a member of the Holdsworth family, who also trace their ancestry back to William Greene. We know that there is at least one mistake in it: Joseph Greene died in 1737, not 1717. However, Joseph’s age is correct:  the parish records tell us that on 14th March 1677, Joseph son of Captain William Green of Ratcliffe mariner and his wife Elizabeth was christened at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney.

1720 map of the parish of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

There is some uncertainty surrounding the precise year of William Greene’s death, and his age when he died. There’s a suggestion that the inscription had become unclear by the time it was transcribed: parentheses were placed around the final digit of 1682 and the second digit of 60.

In fact, the parish register notes that Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, was buried at St Dunstan’s on 6th January 1686. We also have a copy of the will of William Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, written in October 1685 and proven in October 1686, which appears to confirm the date of his death. The will mentions William’s wife, Elizabeth, and his son, Joseph, suggesting that this is indeed the person who is buried in the tomb described above.

The will of William Greene, 1685

There are also records for Joseph Greene which confirm his relationship with William. According to the archives of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Joseph Greene, son of William, mariner, deceased, was apprenticed to Joseph Strong on 15th June 1692, while the record of his admission as a freeman of the City of London declares that Joseph was the son of William Greene of Stepney.

From William Greene’s will of October 1685 we learn that he was, at that time, married to Elizabeth: but this doesn’t necessarily mean that she was his only wife. William would have been in his fifties when his son Joseph was born in 1677, so we must assume that his wife of the time (Joseph’s mother) was somewhat younger and was possibly his second wife. William also mentions that Joseph has not yet come of age: this fits with what we know of ‘our’ Joseph, who would have been nine or ten when his father died, and about fifteen when he was apprenticed in 1692. We also learn that William had a daughter Mary whose married name was White, and that he had two grandchildren named William and Mary, though since their surname was Greene, they cannot have been Mary’s daughters, but must have been the children of another unnamed (and probably deceased?) son, or possibly the children of more than one son. Finally, we learn from his will that William Greene was a member of Trinity House.

Trinity House

If William was indeed 60 years old when he died in January 1686, then he would have been born in 1626. If, however, there is uncertainty about that final digit, and he could have been anything between 60 and 69, then he might have been born as early as 1617. Similarly, if his daughter Mary was already married in 1685, and assuming that the latest she could have married was 1685, the year when her father’s will was written, then the very latest date for her birth is about 1670.

From all of this information, we can begin to construct a rough timeline for the life of Captain William Greene:

1617 – 1626: born

Before 1670: birth of daughter Mary

Before 1677: marries wife Elizabeth (mother of Joseph)

Mar 1677: son Joseph christened at St Dunstan’s, Stepney

Before Oct 1685: daughter Mary marries Mr White

Oct 1685: writes will

3 Jan 1686: dies at Ratcliffe, Stepney

6 Jan 1686: buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney

Armed with this information, I’m going to have another attempt at finding details of William Greene’s birth, parentage and marriage(s). Watch this space.

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