This summer I’ve uncovered a good deal of new information about my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene (1626 – 1686). We now know that towards the end of his life he served as a Warden of Trinity House, when Samuel Pepys was Master; that he probably lived in Cutthroat Lane, Ratcliffe; and that his second wife, and the mother of my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, was  almost certainly a widow by the name of Elizabeth Elliott.

The Thames at London in the 17th century

Frustratingly, however, we still know nothing for sure about William’s parents or his family of origin, making it difficult to extend my family tree back another generation. I’ve yet to find any record of a William Greene born in about 1626 in the Stepney area, and William’s own will fails to mention any surviving blood relatives. I remain convinced, though, that there must be some connection with the family of an earlier William Greene, who was also a mariner from Ratcliffe, and about whom we know because of his will of 1634, and that of his widow Elizabeth, who died in 1655.

Consider the facts. The earlier William Greene describes himself in his will as a mariner of Upper Shadwell, an area which overlapped with Ratcliffe (Cutthroat Lane was on the western edge of Ratcliffe, virtually in Shadwell), and indeed his burial record at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney, states that he was ‘of Ratcliffe’. He had three sons, John, Bartholomew and William, all of whom were mariners – though it’s unlikely that the last-named was ‘my’ William, since this man already had children when his father died in 1634, and I believe that my ancestor wasn’t born until about 1626 (that is, in the first year of the reign of Charles I). We know from his stepmother Elizabeth’s will that John Greene moved to Newcastle, that he died young, and that he was survived by a son, also named John. All we know for sure about William Greene the younger, besides the fact that he too was a mariner, is that he had a daughter named Elizabeth.

As for Bartholomew Greene, we have a much clearer picture of his life, if only because his Christian name is less common, making it easier to track him through the contemporary records (by contrast, there seem to have been a frustratingly large number of William Greenes living in the Stepney area in the mid-seventeenth century!). Those records give Bartholomew’s address as either Ratcliffe or Ratcliffe Highway, confirming the family’s association with this part of Stepney (on some maps, the name ‘Upper Shadwell’ is used for one segment of Ratcliffe Highway). Surely there must be some connection with my ancestor Captain William Greene, who was also described in his will and burial record, and on his tombstone, as a mariner of Ratcliffe?

Cutthroat Lane, Ratcliffe, adjoining Upper Shadwell / Ratcliffe Highway, from Rocque’s map of 1746

In this post, I want to summarise what we know about Bartholomew Greene, and in future posts I’ll be exploring the lives of other members of his family, in the hope of teasing out the possible links with my own Greene ancestors. As already mentioned, we learn from the 1634 will of his father William Greene ‘the elder’, of Ratcliffe/Upper Shadwell, that Bartholomew was a mariner like his father, and that at the time of his father’s death he was living in the same parish – Stepney. From the same source we learn that Bartholomew had two brothers, one named William, and that probably only the latter was still alive in 1634. At this time, the three Greene sons had seven children between them, but these are not named and we’re not told how many of them belonged to Bartholomew.

However, we know from the parish records that, eight years previously, on 5th June 1628, Bartholomew Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, had married Anne Linage of the same parish, maid, at the church of St Dunstan’s, Stepney. This is almost certainly the same Bartholomew Greene. If he married in 1628, then he was probably born about twenty years earlier, perhaps around 1608, though I’ve yet to find a record of his birth or baptism. This means that he (and probably his brothers) must have been the product of his father’s first marriage, since the latter didn’t marry his second wife, Elizabeth Wood (whose 1652 will is such a vital source of information about the family) until 1625.

1615 map showing St Dunstan’s church, Stepney

Bartholomew and Anne Greene had at least three children.  On 10th October 1630, two years after their marriage, a son named William was christened at St Dunstan’s. On 21st April 1633, at the same church, a daughter named Sara was baptised.  And on 19th June 1636, another son, Bartholomew, was christened. In all cases, Bartholomew senior’s occupation is said to be ‘mariner’ and the family’s address is given as Ratcliffe Highway.

Any hope that the William Greene born to Bartholomew and Anne might have been my 8 x great grandfather is dashed by a record from 29th August 1646, when William Greene, son of Bartholomew Greene of Ratcliffe Highway, mariner, was buried at St Dunstan’s. This was at a time when there were many deaths in the parish from plague, though this is not given as the cause of William’s death. He would have been 16 years old when he died. One curiosity of this record is that Bartholomew’s wife’s name is said to be Agnes rather than Anne, but since all the other details match, I’ve no reason to believe this is a different family.

Confirmation that Bartholomew’s son William died young comes from the 1652 will of his stepmother Elizabeth. The only one of Bartholomew’s children named there is Sara, since she was one of the three surviving grandchildren from the seven mentioned in William Greene the elder’s will of 1634. If William, son of Bartholomew, had still been alive, he would also have been named, since he was born in 1630, four years before his grandfather’s death. Bartholomew junior is not mentioned in Elizabeth Greene’s will because he was born in 1636, two years after his grandfather’s death, and therefore he wasn’t a beneficiary of his will.

The next record we have for Bartholomew Greene presents us with something of a dilemma. On 7th December 1659, Bartholomew Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, married Martha Ballard of Wapping Wall, maid, at St Mary Whitechapel. But was this Bartholomew Greene senior, embarking on a second marriage (his first wife Anne/Agnes having died in the interim) in middle age (he would have been about 40 at the time), or was it his son, Bartholomew junior, who (presuming he had survived infancy) would have been 23 years old at the time? If the latter, then we now have a third generation of mariners named Greene, living in Ratcliffe. At this stage, there’s no way of knowing which hypothesis is the right one: only the discovery of a burial record prior to 1659, for one of the two Bartholomew Greenes, would settle the matter for certain.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the marriage record for Bartholomew Greene and Martha Ballard is an interesting one. The couple were married in the church of St Mary, Whitechapel, even though the parish register states that their banns had been read on two previous Sundays in their home parish of St Dunstan’s. How are we to explain this? One clue might be the name of the minister who married them. Thomas Walley, who was born in 1616, was at this time the rector of St Mary’s, Whitechapel. Bartholomew and Martha were married towards the end of 1659, a critical moment in England’s political and religious history. Oliver Cromwell had died in the previous year and had been succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard, who was unable to control Parliament and whose powers were usurped by a Committee of Safety, which in turn was replaced by the Long Parliament. In the following spring of 1660, Charles II was summoned from exile and the monarchy restored.

The Restoration, and more especially the Act of Uniformity two years later, overturned many of the religious reforms instituted during the Commonwealth, requiring ministers to conform to the Book of Common Prayer and accept episcopal authority. Those who refused – the ‘nonconformists’, mostly Puritans – were forced to leave their positions in what became known as the ‘Great Ejection’ of 1662. Among them was Thomas Walley, who was initially arrested for continuing to preach at Whitechapel, and who then emigrated to the American colonies, ending his days as minister of Barnstable near Boston.

Puritan settlers in New England

We know from later records that Bartholomew and Martha Greene were nonconformists, which prompts the questions as to whether they chose to marry in Whitechapel because of Thomas Walley’s Puritan preaching. This theory is somewhat undermined by the fact that at this time the vicar of their own parish church, St Dunstan’s, was none other than William Greenhill. The latter, who was appointed as chaplain to some of Charles I’s children after the king’s execution, had established a congregation of dissenters at Stepney in 1644, but under the Commonwealth was installed at St Dunstan’s, perhaps by Cromwell himself. ‘Master Greenhill Minister of Stepney’ was one of three clergymen left ‘fortie shillings apiece’ in the will of Bartholomew Greene’s stepmother Elizabeth. After the Restoration, Greenhill also suffered ejection and returned to his independent congregation, which became known as the Stepney Meeting or Independent Chapel. Bartholomew and Martha Greene would later become members of that congregation. So, perhaps their preference for Whitechapel over Stepney for their marriage ceremony was due to a personal or family connection with Thomas Walley?

On 3rd June 1662, three years after the wedding in Whitechapel, Bartholomew Greene, son of Bartholomew Greene of Wapping, mariner, was buried at St Dunstan’s. It’s most likely that this was the child of Bartholomew and Martha: perhaps they were living in Wapping at the time, as this was Martha’s home area? Then, on 17th June 1664, Frances Greene was buried at St Dunstan’s, and this time the register is clear that she was the daughter of Bartholomew Greene of Ratcliffe Highway, mariner, and his wife Martha. On 25th June 1668, James Greene, son of Bartholomew Greene of Shadwell, mariner, and his wife Martha, was christened: he died and was buried on 22nd October of the same year, his father’s address being given as Ratcliffe Highway.

Matthew Mead

All of Bartholomew’s and Martha’s later children would be christened at Stepney Independent Chapel. On 9th August 1670, their daughter Martha was baptised there, and on 12th August 1673 their daughter Elizabeth was christened by the pastor, Matthew Mead. Mead had been the morning lecturer at St Dunstan’s when William Greenhill was vicar and later became a member of the latter’s independent congregation. In 1658 Cromwell appointed Mead to the ‘new chapel’ of St Paul’s, Shadwell, but he was removed at the Restoration. He was ejected from another position, at St Sepulchre, Holborn, in 1662, and fled to Holland for a time, before returning to work as assistant pastor and later successor to William Greenhill (on the latter’s death in 1671) at the independent meeting. It was in Meade’s time as pastor that a purpose-built meeting-house was established for the congregation near Stepney Green, and the chapel was said to have the largest congregation in London.

Stepney Meeting House

The Martha Greene who was born in 1670 must have died, since another daughter of that name was christened on 22nd January 1674. She also died in infancy, being buried at St Paul, Shadwell, on 6th April 1675: the register describes her as the daughter of Bartholomew Greene, mariner, of Upper Shadwell. The Greenes’ last child, Mary, was christened at Stepney Independent Chapel on 1st February 1675.

Just over a year later, on 11th April 1676, Bartholomew Greene, mariner of Upper Shadwell, was buried at St Paul’s church. If it was the elder Bartholomew who married Martha Ballard, then he would have been about 70 when he died; if the younger, then he would have been 40 years old.

So far, I’ve been unable to track down a will for Bartholomew Greene, nor have I been able to find any further records for his widow, Martha, or for their daughters Elizabeth and Mary, if indeed they survived into adulthood. The records of Stepney Meeting House, are held in the Tower Hamlets Local History Archives. At some point I hope to explore these and to discover the extent of Bartholomew’s involvement, and indeed that of other members of the Greene family, in this pioneering congregation.