In my last post, I wrote about Bartholomew Greene, a seventeenth-century mariner from the hamlet of Ratcliffe, in the parish of Stepney, with distinctly Puritan sympathies. Bartholomew was the son of another mariner, William Greene ‘the elder’, who died in 1634. My current theory is that both were related in some way to my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene, another Ratcliffe mariner, who died in 1686.

As part of my continuing quest to discover the exact connection between my ancestor and these other seafaring Greenes of Ratcliffe, I want to use this post to re-visit another member of the family: Bartholomew’s brother William.

The parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

As with Bartholomew, my first inkling of this particular William Greene’s existence came from the 1634 will of their father, the ‘elder’ William. From this we learn that Bartholomew and the younger William were both mariners and both, like their father, were living in the parish of Stepney. The will also mentions seven grandchildren, the children of the older William’s three sons (the third son, John, would be named in the 1652 will of Elizabeth Greene, William senior’s widow).

We known, then, that by 1634 the younger William Greene was, like his brothers, married with children. This means that he was probably born some time in the first decade of the century. If we turn to the will of his stepmother, Elizabeth, written in 1652, we learn that the younger William had one surviving daughter from before 1634, named Elizabeth. To date, I’ve been unable to find any record of this child’s birth.

However, the Stepney parish register records the christenings of a number of other children, born in the 1630s to someone whose details match William’s. On 28th October 1632, a Ratcliffe mariner by the name of William Greene and his wife Margaret had a son baptised, also named William. Sadly, this child died two years later and was buried at St Dunstan’s church on 12th December 1634. However, he would still have been alive when his grandfather composed his will (he died in June of that year), so he would have been included as one of his seven grandchildren.

The parish register records the burial of another child named William Greene, also the son of William Greene, mariner, and his wife Margaret, on 21st September 1635. I haven’t managed to find a note of this child’s baptism, but he must have been born sometime after the death of the first William in the previous December. If she was born before 1634, then she might be another of the grandchildren left money in the will of William Greene. This record also gives us a more precise address for William and Margaret Greene: they were living in Brook Street, which ran from east to west through the middle of the hamlet of Ratcliffe.

Part of Ratcliffe, including Brook Street, from Rocque’s 1746 map

Almost a year later, on 21st August 1636, the parish register records the baptism of a third son named William, born to William and Margaret Greene. The family was now said to be living in White Horse Street, which ran into Brook Street. However, their address was once again given as Brook Street when this child died and was buried just seven days later, on 28th August. He was one of the many victims of plague buried in Stepney at that time, as was another child of William and Margaret Greene – another daughter named Margaret, who was buried on 18th September of that year. Although the outbreak of bubonic plague in London in 1636 was not as devastating as earlier epidemics, it nevertheless resulted in the deaths of around 10,000 people in the city and its suburbs.

Extract from the Stepney parish register for 1636, giving an idea of the number of plague victims buried that year, including seven-day-old William Greene

On 22nd September, Margaret Greene, a widow of Ratcliffe Highway and another plague victim, was buried at St Dunstan’s. It’s unclear whether this was William’s wife and, if so, when exactly he had died.

Plague victims in 17th century London (via Science Photo Library)

Assuming that William and Margaret did not fall victim to the plague that carried off their children, there are two more records in the St Dunstan’s register that might relate to the same family. On 17th March 1642 (the first year of the Civil War), a child named Mary Greene was buried and on 17th November 1648 another Margaret Greene was baptised. Their parents were William Greene, a mariner, and his wife Margaret: in both cases, their address is given as Wapping Wall. This might be the same couple, having moved (not very far, in fact) to a new address – the dates certainly match – or it might be another couple with the same names.

On the other hand, we have a record of the baptism at St Dunstan’s in November 1647 of George Greene, said to be the son of William Greene of Ratcliffe Highway, mariner, and his wife Judith. Could this be the same William Greene who was living in nearby Brook Street and White Horse Street some ten years earlier? Had Margaret died in the meantime and this was William’s second marriage? One thing is certain: this William Greene, and the William Greene of Wapping Wall whose daughter Margaret was baptised in 1648, cannot be the same person, as the dates clash.

There is nothing in these records to undermine my theory that the William Greene who was married to Margaret and/or Judith was the son of William Greene the elder. Indeed, the fact that this William was a mariner living in Ratcliffe, at about the right time, makes it fairly probable. If this is the case, then certainly William’s and Margaret’s first son William (who died in 1634), and perhaps their first daughter Margaret (who died in 1635) could have been among the seven grandchildren mentioned in William the elder’s will, and both had died long before Elizabeth Greene composed her will in 1652.

But what about Elizabeth, said to be the daughter of William Greene the younger, who was born in time to be left money in her grandfather’s will, and was still alive in 1652? Well, the fact that I’ve been unable to find a record of her christening may not be an insuperable problem. After all, to date I’ve yet to find a baptismal record for Margaret Greene, daughter of William and Margaret, who died in 1635: only her burial record has been traced. It’s possible that Elizabeth was born to William and Margaret Greene some time in the early 1630s (I’ve yet to find any trace of their marriage either).

One thing we can be fairly sure of is that William and Margaret Greene were not the parents of my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene. Although they had three sons named William, none of these survived. If they, or William and Judith, had another son with this name after 1636,  then this would almost certainly be too late for my ancestor’s birth.