In the last post I mentioned my plan to revisit the will of William Greene, a mariner from Ratcliffe, Stepney, who died in 1634 – and who I still hope might be related to my 8 x great grandfather Captain William Greene, another Ratcliffe mariner, who died in 1686.

My revised transcription of the earlier William’s will corrected an important mistake in my original version. Initially, I thought that one of the witnesses of the will, and one of the two people named by William as its overseers, was called Jonas Jones. Revisiting the will, I could see that in fact his name was Jonas James. William Greene describes him as ‘my good friend’ and as ‘Mr Jonas James of Ratcliffe’. In this post, I want to share what I’ve managed to discover about Jonas James – and discuss what light (if any) this throws on the life of William Greene.

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Woodbridge, Suffolk

I haven’t found a record of the birth or baptism of Jonas James, but we know from his will that he was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and from other sources that he was the son of another Jonas James and his wife Alice. Jonas James senior was a merchant, and he had two other sons, William and John, and a daughter named Alice. The transactions of Trinity House for 1617 mention Jonas James of Woodbridge in a list of shipowners and seamen trading in coal: I assume this is the elder Jonas, since by this date his son was living in Stepney.

I would guess that Jonas James junior must have been born around 1580, since he was married for the first time in 1602, which was the last year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. On 17th January of that year, Jonas James and Elizabeth Bland, both of Ratcliffe, were married at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Elizabeth may have been the person of that name christened at the same church on 2nd July 1580: if so, she was the daughter of Robert Bland.

Jonas and Elizabeth James had at least nine children together, not all of whom survived to adulthood:  they were Jonas (born in 1603), Alice (1605), Elizabeth (1608), Thomas (1612), Jonas (1613, suggesting the first Jonas junior had died), Thomas (1614, suggesting the first Thomas had also died), Frances (1617), John (1621) and Mary (1623). All of these children were born in Ratcliffe and christened at St Dunstan’s church.

According to the Middlesex Sessions records, some time in the years 1612-1614, Thomas Reddishe, Thomas Godwoode and John Graves of Ratcliffe, yeomen, were tried for the crime of ‘breaking into the house of Jonas James of the same, sailor, at the same, and stealing seven pieces of linen worth £8 10s. belonging to the said Jonas.’

In 1622, the twentieth year of the reign of King James I, Jonas James senior, merchant of Woodbridge, Suffolk, died, leaving a considerable amount of property and money to his three sons and his daughter.

On 20th September 1625, the year in which Charles I came to the throne, Elizabeth, wife of Jonas James of Ratcliffe, mariner, was buried at St Dunstan’s church. She had died the same day, of plague. Elizabeth James was one of 23 plague victims buried in the churchyard on that day, and one of many hundreds of Stepney residents who died in the epidemic that month. (Just one week earlier, the wealthy ship owner and former London alderman John Vassall, another Ratcliffe resident, had succumbed and was also buried at St Dunstan’s.)

Ten months later, Jonas James married Martha Swallow, a widow from Poplar, at St Dunstan’s. Martha’s maiden name was Hunt (she was the daughter of John and Clement Hunt) and she was previously married to Limehouse shipwright John Swallow. I haven’t found records for any children born to Jonas and Martha.

In June 1626, Alice James, Jonas’ eldest daughter from his first marriage, married Ratcliffe mariner John Crowther at St Dunstan’s. In September 1634 (three months after Jonas James had witnessed his friend William Greene’s will), another of his daughters, Frances, married John Limbrey, another Ratcliffe mariner, at the same church.  At some point Jonas’ daughter Elizabeth married shipwright Robert Tranckmore.



Jonas James junior is mentioned a number of times in the transactions of Trinity House. In December 1627 he was among the ‘owners and masters trading to Newcastle’ petitioning the King: there were similar petitions, also mentioning Jonas, in 1630 and 1632. In 1631, Jonas James’ name could be found on a communication to the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty, adjudicating in a dispute between a merchant and a mariner. In 1635 his name was on a petition to the King concerning a plan to build lighthouses at Dover. He is also mentioned in a case in 1644 before the ‘Committee for the advance of money’ but unfortunately this is not accessible online without a subscription.

These documents, and especially his role in resolving the 1631 dispute, suggest that Jonas James was a ship’s master of some prominence, and perhaps one of the Elder Brothers of Trinity House – a position that would also be held by my ancestor, Captain William Greene. Searching these records has also led me to two records in the Trinity House archives that appear to mention the other William Greene – Jonas’ friend, the mariner who died in 1634.  In 1617, a William Greene was among a number of ship masters and owners who ‘agreed to an imposition of £1,000 a year for 2 years to suppress Turkish pirates and to ensure more safety in trade and southern navigation.’  Trinity House promised that it would be levied for only two years, but it continued for four years and in 1625 the owners claimed that ‘double the agreed sum has been paid (namely £4,000), but they are still liable.’ They asked Trinity House ‘to petition the duke of Buckingham [as First Lord of the Admiralty] to end the imposition.’ The Duke, who was born George Villiers, had been the favourite and possibly the homosexual lover of James I; he continued to find royal favour and hold high office during Charles’ reign, until he was assassinated in1628. In February 1627, a William Greene was one of the inhabitants of Wapping who certified information about the loss of the John, ‘cast away in foul weather’ on a journey from London to Amsterdam in the previous October.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

Some time between 1626 and his death twenty years later, Jonas James junior moved from Ratcliffe across the Thames to Deptford. ‘Jonas James of Deptford in the County of Kent Maryner’ was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 7th July 1646, two months after the surrender of King Charles I, which marked the end of the Civil War. The preamble to his will, written on 21st May that year, with its emphasis on the ‘original corruption’ in which he was conceived and born and its concern with his ‘sins and transgressions’ which have deserved divine ‘wrath and condemnation’, but at the same time trusting in the merits of ‘my blessed Saviour and redeemer Jesus Christ’, suggests that Jonas James was something of a Calvinist. The will mentions property in Romney Marsh, Kent, which Jonas holds of the ‘fellowes and Schollers of St Johns Collidge in Cambridge’. He leaves money and property to his wife Martha; to his son Thomas; to his daughter Elizabeth, her husband Robert Tranckmore and their children Jonas, Robert and Alice; to his daughter Alice, her husband John Crowther and their son James; and to his daughter Frances, wife of John Limbrey.

As well as leaving money to the poor people of Woodbridge and Ratcliffe, Jonas also bequeaths ten pounds to the corporation of Trinity House of Deptford, for the ‘use and comforte of the poore of the said Corporation’, at the discretion of the Master and Wardens, and five shillings each to the seven poor pensioners of the Trinity House almshouses in Deptford.

What can this information tell us about his friend William Greene (d. 1634)? To be honest, there are no startling revelations here. The value of this research is in providing some context for William’s life, which might lead indirectly to useful discoveries in the future. However, we can infer from what we’ve found out about Jonas James that, as a ‘good friend’ and a fellow Ratcliffe mariner, William Greene was probably also a ship’s master, perhaps a ship owner, of some wealth and standing. Moreover, that if Jonas James was a senior member of Trinity House, then it seems likely that his friend William Greene was too. The incidental discovery of William’s name in the Trinity House records, mentioned above, is perhaps some confirmation of this. And as I noted in the last post, is the fact that ‘my’ Captain William Greene (d. 1686) was an Elder Brother and then Warden of Trinity House some tenuous evidence of a family link with his namesake earlier in the century?

Finally, I found it interesting that Jonas James senior was involved in shipping coal from Newcastle to London. Perhaps his son, and maybe his friend William Greene, were also connected with this trade? It’s of interest for two reasons: firstly, William Greene’s son John was said (in his stepmother’s will) to be a mariner in Newcastle, and secondly, my 6 x great grandfather John Gibson (whose wife Mary was the granddaughter of ‘my’ William Greene) was a coal factor and lighterman. Was this trade passed down through the generations of the Greene family, perhaps?