The children of William Greene, chirurgeon

I’m grateful to my fellow researcher and distant relative Ron Roe for his comments on my recent reflections concerning William Greene, the seventeenth-century Stepney chirurgeon who may yet turn out to be one of our ancestors. Ron tends to agree with me that the names Agnes and Anne were probably interchangeable in records at this period, which would mean that all of William Greene’s children were born to the same mother, his first wife, who died in 1643. Confusingly, William’s second wife was also called Anne: in 1645 he married Anne Roades, the widow of his fellow barber-surgeon Richard Roades, but they do not appear to have had any children together.

'Barber-Surgeon Tending a Peasant’s Foot', Isaack Kodijek, 1649-50

‘Barber-Surgeon Tending a Peasant’s Foot’, Isaack Kodijek, 1649-50

In this post, I want to set down what we know about the children of William Greene, chirurgeon. I’m still hoping to find a reference, in a will or a marriage record perhaps, to my 8 x great grandfather Captain William Greene, the Stepney mariner who might possibly be related to this other Greene family living in the same parish at about the same time.

By my reckoning, William and Agnes or Anne Greene had nine children, of whom eight seem to have survived to adulthood. Margaret Greene was born in 1619, and is almost certainly the person who married William Greene’s apprentice, John Bodington, in 1638. William Greene junior was born in 1624: we nothing more about him, though he may still turn out to be my ancestor, Captain Greene. Anne Greene was born in 1626, but I’ve found no further records for her. Emmanuel was born in 1628 but died in 1632. That leaves the four youngest daughters mentioned in William’s will of 1654: Mary, born in 1631; Elizabeth, 1633; Ellen, 1636; and Abigail, 1639.

I’ve searched for records of the marriages of these four daughters, all of whom were still unmarried at the time that their father wrote his will, and I believe I’ve found a fairly convincing match for three of them. The only daughter I’ve so far failed to find a match for is Abigail, the youngest, who would have been only seven years old when her father died in 1656.  The main difficulty in being sure about any of these records is the fact that both the surname Greene, and these women’s Christian names, were extremely common. However, once we take into account dates, ages and location, we can be reasonably certain that we’re on the right track.

I believe that the first of the three Greene sisters to marry was Ellen. She is also the daughter about whom I’ve been able to discover the least. All we know is that on 20th December 1656 Henry Newbury, 22, of Spitalfields married ‘Elen Greene of Ratcliff Mayde aged 20 yeares’ at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Since Ellen was born in 1636 in Ratcliffe, these details are a perfect match. Despite my best efforts, I’ve failed to find any evidence of children born to this couple, or to discover anything definitive about Henry. In 1630 a Henry Newberrie or Newberry, a sailor on the Maurice, made his will: might this have been Henry’s father? If so, and if the Henry Newbury who married Ellen Greene was also a sailor, then it would mean that all three Greene daughters married mariners.

'The Wedding Party', Jan Steen, 1667

‘The Wedding Party’, Jan Steen, 1667

On 2nd May 1658, also at St Dunstan’s church, Richard Benson, a 23-year old-mariner from Ratcliffe, married Elizabeth Greene, a ‘maid’ of the same age, and from the same place. Richard was probably the son of James Benson, also a mariner from Ratcliffe, and his wife Anne, christened at St Dunstan’s on 17th July 1634.  On 8th July 1665, when he was about 31 years old, Richard Benson was awarded his Master’s certificate by Trinity House.

Richard and Elizabeth Benson appear to have had two children, a son and a daughter. Their daughter Elizabeth was baptised on 29th March 1666. Two years later, on 4th August 1668, their son Richard was christened. Both were born at White Horse Street in Ratcliffe.

I haven’t found any further records for Richard Benson senior or his wife Elizabeth. I’ve seen a copy of a will made in March 1694 by Richard Benson, mariner, ‘now belonging to His Majesty’s ship Royal William’, which names ‘my loving sister Elizabeth Benson of the parish of St Lawrence Jewry London’ as his heir and lawful attorney.’ I suspect this was written by Richard junior rather than his father. If still living, then the latter would have been sixty years old when it was written, probably too old still to be serving in the navy, added to which there is a lack of reference to any wife, children or grandchildren. In short, it looks like a younger man’s will. Despite the failure to mention Stepney, the testator’s name, occupation, and the existence of a sister named Elizabeth, increase the likelihood that this is indeed the son of Richard Benson and Elizabeth Greene.

Turning to Mary Greene, the eldest of the four sisters named in William’s will: at first I thought she was the person who married Robert Turner of Aldgate parish at St Dunstan’s on 11th November 1652. However, this would mean that Mary was married when her father wrote his will, which includes the phrase ‘if it shall happen anie of the said sisters to depart this life unmarried before or after my decease’, strongly suggesting that in 1654 none of them was yet married.

It’s much more likely that Mary is the person of that name from Ratcliffe who married Alexander Curtis, a mariner from the same hamlet, at St Dunstan’s on 5th August 1562. My only slight reservation is that, if this was William’s daughter, then she would have been about twenty-five when she married, which was quite old for the period.

Alexander Curtis was the son of John Curtis and Beatrix Bowe. This couple was married on 4 May 1626 at the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe in the City of London. They had a daughter Mary christened at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 9th October 1631. At the time they were living at Wapping Wall and John was working as a mariner.  They had another daughter named Mary christened on 27th December 1639. At the time the couple were living in Ratcliffe and John was described as a gunner. Alexander was baptised there on 25th March 1642, which means he was about nine years younger than his wife Mary, if indeed she was the daughter of William Greene, chirurgeon.

Alexander and Mary Greene had five children. John Curtis was born in Ratcliffe and christened at St Dunstan’s on 17th May 1663. Alexander junior was born in Shadwell and baptised on 14th May 1665. William was born in Shadwell and christened on 2nd January 1666, but must have died in infancy, since another son of the same name was baptised on 29th April 1688: the address this time was Upper Shadwell. William was a common enough name, but perhaps it offers some confirmation of Mary’s family origins. The couple’s first son was named after Alexander’s father, so it makes sense that their second son was named after Mary’s father.

A son named Thomas was born in Shadwell and christened at St Dunstan’s on 9th January 1669. The only child not to be baptised at St Dunstan was their daughter Mary, who was christened at St Paul’s Shadwell on 20th October 1673, when she was eighteen days old.  The reason for the change of church may be that St Paul’s, though originally opened as a chapel in 1656, was rebuilt and only became a parish church in 1669.

17th century naval battle

17th century naval battle

Alexander Curtis served as a purser, first on the Monck (there are records in the archives of the Navy Board, noting his requests in 1674 variously for an extra allowance and for leave to attend to business in London), and then on ‘His Majesty’s Ship Newcastle’, on which he was serving when he made his last will and testament in 1677.  According to Wikipedia, the Newcastle was ‘a 44-gun fourth-rate frigate of the English Royal Navy, originally built for the navy of the Commonwealth of England by Phineas Pett II at Ratcliffe, and launched in 1653′. Alexander’s will, which was proved in 1678, makes no mention of his wife Mary, so I assume she must have died before this date. I’ll publish a transcription of Alexander’s will in another post.

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