Occasionally, in family history research, revisiting familiar records can highlight details that you had failed to notice before: details that may be tiny in themselves, but whose discovery can have important consequences. So it was that, two years ago, a closer look at the marriage record of my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, London citizen and goldsmith, made me realise that his wife’s name was not Mary Byrne, as I and every other person researching our family history had thought, but Mary Byne. From that realisation, I was able to find her parents, John and Alice Byne, and through them uncover my connection to the history of the interconnected Byne, Manser and Fowle families in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Sussex – which has preoccupied me ever since.

18th century goldsmiths at work

18th century goldsmiths at work

But revisiting familiar records can have negative as well as positive consequences, shutting down existing lines of enquiry rather than opening up new ones, though this too can be helpful. So it was that yesterday, browsing through my family tree, I took another look at the will of Joseph Greene, which he made in December 1737, shortly before his death. I realised that I had never actually made my own transcription of the will, relying instead on the work of other researchers, nor had I posted the will on this blog. Finding the version available at Ancestry difficult to decipher, I purchased a new copy from the National Archives and set to work transcribing it.

Joseph Greene’s will is brief and to the point, concerned mainly (as you might expect from a prosperous goldsmith) with financial matters, and it contains few clues about his family or friends. One of the three witnesses, Joseph Letch, seems to have been a lawyer at the Middle Temple, and was probably the family attorney, while the other two witnesses, Anne Jones and Mary Phillips, have common surnames and might have been family friends, or even servants. The main business of the will is to ensure that Joseph’s only surviving daughter, also named Mary, receives the generous amount of money promised in her marriage settlement (she had been married for eight years when her father died). Mary had been promised £2000 and is now bequeathed a further £1000: this would be equivalent to about £250,000 (or $370,000 US dollars) in today’s currency.

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Mary’s husband was John Gibson and they had been married at the parish church of All Hallows, London Wall, less than a mile from the Greene family home at Tower Hill, on 8th July 1729, when Mary was nineteen years old. John Gibson’s origins, and indeed many of the details of his life, remain a mystery. Was he the son of Benjamin and Mary Gibson of Gravel Lane, who had also been married at All Hallows, and who had a son John baptised in 1699, the year of ‘our’ John Gibson’s birth, according to his burial record? And was he the John Gibson, coal factor, convicted of defrauding the Crown and imprisoned in the Fleet in 1742, who took up the trade of brewing on his release?

These questions have yet to find a satisfactory answer. However, research into John Gibson’s life has also been guided by another assumption: that, at some stage, he served as an officer in the Navy. The only hard evidence for this is derived from Joseph Greene’s will, which appears to describe Gibson as a lieutenant:

Mr or Lieut?

However, taking a closer look at the will yesterday, I noticed that the letters that I, and other researchers, had thought spelled ‘Liet’ were in fact something rather different, and much more prosaic.

My daughter Mary

In fact, the first letter was remarkably similar to the initial letter of his wife’s name, Mary, in the previous line. And the final letter could be read, in fact, as an ‘r’ with a full stop beneath. In other words, Joseph Greene did not describe his son-in-law as a lieutenant, but as plain Mr. John Gibson.

This means that I can stop my fruitless search for John Gibson in eighteenth-century naval records and focus on his actual career, possibly as a lighterman and coal factor. This is not to deny that the Gibson family would, in due course, enjoy important links with the Navy. One of John and Mary Gibson’s grandsons would be named after the naval hero, Sir Edmund Affleck, who also seems to have been a witness to the first marriage of their son, Bowes John Gibson. However, this connection seems to come about through Bowes John’s own work for the East India Company, rather than through his father.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to the story of John Gibson at some point, and to that of his father-in-law, Joseph Greene. For now, and for information, here is my transcription of Joseph’s will:

I Joseph Greene Citizen and Goldsmith of London do make my last will and testament as follows. First I order and direct that all my just debts shall be paid and satisfied and whereas I agreed to give the sum of Two Thousand pounds as a portion with my daughter Mary upon her marriage with her now husband Mr. John Gibson to be setled to such uses purposes and in such manner as is mentioned and expressed in certain deeds of settlement made previous to and in consideration of the said then intended marriage which sum hath not as yet been paid by me Wherefore I doe order and direct that my Executrix hereafter named shall not only forthwith pay the said sum of Two Thousand pounds but also the further sum of One Thousand pounds to such person or persons as is or are intituled to receive the said sum of Two Thousand pounds by virtue of the said marriage settlement which said one Thousand pounds shall be applyde setled and disposed of in such manner and to upon and for such uses trusts intents and purposes as the said two Thousand pounds is thereby agreed and intended to be settled and secured Also I give devise and bequeath unto my dear and beloved wife Mary Green her heirs Executors and Administrators for ever All the rest and remainder of my estate real and personal of what nature kind quantity or quality so ever and do make and constitute my said wife sole Executrix of this my will hereby revoking all former will heretofore by me made In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of december in the year of our Lord one Thousand seven hundred and thirty seven – the mark of Joseph Green signed sealed published and declared by the said Joseph Green as his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at his request have subscribed our names as witnesses thereto in his presence Anne Jones Mary Phillips Jos: Letch.

This Will was proven before the worshipfull Thomas Walker doctor of Laws Surrogate to the Right Worshipfull John Bottesworth also doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commissary of the prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfull constituted the sixth day of February in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred thirty seven by the oath of Mary Greene widow the Relict of the deceased and Sole Executrix named in the said will to whom Administration was granted of all and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the said deceased being first sworn duly to Administer.