My recent ‘second look’ at the will of my 7 x great grandfather, London goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737), has re-awakened my interest in the Greene family of Stepney. As I noted in the last post, my discovery two years ago that the maiden name of my 7 x great grandmother, Joseph’s wife Mary, was Byne, has enabled me to trace one branch of my maternal family tree back as far as the early 16th century. However, I remain disappointed that I’ve been unable to follow Joseph Greene’s family any further back than his father, my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe.

Graves in Stepney churchyard (flickr)

Graves in Stepney churchyard (flickr)

Part of my frustration is that I’ve discovered a rich seam of records relating to a seafaring Greene family living in the Ratcliffe area, earlier in the seventeenth century, but to date I haven’t been able to connect them reliably with Captain Greene. I remain fascinated, in particular, by the will of Elizabeth Greene, who died in 1655, and was the widow of another William Greene, also a mariner from Ratcliffe, who died in 1634 – since that remarkable document introduces a fascinating cast of characters and opens up a wealth of religious, political and literary connections in London and Kent in the period leading up to the Civil War.

I want to have yet another attempt at tracing the origins of Captain William Greene, but before I do so, I want to reassure myself that Captain Greene is, indeed, my ancestor. So in this post I’m returning to the evidence that we have for his life and family connections.

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

The first suggestion of Captain Greene’s existence, and his link with my maternal ancestors, is to be found in the inscription on a tomb in Stepney churchyard in the East End of London. In 1896, the inscription was transcribed by James Joseph Holdsworth (1876 – 1933), who Ancestry informs me was my third cousin three times removed. He was the great grandson of Joseph Holdsworth (1770 – 1844), the brother of my 4 x great grandfather, William Holdsworth (1771 – 1827). I’m grateful to my fellow researcher Adrian Holdsworth for sharing this document, as well as many others from the Holdsworth family archive, with me.

According to J.J. Holdsworth’s record, the Greene family tomb in the grounds of the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney was an altar tomb, ‘containing inscription, crest and coat of arms on the upper slab and inscription on two sides’. He adds that ‘the carving on the upper side is very indistinct, but fortunately much is still readable’. Indeed, Holdsworth’s transcription includes a number of ellipses and some numerals about which he was obviously uncertain, signalling this by placing them within parentheses. Apparently the family crest was ‘a stag’s head erased’ and the coat of arms ‘a chevron between three stags trippant’.

The inscription on the upper slab of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lie the Remains of

Capt. W. GREENE late of

Ratcliff Mariner who died

the 3rd of January 168(2) Age 6(0)

Also of Mrs. Eliz. Greene

who died the 14th of December 17(12)

Aged 80

Also of Mr. Joseph Greene

Citizen and Goldsmith . . . . . .

late of the parish of St. B. . . .

who died the 26th of December 1717

Aged 60 years

The inscription on the north side of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lieth the remains of

Mrs. Elizabeth Holdsworth late of this parish

who departed this life March 1st 1809

aged 77 years

Also Mr. John Wm. Bonner nephew of the above

late of His Majesty’s Ordinance Office Tower

who departed this life Septr. 21st 1817

aged 55 years

Also Mr. John Holdsworth son of the above

who died Dec. 2nd 1848 aged 84 years.

The inscription on the south side of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lie the bodies of

Ann Elizth and Joseph Son and Daughter

of Mr. Joseph Greene of Tower Hill

Goldsmith, and Mary his wife

Ann died the 23rd of December 1705 3 days old

Elizth died on the 27th of August 1725

aged 18 years and 11 months

Joseph died the – of Octo r 172(6) aged (25)

These inscriptions are a vital source of information about the Holdsworth and Greene families, providing a link between my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth and her Greene ancestors. The description of John William Bonner as Elizabeth’s nephew enables us to conclude that she was born Elizabeth Gibson, since it was her sister Frances Gibson who married mariner Michael Bonner, and they were John William’s parents. We also know from Joseph Greene’s will, as well as from other sources, that his daughter Mary was married to John Gibson, Elizabeth’s father. Although the inscription doesn’t state explicitly that Joseph Greene, citizen and goldsmith, was the son of Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, this is certainly the implication, and confirmation of that connection can be found elsewhere.

St Botolph without Aldgate

St Botolph without Aldgate

From other sources, we can fill in at least one of the ellipses in this transcription: for example, we know that Joseph Greene lived in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate. And since we know that Joseph definitely died in 1737, not 1717, we can perhaps retain some scepticism about the accuracy of some of the other dates.

Other sources provide confirmation that Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe was, indeed, the father of Joseph Greene. For example, an official document relating to Joseph’s admission to Freedom of the City of London, dated 3rd May 1693, describes him (in Latin) as: ‘Josephus Green fil.  [i.e. son of] Willm Greene de Stepney Com. Midlx.’ and as apprenticed to Joseph Strong ‘Civis et AureFabr’ [citizen and goldsmith]. Responding to a query from me about Joseph a few years ago, Eleni Bide of the Goldsmiths’ Company wrote:

One Joseph Green, son of William, Mariner, deceased, was apprenticed to Joseph Strong, Citizen and Goldsmith on 15 June 1692 (Apprentice Book 4, page 20). He was made free on 14 April 1708, and became a Liveryman in October of that year.

When we search for William Greene himself in the Stepney parish records, we find that the only burial record bearing any relation to the information on his tomb notes that on 6th January 1685 ‘Capt. William Green of Ratcliffe Mariner’ was buried there. (Note: this would have been 1686 by modern reckoning, since at this period the new year did not begin until March). This would certainly fit with a death date of 3rd January, as stated on the tomb. As for the year of death, this is one of those dates about which the transcriber of the tomb inscription was unsure: he might easily have mistaken a ‘5’ for a ‘2’. A William Green of Ratcliffe died and was buried at St Dunstans in May 1680, but he was said to be the son of Thomas Green, shipwright – in other words, he was still a minor.

Given that the name, rank, occupation, place and month of death, as well as the decade of the date at least, all match, I think we can conclude that this is, in fact, the right Captain William Greene. It’s perhaps a little concerning that a 1795 publication entitled The Environs of London, in listing the tombs in Stepney churchyard, also gives Captain William Green’s year of death as 1682 – but then, the final digit on the tomb inscription might already have become obscured by that date, more than a century after William’s death.

The Thames at London Bridge in the 17th century

Ships on the Thames at London Bridge, 17th century

If we then look for the birth of a son Joseph to a William Greene, we find that on 14th March 1677 (1678 by modern reckoning), the baptism took place at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, of Joseph ‘son of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliff mariner and Elizabeth uxor’ (wife). The child was said to be 22 days old at the time, so he was born on or about 22nd February. Knowing that Joseph died in December 1737, we can confirm that he was, as the tomb inscription correctly states, 60 years old at the time of his death. We also know from the inscription that William Greene’s wife was indeed Elizabeth, a common name at the time, but perhaps further confirmation that this is the ‘right’ William Greene.

On 22nd October 1685 ‘William Greene of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stebenheath als Stepney in the County of Middx mariner’ made his will. This was less than three months before the death of ‘our’ Captain Greene. Since the will also mentions his wife Elizabeth and a son named Joseph who is not yet twenty one, it’s almost certainly the right man, despite the fact that the will would not be proved until October 1686. From the will we also learn that William Greene had a daughter Mary whose surname was White, and two grandchildren, William Greene and Mary Greene: the absence of any mention of their father suggests that he may have died by this date.

On 7th March 1676 (1677 by modern reckoning), ‘Jane wife of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliffe’ was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney. Thirteen days later, on ‘20 Marty 1676/7’, a scrivener named Thomas Sumerly published the official allegation of ‘a marriage shortly to be solemnized between Wm Greene of Stepney in ye County of Midds widdower aged 50 yeares or thereabouts & Elizabeth Elliott of ye same place widow aged 35 or thereabouts’.

Section of Rocque's 1746 map, showing part of Ratcliffe.

Section of Rocque’s 1746 map, showing part of Ratcliffe.

While we can’t be absolutely sure that this was Captain William Greene and his second wife, there are a number of facts that point in that direction. Firstly, his tomb inscription seems to state that Captain Greene was 60 years old or thereabouts when he died in 1685/6, which matches the claim in the marriage allegation that he was ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’ in 1676. Secondly, the same inscription claims that Captain Greene’s widow Elizabeth was 80 when she died. The date of her death is unclear on the tomb, but if it were 1722, and not 1712, then this would fit. I’ve argued elsewhere that Elizabeth Elliott was probably the widow of prosperous Ratcliffe carpenter John Elliott, who had died in 1674, in which case her maiden name was Leete. Thirdly, the marriage of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott took place about eleven months before the birth of Joseph Greene, said to be the son of Captain William Greene and his wife Elizabeth.

Besides important information about his immediate family, William Greene’s will of October 1685 also includes this about his friends:

I desire that my said wife Elizabeth Green will att my funeral give unto such and so many my worthy friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House (whereof I am a member) whose names are mentioned in a note under my hand delivered to my said wife to each person a ring to wear in remembrance of me.

From this, we can conclude that Captain Greene was at the very least a member, and almost certainly an Elder Brother of Trinity House, the guild of mariners founded by Royal Charter in 1514. In 1685 a new charter was issued by King James II ‘for the government and increase of the navigation of England, and the relief of poor mariners, their widows and orphans, etc’. The charter appointed thirty-one Elder Brethren, of whom one was to hold the office of Master, four were to act as Wardens, and eight as Assistants. None other than the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had been secretary to the Navy Board under James’ brother and predecessor Charles II, was appointed as Master. The Charter continues:

And also We have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make Captain John Nichols, Captain Henry Mudd, Captain Nicholas Kerrington, and Captain William Green, to be the four first and present Wardens of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood.

(emphasis added)

Since we know that ‘our’ William Greene was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and since there is only man of that name in the list of Elder Brothers from this period, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the Captain William Greene who served as one of the four wardens of Trinity House in 1685 was my ancestor. As I’ve noted before, at least two of his fellow wardens were near neighbours: Henry Mudd lived in Ratcliffe and Nicholas Kerrington in Wapping.

In summary, this review of the evidence leads us to conclude that:

  • Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, was the father of Joseph Greene, goldsmith of the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, and therefore the great grandfather of my ancestor Elizabeth Holdsworth née Gibson.
  • this same William Greene was firstly married to a woman named Jane, and then to a widow named Elizabeth Elliott who was the mother of Joseph.
  • William Greene had a daughter Mary, whose married name was White.
  • William also had two grandchildren, William and Mary Green, whose father seems to have died before 1685.
  • Captain William Greene died in January 1686 (new style) in the hamlet of Ratcliffe, in the parish of Stepney, and his widow Elizabeth probably died in 1722.
  • William was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and almost certainly one of its four wardens, serving under Samuel Pepys, in the year before he died.
  • William was probably about 60 years old when he died, which means that he was born in 1626 or thereabouts.

This much seems clear. However, as we shall see, attempting to go further and trace Captain William Greene’s origins is another matter altogether.

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