I’ve been revisiting the records for my maternal 8 x great grandfather Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, Stepney, who died in January 1685/6. Our knowledge of Captain Greene’s family is sketchy, but it’s clear from his will of October 1685 that he had a daughter Mary who survived him. There is just one reference to her in the will:

I give and bequeath unto my loveing daughter Mary White late Mary Greene the sume of Twenty shillings of lawfull money of England.

From this we can conclude that, by the time her father made his will, Mary was married to a man named White. Earlier in his will William Greene mentions ‘my two grandchildren William Greene and Mary Greene’. From their surname, I assume these were the children of an unnamed and probably deceased son. Since William doesn’t mention any grandchildren named White, I assume that at this stage Mary didn’t have any children of her own, or at least any who had survived, and she may not have been married long.

St. Dunstan's church, Stepney

St. Dunstan’s church, Stepney

William Greene was buried at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 6th January 1685/6. The parish register of the church records the baptism, just two weeks later, on 19th January, of ‘Mary daughter of John White of Ratcliffe mariner & of Mary uxor’. The same child was buried on 31st July 1686, at the age of just six months. I’ve been unable to find evidence of any other children born to the couple. Although we can’t be sure, it seems quite likely that this record relates to Mary White née Greene, daughter of Captain William Greene. There are other couples named John and Mary White in the contemporary local records: one John White was a sawyer in Limehouse, for example, while another was a Spitalfields cutler. However, the fact that Mary’s father was also a mariner, and that her family home was in Ratcliffe, suggests that this is the right couple.

There are a number of wills relating to mariners named John White living in or near Stepney in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. However, there is only one in which the testator refers to a wife named Mary, and that is the last will and testament of John White of Ratcliffe, signed and sealed on 28th August 1689, in the first year of the reign of William and Mary (who had seized the throne in the coup that ousted King James II earlier that year). This John White describes himself as a shipwright, rather than a mariner, but the two occupations were by no means incompatible.

The Thames at London in the 17th century

Ships on the Thames at London in the 17th century

The will seems to follow a standard format used by mariners about to embark on a sea voyage, granting what seems to be power of attorney to his wife Mary. This means that, unhelpfully for our purposes, John White’s will contains minimal information about his family and other circumstances. The document is labelled on the reverse side as ‘Letter of Attorney and Will from Mr John White’, and beneath this is the following description, in a mixture of Latin and English:

Testator fuit p— de Stepney Sed mort obist apud Maryland Mense Septembri 1696 ad navem n—  ye preservacon

In other words, the testator was from (the parish of?) Stepney, but died in Maryland in the month of September 1696, on board a ship called the Preservation. I’ve found a reference to this document in a collection of North American wills registered in London. This describes John as a shipwright of Ratcliffe, Middlesex, who died on the ship Preservation. However, it gives the location of his death as ‘VA’ – i.e. Virginia – rather than Maryland. The record includes the useful information that the will was proved on 8th October 1697 by John’s widow Mary, thus confirming that Mary survived him.

Seventeenth century map of Virginia and Maryland

Seventeenth century map of Virginia and Maryland

I haven’t been able to find out anything about the Preservation, except that the same book of wills refers to two other London mariners’ deaths on board the same ship, also in Virginia. On 10th March 1699 the will of Josiah Dixon of Aldgate, and on 17th December 1706 the will of Jasper Ellixon of Ratcliffe Highway, Stepney, were proven. In the latter case, the Preservation is described as a merchant ship. These additional references also confirm that the ship sailed regularly between London and Virginia. Virginia and Maryland, which had both been settled since the early decades of the seventeenth century, were neighbouring colonies, and for a ship anchored in Chesapeake Bay, for example, it might be difficult to determine which colony was nearer (see map above). Alternatively, the designation of the site of John White’s  and these other sailors’ death as ‘Virginia’ might be evidence of a continuing habit of using this name to describe the whole of the eastern seaboard from Maine to North Carolina.

I’ve yet to find any record for John White’s widow Mary after 1697. It’s possible she remarried, or she may have returned to live with her widowed stepmother Elizabeth Greene, who would herself survive for another ten or twenty years or so.

There were two witnesses to John White’s will. Thomas Cook seems to have been another Stepney mariner, while Thomas Quilter Senior may have been the ‘gentleman’ of Ratcliffe who made his will in 1723, or possibly his father. My transcription of John White’s will follows:

Know all men by this p[re]sents that I John White of Ratcliffe in the parrish of Stepney als Stebenheath in the County of Midlsx. Shipwright Have made ordained Constituted and Appointed and by these presents in my stead and place doe make ordaine Constitute and Appoint my welbeloved wife Mary White of the same parrish and County to be my true and Lawfull Attorney Deputy and Asigne for me in my name and to mine owne use and behoofe to ask demand, require, recover, buy [?] receive and take All and singular such sume and & sumes of mony debts, dues, adventures [?], ticketts, goods wares, merchandises Chattells Rents, Claimes and all other demands whatsoever, which now and or hereafter shall become due Owing and Appertaining unto me the said John White By or from any manner of person or persons whoatsoever whether the same be or shall be by Bond Bill agreement gift or bequest or for my service on board any ship or ships or any vessell or vessells or by any other wayes or means howsoever, Giving and by these presents granting unto my said Attorney my full and whole power Strength and Authority to use any Lawfull wayes or means for the recovery of the same or any part thereof and in Case of Refusal or non payment thereof to sue arrest attack, Impload, Imprison and Condemne, And upon payment of the same or any other Composicon againe to Release discharge and sett free, The Attorney or more —– under her to substitute and appoint and the same again at pleasue to revoake, And generally to doe Execute performe fulfull and finish all things whatsoever needful and Expedient to be done in and about the Execucon of the promises as fully to all intents and purposes as I myselfe might or Could doe if they and their personally present. Hereby Ratifying and Confirming all, and whatsoever my said Attorney her substitutes shale doe by vertue how of And when it shale pleas god to take me out of this present world then my mind and meaning is that this writing shall be taken as my Last will and Testament and I give and bequeath (after my Just debts satisfied) unto my said welbeloved wife Mary White All and Singular my goods debts Chattels wages adventures [?] sume and sums of mony and all other temporale Estate of what kind nature and quality soever and wheresoer shall then of right belong unto me whome by these presnets I doe make nominate and appoint to be full and sole Executrix of this my last will and Testament Renouncing and Revoaking all former and o ther wills gifts and bequests by me heretofore made or given In witness whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seale dated the twenty eighth day of August Anno Domi 1689 And in the first yeare of King William and Queene Mary of England John White W His marke Signed sealed published & declared in the presence of Thomas Cook Thomas Quilter Sr.

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