Analysis of North Tawton Oath-takers, 1723

By Jean Shields


To sum up, in this small market town in 1723, approximately one in five took the oath, comprising 75 men and 18 women i.e. approximately one in three males and one in 15 females of those eligible. Of these about one third of the men could sign their names, but less than a quarter of the women. Most of those whose age could be deduced or was known, were between 30 and 70 years, with the greatest number (34) in their 40s when they signed. It was found that over two thirds of the men were mentioned in various documents, excluding the Parish Registers. Although three had received Poor Relief at some time, one man's daughter had been apprenticed, and one (woman) was perhaps a servant, there was not much positive evidence of the poor swearing the oath. Of course those of whom little or nothing is known, because their names have not been found in legal documents, may or may not have been in that category. Using the additional information provided by the ability to sign their names, and where they went to do so, whether or not accessible on foot, an informed guess can be made about 80 of the oath-takers, (just under 86%). With possibly five exceptions the large majority were people of substance to a greater or lesser extent. There remain 13 (11 males & two females) whose place in society must remain conjectural.

Bearing in mind the purpose of the Oath Rolls, it is interesting to note that the church avenue leading from the lych gate to the north door was planted with lime trees, said to denote Hanoverian sympathies, as opposed to firs. These were only replaced in the early 1980s due to disease.

The most surprising finding is that so much information about the inhabitants of North Tawton, nearly 300 years ago, is still available. This says much for the organization and industry of our forbears in keeping such legible and meticulous records, and their successors in retaining them.

Note: Although most of the evidence on which the above is based can be found in the Devon Heritage Centre, some is not accessible being in private hands, particularly some deeds and family pedigrees.

Return to previous Article contents Project index