Oath-takers and tax-payers in Georgian Stokenham

By Paul Luscombe

Comparing the two lists

The names in the militia assessment and the oath rolls are listed in Appendices A and B respectively, both re-arranged in alphabetical order of surname. Additional information is included linking the names with related data, taken mainly from the Stokenham parish register. There are 125 entries for tax-payers in 1715, compared with 168 for oath-takers eight years later. Both lists include duplicate names which, for purposes of analysis, need to be eliminated. In the militia list, Will Prout is entered twice probably as a rounding device so that the names could be organised in the 17 groups assessed at the required amount of £50 for each group.8 The 1723 list, however, requires slightly more fine-tuning. Here, seven duplicate entries have been found, including Frederick Marker (who signed in 1714 and 1715), Nicholas Randall (1715 and 1723) and Thomas Walsh (1714 and 1715), while the other four are almost certainly names entered twice by the clerk when compiling his initial list.9 The revised numbers are 124 paying the tax and 161 taking the oath.

The individuals common to both lists have been identified through a detailed analysis of the parish register which has, where possible, established the main linkages within the families represented in the two lists. Some linkages fall within 'a balance of probability', rather than 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Of the 124 assessed for tax in 1715, 62 also took the oath eight years later. This proportion - exactly half - seems to be low, but a closer examination of the parish register information in Appendix A enables us to find most of the remaining 62 tax-payers. To begin with, 25 of them were buried between the date of the assessment and the end of 1723, and a further group of about 15 was resident outside Stokenham. The latter group demonstrates one of the main differences between the two lists. Property owners in the 1715 list could be assessed in more than one parish, and some of the names recorded by the assessors represent people who held land in Stokenham, but lived elsewhere. In contrast, the oath-takers recorded in Appendix B are 'of Stokenham'. Many of the non-residents in 1715 can be picked out with a degree of certainty. Stephen Bastard and John Helmer, for example, are found in the militia assessment for Charleton (assessed at £4-00 and £16-5s) and in the oath rolls as 'of Charleton'. Some, such as Edmund Reynell (of Malston in Sherford) were prominent members of the gentry in South Devon, while the standing of others, like Phillip Jellard, was more localised. The fact that the local assessors did not know the christian names of 'Mr Edgley' and 'Mr Elmestone', suggests that they were 'outsiders'. In several cases, the assessors use the term, 'the occupiers of', presumably meaning that the property had been leased or rented out to various occupants or, alternatively, that the owner had died and the estate had been sold. The three entries of this type bring the number of non-residents to a minimum of 18. Thus, a total of at least 43 entries in Appendix A, comprising deaths, non-residence and deceased estate, represents tax-payers who were not alive or living in Stokenham in 1723. The remainder - less than a score - is likely to include people who are within the foregoing categories, but cannot be linked with them; a few who might be described as 'special cases' (perhaps unable to travel to take the oath through age or incapacity - the writer's ancestor, Mrs Elizabeth Luscombe, was 81 years of age in 1723); and those who are not recorded in the parish register.

Another difference between the two lists is to do with gender. All the women assessed for the militia (16) were widows, since it was only the heads of property-owning households that were chargeable. The oaths, on the other hand, were to be sworn by women as well as men ('Introduction, the Exeter Press and the Oaths'). Nearly a quarter (37) of the oath-takers from Stokenham were women, compared with about 30% in the county as a whole ('Introduction, gender'). The marital status of all but 6 of these 37 can be determined. A little over half were married, forming the largest group (20), while the numbers of spinsters (5) and widows (6) were much smaller. The decrease in the number of recorded widows from 16 in 1715 to 6 in 1723 is striking (though some of the 6 whose marital status in 1723 is unknown may be widows). However, the figure for widows taking the oath is comparable with the 4 widows chargeable for hearth tax in 1674 (i.e. excluding those classed as poor). If the widows lived alone, these fluctuations are significant for estimates of population at parish level based on assumed household sizes.

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  1. The surname is sufficiently distinctive to be fairly sure that there was only one Will Prout in 1715. [Back]
  2. Peter Gillard, Jonathon and Nicholas Luscombe and William Wallis (crossed out) - based on the parish register analysis. [Back]