Oath-takers and tax-payers in Georgian Stokenham

By Paul Luscombe

Identifying the oath-takers

Appendix B attempts to link the names of the Stokenham oath-takers with records of their baptisms, births, marriages and burials in the parish register. The register has been searched in most cases between 1660 and 1760 for the marriages of those taking the oath and for the baptisms or births of their children. If neither could be traced, the baptism and/or burial of the oath-taker were sought. For baptisms, the register often gives the father's name only until 1687 and normally the names of both parents thereafter. Following the Marriage Duty Act 1695,10 the clergy were part of the process for collecting the tax on births, marriages and deaths, and so, between 1695 and 1706, besides the register of baptisms, there is a separate register of births - which, as a result of further legislation, also gives the father's occupation from August 1698.11 Burials are duplicated between 1678 and 1700.12 In the course of exploring the register, we will encounter several of the obstacles to be negotiated by the family historian searching for ancestors in early modern England.

The information taken from the parish register is summarised by type of entry in Table 1. For two-thirds of those taking the oath, either a marriage followed by baptisms is recorded or, alternatively, the record is restricted to baptisms only, which implies in many cases that the related marriage took place in a different parish. It is reasonable to conclude that most of the families in these two groups (categories (a) and (b) in Table 1) were well settled in the parish, a view reinforced by the higher proportion (73%) of oath-takers in categories (a) and (b) who were also assessed in 1715. A few were relatively recent arrivals: the first reference to Joseph Palmer's family, for instance, was in 1689/90.

Category of entry in parish register All oath-takers Oath-takers assessed in 1715
No. % No. %
(a) Marriage and baptisms 71 44 31 50
(b) Baptisms only 35 22 14 23
(c) Marriage only 16 10 8 13
(d) Other type of reference 23 14 7 11
(e) No references 16 10 2 3
Total 161 100 62 100
Table 1: Summary of the information taken from the Stokenham parish register relating to the oath-takers listed in Appendix B

He, the register tells us, was a chyrurgeon, making the point that professional people were used to moving to find work. There is no record of baptisms in Stokenham for a third (55) of the oath-takers. It is possible to explain why 16 of them have left a smaller imprint or none at all, but for the remaining 39 in categories (c), (d) and (e) the rationale is less clearly focussed. In the last two categories ('Other type of reference' and 'No references'), the gentry and other substantial property owners are a noticeable element, accounting for 11 of the names in the list.13 They are likely to have had ties with more than one parish, and would be more visible if searches were made over a wider area. Because of the criteria used in this analysis, unmarried oath-takers have a relatively low profile: at least five names fall into this category.14 One person whose name has left no trace of a link with the parish, other than the testimony in the oath rolls, is Joseph Rawlinson, the excise officer, who signed in 1715 at Moreleigh together with 18 other such officers from South Devon. The only other Rawlinson who takes the oath in Devon is Judith Rawlinson of neighbouring South Pool, possibly his wife; none is to be found in the Devon hearth tax. Excise officers are an interesting set, an early example of civil service infiltration into local communities. They were widely detested, mainly because they had powers to enter and search homes. According to a pamphlet, published in 1772, "the Law of their Office removes them far from all their natural Friends and relations... ." while appointments were limited to men aged 21-30.15 Joseph Rawlinson was a solitary soul, not through birth, but on account of his occupation.

Four names which do not appear in the parish register (category (e)) provide further examples of obstacles for family historians, probably arising from inaccuracies in transcription or communication at some stage between the making of the original record and now (including this study!). Mikhole Garland, for instance, has a distinctive given name occurring sporadically among women in Stokenham, more often than not written as Micole or Mycall and said to derive from a biblical daughter of Saul who married King David.16 There is no sign in the register of a Garland so named at this time. However, this problem has a solution: in some scripts, capital 'M' is easily confused with capital 'N', particularly if the minims (the upright strokes of the pen) are close together, and, to compound the problem, it is sometimes difficult in speech to differentiate the sounds of the two letters. And so, back to the parish register - to find, on 27 February 1676/7, the marriage of Nicholl Fyall to Nicholas Garland, three baptisms of their children, and the burial on 29 June 1714 of 'Nicholas Garland senr de Besson' (= Beesands), six days after his 36-year old son. His widow, Nicoll(e), had been born on 28 July 1658 and was 65 years old when she went to take the oath at Kingsbridge in the guise of Mikhole Garland. She should, therefore, be transferred from those who are less visible to the more visible group in Table 1.

Surnames are also confusable. Gregory Pike and Edmund Lyscombe, for example, could be confused with Peecke (or Peek and variants) and Luscomb(e) respectively but, since neither given name is found paired with any of these surnames in the register, it is likely that there has been some sort of hiatus between 1723 and today, resulting in names that cannot be recognised. Much the same could be said of Richard Tallyn 'of Stokenham' - a surname unknown there - who apparently signs at Chittlehampton on the other side of Dartmoor on 29 December 1715.17 It may be appropriate here to add a few words about the reliability of parish registers. Family historians are always advised - quite rightly - to check transcriptions against the original entries: nonetheless, the clergy should not be regarded as infallible. The Stokenham register records that "Nicholas Udy and Catherine Spinster were married" on 7 February 1716/7, and, though Fred Marker entered the bride's status, he overlooked her maiden name. In the case of Thomas Pope's wife, the cause of the confusion is easier to understand. On 26 March 1695, we are told, "Thomas Pope of Tor Crosse and Eliz Susly were marryed", but after their first child was born, the register records:

13 April 1696 "Thomas Pope ye son of Thomas Pope and Susly his wife was baptized".
'Susly' is used as a form of the given name, 'Cecilia', but, as a surname, it is rare in Devon. Nonetheless, a Susley family is found in nearby South Pool both in the hearth tax and the protestation returns. The next child was correctly registered on 17 July 1698, when "Elizabeth ye daughter of Thomas Pope and Elizabeth his wife was baptized".

Nearly a quarter (39) of the Stokenham names listed in the oath rolls cannot be specifically identified with people recorded in the parish register. They may be undocumented for a variety of reasons, such as mobility, incomplete registration and non-conformity. 'Mobility' includes, for these purposes, temporary residence as well as migration. If the three unidentifiable names (previous paragraph) are not attributable to error, they could be transients, such as lodgers resident for short periods. Where the only record is a marriage, the couple may have moved away from the parish;18 or if only a burial is recorded, the person involved may have moved into the parish.19 Defective registration could result from, for example, the temporary absence of the vicar, illegible entries in the register or persistent registration in a neighbouring parish. Though there is evidence of both mobility among the population and some under-registration, it is questionable whether they account for more than a few of the oath-takers among the 39 with a low profile in the parish register (categories (c), (d) and (e) in Table 1). Incomplete registration arising from non-conformity is a more substantial matter and requires detailed consideration.

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  1. 6 & 7 W & M cap.6 [Back]
  2. By virtue of a further Act, 9 Wm III cap.35 which required the clergy for "every Person... . married, christened, buried or born, to set down... .the respective Degree, Condition or Quality" in the register. [Back]
  3. By virtue of the Act for burying in woollen, 13 Chas II cap.3. [Back]
  4. Sarah and William Brown; Mary Butson; Elizabeth Hele; the Fountain sisters (3); Norton Nelson; and Nathaniel, Nicholas and William Prettyjohn. [Back]
  5. John Ewens; William Gould; William and Dorothy Head; and Francis Shath. [Back]
  6. Thomas Paine, The case of the officers of excise; with remarks on the qualifications of officers; and on the numerous evils arising to the revenue, from the insufficiency of the present salary (Lewes, c 1772), pp 7 and 9. [Back]
  7. Patrick Hanks et al, The Oxford names companion, (Oxford, 2002), p 826. [Back]
  8. According to the AA Route Planner [http://www.theaa.com/travelwatch/planner_results, accessed 2 May 2007] the 74.7 miles from Stokenham to Chittlehampton takes 2 hours and 9 minutes; and in 1723 ? - probably a day and a half. [Back]
  9. for example, Bartholomew Hyne and John and Rebecca Brown(e). [Back]
  10. Thomasin Langworthy and Robert Lover (? = Lovell) are possible examples. [Back]