April 3, 2016 by auntkatefirmin
Now that some theories have been set out about the Skull and Horsell families, I thought I’d turn back to the Blackford family, the family that opened up the family tree.
It took a lucky break and a distant cousin to connect Harriet Blackford to her grandson John Robert Firmin. Like so many other family history “brick wall” crossings it only took one small piece of information and a lot of persistence. The detective skills of cousin Liz took the clue that one of the Blackford cousins was a Mrs Firmin and opened up a whole world of Blackford, Wayt, Seymour and Horsell cousins to the Firmin side of the family.
I have posted some about the early life of Harriet Blackford and why she might have left Swindon. I have looked a bit at her father Robert Blackford, his fame as a “noted backsword player,” and his difficulty in supporting the family as a butcher. I hope to take a closer look at the life of Robert’s father William Blackford, who was amongst other things a “dealer in pigs.” The evidence becomes more sparse once we reach William’s father, another Robert Blackford. Though proof of the family connections are reasonably clear, the details of Robert’s life, such as his profession, are lost in time. After Robert, things get murky and reasoned guesses based on name and locations form the basis of the picture. I will use the rest of the post to propose possible earlier ancestors for Harriet Blackford, beginning with her great-grandfather, Robert Blackford.
Robert first appears in Lydiard Millicent in January 1707/08 where he married Jane Weight or Whaight, who is probably part of the extended Wayt family (but that’s another post). Robert is said to be of Lydiard Tregoze, while Jane’s parish was Swindon. Robert and Jane had six children who were all baptised in Lydiard Millicent between 1709 and 1727. Jane was buried in Lydiard Millicent 1727 and no evidence of a second marriage for Robert has turned up. Of the six children, only Harriet’s grandfather William was known to have reached adulthood and a raised family; he married in nearby Rodborne Cheney but was “of” Lydiard Millicent. Three of the boys left no paper trails after their baptisms, young Jane died at age 20, and while the evidence for baby Martha is contradictory she probably died within a few days of being baptized. On the whole, the evidence is that Robert lived his adult life in Lydiard Millicent. Since I have not found a burial or probate for him, I do not know when he died or how much of a financial start in life he was able to provide for William. Going back in time, whose child was Robert and where was he born?
Robert would have been born no later than 1685 as he was not a minor when he married. Since there is as yet no evidence of any Blackford living in Lydiard Millicent or Lydiard Tregoze prior to 1709, I will guess that he was a younger son and moved there from somewhere nearby. The two Lydiards border on Wootton Bassset, where another Blackford family is known to have lived during the time Robert was born.
Solomon Blackford of Wootton Basset is the best candidate for Robert’s father – he’s pretty much the only real candidate so far, although there was a family in Wroughton headed by John & Elinor. Of the nearby parishes with indexes, in the pre-1700 era, I have only found Blackfords in Somerford Keynes (which was then in Gloucestershire), Purton, Wroughton, and Wootton Bassett. Based on my current reading of the evidence the most likely options are that Robert came from a family that left no traces, or he was the son of Solomon Blackford of Wootton Bassett. While the former is possible, there are enough Wiltshire records for this period that families of modest standing, like the Blackfords, tend to leave some traces, even if not every individual can be traced from birth to death. What can be discovered about Solomon?
Solomon Blackford had a wife named Sarah and seven children baptised between 1678 and 1687 in Wootton Bassett. Between the tax lists and the baptisms their children were: Sarah (1678), Solomon (no baptism recorded), Henry (1680), Robert (1681), Daniel 1684), Alice (1687). Robert fits nicely into this family in the gap between Daniel and Alice and we have proof that another child in the family lacks a baptismal record (Solomon). This makes Robert a younger son and while little is known about Solomon himself, it would not be out of character for Robert to move to a nearby by parish, especially if an older brother had inherited any leases, property, or a family business, or if the family wanted to create connections with another family through marriage. So far, Sarah is only known from the tax records and until contradictory evidence appears I will consider her to be the mother of the children. This part of the family tree is still informed guesswork.
Assuming Solomon and Sarah were Robert’s parents, then his Blackford grandparents were Elinor and Henry of Wootton Bassett. Elinor and Henry’s seven or eight children were baptized between 1656 and 1669 in Wootton Bassett; Solomon was their oldest child and their only surviving male child. Henry and Elinor both died in 1694, so only Solomon’s family appears in the 1697-1705 tax lists for Wootton Bassett. Robert does not appear in any tax list examined so far, but his future wife Jane Waite appears in the list for Lydiard Tregoze in 1700 as the only person with the surname Wayt/Waite. Unfortunately the Lydiard Tregoze list does not clearly group individuals by household; Jane would have been a child and while she is probably the correct Jane, more research is needed to clarify who she was living with. Elinor is only established as Henry’s wife based on her burial, she is not confirmed as his only wife and is only assumed to be the mother of all the children in the current absence of any contradictory evidence.
Where was Henry born and who were his parents? This is where another leap of reasoning is required. Henry first appears in 1656 in Wootton Bassett when Solomon was baptized. Again, I will venture that Henry was a younger son and moved from another location at or near to the time of his marriage, or perhaps after receiving an inheritance that didn’t involve property. Again, there is the choice to assume that Henry was part of the only family that left traces in the correct place and time or to assume that his parents were from a place, or of such a status, that records about them did not survive. The only location with a match is Somerford Keynes, roughly eight miles away from Wootton Bassett, although I got there by way of Purton, about halfway between the two. The leap was facilitated by the will of John Blackford of Somerford Keynes, written in 1653.
John Blackford’s will includes extensive bequests and needs a post of its own to untangle all the relationships. To simplify matters I will only mention the items of direct relevance to Henry Blackford. In his will, John set up a series of payments to his brother, Robert Blackford of Purton, to total ten pounds over roughly five years. He also mentioned “Henry Blackford, the son of my brother Robert Blackford,” and left him seven pounds; from the context, Henry would be an adult. While I don’t have a birth year for Henry, Henry’s first child was born in 1656, shortly after he would have received the funds from the bequest. Reading between the lines, I’m guessing that Robert Blackford of Purton was either unable to handle his own money, or unable to work and support his family consistently. John was in a position to assist many members of his family; he did not give the same amount to each of his nieces and nephews, and he must have felt that young Henry would make good use of a bequest as he gave him substantially more than some of the other cousins. Henry appears to have used his seven pounds to set himself up in Wootton Bassett and find a suitable wife.
Using the will as a starting point, there is evidence that provides other confirming details. There was a family in Somerford Keynes headed by William; in addition to the son John who wrote the will, William’s known children include Anne, Robert, George, and Joan. The details of the siblings found so far all match the information in John’s will. It is logical to assume that the Robert Blackford who married Frances Barthe in Somerford Keynes in 1618 is the brother Robert mentioned by John. After 1619 a Robert Blackford was the father of several children baptised in Purton, and while there is no record for the baptism of Henry, this is the correct period for a family that would include “our” Henry while also being the brother of John in Somerford Keynes, and we know from John’s will that Robert of Purton did have a son Henry. It would not be out of character for Henry to move to Wootton Bassett after receiving an inheritance. If, as a possible reading of John’s will implies, Henry’s father was somewhat imprudent then moving out of town would make it more difficult for his father to ask for a loan.
As I gain more experience with the various lines in Harriet’s tree, I get a better sense of what is probable. Based on their lives as dealers and tradesmen, often as younger sons, and presumably men of some standing in their communities who traveled locally to conduct business, they did not reach a level of wealth or status where every individual in the family left a will or had extensive properties. They were in our terms, middle-class, even if they weren’t always successful. To continue back in time it becomes necessary to make some assumptions in the absence of complete records. The weakest link in this chain of reasoning is probably the connection of Robert of Lydiard Millicent to Solomon of Wootton Bassett as it hinges only on surname and location; given the will, I’m pretty certain that the ancestors of Solomon are correct. Happily, some similar earlier assumptions have turned out to have evidence; perhaps more will turn up regarding the Blackfords. Either way, I hope to fill out more details about the earlier generations, even if the details are somewhat generic.
The chart below summarizes the proposed Blackford lineage, and hopefully is useful in distinguishing between the different generations.