During collaboration on the question of the Coat of Arms adopted by the descendants of Thomas Lord in America, I was directed to a document bearing his name in the British National Archives as follows:
Description: Lord v Russell.
Plaintiffs: Thomas Lord. Defendants: Thomas Russell...
Subject: property in Towcester, Wood Burcote, Northamptonshire.
Document type: bill only.
While it was not felt this document would provide very much detail, as it was the bill of complaint only, it has turned out to reveal many and significant details about the village of Towcester.
A copy was ordered, and after several weeks, the image arrived. Work was immediately begun, as it was clear the document was much more detailed and held much more promise than at first believed.
The text below is based on a trascription of this document by Janet Wolfe with some attempts by me, then edited by me. In order to provide clarity for the reader, I amended the text to modern spelling and puctuation. Superscript numbers refer to explanatory notes at the end of the document. Ambiguous words are left in brackets with a question mark.
John Williams, Lord Bishop of Lincoln and Keeper of the Great Seal
2. "Your orator" is Thomas Lord's manner of referring to himself.
3. Written "leies", it refers to "annual grasslands, not regular pasture" (Brian Giggins, pc.)
4. Robert Bird of Towcester was the father of Dorothy Bird, Thomas Lord's wife. He is listed as a "joyner" (cabinet maker).
5. George Tight of Towcester married Perris Bird, another of Robert Bird's daughters and is also listed as "joyner".
6. The date written in the document in numerals is "1614" but clearly the year intended is 1624.
7. Written "suertyes" and taken to mean "surety - a person who takes responsibility for another's performance of an undertaking or payment of a debt." Robert Bird and Richard Tight were to act as guarantors for Thomas Lord's obligation to Russell.
8. The note "nil" may mean the case was never progressed (see more on this below).
This is a very complex case, and not easily simplified and understood in modern terms.
Apparently, Thomas Lord. who had inherited his parent's estate, both of whom had died a decade earlier, was working as a blacksmith in Towcester. Perhaps out of a need to enhance his economic situation, he leased several agricultural fields, barns and yards, and pasturage for livestock, from Thomas Russell in 1620 or 21. It seems that some problem prevented him making the lease payments, and he had negotiated a new lease, co-signed, in essense, by his father-in-law, Robert Bird, and his wife's sister's husband, Richard Tight (sometimes listed as "Tite" in geanealogical records). Both Bird and Tight were "joyners" in Towcester.
Russell, in retaliation (?) for Lord's default, confiscated the crops harvested by Lord. (This needs to be elaborated.)
A possible reason why this case did not go forward is found in the family history website for "Towcester Families." (below)
So Thomas Lord's father-in-law, Robert Bird, was buried on July 22nd, less than two weeks after Thomas presented his complaint. On July 18th, just two days after his son-in-law George Tight was buried, Robert Bird wrote his will in which he states that Thomas' other guarantor, George Tight, was already dead. He mentions the "late... George Tighte", his daughter Perris as "widow" and her children as "fatherless".
Without the back-up of Bird and Tight, as guarantors for his lease, Thomas' appeal had no hope.
To compound the losses, Thomas Lord's mother-in-law, Amy Bird, was buried two years later, in April of 1624, described as "an olde widdowe".
The following, as best can be determined from this document and other reliable sources, a chronology of the key events connected to this case. Where necessary the old dates, with year ending March 24th, have been corrected to modern dates.
1585Month unknown Thomas Lord born (based on age given at passage to New England in 1635).
1610September 22nd Thomas Lord's mother, Joan, buried in Towcester.
October 16th Thomas Lord's father, Richard, buried in Towcester. Thomas inherits house, etc.
1611February 23rd Thomas Lord marries Dorothy Bird in Towcester. Age c. 26 years.
1619?March 24th Original lease takes effect, and in effect for nine years. (There is a question why the effective date is a year ahead of the date later given in the petition, below.)
1620March 20th Date given for the lease terms in effect, expressed in regnal years.
Rent to be £110 10s annually, payable in three equal amounts.
April 10th 1st rent payment due.
June 10th 2nd rent payment due.
September 29th 3rd rent payment due.
1621No data - payments apparently made.
1622April 10th Failed to make rent payment due this date.
May 8th New lease terms negotiated. Lord to yield tithe crops to Russell.
July 8th Petition filed outlining the conditions following, supported by George Tight and Robert Bird.
July 16th George Tight buried, Towcester.
July 22nd. Robert Bird buried, Towcester.
July 25th Payment of £25 due.
November 1st Payment of £25 due.
1623April 20th Payment of £25 due.
And also by the new agreement of 5/8/1622, £34 per year for two years, as follows:
June 21st Payment of £17 due.
December 21st Payment of £17 due.
1624June 21st Payment of £17 due.
December 21st Payment of £17 due.
1625April 19th Amy Bird "an olde widdowe" buried, Towcester.
1631Month unknown. Thomas Russell dies (extrapolated for testimony of George Russell).
1633Summer Richard, eldest son of Thomas Lord, sails to New England.
1635April 29th Thomas Lord and family, less eldest son Richard, sail from London for New England.
1636Spring Thomas Lord and family migrate overland to future site of Hartford, Colony of Connecticut.
1. "Thomas Lord of Towcester ... blacksmith". The occupation of Thomas Lord has remained a question. The only other identification of his occupation is his entry on the passenger list of the ship Elizabeth and Ann, bound for New England in 1635. There it is stated "Thomas Lord....smith". However, historians have believed this was a subterfuge to hide his escape from England as a religious dissident. Now we know he was, in fact, a "blacksmith" (see below from the 1622 manuscript).
"...Thomas Lord of Towcester in the county of Northton blacksmith..."
2. Places mentioned include "Towcester" "Wood Burcott" "Common Fields of Towcester" "churchmeadows" "meadmill field" "Spittle bridge" "Rowell's meadow" "enclosed grounds...of Richard Litcutt, Esq." "Parsonage barn with yard" "two othr barns with yard between".
3. The appeal by Thomas Lord to John Williams, Lord Bishop of Lincoln in this case, may have been prompted by the fact that John Williams was known to be sympathetic to the Puritan cause, and Thomas was known to also be linked to the nonconformist religious movement.
Richard Lord, Yeoman Farmer
Richard Lord lived in Towcester until his death late in 1610. In his will of earlier that year he identifies himself as a "husbandman", or farmer. However, in the burial record he is identified as a "yeoman", which is a slightly higher status. Around that time a husbandman earned about £15 per year, while yeoman earned about £40 per year.
He divided his estate between his wife and his four children, one of whome was Thomas, who would have been about 25 then, and who inherited the bulk of the estate as the only male heir.
The estate included a house with orchard, which provided in part for support of his wife, who only lived a few months, money in excess of £100 and apparently other property in Towcester, which went immediately to Thomas. The purchasing power of the money involved, in todays terms, would be about $24,000 or £17,000. The value of the entire estate is hard to estiate, but it was considerable and places the family of Richard Lord in what might be termed today the upper middle class.
As it is likely that his son Thomas, who was a blacksmith in 1622, had already apprentised in the trade by his father's death, but it is also possible that he acquired that trade during the 12 years after that.
Thomas Lord, Blacksmith
In the legal bill of July 1622, Thomas Lord identifies himself as "blacksmith". One might assume his occupation as a skilled artisan placed him near the bottom of the 17th century eocnomic and social scale, just below merchants, farmers and shopkeepers, in what economic historians sometimes call "the middling sort".
But the lease terms of 1622 reveal otherwise, at least on the face of it. While most middle class person wishing to lease agricultural lands might pay for the lease in kind; i.e. with a portion of the produce of the lands leased, the terms of the lease Thomas agreed to included a considerable commitment of cash. His annual rent was set at £110. In modern buying potential that amount would equal around $25,000 or £17,700. To have that amount of surplus or disposable income to make such a commitment suggests his wealth was more than that expected for a simple blackmsith, which might average only a fraction of that amount.
It may be assumed, since his sisters had gone their way and no longer depended on the estate, and since his mother had died in 1610, that Thomas had inherited suffients wealth to underwrite this venture.
Robert Bird, Joiner
Robert Bird was Thomas Lord's father-in-law, his daughter Dorothy marrying him in 1611. In the record of Robert's burial in Towcester in 1622 he is identified as a "joyner, one of the Foeffies buryed 22 Jul". This is only a couple weeks after he is identified as one of the "sureties" for Thomas' lease.
A joiner was a skilled worker who mace the wooden structures inside buildings, such as stairs, doors, and door and window frames. As such he was part of the artisan class, making less than 12 pence a day on average.
In Robert's will, written July 18th, 1622, he leaves all his household goods, and just 40 shillings to Dorothy, Thomas's wife, with the rest left to his other daughter "Perris Tight, widow, was married to her late husband, George Tight... to bring up her fatherless children." Legacies measured in shillings rather than Pounds suggests Robert was of a significanlty lower status than his sone in law, Thomas Lord.
George Tight, Joiner
George Tight (or "Tite" as recorded in later genealogical summaries) married Robert Bird's other daughter, Perris and so was closely linked to Thomas Lord through his wife's sister, who was Thomas's wife, Dorothy. His occupation is recorded in the burial listing for Towcester in 1622 as "George Tighte A Joyner buryed the 16 July". His age is presently unknown. He would be expected to be about 20 years junior to his father-in-law, as he married Robert Bird's daughter, and one might suspect he was apprenticed to Bird to learn his craft. And yet he and his father-in-law died within days of each other. So contagious disease may be suspected.
One might ask if Bird's two daughters married to men of similar socio-economic status. Yet a yeoman farmer (Thomas Lord) and a artisan joiner (George Tight) would normally be seen as of slightly differing status.
Thomas Russell, Gentleman
Thomas Russell was identified in the manuscript as "Thomas Russell of Towcester aforesaid gent." which places him a level above Thomas Lord, Robert Bird and George Tight. The status strata run down from esquire to gentleman, yeoman, husbandman, artisan, laborer and vagrant.
It is assumed from the document that he had a considerable measure of wealth and property as he owned the lands which thomas Lord had leased. The lease mentions cropping fields as well as pasture, and includes buidlings, such as barns and associated yards.
Of interest is that Russell was married in Towcester on the 27th of November, 1617. If we estimate the male age at marriage at about age 25, and we see Thomas Lord married over five years earlier, we might conslude that Russell was younger than the persons he leased to, which might suggest he inherited his property, rather than earned it.
But his wealth may be a more complicated equation than assumed. In October of 1612, a decade before his lease to Lord, and four years before he married, "Thomas Russell of Towcester" leased "pasture with appurtenances" from a "knight" in Misterton, some distance north of Towcester along the Watling Street.
The birth and parentage of Thomas Russell is, as yet, undocumented. However, evidence suggests that he was the son of Firmine Russell of Towcester, as gentlemen in Misterton had, in 1597, leased lands to "Firmyne Russell of Towcester". The connection between lands in Misterton and two men of the same surname in Towcester...Firmine Russel in 1587 and Thomas Russell in 1612... seems more than coincidence.
Thomas Russell was buried January 24th, 1644 in Towcester.
George Russell, grandson of Firmine Russell, and presumed son of Thomas Russell, was later involved in an economic disaster, for the family. The date given in the record for the death of George's father is 1631, the petition by George is 1641, all before the burial date given for Thomas above. The confusion remains.
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Appreciation is due to Janet Wolfe, who first told us of this document, provided the initial full transcripion of the manuscript, and offered insights and advice throughout.
Comments to Phil Lord at email@example.com