Today I am posting an update to some of the previous Wills family posts for which I subsequently discovered new information. The posts in question are as follows:
The Wills family story passed down to us by my grandmother and her mother was reflected in the above posts. But shortly after I’d written them, I discovered a few details that made me question that account. Some of those details came from the GSV Wills self-published memoir**. (I’d misplaced the book right after posting the first post on GSV Wills, and found it only after I’d made the other Wills family posts.) Other things in general were just not adding up. I was finally forced to admit that the story passed down to us was full of inaccuracies. The whole series of discoveries left me feeling quite deflated and wanting to cool off on the Wills family line for a while, which is why it has taken me this long to do an update. On the other hand, it does feel good to get the story straighter, even though many gaps remain. Where to begin? Rather than take you through the order in which I made my discoveries, it’s probably best to go down these Wills-related posts one by one.
First, about William Slaymaker being an orphan, well—-I found his birth record! According to England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, posted on the Family Search website, William Slaymaker was born on 2 September 1828 to Mary and John Slaymaker of Weedon Bec and Flore, Northampton, England. (These are neighboring villages 11 miles northwest of Blisworth). He was christened on 10 December 1829, according to England and Wales, Non-Conformist Record Indexes (RG4-8)–also posted on the same LDS site. Discovering William’s birth and christening records was a huge shock to me since I’d always believed, hook, line and sinker, that William was a complete orphan whose origins were unknown. So, so much for our previous family history as it had been written down.
But how did William get to Blisworth? Interestingly I discovered a John Slaymaker, “agricultural laborer,” living in Blisworth at the time of the 1851 census. William, 21, was also in Blisworth living with George Wills, “stone mason and builder,” and wife Elizabeth, and Mary (George’s daughter) who is shown with the Slaymaker surname; that fits with our records that the young pair had married in 1850. The 1851 census records confirm William Slaymaker’s birthplace as Weedon, Northamptonshire. John Slaymaker was living with a wife named Esther and two sons, John and Joseph, ages 18 and 4. Could Esther be a second wife? Could this John be William’s father? I believe the answer to those questions to be “yes.” The same census record shows that John (44) was also born in Weedon Bec as was his first son, John (18). However Esther (37) and younger son Joseph (4) were both born in Blisworth. Perhaps John Sr., John Jr., and William Slaymaker relocated to Blisworth after 1st wife Mary’s death, and there John Sr. met Esther and had son Joseph. The Slaymakers had in common with George Wills an involvement in the non-conformist movement. Perhaps George Wills took William under his wing as a worker in his stone masonry business. Blisworth was a very small town (The 1841 census showed about 880 people living there.)
On a complete side note, the 1851 census record mentions George’s 2nd wife’s birthplace as Cambridge. I have made a mental note to research “Elizabeth” further since my grandmother and her mother never documented the fact that George remarried. The 1851 census record shows she was 61, three years older than George at that stage.
Now about the story of George raising William and his own children in Old Stone House, Blisworth, a house he supposedly build for his bride Mary Capon. Well that story turned out to be full of holes too. I figured this out through the blisworth.org.uk website and some correspondence with the site’s manager Tony Marsh, whom I’d contacted in order to offer him a 1913 photo I had of the Old Stone House. To get to the point quickly, Old Stone House in Blisworth was really the Blisworth Stoneworks, built around 1840; it served as headquarters for a limestone quarry that was in existence on the site since the early 1800s, and was part of the Grafton Estate. George and 1st wife Mary married in 1812, so there is NO WAY in the world that he built that particular structure for Mary. If George built Mary an “old stone house,” and he probably did, it was in Stony Stratford or nearby Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, where the pair spent their early married life. So “adios” to the yarn passed down that George owned and built the Stoneworks house for Mary. However, we do know that George was in Blisworth at the time of the 1841 Census living at the Stoneworks with 2nd wife Elizabeth. He is listed as “builder.” Now, since Mary (George’s 1st wife) died in 1839, he must have married Elizabeth around 1840, about when he was participating in the construction of the Stoneworks. So, I think it is highly possible that recollections of George’s children or grandchildren were of him building that big stoneworks house for 2nd wife Elizabeth, which was not really the case, but children don’t know all the details of what’s going on in the world around them, so in their young minds it may have appeared that George was building that home for Elizabeth. George’s youngest daughters, Martha and Mary (14 and 10, respectively, in 1939) may have perceived it that way. The only Wills child known to be born at the stoneworks with relative certainty was Samuel, firstborn child of William Slaymaker and George’s daughter Mary.
Now, about the Duke of Grafton being patron of the Wills family (this is written in GSV Wills’s memoirs), at the time of Sampson Wills’s death (George’s father), George was living on Tottenham Court Road in London. Tony Marsh commented that “George would have been building townhouses less than a 1/4 mile from some of Grafton’s houses in the Euston Station area.” Whether they had any association there, however, we don’t know (yet, anyway). When Sampson died, George, wife Mary, and their three children who existed up to that point (Ann, Phoebe, and Jabez), had to move back to Stony Stratford to carry on the family business. Though the distance was just 50 miles, it took them three days traveling by wagon with all of their possessions including a cat with kittens.
On another side note, per the GSV Wills memoirs of 1899, Sampson Wills, was a renowned builder, whose family was based in Stony Stratford for generations. He was not involved in the non-conformist movement as was son George. Sampson’s 1st contract was to erect mile-stones along the road from Stony Stratford to Bletchley. He constructed the bridge that spans the Ouse at Cosgrove. Cosgrove is just a mile north of Stony Stratford as the crow flies. I looked the bridge up and, if I guessed correctly about which one it is, it is now referred to as “Solomon’s Bridge”–perhaps in the mists of time, “Sampson” changed to “Solomon”? GSV Wills says the bridge was referred to as “Sampson’s Bridge” even in the late 1890s. For views of the bridge, click here, here, and here! You can also catch a glimpse of the bridge on this interesting YouTube video (at about the 50 second mark). The Cosgrove Village website has posted a PDF document about the bridge. They say that the story goes that “a certain Colonel Solomon’s, ‘Lord of the Manor’, agreed to the cutting of the canal on the condition that he was allowed to erect the necessary bridge.” Perhaps, officially it became known as Solomon’s Bridge, while locally, those who were familiar with Sampson Wills’s involvement referred to it as Sampson’s Bridge.
Sampson’s business spanned from 1780 to 1830(?). He worked on the Calverton Church and died attempting to fix the pinnacle; he lost his balance and fell. If you click on the link for Calverton Church in the previous sentence, you’ll see what a precarious maneuver he must have been undertaking. If he did die in 1830, he would have been 63 at the time. In addition, two sons died in service to King George III. I say 1830 with a question mark because Sampson’s books ended in 1830, so I assume that is when he died. GSV Wills stated that Jabez Wills descendants were in possession of Sampson’s original books. That was in 1899, of course, so who knows where they may be today. It would provide clues about the Cosgrove bridge, no doubt.
Now it must have been around late 1830s that the Duke of Grafton asked George to consider relocating from Stony Stratford to Blisworth (10 miles away) to oversee the stoneworks project. According to the GSV Wills book, George agreed because by then his daughter Phoebe had married John Simpson, and Simpson was prepared to carry on George’s business at Stony Stratford. Incidentally, it was in Blisworth that Jabez Wills met Mr. Hickson, the local chemist, who was “twice married and blessed with 21 children.” Jabez married Catherine, one of Mr. Hickson’s daughters, and the couple settled in Roade (3 miles away). There, Catherine gave birth to GSV Wills in 1849.
The only part of this post that needs updating is with regards to sentence #2–that before emigrating to America, William Slaymaker sold his share of the business to John Simpson. The family yarn passed down to us was that when George died in 1856, he left his Stony Stratford stone masonry business to sons-in-law John Simpson and William Slaymaker.
Well, for William to have sold John his share on the eve of emigrating to America would have been quite a feat because I discovered that John Simpson died in 1861, roughly 5-7 years before the Slaymakers changed their name to Sargent and moved to the US. Another deflating moment! According to the little GSV Wills book, Jabez Wills moved to Stony Stratford to take over the business when John Simpson died. I found the 1861 census records for the Slaymakers–the family was living in Northamptonshire at 2 Mason’s Yard in the parish of St. Sepulchre. William is listed as a mason and builder employing four men. Daughters Elizabeth (6) and Sarah (3) are listed as having been born in St. Sepulchre, which means that the Slaymakers must have moved to Northamptonshire in roughly 1855. Perhaps what really happened was that when George died he left William a share of the business, but William sold it to Simpson straight away and relocated to Northampton where he perceived business to be more lucrative. And when Simpson died, the business transferred to Jabez.
The above text correcting information about the stoneworks should replace details in Paragraph 1 of this post. Also with regard to the information about the Gardiners, evidently while Gardiner may have managed the so-called “Wait Estate,” Simpson’s daughter Mary would not have been involved with the Estate for that length of time since she and Gardiner married in 1875 and he died in 1897. He was 30 years her senior! Also, Tony Marsh who is mentioned above, believes that the “Wait” Estate is probably the Wake Estate. Tony forwarded a couple of links about the Wake Estate, but I have not yet had a chance to review them: http://www.blisworth.org.uk/images/Articles/Wakes-history.htm and http://www.blisworth.org.uk/images/Lyrical/Wake-memoirs.htm.
Now, with regards to this post, the question is obviously: “Who is that man seated in the chair on the left?” It can’t be John Simpson since he died in 1861. In the wheelchair is Phoebe and John Simpson’s daughter Zillah Wills Simpson (29 Jul 1843 – 10 Apr 1920). We know that for sure since she was disabled. Based on the age gap between Mary Simpson and husband William Gardiner, I believe it is William Gardiner who is seated in the chair; he would have been in his mid-eighties at the time, an age that seems to fit this gentleman. The other two ladies are probably identified correctly: Standing in the rear are the elder Simpsons’ daughter Sarah German Simpson Caswell (30 Mar 1849-8 Jan 1929). Seated on the right is the elder Simpsons’ daughter Mary (2 Feb 1839-6 Feb 1917), Gardiner’s wife. (I must admit she looks older than her late 50s to me.) But, now, who is the man standing in the rear? I think it is probably Sarah’s husband, Henry Slee Caswell. Time will tell–let’s hope someone reads this blog and can give us some clues.
So that’s the update–for now, anyway. Things are bound to change but certainly not nearly so dramatically. Now it seems more like a question of filling in the gaps.
PS: To muddy up the works slightly, I did discover a “Haymaker” family living in Blisworth at the Stoneworks in 1841, at the same time George and Elizabeth Wills were there. Whether these Haymakers were Slaymakers remains to be seen. If I make any progress on that, I will report on it.
**A Jubilee Souvenir. The Works of George S. V. Wills and The Westminster College of Chemistry and Pharmacy. Stratford: Wilson & Whitworth, Ltd., Printers, Broadway, 1899.