LEWIS, Webster's Hall, St Paul's Walden, 17-18th Century
With a Virginia connection
Jeff Hale (jeffhale2013 @t att.net) of Savannah, GA, USA, writes: Below is a snippet from a 1733 Virginia will wherein William Lewis wills a Hertfordshire farm to my ancestor Capt. George Heale.
Abstracts of Lancaster County, Virginia Wills
LEWIS, William. 13 Dec. 1733. Rec. 9 Jan. 1733.
Legatees: Capt. Geo. Heale my farm in Great Britain containing 48 acres called Webstershall in the parish of Poles Warden in the County of Harfordshire, given me by my great grandfather Charles Lewis. Exor: Capt. Geo. Heale. Wits: Jas. Wharton, Jno. Norris, Timothy Thornton. W.B. 12, p. 289.
LEWIS, William. Inv. & Ap. 17 Dec. 1743. Rec. 13 Jan. 1743.
Returned by William Ball, Gent., admr. W.B. 14, p. 4.
I'm trying to find any record of the land. This is the only record linking my family to England and I'm baffled as to why a Lewis gave a Heale a 48 acre farm. I wondered if our line might be from Hertfordshire. How should I proceed to try to find out more?
The starting point must be the will.
What you quote is an abstract - presumably prepared by a professional archivist - used to reading old documents - and hence a reasonable summary of what the document says. I assume that the original still exists in the Lancaster County, Virginia, archives.
You say the above is a snippet from which I assume there may be other bequests in the full abstract. I also note that Captain George Heale is both a beneficiary and the sole executor, so clearly had an important link with William Lewis. The commonest situation is that George Heale was William Lewis's son-in-law, and William had no sons. However it is possible that William had no children, and may not even have been married and George Heale may have been a brother-in-law, cousin, nephew, or even a business partner.
At this point it is important to remember that indexes and abstracts are only guides to tell you what documents you need to see - and in this case the will will almost certainly throw some light on why William made George his executor, while other Lancaster County documents may throw light on whether William married and had any family. This involves American records and is outside the scope of this web site.
I find it very unusual that it appears that William Lewis inherited directly from his great-grandfather - did both his father and his grandfather die before great grandfather Charles. Did William inherit as an orphan child? Perhaps the full will text will clarify this point.
While Hertfordshire and Herefordshire are often confused the reference to "Harfordshire" is almost certainly to Hertfordshire because of the county name is pronounced.
"Poles Warden" is almost certainly (Saint) Paul's Walden - and one can assume that the 18th century American scribe that actually drafted the will was not aware of the names of many of the smaller Hertfordshire towns and villages - much less the standardised spellings of the 20th century.
"Webstershall" is almost certainly "Webster's Hall" - meaning the Hall occupied (possibly hundred's of years earlier by someone called Webster. It was probably originally a medieval hall house (see British Medieval Architecture) with a central hall in the centre and two floors of separate rooms at one or both sides of the hall. Such buildings were comparatively common but most that survive would have been significantly altered over the generations.
The location of Webster's Hall is unclear - but place names (especially of individual farms) change over the years. I have looked at a number of sources, including old maps back to 1766, while Chauncy, writing in 1700, gives the parish of St Paul's Walden the name Abbots Walden. There is no sign of a Webster's Hall, Modern maps shown an East Hall and East Hall Farm within the parish but I have no idea whether this is relevant.
HALS has many old manuscript documents relating to St Paul's Walden, many of which are not indexed at the individual surname or farm name. Some may mention Webster's Hall and they may be able to advise you for a fee..
Back to the Hertfordshire-Virginia connection.
About the best we can be reasonably certain about is that Charles Lewis (or perhaps his father) had a farm in St Paul's Walden in the middle of the 17th century and that either Charles, his son, his grandson or his great grandson William came to Virginia - so it could even be that William was a third generation American. If Captain Neale was a descendant of Charles he has Hertfordshire ancestry. If he was, for example a brother-in-law, there is no reason to think he has any reason he had any Hertfordshire connections. However his wife (and hence you) may have been a descendant of Charles Lewis and hence have Hertfordshire ancestors.
In such cases the advice page My Ancestors Emigrated from Hertfordshire is relevant. You say George Heale was a captain - but what kind of a captain was he? It could well be he only crossed the Atlantic "on business" - found a wife - and decided to stay. If he was a Captain in the British Army or Navy there could be well be relevant army records in the National Archives. If he was a sea captain there may be records of his ship visiting New England Ports in some American Archives, These records are again outside the scope of this web site.
In reply Jeff filled in some of the details, including some information on the American end which is not relevant to discussing the link with the farm. I have broken down my responsee sections.
William Lewis's will has been transcribed and reads:
In the name of God Amen I William Lewis of Lancaster county in Rappph and praised be god in good and perfect Memory doe make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in Manner and form following
Inprimus: I bequeath my soul to god that gave it me my maker and redeemer in full Assurance of the pardon and Remission of all my sins Through the Death and Merits of my Saviour Jesus Christ and my Body to the ground from whence it Came to be Decently Interred and for my Worldly Estate my Just Debts and funeral Rights first Discharged
I give and devise as followeth
Item: I give unto Capt George Heale my Farm in great Britain Containing forty Eight Acres more or Less Called Websters hall in the parish of poles walden in the County of Harfordshire Joyning to the land of one Thomas Willingum a Tanner and Robert Willingum given to me by my great Grandfather Charles Lewis to him and his heirs for ever
Item: I hereby Nominate and appoint my loving friend George Heale my Sole Executor of this my last will and testament to Act and doe all things in the ordering and disposing The Estate According to the true Intent and meaning thereof hereby revoking all former wills and Declare this to be my last Will and Testament by witnessing the Same with my hand and Seale this 13th day of December 1733
Signed Sealed and Delivered in the presence of
Joseph Wharton John Norriss Timothy Thornton
We are talking abut William's property owned by his great grandfather - we don't have dates but it seems reasonable to assume that references to the farm could date to a period up to 100 years before William's death. The will gives two names - Thomas Willingum (= Willingham?) and Richard Willingum (= Willingham?).
A check on familysearch for any reference to a Thomas or Richard Willingham in Hertfordshire in the 17th century produces only 3 such references:
Thomas Wellingham married Helen Walbie on 22 April 1610 at Saint Pauls Walden
Thomas, son of Thomas Wellingham was christened on 3 October 1610 at St Pauls Walden
Richard, son of Nicholas Wellingham was christened in 1635 at Ayott-St-Peter
Other references to the surname that I checked relate to Ayot St Peter, Codicote, Kings Walden and St Pauls Walden suggesting that the name was almost unknown throughout most of Hertfordshire in the 17th century, apart from a small cluster of villages. The fact that the Will mentions Thomas and Richard and these names only occur in St Pauls Walden and a nearby parish is excellent evidence that we have the correct place. A Google search immediately turns up further evidence. The Tun House, Whitwell, St Pauls Walden is a listed building - and the online description of the house starts "House. Circa 1700 for Wellingham family of Tanners ..." So even the occupation fits!
In the records immediately available to me there is no obvious Lewis in St Paul's Walden - but we must remember the religious "politics" in the 17th century. Many of the early emigrants to America were, in effect religious refugees and would have used the facilities of the Established Church as little as possible. As a result they and their children may not appear in the parish church records of baptisms, marriages or burials, The fact that Charles Lewis, or perhaps one of his sons, emigrated probably indicated that the family were no lovers of the Church of England. There may be records such as manorial documents, that survive, possibly at HALS, and these may mention members of the Lewis family.
Next there is the question of the relationship between William Lewis and George Heale. In the following I assume that the basic rules for inheritance in America at the time were similar to those in England and the following points are relevant.
There are default rules of inheritance - and if there was a widow or surviving children or grandchildren I would expect the will to mention them so it was clear that the default rules did not apply.
If William had no close living relatives, and didn't make a will it may be that his property defaulted to the state.
"My loving Friend George Heale" clearly indicates the reason for the choice of executor. If George was a close relative - say brother-in-law or a close cousin - I would expect this to be clearly stated.
"I give unto Capt George Heale my Farm ... given to me by my great Grandfather Charles Lewis to him and his heirs for ever" Is the "given to me" loose wording or would it be usual in America at the time? It if said "bequeathed to me" it would be clear that Charles Lewis made a will. A preliminary search failed to find an English will in the most likely places (HALS and the National Archives). So did he go to America and make a will there - or perhaps the gift was not a formal bequest.
"I give unto Capt George Heale my Farm ... given to me by my great Grandfather Charles Lewis to him and his heirs for ever" As pointed out earlier this is odd. Normally a piece of land such as this would be passed from father to son and the will would mention the name of the person (i.e. his father) who he had inherited it from. So was his father and grandfather already dead when his great grandfather left the farm to William?
Jeff mentioned a book about St. Mary's in Chester County stating this: "the shoemaker's meeting; which I conceive was that hall, which Mr. Lysons calls the Linen Webster's Hall; and which stood on the north side of the Church."
This could well be a reference to a Guild Hall - as a webster (weaver) would make linen - especially if you are talking about Chester, England. Guilds were usually found in the largest towns - particularly London, but also at what were then very important towns such as Chester and Norwich. where a large number of people with the same occupation were living in the same place. A few of the bigger towns in Hertford possibly had guilds for some of the commoner skilled occupations but much of the county consisted of small villages, such as St Pauls Walden and I would not expect to find a guild, much less a guild hall, there.
Anthony Carter.(email@example.com) commented that British History Online (The Victoria County History) shows the nearby manor of Ayot St Lawrence was sold to Thomas Lewis in 1714 who died in 1718. .
A check of Cussans' History adds that there was a tombstone in the churchyard: Here lyeth interred the body of Thomas Lewis, Esq., of this parish, who departed this life September 1, 1718, aged 38 years.
Jeff adds some additional information about George Heale's connection with England. He says: Captain George Heale's father's will (also George Heale) was proved in the PCC as well as Virginia. The interesting thing about his will is that at the end it is stated that his property in England and Ireland will be distributed. We wonder about whatever was held in Ireland. Do you have a feel for whether it was common to store money in an Irish Bank if you were not from Ireland or to purchase anything in Ireland as an investment (living in America)? Captain George Heale's two brothers were known to have money in banks in England. We know that from their wills wherein both ordered headstones from England to be paid from those accounts
I have no experience of the banking systems at this period, what records survive, and what arrangements colonists made about the management of the assets in the home country. However the information you provide about the wills suggests that the family was one which would have left some trace in the English records. It may be that the question of the Irish banks is a red herring, and the will writers got paid depending on the length of the will, which is why most English wills are full of legal language and you often have to dig hard to find the few words which actually contain any information.
If you can add to the information given above tell me.
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