A possible solution to the Featherstone alias Blackmore puzzle. DB Home

John Featherstone and Frances Midlam were married at Wiveliscombe, Somerset, on 29 July 1698. John had an alias, Blackmore, making genealogy difficult. The descent of later generations of a part of the Featherstone family with descendants in Australia and Canada as well as UK has been published in the Featherstone Society newsletter by Gordon Morley. I differed on one point, but all the lines we have investigated go back one way or another to that marriage. My gg grandfather James Featherstone, who married Eleanor Salter at Wiveliscombe on 9 May 1836 came to Tasmania (then Van Deiman's Land) in 1842. He was the youngest son of John, son of Robert, son of Thomas, son of John and Frances (see http://www.beswick.info/jesfam/FeatherstoneWiveliscombe.htm). At the delayed baptism of several of the children of John and Frances in 1712 John was described as John Featherstone alias Blackmore. As far as three generations later, this alias appears and some descendants were known as Blackmore. Most were recorded in the parish registers as Featherstone, but not infrequently as Featherstone alias Blackmore.There were no apparent Featherstone ancestors of John and it has been difficult to go back before 1698 without explaining this alias.

We have always thought it likely that there was a Blackmore-Featherstone marriage to account for the Blackmore alias in the Featherstone records at Wiveliscombe. One such possible marriage reference has appeared: "John Blackmore m. Frances Fetherstone at Wiveliscombe about 1699". The reliability of the information is doubtful, but I decided to accept it as a working hypothesis.

There is an IGI record submitted by a member of the LDS which I had been inclined to ignore (we know such records are not always reliable and no further information was available) referring to a marriage "about 1699", indicating that it was not a direct transcription from a primary source. It is, nevertheless, likely to be for the same event as our Featherstone-Midlam record of 1698, but it is for a Fetherstone woman rather than a man. Her Christian name, Frances, was the same as for the Midlam record. The Blackmore man is named John as expected. There are approximate dates of birth given for John Blackmore of about 1674 and Frances Fetherstone of about 1678. John of about 1674 could be about right for the first child of Thomas Blackmore and Anne Thorne (whose marriage is registered at Bradford-on-tone, and also at Pitminster, both near Taunton, Som., in 1674), with what we have supposed to be a delayed baptism of John, son of Thomas and Ann Blackmore at Wiveliscombe in 1683 (For discussion of the possible Blackmore origins see www.beswick.info/jesfam/featherstoneblackmore.htm).

How could Frances Midlam also be known as Frances Fetherstone? We have two possible birth/baptism records for Frances. One of my correspondents Susan Hembury-Kellow has preferred the illegitimate birth of Francis Middilham in 1673 (exact date unreadable, between 03.08 - 12.10), father not named, mother Joane. The other possibility is Midlam, daughter 22 Oct 1676, father Francis, mother Mary. If Midlam is taken as a variant of Middilham, as seems fairly sure, and the actual name Francis (again a variant of Frances sometimes used for girls as well as boys) is preferred to the mere unnamed "daughter" of a Francis, then "Francis" whose mother was "Joane" would likely be our ancestor who married John Featherstone alias Blackmore. There is a record of Joane Midlam having married Leonard Hill a year later on 11 Aug 1674, at Wiveliscombe. If the name Fe(a)therstone is to enter the picture with Frances either Joane or the child's father might, just might, have had a Fe(a)therstone parent. Several Midlam names appear in the Wiveliscombe registers from the 1660s but we know nothing of their origins and there is no sign of any Featherstone ancestry for Joane. If the name does come in at this point, as a parent, Featherstone is more likely to come from the unnamed father of Frances. We know that the name Featherstone in one form or another, including Vetherstone, was in the Wiveliscombe registers before this date: The earliest baptism found there is Henry Feethersone 17 Mar 1641, father Henry. And then there are those with the Vetherstone form of the name: Elizabeth 15 May 1667, father Richard, and Jane 18 Jul 1669, father Richard. So there were Featherstone men in the village at about the right time: Richard almost certainly, probably Henry and perhaps others. If one of them was the father of the Joane Midlam's child France/is, how would that have been known much later without some local record?

There is in fact no marriage of John Blackmore and Frances Fetherstone in the Wiveliscombe Parish register as transcribed by David Cheek (www.pbenyon1.plus.com/PR_Index.html ). We know that the Blackmores were non-conformists. At least some of them were, some of the time. There was, and is still, an independent church at Wiveliscombe with records dating from the early 1700s. For example, several of the Hill family are named (cf. the marriage of Joane Midelham and Leonard Hill) from 1715 onward, but there are none from as early as 1698 and no Blackmore or Featherstone names from that period. The independent congregation probably existed before the earliest surviving records in the County Records Office at Taunton, where the earliest I found was 1709. Such congregations were active in the area around Taunton from the time of the Civil War. It is possible that there could have been an unofficial local record that survived, somewhere, of a Blackmore-Fetherstone marriage, or of the birth/baptism of a child from which it was inferred.

It is significant that the births of several of the children of John and Frances Featherstone are recorded in the parish register at the back of the volume apart from the baptisms, as children born but not baptized (Elizabeth 25 Mar 1699, Thomas 04 Sep 1700, Mary 16 May 1702, Sarah 12 Jul). Several children were baptized in the parish church later on 18 Apr 1712: Thomas b. 11 yrs old, aka Blackmore, Mary 10 yrs old, aka Blackmore Martha 6 years old, aka Blackmore, Sarah 3 years old, aka Blackmore, and separately on 22 Jun 1712 there was Edward 8 yrs old, aka Blackmore (see www.pbenyon1.plus.com/H_m_w/Wiv/Index.html#top and www.beswick.info/jesfam/FeatherstoneWiveliscombe.htm) , indicating probable separation from and reconciliation with the Established Church. The IGI record of the Featherstone-Blackmore marriage "about 1699" could be from a lost independent source, but it looks like a presumed marriage from later knowledge of John and Frances being parents of a child, probably with the Blackmore surname, perhaps with the alias noted. As a counter to the parents' surnames both actually being known, it might be argued that the name Frances Fetherstone could have been a construction from knowledge of her husband's alias as in "John Featherstone alias Blackmore" which appears at the delayed baptism of their children and elsewhere, with someone guessing that the Featherstone name came from his wife. But men do indeed sometimes take their wife's name, although in this case it would have to be a name by which she was not commonly known, or a name not recognized by the church. My guess is that the latter reason played some part in her being married officially as Midlam rather than Fetherstone because she was an illegitimate child. That her mother had married a different man when she was very young makes some sense of Frances perhaps having been given a different surname after her natural father rather than her stepfather or her mother.

The Midlam connection with "Fetherstone" remains conjecture, but that Frances Midlam was registered as an illegitimate child and we have a marriage presumed, for unknown reasons, between John Blackmore and Frances Fetherstone in the place of John Featherstone and Frances Midlam remains intriguing and suggestive. John Featherstone was almost certainly known otherwise or elsewhere as John Blackmore, and it is just possible that he took the name of his wife's father, which she might perhaps have preferred to her mother's name, and by which she might well have been known in the village. We have argued elsewhere http://www.beswick.info/jesfam/featherstoneblackmore.htm that preference for the name Featherstone over Blackmore might have developed because of the Blackmore reputation locally from their part in the Civil War and Monmouth Rebellion, Thomas Blackmore having been hanged by Judge Jefferies at the "bloody assizes" held at Taunton a few years earlier in 1685, and perhaps even reinforced among royalists by the memory of Featherstone of Featherstone Castle having lost his head and the castle in support of Charles II when he was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester 1651; but then I might, like stout Cortez and his men upon a peak in Darien, have stared in wild surmise, as Keats would have it.

David Beswick, 20 February 2010.

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