The family’s oral tradition takes us back to Jacob 1789-1849 now known to have been born in Potton in Bedfordshire. On this page we trace his parents ….
William Russell c1734-1820 and Hannah Maria Gregory c1750-1808
The Potton registers show that Jacob Russell’s parents were William Russell and Hannah Maria. Tracing William and Hannah Maria’s births, marriage and William’s death has been quite interesting.
The first mention of William and Hannah Maria in the Potton parish registers was on 20 December 1777 when their daughter Sarah was baptised. There is an important note to the entry saying that William & Hannah were sojourners. This meant that they were visitors to parish and the local poor law guardians were concerned that the Russells could become a burden on the parish if they became paupers.
The historical background to this is Poor Law Act of 1601 and the ensuing Settlement Act of 1662. See various on-line articles including in the Victorian Web.
Seven more of William and Hannah’s offspring were baptised in Potton, but for two of them Hannah Maria is named Frances Maria. The dates look as if all the offspring were offspring of Hannah Maria.
History of Potton
There is one piece of local history that may well have affected William’s family just five years after they arrived. In 1783 there was ‘the great fire’ at Potton that changed the then thriving town small town and wool centre for ever. No doubt local morale would have been shattered for at least a decade so affecting the Russell’s chances of education and employment.
The Russell family struggles
The Potton Poor Law guardians were right to think that the Russells were a potential burden on their parish.
- Jacob’s brother William born 1787 was a fellmonger. William and Elizabeth had four offspring, the first was baptised in 1809 then the next three were all baptised on 12 November 1815. Why? The Bedfordshire Archives includes papers that are “Orders to pay relief to families of men serving in the Militia(14 papers)1781, 1801 – 1811” including “Eliz. w.of Wm.Russell, Beds.Mil., 1811”. This order resulted in a direction from local JP and MP Francis Pym to the Overseers of the Poor of Potton. Eliz Russell: Poor relief So William was a member of the Bedfordshire Militia during the last phase of the Napoleonic Wars and his children were baptised a few months after the battle of Waterloo. Carolyn to find out if the Bedfordshire Militia served outside the county, they were unlikely to have served outside the country.
- Jacob, also a fellmonger baptised his first four children all on 27 April 1821. Luckily their ages were noted in the register. Why the wait?? In about 1940 Jacob’s grandson GWR’s recollections include the information that Jacob had worked in Dewsbury, maybe the family moved to Dewsbury but Jacob and Mary nee Richardson chose to wait and have their offspring baptised in their home town of Potton. A wise move considering the Poor Law legislation, see above.
- No Russells are mentioned in the 1830 or 1839 Pigot directories that do include woolstaplers and fellmongers. Therefore brother William and Jacob were either employed in Potton or worked elsewhere.
Where did William die?
On 22 November 1808 Hannah Maria died in Potton aged 58 years but there is no sign of William dying in Potton. The answer came from some comments in Roots Chat website, the following is a précis of the discussion (link worked 2015):
- The Bedfordshire Poor Law Papers shows a Removal Order to take ‘William Russel’ from Potton to Shefford April 1816. See image of Removal Order held by Bedfordshire Archives. Ref P70/13/3/6 3.
- The market town of Shefford is in the parish of Campton.
- A William Russell aged 86 died on 7 June 1820 in Campton
Marriage of William and Hannah Maria and more at Shefford
So moving to the Campton parish registers we find missing entries for William and Hannah Maria. I think that we can assume that they lived in Shefford:
- ‘Wm Russell’ married ‘An My Gregory’ on 24 September 1775
- Their first offspring, Martha Russell was baptised on 27 August 1776, Father’s Name: William Russell, Mother’s Name: Ann Mary
- William Russell, birth year 1734, age 86, burial date 7 June 1820 at Church All Saints, denomination Anglican.
There are no possible ancestors to William in the Campton parish registers. There are plenty of Gregorys in the registers but no obvious baptism for Ann Mary also known as Hannah Maria.
Could elderly William have stayed in Potton?
In 1816 widower William had two sons with young families and potentially a number of daughters, with or without families in Potton. It is not known if the two sons William and Jacob were able to find work in Potton. So as the family seem to have been very poor the local Poor Law Guardians may well have decided that a ‘Removal Order’ for William to go to Shefford was their wisest option. He would then have been the responsibility of the Poor Law Guardians at Shefford.
Where was William born?
Answer is ‘not known’ as in 2015 Carolyn had not traced William before his marriage in 1775. There were probably over 100 William Russells born in the United Kingdom in 1734 and proving which one is our direct ancestor would be impossible, so we have reached a dead end. We are far more likely to extend the Gregory line back for a few more generations.