Wikipedia gives a typical definition of the term ‘Yeoman’:
“Yeoman refers chiefly to a free man owning his own farm, especially from the Elizabethan era to the 17th century. Work requiring a great deal of effort or labour, such as would be done by a yeoman farmer, came to be described as yeoman’s work. Thus yeoman became associated with hard toil.”
How was the term used in Somerset after the 17th century?
During my research I was surprised to come across the term ‘Yeoman’ on one of our family’s mid nineteenth century birth certificates. At the time the child’s father would have been an upmarket agricultural labourer, so describing himself as a yeoman seemed either rather cheeky or purely aspirational. Since then nearly every birth, marriage and death certificate that I have seen that requires a description of someone who was probably a tenant farmer, or a son of a tenant farmer uses the word ‘Yeoman’. Interestingly I cannot remember seeing the term in any census return, but it was used in wills and probate records.
Therefore I have come to the conclusion that in the nineteenth century in Somerset tenant farmers and their sons used the term Yeoman to indicate their status within the farming community. This would have been between ‘agricultural labourers’ and ‘gentlemen’ showing that they were a member of the rural middle class.