Or, Subtitled: The Ifs, Ands, and Buts of Establishing a Pedigree for 17th-Century Virginia Immigrants
When it comes to pinning down the pre-Virginia origins of the immigrant ancestor of the Nottingham family of Northampton County, Virginia, Richard Nottingham (abt. 1620-1692), there are many ifs, ands, and buts. To my knowledge, the only researcher who has worked intensively on this project is Cedric Nottingham, to whom I introduced readers in a previous posting. In his monograph “The Nottingham Surname: The Virginian Connection,” he relates how, after assiduous research, he, his wife Christine, and his brother Tom came to the conclusion that it’s very likely Richard Nottingham of Northampton County, Virginia, is the son of an older Richard Nottingham (1587-1640/1650), a merchant of Stepney in the east end of London whose roots lie in Ipswich in County Suffolk.
Methodological Considerations and Critical Questions
There are problems with this conclusion, however, and I want to alert readers to them before you read any further. This Nottingham research team — or anyone else, to my knowledge — did not find a record anywhere of the baptism of Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant. They also did not find a date of death for his purported father, the elder Richard who was a merchant of Stepney; they did not find an estate file for that Richard, naming a son Richard.
In short, insofar as I am aware, no document has yet been found to tell us with any certainty who the parents of Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant, were. Though Cedric Nottingham makes a plausible case for concluding that he was the son of the Stepney merchant named Richard Nottingham born in Ipswich in 1587, there is a conspicuous lack of solid evidence to prove this conclusion. The lack of solid evidence leaves many questions, including the following:
- If Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant, was the son of a London merchant whose Ipswich forebears had also been merchants for generations, then why does it seem, from records in Northampton County, Virginia, that Richard was not literate? Richard signed his will by mark, and though court minutes occasionally suggest that he was signing documents with his name and not by mark, I suspect these are lapses on the part of court clerks, and that he actually could not sign his name.
It should be noted, however, that, as David Hackett Fischer points out, the proportion of adults who could read and write in colonial Virginia was much lower than that in Massachusetts. As Fischer states, literacy approached 100 percent among Virginians of the gentry class, but among male property owners in general, only about 50 percent could read and write. Even so, I’d have expected a man whose father was a merchant in London to be able to sign his name.
Richard Nottingham the immigrant clearly belonged to the landholding class but not the gentry class. And family stories about his arriving in Virginia with a wife bearing an aristocratic title, and about his bringing along a purse full of coins and buying large tracts of land, have no substance to them.
- Why did the team working with Cedric Nottingham find so little information about Richard Nottingham, the merchant of Stepney? And, since, as we’ll see, that Richard was living in Stepney simultaneously with a Richard Nottingham who was his uncle, on what basis did the research team conclude that the Richard Nottingham who was the Stepney merchant was the Richard Nottingham of the records they discovered — and not Richard his uncle?
I’m not discounting the good research of Cedric Nottingham and his family members and the conclusions they reached. I’m only asking some critical questions to alert readers to the possibility that more research needs to be pursued before we incise the conclusions of this investigation into the English background of Richard Nottingham in stone. After I tell you how the Nottingham family team came to its conclusion that Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant, was very likely the son of Richard Nottingham, merchant of Stepney, I will provide more information about why the team proposes that this deduction is compelling.
Having determined to their satisfaction that this older Richard is almost certainly father of the man who went to Virginia in the 1640s, the Nottinghams were able to track the pedigree of this Nottingham family back to a John Nottingham who died in 1439 at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk (see the chart at the head of the posting outlining what the research team put together regarding the ancestry of Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant). What I’m going to report to you now about this Nottingham line is drawn almost entirely from the work of Cedric Nottingham and his collaborators. The Nottingham monograph states that this family research team went through parish records, especially in the target regions of Kent, Essex, Suffolk, and London; contacted the Public Records Office (PRO) in London where they made a significant discovery in the records of the Kings Bench of the High Court of Admiralty; communicated with the College of Arms and received information from that body; and corresponded with Nottingham researchers in the U.S. who shared data about the branch of the Nottingham family who came to Virginia.
The Nottingham monograph makes clear, too, that the group of family researchers used the International Genealogical Index (IGI) of the LDS family history library as one of their guides as they delved into parish records for information about baptisms, marriages, and burials. Though these researchers are not professional genealogists (as I myself am not, either), their written presentation of their findings suggests to me that they did thorough and reliable research, and that their conclusions are certainly worth serious consideration.
The Starting Point of Cedric Nottingham’s Genealogical Journey
Cedric Nottingham began his sounding of his Nottingham ancestry because he had little specific information about that ancestry going back beyond the 18th century. He did have rich family traditions, which he found correlated in a striking way with traditions of the Nottingham family of Virginia, leading him to recognize early in his research journey that the family he was researching, his English Nottingham family, was a branch of the Virginia family that had returned to England in the 1700s. His family had lost sight of that fact over the years, and had not known that it had been in Virginia for a period of time before returning to England.
This is a point that is worth stressing: When he began seeking information about his Nottingham roots in England, Cedric Nottingham was not aware that his family descended from Richard Nottingham of Northampton County, Virginia — from a great-grandson of Richard, also with the name Richard Nottingham (1728-1778), who commanded a packetship off the coast of the colonies and was living by 1768 in Rotherhithe in the eastern part of London when his son Matthew was baptized in that year. His family had kept and passed down for generations a drawing done, it seems, by that Richard Nottingham, a sketch that, as he states, depicts a very typical house of the Virginia Eastern Shore in the 18th century — not an English house. He has concluded that this sketch is likely of the house in which Richard Nottingham’s (1728-1778) father Richard Nottingham (abt. 1684-1758), a grandson of Richard the immigrant, lived, and that his family held onto that 18th-century sketch for this reason.
The initial portion of Cedric Nottingham’s account of his research findings explains various rabbit holes he, his wife, and his brother went down before they found several strong clues suggesting to them that Richard Nottingham (abt. 1620-1692), the Virginia immigrant, was very likely the son of an older Richard Nottingham (1587-1640/1650) who was a merchant in Stepney in the east end of London in the first half of the 1600s, and who was born in Ipswich in Suffolk, the son of Robert Nottingham (1543-1616). His team initially focused on a Nottingham family in St. Olave’s parish in London, only to realize after extensive research that this was not the family from which Cedric Nottingham descends.
After making the Virginia connection, they turned to Kent, due to persistent traditions among the descendants of Richard Nottingham of Virginia that his roots lay in that county, perhaps in the village of Herne. This also proved to be a dead end.
Richard Nottingham (1587-1640/1650), Merchant of Stepney
Then the team discovered the Richard Nottingham who was a merchant in Stepney in the early 1600s, and found that this Nottingham family connected to a Pett family — a family named in stories handed down over generations among the descendants of Richard Nottingham of Northampton County, Virginia, who spoke of a Pett ancestor in the English past of their family. Though Cedric Nottingham’s group never found a baptism record for the Virginia immigrant, they concluded, on the basis of a number of pieces of evidence, that it’s highly likely that the Richard Nottingham who was a Stepney merchant married Mary, daughter of Peter Pett and Elizabeth Thornton, and that this couple were the parents of Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant.
Here’s what the Nottingham researchers uncovered about Richard Nottingham, the Stepney merchant: He appears in two cases heard by the High Court of Admiralty in the early 1600s, both identifying him as a merchant of Stepney. Cedric Nottingham and his collaborators obtained from the PRO copies of the proceedings in which these two cases are recorded.
The first of the two cases shows that another merchant, Andrew Pawling(e), was indebted to Richard Nottingham after Nottingham lent him money. In 1612, Pawling(e) engaged Christopher Jones, master and part owner of The Mayflower, on a venture for which Pawling(e) signed over the ship’s cargo to Richard Nottingham as partial payment of his debt. (Cedric Nottingham notes that Jones lived at Rotherhithe across the Thames from St. Dunstan’s parish in Stepney.)
When Nottingham boarded The Mayflower on 7 December 1612 at Ratcliffe, where the ship was docked, to collect the cargo, officers of the King’s Bench had preceded him and claimed it. Pawling(e) was placed in debtors’ prison and refused to pay Richard Nottingham what he owed him, claiming that the bill of sale Nottingham had presented entitling him to The Mayflower’s cargo was not signed by Pawling(e) — though the Admiralty Court eventually found in favor of Richard Nottingham.
- Again, my question here (and with the second court record below) is how the Nottingham research team concluded that this court document belongs to the life of Richard Nottingham (1587-1640/1650) and not of his uncle Richard (1546-1626), who will be discussed in detail down the road. Cedric Nottingham suggests that one reason he decided this document belongs to the younger of those two Richards is that he thinks a seasoned businessman would not have extended a substantial loan to a colleague as this court case indicates Richard Nottingham had done to Andrew Pawling(e). The younger Richard would have been 25 when these events occurred. Cedric Nottingham’s notes suggest that there may have been other pieces of information in the case file, too, that pointed to the conclusion the case involved Richard the nephew and not Richard the uncle, but the notes are opaque on that point.
The second High Court of Admiralty case in which the Nottinghams found information about Richard Nottingham, merchant of Stepney in the early 1600s, was a case detailing the collision of two ships, The Elzabeth of Newcastle and The Gift of Ipswich in 1612. The case notes indicate that Richard Nottingham co-owned The Elzabeth with Henry Maddison/Mattison of Newcastle (the ship was named after Maddison’s/Mattison’s wife Elzabeth Barker, according to Cedric Nottingham); when the Newcastle ship collided with the Ipswich one, both were carrying coal to the London market. Both ships were heavily damaged, causing financial loss for their owners.
Cedric Nottingham notes that in 1611-2, Richard Nottingham, the Stepney merchant, was using The Elzabeth to ship settlers and goods from London to Virginia, and that records indicate The Elzabeth was in Virginia again in 1621 with settlers and provisions from London. It is not clear from his notes whether this is information he and his research team found in the High Court of Admiralty case notes or in some other source.
After having discovered Richard Nottingham, the Stepney merchant, in these High Court of Admiralty cases, the Nottingham researchers then tracked this man and his uncle Richard, also of Stepney, back to Ipswich in Suffolk, where both were born. The baptismal register of the church of St. Mary at the Quay in Ipswich shows Richard Nottingham, son of Robert Nottingham, baptized there on 27 February 1587. According to Cedric Nottingham, baptismal registers whose location in Ipswich he does not further identify show Richard with siblings Thomas (baptized 1576), Robert (baptized 1580), Izaac (baptized 1582), Mary (baptized 1583), Nathaniel (baptized 1585), and Elizabeth (baptized 1590). Thomas was a merchant of Aldeburgh, and Robert may be a man of that name who had a wine license in Ipswich in 1610.
Moving back a generation, Cedric Nottingham again refers to unspecified baptismal records in Ipswich showing that Robert Nottingham, father of Richard, the merchant of Stepney, was baptized there in 1543, son of an older Robert Nottingham and wife Ursula. These baptismal records show Robert and Ursula with the following other children, according to Cedric Nottingham: Henry (baptized 1539); Timothy (baptized 1540); William (baptized 1540); Anne (baptized 1541); Richard (baptized 1546); and Thomasin (baptized 1549). As did Richard (1587-1640/1650), son of Robert, Robert’s brothers William and Richard moved from Ipswich to Stepney, where William was a woodmonger in the coal trade and his brother Richard a vestryman of Ratcliffe parish and a clerk of Trinity House. When he signed a request for a marriage license as George Bartlett, merchant of Stepney, of the parish of St. Dunstan and All Saints, married Elizabeth Burroughes of Ratcliffe on 5 March 1603/4, the document identifies this Richard as a yeoman.
Since there were two men, an uncle and nephew, named Richard Nottingham living at the same point in Stepney in the early 1600s, it’s important that we distinguish between these two men, and in my next posting, I’ll tell you what Cedric Nottingham has to say (with additional pieces I’ve discovered) about the older Richard Nottingham of Stepney (1546-1626), son of Robert and Ursula Nottingham of Ipswich. I’ll also provide information about his brother Robert (1543-1616), father of Richard Nottingham (1587-1640/1650), as well as with information about exactly why Cedric Nottingham and his family members concluded that it’s very likely that Richard, the Stepney merchant, is father of Richard Nottingham, the Virginia immigrant.
 David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (NY: Oxford UP, 1989), p. 345.
 The situation in Virginia was in marked contrast to that not only in Massachusetts, but also in Suffolk, where Richard Nottingham’s roots are said to lie, per Cedric Nottingham’s findings: As Fischer notes, literacy was higher in Suffolk, which sent many immigrants to Massachusetts, than in other parts of England in the 17th century (ibid., p. 131).
 “The Nottingham Surname: The Virginian Connection,” p. 31, citing H. Chandlee Foreman, The Virginia Eastern Shore and Its British Origins: History, Gardens and Antiquities (Easton, MD: Eastern Shore Publishers’ Associates, 1975) for information about the typical architecture of 18th-century dwellings of the Eastern Shore. Cedric Nottingham indicates that the sketch has faded over the years, and the version reproduced above is slightly touched up, to fill in portions of the original that have faded; his monograph offers snapshots of the original and the touched-up version together.
 In addition to Cedric Nottingham’s account of this case (cited supra, n. 2), see also Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2006), pp. 23-5; J.R. Hutchinson, “The ‘Mayflower,’ Her Identity and Tonnage,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. 70 (October 1916), pp. 337-8 (the same article is in The Mayflower Descendant, vol. 22 , pp. .67-73; and R.G. Marsden, “The ‘Mayflower,’” English Historical Review, vol. 19 (1904), pp. 675-6.
 In addition to Cedric Nottingham on this case (cited supra, n. 2), see also A.K.R. Kiralfy, A Source Book of English Law (London: Sweet & Maxwelll, 1957), p. 383.
 See “Nottingham Surname,” p. 56. See also See John Camden Hotten, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, etc. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1874), pp. 117, 231. Hotten transcribes a 1634 passenger list of passengers The Elzabeth brought to New England which identifies the ship as an Ipswich vessel (p. 280). A letter of the Virginia Commissioners to the Virginia Company of London on 4 January 1625/6 notes that The Elzabeth had recently been sent to Virginia with provisions: The letter is transcribed in Susan Myra Kingsbury, ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London, vol. 4 (Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1906), p. 568.
 Cedric Nottingham indicates that, when Robert Nottingham died in 1616, he was living in St. Lawrence parish in Ipswich.
 See ibid., p. 53, 59-60; Henry F. Waters, “Genealogical Gleanings in England,” Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 18,4-9 (April-Sept. 1891), p. 66; and the parish register of church of St. Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, London Metropolitan Archives, in Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812 (P93/DUN/264).