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The Ancestors of Thomas Angell of Providence, Rhode Island

The story of Thomas Angell's immigration into the New World is heavily debated. No one can say for sure who his parents were, or when and where he arrived. About the only point not debated is that he did come from England. We have no hard facts, no paper trail that, with any certainty, leads us back. There are hints and circumstantial evidence which point to one English line in particular, but the facts are few and far between, and as yet, mostly undiscovered.

The standard story is that of Thomas Angell apprenticed to, or the servant of Roger Williams. The following is from a genealogy that was done by James Bradley Angell (b. 1885, St. Paul, Minnesota):

"Thomas Angell (1) was born in England about 1618, in 1631 he went with Roger Williams on the ship LION under Captain A. Pearce, sailing from London to Boston. Angell was a minor and worked his way as an apprentice to Williams. They left Boston about two months later going to Salem where they remained from 1631 to 1636. In 1636 they went to Providence, RI where Williams and five others composed the first settlers of Providence (Annals of Providence pages 20-21). There were Williams, William Harris, John Smith, Joshua Verin, Thomas Angell and Francis Wicks." Another story has Thomas associated with Richard Waterman, who was in Salem, MA in 1629 and a friend of Roger Williams. By 1638, Richard was in Providence. The supposition is that Thomas was actually Waterman's "lad", rather than Roger's. The following is an extract from a letter written by Williams in his defense of charges brought against him by William Harris: "For first it is not true that I was imployed by any, made Covenant with any, was supplied by any, or desired any to come with me into these parts. My Soules desire was to doe the Natives good, and to that End to learne their Langwage (wch I afterward printed) and therefore desired not to be troubled with English Company. Yet out of Pity I gave leave to W. Harris then Poor and destitute to Come along in my Company. I Consented to John Smith(,) Miller at Dorchester (banished allso) to go with me, and at John Smiths desire, to a Poore young fellow Frances Wicks allso to a lad of Rich. Watermans. These are all I remember. But to what Could any of these pretend to be put in the grant, aequal to my selfe?" (Correspondence of Roger Williams 2:750). The names quoted in the first passage (quoted from the Annals of Providence) match up fairly well with those in the second. One name, Joshua Verin, appears in the Annals, yet not in Williams' letter. Documents indicate that William had a servant named Joshua, and it is said by some sources that his surname was Winsor. It seems logical that Williams would not mention his servant among the people that he suffered to come with him.

The lack of records indicating the time and place of Thomas' arrival makes tracing his history difficult. Thomas' name does not appear on the passenger or crew list of the Lyon's voyage in 1631. Captain Pearce made at least two crossings in the Lyon, and Thomas may have come on one of the others, if he even did come on the Lyon.

Most stories have it that Thomas' father's name was James or Henry Angell, from London, England (another has it as Liverpool). The name Angell was not uncommon which makes it all the more difficult to work out exactly which James or Henry was his father (footnote1). The problem really comes down to showing which is the most logical.

Travel to the New World was expensive and someone had to pay for it. According to the legend, Thomas was about 13 when he arrived in 1631. Assuming that this is true, it is unlikely that he was able to buy his own passage. So, the possibility is that his family paid, or he worked his way as an apprentice or indentured servant (the latter is consistent with legend). As a thirteen-year-old son is old enough to work and contribute to the income of a family, it is unlikely that a family of the "common class" would (or could) pay for passage when that meant a loss of income.

It is also unlikely that someone would take on an apprentice or servant, and immediately take off for the New World with them. There would have to be some kind of guarantee that the servant wouldn't desert shortly after arrival. This could come from the trust of a long association, or the assurances of close friends or family.

In Thomas' case, because of his age, a long period of servitude is unlikely (although not impossible), and therefore there must have been some assurances from his friends or family. Even though there is evidence to the contrary (the Richard Waterman story), family connections tend to support the Roger Williams story.

Roger's father was James Williams (b. 1562, d. 1621) and more importantly, his mother was Alice Pemberton. Alice and her brother, Roger, were born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire in 1564 and 1560, respectively. Roger Pemberton, who was the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, was the father of John Pemberton (b. 1582, d. 1645). John was Roger Williams' first cousin, and was married to Catherine Angell (b. 1592, d. 1629), whose father was William "the Fishmonger" Angell, which gives us a connection into a well-known Angell line.

The "reputed" names of our Thomas' father also gives us some potential connections into this Angell line. The stories usually have his father's name as James or Henry, and the Fishmonger's second son (footnote 2) was James Henry Angell. Unfortunately, there are some large gaps and conflicting information here.

Most available information shows that James was married to Anne Elliot and that he had a son named Thomas. This Thomas, however, was born 22 Sep 1635. Since our Thomas had already arrived in the New World by this time, and was supposedly born in 1618, either these two were not the same, or this Thomas was not born in 1635. James' wife Anne was much younger than him (she was born in 1604) making her about 16 when our Thomas was born, not unheard of, but probably too young. Coupling this with the fact that James and Anne were married in about 1623 makes it all the more likely that the 1635 birth is correct.

This doesn't rule out James as Thomas's father yet: it seems that James had a previous marriage or some kind of liaison with a Mary Honeychurch. (footnote 3). There are a few problems with this. First, the statistics of the day are against it: at James' time, members of the merchant class (of which he was a member) did not generally marry until they finished their apprenticeship or studies, at about age 25. And second, the almost total lack of hard information about it. On the other hand, there is a bit of information on the positive side: that of our Thomas' wife, Alice Ashton.

Alice was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, in about 1617, to James Ashton and Alice Honeychurch. Alice's father was Roger Honeychurch, who was Clerk Vicar of Mildreth, Diocese of Ely. Her sister was Mary Honeychurch, the potential mother of our Thomas. One interesting note is that assuming all of these connections are accurate, Thomas "the Immigrant" Angell and his wife, Alice Ashton were first cousins.

There are a couple of fanciful theories as to why there is little information about James and Mary's relationship. One is that James was a very rich (footnote 4) wild child when he first started his studies and that there is the possibility that Thomas was the result of an early marriage or indiscretion with Mary Honeychurch, when he was about 18.

His family was certainly wealthy and powerful enough to just make the problem just go away. Another theory is that Anne Elliot, James' second wife, was the young, beautiful, and jealous "evil stepmother". James may have been enough taken with Anne so as to adhere to her wishes and forget that Thomas and Mary ever existed.

An interesting exercise is to try to match James with some of the statistics of his age. James was made free (finished apprenticeship or studies) by patrimony of the Company of Fishmongers (his father's guild) in 1622. He was married to Anne Elliot in 1623, which fits in exactly with "normal" for the day: marriages did not take place until after apprenticeship, which was at about age 25. Assuming this to be the case , James would have been born in about 1597. Also assuming that our Thomas was born in 1618 (footnote 5), James would have been about 21 at this time.

Another, even more fanciful, clue is buried in James' will: there seems to be an indication that he actually had two sons named Thomas. In the will he leaves a share of his estate to each of his six children, one of which is the Thomas who was born in 1635. (James also had a seventh son , James, who died in March of 1628, well before the will was written.)

This Thomas was about three at the time of its writing in 1638 (he died that same year). In the will, James specifies that if any of his six children were to die, his son Thomas is to get their share. It seems unlikely that James was talking about his 3-year-old son Thomas, as he was already part of the six. It seems to suggest the possibility that there was another Thomas (of lesser standing) lurking somewhere in the shadows.

None of these connections can be proved, but they do provide a link to a very interesting English family. Wealth, power, intrigues, and even a bit of that British eccentricity that we've come to expect.

The oldest bit of data is from an article in the Peterborough and Huntingdonshire Standard. It states that the Angell family was descended from Henry de Angele of Anjou, and was a relation of King Henry I. In 1128 he was created Abbot of Peterborough and, when he resigned as Abbot, he took up residence in Peakirk, Northamptonshire. Any information of this age must be strongly questioned, especially when there is no other connecting information. In this case, all that there is, is a single data point from a single source, and so, until more is found, it must remain in question.

The next reference is of Captain Robert Angell, who was born in the 15th century and lived in the Peakirk, Northamptonshire. It is claimed that he "distinguished" himself during the Battle of Bosworth Field (footnote 6) in 1485 (the last battle of the War of Roses). He was reputedly a "Switzer" (Swiss) captain for Henry the VII. It is unlikely that he was actually Swiss, as there are records of Angells in the area before Robert's time (footnote 7). Robert was married to Joan (surname unknown) and he died in August of 1568 in Peakirk. His children's names were Jone, Alice, Audry, Thomas, Henry (footnote 8), William and John.

Thomas Angell, Senior, Robert's third son, was born in Peakirk in 1520 and died there in December of 1581. He married Anne Harby of Glinton, Northamptonshire in 1550. Before that, he married a Margaret (surname unknown). The first marriage produced one son, John, who started a long line of Angells at Abbots Ripton in Huntingdonshire. His second marriage produced six sons: James, John, Thomas, William, Randall, Robert and Edward (footnote 9). Thomas was a wealthy farmer.

William was the most successful of Thomas' sons. He was born in 1560 at Peakirk and died 30 Oct 1629 in London. After leaving Peakirk, he went to London and became a fishmonger. He was successful became very wealthy and powerful. Eventually, he was the fishmonger to King James I , and later, appointed Sergeant Accatory or Provisioner to the King.

In 1613, William purchased the Crowhurst estate, and later, in 1618, the advowson of Crowhurst Church from Sir William Forster. (An advowson is the right to name the head of a church.) Crowhurst beame the seat of the Angell family and many family members were buried in the churchyard cemetery. The estate is still standing today, and is apparently still under the control of a descendant of William the Fishmonger through the female line.

Note that William is the father of James, the potential father of our Thomas. He is also the father of Catherine, who gives our connection to Roger Williams.

William's son John (b. 1592, d. 1670) carried on his father's tradition of adding to the family fortune. He inherited his father's position as Accatery and Verderer of Windsor Castle. He was also the Gentleman Porter (his father paid £150 for the position) and caterer to King James I and Charles I.

The following is translated (footnote 10) from a tablet found in the Crowhurst church:

"Which of the riches of virtue do you, much travelled reader seek? Lo! beneath this mound lies the treasure of this age, with a Gospel first name and another heavenly name, Angel to wit -- John Angell of Crowhurst , Knight, who's integrity, piety, prudences and trust merited the favour of James I and Charles I and II. For all of whom he was the eyes and ears as Windsor Castle's foremost Steward.

He took for wife Elizabeth daughter of Robert Edolphe, Knight, and begot 20 children whom only 6 males and 3 females survive. Viz William, John, Robert, James, Justinian, Thomas, Mary, Thomasin and Frances. And so a man upright and devoid of worldly wrong doing, expired on 23rd October 1670 in his 78th year. His soul to God, his body to earth, his trust in Charles. He left, an example to his children."

John was also involved in arranging the marriage of his stepsister, Mary (possibly Marie), to Sir John Claypole (or Claypool). Her marriage was a contract signed 6 July 1622 signed by Adam Claypool, John Claypool, William Angell, John Angell, and Mary Angell, for which her father paid a dowry of £1500.

The Claypole family (also spelled Claypoole, Cleypole, etc.) is old, large, and well documented. At the time of the Restoration (1660 to 1700), the Claypole family scattered to different parts of the world: Germany, the West Indies, and the New world. An interesting snippet is that one of the Claypole descendents is responsible for one of the most quoted errors in the Angell genealogy. In a letter to the Claypole family (footnote 11) in Pennsylvania, Anne Sansum was claimed to be the wife of William the Fishmonger. In reality, she was the wife of Thomas Angell, the Fishmonger's brother. William's first wife was Joan Povey, who would be our Thomas' grandmother.

One of Mary Angell and John Claypole's sons was named John, and his marriage provides a link to one of the most infamous pieces of family history. In 1644, John married Elizabeth Cromwell, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell's daughter. The story goes that John joined the Parliamentary Army when he was about 20. Just after, or during, the Siege of Newark, John left to marry Elizabeth, who was 16 at the time. Despite her age and that he didn't attend the wedding, Oliver probably approved of the marriage. Elizabeth was Oliver's favorite, and he would approve of anything that she wanted.

Oliver Cromwell overthrew King Charles I in 1649 (Charles was beheaded) and became the Lord Protector. During that same year, he defeated Ireland, divided it, and gave the land to his soldiers instead of pay. This was how the Protestants came to own the properties in Ireland and was the start of the problems between the Protestants and Catholics.

When Cromwell died, Charles the II was "restored" to the throne. One of the more gristly stories is that Cromwell was so hated when he died, that his body was exhumed so that he could be publicly executed. Somehow, his head was "mislaid" ("lost" in the real sense of the word) and was discovered years later on someone's dinner table. It was during this "Restoration" period, because of their relationship to Cromwell, that the Claypole family scattered.

Getting back to the Angell family, John (the Fishmonger's son), had 20 children. Of these, 12 were male, and six of those died young. Of the six who remained, only Justinian produced an heir. This is where the decline of the Angell line descending from the Fishmonger began.

John's third son (actually the fourth, but one died young) was heir to John's positions in Windsor castle and to most of the rest of the Angell holdings. He married Elizabeth Gosson and brought into the family Barfield Place in Binfield, Berkshire. He also got the Camarthen Estates, which were left to his brothers, Robert and James.

Justinian (he signed his name as "Just Angell") carried on tradition by adding more wealth to the family. He married Elizabeth Scaldwell in February 1665. He was given total control of the Spurn Lights by the King. These were private lighthouses on the Humber and produced a large income from passing shipping. Elizabeth brought a large mansion at Stockwell Commons into the family.

Just and Elizabeth had one son: John. When John died in 1750, he left one child, John, who was his heir. This John married the daughter of Sir John Bartholomew. (footnote 12) There were no heirs produced by this relationship. John was the last of the "proven" descendants of William the Fishmonger.

When John died in 1784, he was hugely wealthy with vast real estate holdings. He controlled a great many estates.

The most famous was Crowhurst (which the Fishmonger bought in 1613) which still stands today. Other estates were the "Mansion House Farm" (also called "Pimps Farm"). "Binford Place", land in Paris Garden in Southwark, Stockwell, the "Forster Estate", the "Tandridge Churchyard" (this may actually be in Crowhurst), the "Pound Farm", the "Whitehouse Farm", the "Church Farm", and others in Surry, Kent and Sussex. Some of these were sold before John died.

At the time of his death, John was not in possession of a "sound mind". The following is a quote that describes one of the more eccentric parts of his will: "a rather eccentric gentleman living at Stockwell at the time of his death in 1784, who bequeathed £6,000 and an income of £800 per annum to found a charity to be named the 'Gentlemen of St. John's College'. The college was intended to support 7 decayed Gentlemen, 2 Clergymen, an Organist, Chapel Clerk, 6 singing men and 12 Choristers, but the Statute of Mortmain invalidated the founding of the college".

The meaning of the term "decayed Gentleman" is rather obscure. Using modern dictionaries, it makes it sound as though the college was for seven dead gentlemen, making John quite eccentric. However, the 1813 edition of "The New Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language, containing All the Words in General Use" sheds a bit of light:

"Decline from the state of perfection; the effects of diminution, the marks of decay; declension from prosperity"

It is the third definition, "declension from prosperity", that explains John's meaning and makes him sound a bit less eccentric. A "decayed Gentleman" would be an upper-class person who fell on hard times in his declining years. Currently, in Boston, there is a similar society that is dedicated to help preserve the life styles of formerly wealthy elderly women who do not have the money to do so on their own.

John had no heirs, there had not been any males in John's direct line for three generations. His great grandfather, John, had six sons, but no males except John's line. So, John's will specified that the remainder of the estates were to be given to "male heirs, if any there be, of William Angell the first purchaser of Crowhurst in the time of King James".

This touched off years of legal battles in an attempt to prove descent from William the Fishmonger. The estate was huge and the court battles went on for years until it was finally settled in 1921 (almost 140 years ). At the time of its settlement, the estate was worth six million pounds. Descendency was never proved and the estate was passed down through a female line, the Rush family.

Records were altered, stolen, and forged in the battle for the estate. This may be the reason that information about Thomas the Immigrant is so hard to find. It is not difficult to imagine that Thomas' records could be removed. Because he went to the New World 150 years earlier, there would be little chance that his descendents would be around to claim their inheritance, especially if there was no way to connect them. Despite this, word did reach a descendent of Thomas.

A lawyer in London wrote to Joseph Kinnicutt Angell, who was a well- respected lawyer in Providence, RI. The letter indicated that there was a large estate (that of John's and worth about £1000000 at the time) in litigation, and that it was possible that it was left to the oldest son of an Angell that came to America. Joseph thought that he might be the oldest (Thomas was his GGG Grandfather) and he went to London to prove his case. His application to question "aged witnesses" who lived in the area of the estate was denied by the Court of Chancery. Although he never resolved anything with the will, Joseph remained in London for two years. While there, he studied and became an expert in English law. He wrote many books on law, of which many were, and are still considered today, to be the definitive work on the subject. The books are still relevant and in use today. A single volume in good condition costs around $600. (footnote 13)

On the first of May in 1614, William "the Fishmonger" Angell was granted a Coat of Arms, The original wording of the grant follows:

"Or, 3 fusils in fess azure, over all a bendlet gules out of a Ducal coronet or a demi pegasus volent argent adorned with gold."

The term "or" refers to the background color of the shield and is gold. A "fusil" is an elongated diamond shape, which is taller than it is wide . It is supposed to represent a spindle with yarn or string wound around it and is typically used in the Coats of the merchant-class. Azure is a sky blue color and "fess" indicates that they are all in a row across the shield. The "bendlet" is a diagonal stripe covering the rest. "Gules" is a red color. Above the shield and resting on the top is the "Ducal coronet", which is a type of crown. "Ducal" defines the number of gems and grape leaves that make it up. Emerging from the top of the crown is a winged horse (the "pegasus"). The horse is part way out, which is what "demi" means. Both the horse and crown are "argent" which is a white color. However, here it would mean clear, the color of the background paper.

An interesting note is that the Angell Crest, as shown in "The Ancestry of Emily Jane Angell", by Dean Smith, has four fusils, rather than three and may be wrong. Interestingly enough though, the crest as shown by Halbert's has that part right.

On the gates of Crowhurst, there is a crest that is made out of four separate family Coats of Arms. They are as follows:

Angell: (see above) Povey: Sable, a bend engrailed between 6 cinque foils or Edolphe: Erimine in a bend sable, 3 cinque foils argent Scaldwell: Azure a cross pattee fitchy between 8 estoiles in orle or, impailing Gresham - argent a chevron ermine between mullets pierced sable.

There are other stories of the founding of various Angell lines in America. Some came from Germany, Ireland, and other separate lines from England. A couple are fairly interesting.

There is a line that was founded by four Angell brothers (some versions of this story have three) who came to New York in the early 1800s. Two stayed in that area and the others went south and west to Louisiana and Texas. What is most interesting about this clan is that they trace their line back to Captain Robert Angell, the Fishmonger's grandfather.

The other is a line that traces from John Angell, through several generations to a William Angell, who was a blacksmith in Liverpool. Their son John (b. 1609) came to America as a sea captain in 1631 and in 1689 settled in Providence, RI. There are some interesting parallels between this story and the standard one: they both arrive in 1631, they both end up in Providence, there's a close ancestor with 20 children, and some of the names in the lines "kind" of match (off by a generation).

Part of this story can be confirmed. The first John in the line was born in 1501 (died 1576). He was a clergyman who was, reputedly, the head chaplain to Queen Mary I (this was "Bloody Mary") from 1553 to 1558. I haven't been able to locate any "official" documents that confirm this, but there is a will that suggests it: in 1557, the will of William Angell of Spilsby, Lincolnshire, was proven. In it, he refers to his brother as "Brother John Angell, Priest, Chaplyn to Queen's Majesty". This seems to match with the John Angell story fairly well and there may be a grain of truth in it.

This is a lead that is well worth-checking out. If John Angell did sail a ship to America in 1631, it is entirely possible that he may have had a brother named Thomas who came along. If so, Thomas could have settled in Providence, with John arriving much later.

The story of Thomas' ancestors is far from complete and far from a proven fact. What about the other, seemingly unconnected Angell lines in the US, Norway, Germany, Ireland, and elsewhere? Are they truly unique, or are these "missing links" hiding somewhere in the past? If so, who were they? where were they from? Where did they go? Were they good people, or bad? What did they do?

More questions than answers.

Footnote 1
The number of individual Angell lines suggests that there is no single derivation or meaning for the name. One of the more common definitions is that of "a Messenger of God". Another potential origin is derived from the old English term "Angelcynnes lond". Literally, this translates to "the English people's lan" (cynn means people, as in a race of people). Another possibility is an old English coin, the Angel. Yet another, probably the most far-fetched, is the old English word for fishing with a hook: angle (also spelled ongul and angylle). Any one of these could have been used to distinguish people before surnames were common: William of the English, John the messenger, James the Fisherman , Fred the rich guy with all of the Angels. The actual spelling of these words shifts around over the years (from the middle 9th century until into the 17th.) so any of these words could be the origin.

Footnote 2
The records in my database are in error with respect to the Fishmonger's children: their birth dates and mothers are mixed up. They show James as the first son, but I believe John to be first and James the second.

Footnote 3
Unfortunately, I've only found one reference to this, more investigation is warranted here

Footnote 4
This Angell line was very, very rich and powerful.

Footnote 5
This may not be the case and he may have been born earlier. When writing his will in 1685, he referred to himself as "very aged". As he would have been 67 at the time using the 1618 birth date, some people feel that he must actually have been older.

Footnote 6
I have not found any mention of him in the accounts of the battle.

Footnote 7
I haven't been able to find anything before Robert other than the one mentioned document. It was sent to me and I didn't see the actual article.

Footnote 8
I have it noted that this may be Robert's brother, not his son.

Footnote 9
There were a couple of sons who died young. These were Randall and Robert, their names were "recycled".

Footnote 10
I don't know what language this was in originally. I would guess probably Latin, though.

Footnote 11
I've lost the reference somewhere, but I believe the letter was from Benjamin Claypole.

Footnote 12
I'm not so sure of this name. The reference I have abbreviates it to Bart.

Footnote 13
I've searched and the cheapest I've found was about $180 for a copy that was in fair condition

This document is made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Written and Copyrighted 1999 by Bill Angell (
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