Musings on John

This is a follow-on to an earlier post titled “Stuck on John,”  in which I described how my research into the origins of the Meldreth branch of the Casbon family hit a “brick wall.” I had been able to trace the ancestry to a John Casborn who married Anne Chamberlain in 1742.[1] The problem was that there were at least two men named John Casb___ living in or near Meldreth at the time, and there wasn’t enough information to know for certain which one was the husband of Anne. But now, I’ve discovered evidence that puts me on much firmer ground about who “my” John might be.

First, let’s review what I know about my ancestor John. After their marriage, John and Anne had five children, according to baptismal records: Thomas (my ancestor, baptized in 1743), James (1747, buried 1748), James (1748), Mary (1750), and Anna (1754).[2] Anne, John’s wife, died in 1770.[3] John was described as “parish clerk” when he was buried in 1796.[4]

Detail of burial record, 1796, from Meldreth Parish registers. “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, aged 75. January 4.” (Click on image to enlarge)

We can be reasonably sure that all of these records refer to the same man because there are no other men named John Casb___ listed in the parish records of Meldreth and its vicinity during this time frame. Since the burial record gives his age as seventy-five, we can extrapolate a birth year of 1720 or 1721. This is very helpful.

The only person I have found who matches all of this information is John Casborn, the son of Thomas and Mary (Jeap), who was baptized in the village of Orwell, about two and one-half miles from Meldreth, in November 1721.[5]

Detail of baptism record, 1721, Orwell Parish registers, 1560-1877. “Nov. 26 John y[e] Son of
Thomas & Mary Casborn.” (Click on image to enlarge)

Map of southwestern Cambridgeshire, showing villages of Orwell and Meldreth. (Google Maps);
zoom in for greater detail

Notably, aside from his baptism, John does not appear again in Orwell parish records. This suggests that he moved elsewhere before his marriage and/or burial. How can we know if he is the same man who moved to Meldreth and later married Anne?

Here’s where the new evidence comes in, in the form of registers of duties paid for apprentices’ indentures. When a master took on (i.e., indentured) a new apprentice, he was paid a fee, usually by the parents of the apprentice. The master was required to pay a tax, or duty, on this fee. Records of apprenticeships, fees and duties were created by the Board of Stamps, and are now maintained by The National Archives of the UK.[6] These records can be searched at

I found this record in the collection (you’ll need to click to be able to read it).

Detail from Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices Indentures, 9–12 July 1736.[7] (Click on image to enlarge)

This record shows that “Will. Casbill of Mildred in Cambridge Cordwr. [cordwainer]” received a fee of four pounds, eleven shillings for the indenture of “John Casbill of Orwell” for a duration of four years, nine months, beginning “24 June last.” William Casbill was required to pay a duty of two shillings, three and one-half pence, based on the indenture fee.

The record is important because it connects John of Orwell to the village of Meldreth. He would have been about fifteen years old in 1736, an appropriate age for an apprentice. It’s odd that the term of indenture is only four years, nine months, since the usual apprenticeship was for seven years. It makes me wonder if William had been training John “off the books” for a couple of years before he paid the tax.

Who was his master, William Casbill? I don’t know for certain. One candidate is William Casbel, who was born in Meldreth in 1703 and was orphaned when his mother died in 1718.[8] Another candidate is John’s paternal uncle, William Casbolt, baptized 1695 in nearby Barrington. There are burial records for William Casbel in 1741 and William Carsburn in 1756.[9] Unfortunately, neither of these provide information about the deceased’s ages or occupations.

Incidentally, cordwainer is the old term for a shoemaker. There seems to have been a succession of cordwainers from Meldreth named Casb——. I wrote previously about John Casball, cordwainer, who paid duties for an apprentice in 1718 and died in 1727 (“a poor shoemaker”). He was followed by William of the 1736 indenture, who was followed by John of Orwell. Given the surname, it’s hard to believe these men weren’t all related in some way. It seems likely that the earlier John trained William to be a cordwainer, although I haven’t found any such records.

Getting back to John of Orwell, another apprenticeship record shows us that he remained in Meldreth as a master cordwainer following completion of his own apprenticeship.

Detail from Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices Indentures, 24–28 January 1774.[10] (Click on image to enlarge)

This record shows that on January 28, 1774 “John Casbon of Meldreth in Co. of Cambridge Cordwainer” paid the indenture duty for an apprentice named Thomas Wing.

Thus, we have several points that can be connected to describe John’s life from his baptism in Orwell to his burial in Meldreth. Using the available records we can create this chronology:

  • 1721: John Casborn, son of Thomas and Mary (Jeap), is baptized in Orwell
  • 1736: John Casbill of Orwell is indentured as an apprentice to William Casbill of Meldreth
  • 1742: “John Casborn of the Parish of Meldreth and Ann Chamberlain of this Parish” are married in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, 18 January 1742
  • 1743–1754: five children are born to John & Ann, including Thomas (baptized 1743)
  • 1770: “Anne Casbull Wife of John Casbill” is buried at Meldreth
  • 1774: John Casbon, cordwainer, indentures Thomas Wing as apprentice
  • 1796: “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, aged 75” is buried at Meldreth

You may notice an inconsistency in this chronology. The burial record of 1796 describes John as the parish clerk, but not as a cordwainer. Could he have been both parish clerk and cordwainer? I believe the answer is yes. I’ll address this in the next post.

Considering all the evidence, I’m confident that this “brick wall” is gone, i.e., I believe John Casborn, baptized 1721 in Orwell, is my direct ancestor and the common ancestor for all the Casbons, Casbans and Casbens who descended from his children. What do you think?

As an epilogue to John’s story, we find that in 1797, Thomas Wing, John’s former apprentice and now a master cordwainer himself in Meldreth, indentured an apprentice of his own.[11] The torch was passed.

[1] Church of England. Wimpole Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Wimpole, 1599-1857, Casborn–Chamberlain marriage (1742); digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 June 2016), image 122 of 799.
[2] Church of England, Meldreth Parish registers; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, FamilySearch (, images 109-111 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[3] Ibid, image 61 of 699.
[4] Ibid, image 129 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] Church of England, Parish of Orwell (Cambridgeshire), Parish Registers; accessed as “Parish Registers, 1560-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 December 2018), image 278 of 695; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,543, item 9.
[6] “Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books,” The National Archives ( : accessed 23 December 2018).
[7] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 19 December 2018), 1735-1739 >image 339 of 909, 10 Jul 1736; citing The National Archives, IR-1/14, Kew.
[8] Church of England, Meldreth Parish registers; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, FamilySearch (, images 48 & 101 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[9] Ibid., images 54 & 57 of 699.
[10] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” Ancestry ( : accessed 10 May 2018), 1770-1774 >images 732-3 of 1930, 28 Jan 1774; citing The National Archives, IR1/28, Kew.
[11] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” Ancestry ( : accessed 23 December 2018), 1794-1799 >imgs 424-5 of 1960, 20 Apr 1797; citing the National Archives, IR 1/ 68.

5 thoughts on “Musings on John”

  1. Congratulations on breaking down your brick wall! What was the relationship between apprenticeship and indentured servitude? Could you have one without the other?

  2. Happy New Year, Liz, and thanks for your comments, as always.The main difference I see between an apprenticeship and indentured servitude is in the nature of the work performed by and the eventual outcome for the indentured party. The apprentice performed specialized work (plus whatever the master demanded) with the ultimate outcome of becoming a master tradesman himself. The indentured servant performed general work with various potential outcomes – being released from a debt, or being paid in some manner, including receiving a plot of land. In general terms they were very similar – a legally binding contract for a specified term, in which the master had a tremendous degree of control over the apprentice/servant. Since they arise from the same legal concept, I doubt that you could have one without the other.

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