William Caseborne of Littleport and His Descendants, Part 2

My previous post explored the origins of the “Peterborough Casbons,” a line that I’ve traced back to William Caseborne, who died at Littleport, Cambridgeshire in 1699. A chart outlined the first five generations of the family line, beginning with William and his wife Alice. The line of descent from William through the fifth generation is as follows:
1. William Caseborn (married Alice _____) → 2. Thomas Caseborn (baptized 1695, married Ann Kendale) → 3. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1732, married Mary Diamond) →
4. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1776, married Ann Dolby) → 5. Thomas Casbon (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper).

The following chart picks up where the previous one left off, beginning with generation five.

Outline chart showing the fifth through ninth generations of William Caseborn’s descendants; numbers before each name denote the generation, with each generation represented by a different color (Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts; UK, General Register Office; assorted parish records) (Click on image to enlarge)

Although the chart begins with Thomas (born about 1807), I’ll start by going back to his father, Thomas Casborn (~1776­–1855). Thomas’s line includes the only descendants of William Caseborn (generation one, died in 1699) who carry the Casbon surname today.

Thomas departed from Littleport with his family sometime between 1808 (baptisms of his children Elizabeth and Thomas) and 1812 (baptism of his daughter Sarah), when he was residing at Bluntisham, Huntingdonshire, some 14 miles southwest of Littleport. Thomas was the first member of the family line known to have the occupation of gardener.

Detail from 1841 census of Needingworth, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire) showing Thomas’s occupation as “Gardener”; the letter “N” in the right-hand column denotes that Thomas and his wife, Ann (Dolby), were not born in Huntingdonshire (source: The National Archives via Ancestry)

Thomas’s last known residence was at Colne, Huntingdonshire (1851 census).[1] His death was registered at St. Ives (which includes Colne) in 1855.[2]

Thomas’s only male child was also named Thomas, born about 1807 at Littleport (baptized 1808).[3] He is at the head of the chart above. Thomas, also a gardener, is noteworthy as the first member of the family to live in Peterborough. I have written several posts about Thomas and his descendants. These can be accessed by clicking on “Peterborough” in the tag menu to the right of this post.

The Casbon surname would have died out in this family line were it not for just one of Thomas’s descendants. In the chart above, you will see that every member of the ninth generation was born to Charles Arthur Casbon (1880–1945) by one of his two wives. The family name did not continue through other family members due to a predominance of female offspring or absence of children born to any male offspring.

The line of descent from Thomas to Charles Arthur is as follows: 5. Thomas Casbon (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper) → 6. John Casbon (born about 1832, married Rebecca Ann Speechly) → 7. Thomas Casbon (born 1854, married Elizabeth Pettifor) → 8. Charles Arthur Casbon (born 1880, married first, Grace Parker; second, Eliza Kate Harvey; third, Ethel Wright).

Wedding portrait of Charles Arthur Casbon to his second wife, Eliza Kate Harvey, 1915; courtesy of Charles “Tony” Casbon

Charles broke with the family tradition and became a baker instead of a gardener. He served as a horse keeper (groom) for the Army Veterinary Corps and rose to the rank of Corporal during World War I.[4]

I have only limited information on Charles’s children, all of whom are now deceased. Joseph Arthur Casbon joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and achieved a high position within the church. Leslie David Casbon was headmaster of a British School in Ethiopia and started the British International School in Cairo, Egypt. He was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) and later the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), the latter presented by the Queen during a state visit to Ethiopia.

Although the chart ends with the ninth generation, William Caseborne’s descendants now extend to at least thirteen generations, many of whom now have the Casbon surname.


[1] 1851 England census, Huntingdonshire, Colne, ED 13, p. 3, line 23; imaged at Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8978 : accessed 11 Jan 21) > Huntingdonshire >Holywell Cum Needingworth >ALL >District 13>image 3 of 17; citing The National Archives, HO 107/448.
[2] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2NLY-2KB : accessed 31 Dec 2014); citing General Register Office (Southport), vol. 3B/160.
[3] Church of England, Littleport Parish (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s transcripts for Littleport, 1599-1857; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-892X-H3Y1 : accessed 13 Sep 2016) image 511 of 872.
[4] Discharge documents for Charles Arthur Casbon, service no. 3283, 12 Apr 1919; database and images, Findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbm%2fwo363-4%2f7266171%2f141%2f1926 : accessed 12 March 2017); citing The National Archives, series WO 363.

William Caseborne of Littleport and His Descendants, Part 1

Happy New Year from Our Casbon Journey!

The Casbon families living in present-day England come from two separate lineages. My line can be traced back to the vicinity of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire from the late 1600s to early 1700s. A separate line that I have labeled the “Peterborough Casbons”—because several generations settled and grew up in the vicinity of Peterborough, Northamptonshire in the mid-1800s—can be traced back to Littleport, a large village about five miles north of the cathedral city of Ely.

Interactive map showing relative locations of Littleport and Meldreth in Cambridgeshire (Google Maps)

In today’s post I will review the earliest known records of this line and trace the line forward to modern times.

The earliest records of the Casb___ surname in Littleport are of the marriage of “William Jhonson” to “Elsabeth Casburn” on 8 July 1612 and the burial of “Robert Casborne Widower” on 29 February 1620.[1] There is a 66‑year gap before another record appears, this being the baptism of “William son of Wm & Alice Casborne” on 4 November 1687.[2]

The baptismal record of “William, son of Wm & Alice Casborne” at Littleport, 4 November 1687 (FamilySearch, Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts) (Click on image to enlarge)

Because of the absence of details as well as gaps in the records, it is impossible to know whether or how William Casborne (also spelled Caseborne), the father, is related to Elsabeth or Robert from the earlier part of the century. However, a continuous line of descent can be traced from William to the present-day Peterborough Casbons.

The origins of William and Alice are not recorded. Given the timing of their son William’s birth, it is likely that they were married in 1686. However, the records for that year are missing.

The baptisms of four more children of William and Alice are recorded: Alice (1692), Thomas (1695), John and Mary (both baptized and buried in 1699).[3] William’s—the father—burial is recorded at Littleport’s St. George parish church on 5 September 1699.[4]

The first four generations of William’s known descendants are summarized in the chart below. Only the marriages of female descendants are shown, as the chart is intended to show the continuation of the family surname.

Outline descendant chart of William Caseborn of Littleport, Cambridgeshire; numbers before each name denote the generation, with each generation represented by a different color (Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts; UK, General Register Office; assorted parish records) (Click on image to enlarge)

I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this chart. For example, Sarah Lee (line 16 of the chart) might have been married to William, baptized in 1716 (line 5) instead of William, baptized 1721 (line 15). However, no baptisms of children to William and Sarah are recorded, so a mistaken connection might be of little consequence. Researchers should review the records and draw their own conclusions.

From the chart, it appears that only Thomas, baptized 1776, and Ann, baptized 1778, had descendants beyond the fourth generation. However, it’s possible that some descendants departed from Littleport and continued their family lines elsewhere. For example, Abraham Casebourn, of Downham Market, Norfolk—only ten miles north of Littleport—had several children, born between roughly 1763 to 1775. He could well be the same Abraham who was baptized in Littleport in 1738, but there is insufficient documentation to prove a connection. It’s possible that he has living descendants today, although their surname must be something other than Casbon.

The line of descent from William to the present-day Casbons is as follows: 1. William Caseborn (married Alice _____) → 2. Thomas Caseborn (baptized 1695, married Ann Kendale) → 3. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1732, married Mary Diamond) → 4. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1776, married Ann Dolby) → 5. Thomas (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper).

The next post will follow the line of descent from generation 5, Thomas (baptized 1807) through 9.


[1] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 “, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NN1M-D9F : accessed 3 Jan 2021), Elisabeth Cas… in entry for Wm. Jhonson, 1612. “England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JZCR-8NB : accessed 3 Jan 2021), Robert Casborne, 1620.
[2] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004034506?cat=976859 : accessed 4 Jan 21) >image 194 of 872; citing FHL film, item 1.
[3] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); images 199, 201, and 213 of 872.
[4] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); image 213 of 872.

James Casbal of Therfield

Much of today’s post is based on supposition. I will try to distinguish between firm conclusions and those based on weaker evidence.

Our story begins with a marriage that took place 23 November 1778 in the village of Therfield, Hertfordshire. James Casbal, a cordwainer (shoemaker) and bachelor, married Sarah Crouch, a spinster (unmarried woman).[1]

Excerpt from Therfield parish records, showing marriage of James Casbal and Sarah Crouch, 23 November 1778 (Click on image to enlarge)

The marriage record tells us that both James and Sarah were from the parish of Therfield. We can also see that both signed with their mark, an indication of some degree of illiteracy. Therfield is a small village in Hertfordshire, located about 2 ½ miles southwest of Royston, and more importantly, about 6 miles from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Meldreth is the ancestral home of many of the today’s Casbons, Casbans and Casbens.

Detail of a map of England showing southern Cambridgeshire (green), northern Hertfordshire (red, bottom center), and adjacent counties; the relative locations of Meldreth, Therfield, and Litlington are indicated; adapted from John Cary, “A new map of England, from the latest authorities” (London: John Cary, 1809); downloaded from David Rumsey Map Collection (davidrumsey.com); Creative Commons License

The marriage of James and Sarah is the first instance where “Casbal” or related surnames appear in Therfield records, so we can make a safe assumption that James was not born there. Casb—l was an early variant of the Casbon surname and appears in various parish records during the late 1700s. Members of the Crouch family had been living in Therfield for several generations.

James and Sarah had a daughter, Ann, who was baptized at Therfield 24 January 1780.[2] However, the birth apparently caused Sarah’s death, since her burial was recorded on
21 January.[3]

James was soon remarried, this time to Martha Crouch, on 13 August 1780.[4] Sarah and Martha were probably cousins. James and Martha had a daughter, Lydia, who was buried on 24 October 1782, just 10 days after her baptism.[5]

Lydia’s burial marks the last record of this family in Therfield. This suggests that the family might have moved to a different location.

I believe that location was Litlingon, Cambridgeshire. Litlington is another small village, located about 3 ½ miles north of Therfield and 4 ½ miles from Meldreth (see map, above). Litlington parish records reveal that James Causbell, a shoemaker, was buried there on 31 August 1804.[6]

Burial record of James Causbell; detail from Litlington parish registers, 1804 (Click on image to enlarge)

Although I can’t be certain, the fact that he was a shoemaker provides circumstantial evidence that James of Litlington was the same man who was married at Therfield in 1778. There just weren’t that many men with that surname or its variants and I have been able to account for most of the others.

Where did James come from? I believe he was the son of John (about 1721–1796) and Ann (Chamberlain) Casborn of Meldreth. We have met John before. Born in Orwell, he served his apprenticeship in Meldreth and presumably stayed there for the rest of his life. He was also appointed as the parish clerk in his later years. John is one of the earliest identified ancestors of many of today’s living Casbons (also Casbans and Casbens). John and Ann had two sons named James; the first died in infancy. The second was baptized at Meldreth
6 November 1748.[7]

Detail from Meldreth parish registers showing the baptism of James Casbull in 1748 (Click on image to enlarge)

It is notable that John Casborn was also a cordwainer. This is part of the reason I believe James of Therfield to be his son. The other reason is that I can find no other records—no burial or marriage record—of James in Meldreth. My theory is that James learned the shoemaking trade from his father and then moved to Therfield, where he was married and started a family. He moved to nearby Litlington some time before his death in 1804. Unfortunately, his age is not given in the burial record, so this cannot be used as another point of comparison.

There is one other piece of evidence that supports the theory. It is the record of baptism for James Causbell at Litlington 29 March 1819.[8]

Detail from Bishop’s Transcripts, Litlingon Parish, Cambridgeshire, 1819, showing the baptism of James Causbell 29 March 1819 (Click on image to enlarge)

The record tells us that James was the “baseborn [illegitimate] son” of Ann Causbell. The father’s name is not given, but other records suggest that his name was Thomas Taylor, a labourer. Remember that James of Therfield had a daughter named Ann from his first marriage. The fact that the child’s name was James is also significant. Traditionally a first son would be named after the father’s father and the second son would be named after the mother’s father. But this was not a hard and fast rule, and in the case of illegitimacy, using the mother’s father’s name would be understandable.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any other records relating to Ann or her son James, so their story ends in 1819. Nor have I been able to find any other records of James’s (of Therfield) second wife, Martha.

It’s a circumstantial case, but I think it’s reasonable to believe that the men named James Casbal/Causbell of Therfield and Litlington, and the child baptized as James Casbull at Meldreth in 1748 are the same person. If so, he would have been the brother of Thomas Casbon (about 1743–1799), my fifth great-grandfather.

[1] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, Register of Marriages, 1778, p. 27, no. 112; imaged as “Hertfordshire Banns & Marriages,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-banns-and-marriages : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[2] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1473014 : accessed 19 Mar 2020).
[3] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, general register, “Burials 1780”; imaged as “Hertfordshire Burials,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-burials : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[4] “England Marriages, 1538-1973,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1473015 : accessed 19 Mar 2020).
[5] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, general register, “Burials 1782”; imaged as “Hertfordshire Burials,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-burials : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[6] Cambridgeshire, Litlington, Bishop’s Transcripts, 1804; browsable images, “Bishop’s transcripts for Litlington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (catalog) (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007561135?cat=976865 : accessed 19 Mar 2020) >DGS Film no. 007561135 >image 186 of 460.
[7] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), General Register Volume P118/1/1 [1682–1782], n.p. (baptisms 1746-50), James Casbull, 6 Nov 1748; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017) >DGS film no. 007567609 >image 110 of 699.
[8] Cambridgeshire, Litlington, Bishop’s Transcripts, baptisms, 1819; browsable images, “Bishop’s transcripts for Litlington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (catalog) (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007561135?cat=976865 : accessed 19 Mar 2020) >DGS Film no. 007561135 >image 231 of 460.

Musings on John, Continued

In the last post, I hope I made a convincing argument that John, baptized Casborn in Orwell, 1721, is the direct ancestor of myself and many of today’s Casbons, Casbans and Casbens.

However, I pointed out one inconsistency in the records. John was trained as a cordwainer, or shoemaker. However, the man who was buried in 1796 was recorded as parish clerk. The essential question is, “could he have been both a cordwainer and a parish clerk?”

I’ll start by exploring the meaning of the word clerk and the historical background of parish clerks in England. When I first saw the term parish clerk, I saw it with my twenty-first century eyes, and assumed it referred to someone who was literate and kept various church records. However, the meaning of the word clerk has changed considerably over time, as have the duties and qualifications of parish clerks.

Clerk derives from the Latin clericus, which means priest, clergyman, cleric, or scholar.[1] The English word clerk has had different meanings over time. Originally, it referred to “any one who took part in the services of the Church, whether he was in major or minor orders.”[2] Over time, the meaning of clerk changed to refer to anyone who could read or write, then later to “an assistant in public or private business,” and eventually to “a retail salesman” and “an employee who registers guests in a hotel.”[3]

Likewise, the meaning of the term parish clerk has changed over time. In early times, parish clerks “were formerly clerks in orders, and their business at first was to officiate at the altar.”[4] The clerk’s main duties were to “to be able to sing; to read the epistle; and to teach.”[5]

Embellished letter ‘E’ from an illuminated manuscript: priest giving communion to a sick man in bed, described in Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk, as “The Clerk Accompanying the Priest when Visiting the Sick.”[6] The British Library (https://www.bl.uk).(Click on image to enlarge)

After the Commonwealth period in English history (1649–1660), the rank and status of parish clerks was diminished.[7] “Now they are laymen, and have certain fees with the parson, on christnings [sic], marriages, burials, etc. besides wages for their maintenance.”[8] Qualifications for the position included the following: “the said Clerk shall be of Twenty Years of Age at the least, and known … to be of honest Conversation, and Sufficient for his Reading, Writing, and also his competent Skill in Singing,” although the requirement for singing seems to have been optional.[9] Parish clerks were generally nominated by the minister, and appointed for life.[10]

Besides serving as an assistant to the minister, the clerk had a multitude of other duties.

He attended practically every service, keeping dogs out and people awake and collecting pew rents and customary fees. He wrote the accounts if the wardens and overseers were illiterate, made out fair copies of the lists of church rates, assisted officers in their collection, and was capable of dealing with intransigent Independents and Quakers, perhaps assisted in a town by a beadle. He collected tolls on sheep pastured in the churchyard (too sour for cattle), on those who hung their washing there and from those who set up stalls along the path on market days.[11]

“The Sleeping Congregation,” 1728, William Hogarth; courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (https://collections.artsmia.org/art/10451/the-sleeping-congregation-william-hogarth); Public Domain.
(Click on image to enlarge)

In small parishes (such as Meldreth), the clerk might also carry out the duties of sexton. “He was responsible for the care of the churchyard as well as the inside of the church. He looked after the vestments and the vessels, rang the bells, opened and closed the church doors and dug the graves.”[12]

How does all this apply to John, the parish clerk of Meldreth? It suggests to me that he was probably a man held in esteem by the local vicar or curate, and probably by other members of the community. He was probably literate to a certain degree. Since Meldreth was a small parish, he probably performed many of the sexton’s duties as well as those of clerk. He would have been paid for his duties, though possibly not enough for a living.

This brings me back to the original question of whether John could have been both a cordwainer and parish clerk. There is nothing in the description of a parish clerk’s duties that tells me that the position would be incompatible with other occupations. Many of the responsibilities were carried out on days of worship, and it seems like the remaining duties could generally be done on a part-time basis.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence supporting the idea that parish clerks might have other occupations. The author of The Parish Clerk’s Guide (1731), when referring to “the poorer sort of Country-Clerks,” writes that “their In-come is so very small, generally speaking, that they are forc’d to employ their Time for Bread, rather than to have leisure to qualify themselves for the Business of a Parish-Clerk.”[13] I believe this means that many parish clerks needed to work at other occupations in order to supplement their meager wages.

An example is given in The Parish Clerk (1841), in which the English novelist Joseph Hewlett describes his protagonist, Davy Diggs, as

a shrewd, clever, uneducated, or rather half-a-quarter educated fellow, who combined in his own person the trades and occupations of parish clerk and sexton—parish Sunday-school master—parish tailor—and, what suited him best, parish gamekeeper and parish fiddler[14]

Clearly, the parish clerk could wear many hats!

I chanced upon further confirmation when I was looking through the Orwell parish registers. The burial of “John Lawrence Labourer and Church Clerk (my emphasis)” was recorded in 1755.[15]

Based on these examples, I think there can be no doubt that John, the cordwainer, could have also been the parish clerk.

John wasn’t appointed as the clerk until relatively late in life. I learned this when I found the burial record for his predecessor in the Meldreth parish register. “John Green, Clerk of the Parish” was buried on January 29, 1782.[16] If our John was appointed as parish clerk in that year, he would have been about sixty-one years old. By that time, it’s possible that his work of making shoes was occupying less of his time (or generating less income), or that it had been turned over to his former apprentice. The additional wages as clerk would have been a welcome supplement.

I’ll close with a famous painting, “The Parish Clerk.” It depicts Edward Orpin, parish clerk of Bradford-upon-Avon. Like our John, he was a tradesman, having been a cooper before assuming the duties of clerk.[17] He appears to be a man of devotion and some prominence. I would like to imagine that John shared these attributes, even if he was of humbler means.

“The Parish Clerk,” c.1760–70, formerly attributed to Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88); photo © Tate, Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), (https://www.tate.org.uk)
(Click on image to enlarge)

[1] “clericus (Latin),” WordSense.eu Dictionary (https://www.wordsense.eu/clericus/ : accessed 28 December 2018).
[2] Peter Hampson Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk (London: Methuen & Co., 1907), p. 16; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011590202 : accessed 18 December 2018).
[3] “clerk (n.),” Online Etymology Dictionary (https://www.etymonline.com/word/clerk : accessed 28 December 2018).
[4] Giles Jacob, compiler, updated by Owen Ruffhead & J. Morgan, A New Law Dictionary: Containing the Interpretation and Definition of Words and Terms Used in the Law, 9th ed. (London: W. Strahan & M. Woodfall, 1772), n.p. “PAR” section, entry for “Parish Clerk,” imaged on Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.93143 : accessed 21 December 2018).
[5] J. Wickham Legg, ed., The Clerk’s Book of 1549 (London, n.p., 1903), p. xviii; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001653725 : accessed 18 December 2018).
[6] James le Palmer,”Omne Bonum (Ebrietas-Humanus),” c. 1360- c. 1375, manuscript, Royal 6 E VII, f. 70; online image, The British Library (https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/welcome.htm : accessed 28 December 2018).
[7] Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk, pp. 61-2.
[8] Jacob, , A New Law Dictionary, entry for “Parish Clerk.”
[9] B.P., Parish Clerk, The Parish Clerk’s Guide: or, the Singing Psalms used in the Parish Churches Suited to the Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England and most other Special Occasions (London: reprinted by John March for the Company of Parish Clerks, 1731), pp. 20-1; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=lBplAAAAcAAJ : accessed 28 December 2018).
[10] Jacob, , A New Law Dictionary, entry for “Parish Clerk.”
[11] “Parish Administration in England and Wales,” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Parish_Administration_in_England_and_Wales : accessed 20 December 2018), rev. 3 Feb 16, 05:11.
[12] “Georgette,” “Church related professions,” Family Tree Forum (http://ftfmagazine.lewcock.net/index.php/volume-one-new/july-2008/413-church-related-professions : accessed 20 December 2018).
[13] B.P., The Parish Clerk’s Guide, p. 3.
[14] Joseph Hewlett, The Parish Clerk, Theodore Hook, editor (London: Henry Coburn, 1841), vol. 1, p. 23; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000483146 : accessed 28 December 2018).
[15] Church of England, Orwell (Cambridgeshire) Parish, General Register, 1653–1805, burials 1755; digitized as “Parish registers for Orwell, 1560-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567608?cat=210878 : accessed 26 December 2018), image 326 of 695; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,543, item 9.
[16] Church of England, Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), General Register, 1682–1782, burials 1782, John Green, 29 Jan; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 18 December 2018), image 66 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[17] “‘The Parish Clerk’ (Edward Orpin, Parish Clerk of Bradford-upon-Avon),” Tate [museum] (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gainsborough-the-parish-clerk-edward-orpin-parish-clerk-of-bradford-upon-avon-n00760 : accessed 28 December 2018).

Was my Third Great Grandfather a Convicted Thief?

Sometimes there are long gaps in records, especially for people who lived before censuses were taken. You might only have records for birth (or baptism), marriage, and death (or burial)—commonly referred to as “BMD” records, with no information about what happened in the intervals between these major life events.

Such is the case with my third great grandfather, Thomas Casbon. Thomas was born November 3, 1803 in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. He married Emma Scruby October 9, 1830 in nearby Melbourn. The 27-year gap between his birth and marriage is a silent period in Thomas’ life.

Or at least it was.

Here’s an interesting record I found on the Findmypast website:[1]

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a register of criminal court proceedings for Cambridgeshire held in the year 1822. I’ve marked the pertinent items. Thomas Casborn was tried during the October Sessions, convicted of larceny, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Sessions were courts that met quarterly to try a variety of civil and criminal offenses.[2] They were generally held in the county seat – in this case, Cambridge.

The sessions were also reported in the local newspaper:[3]

Cambridge Chronicle, 25 Oct 1822; Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

I’ve included the entire article, as I think readers might find it interesting, but here is the paragraph in question.

(Click on image to enlarge)

There are a couple of interesting terms in this report: harvest home – a festival traditionally celebrated on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon in late September or early October;[4] haulm – “the stems or tops of crop plants (such as peas or potatoes) especially after the crop has been gathered.”[5]

You can see that Thomas’ surname was spelled Casburn in this report. Was he my ancestor? Spelling of surnames was still highly fluid at that time, so minor variations do not rule out anyone with a similar name. The fact that the stolen watch was located in Bassingbourn possibly points to “my” Thomas, because Bassingbourn is quite close to Meldreth. (Thomas’ father Isaac and mother Susanna (Howes) were married in Bassingbourn in 1800.[6]) But this is weak evidence at best.

To complicate matters further, there were quite a few men named Thomas, with similar surnames, living in Cambridgeshire at the time. These included the names Casborn, Casbourn, and Casburn. As a matter of fact, if you read the entire Cambridge Chronicle article, you will see that another man named Thomas Casburn was charged with disturbing the peace in the parish of Burwell. (The Casburn spelling is strongly associated with Burwell.) How can we tell if the man convicted of larceny was my ancestor?

Fortunately, there are other records that help to narrow down the field.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a partial page from a register of prisoners on the convict hulk Leviathan.[7] A hulk was a decommissioned ship used as a floating prison.[8] Masts, rigging, and other components necessary for sailing were removed, rendering the ships unseaworthy, but still able to float.[9] They were used to house prisoners in England from 1776 until 1857, when the practice was finally banned.[10] Many convicts were placed on hulks temporarily, while awaiting transport on convict ships to Australia and other Commonwealth lands. But a few served their entire sentence aboard the hulk.

HMS Leviathan was first launched as a 74-gun ship of the line in the British Navy in 1790. She fought in the battle of Trafalgar. She was decommissioned and converted to a prison ship in 1816, and anchored in Portsmouth harbor.[11]

Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour, oil on canvas, Daniel Turner; © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (Click on image to enlarge)

The register of prisoners shows that Thomas Casborn was the 6,072d prisoner registered on the ship’s book. He was one of four prisoners brought aboard from Cambridge on October 31, 1822. All four were convicted of grand larceny (“G.L.”) and received seven-year sentences. If you look back at the Cambridge Chronicle article, you will find the other three names. All except Thomas were transported to New South Wales (“N.S.W” in the last column) on May 8, 1823. Thomas served his entire sentence aboard the hulk and was discharged October 18, 1829. I believe the reason Thomas was not transported is that this was his first offense.[12] The other three men were repeat offenders.[13]

Most importantly, this register shows that Thomas was nineteen years old at the time of his conviction. This gives him a birth year of about 1803 and helps us to narrow down the list of men who might have been Thomas. I can only find two potential candidates:

  • Thomas Casbon, my third great grandfather, and
  • Thomas Casburn, baptized October 3, 1802 in Burwell, Cambridgeshire.[14]

There were also Thomases baptized in 1792 and 1808, but these are too far outside the margin of error to be listed as nineteen years old in 1822.

So, the list is down to two. But which one was the prisoner on the Leviathan? I needed more information.

With a little research, I learned that the records of the Cambridge Quarter Sessions are maintained at the Cambridgeshire Archives. I emailed the Archives, along with a copy of the news clipping, to see if they could tell me anything more about Thomas Casborn who stole the silver watch. I received this polite reply on October 4th.

I have looked at the Quarter Sessions order book for 1822-1826 (ref QSO/14) and there is indeed an entry for the trial and conviction of Thomas Casborn. There is no personal information about him other than that he was “late of the parish of Melbourn [my emphasis].” This may help you identify whether this is the Casborn you are searching for or not.[15]

He also mentioned that other supporting papers for the October 1822 sessions are located in the archives, but to access these I would have to hire a professional researcher for a fee. These papers might contain additional background information about Thomas Casborn, but they might not. I’m hoping to visit the archives myself in a couple years, so I decided to forego the professional researcher.

Besides, I think the information I received answered my question. Thomas Casborn, the convict, was from the parish of Melbourn. The parishes of Melbourn and Meldreth are next-door neighbors, and my ancestors lived in both at one time or another. As I mentioned already, “my” Thomas was married at Melbourn. There are no records of other men named Thomas with this surname living in or near Melbourn at the time.

Have I proved that “my” Thomas was the man convicted of larceny in 1822? I think the evidence is pretty strong. What do you think?

It might sound like I’m celebrating the fact that I’m related to a thief. Although it does add a bit more color to the family history, I think what I’m really celebrating is that I’ve been able to link my ancestor to these records, and because of that I now have a more complete picture of his life.

What was life like for Thomas on the hulk? Some generalities can be made. Prisoners were required to do hard labor at the dockyards or river banks.[16]

This work was backbreaking, exhausting and very public; convict chain gangs provided a moral spectacle and example for all who saw them. The rations … were inadequate, in that they did not provide the convicts with the energy or nutrition required to perform such arduous work. This was done on purpose – the parliamentary act authorizing the use of hulks stipulated that convicts were to be fed little other than bread, “any coarse or inferior food”, water and small beer.[17]

Discipline was said to be severe and convicts were frequently locked in irons. Mortality rates were high, although this does not seem to be the case on the Leviathan.[18] Of the 444 prisoners brought onto the Leviathan in 1822, only eight died while in captivity.[19]

These would be considered extreme and inhumane conditions by today’s standards. In Thomas’ time, harsh punishments were the norm, although criticism of the hulk system did occur.[20]

© The British Library Board (Click on image to enlarge)

I have another set of records from the Leviathan, known as Quarterly Returns. These list the prisoners on board at any given time, and they include entries about prisoners’ “Bodily State” and “Behavior.” Most of Thomas’ entries list his bodily state as “good” and behavior as “very good.” However, in 1827 his behavior was listed as “indifferent.”[21] After five years imprisonment, this would not be surprising. In 1828 and 1829, his behavior was once again “very good.” Perhaps by then he was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

How does this change how I think of and feel about my third great grandfather? I don’t know if I have an answer. I never knew him, so everything I know about him is based on limited information. Now I know that he committed a criminal act, when he was old enough to know better, and was punished accordingly. Did he “learn his lesson” after serving his sentence? It would seem so. He married Emma Scruby one year after his release from the Leviathan. After another sixteen years he was somehow able to come to the United States, where his family was able to prosper in ways that would have been impossible in his mother country. There is nothing to suggest he was anything but a model citizen after coming to America. The balance sheet seems to be in his favor.

Nothing of this has been passed down in our family history that I know of. Who knew about it? His wife Emma would have surely known. The children, who ranged in age from thirteen to two years old when they emigrated, might have had an inkling. If they did know, it seems that they kept it to themselves.

His conviction and imprisonment on the Leviathan must have influenced his decision to emigrate. By coming to America he was able to put the past behind him and start over with a clean slate.

[1] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database with images, Findmypast (subscription site) (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=TNA/CCC/HO27/023/00041&parentid=TNA/CCC/HO27/00950248 : accessed 26 September 2018), entry for Thomas Casborn, October Sessions, 1822, Cambridge; citing The National Archives, HO 27, piece 23.
[2] “England Quarter Session Records,” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quarter_Session_Records : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 26 Dec 15, 02:53.
[3] “Cambridgeshrire Quarter Sessions, October 18 and 19, 1822,” Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 25 Oct 1822, p. 3, col. 4; online image, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000420/18221025/008/0003 : accessed 26 September 2018).
[4] “British harvest: how long does the season last, when is harvest day, plus history and traditions,”Countryfile Magazine (https://www.countryfile.com/how-to/food-recipes/british-harvest-how-long-does-the-season-last-when-is-harvest-day-plus-history-and-traditions/ : accessed 11 October 2018), 9 Aug 2018.
[5] “haulm,” Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/haulm : accessed 11 October 2018).
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N63P-B9H : accessed 4 November 2015), Isaac Casbill and Susannah Howes, 15 Oct 1800; citing; FHL microfilm 1,040,367.
[7] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 213 (stamped); PDF download, The National Archives (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4286832 : accessed 10 October 2018). (file HO-9-8_1.pdf).
[8] “List of British prison hulks,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_prison_hulks : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 31 Aug 18, 08:44.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 145 (stamped).
[13] Ibid, pp. 154, 163 (stamped).
[14] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVPC-NNY : accessed 10 October 2018), Thomas Casburn; citing FHL microfilm 887,403.
[15] Alan Akeroyd (cambs.archives@cambridgeshire.gov.uk), to Jon Casbon, email, 4 Oct 2018, “Cambs quarter sessions, October 1822”; privately held by Casbon [(e-address for private use)].
[16] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon (https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/Convict_Hulks : accessed 11 October 2018).
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Jon Casbon, review of Leviathan prisoner register, cited above.
[20] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon, previously cited.
[21] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database & images, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=TNA/CCC/HO8/011/00204 : accessed 26 September 2018), quarterly returns from Hulk Leviathan, Mar 1827, p. 192 (stamped), no. 6072, Thomas Casborn; citing The National Archives, HO 8, piece 11.

Creole Casbons

In an earlier post I introduced a large clan of Casbons who presently live, or whose ancestors lived in Louisiana. They were living in Louisiana by the late 1700s, well before any of my English ancestors. In that post, I speculated about their origins and made the statement, “hopefully a member of that family is doing research or will be motivated to do so.”[1]

Well, I’m happy to say that somebody has been doing research on that family. I was gathering data on the Louisiana Casbons in early February when I came across a book, titled Casborn Creoles of Lousiana: Legally Divided in Black and White, by Anisa Faciane Watts, MLIS, first published in 2017. A preview of the book was available on Google Books, and after reading the preview, I knew that I had to get a copy.[2] After a little more searching, I learned that it could be purchased from Lulu.com, an online self-publishing website. The website can be accessed here.

I received my copy of the book a little over a week ago. Since then, I’ve corresponded with the author several times. Here’s the cover.

(Click on image to enlarge)

I’m really excited about this book and want to tell you more about it. Ms. Watts was born in Louisiana and now resides in Detroit. The book’s title is based on her mother’s maiden name, Casborn, and it traces the genealogy of that surname. Although, the spelling is slightly different, the surnames Casbon and Casborn have common origins in Louisiana, and should be considered as part of the same extended family. Both spellings of the name appear in the book.

Using a combination of traditional genealogical research and DNA test results, Ms. Watts has done some amazing work on her family’s origins. The fascinating result is that the Casbon/Casborn surname in Louisiana has origins from both Spain and France. Ms. Watts has traced one line of the family to Juan Casabon, born in Spain about 1690 (her eighth great grandfather).[3] One of her third great grandmothers is descended from this line. On the other hand, a man named Jean or John Marie Cazaubon emigrated to Louisiana from France in the 1830s.[4] He is a third great grandfather.

Descendants of these men married others with mixed ethnic and racial origins, including various European countries, North and West Africa, and Haiti (a mixture of African & French). This mixing of cultures and races encompasses the definition of Creole. The term doesn’t seem to have an exact meaning, but various definitions include being descendants of French or Spanish settlers, or born in the West Indies of African descent, whether they identify as white or black.[5] This distinguishes the Creoles from the Cajuns, who have an unmixed ancestry from France or Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia).[6] According to Ms. Watts, many of her ancestors (even before the American Civil War) were free men and women “of color.” None of her ancestors are known to have been slaves or former slaves.

The descendants of Juan Casabon and John Marie Cazaubon eventually settled in Plaquemines Parish, where they intermarried. I’ve never been to Plaquemines Parish, but it looks like a fascinating place, and I would love to visit someday.

Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana (outlined in red); Google Maps™ (Click on image to enlarge)

You can see from the map that the northern border of the parish begins just below New Orleans, and the parish then extends south and east into the Gulf of Mexico, divided in two by the main channel of the Mississippi River. On the map it appears fragile and delicate. Flooding and hurricanes are a perennial threat.

The Casborn spelling seems to be more common in the male lineage of John Marie Cazaubon (French), while Casbon is predominant in the Juan Casabon (Spanish) line. Ms. Watts has done extensive research into both lines and written detailed listings of descendants in the book. Everyone with these surnames and roots in Louisiana would benefit from having this book.

What is of greater interest to me is the introductory material in the book, which takes up about 30 pages. This contains some fascinating background information on the history of Louisiana, important migrations, slave laws, racial history and politics, and definitions of important terms.

One particular discussion is of the “one drop rule,” the idea that a person with any ancestor of sub-Saharan African ancestry (i.e., “one drop” of black blood) was (and still is) considered black.[7] In the American South, this idea became incorporated into laws that legalized racial discrimination (“Jim Crow laws”). However, the rule has also been applied by those who identify as black to define their own identity or that of their children.[8]

A side effect of the one-drop rule was that it became advantageous for white or light-skinned people of mixed descent to “pass” as white people. Ms. Watts explains how some of the Louisiana Casbon/Casborns were able to pass as white. This is evident in various censuses over the years, where related families are classified as mulatto, black, Negro, or white. This phenomenon accounts for the second part of the book’s title, Legally Divided in Black and White.[9]

As a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies, I’m interested in all instances of the Casbon surname, not just those of English origin. I have a much better understanding now of those Casbons who have Louisiana roots. All of our stories reveal a unique and rich heritage, that hopefully helps us to have a better appreciation for who and what we are today.

[1] Jon Casbon, “The French Connection,” 9 February 2017, Our Casbon Journey (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/the-french-connection/ : accessed 3 March 2018).
[2] “Casborn Creoles of Louisiana: Legally Divided in Black and White”, online preview, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books/about/Casborn_Creoles_of_Louisiana_Legally_Div.html?id=MDpLDwAAQBAJ : accessed 3 February 2018).
[3] Anisa Faciane Watts, MLIS, Casborn Creoles of Louisiana: Legally Divided in Black and White, 2d ed. (ZAP Publishing, 2018), p. 32.
[4] Watts, Casborn Creoles of Louisiana, p. 81.
[5] Watts, Casborn Creoles of Louisiana, p. 81. p.28.
[6] Watts, Casborn Creoles of Louisiana, p. 81. p.29.
[7] “One-drop rule,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule : accessed 4 March 2018), rev. 3 Mar 18, 13:31.
[8] Susan Donaldson James, “Halle Berry Cites ‘One-Drop’ Rule in Battle Over Whether Her Daughter Is Black or White,” 9 Feb 2011, ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/halle-berry-cites-drop-rule-daughter-black-white/story?id=12869789 : accessed 4 March 2018).
[9] Watts, Casborn Creoles of Louisiana, p. 81. p.29.