Nehemiah Wharton was a servant from London who joined the Earl of Essex’s army at the start of the English Civil War. From August to October 1642 he sent a series of letters addressed to his master, George Willingham, a merchant at the Golden Anchor in St Swithin’s Lane. These letters have survived (although how they ended up in the State Papers is anyone’s guess) and were published in the 19th century (no free online version available, but the British Library has published a reprint as part of their digitization project). I’ve been looking at them for evidence of horses and social status. Wharton mentions another of Willingham’s servants, usually referred to as Davy (or Barry in one place, but I’ve assumed it’s the same man), who was serving in the army with a horse. The letters don’t give any further details of the man and horse, but it seems likely that Willingham had voluntarily contributed a cavalry horse under the scheme known as the Propositions and sent his servant to ride it. The UK National Archives have an account book of cavalry horses listed on the Propositions (SP 28/131 part 3), and as it’s a very important source for my work on horses, I’ve made a transcript of it. There is an entry for George Willingham, on 15 July 1642 (folio 19):
George Willingham of Londonstone painter stainer entred one gray horse, his rider David Avys armed wth a Carbine, a case of pistolls a buffe coate and a sword all valued by the Commissaryes at 27 – 00 – 00
This is close but there are a couple of potential problems because the address and occupation don’t quite match. This doesn’t rule him out completely. London stone was just around the corner from St Swithin’s Lane in Cannon Street, so they could be referring to the same place (see the Agas map). Although London citizens tended to be identified by occupations, their trades could change, and the company through which they were admitted to the freedom of the city didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the trade they were pursuing. George Willingham could be a freeman of the Painter Stainers Company and trading as a merchant. What we need is another source to confirm or deny the link between Wharton’s letters and the Propositions list.
British History Online has a published list of London citizens from 1638, but it doesn’t cover St Swithin’s parish, which is where St Swithin’s Lane and London stone were. But the National Archives do have a will for a George Willingham, Painter Stainer of Saint Swithin, City of London, proved in 1651. That looked very promising, so I downloaded it (if I’d known I was going to need this last time I was at Kew I could’ve printed out there and saved £3.10). I’ve put a transcript of the whole thing on the Your Archives wiki. In the will, Willingham describes himself as “Cittizen and Paynter stayner of London”, so he was free of the Painter Stainers Company, but not necessarily following that trade. He mentions having children called John, Samuel, Ebenezer, Hannah and an unnamed daughter married to John Colyer. Wharton mentions Elizabeth, Anne, John, and Samuel in his letters, which roughly coincides with the children in the will. According to IGI, George Willingham married Anne Eaton at St Dunstan, Stepney, on 21 September 1624. They had these children baptised at St Swithin’s London Stone:
- John Willingham, 28 February 1629
- Ana Willingham, 24 June 1627
- Ebenezer Willingham,11 October 1642
Therefore Ebenezer wasn’t mentioned in Wharton’s letters because he hadn’t been born yet (the last letter is dated 7 October 1642). I can’t find a baptism for Samuel, but IGI isn’t complete. Given the wild variations in 17th century spelling, Ana and Hannah are probably the same person. The will also includes a bequest to “Mr Abraham Moline my deere and approved freind”, who could be the Mr Molloyne mentioned in Wharton’s letters.
The details in the will are enough to link the letters to the Propositions list and resolve the ambiguities. On the balance of probabilities, all three documents relate to the same person. Without the will it would be hard to link the other two documents together and reconcile the differences between them. This all adds up to proof that David Avyes was a servant and that his horse and arms were supplied by his master. (It doesn’t prove that he was decayed, or that royalist cavalry were any different. See my post about Cromwell and Balfour for some problems with the “decayed serving men and tapsters” myth.) Willingham must have been very rich. He bequeathed £700 to each of his three sons and left the residue of his estate to his daughter Hannah, explicitly stating that he intended her to have at least as much as the boys. That kind of wealth is consistent with trading as a merchant. He could easily afford to give away a horse and arms worth £27. The value of his contribution and the early date (July was a long time before contributions became compulsory) suggests that he was quite enthusiastic about the parliamentary cause. His will has some strong hints of puritanism. He asked for his body to be “decently buried without pompe and ringeing”, and bequeathed a book of sermons and a confession of his faith to his daughter. There’s no mention of any servants in the will, so it doesn’t help to solve the mystery of what happened to Nehemiah Wharton. Since his letters stopped in October 1642 he could have been killed at the battle of Edgehill, but as far as I know there isn’t any definite proof.