Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, Stepney, was the father of Joseph Greene, the London goldsmith who married Mary Byne, daughter of Tower Hill stationer John Byne, in 1702. Joseph and Mary Greene were my 7 x great grandparents. In the last post, I speculated about William Greene’s origins and his possible connection with other Greenes to be found living in Ratcliffe in the seventeenth century.

In this post I want to summarise what we know about Captain Greene’s own life, beginning with his possible birth in around 1626, during the early years of the reign of Charles I. Unfortunately, we know nothing of William’s early career. Given that he came of age during the Civil War years, it’s possible that he saw military action, but on which side is not known, though many of the Stepney Greenes were avowed Puritans.

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Ratcliffe in John Rocque’s London map of 1746

The Stepney parish register has a burial record for ‘Jane wife of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliffe’ on 7th March 1676/7. I’ve been unable to find any evidence of their marriage, but it may have taken place during the Civil War, when parish record-keeping was disrupted. It seems likely that Jane was William’s first wife, and the mother of his daughter Mary, who was probably born some time in the 1660s, given that she was already married when William made his will in 1685. Mary’s husband was John White, another Ratcliffe mariner who also worked as a shipwright. William Greene’s will also refers to two grandchildren with the names William and Mary, but since their surname is Greene, they were probably the children of a son of Captain Greene’s who predeceased him.

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The marriage allegation of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott

Just a few weeks after Jane’s death, on 20th March 1676/7, Captain William Greene, a widower of Stepney ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’ announced his intention to marry Elizabeth Elliott ‘a widow of ye same place aged 35 or thereabouts’. Elizabeth, whose maiden name was Leete, was the widow of John Elliott, a prosperous house carpenter from Ratcliffe who had died three years earlier. The marriage allegation states that the couple intended to marry ‘in ye parish Church of St Bartholomew the Lesse or St Paul Shadwell’. In fact the ceremony took place at the former location, a small church in the City of London associated with St Bartholomew’s Hospital, on 23rd March.

A little under a year later, on 14th March 1677/8, ‘Joseph, son of Capt. William Green of Ratcliffe mariner’, was baptised at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Joseph had been born about twenty days earlier, on or about 20th February. He would be William and Elizabeth Greene’s only child: not surprising, given their respective ages when they married.

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William Greene’s will instructs his wife Elizabeth ‘att my funeral’ to present ‘a ring to wear in remembrance of me’ to ‘so many my worthy friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House (whereof I am a member) whose names are mentioned in a note under my hand delivered to my said wife’. Trinity House, or to give it the full title, ‘The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St Clement in the Parish of Deptford Strond in the County of Kent’, was granted its original Royal Charter in 1514 by Henry VIII, ‘so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams’. At this time, the guild owned a great hall and almshouses close to the naval dockyard at on the Thames at Deptford. In 1604 James I conferred on Trinity House rights concerning compulsory pilotage of shipping and the exclusive right to license pilots in the Thames.

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Cover page of the Royal Charter of 1685

There are frequent references to Trinity House in the diary of Samuel Pepys, who was secretary to the Navy Board under Charles II; in 1660 he was admitted as a Younger Brother of Trinity House. In 1685 Charles II died and on 23rd April his brother James was crowned king. In that same year, James issued a new Royal Charter to Trinity House ‘for the government and increase of the navigation of England, and the relief of poor mariners, their widows and orphans, etc’.

The Charter seems to have been published in July 1685. According to another diarist, John Evelyn, writing on 20th July:

The Trinity Company met this day, which should have been on ye Monday after Trinity, but was put off by reason of the Royal Charter being so large that it could not be ready before. Some immunities were superadded…We went to church according to costome, and then took barge to the Trinity House, in London, where we had a great dinner, above 80 at one table.

James II’s charter appointed thirty-one Elder Brethren, of whom one was to hold the office of Master, four to act as Wardens, and eight as Assistants. Samuel Pepys himself was appointed as Master, and the Charter continues:

And also We have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make Captain John Nichols, Captain Henry Mudd, Captain Nicholas Kerrington, and Captain William Green, to be the four first and present Wardens of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood

(my emphasis)

The fact that in his will my ancestor William Greene counts himself among the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, and that there are no other men of that name listed in the Royal Charter, leads me to conclude that this indeed is the same person. As corroborating evidence, I’ve discovered that at least two of Captain Greene’s fellow wardens also lived in the Stepney area. Captain Henry Mudd was born in Limehouse in 1630, but lived in Ratcliffe, where he died in 1692 and was buried at St Dunstan’s. He was obviously a man of some means, being the founder and benefactor of the charitable Trinity College or Hospital in Mile End Old Town. Captain Nicholas Kerrington lived in Wapping, but seems to have been originally from Suffolk.

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Extract from the Royal Charter of 1685

‘Capt. William Green of Ratcliffe Mariner’ died on 3rd January 1685/6 and was buried three days later at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. He was sixty years old. In time his son Joseph would have a vault built in which William’s remains, and those of his wife and some of their descendants, would be interred.

It appears that Captain Greene was a man of means when he died. His will bequeaths several houses to his son Joseph and his widow Elizabeth, who had herself herited a number of properties in Stepney, Walthamstow and Surrey on the death of her first husband John Elliott. In 1694 ‘Widow Greene’ was paying ‘Four Shillings In The Pound‘ tax on a property in Cutthroat Lane, Ratcliffe (see map above). Elizabeth would survive until 1712, dying in December of that year at the age of 80.

As for William’s son Joseph, he was clearly left sufficient funds to apprentice him to a London goldsmith, and to set himself up in business in the city. I’ll tell Joseph’s story in the next post.

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