MySource:Welltester/Richard Wilson, Letter From English Genealogist

MySource Richard Wilson, Letter From English Genealogist
Author G A C S
Place England - Naval Service Information
Year range 1801 - 1853
Surname Wilson
Publication information
Type Personal Letter
G A C S. Richard Wilson, Letter From English Genealogist.


Believed to have been born in the United Kingdom in August 1801, and to have served as a rating in the Royal Navy prior to emigrating to, or becoming resident in, the United States of America ---.


Insufficient detail available so far to identify him with certainty and to compile his record of service in the R.N. No records of service of warrant officers and ratings were maintained centrally by the Admiralty until 1853. From this date, details of all aspects of the naval careers of new entrants into the service were recorded and maintained until retirement. These "Continuous Service Records" (from entry in 1853 and later, up to the early 20th century) are now held at the Public Record Office in London (at Kew) and are indexed by name.

The only sources of detail of a rating's service prior to 1853 are the establishment registers of the ships on which he served, primarily the Crew Musters and Pay Lists of those vessels. These volumes, which were sent to the Admiralty on completion (and are now also held at the P.R.O.), list the names of all the men serving on that ship, at that particular date and, in addition to noting rank and pay, provide certain other useful items of information - including age and place of birth.

They also note the privious ship on which the individual seaman served and the name of the ship to which he had been transferred after having left that particular vessel, so it is possible to build up a fairly comprehensive picture of a man's service from these sources (plus the Log Books and other operational records of those vessels)- but, of course, only if the name of at least one of the ships he served in is known, and the approximate date. During the period in question the Royal Navy had upwards of 100 ships in commission, from the great ships of the line down to much smaller brigs and sloops; to search the establishment records of all those vessels would be a very time consuming exercise.

At this stage, we don't have any idea of when, and where, he first enlisted and how long he may have served. The majority of ratings were admitted into the service in their 'teens (often as young as 12 or 13 years of age), whilst others were in their early to mid-20's, sometimes rather older - particularly if press ganged during wartime periods of urgent need of manpower. Initially, recruits were required to sign up for a ten year period (dating from their 18th birthday for boys - which added several years to that contract in the case of very young boys) and, unless maimed or otherwise considered unfit for further service, they had to serve that term come what may. Desertion was, of course, an option, but a dangerous one if caught, carrying dire penalties - flogging at best, hanging at worst.

RICHARD WILSON grew up during a long period of conflict between Britain and France (the Napoleonic Wars) and would have been almost 14 years of age when it finally ended in June 1815, so it may be that he too, enlisted at a very young age - 12 perhaps, or 13. At whatever age he enlisted, he would (if under 18) have been required to sere 10 years from his 18th birthday, so would have completed that (first) term in about 1829 - perhaps signing on for a further term after that.

Many seamen retired after the expiry of the first ten year period, but others signed on for additional periods, in many cases up to a total of 20 years (even longer in some cases) which, after 1853, qualified them for naval pension. Prior to that date few seaman were granted a pension as of right, and then only for service of a particularly meritorious nature or if discharged from the service on grounds of invalidity - wounds or illness sustained during the dourse of duty.

Paul Wilson's comment: He then goes into some detail of a couple of Richard Wilsons he did find with a Naval connecion but none appear to fit our Richard, as they were way too old or were still in the service after we know our Richard was in the US. He then goes into a look at Coventry parish Church records with an interesting result: ---------

-- I went to the Society of Genealogists' library here in London and examined the copies of the baptismal registers of the Coventry parish churches (two only at the time: St. Michael and Holy Trinity) that they have there. Neither contain any reference to the baptism of a RICHARD WILSON during this period but, in an index to baptisms, covering many of the parish churches of the county of Warwickshire, I found the following entry taken from the registers of the Birmingham parish church of St. Philip (since 1905, the Cathedral Church of St. Philip - Birmingham Cathedral):

Baptised at St. Philip on 10 August 1801.

The date of this event, of course, corresponds pricisely with the birth date of the subject of our research. This date (August 1801), believed by the family to have been his birth date may, though, have been his baptismal date. Few personal records, prior to the initiation of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1837, in fact, provide dates of birth, the nearest it is usually possible to get, in most cases, is the date the child was baptised in the local parish church. These baptismal entries sometimes also record the date of birth, but that is more the exception than the rule.

Coventry is only 20 miles from Birmingham and, although now a city in its own right, it (Coventry) was, at the time, a small town of only about 15,000 population (perhaps rather less than that), compared with upwards of 100,000 living in Birmingham. It was also 40 years into the development of the Industrial Revolution, when the unprecedented population migration associated with that development (of people leaving the rural areas to seek alternative employment in the cities and the new industrial centres) was building to its height. It is, therefore, not beyond the bounds of posibility that, at some time during the period between the birth and the baptism of young RICHARD WILSON, his family moved from Coventry to Birmingham to look for work or, at least, better employment opportunities.

And it could be that that period (between his birth and baptism) was rather longer than one would normally anticipate. Although as a general rule, most children were baptised within a few weeks (sometimes even a few days) of their birth, it was by no means uncommon for that period to extend to some months, even some years - particularly if the family was on the move, as many were at that time. ------

Parish incumbents invariably noted instances of late baptism by recording either the child's age or his/her date of birth, together with that of the baptism, in the parish registers. It would be interesting to examine the full entry of RICHARD WILSON's baptism in the St. Philip's registers to see if it contains such clues. Unfortunately, however, there do not appear to be any transcipts of michoform copies of the St. Philip's registers of that period available in London - the original documents are probably now in the care of the Warwickshire County Record Office at Warwick (the county town).

Paul Wilson comment: There is more to the letter, but this seems to cover anything that is pertinent to what we now know about Richard Wilson. At the time of this letter, I had only made the connection that Richard Wilson was my Great Great Grandfather and had not yet incorporated information about his eldest son into my picture of Richard. --------