Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, Caleb (part III)

This is the third post in a series about the Trenchfield family, a dynasty of mariners with a predilection for the name Thomas. At least, the Thomases I introduced in my previous two posts (‘Thomas snr’ and ‘kinsman Thomas’) were both mariners, and pretty successful ones at that. This post looks at the third Thomas (‘Thomas jnr’) and his brother Caleb, the children of Thomas snr and the cousins of kinsman Thomas. It is in Thomas snr’s will, The National Archives, PROB 11/197/441, that we first encounter these two, and it is here that we learn that their professional careers were set to be quite unlike those of their father and cousin.

As I explained in the first post, Thomas snr’s will is a strikingly individual document. Not only does he tell us more than usual about his own life, he also sets out curiously specific plans for his children. I say ‘curious’ for two reasons: first simply because they are so specific (as with almost everything about Thomas snr’s will, I have never seen anything quite like this in any other will I have studied), and second because Thomas snr, despite his own successful life at sea and his probable involvement in starting off kinsman Thomas’s similar career, had rather different ideas about what his sons should do with their lives. Thomas snr’s widow, Margaret, was instructed to pay £30 each year to Thomas jnr ‘for his maintenance att the university of Cambridge inioyninge my wyfe to see him put there that hee may bee [illegible] to bee a minister of Gods word for I have vowed him unto the Lord’. Caleb, likewise, was to receive £30 a year, also so that he might study at Cambridge, so ‘hee may bee putt to some callinge that hee shall best effect but my desire is hee may bee a minister of Gods word’. We saw in the first post of this series how much Thomas snr’s will revealed his deep religious beliefs, so it is unsurprising that he wanted his sons to become preachers. The phrase ‘minister of Gods word’, with its emphasis on the gospel, reinforces the idea of a puritan streak in Thomas snr which I discussed in the first post. In fact, given Thomas snr’s description of divine ‘mercies’ in his own life, and the wording here of ‘vowed him unto the Lord’, I can’t help but wonder if Thomas snr made this vow in some desperate moment at sea. Was Thomas jnr’s clerical future promised to the almighty in return for ‘deliverance’ during a voyage?

Both of Thomas jnr’s sons fulfilled their father’s wishes. In Alumni Cantabrigiensis (part I, vol. 4, p. 263; there is also a handy searchable database), a Thomas Trenchfield, ‘Probably s[on] and h[eir] of Thomas, of St Mary Cray, Kent’, matriculated at St Catherine’s College at Easter 1637 – just one year after Thomas snr’s will was made, and while he was still alive. Thomas jnr was probably a teenager at this time. I don’t know any specific reason why Thomas jnr should have chosen this college, but on a generous £30 a year I imagine he would have been comfortable as a student. The same entry in Alumni Cantabrigiensis notes that Thomas jnr was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on 13 July 1641, which is also noted in the Inn’s admissions register. The Inns of Court were, like the universities, both an educational institution (specialising in law) and a social one where young gentlemen might spend a year or two, helping to prepare them for their perceived responsibilities as landowners and magistrates. Thomas jnr’s ‘manucaptors’ (sponsors of a sort) at Lincoln’s Inn were Thomas Bettesworth and William Hobson, both of whom were admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in May 1641 (noted in the admissions register here and here – I am grateful to Robert Athol, archivist at Lincoln’s Inn, for this information). I have as yet found no definite link between this Hobson and the Hobsons discussed in the last post, but it’s an intriguing possibility – William Hobson joined Emmanuel College in Cambridge in 1638 (Alumni Cantabrigiensis, part I, vol. 2, p. 383), so he could also be an undergraduate friend of Thomas jnr’s. Unfortunately this is the last I have found of Thomas jnr, and I think it is likely that he died at some time between 1646 and 1656. The fact that Thomas snr never updated his will suggests that Thomas jnr was still alive when his father died and the will was proved, in 1646; but Caleb is mentioned in kinsman Thomas’s will of 1656, described in the last post, while Thomas jnr is not. More telling is the fact that by 1662 Walden Manor, Thomas snr’s main house, ‘was in the possession of Caleb Trenchfield, esq.’, according to Edward Hasted’s The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent. In his will, Thomas snr had left this house to Thomas jnr, so if it had passed to Caleb then his elder brother was almost certainly deceased.

So we come, after the three Thomases, to Caleb Trenchfield. Caleb, also son of ‘Thomas, of St. Mary Cray, Kent’, matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, on 12 September 1640 at the age of 15, placing his birth around 1625; this is listed in Alumni Oxoniensis (vol. 4, p. 1507). This is another intriguing and unexpected detail. Firstly, Caleb going to Oxford was in contravention of Thomas snr’s will, unless the conditions were not supposed to be tightly binding. Secondly – although easy distinctions are obviously inaccurate – Oxford may have been a bit more traditional and less puritan than Cambridge. Finally, in 1640 tensions were already bubbling that would lead to civil war. In 1642 Trenchfield snr took a command in the parliamentarian navy; at the end of that year, Charles I occupied Oxford, and used it as his capital until his surrender in 1646. Whatever the reason that led Caleb to study at Exeter College, I think it is unlikely that he remained in Oxford during this royalist period, not only because of his father’s religious and political views, but because it seems that Caleb shared them. We don’t know what he got up to during the civil wars, but according to Alumni Oxoniensis, Caleb was rector of Chipstead ‘until the restoration’ in 1660, implying that he was a supporter of the Interregnum regime and their religious programme. On the title page of the first of his books (discussed below), he described himself as ‘sometime Minister of the Church at Chipsted in Surrey’ – so he was certainly out of that particular job by the time the book was published in 1662. This interpretation is backed up by a letter which survives in The National Archives, SP 29/42 (fo. 66) from 1661, between Sir Edward Potter and Sir Edward Broughton, mentioning ‘A sermon preached at Lee, Kent, by Trenchfield, [which] contained dangerous matter; he reproached the people that because iniquity abounds, their love grows cold. Cols. Thompson, Blunt and Litcot, with others of station thereabouts, were there, though they have been punished for the same.’ Caleb is the most likely candidate to be the Trenchfield stirring up trouble amongst the local worthies.

Indeed, 1660-2 may have been pivotal years for Caleb, marking something of a change of direction for the ‘sometime Minister’. Alumni Oxoniensis records that he ‘kept school’ at Eltham, presumably in Walden Manor. On 31 January 1673 (see Alumni Cantabrigiensis, part I, vol. 4, p. 66), Edward Leche, 20-year old son of Sir William of ‘Queen Street, London’, matriculated as a fellow-commoner of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge; his schooling was listed as ‘Eltham, Kent (private; Mr Trenchfield)’. This appears to be the only one of Caleb’s students to go to university. Caleb also wrote two books, Christian chymistrie in 1662 (reprinted as Historical contemplations as also scriptural and occasional observances in 1664 and 1679), and A cap of gray hairs for a green head: or, the fathers counsel to his son, an apprentice in London, published first in 1671 and then reprinted in 1672, twice in 1678, and in 1679, 1688, 1692, 1710, and 1777, suggesting an enduring appeal (links are to English Short Title Catalogue entries). In fact, the 1679 reprint of Historical contemplations was advertised as ‘By Caleb Trenchfield, author of the book entituled, A cap of gray hairs for a green head’, implying that his later work had become pretty well-known.

The first book was dedicated to Caleb’s ‘ever Honoured Uncle Daniel Shetterden Esq’, whose ‘particular favour’ Caleb praises: ‘You gave out your hand when I first began to go; and your incouragement and assistancy then (besides what since) requires to be first acknowledged now’ (sig. A2r). He may be the Daniel Shetterden who was assessed for tax in Essex in 1608 (The National Archives, E 115/355/18), and was very probably the man involved in various lawsuits in the later 1640s and early 1650s, mostly concerning land in Kent or London (The National Archives, C 6/43/183, C 6/108/19, C 6/136/83, C 10/12/121; London Metropolitan Archives, ACC/1376/234). Shetterden’s own will survives (PROB 11/333/281), from 1670. He was also involved in assessing the archbishop of Canterbury’s land in 1647, presumably for parliament, suggesting that he was as parliamentarian as Thomas snr was and Caleb seem to have been (Lambeth Palace Library, TC 39). His daughter Elizabeth married Geoffrey Thomas, a common councillor in the later 1650s and 1660s (see Woodhead, ed., The rulers of London ). This dedication shows that, like kinsman Thomas, Caleb had some family help in getting his career going, which makes sense if Shetterden was a well-connected figure during the 1640s and 1650s.

The book is a compilation of short passages in three sections, drawn from history (a mixture of stories from classical, medieval, and Tudor times), ‘occasional observations’, and scripture, all with moralising commentary of a religious flavour we might expect from someone who had been trained and working as a preacher. There is a plentiful dose of anti-Catholic sentiment, which makes Caleb look quite like his father in his puritanical beliefs; his comments on recent political events are cautious, perhaps a result of his ousting from Chipstead, but he bemoans the divisions between fellow believers that had caused so much trouble. The ‘occasional observations’, supposedly drawn from his own life, depict Caleb largely as a country squire; he mentions livestock and hunting dogs. A couple of the references, however, suggest the influence of his seafaring father. When, in his historical section, he speaks of how ‘Upon the Coast of Norway the ayre is so subtilly peircing’ (no. 30, p. 14), it is difficult not to recall that Thomas snr’s will described his escape from a storm off the coast of Norway. Probably more clearly due to Thomas snr is one of the ‘occasional observations’, how ‘Two Merchant ships met at Sea with 16 sail of Turk men of war’, but ‘with utmost height of courage’ escaped (no. 49, p. 142). Thomas snr’s will describes two encounters, once with 18 ‘Turkishe Piratts’, once with 22 ‘Turkishe’ ships. These seem to be minor elements of the book, but it is intriguing to think that Caleb remembered his father’s maritime stories around fifteen years after his father’s death, a curious echo of Thomas snr’s own memories of the martyred grandmother he never met.

One implication to be drawn from Christian chymistrie is that Caleb was keen on pedagogy, as the book provides examples for moral life and judgement, as well as showing off his historical and scriptural knowledge. This would fit his role as both preacher and teacher, and perhaps the publication was supposed to develop his reputation as one or both, although I suspect he had not yet set up his school, because he makes no mention of it (if he had begun to teach, why not advertise his services explicitly, as many authors did?). His more successful second book, in the same vein, was addressed to his son, named (in true traditional fashion) Caleb, who became a London merchant. Written in a rather rambling sequence of passages on different topics, A cap of gray hairs instructs the reader on how to behave as an apprentice, what company to keep, how to pick and treat a wife, and so on. It is a fairly uninspiring example of contemporary prescriptive literature – the tone is frequently chauvinistic, and laced with religious comments that would have been uncontroversial for its time. Even so, it was clearly popular enough to go through nine editions and still be printed a century later.

A will for Caleb snr (here we go again…) survives, PROB 11/399/38, written on 28 October 1670 and proved on 8 May 1672. This means, sadly, that he would not have seen Edward Leche’s matriculation at Sidney, or the multiple reprintings of A cap of gray hairs. Indeed, it does not seem that Caleb had a great deal of success in the last decade of his life. In contrast to his father’s will, Caleb snr’s is short and formulaic, and rather suggests that the Trenchfields had come down in the world. He described himself as ‘Clerke’ of Eltham, an occupational signifier that is rather less grand than the status ‘esquire’ that his father claimed. He left only 10s to each of his children, much less than any of his father’s bequests – a passage in A cap of gray hairs addressed to his son reads ‘That that I have to leave you, being but little at the most’ (p. 33) – and simply mentions that the rents of his lands were to pass to his widow, Judith, who was also named as his executrix, and was to arrange the inheritance of these lands to their children as she saw fit. Additionally, though in A cap of gray hairs he advised his son to be charitable at his death, because ‘the best use that we can make of our goods, is, that they be imployed in the relief of the necessitous’ (p. 172), there is no bequest to the poor in his will. Caleb snr was buried in Eltham Church; but Caleb jnr, according to Hasted’s History and topographical survey, sold Walden Manor to a Mr John Ebbutt, and was buried in St Nicholas, Chislehurst (see Daniel Lysons’ The environs of London, vol. 4). The estates that Thomas snr appeared so proud of in his will did not last in the family past his grandson. On the other hand, Caleb jnr, in his own will (PROB 11/526/269, proved in 1714), described himself as a ‘Gent[leman] and also Citizen and ffreeman of the City of London’, and disposed of substantial wealth including an investment in the East India Company, so the Trenchfields were probably on the rise again.

This is as far as I have followed the family, though undoubtedly there is more to be found. This post has already become quite long, so I’ll leave it there for now; but there is one more post left in the series.

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One thought on “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, Caleb (part III)

  1. Pingback: Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, Caleb (part IV) | historywomble

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