Thursday, January 20, 2022

Whitchurch Connections to the Past

For many years I have been aware of a tradition among Whitchurch descendants, that their Whitchurch ancestor was “the first printer of the King James Version of the Bible”.  Like many family traditions (myths) there are elements of truth, coupled with suspect interpretations.  In a previous blog post I took a look at Edward Whitchurch (c.1500-1561), printer of the Great Bible.  A period of more than one hundred and fifty years passes between  Edward Whitchurch, the sixteenth century English printer, and Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch who appears in late eighteenth century America, residing in New York.  This blog post looks at a few clues that could eventually provide an ancestral pathway connecting the two men. The path is tenuous at best.  Hopefully future work will reveal more.  Pam Garrett, 2021.

Edward Whitchurch lived during the first half of the sixteenth century, in the reigns of the English King Henry VIII and his progeny.  He was a prominent printer of London, and was noted for his enthusiastic support of the reforming protestant movement of his age, and for making available the Great Bible. Researchers record four children for Edward Whitchurch, three daughters and one son – Edward Whitchurch jr.  Beyond his name, no clear evidence has surfaced to define this younger Edward Whitchurch.

A large family of Whitchurchs were established at Frome in Somersetshire by the beginning of the seventeenth century. A significant collection of documents reflect that they were successfully pursuing the merchant, and related trades, of the period.  They appear on a list of men licensed to trade in Virginia tobacco (1634), and have connections to the East India Company.  A 1681 Will for William Whitchurch of Somersetshire establishes a group of brothers - William, Edward, James, Samuel, and Leonard Whitchurch.

A brief biography of James Whitchurch, Apothecary, living during the mid-1600’s, identifies him as the son of Samuel Whitchurch of Frome, “one of a prominent family of mercers, drapers and salters.” He left quite an amazing Will and codicil in 1692, highlighting his activities and possessions.  

Another curious player in the Whitchurch family story is James Whitchurch (1703-1786) of York House in Twickenham, London.  He is a descendant of the Whitchurchs at Frome in Somersetshire; a grandson of James Whitchurch, Apothecary. His business connections were extensive, and included trade in Virginia. He and his wife, Mary Rust, purchased York House in Twickenham about 1746, and it remained the Whitchurch home for almost forty years.  Mary predeceased her husband and died without issue.  James Whitchurch’s 1786 Will, with codicils, runs to fifteen pages, and introduces a broad spectrum of interesting people, connected by family, business and church. A mention of Matthew John Gilbert and his sister Elizabeth Gilbert in his Will, seemed worth pursuing.  But, there was nothing to suggest a connection between James Whitchurch of Twickenham and the Whitchurchs in America.

In the late years of the eighteenth century a man that Whitchurch researchers name as Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch shows up in New York City.  His wife is called Bethia, sometimes Bethia White, and he is noted as the ‘immigrant’ to America for a large family of Whitchurchs scattered throughout the United States today.  Evidence for Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch is scant. But, his likely children do present themselves more clearly – Thomas, John, Bethia, Mary, and William Whitchurch.

Descendants of Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch hold to the ‘Bible printing ancestor’ tradition. Hints and clues keep that story alive.  But, much further work needs to be done to strengthen the pathway.

For more details on Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch, visit his page at Family Stories,

Further Reading:
Edward Whitchurch: Bible Printer; posted on the Family Stories Blog, 17 January 2022.
The Twickenham Museum website.  Places > Twickenham > York House

About the photo:
Mansion at Twickenham; print made by James Peller Malcom, 1782-1815; from the collection of the British Museum.  Note – The British Museum website gives the description “View of a large neo-classical villa . . “.  Other sources identify this illustration as “York House, 1808”.  A comparison with more recent photographs of York House in Twickenham suggests that they could be one in the same.  James Whitchurch lived at York House about 1746-1786.  

Moving back in time:  Otis Sylvester Garrett 1894 > Isaac Sylvester Garrett 1860 > Celia Whitchurch 1833 > William Whitchurch 1778 >Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch c.1750.
Thomas Gilbert Whitchurch is my husband’s 4xgreat-grandfather.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Edward Whitchurch – The Bible Printer

For many years I have been aware of a tradition among Whitchurch descendants, that their Whitchurch ancestor was “the first printer of the King James Version of the Bible”.  We need to consider a variation on this theme.  Over the years I have collected bits and pieces of information related to this story, but after a more considered study, I am beginning to get a clearer picture. The English printer who is being considered is Edward Whytchurch or Whitchurch, who lived about 1500 to 1561, primarily in London.  He was not connected with the King James Version of the Bible (printing begun in 1611).  He was most closely associated with the printing of the “Great Bible”.   Pam Garrett, 2021.

“Edward Whitchurch or Whytchurch (died 1561), protestant publisher, was a substantial citizen of London in the middle of Henry VIII’s reign.  His business was probably that of a grocer.  He accepted with enthusiasm the doctrines of the protestant reformation.  In 1537 he joined with his fellow citizen Richard Grafton in arranging for the distribution of printed copies of the Bible in English.”  
from – Edward Whitchurch’s biography published in England’s Dictionary of National Biography.

Whitchurch and Grafton worked together for a number of years printing Bibles in English and other protestant literature.  Their first printing efforts took place in France, but that shortly met with disapproval and they established their presses in England at the ‘House late of the Graye Freers’.  That is where the Great Bible was first published in April 1539.

In 1538, the English clergy was directed to provide "one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it."  This was the Great Bible, authorized by King Henry VIII, commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, prepared by Myles Coverdale, and printed by Whitchurch and Grafton.  Although called the Great Bible because of its large size, it is known by several other names as well; Cromwell Bible, Whitchurch’s Bible, and the Chained Bible, because it was chained to the church lectern to prevent removal.   

There are documents recognizing royal support for Edward Whitchurch’s printing efforts, but in 1543, following the fall of Thomas Cromwell, Whitchurch and Grafton, along with other printers, were committed to the Fleet prison for printing unlawful books.  They remained for several weeks, but then returned to their printing efforts.  

During Edward VI’s reign (1547-1553) Whitchurch was noted for a number of projects at the sign of the Sun on Fleet Street; including several further editions of the Great Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, primers for school children, and secular books on philosophy and medicine.  The accession of Catholic Queen Mary in late 1553 again brought trouble for Edward Whitchurch, and he determined to leave England.  

A man of wealth and influence, Edward Whitchurch, gave up much in England, before his flight to the continent, possibly to Germany or the Netherlands.  Some of his personal story can be uncovered by looking at the history of Merton Priory and neighboring Growtes Manor.

As a part of his scheme to establish an English Church, King Henry VIII dissolved many of his country’s Catholic institutions, including Merton Priory which resided in the beautiful district of Morden*.  The main priory building, a significant structure, was physically dismantled and the stones were used in the building of a nearby castle. In June of 1553 Edward Whitchurch had the opportunity to purchase Morden from King Edward VI, and he occupied a manor house, Growtes, on the extensive grounds. Sadly, he did not enjoy it for long.   

An article of interest, ‘Growtes: The Home of a Rich Man in 1554’, was written by David Haunton, and published in the Merton History Society Bulletin of December 2009.  Haunton introduces the article:

Edward Whitchurch sold the mansion house called ‘Growtes’, together with the lordship and manor of Morden and all his other lands, houses and rights in Morden, to the Garth family on 7 March 1554 . . for the sum of £460 (at least a million pounds today) . .  

The primary purpose of Haunton’s article is to look at the inventory attached to the Bargain and Sale document, and “explore the taste of a rich man in the mid sixteenth century”.  To that end, the article is very interesting.  But, for purposes here, Haunton’s work is helpful in giving some clues to Edward Whitchurch’s wives and children.  Evidence is scant, but it suggests that Edward Whitchurch was married two or three times.  His first wife remains unclear.  He may have had a wife named Agnes, who could have been the first wife, but was more likely to be second.  Haunton tells us Edward Whitchurch was, “survived by four adult children, presumably of his first marriage; Edward, Helen, Elizabeth and a third daughter whose name is unknown.”

About the year 1556, during his exile on the continent, Edward Whitchurch was married to Margaret, widow of the “tragic” Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was in long service to England’s King Henry VIII. During an early diplomatic mission on the continent Cranmer befriended Andreas Osiander, “leading architect of Nuremberg’s reformation movement”.  In short order, Thomas Cranmer had married Margaret, the niece of Osiander’s wife.  Margaret’s maiden name is not known.  Edward Whitchurch and Thomas Cranmer worked on a number of publishing projects together, and Whitchurch was known to be “Cranmer’s favorite printer”.  After Cranmer’s murder on the 21st of March 1556, the Whitchurch family made an effort to shield and protect his widow and children.   

Not long after Elizabeth came to England’s throne, 1558, Whitchurch returned to his English presses and completed several more projects before his death.  Evidence suggests that he is the “Maister Wychurch”, buried on the 1st of December 1561, at Camberwell in South London.

It is a challenge for today’s researchers to draw a connection between Edward Whitchurch, the sixteenth century English printer, and Thomas Whitchurch who appears in late eighteenth century America, residing in New York. Evidence for both men remains sparse.  Whitchurch family researchers have worked toward drawing a connection but no clear picture has emerged.  There are a few clues of interest.  Hopefully future work will reveal more.

*Today Morden is part of busy south London. Morden Hall Park, operated by the National Trust, is one hundred and twenty-five acres of parkland with the River Wandle running through it. Morden Hall, at the park’s center, was built by the Garth family in the 1770s.  Morden’s Tudor past, represented by Merton Priory, is the subject of an interesting archaeological study.  

Further Reading:
∙ Edward Whitchurch; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900; Sidney Lee article.
∙ Edward Whitchurch; Alec Ryrie, 2008; published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
∙ An Auncient Zelous Gospeller . . Desirous to Do Any Thing to Common Good: Edward Whitchurch and the Reformist Cause in Marian and Elizabethan England; Scott C Lucas; 2016.
∙ A Century of the English Book Trade: Short Notices of All Printers; E Gordon Duff; Cambridge, 2011.
∙ Growtes: The Home of a Rich Man in 1554; David Haunton; published by Merton Historical Society, Bulletin 172, December 2009. Available online at the Merton Historical Society website.
∙ Merton Historical Society website.  Excellent!
∙ Merton Priory - History Unearthed; sixteen minute documentary film on UTube. Also Excellent!

About the photo:
Title page from The Byble in English (The Great Bible), prynted by Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, 1539; located through wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Whitchurch Family at Silver Creek

St Clair County Illinois rests in the southwestern part of the state and includes the towns of Belleville and Mascoutah.  It borders with the state of Missouri, and the famous prairie town of St Louis-East St Louis, which straddles the border, is within twenty miles of Belleville Illinois.  St Clair County’s earliest form of government divided the county into precincts, but later used the township system.  The Whitchurch farms were located about equidistant from the small St Clair communities of Freeburg and Fayetteville. 

 A description of the area in a St Clair County history, gives detail:

 . . Silver creek, which enters the township on its northern boundary, flows a southerly course, emptying into the Kaskaskia; tributaries furnish water for stock and other purposes. The streams are skirted with a fine growth of timber. The surface is gently undulating, with considerable stretches of rich prairie. The noted Tamarois prairie . . lies partially in this township. The soil is well adapted to all cereals, and produces abundant crops.

Some of the earliest surveys and land grants to immigrant settlers were taken out around the turn of the century.  Family names included Teter, Mitchell, Shook, Griffen, Biggs, Rutherford and Edgar.  By 1814, public domain lands were being purchased from the federal government.  These early purchasers included – James Adams, Matthew Atchison, Pierre Menard, *David Howell, William McIntosh, Samuel Griffith, G Hendricks (to Stephen Whiteside), Samuel Mitchell, William Goings, Thomas Pulliam and Daniel Stookey.

It is not clear exactly when William Whitchurch arrived in the area.  According to family history, William Whitchurch was born in New York City in 1778, and he was married to Elizabeth Howell in 1801 in Knox county Tennessee.  The first record of note in Illinois is when William Whitchurch appears in the 1820 Census, placing him near the Silver Creek “settlement” in St Clair county.  It seems likely that he came to the area about 1815, around the time that *David W Howell, his brother-in-law, purchased, “. . 160 acres, being the NE quarter section 25, April 27th, 1815.“

William Whitchurch was married three times. He was first married to Elizabeth Howell, with whom he had nine identified children.  After her death he was married to Celia Carr in 1824, St Clair county Illinois.  William and Celia had four children.  His final, brief marriage was to Sarah (maiden name unknown).  Sarah was the widow of a Mister Herrin and brought three Herrin children into her marriage with William Whitchurch in June of 1848.  William Whitchurch died three months later, in September 1848.

William Whitchurch and his son built a mill in 1828.  The county history tells us, “. . They did all the work themselves, except the blacksmithing. The stone, which they dressed themselves, was found in David Pulliam’s branch, about three miles south-east of FayettevilIe. It was a round rock about 5 feet in diameter. It was claimed by millers to be equal to any French burrstone. By changing teams, the mill would turn out seventy-five bushels per day. Oxen were mostly used in grinding . . . “

On 21 March 1811, seven families organized the Silver Creek Baptist Church. They met in homes until 1817, when a log church was built.  The church was constituted on the Bible of the Old and New Testament, and stated a stand against slavery.  Members of the Whitchurch family participated in the life of the Silver Creek Church. The deaths of William Whitchurch’s second wife, and two sons appear in the records:  Celia Whitchurch in November 1845, Wessel Whitchurch in January 1849, and James [White] Whitchurch in Nov 1852.

Today the Old Silver Creek church is gone. Families joined with the congregations of Freeburg, Fayetteville and Mascoutah.  An 1863 township map for St Clair County, shows William Whitchurch’s son Gilbert Whitchurch still in possession of the family farms along Silver Creek.  But, by 1870 Gilbert had moved on to Dekalb County Missouri.  A number of Whitchurch descendants remained in the Silver Creek area well into the twentieth century.

*The History of St Clair County Illinois refers to the early settler of the NE corner of section 25 as Daniel Howell.  But, a review of the land records confirms that it was David W Howell.  

History of St Clair County, Vol 2; Wilderman, 1907.
St Clair County History; Brink, McDonough and Co, 1881.
Freeburg Centennial Booklet, 1859-1959; available online.

For more details on William Whitchurch, visit his page at Family Stories,

About the photo:
Turkey Hill Farm; from History of St Clair County Illinois; Brink, McDonough and Co, 1881.

Moving back in time:  Otis Sylvester Garrett 1894 > Isaac Sylvester Garrett 1860 > Celia Whitchurch 1833 > William Whitchurch 1778.
William Whitchurch is my husband’s 3xgreat-grandfather.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Lippe Detmold: German Homeland of the Biesemeier Family

Our Biesemeier ancestors were settled in the Principality of Lippe by the 1600’s.  Many Biesemeier births, marriages, and deaths appear in the Evangelical church records at Horn and Bosingfeld beginning in the late 1600’s.  

Lippe is a small but ancient region in northwestern Germany.  It is located between the Weser River and the Teutonburg forest. On a modern map you would find it about 200 miles north of Frankfurt and 180 miles east of Amsterdam.  Originally included in the duchy of Saxony, Lippe became a lordship in the twelfth century and a county in 1529.  By the 1700’s Lippe was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire.  As Lippe underwent several divisions, the area where the Biesemeier family lived became known as Lippe-Detmold.  Detmold was the largest town in the area. By 1815, Lippe was a member of the German Confederation.  Today Lippe is part of the state of North Rhine - Westphalia.  

Cord Biesemeier was probably born between 1780-1790 in the Lippe region.  Some researchers record his birth in the year 1771 in Stumpenhagan (Bega) in Lippe Detmold, but this seems early. His marriage to Wilhelmine Ellerbrock is recorded in the town of Horn, Lippe Detmold in 1818.  

From his 1818 marriage agreement we learn that Cord Biesemeier is a Kotter – a farmer or cottager, who rents his land.  And, that he and his bride will be living on, and operating the Biesemeier farm at number 18 in Leopoldthal.  His father, Friederich Biesemeier will continue to operate half of the farm, until he goes into retirement.  His bride, daughter of Johann Ellerbrock, hails from Frommhausen number 18.  

The towns of Horn, Leopoldstatt (Leopoldthal), Stumpenhagen (Bega), and Fromhausen are all listed as historic towns of Lippe Detmold.  Horn is the largest, and today adjoins the town of Bad Meinberg, an early spa location.  All of these towns lay within about a 15 mile radius of the city of Detmold.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the farms of Lippe were clustered together in hamlets. The land belonged to the nobility and was leased to tenant farmers. Farms tended to stay in the hands of one family for generations, most often passing to the oldest son, but occasionally being divided for use by the next generation. Families tended to be relatively small and not all the children married.

The valleys of the Lippe region sport good amounts of arable land and supported numerous small, but prosperous, peasant farmers. The climate is considered mild and agreeable.  This allowed for the raising of grains, beans, tobacco, and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Apple wine and plum brandy were popular in the area.  Dairy products abounded and the Lippe families raised horned cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and fowl.  Game hunting and fishing provided further protein.  

Researcher Maggie Blanck includes this delightful description of typical farm buildings in 1865, northern Germany.  It comes from an article titled, The Sacristan’s Household, published in Anthony Trollope’s Saint Paul Magazine:  

The whole centre of the building is a large and lofty barn, piled high with hay and straw and store of grain. It is, too, a storehouse for farm implements, and so huge are its proportions, that a harvest waggon laden with sheaves, and drawn by three or four sturdy horses, can pass easily through the doorway, and stand beneath its ample shelter. From the barn, which entirely occupies the central length and breadth of the building, is the only possible ingress to the dwelling-house. On the right hand and on the left are doors and windows giving access to the living and sleeping rooms of the family. Nearly all the light and air which reaches these apartments gains admission through the wide-open double doors of the barn . .  

Interesting studies of German House Inscriptions (Hausinschriften) have been helpful to family historians. In certain rural regions of the German-speaking world they were part of the cultural tradition and custom for many centuries. They were often carved into wooden beams of half-timbered houses, but are also found over driveways and entrances. Several inscriptions related to the Biesemeier family appear in the Lippe region.  One of particular interest was located in Leopoldstal, number 3 Kuhlmanns.  It represents the household of Johan Biesemeier and Frederica Kuhlman.  Johan is a possible brother of Cord Biesemeier. The German inscription reads:


It is O God your will to build only on earth, you give your children bread and accommodation here on earth; Johan Bernhard Biesemeier from Leopoldstal, Friederike Kuhleman, this is 5 July 1810.

For more details on Cord Biesemeier, visit his page at Family Stories,

Further Reading:
LWL Open Air Museum at Detmold;
Lippe Detmold DE; Geographical DNA Project for the area now known as Lippe, North Rhein-Westphalia;
Maggie Blanck Website;
Der Genealogische Abend: Naturwissenschaftlicher und Historischer Verein für das Land Lippe [Genealogy: Scientific and Historical Association for the state of Lippe];

About the photo:
The district of Leopoldstal in Horn-Bad Meinberg, Lippe, North Rhein-Westphalia; shared by Grugerio, Aug 2014; Creative Commons.

Moving back in time:  Elba Josephine Hoffman 1898 > Josephine S Biesemeier 1866 > Rev William Biesemeier 1833 > Cord Biesemeier 1796.
Cord Biesemeier is my husband’s 3xgreat-grandfather.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Richard White Hancock and the American Civil War

In April of 1862, when Dick Hancock was a few months short of his seventeenth birthday, he joined the Missouri State Militia, supporting the Union troops.  He was a member of the 6th Missouri Regiment, Company E, cavalry unit.  He inflated his age by a bit, in order to enlist.  The company Descriptive Book gives details:
Richard W Hancock; Co E, 6th Regt Mo State Militia Cavalry;  enlisted 12 April 1862 at Cameron Missouri by Capt Murphy for a term of 3 years; age 18; 5 feet 10 inches; fair complexion; blue eyes; dark hair; born Scott Kentucky; occupation farmer.

Richard White “Dick” Hancock was born in 1845 in Scott county Kentucky, one of the younger of Edward Hancock and Jemima White’s nine children.  About 1855 his family removed to Missouri, where the Hancock family lived for a number of years near the community of Victoria in Daviess County.  In the early years of America’s Civil War young Dick answered the call to serve with the Union.

Dick Hancock’s military “returns” show him serving in several different capacities through the war years.  In February of 1863 he was recorded as a hospital nurse, and in January 1864 he was “absent” doing recruiting service in Northwest Missouri.  Several returns listed him as “away for service in the field”.  By late 1864, during the months of November and December, he was working as a cook for the troops.  

The Missouri State Militia forces were authorized, subsidized, and equipped by the federal government.  Their primary activity remained within the state.  The war in Missouri was more of a local affair.  Union supporters were in the majority.  Confederate sympathizers and secessionists made guerilla style attacks on their neighbors.  Engaging these guerilla bands became the primary work of the State Militia.  After enlistment, Dick Hancock was stationed at Cameron Missouri, but within a short time the troops of the 6th Regiment began to move around the state.  In the Fall of 1862, “guerrilla bands of every size and description, sometimes operating in conjunction with small Confederate forces based in Arkansas, swarmed out of the woods and swamps and attacked towns and railroads, carried off horses and weapons, and killed Unionist civilians by the hundreds.”

The leaders of the State Militia began an effort to “starve out” the opposition by identifying the civilian population that provided food, shelter, horses, and new recruits.  Relatives and supporters of the guerillas were often fined or imprisoned; their properties and communities were sometimes put to the torch.  “This was a war of stealth and raid without a front, without formal organization, and with almost no division between the civilian and the warrior.”

Toward the close of the War the 6th Regiment was called to Westport (today a part of Kansas City).  The Battle of Westport occurred on the 23rd of October 1864, and is sometimes referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West”.  It is probably the only formal battlefield that Dick Hancock attended.  The Union forces of Major General Samuel R Curtis soundly defeated the Confederates.  This was one of the largest actions to occur west of the Mississippi River, involving more than thirty thousand troops.  It was also the last major action in the area.  

Dick Hancock continued with his regiment for several months after the Westport battle.  This was the time period when he was noted as a cook for the troops.  Discharges began for the 6th Regiment in February of 1865.  About this time Dick Hancock’s horse and equipment was valued by the government at sixty-five dollars. After his service, young Dick, still a teenager, returned home to the family farm near Victoria Missouri.  He was soon to turn twenty years of age, and in the following year he married Elizabeth Taylor, and settled in neighboring Dekalb county Missouri.  

For more details on Richard White Hancock, visit his page at Family Stories,

About the Photo:  Encampment of Union cavalry scouts near Hancock Maryland; WW Charles for Harper's Weekly, 1 Feb 1862; from the National Park Service Historical Collection.

Moving back in time:  Otis Sylvester Garrett 1894 > Margaret Susan Hancock 1869 > Richard White Hancock 1845.
Richard White Hancock is my husband’s greatgreat-grandfather.

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