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Mesach Wills

Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 March 2016

At the Midsummer Sessions of 1827 at West Orchard, Dorset, a razor grinder, Meshach Wells, was tried for “stealing of bacon.” Aged 19, single, he was described at 5’8”, with flaxen hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion, as well as having a face lightly pitted with smallpox. Meshach was acquitted, but he returns to the court records on 5th January 1832, described as a tin-maker, and married man, charged with “riot and assault,” for which he was sentenced to two years’ hard labour. The description differs slightly, in that he appears to have grown half an inch, and his hair is described as light brown, but it is clearly the same man.

Always claiming birth in East Orchard, Meshach can be traced through the census records, even though his surname is also recorded as “Mills” and, most frequently, “Wills.” By 1832 he was indeed a married man, having united with Louisa Fletcher at the church of Lady St Mary, Wareham in Dorset, on 9th August 1829, where she is described as a “sojourner.”

Louisa was the daughter of Selbea/Sylvia Stanley, herself the daughter of Peter Stanley, known locally as ‘The Gypsy King,’ and William Fletcher. Like the Stanley tribe, Meshach plied the trades most commonly found amongst the Gypsy and Traveller population. By the time of the 1832 court case Meshach and Louisa already had at least one child, Jemima Mary, named after one of Louisa’s sisters, baptised at Sherborne, Dorset on 27th August 1830, daughter of Meshach and Louisa, razor grinder. The month after Meshach’s sentencing another child was baptised in the same location, William Henry, baptised 10th February, son of Meshach and Louisa, razor grinder. Here Louisa uses the names of two of her brothers. At the church of St James, Poole, Robena is baptised on 22nd June 1836, daughter of Mechach and Louisa, tinman. In each case the children and parents are recorded with the surname “Wills.”

On 25th May 1838 at Wimborne Minster, Meshach and Louisa Wells (sic) baptise a daughter, Angelina, followed by Eliza on 29th January 1841 at the church of St Peter, Shaftesbury, Emma Ellen at Wimborne Minster on 30th June 1844 and Walter Holtiff, at the same location, on 22nd March 1846, and all three recorded as the children of Meshach and Louisa Wills.

The 1841 census records Meshach as “Wells,” at St Peter, Shaftesbury, Dorset, with Louisa, and children Jemima, 10; Henry, 9; Robert, 3 and Eliza, an infant of 5 months. The ‘Robert’ is surely the four-year-old Robena, and although Angelina is not recorded here she was still alive in 1841; her death is listed at Wimborne Minster on 25th May 1844, aged six. Sadly, Robena, too, was to die early, and this is recorded in the Wimborne registration district in the March quarter of 1849.

Meshach seems to have been well established in the area, sufficiently so to be listed as a whitesmith and gunsmith in the Pigot’s Directory of 1842 as Meshach Wills, residing at Gold Hill; two years later the local directory again records him as Meshach Wills, a cutler and gunsmith.

In 1851 Meshach has also reclaimed the surname Wills in the census, and his children are listed as Jemima, 20; Eliza, 9; Ellen, 7; Walter, 5, living at Malt Hill, Hampreston and, by 1861, still at Hampreston, Dorset, Meshach Wills is a jobbing smith, aged 55, and still claiming birth in East Orchard. With him are his wife, Louisa, 56, and daughters Eliza, 20, and Emma, 17.

Eliza was to marry Samuel Cherrett, son of James, at Wimborne, Dorset in 1868, and she can be found in the 1871 census with her daughter, Rose, and little Albert Longman, aged 1. Albert is Eliza’s nephew and he also contrives to appear with his parents in the same census at West Parley, Wimborne. Jemima Wills, Eliza’s sister, had married Thomas Longman in the registration district of Wimborne in 1855. This couple are found with their children Ignatia, 14; Louisa, 12; Martin, 10; Helen, 8; Walter, 6; Robena, 4; Albert, 1; Cecilia, new born, and Thomas Longman is now an innkeeper at Horns Inn, as well as running a general shop. (It is worth noting that the first two children of this couple were recorded as Josephine and Angelina in the 1861 census, which can be explained by their birth records: in the registration district of Wimborne in 1857 Mary Ignatia Josephine Longman is listed and, two years later, a Louisa Angelina Mariah Longman is also recorded.) By 1881the family have crossed the border into Hampshire, and Thomas has become a farmer, recorded at Firgrove, Christchurch with Jemima and children Martin, 20; Albert, 11; Cecilia, 9; Reginald, 7.

By the 1881 census Meshach’s wife, Louisa, is widowed, and living with her daughter, Eliza, and husband Samuel Cherrett, who is working as a blacksmith. They are at the blacksmith’s shop, Hampreston, Dorset, together with James Cherrett, Samuel’s widowed father, Walter Evans, 11, and Lev (?Levi) Longman, 3. These would seem to be two nephews, as Eliza’s sister, Jemima, was a Longman by marriage and Emma Ellen Wills had married James Evans in the spring of 1868. Eliza and Samuel Cherrett seem to be completely settled, which perhaps explains why the census records often finds family members visiting them.

In the 1891 census, at Kinson, Poole, Dorset, Samuel and Eliza Cherrett have another nephew, James Evans, and a niece, Eliza Evans, living with them and both children claimed birth in Wales, so clearly Emma Ellen, at least, has travelled beyond the confines of the county. This nephew, James, is still with Samuel and Eliza ten years’ later, as well as Eliza’s brother, Walter, a married man, who is working as a bricklayer, and described as a visitor. Walter seems to have more or less settled in Wiltshire, where he had married Mary Martin in Downton in January 1872 and baptised Henry Charles there on 18th August 1872; Ellen Mary on 26th October 1873; Emily Louise on 16th May 1875; Ada Eliza on 29th October 1876.

Still at Hampreston, at the local churchyard of Stapehill, Meshach and Louisa were finally laid to rest. Meshach Wills had died “aged 68” on 5th July 1875 and his headstone records him as “husband of Louisa.” Louisa was to outlive Meshach by ten years, and had died “aged 80,” on 29th December1885; with the addition of her name, the headstone reads “wife of Meshach.” That the gravestone records this couple’s surname as “Wills,” may seem to settle any confusion there may have been, since it was almost certainly overseen by a family member.

But perhaps, in spite of the majority of census records, as well as birth, marriage and deaths, which list Meshach and his family with the surname Wills, was the first appearance of Meshach recorded as a Wells? He was born about 1807, in Dorset, and always claimed birth in East Orchard. A likely baptism for him is recorded just a few miles distant, at Sutton Waldron, Dorset, on 19th March 1807, when the base born son of Rosanna, a traveller, was baptised Meshach Wells. Is Eliza, Meshach’s daughter, naming her first child for her grandmother when she calls her Rose? And could Meshach really be a Wells after all?

Copyright © 2016 Anne-Marie Ford