Desperately Seeking William:
Seeking the Origin of William Canfield



New information!!

        Recent research has shown that speculation near the end of this page, while reasonable at the time, was incorrect. Click the link at the bottom to see the latest information, and new leads to the origin of William Canfield.

This set of pages is based on material first published in Kenfield Kernels, the publication of the Kenfield Family Association, Earl Crandall, ed.  The London research was carried out by Ted Stuart from South Wales.  His able contributions are most gratefully acknowledged.

Years ago, Earl Crandall, a distant cousin in upstate New York, traced the New England Kenfields to William Canfield, who died in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1707. Local sources indicated only that he was a British soldier who deserted and settled there in 1695.  Earl suggested that William was a descendant of the well-known Camfield family of Northamptonshire, England. Indeed, it has long been thought by many that all American Canfields (Camfield, Canfield, Kentfield, etc.) are descended from Matthew Camfield of that family, who was in Connecticut by 1635 and later settled Newark, New Jersey.  However, documents found in London have now established that this is not the case. On the contrary, it appears that William was related only distantly, if at all, to the Northants Camfields.

In 1674, two small military units were raised in London specifically to be sent to New York. (Two predecessor companies had captured the colony of New Amsterdam fron the Dutch in 1664.)  These were "independent companies," not part of any regiment, and had 100 soldiers each, plus officers. In 1689, two additional companies were raised, which arrived in New York in 1690 or 1691. Their function was to protect the colonists from raids by the French, based in Canada, and their Indian allies.

These units were devastated by desertion, driven by horrifying conditions which are well-documented in the literature.  In the words of one historian,  "they lacked almost continuously the essentials of existence, clothes, shelter, and proper food, and that, in a century when the British soldier everywhere was treated with a peculiar heartlessness, their lot was the most contemptible of all."   The British “Redcoats” we heard so much about in our school years are scarcely recognizable in these accounts.

What were on paper four understrength companies finally were combined into two, still understrength.  In 1694, two additional companies were raised, also of 100 men each plus officers. These companies arrived in New York in 1695. Local Massachusetts references say that WIllian Canfield arrived there in 1695.  However, the records of these four companies through 1699 have been examined in London, and William was not there.

Over the years, the companies continued to be reduced by desertion and other losses, to less than half of their prescribed strength of 100 soldiers each. Eventually, London officially reduced their size to 50. In mid-1700, one of the companies was able to muster only about 40 "private sentinels, including officers servants." And even that number is doubtful, given the clear record of fraudulent listings on muster rolls. In one instance, a muster roll was described as containing almost entirely false names.

In 1700, additional soldiers were sent to bring the companies up to strength.. On September 17, 1700 one hundred soldiers from the Royal Fusileers, then stationed in the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, arrived in New York aboard the frigate HMS ADVICE. The barracks at the fort in Albany could not accomodate them, and they remained at Fort William Henry in New York City.  On October 24, another 120 soldiers, dispatched from the twenty separate regiments then stationed in Ireland, arrived after a harrowing voyage on a chartered ship. There were supposed to be 150, but 30 deserted even before boarding ship for America. "The recruits from Ireland are newly arriv'd this evening after more than 13 weeks being on the voyage. The officer tells me they have been very unruly and mutinous; which I do not wonder at, for the owners of the vessel that brought 'em have not perform'd the charter party honestly; and the men have suffer'd great hardships."  "The Soldiers had like to have thrown their officers & the Master of the vessell overboard."

The new arrivals, especially those from Ireland, were not an impressive lot.. "The Recruits that came from Ireland are a parcel of the vilest fellows that ever wore the King's livery, the very scum of the army in Ireland."  "They are strange unruly men & have committed great disorder in this Town for which we put several of 'em in Irons."  The soldiers they were joining had already had their fill of a bad situation. From a petition in August, even while the new troops were at sea: "his Majestys poor Soldiers in the fort of Albany . . . Humbly begg leave to represent their poor naked condition to your Excellency to consider how hard it is to be Twelve Months bare footed and bare thighed and never a ragg to put on and little or no bedding to preserve them from the cold. . . . Neither have your Excellencys petitioners either Bowl platter dish or spoon to eat their victuals out of."

Contemporary descriptions of the forts, and the soldiers' general living conditions, are chilling. The forts at Albany and Schenectady were described by Governor Bellemont in 1699 as "so scandalous that I cannot give your Lordships a low enough idea of them. They look more like pounds to impound cattle than Forts."  The basic pay of the soldiers was eightpence per day, compared with three shillings per day for a common laborer in New York, and a portion of that was withheld to pay (supposedly) for provisions and other expenses. This practice was but one means used by some of the officers to enrich themselves, at the expense ostensibly of the government, but in reality at the expense of the ordinary soldiers. Most of the officers also managed to secure for themselves other political positions as well. At least two officer were simultaneously (and illegally) tavernkeepers, and another was described by Governor Bellemont as “a most sad, drunken sott, and under no good character for manhood.”  And that was when they were paid at all. In 1700, Maj. Richard Ingoldsby, commander of one company, was in London, complaining to the Government that "he with the rest of the Officers & Soldiers of the said 4 Companies are in Arrear of their very Subsistence from December 1696 to the 25th of March 99." Not that he suffered personally; Ingoldsby stayed in England for several years, complaining on behalf of his men but himself enjoying life in London and working the political circuit to advance his own career.

Combined, the old and new soldiers made a volatile mixture. Within four days of the Irish contingent's arrival, there was a general mutiny as the soldiers "refused to march." Governor Bellemont squarely blamed the Irish soldiers, and particularly a Corporal Morris, "who have stirr'd up a generall mutiny among the souldiers, and had they had the brains to have managed their villainy with any sort of discretion and cunning, they would have puzzled us mightily to reduce them."  The mutiny was quickly put down, and a court martial commenced on 30 October. Bellemont had another target as well - those eternal troublemakers, the lawyers."[I]t seems some of the Lawyers here put it in their heads that in time of peace it was against the law [for the Governor to] exercise martial law, and that they [faced no] hazard of" execution. Governor Bellemont reported that three-quarters of the soldiers, as many as 150 of them, were imprisoned. Whatever the legalities -- and the lawyers may well have been right-- the practical reality was that Corporal Morris and Robert Cotterel were shot, and several others were imprisoned and flogged. A few were acquited, while most of the participants pled guilty, threw themselves on the mercy of the court, and at the close of the proceedings were pardoned and sent on to their companies.

So how does William fit into the story? We know now that he was one of the new recruits in 1700. We do not yet know which ship he was on, and hence which regiment he came from. William appears in The Muster Rolle of Maj. Richard Ingoldesby's Company of Granadeers at Albany, November 1, 1700. The name is clearly written as "William Kintfeild."  However, William was not in Albany on November 1:  he was in prison in New York City, being tried for mutiny. Yes, he was one of those who "refused to march" when ordered. He appears in the record of the court martial as "William Kenfield."  He was one of the many who pled guilty and were pardoned. William probably joined his unit at the fort in Albany shortly after November 8, the day Corporal Morris was executed. He appears again, this time as William Kintfield, in the muster roll for January 1, 1700/01.  Early in 1701 Governor Bellomont unexpectedly died, following which many of the soldiers deserted.  I suspect William deserted in either March or April 1701.  Additional documents yet to be reviewed in London may confirm the date.

William Kentfield (based upon the spellings of his name in various records, I have adopted this spelling) arrived at what was perhaps the nadir for the companies. "I never in my life saw so moving a sight as that of the Companies at Albany ... when they mustered. I thought it shamefull to the last degree to see English soldiers so abus'd."  They had not been paid for over three years, and had received but one set of clothing in five years. By 1702 the companies were owed almost 20,000 pounds in back pay, some dating to 1691. At the same time, two of the companies reported that they had only twenty-seven functioning muskets between them. A few years later one company had eleven straw beds, five of them rotten; two rugs; six blankets; twelve pillows; twelve sheets; six iron pots, four unusable; three broken kettles; no tongs, shovels, bowls, platters, spoons, buckets, or frying pans. At one of the forts, ten men shared one bedtick, two blankets and four sheets. In 1737, the four companies had a total of 1,313 muskets -- but just 275 that worked. Not until the 1750's did conditions begin to improve, and as the evidence from Fort William Henry at Lake George shows, any improvement still left the men's lot far short of tolerable.

The later history of the independent companies was equally dismal. The following account of their demise is from the 1938 essay by Stanley Pargellis, the best published source I have found on the companies:
 The final chapter in the career of the companies is almost an epitome of the whole. Amherst sent them down to the seige of Havana in 1762. . . . On the voyage two officers died, and one transport stranded off the Bahamas -- the four companies never had any luck on the water -- but the men arrived in time for the final attack and the capitulation. The fever followed. . . . On the return home, two transports sank beneath these remnants. . . . [W]hen they reached New York they found it virtually impossible to recruit a man in the colonies . . .. There was nothing for it but to break the companies, and in 1763 the order was signed. The end of the four independent companies of New York, then, was no less ignominious than their life, which presents such a series of horrors, miseries, frauds, stupidities, and sheer neglects as is rare in either colonial or military annals. Seeming at times to scale the impossible, their lot would be ludicrous, were it not also pathetic.Where, then, does this leave us in the hunt for William Kentfield? We now know he was real, when he arrived in America, and roughly when he deserted. But where and when was he born? What was the story of his family? How, if at all, does he relate to the Canfields of Northamptonshire, Surrey and Kent? Does he, and hence do we, descend from a knight who accompanied William the Conqueror? We do not yet have answers to these questions, but we do have additional clues.

It is striking that for William Kentfield himself and his descendants, the surname is usually spelled with a "K," and only occasionally with a "C." My research so far suggests that in most parts of England, the opposite prevails. In Surrey, for example, the C spelling predominates, with only an occasional K. One must be very careful in drawing inferences from spellings, because of the wide variation in spelling typical of those times. It is very common to see several spellings used for the very same person, and sometimes the surname is spelled differently for a father and son in the same baptismal record. I have even seen a death record which was crossed out, and a new record made of the same event on the next page where there was more room, but with a different spelling. And yet I find it impossible to dismiss the fact that in one parish (so far) in England the K spelling predominates. And a William KENFIELD was christened there on January 21, 1682/83, the son of James Kenfield and Elizabeth Edsall. And in two nearby parishes, there are KENFIELD and KENTFIELD entries, with nary a Canfield to be found.

This is Hurst Parish in Berkshire, just east of Reading, and not far from London. It is also close to Windsor, and plausibly close to the major Canfield center of Northamptonshire. Hurst does not, however, seem to have been itself a significant center of Kenfields. The parish register exists back to the late 1500's, and there are no Kenfields (or Canfields, etc.) in it prior to a marriage in 1672. There is a little activity in the late 1600's, including the marriage in 1681 of William's parents, and the christening and almost immediate burial in 1681 of his older brother, also named William. Then almost nothing, until a flurry of activity in the mid-1700's. So this William's family seems to have come to Hurst from elsewhere.

The IGI computer index shows Kenfields in other nearby parishes, but no James. Records of four nearby parishes have been examined so far, with a number of additional Kentfield entries, but still no James, although there are significant gaps in the records. (There were two additional Williams found, but both can be ruled out as candidates for "our" William.) Perhaps James was from another part of England where the Canfield spelling predominates. Could the "K" be the result of some local factor? There was a place in the area called Binfield, and that name also shows up as a surname. Could there have been a place called "Kentfield"? Did the family come from Kent, and the name follow? The surnames Barnfield and Butterfield appear in these records, as does a place called Wingfield. Was "field" a common suffix, attached to many names? Is our Kenfield line totally unrelated to the Canfield/Camfield/Camville line that so clearly extends to the time of the Conqueror?

In addition, several William Canfields have been found in Southeast England, where there were many Canfields in Sussex, Surrey and Kent. While the Hurst group is especially promising, it is an open question right now which William is the right one, and indeed whether any of the Williams found thus far is the correct one. There are still more records in London yet to be examined, and perhaps the critical information is yet to be found there. And so the hunt goes on.
         See the latest information here -- which explains the Hurst entries.