It's the Wrong William Kentfield!!


For many years, I thought the most likely candidate for "our" William Kentfield -- the British soldier who arrived in New York City in 1700, mutinied, was court-martialed, pardoned, sent to Albany, deserted and went to Massachusetts -- was the William Kentfield christened in 1682 in Hurst, Berkshire, England, son of James Kentfield and his wife Elizabeth Edsall. I have shown this linkage on the site, while noting that it was not definite. Here's William's story.

But .....

I recently received from England a document that shows it is most unlikely, almost inconceivable, that this is the correct William. It's the will, prepared in 1707, of the Hurst William's uncle, John Edsaw. Note the spelling difference. The analysis has two parts. First, why do I think the William in the will is the Hurst William? Second, why does the will indicate that this William did not go to America in 1700?

FIRST PART: The parish register for Hurst has William christened there in 1682, son of James Kentfield and Elizabeth. It has the marriage of James Kentfield and Elizabeth Edsall in 1681. It has the christening of an earlier son William, just four months after the marriage, and his death two days later. There are no other entries in Hurst, or neighboring parishes in Berkshire, that seem to relate to this couple. So they came to Hurst from somewhere else, and then left Hurst.

Now on 20 April 1707, John Edsaw signs his will in Tillington, Sussex. This is the document I recently received. The will mentions his widowed mother, Mary. It mentions his sister, Elizabeth Kentfeild, wife of  James Kentfeild. It mentions two nephews named Kentfeild -- that is, sons of James and Elizabeth -- William, the oldest, and James, the youngest. It mentions a neice, Elizabeth Kentfield, presumably the daughter of James and Elizabeth. It mentions a sister, Mary Nash, wife of Matthew Nash, and a godson, John Mersh (that would have been pronounced, and was often spelled, "Marsh").  An interesting provision is made for the neice, whereby the Executor is directed to increase her legacy if there are enough assets in the estate.

Looking at Sussex records, we find:

John Edsaw marries Elizabeth Moose 5 Jun 1677 in Petworth, Sussex. (IGI on-line) Petworth is adjacent to Tillington. They are about 35 miles from Hurst. At one time, the Edsaws were considerable landholders in Fittleworth, about three miles from Petworth; their position may have declined by the late 1600s.

James and Elizabeth Kentfield have a son, James Kentfield, christened 25 October 1685 in Tillington. (Sussex records reported on-line, but not in the IGI)

They have a daughter, Elizabeth, christened 7 August 1696 in Tillington. (IGI on-line)

There is no record in the IGI of a Sussex marriage of William Kentfield/Canfield to an Elizabeth, nor of a son William, in this time frame.

I have not yet located entries for John Edsaw's sister Mary, Matther Nash, or John Mersh. I have not yet confirmed the identity of John's father, or his mother's maiden name, or John's birth. I suspect some of this information will be found in neighboring Surrey, where I do have possibly confirming entries just 25 miles from Tillington. (Those entries also have an additionl brother and sister, who -- if this is the right family -- must have died before the 1707 will.) Still, I believe there is no good reason to doubt that these are the same people. In view of the absence of other matching records, the coincidences in names, dates and places are compelling. It is plausible, although not proven, that James and Elizabeth were from Sussex, went to Berkshire to have the "early" child, stayed to have another who lived, and returned to Sussex. The spelling variation Edsall-Edsaw is insignificant; this sort of variation is routine. And the Kentfield/Kentfeild difference is trivial; I also see Kenfield, Kinfield, Kempfield, Canfield, Kemfield, Kintfild and other variations.

The absence of conflicting records COULD be just a matter of the many missing records from that time. It is possible. But not likely.

So I conclude that the William mentioned in the will very likely is the one born in Hurst in 1682. Not absolutely proven, but good enough until any contrary evidence is found.


SECOND PART: Old wills are fascinating, and often frustrating. Hard to read, full of archaic language, old letter forms that haven't been used in centuries, often poor quality images as the documents deteriorate with age. We're fortunate here. The image (courtesy of the West Sussex Record Office) is excellent, and apart from a few words that are not necessary for us, the text is easy to decipher. Here is the image. And here is a transcript.  The second page is in Latin, and I have not translated it; I believe it is merely a formulaic attestation of the will from when it was "proved" or presented in court. Here is an annotated version of the will, with modernised spellings and explanatory comments.

Note first that there is no indication William is away from the area. It might have said, "my nephew, now in America." Or "my nephew William, but if he not be found in this county, then...." When I obtained the will, I was hoping to see something like that. But no. He is treated just like everyone else. In addition, he gets much of the estate, following the "life estate" left to his mother and his widow.  And most important: William is made Executor. It is all but inconceivable that a person who hadn't been seen in seven years -- and who, as far as they likely knew, might no longer be alive -- would be named as executor, with no provision for a substitute. It took literally months for mail to cross the Atlantic. Administering a will from America would have been all but impossible. I cannot believe it would have been attempted.


All in all, I am convinced that the William Kentfield born in Hurst in 1682 remained in England. He probably was the "William Kemfield" who christened a daughter Catharine 18 March 1714 in Tillington (where his brother James was born), and perhaps the William Kentfield who (with wife Catherine) christened a son Thomas 27 March 1724 in North Chapel, which adjoins Tillington and is where his brother James died. Final proof might come if we could find a court record of the administration of John Edsaw's will, but I do not think any such record now exists. A will by William Kentfield -- in Massachusetts or England -- might also confirm my belief, but I am quite sure no such record exists in America, and have not yet found one in England.


So where does all this leave us, in the hunt for our very own William Kentfield?


Better off than you might at first think. The Kentfield name, including all its variants (even Canfield and Camfield), is quite rare in England. So it is possible to find all occurrences in the IGI and work with them. The endless creativity of phonetic spelling complicates the job, but it can be done. Unfortunately, we know that not all parish registers from that time exist or were captured in the IGI, so we cannot be complete. But we can go a long way. And through this, we know that there were Kentfields/Canfields in Northamptonshire (but no suitable Williams have been found there), in Berkshire (and we now know that the only plausible William there is not the right one), and a few scattered here and there. BUT: there are lots of them, including a number of Williams, in Southeast England, in the counties of Sussex, Surrey and Kent. And the very document that disproved the Hurst William also connects at least some of the Berkshire Kentfields with the Kentfields in the Southeast. This is a step forward.

In addition, I have recently learned there were Kenfields in Hertfordshire -- including Williams.

 So we now concentrate on those counties. Tillington in Sussex is close to the border with Surrey. There were Kentfields in Godalming, Surrey, just 15 miles away. Over in Godstone and Bletchingly, about 30 miles away, there were more, and that is very near Kent. Hertfordshire is directly between Northamptonshire and London.

There were Kentfield/Canfield/Camfield/de Camville families in these areas at least back to the 1200s. And there were Williams. So now we concentrate on them. And the hunt goes on.