With the 400 Anniversary of the Mayflower arrival in the Americas, I thought it would be appropriate to take a fresh look at our family history. Over the years, Peggy and I have managed to locate and visit many locales from where the family originated. Some of these visits have been memorialized in blog format on this site. I have then consolidated these into a family history book that now sits on the shelves of whatever relatives will take them. While I feel pride in this accomplishment, I do think the story still seems to be too much a collection of who begat who. I have pondered ways to flesh out this story and I am ready to begin.
Now, let me be clear, I am no James Michener and I am not trying to create a historical novel. Instead my hope is to flesh out the lives of my early ancestors using factual information that applies to them. My methodology includes a heavy dose of Ancestry.com as well as Wikipedia. As a historian by training, I am fully aware of the limitations of these data sources. I am using my background to filter and ferret out what seems to be to closest to the truth. When dealing with 400-500 year old facts, there is a lot unknown or debatable. My plan is to stick with what seems reasonably documented and make sure I identify what is my speculation.
What I have found out in years of family research is that while my ancestors were not movers and shakers. They were much like us who live our lives in the maelstrom of current events. We focus on ourselves and our families but cannot avoid being part of the world. Ancestors from long ago were in the same situation. In most cases their life decisions are influenced by events beyond their control, just like us. Placing their lives in historical context and using details of their lives that are documented will be my approach. And just like in good historical fiction, I am amazed at the number of times my ancestors were caught up in the swirl of events and the cast of characters.
Twekesbury in the Heart of the Cotswolds
The Morey and Bartlett families originate in Gloucestershire and will matrimonially join in Plymouth in the 1660’s. Their story can be traced with certainty a century so here we go. The County or (Shire) of Gloucester was originally settled by Welsh and then occupied by the Romans from whom the -cester part of the name originates. A Castrum was a Roman military post. The modified name would be part of numerous later English city names. The shire in question is located in southwestern England dominating the Severn River valley. The Romans were good at picking strategic locations for trading and military purposes. As the Romans left the area in the 500’s, the Welsh reassumed control for brief time.
A West Saxon tribe pushed out the Welsh late in the 6th Century and managed to forestall any subsequent invasions by the Danes in the 9th. Despite being part of the Saxon King Harold’s earldom, Gloucester accepted the Norman Conquest with little resistance. Much of the land was under the control of the church for most of the Middle Ages. The arrival of Henry VIII would bring widespread changes for the county and country.
The Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century set up the Tudor Dynasty as the male inheritors as the House of York and Lancaster killed each other off during this thirty years of warfare. One of the key battles of this long war was fought in Tewkesbury in 1471. It was fought near the Tewkesbury Abbey and is now re-enacted every July like our Gettysburg. During and after the battle, many members of the House of Lancaster were killed and some executed by the victorious Edward IV after being dragged from Tewkesbury Abbey despite claims of sanctuary. Edward was somewhat compassionate in allowing the deposed and dead 17 year old, Prince of Wales to be buried in the Chapel without the traditional drawing and quartering demanded of traitors (or losers). The other captured Lancastrians were not so lucky. The future Henry VI (Tudor) will successfully flee across the Severn River to safety in Wales.
The Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin was founded as a Benedictine Monastery in the 11th Century. The present structure was started in the early 12th Century and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England. After the violence it witnessed during the Wars of the Roses, it was re-consecrated and survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Henry VIII’s story is well known. The Tudor dynasty had difficulty in conceiving male heirs. As a result the Tudor reign is both fascinating and short.
A quick review is probably in order. The Tudors were faced with numerous challenges that came with the times. The Spanish Empire was rapidly growing and had almost unlimited funds due to the plundering of the conquered Aztec and Inca Empires. At the same time, England was relatively poor with a king who liked to spend money. Besides lacking money, he lacked a male heir and blundered through a series of marriages that had far reaching consequences. His marriage to the favorite niece of the powerful Spanish rulers resulted in a divorce that required Henry to assume control of the Catholic Church in England. The resulting confiscation of church assets significantly helped his cash flow problems and gained support from noblemen who were rewarded with great deals on former church holdings. The citizens of Tewkesbury saved their parish church by providing (or ransoming) the king with money equal to the value of the lead in the Abbey roof and the brass in the bells that amounted to 453 pounds. These valuable commodities were a frequent target of a cash hungry monarch. The abbey thus saved would remain their parish church. It was no longer technically Catholic being now under the control of Henry’s chosen Archbishop of Canterbury. However, even to this day it would be difficult for the average congregant to see the difference between a service here and Mass at a Catholic Church.
While the Tewkesbury Abbey of St. Mary would remain almost Catholic in appearance and practice, the times were changing. Henry VIII dies in 1547 leaving his teenage son, Edward VI to rule until his early death in 1553. During his brief reign Protestants were given a brief opening to influence decisions. Of course this all ended with the crowning of the fervent and vengeful most Catholic Mary Tudor. It is during this time that our first members of the family come into the public record. But lets us return to Twekesbury and look at how the common folk lived.
Twekesbury grew into a prosperous medieval market town because of its proximity to the wealthy Abbey. Besides, the location is in the Cotswolds at the confluence of the Avon and Severn Rivers. My family visited nearby Stow-on-the Wold in 1980. The region remains one of the prettiest places in all of England. One wonders why a young Roger Mowry would leave. The answer is probably the same as for many others. It was a matter of inheritance or the lack thereof. Roger’s grandfather George Morey was born during King Edward VI’s reign in 1550. He left no record of occupation or estate except that he lived in Twekesbury and married Elizabeth Rogers on May 18, 1573. They would grow a large family including son Thomas born in 1578 along with thirteen siblings. As for a way to feed this brood, the historical record remains silent. However, we can presume that being a member of the Abbey parish, he was probably a full time resident of the village adjoining the Abbey. Grandfather George will live in Twekesbury until 1642 which is long after his Grandson Roger will leave for New England in 1630. Roger’s father Thomas marries in 1601. The marriage also takes place in the Abbey. This is important since only folks in good standing with the church could be wed there. church records are available for this marriage in the Abbey church. Roger’s mother’s name in the record is Ann Dolla of whom we know nothing else. By this time Non-Conformists (those who refused to obey the structures of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) were becoming increasingly numerous in Gloucestershire. Even during the time of Elizabeth, these Puritans as they will be known in the future were keeping their heads down. With the arrival of the less tolerant Stuarts, these Non-Conformists started looking for options.
Roger Mowry, our American ancestor, is born as the fifth child and third son of Thomas Mowry probably in Twekesbury as the family will continue in residence until after the death of his father in 1630. As the third son, Roger was unlikely to receive an inheritance or even a position in his father’s business ventures. Father Thomas living in a market town was probably not a farmer but could have been involved in a trade. Given Roger’s later famous occupation as a tavern owner, it is possible that he was exposed to business growing up. Anyway, at age 20 Roger decides to join the Puritan migration of the 1630’s to New England. The records indicate that he was a freeman on arrival and thus he had the resources to immigrate without surrendering himself into bondage as was common.
What was Roger’s motivation to leave his ancestral homeland? My speculation that it was a combination of limited opportunities in the family due to birth order and the religion issue. His family had been steady members of the approved Church of England. It seems that his primary motivation was economic. Upon arrival in 1631, he becomes a member of the Salem church in 1636 until his name is later deleted from the membership roles.