Many online genealogies today attempt claiming Elizabeth Brewster, wife of Thomas Emerson, as a daughter of Mayflower passengers William and Mary Brewster. Some even use the baptism date for Thomas Emerson in Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire as a birth date for Elizabeth, either placing the event at Bishop's Stortford or Scrooby, Notthinghamshire, where William Brewster's is said to have originated. No genealogy making these claims references a single reliable source. This posting is an attempt to introduce some facts regarding the matter.
The birth year of Elizabeth is not known. The earliest baptismal records from Scrooby, Nottinghamshire appear to be the Bishop's Transcripts in 1628. This is why the baptismal dates for William Brewster and his proven children are not known. For anyone wishing confirmation that there was no Elizabeth Brewster baptized at Bishop's Stortford, they can order the microfilm of the original Parish Register from Salt Lake City to view at their nearest LDS Family History Center and check for themselves. It would be a chance to obtain a copy of the 1584 baptism of Thoms Emererson as a son of Robt Emerson along with the 1611 marriage of Thomas Emershonne to Elizabeth Bruester.
Bishop's transcripts for Scrooby, 1628-1837
Parish registers, 1738-1876
Marriages at Scrooby, 1695-1837
Parish register transcripts, 1561-1837
With no known baptismal record for the Elizabeth Brewster who married Thomas Emerson, historically the odds are much higher that Elizabeth was younger than Thomas. Assigning her the exact same birth (again as Thomas' baptism date not birth date, see on online dictionary for a further description distinguishing these events if needed) goes beyond mythic to comical.
Maps are a good way to help visualize the geography involved in any genealogical inquiry. Both Scrooby and Bishop's Stortford can be found on a modern map. Due to modern postal codes in the UK that don't adhere to the physical geography, Scrooby can be found with a Doncaster listing rather then Notthinghamshire where it actully is. By modern road, the distance is 135 miles between the two sites.
On parish maps of their respective counties, Scrooby can be found along the northern boarder of Notthinghamshire (written sideways), while Bishop's Stortford is on the eastern boarder of Hertfordshire.
It appears most of the church records from the UK listed on the IGI have been transferred to the LDS Beta site. This thankfully filters out many unreliable listings from patron submission sheets. Still not all the surviving church records had made it to the IGI. Searching the Beta site for the surname Brewster with dates 1500-1620 shows there were Brewster families during this time frame in seven other Hertfordshire parishes which have surviving records that have been transcribed. Added is a rough look at the distance of these parishes to Bishop's Srortford. This look does not take into account any nearby parishes in Essex.
Widford, Hertfordshire7 miles SW
Hunsdon, Hertfordshire8 miles SW
Barley Hertfordshire14 miles N
Barkway, Hertfordshire18 miles N
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire18 miles SW
Codicote, Herrfordshire24 miles W
East Barnet, Hertford30 miles SW
There is parish locator software which can be downloaded which can be useful in learning the surrounding parishes to Bishop's Stortford. Clicking on "Nearby places" at the top of the GenUKI page for Bishop's Stortford and entering a distance for the search can accomplish this as well.
There don't appear to be any surviving Brewster wills that would help determine Elizabeth's origins. Around 25 miles east of Bishop's Stortford, there was a William Brewster, Gentleman of Hedingham Castle, Essex who left a will in 1583. His only daughter Anne married Thomas Kirbie.
In the Massachusetts Colony, William Brewster was part of the Plymouth community, while Thomas and Elizabeth Emerson lived 100 miles north in Ipswich. Geographically there is no basis for connecting Elizabeth Brewster, wife of Thomas Emerson to William and Mary Brewster of the Mayflower.
Where then does the claim originate.
At least six sources, which can now be found online, printed the same account of the family, with the speculation Elizabeth could have been "the daughter of the postmaster of Scrooby," vaguely crediting "the genealogist of the English Emersons." This version makes no reference to what the conjecture was based.
Historic homes and institutions and genealogical and personal memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts pub 1907
Genealogical and family history of the state of New Hampshire pub 1908
Genealogical and family history of the state of Maine, Volume 1 pub 1909
Genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of the state of Massachusetts, Volume 3 pub 1910
New England families, genealogical and memorial pub 1913
Thomas Seavy & Robert Irwin:their descendants and connecting lines pub 1988
(I) Thomas Emmerson, the first English ancestor to whom the pedigree of Dr. Emerson, of Worcester, can be traced definitely, was born some time before 1540 in England. He was a resident of Great Dunmow, county Essex, where his three children are registered. He Was probably son of Ralf of Foxton, who received arms in 1535. His children were: Robert, baptized at Great Dunmow, October 25, 1561; Joan, baptized 1562; John, baptized 1565.
(II) Robert Emerson, son of the preceding Thomas Emerson (1), was born in Great Dunmow and baptized there October 25, 1561. He may be identical with Robert Emerson, of Bishop's Stortford. who married there November 24, 1578, Susan Crabb, who was buried there November 20, 1626, aged seventy years. Robert was buried at Bishop's Stortford, January 6, 1620. His children were: Alice, baptized at Bishop's Stortford, November 22, 1579; Margaret, baptized February 21, 1581-2; Thomas, see forward; Anne; Robert, baptized April 12, 1596; John.
(III) Thomas Emerson, son of the preceding Robert Emerson (2), was baptized at Bishop's Stortford, July 26, 1584. In the church warden's book of St. Michael's he is recorded as a collector for the poor in 1636. He married Elizabeth Brewster, July 1, 1611, at Bishop's Stortford, and the genealogist of the English Emersons suggests that she was the daughter of the postmaster of Scrooby and the elder of the colony at Plymouth. The children of Thomas Emerson, as recorded in the baptismal registry of St. Michael's church at Bishop's Stortford, Herts, were: Robert, baptized May 24, 1612; Benjamin, baptized October 2, 1614; Ralfe, baptized October 19, 1615, killed by falling tree June. 1626; James, baptized February 16, 1617; Joseph, baptized June 25, 1620, settled in Mendon, Massachusetts; Elizabeth, baptized June 14, 1623; John, baptized February 26, 1625, settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts; Thomas, see forward; Nathaniel, baptized July 18, 1630, settled Ipswich, Massachusetts; Susan, baptized March 17, 1632, may have died on the voyage.
Looking further into the matter, "The English Emersons" was written in 1898 by Peter Henry Emerson. This book can also now be found online. Here are three abstracts which show the basis for his conjecture.
I am unable to give more than the accompanying pedigree and to say that Robert Emerson owned a freehold property some twelve acres in extent in Bishop's Stortford, called Haggle's Dale, and that Thomas, his eldest son, acted as collector for the poor of Bishop's Stortford in 1636, proving, therefore, he did not emigrate in the Elizabeth and Anne in 1635, as Professor B. K. Emerson states tradition has it, and which I have previously pointed out I very much doubted. There is no description of Thomas' occupation in the register. His wife was one Elizabeth Brewster, as will be seen by the pedigree—possibly a relation of William Brewster, the famous Pilgrim Father; but these and other matters I must reserve for a small and detailed work I shall write later on '• The Emersons of Co. Herts and U.S.A." and fully illustrate—tracing Thomas' ancestors in the direct line as far back as I can, and giving every detail 1 can obtain of the family's life at Bishop's Stortford.
The next record I have is the will of Robert Emberson, a "currier" and landholder of Bishop's Stortford, proved 1620—1. He probably was a migrant from Essex, and the son of Thomas Emerson, of Great Dunmow, baptized 1561. A sister Joan is baptized 1562, and a brother John baptized 1565. Great Dunmow and Bishop's Stortford are within a few miles of each other (seven), and as the Stortford Register begins 1561 and no Emersons appear till Robert, m. in 1578, we must conclude he came from elsewhere. The same remark applies to Thomas, of Great Dunmow; the Register begins in 1537, and the first baptism is in 1561. His pedigree from the will is as follows:—
To p. 81.—Robert Emerson's description as "curryer" is open to speculation. This may mean a currier of leather or a "courrier" on the great post system, for the words were often spelt in the same way in old days. If Eliz. Brewster, his son Thomas' wife, was a daughter of William Brewster, the Postmaster at Scrooby and famous elder of the Pilgrim Fathers, I should incline to the latter reading, and then the use of the field, Muggle's Dale (vide Cap. VI.), could be understood for pasture for horses—for curing leather it was useless—and as Robert was not an agriculturalist his possession of it has to be explained.
Thus the entire source of reference for conjecturing Elizabeth as a daughter of William Brewster is the interpretation of the word "curryer" in connection to William having been a postmaster. Having reviewed many original wills from that period, the letter "y" was often used where modern spellings use the letter "i". There should be little doubt that "curryer" was currier.
A currier was a common enough occupation, with a common enough spelling. That it didn't say leather currier doesn't change the most probable interpretation of the word. Also a currier, he could have just as well been a horse groomer.
CURRIER: cures or tans hides by incorporating oil or grease. Also one who dresses the coat of a horse with a currycomb
To help interpret currier into courier, Peter Henry Emerson further speculated the 12 acres of land mentioned was a pasture for horses. That unfounded assumption though would also fit if currier meant a horse groom. What isn't covered by this conjecture is that on the thin chance he actually was a postal currier, he would have had to travel the route from Bishop's Stortford (whose mid-17th century population was estimated around 1200 people) to Scrooby (a community of a little over 300 people today, whose 19th century population peaked at 271) often enough to have been familiar enough with it's postmaster to wed a daughter he was never proven to have had in the first place.
Spelling could certainly vary, but it seems a bit of a stretch to make "curryer" into a courier, which in the day was also spelled cuhreur. Charles Henry Pope didn't entertain any other interpretation then a leather currier, using it to relate to the shoemaking occupation of Michael Emerson.
THE HAVERHILL EMERSONS: PART FIRST. By Charles Henry Pope
The claim made in "The Ipswich Emersons" that Robert of Haverhill was the eldest son of Thomas and a native of Bishop's Stortford, was therefore a baseless and thoroughly improbable guess, which ought never to have been printed. While it may be yet discovered that Michael and Robert were natives of that parish and nearly related to Thomas of Ipswich, it is not right to assert as a fact what was only an assumption in the beginning and would have been seen to be impossible had a brief amount of investigation been given to Robert's record here.
The Bishop's Stortford family is well worth studying, in connection with the Haverhill Emersons, because its first positively known representative, Robert Emberson or Emerson, was a "currier," a trade akin to that of Michael who was a shoemaker; the name Michael has not been found yet at Stortford by the searchers employed there; Michael and Robert might have been sons of Robert's son John. We present the following copies of what the two books give on this point, that our readers may see and judge for themselves.
1. "Robert Emerson" married at Bishop's Stortford Nov. 24, 1578, Susan Crabb. She was buried Nov. 20, 1626, aged 70. He was buried Jan. 6, 1620-1. His will, dated Nov. 7, 1620, proved Jan. 23, 1620-1, is headed, "I, Robert Emberson of Stortford in County Herts currier, being aged and sickly"; to wife Susan lands in S. called Muggells Dale, containing about 12 acres, near a field called Woodfeild, to hold for her life with remainder after her death to Thomas Emberson, my eldest son; I give her also the messuage wherein I now dwell for the term of fifty years; afterward the same to go to Margaret my daughter now the wife of Thomas Browne of Southwarke for 50 years; after her decease to James Browne her son for all the term of years then to come. The residue of my goods to the said Susan for her life, and after her death to my four children Thomas, John, Anne and Margaret. (Com. Ct. of London.)
Will of Robert Emberson of Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, currier
There were plenty of other Brewster families in England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, several much closer to Thomas Emerson's home. If William Brewster wasn't a Mayflower passenger, known to have been a postmaster in Scrooby, would there be any doubt that Robert Emerberson was either a leather currier or a horse groom.
To put so much faith into a less probable interpretation of one word to bridge geographic differences and population odds just to make a connection to a passenger on the Mayflower is a very tenuous based connection. It doesn't hold up as a singular source. There is no other basis for this connection, drawn in 1898, more that two and a half centuries after the Mayflower landing.