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Andrew Harris was likely born in Staplehurst


The parish church in Staplehurst

There is a link between many prominent passengers on the 1635 voyage of the Hercules, the dissident preacher John Lothrop and the some of the children of Andrew Harris of Northbourne. Parnell Harris and James Sayers, her step brother, would have known the leaders of this voyage prior to arranging their passage. These early pilgrims must have had long term connections before they boarded ships for such a risky and life-changing migration to early New England. Some individuals were from the local Sandwich area but mostly from the greater Tenterden area of Kent. Many were related or were associated by their common dissident beliefs. Many from the Hercules later joined at the new settlement in Scituate, MA. These associated early settlers of Scituate became known as “The Men of Kent”. John Lothrop who sailed from London in 1634 with many of his followers came to Scituate and was installed as the preacher. One of Lothrop's journals records Jane Harrice (likely the older sister of Thomas, William and Parnell) joined at Scituate, but no further records are found for her. Thomas and William Harris likely sailed from London (perhaps with Lothrop but did not join him in Scituate) but gathered with Roger Williams and settled Providence Plantation.

The strong religious or family ties that prompted Parnell and all of her siblings to leave their homeland for New England. Parnell Harris was related to or friends with someone on the ship Hercules voyage. Such voyoges were planned well in advance. Investigating this could possibly revel the origins of her father Andrew. First on the list of passengers reveals Nathaniel Tilden, Yeoman from Tenterden, who was the most prominent of the group and part owner of the ship. He had previously traveled to the Scituate area to make arrangements for permanent residency for his family and associates. Listed second on the ship's record was Jonas Austin also of Tenterden.

Jonas Austen (Austin), son of Jarvis and Mary (Bassock) Austin, was baptized at Staplehurst (about 8 miles North West of Tenterden) in 1598 and married Constance Robinson at Tenterden in 1627. Nathaniel Tilden was a close friend of Tilden, both families were well established in that region of Kent. He was a witness to a will in 1625 for William Robinson (Constance Robinson's first husband) and was witness to Willyam Austen will proved 20 June 1617.

In the Austin family genealogy, an important clue is found: Jonas Austen's aunt Joan/Joane/Johan Austin married Henry Harris in Staplehurst.

“Henry Harris and Johan (Joane) Austin * “yonge ffolke” married 25 October 1579". 1

*"Young folk" most likely means young, therefore lacking money, household goods and probably a house. Elizabethans at age 12 had to be under a householder's guidance by law, therefore a 12-year-old living with his/her parents in the parental home would be called a servant. He/she would probably be apprenticed to someone else to learn a trade/housekeeping etc. Servants were not encouraged to marry. In the country many men waited to marry until their father died, and the family farm came to them. In Kent they had partible inheritance, called "gavelkind", so that the children of a family would automatically share all, unless father had made a will, in which case his written wishes prevailed, and he might very well keep the farm intact for one son. Usual age of marriage in the Tudor period was about 28 for men, 25 for women. However Staplehurst and surrounding weaving towns were boom-towns where it was stated that a child of 5 could earn his/her own living by carding or spinning wool etc., and earlier marriage was possible, especially if there was a child on the way.

No records are found for Henry Harris birth. He was likely born about 1556 (in Staplehurst?).

Four children were born to Henry and Johan Harris (before her death):

John        14 Jul 1580     John s. Henry Harrys 2

Sara        26 Apr 1584    Sarah d. Henry Harris 3

An----     6 Jun 1585      *An [blank] the [blank] of Henry Harris (Andrew) 4

Dorytye   27 Apr 1589     Dorytye d. Henry Harris buried 5

*Concerning this third child “An----”, on the original register of Christenings at Maidstone, clearly written, it states:  6 Jun 1585    An [then one and a half inch blank space] the [then one inch blank space] of Henry Harris.

Why was the information for this child incomplete? According to the researcher, the original parish registers were often not written up on the day the event was made.  Notes were kept and copied into the book later by the clerk (and then the notes almost always thrown away, although enough examples survive that we know this is what they often did). Perhaps the clerk could not read the note.  Being unsure whether this was a daughter or son, he left it blank. The name Ann was often written An.  But the blank must have meant there was more he was unsure of; perhaps Anthony? or Andrew?

So it is the original register itself which has the blank in it, though this has been translated into various versions in the modern transcripts, and also in the Bishops Transcripts.  The real problem is that this is the original document and it is missing the vital information.  That fact cannot be changed.  The researcher did note that Andrew, Henry, Johan are all names that appear in other nearby parishes like Hawkhust and Upchurch.

There is no entry of an Ann being married or buried in the Staplehurst parish at least to year 1642. What other name could have been represented by the An_____? besides Anthony, Andrew, Anne, what about Ann Marie? It almost seems more of a mystery that the son or daughter entry is missing knowing it would be fairly easy for the transcriber to read that entry since the frequency of repetition was many hundred fold. This seems to indicate the blanks were on the original and now lost page and transcriber was merely copying them verbatim.

Johan Harris was buried 28 Oct 1586 with this note: “a pore woman wyf of Henry Harris”. Likely not poor financially, but poor health after the birth of Andrew? Perhaps her passing was so sad it prompted the notation of the scribe.  She was not preceded in death by Henry.

The parish record does not show burials at Staplehurst of Henry. But it does show this burial which could conceivably be Henry's mother (or grandmother): 11 Jul 1556    Pernell w. Thomas Harrys (Henry was born about 1556, so Thomas and Pernell could have been his parents)

This rare name was given to Andrew Harris' second daughter Parnell, born 03 AUG 1606 Northbourne, Kent, England, perhaps after her grandmother.

One important connection between Staplehurst/Tenterden and Sandwich is found with the William Hatch family. William was originally from Tenterden area and was related by marriage to Nathaniel Tilden. Nathaniel’s wife Lydia Huckstep was a cousin of William Hatch. In preparation for his journey to the colonies, William Hatch moved his family to Sandwich sometime before 1634. There are various references with others from the Tenterden area that had dealings in the Sandwich area. William Hatch was a part owner of the ship Hercules.

Another heads of families from Sandwich of interest is Thomas Besbeech (Bisbee) whose mother was an Austin. He was on a later voyage from Sandwich to New England and joined family and friends at Scituate, MA.

When Andrew moved from Staplehurst to Northbourne prior to his marriage, we know not why or when, only that there were families and friends connected to both locations.

Andrew Harris married Jane Bagley on 2 Feb 1604 as recorded in the Northbourne Parish records. He would have been 18 at the time. Andrew became a wheelwright in Northbourne and would have been apprenticed as a youth. This may have been the reason he moved to Northbourne (around age 14).

Andrew named his second daughter Parnell possibly after his mother (or grandmother) Pernell. Andrew also named his second son after Thomas Harris his father (or possible grandfather). If he named his first children after his parents his mother would have been Jane and his father William. But neither of these people are found as possible matches in the record with marriage or burial records of Staplehurst.

1 From entries in the Parish Registers and Transcripts of Staplehurst, co. Kent, 1538-1630”. The original Staplehurst registers are held at Canterbury including the Bishops' Transcripts.  At Maidstone they have microfilm of the parish registers and also a different transcript from Canterbury.

October 25  married Henry Harris & Joan Austen



July 14 (1580) baptized John the son of Henry Harris



26 (April 1584)    Sarah daughter of Henry Harris



June 6 (1585)      An          the        of Henry Harris



Apr 27 (1589)     Dorytye d. Henry Harris (buried)


More on Staplehurst Area

Main street in Staplehurst, now a busy road in Kent

Thirty miles south of London and half way to the South coast of England lies an area of outstanding natural beauty combined with a fascinating history called the Weald.  This was, to the Saxons of 900AD, part of Andredesweald (the forest of Andred the Roman fort at Pevensey), that stretched from the marshes of Kent to the New Forest in Hampshire - 120 miles long and 30 miles wide. The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex encompasses the Lancaster Great Park formed in 1372 and renamed as the Ashdown Forest in 1672.

A weald once meant a dense forest especially the famous great wood once stretching far beyond the ancient counties of Sussex and Kent, England, where this country of smaller woods is still called "the Weald". Now that most English forests have been cut down, the word may refer to open countryside or to the special clays found in the Weald.

The area was the centre of the Wealden iron industry from Roman times until the last forge was closed in 1820. The use of its timber for the furnaces, but also for the medieval cloth industry and by the shipbuilders on the Thames and Medway, might well have denuded its landscape, but now that all three industries use other raw materials, the Weald remains one of the most heavily wooded areas of England. It is also one of the most important regions whence many English yeomen came to settle the new lands in New England.

In the early 1300's Edward I put a tax on the export of wool, which was one of England's largest exports of the time. In 1331 Edward III decided that as most of the exports were going to the continent to be turned into cloth, it would be good to import some weavers from Flanders. The weavers mostly from Ghent were keen to come to England as their raw materials would be cheaper.

Cloth making had been practiced in the area since Roman times, but the material produced was of poor quality, not very well woven, and required shrinking.

The Flemish weavers settled in Tenterden, Biddenden, Cranbrook and Staplehurst, and brought with them the techniques of fine weaving, and of fulling to finish the cloth.

The weaving process started by the weavers producing the cloth, then the cloth was scoured in a trough of water with a wooden scraper. The cleaned cloth was then stretched on wooden racks to dry, these racks were known as tenters, the iron hooks which held the cloth were known as the tenter-hooks (hanging on tenter-hooks is an expression meaning in a state of suspense). After drying the cloth was rubbed over with fullers earth, a great deal of which is found in the area, then folded and hammered by a water powered heavy wooden hammer, which gave the cloth a smooth, non greasy surface. After this the cloth was stretched again.

This high quality cloth was in great demand and brought wealth to those villages associated with the industry. Just take a look at the village of Biddenden and its row of weavers houses, to see some of the wealth created.

During the next 200+ years the cloth was created, and the majority exported into Europe, however this was due to stop in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

In 1566 an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibited the export of unfinished cloths, this was intended to create work and wealth in the clothing manufacturing industry. Most of the Wealden Broadcloth industry was centered around exporting, with only a few local markets. This banning of the export trade basically killed off the industry that brought great riches to the area. Although the industry continued and took about 100 years to finally die, its time was over, and this Act signaled the end of an era.

Nestled in the Weald of Kent (the south east County of England, commonly called 'The Garden of England'), Staplehurst lies within easy reach of London to the north west and Dover to the East.

Staplehurst lies on a Roman road. Villages were late in coming to the Weald, where isolated dens, or pig pastures, expanded into small farms and then into hamlets. It was the presence of the church, probably built about 1150, which attracted people to one particular hamlet called Staplehurst, which means Post Wood.

By 1232 Staplehurst was paying taxes. Its inhabitants were farmers and foresters until King Edward I invited the Flemings to settle in Cranbrook in 1237 to teach the English how to process wool. From Cranbrook the cloth industry spread until it influenced most Wealden villages, including Staplehurst. The wealth thus generated was built into the solid timber houses of the Staplehurst clothiers and yeomen. In 1565, when a census of communicants was taken, the population was about 750. The woolen industry collapsed in the Weald about 1650, and though linen weaving and thread making took its place, such general prosperity never occurred again.