The Hon. George Clarke (1676–1760) of Swainswick,1 Somerset went to North America in 1793. He went initially as Secretary to the Province of New York and finished up as the Hon. George Clarke, Lieutenant Governor of New York Province from 1736–1743, returning to England in around 1747.2, 3
This remarkable man continues to be of interest to historians, not only as the founder of the Hyde Clarke dynasty in England and North America, but in his own right as an eminent colonial civil servant with political skills, who was responsible for the development of much of New York Province for over 40 years (with a remarkable record for self-enrichment). Biographer E. B. O’Callaghan2 summarises the Hon. George in the following, not altogether flattering, terms:
“sensible, artful, active and cautious; [he] had a perfect Command of his Temper, and was in his Address specious and civil. Nor was any Man better acquainted with the Colony and its Affairs. As a Crown Officer, he was careful not to lose the Favor of any Governor, and still more assiduous to please when he became second in the Council Board. By his Offices of Secretary, Clerk of the Council, Councillor, and Lieutenant Governor, he had many Advantages of inserting his own, or the Name of some other Person in Trust for him, in numerous Grants of Land; and his Estate, when he left New York, by the rise in the Value of his Property and the increased Population of the Colony, was estimated at One hundred thousand Pounds”.
What seems out of character for an embryo civil servant with a “command of his temper”, is the quarrel and alleged assault in 1792 by the young George Clarke on a Dublin merchant, Peter Sabatier.2
Much is known and has been written of the Hon. George Clarke’s life in North America, and his descendants have been well documented.2,3 However, little has been written about his origins in Swainswick, his ancestors and his activities in England (other than in the rebuilding of Hyde Hall, Cheshire). This article attempts to address this deficit. It provides some answers, but also raises many still unanswered questions.
Multiple George Clarkes
In the 17th century, the records cited by Peach3 show only three clearly identified and confirmed people named George Clarke connected with Swainswick. To reduce confusion, they are henceforth referred to as the Hon. George Clarke (1676–1760); his father, George Clarke the younger (1629–1694); and the Hon. George’s grandfather, George Clarke the elder (1602–1670). There are many instances when it is not possible to identify with confidence which George Clarke in Swainswick is referred to in a documentary source. An additional difficulty is that the Oriel College leases show that both the elder and the younger George Clarkes were merchants and presumably resident in London, making it likely that key records would be in London as well as in Somerset. Confounding the London picture is the fact that in the 17th century there are several merchants called George Clarke in London – apart from the clerk of delivery at the Tower, these included a knighted alderman, a grocer, a mercer, a draper and a vintner.
The Hon. George Clarke – his origins and early years
Some Ancestry family trees introduce as the father of the Hon. George, a fourth George Clarke (Swainswick, 1651–1730). However, I have found no documentary evidence for the existence of this George Clarke and no record of his baptism at Swainswick around 1651. The confusion may well stem from the early decease of Elizabeth Bennet, the first wife of George Clarke the younger, and the failure to recognize his subsequent second marriage (to Mary Povey) at the late age of 42. Thus when the Hon. George Clarke was born, his father was already middle-aged.
The Hon. George Clarke’s baptism record is quite specific – when baptised at Swainswick in 1679 (Fig. 1), his mother was recorded as “Mary” (not Christina Jane, as some family trees claim). For reasons unknown, the baptism was three years after the birth year implied by his monumental inscription in Chester, but baptism data is lacking on some of his siblings.
Fig. 1. Extract from the parish register of St Mary, Swainswick, for April 1679.
George had a sister Katherine (baptised 1674), a sister Elizabeth (no BMD information), and a sister Beatrix, whose place and date of baptism are unknown, but who died on 4 July 1690. The probated 1690 will of Beatrix Clarke4 named and left bequests to her parents, and to her siblings Elizabeth, George and Katherine. The latter received a generous £100, which poses the question how and from whom the presumed teenaged Beatrix had inherited the money? Also, sisters Elizabeth and Katherine Clarke were alive at the date of this 1690 will, but what happened later is not known.
It is very likely that some of the Hon. George Clarke’s childhood years were spent in Swainswick Manor House. Thus, Oriel College records show the Hon. George’s father (George Clarke the younger) as well as his grandfather, leased and occupied the Manor Farm in Swainswick (presumably with the Manor House, Fig. 2) at various times in the 17th century. The Oriel lease of 1678,3 specifically mentions the property being “in the tenure of George Clarke, gent.”, while the 1683 lease describes the premises as “late in the tenure of George Clarke, gent.”. If the Clarkes were actually occupying the Manor House, as well as being lessees of the farm, then the Hon. George will have spent some of his early childhood years around 1678 there.
The Hon. George Clarke was 18 years old when his father died, and one assumes he was affected by the early litigation over his father’s estate.5 It is a matter for speculation as to the extent to which this influenced him, initially to pursue a legal career, and subsequently to spend so much time involved in land disposition in New York province.
The Hon. George Clarke’s education
Details of the Hon. George Clarke’s education are unknown as yet. He might have gone to school in nearby Bath, or even in London. If the former, then a search of alumnus records for the independent King Edward’s School, Bath (founded 1552) might be useful. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography6 states that George Clarke read law in Dublin. Though very plausible, I have found no evidence for this as regards the Trinity College admission records between 1687–1702.7 Whatever, the Hon. George must have had a good enough education to function as a lawyer in Dublin in the early 1700s, and then to be suitable for preferment.
Hon. George Clarke and William Blathwayt
It is regularly stated 2, 3 that the Hon. George Clarke got his initial appointment in America (as Secretary of the Province of New York in 1703) through his uncle, the lawyer and distinguished civil servant, William Blathwayt (or Blathwaite, 1649–1717) of St Martin’s, London, who was MP for Bath (1693–1700) and Secretary of War (1685–1704). It is not known whether or how they were related or whether “uncle” was an honorific.
One American guide8 suggested the Hon. George Clarke’s mother was a sister of William Blathwayt of Dyrham. Indeed, several family trees on the Ancestry website claim George’s mother was a Christina Jane Blathwayt (born Woking, Surrey in 1660). However, this Blathwayt connection cannot be confirmed. First, William Blathwayt had only one adult sister, Anne Blathwayt (1691–1717), who married Edward Southwell (not a Clarke); second, William Blathwayt did not have a sister called Christina Jane; and third, there appears to be no record of any Blathwayt-Clarke marriage.
The Hon. George may have been connected with William Blathwayt through their respective mothers – George Clarke’s mother being Mary Povey and William Blathwayt’s mother being Anne Povey. Alternatively, there may have been a connection through Mary Povey, and William Blathwayt’s half-sister Mary (née Vivian, who married John Povey, 1649-1715). Anne Blathwayt née Povey had married a Thomas Vivian after she was widowed. However, lack of information on the parents of Mary Povey and her family makes conclusions about these relationships speculative.
Hon. George Clarke and Lambridge House, Swainswick
This Grade II-listed house lies in the lower part of Swainswick parish beside the main London Road and was built by 1742. Further research in Oriel College archives is required to determine whether the Hon. George Clarke was responsible for building the original Lambridge House (Fig. 3). It seems likely that he bequeathed Lambridge House to his descendants (along with the rest of his Swainswick estate), but his will2 offers no information on this matter. It is not known whether after his return to England in 1747 the Hon. George ever visited or stayed in Lambridge House in his absences from Hyde Hall, Cheshire.
George Clarke the younger (1629–1694)
The only likely father for the Hon. George Clarke is the George Clarke (the younger) who was baptised at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster on 25 July 1629 (Fig. 4), and who had as father George Clarke the elder and as mother Katharine (Fig. 4). This fits the facts.
Siblings of George Clarke the younger
George Clarke the younger had at least two identified siblings with the mother Katerine (née Prynne). These were William Clarke (baptised at Swainswick in July 1639), and John Clarke (baptised at Swainswick in February 1640). William Clarke is listed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.9 The fate of John Clarke is presently unknown.
The marriage record is quite explicit (Fig. 5),10 George Clarke of Swainswick married Mary Povey, spinster, aged “about 23, her parents dead”, at St Paul’s, Covent Garden (or St Clement Danes) on 3 July 1671. He was then a widower, aged about 37, which, apart from his declared age being understated, fits George Clarke the younger of Swainswick. He had married his first wife, Elizabeth Bennet of Somerton (born 1631), in June 1656 at Bath Abbey. She died on 7 June 1670 and was buried under the altar steps of St Mary’s Swainswick (marked by a tablet at the site). O’Callaghan2 also noted this Elizabeth was not the Hon. George Clarke’s mother, and suggested the possibility of a second marriage. (The lack of information on Mary Povey’s parents makes further enquiries impossible.)
George Clarke the younger – occupations
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography6 currently describes the Hon. George’s father, George Clarke, as a “government official”. As an occupation this is somewhat misleading. The memorial tablet in Swainswick for Elizabeth Bennet, first wife of George Clarke the younger, records that her husband was a justice of the peace. Also, George Clarke, Esq., JP for Somerset (George Clarke the younger) was a witness in the King’s Bench prosecution in 1682 of Edward Whitaker for speaking seditious and scandalous words.2 The position of county magistrate, though busy, was necessarily a gentleman’s part-time hobby. It had no official pay, allowed only meagre fees and seems very unlikely to have supported a family. In contrast, the Oriel lease for 1651 is unambiguous as to the likely primary source of the family’s income. Despite leasing property in Swainswick, George Clarke the younger, was described as “of London” and a “merchant”. There is at present no information on the nature and precise location of his merchant’s business in London. (Between 1671-1679, George Clarke the younger was a churchwarden at St Mary’s Church, Swainswick, which presumably necessitated regular domicile in Swainswick, and would also have taken up much of his free time.)
The Oriel College leases 3 for “Clarkes” (as Swainswick Manor Farm and the Manor House were described) show that in April 1651 they were in the occupation of George Clarke the younger “of London, merchant, son and heir apparent of George Clarke, Esq., of Westminster”. At that date George Clarke the younger was only 22 years old, and he had not yet married his first wife. There is another Oriel lease for George Clarke the younger, gent. at Swainswick Manor Farm in September 1659.
The Church Accounts for May 1654 show Mr George Clarke (by inference the younger) held 225 acres, about half of the total assessed, while the next largest holdings were for Henry Clarke (including Derhams) and totalled 75 acres. The Hearth Tax returns for 1664/6511 show a George Clarke, gen[t], to be by far the largest tax payer in “Swaineswick” [sic], with 10 hearths and paying 20 s. This has to be a large house, very likely the Manor House, and presumably refers to George Clarke the younger (rather than his father who will have been in post at the Tower of London at that date). The number of hearths shows George Clarke to be gentry. This view of his high social status is also supported by the Poor Rate accounts for Swainswick for 1665, when he was assessed at £2 3s. – much the largest of the 17 ratepayers listed, the next highest poor rate being 9s. for Mr. Tanner, the Minister.11
There is also an Oriel lease in 1667, possibly for George Clarke the younger. However, as he is described as “of the Tower of London, Esq.”, 3 this could be referring to George Clarke the elder (who was then clerk of the dispatch of ordnance at the Tower of London). At the Hon. George Clarke’s baptism in 1679, his father, George Clarke the younger, was described as a gentleman.
George Clarke the younger died in 1694 and was buried at Swainswick on 8 May. Despite diligent searches, no will has yet been found (if it existed, it might have been one of the many Taunton probates destroyed in the Second World War). Following George’s death, his tenements and personal estate held of the manor of Swainswick were the subject of litigation.12
It seems likely that the “Madam Clarke”, a widow paying rates in Swainswick in 1712,3 was Mary née Povey, widow of George Clarke the younger. Where she lived in Swainswick is not known, but it is conceivable that she occupied Lambridge House (if it was built by that date). She died in 1715.
George Clarke the elder (1602-1670)
It seems likely that George Clarke the elder was the same George who was baptised at All-Hallows-the-Less, in the City of London, on 29 August 1602. His father was William Clarke (see Fig. 6). This baptism place is consistent both with the home parish of All Hallows in his probated will and his place of work at the Tower of London.
Early Life of George Clarke the elder
No siblings for George Clarke the elder have yet been identified and nothing is known about his education. Plausibly, he might have attended Bath Grammar School (aka King Edward’s School, Bath), where his near contemporary William Prynne had been a pupil.
George Clarke married Katerine [sic] or Katherine Prin [sic] or Prynne at St Mary, Swainswick, on 27 August 1627.3 She was the daughter of Thomas Prynne of Swainswick, who had occupied Swainswick Manor Farm between 1616 and his death in 1620.
Her brother was William Prynne (1600–1669), the strict Puritan, lawyer, legendary pamphleteer and polemicist. He occupied the Manor house after 1631 and before 1638.
According to the Oriel College lease of January 1638, George Clarke [the elder] of London, Esq., co-leased Manor Farm, Swainswick, and then seems to have occupied the Manor House with his wife Katerine. Also, in 1641 the protestation and lay subsidy rolls11 show for “Swainsesweeke” [sic], that George Clearke [sic], gent. was assessed a significant £2 for goods, though not occupying the farm. By 1651, another Oriel College lease described George Clarke as “of the City of Westminster”, when his son George Clarke the younger was in occupation at the Manor Farm.3 Presumably, both George the elder and George the younger had homes and/or business premises in both the City of London and in the City of Westminster.
Collinson’s The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset11 noted that two of the five bells hanging in St Mary’s Church, Swainswick bear inscriptions for 1661 naming George Clarke (with others) as churchwardens. At this date, it was probably George the elder, rather than his then 32-year-old son.
Occupations of George Clarke the elder
George Clarke of Swainswick’s name appears in a Yorkshire deed for the marriage settlement of Valentine Clarke, Esq., in 1641.13
Between 1640 and 1643, George Clarke the elder appears to have been a Government employee as joint clerk of delivery of ordnance at the Tower of London [for explanation v.i]. The Civil War (1642–1651) and presumably his personal loyalties, caused him to lose this job in 1643. How he earned a living between 1643 and 1660 is not known. He may have been involved in merchant activities in Cromwell’s London, or had income from farming and/or rents on the Swainswick estate he leased, or perhaps he relied on inherited wealth. However, on 18 May 1660, George Clarke, clerk of the deliveries in the office of His Majesty’s ordnance, petitioned 15 in the following terms: “Petitioner has His Majesty’s letters patent for the place, but has been for many years dispossessed; prays to be restored thereto.” This petition was successful, and George Clarke resumed his old job the same year, but now as sole clerk at the Tower until his death in 1670. During this time a George Clarke of Swainswick (presumably George the elder) leased the rectorial estate in Somerton, Somerset 16 from 1665 until 1670. Both at the time and after George’s death into 1670, this Somerton estate created legal disputes over the parsonage.16
George Clarke, Esq., of Ye Tower was buried on 22 March 1670 at All Hallows, Barking (see Fig. 7 below).
His will (of 2 March) was probated on 30 March 1670,14 (and see Fig. 8). It is listed as “George Clarke, Clerk of the Delivery of His Majesty’s Ordnance and Artillery in the Tower of London”, with his executor a Richard Clarke (whose relationship to George Clarke is presently unknown). The will named the testator’s wife as Catherine and his son as George, which is compatible with him being George Clarke the elder, of Swainswick. This will also noted (at lines 2 and 3), his stock of musketry, ordnance and artillery in the Tower of London. This suggests at least part of his merchant’s business was as an armaments dealer.
At the same date, an exceptionally high payment of £600 was made to the widow of George Clarke by the Government of Charles II (see Fig. 9). This recognized his service “during the late rebellion and usurpation”– i.e. during the Civil War and succeeding years of the Commonwealth.17 The nature of this service is not known. Whatever, this cash award will have been a useful addition to the £200 cash which George’s widow, Katherine Clarke (née Prynne), received through the will of her brother, William Prynne, who died in 1669.
Summary and Conclusions
Some matters have been clarified or amplified, particularly information on the father and paternal grandfather of the Hon. George Clarke, but many questions have still to be answered.
Antecedents of the Hon. George Clarke and the early Clarke family in Swainswick
In the 17th century the Hon. George has only two clearly documented ancestors with a documented connection to Swainswick. First, his father (George Clarke the younger), who was baptised at St Martin-in-the-Fields, married his second wife, Mary Povey, either at St Paul’s, Covent Garden or St Clement Danes on 3 July 1671, but was buried in Swainswick, and is clearly linked by Oriel College leases with Swainswick Manor Farm. Second, his grandfather (George Clarke the elder), who was baptised and buried at All Hallows, Barking, London, married at Swainswick, but is also clearly linked by Oriel College leases with Swainswick Manor Farm. It is inferred that in his younger days the Hon. George Clarke lived with his parents at Swainswick Manor House.
George Clarke the elder held an official post as clerk of delivery of ordnance at the Tower of London in two periods covering 13 years. He was also a merchant, perhaps in the field of armaments. George Clarke the younger, was also a merchant in London, but nothing is known of his trade. As a county JP and churchwarden he had plenty to do in Somerset. Sight of his will is still needed.
There are no records to show that a sister of William Blathwayt married into the Clarke family. Further research on the alleged “uncle” connection between the Hon. George Clarke and William Blathwayt is needed.
The links, if any, between these three George Clarkes and the other Clarkes in Swainswick still need to be determined. In a parish with a population of around 200, one or more of these might be related to this George Clarke line. These other Clarkes include: Samuel Clarke (buried 1638); Henry Clarke, gent. (church accounts 1654, 1662, 1679, 1680; Oriel lease, 1671); Richard Clarke, gent. (church rates, 1684; Oriel College leases, 1686, 1691 and 1697).
References & Notes
1. Swainswick is an elongated parish and small village some 3 miles north-east of Bath. It straddles a steep hill on a broadly north-south axis, the former Gloucester Road or A46. At the west, a stream (the Lam Brook) separates Swainswick from Walcot parish. Swainswick subdivides into two nominal areas – Upper and Lower Swainswick. The latter abuts the A4 road (Fosse Way, Roman Road).
In 1801, the parish had a population of 182 souls, and 845 acres of land. In the 17th century, the main built structures were the 13th-century St Mary’s church (now listed Grade II*) and handful of 17th-century houses including the Manor House, which was also known as Clarke’s. Swainswick is famous as the birthplace of William Prynne in 1600 and the Hon. George Clarke, and for the burials of both John Woods (the elder and the younger). Since 1529, the manor of Swainswick has been owned by the Fellows and Master of Oriel College, Oxford. There is a sugar plantation in Jamaica of the same name. (Swainswick is also spelled Swanswick, Swainswicke, Sweyneswik and Sweyneswick.)
2. O’Callaghan, E. B. 1867. Voyage of George Clarke, Esq., to America. Albany, N.Y: J. Munsell, 82 State Street.
3. Peach, R. E. M. 1890. The Annals of the Parish of Swainswick (near the City of Bath) With Abstracts of the Register, the Church Accounts and the Overseer’s Books.
This book is a must for Swainswick historians. The contents include some 17th-century Oriel College lease records, details of individual houses, and accounts of families including the Clarkes and the Prynnes, transcriptions of the wills of Thomas and William Prynne, and a biography of William Prynne of London and Swainswick (1600-1669).
In the reign of Charles I, and at the instigation of Archbishop Laud, William Prynne was imprisoned in the Tower of London, had both ears cut off and was branded. Rehabilitated by Cromwell, he later fell out with the Commonwealth, and supported the restoration of Charles II. He became MP for Bath in 1660. William Prynne died unmarried in 1669 and his will made bequests to his brother-in-law, George Clarke, Esq., late of All Hallows, i.e. George Clarke, the elder; to George’s wife Katherine Prynne; and to their son George Clarke (b. 1629), i.e George Clarke, the younger.
4. Probated will of Beatrix Clarke, spinster of Swainswick, 2 August 1690, PROB 11/400/318.
5. Clarke v. Heywood (1694). National Archives, C 6/300/59.
6. Entry for George Clarke (1676-1760). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-68515 OR https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/68515.
7. Trinity College, Dublin. Admission records 1637-1725 MUN23/1.
8. Wold, Barry L. 1977. The George Hyde Clarke Family Papers – A guide to the Collection at Cornell University. https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/EAD/pdf_guides/RMM02800_pub.pdf.
9. Entry for William Clarke (1639-1684). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dictionary_of_National_Biography,_1885-1900/Clarke,_William_(1640%3F-1684).
William Clarke was a Commoner at Oriel College, Oxford 1657, BA 14 Nov 1661 and later a Fellow (1663-1666) and not at Merton College as stated in the DNB. He is said to have studied physic, and to have practised medicine at Bath and later at Stepney, Middlesex, where he died on 24 April 1684. He was buried at St Dunstan & All Saints Church, Stepney, where the burial record gives his address as Waping [Wapping] and his occupation as apothecary.
10. George Clarke/Mary Povey marriage (1671). In Foster, Joseph (ed.) 1887. London Marriage Licenses 1521-1869, from excerpts by the late Colonel Chester, D.C.L., LL D. London: Bernard Quaritch, 15 Piccadilly. Column 284.
11. Hearth Tax Returns 1664/1656, Protestation returns and lay subsidy rolls 1641. Cited in Somerset Heritage Centre A/DIF/121/471[online]. (Under this Hearth Tax, each liable householder was to pay one shilling, twice a year, for each fire, hearth and stove in each dwelling or house.); Collinson, John. 1791. The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset; etc. Bath: Richard Crutwell. Also cited in Somerset Heritage Centre A/DIF/121/471 “Swainswick Miscellaneous Documents”.
12. Clarke v. Heywood (1694). Plaintiffs: John Clarke. Defendants: Francis Heywood, John Reed, Richard Clarke and Thomas Harrall. Subject: tenements, and personal estate of the deceased George Clarke, held of the manor of Swainswick, Somerset. National Archives C 5/399/3 – Yorkshire Deed.
13. Marriage settlement for Valentine Clarke, Esq., of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Middx., and Lucie Goddard of Ogbourne,Wilts (1641). South West Heritage Centre DD\BR\su/25.
14. Will of George Clarke, Clerk of the Delivery of His Majesty’s Ordnance and Artillery in The Tower of London, 30 March 1670. National Archives, PROB 11/332/452.
15. Petition of George Clarke, clerk of the deliveries in the office of His Majesty’s ordnance. 18 May 1660. Parliamentary Archive, HL/PO/JO/10/1/284 – Lords Journals, XI. 32.
16. George Clarke’s lease of rectorial estate, at Somerton in 1665. British History Online. http//www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol3/pp129-153 (accessed 5 Dec 2020). See also Lease: Wadham Wyndham, knt., justice of the King’s Bench, to George Clarke of Swanswicke, gent; parsonage, etc.; Somerton (1667) Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 2667/1/37/38.
For litigation re: parsonage of Somerton see Wyndham v. Clarke (1670). National Archives C 7/479/62; Clarke v. Preene (1673) National Archives C 6/58/19; also, Clarke v. Newton (1680). National Archives, C 6/86/17.
17. Tomlinson, H. C. 1975. “Place and Profit: an Examination of the Ordnance Office, 1660–1714, The Alexander Prize Essay”. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 25, December 1975, footnote p64. https://doi.org/10.2307/3679086.
The patience and continuing expert help of the staff in the Bath Record Office is gratefully acknowledged. My sincere thanks also to my family for their patient acceptance of my preoccupation with local history and to Susannah Straughan for commenting on and editing the manuscript.