The Ancestors of William Dennis and Mary Routliffe (Rawcliff)

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Submitted John MacDonald -

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The Ancestors of William Dennis and Mary Routliffe (Rawcliff)

William Dennis and Mary Routliffe established the Dennis family in Prince County, Prince Edward Island. They were my great-great-great grandparents.

Since an excellent genealogy of the descendants of this couple has already been prepared by my distant relative, Arnet Dennis, the focus of my submission is on the ancestors of this couple, who came from North Devon, England.

I would also like to acknowledge Janice Butcher, who kindly provided me with the names of additional 6 children born to Benjamin and Honor Dennis, as recorded in the parish records of Goodleigh, Devon.

John MacDonald Mississauga, Ontario September, 2008 Updated version submitted April 2010


Generation 1: William Dennis (1722 – 17- -) and Susannah Lavercomb

1. William Dennis was born circa 1722 in northwest Devon, England, probably in the small rural parish of Goodleigh. Goodleigh is about 3 miles east of Barnstaple, which is the main town in that area.

William married Susannah Lavercomb (b. 17 July 1726; d. 3 Oct. 1784) on December 15, 1748. The Lavercombs were from the parish of Bratton Fleming, which was only 3.5 miles distant.

Susannah Lavercomb was the daughter of John Lavercomb (b. 17 Sept. 1700) and Joan (last name not known) of Bratton Fleming.

Susannah’s grandfather is believed to be Henry Lavercomb (b. circa 1658; died 1714), who married Jacquet ____ around 1675 and lived in Bratton Fleming.

William Dennis and Susannah Lavercomb resided in Bratton Fleming after they married. They had the following children:

2. William Dennis. Christened 1 Oct. 1750 at Bratton Fleming.

Married Alice Cole.

3. John Dennis. Christened 30 Dec. 1751 at Bratton Fleming.

4. Richard Dennis. Christened 15 July 1753 at Bratton Fleming.

Married Ann Gammon.

5. Thomas Dennis. Christened 3 Feb. 1755 at Bratton Fleming; died 1757.

6. Thomas Dennis. Christened 2 Feb. 1758 at Bratton Fleming.

Married Elizabeth (surname unknown) in 1780

It is not known when William died. Susannah died on October 3, 1784.

Generation 2: William Dennis (1750 – 18 - -) and Alice Cole

2. William Dennis was born in 1750 in Bratton Fleming, Devon.

William married Alice Cole in Bratton Fleming on 31 January, 1786. The parents of Alice Cole are not known for certain. Her mother may have been Elizabeth "Coull" of nearby Hartland, Devon. Hartland church records show that a girl named "Ann Cole" was christened to "Elizabeth Coull" on 10 June 1765. No father’s name is shown. This is the only Alice Cole that I have found in records for that area at that time.

In 1790, a man named "William Dennis, yeoman (farmer) of Bratton Fleming," took up occupancy of a farm named "Knacker’s Hole," which was right next to Goodleigh in the neighbouring parish of Stoke Rivers. It is probable that this William Dennis was our William.

William Dennis and Alice Cole had the following children:

7. Benjamin Dennis (christened 10 Sept. 1786; died 16 Apr. 1787)

8. Joseph Dennis (christened 10 Sept. 1786. Married Sabina Rendell)

9. Benjamin Dennis (christened 6 Apr. 1788. Married Honor Venner)

10. Susannah Dennis (christened 16 Aug. 1789)

11. Mary Dennis (christened 5 Aug. 1792)

The dates of William and Alice’ deaths are not known.

Generation 3: Benjamin Dennis (1788 – 1850) and Honor Venner

9. Benjamin Dennis was born in 1788 in Stoke Rivers. He was christened at the Stoke Rivers Parish Church on 6 April, 1788. He was the second son to bear that name; an older brother, also named Benjamin, died a year before he was born. It was common practice then for parents to "reuse" the name of a deceased child.

Benjamin became a blacksmith.

Benjamin Dennis married Honor Venner (b. 16 Oct. 1791) in Goodleigh on December 22, 1811.

Honor Venner was the daughter of Robert Venner and Emma (also called Emme) Yeo. Robert Venner and Emma Yeo married in Goodleigh on May 22, 1789.

Emma Yeo (chr. 19 Sept., 1757) was from Stoke Rivers. She was the eldest daughter of John Yeo (born circa 1735, died 27 Oct., 1792) and Margaret Thorne.

By the time Honor Venner was born in 1791, the Venners were living in Landkey, a parish just south of Goodleigh.

Benjamin Dennis and Honor Venner had ten children:

12. William Dennis, b. 1812. Married Mary Rawcliffe (see next generation)

13. Thomas Dennis, chr. Nov. 28, 1813. Married Maryann Hornbrook in 1861.

In 1881, resided at 27 South Devon Cottages at Wolborough, Devon, and worked as a blacksmith for the Great Western Railway Works.

Children: i. James (b. 1863)

ii. Elizabeth (b. 1864)

iii. George (b. 1866)

iv. Ellen (b. 1868)

v. Fred (b. 1873)

vi. Charles (b. 1876)

vii. Jessie (b. 1878).

14. Benjamin Dennis, chr. Sept. 4, 1815; died 1864 in Swansea. Married Eliza Hill in Chittlehampton in 1844. In 1851, resided in Oystermouth, Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales.

Children: i. William James b. 1845. Married Lavinia Dulton in 1869. Resided at 77 Simmons Street, Swansea, in 1880, Occupation: shipwright.

15. John Dennis, chr. June 29, 1817; died 1888. Agricultural Labourer. Married Ann _____ (b. 1819). Resided on Snapper Road, Goodleigh.

Children: i. Ann Thereza (b. 1837. In 1891, Thereza was employed as a housemaid in Pilton House, the residence of Major General (retired) R. A. Chichester),

ii. James H. (b. 1840).

16. James Dennis, chr. June 20, 1819. Buried June 18, 1840.

17. Henry Dennis, chr. June 16, 1822.

18. Anne Venner Dennis, chr. Mar. 14, 1824.

19. Mary Dennis, chr. Feb. 19, 1826.

20. Charles Dennis, chr. April 20, 1828. Agricultural Labourer. Married Betsy Bennet.

Resided at Hiscott Village, Tawstock, Devon.

Children: i. William (b. c. 1871),

ii. John (b. c. 1874),

iii. Elizabeth (b. c. 1877).

21. Joseph Dennis, chr. June 12, 1831. General Labourer. Married Jane ____ (b. 1840). In 1881, resided at Sanders Court, Barnstaple.

At the time of the 1841 census, Benjamin and Honor Dennis lived in Goodleigh. Their neighbours were Joseph and Thomazin Dennis. Joseph was likely Benjamin’s elder brother.

Benjamin Dennis died at the age of 62 in Goodleigh between September and November, 1850. Benjamin’s wife, Honor, enjoyed a much longer life. The 1861 census showed her as living in Goodleigh Parish at Norleigh, in the home of her son, John Dennis. John was a labourer. The 1871 census, taken in April of that year, shows she was still living with John and his family. Their address is now Snapper Road, Goodleigh. Honor (Venner) Dennis passed away later in 1871, at the age of 81, in Goodleigh.

Generation 4: William Dennis (1812 –1897) and Mary Rawcliffe

This William Dennis is the man who brought the Dennis family to P.E.I. He was born on October 31, 1812 in Goodleigh to Benjamin Dennis, a blacksmith, and Honor Venner. The inscription on William’s P.E.I. tombstone says he was a native of Barnstaple, not Goodleigh. However, this is not really incorrect. The tiny Parish of Goodleigh lies within the Diocese of Barnstaple.

William Dennis became a blacksmith, like his father before him, and was living in Stoke Rivers when he met and married Mary Rawcliffe.

Mary Rawcliffe was a local girl from Goodleigh who was four years younger than William. They wed in the Goodleigh Parish Church on November 12, 1837.

Mary’s family name has long been thought to be either "Routliffe" (as per her P.E.I. tombstone) or "Routcliffe"(as per her P.E.I. obituary). However, Mary’s English marriage record spells the name as "Rawcliffe," and so I prefer that spelling.

William Dennis would have likely lived out his life in Devon, but times were hard there in the 1830’s. The economy was in a depression, and many families were leaving for Canada and the USA. In 1839, the young blacksmith and his wife had one daughter, Annie, born on August 25, 1838, and Mary was pregnant again (a second daughter, Mary, would be born on March 3, 1840). William’s family was growing quickly, and providing for them would have been foremost on his mind. If Devon could no longer offer a future, he would have to find it elsewhere. The question was, where would this be?

At that time, Prince Edward Island was a popular North American destination for North Devon families. There was a vigorous trade between the two places, and William would have assuredly heard stories of good paying work in P. E. I.’s booming shipyards. Shipbuilders need blacksmiths, and for William, the lure was too strong to be ignored. In 1839, at the age of twenty-seven, William Dennis decided to try his luck in the tiny colony across the sea.

He bid farewell to his pregnant wife and baby daughter and sailed to P. E. I., landing in Port Hill in the fall of 1839. Like many others of that time, his plan was to send for his family after he got established. On the Island, William found work as a blacksmith in the Port Hill shipyard of James Yeo. Thing went well, and as planned, Mary and their two girls joined William in 1841. At first, they settled in Port Hill in Lot 13. Later, they moved to Arlington in Lot 14.

These extracts from the registers of Saint James Anglican Church record the growth of their rapidly expanding family:

Baptized Child’s Name Parents Surname Abode Occupation Date of Birth

May 1, 1842 Thomas William & Mary Dennis Port Hill Blacksmith Mar 25, 1842

Sep 17, 1848 William James William & Mary Dennis Lot 14 Farmers Aug. 17, 1848

Apr. 27, 1851 Isebella (sic) William & Mary Dennis Lot 14 Blacksmith

June 5, 1853 Benjamin William & Mary Dennis Dennis Farm - May 14, 1853

July 4, 1854 Henry William & Mary Dennis Lot 14 Blacksmith May 13, 1854

Nov. 2, 1855 Elizabeth William & Mary Dennis Lot 14 Blacksmith Apr. 9, 1855

William Dennis died at the age of eighty-five on December 12, 1897, in Arlington.

He was probably living with his son Henry at the time. Mary, his wife, had died earlier that year, on May 15. Their newspaper obituaries read as follows:

Dennis (Routcliffe) - At Lot 14, on the 15th, Mary Routcliffe, age 82, wife of William Dennis. Native of the city of Barnstaple, Devon, England. Emigrated in 1851* with her husband. Leaves 5 sons and 5 daughters.

Summerside Journal, 2 June, 1897.

* 1851 is incorrect - she emigrated in 1840 or 1841.

Dennis - At Lot 14, on the 12th ult., William Dennis, age 86. Native of Barnstaple, England. Emigrated in 1840. 5 sons, 5 daughters.

Summerside Journal, 5 January, 1898

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