The Island Rayners: Legend and Mystery


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Submitted by George Edward Hart - gehart@sympatico.ca

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The Island Rayners: Legend and Mystery

by George Edward Hart

Mary Hanover, daughter of King George the Third, was the mother of the first Rayners on Prince Edward Island: so believed a generation of Rayner family historians and so still hold a few of my contemporaries. When and by whom the royal connection was first bruited is not known. Harry N. Call, a certified genealogist of Hingham, Massachusetts, whose wife was descended from the Rayners, set down part of the tradition in 1969 in letters to Eileen Oulton, historian of several Island families.

The most mature account can be summarized like this: Before emigrating to the Island in 1801, John Rayner married Mary Hanover, the twelfth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Mary had her first child at age thirteen. The royal house banished her and probably suppressed any record of the marriage. The Crown furnished John with an income, for which he travelled often to London. On 17 August 1847 he was robbed and killed in a small schooner plying between Nova Scotia and the Island. After his death, Mary married the Duke of Gloucester by proxy, presumably to maintain the income. She died at Travellerís Rest 30 April 1857 but was buried in England.

In my search for the origins of the Rayner family, the only immediate clue was a note of my late father, a former Londoner, who had been asked to trace the heirs of my motherís great grandaunt who had died in London. From some family member he had elicited: "Edward Rayner married Mary Watson in Cambridge."

Was it possible that Mary Watson was the discreet alias of a princess banished in disgrace? The diplomat Lord Malmesbury mentioned the charm of Princess Mary after talking with her in November 1801. She carried out in the early 1800ís her self-imposed duty of reporting her fatherís condition to her brother the Prince Regent every day. She and her sister Elizabeth attended the opening of Parliament in November 1811. Mary was at her motherís bedside when Queen Charlotte died at Kew in November 1818 (see Stanley Ayling, George the Third, London, Collins, 1972, pp. 422, 451).

King George did not like to let his daughters marry. Princess Mary was finally allowed to wed at the age of forty, in 1816, her first cousin Prince William Frederick the Duke of Gloucester (for an account of the wedding see Edward Holtís Life of George the Third, His Court, and Family, London, 1820). The duchess nursed her dying husband in 1834 and mourned him. Queen Victoria was fond of her "dear aunt Gloucesterí, who gave a telescope to the future King Edward VII. The royal Mary died 30 April 1857 at the age of eighty-one and was buried in St. Georgeís Chapel, Windsor. Could it have been another of George IIIís daughters who became Mrs. Rayner? Burkeís Guide to the Royal Family (1973) accounts for the marriage or otherwise of all Princess Maryís sisters.

What, then, could Island records tell us about the immigrant couple? The register of St. Paulís Anglican Church, Charlottetown, records that the Reverend Theophilus Desbrisay baptized children of Edward Rayner and Mary Watson, his wife":

John Raynor born Dec 1806 baptized 3 Feb 1809
James Rainor 30 Dec 1808 3 Feb 1809
Joseph Rayner 15 Jan 1811 6 Mar 1812
Anne Rayner 15 Aug 1813 25 Feb 1814
Mary Townshend Rayner 14 Jan 1816 2 Apr 1816

The baptism of 3 February 1809 is the earliest record I have found of the familyís presence in Prince Edward Island although lease records of Lot 19 might exist to show an earlier date. Eileen Oultonís notes state that John Rayner was born in London. It may be so or he may have been born in PEI and his baptism was delayed not only by the difficulties of local transportation but also by the need to get, clear and cultivate a lot of land and erect the first house. The "History of Travellerís Rest" prepared by the Womenís Institute (1975) states at page 71 that the Rayner family came from England in 1828 (wrong date) and settled in Tilsonís Creek, now known as Raynerís Creek. Their first home was a log cabin which in due time was replaced by a house which served as a homestead for over a hundred and fifty years."

Passenger lists are few in the Islandís archives for people arriving in PEI from overseas. The Rambler and the Spencer arrived in 1806 but the Rayner family is not on the list of either. On 7 July 1814 Edward Rayner leased 200 acres on Lot 34, #71, for £ 100 sterling from Sir James and Robert Montgomery. The Colonial Herald of October 1847 reported "Edward Rayner died 13 October 1847 at Tiltonís Creek, Lot 19." The Islander of 12 November had this item: "Died on the 13th ult. at Tiltonís Creek, Lot 19, Mr. Edward Rayner, aged 69 years." His will is found in Book 5, page 3, of the Estates Division of the Supreme Court.

I spent almost the whole of November 1993 in the county record office at Cambridge trying to find the marriage of Edward Rayner and Mary Watson, the origin of both and the baptisms of their older children. Boydís Marriage Index for Cambridgeshire showed 33 parishes in which the name Rainer appeared and 57 in which the name of Watson was found. Careful examination of the parish registers and their indexes yielded several Edward Rayners and Mary Watsons but not the marriage of an Edward Rayner to a Mary Watson in that period of time. The International Genealogical Index for surrounding counties showed no such marriage. I noted the baptism at Whittlesford of Edward, son of Edward Rayner, householder and overseer of the poor, and his wife Frances Adams but could not find the marriage of that Edward.

So matters stood until I sent a message on the Internet 28 February 1996 setting forth the mystery and asking for help. The next morning Michael Gallafent of Reading, Berkshire, by e-mail told me he had found the answer in an index of The Allegations for Marriage Licences in the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, in Suffolk, published by the Harleian Society, editor Bruce Bannerman, London, 1920, page 92. The recorded allegation was:

vol. XXX/225 14 July 1798 Edward Rayner of Whittlesford, Cambs., and Mary Watson of Withersfield, both single and aged 21 and upwards, to marry at Withersfield. Sureties: the said Edward Rayner, of Whittlesford, Cambs., farmer, and John Watson of Withersfield, Suffolk, miller (both signed).

This led to a record of their marriage 17 July 1798 in the register of St. Mary the Virgin, Withersfield, Suffolk.

Edward Rayner, Sr.A, the overseer of the poor in Whittlesford, held three parcels of land and paid considerable tax in Cambridgeshire but no will of his was proved there after he died in 1817 at the age of 84. He did not hold property in another county, for no will of his was shown in the index of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. It is unfortunate that he did not leave a will identifying his son Edward for that is the best kind of proof. As it is, we have found that the three "extra" Edward Rayners of that area and time married a woman other than Mary Watson.

The next step was to study the antecedents of Edward RaynerA the overseer for clues. He and Frances Adams, both signing, were married in the church of St. Mary and St. Andrew in Whittlesford, Cambs., 22 November 1768 by Rev. Edward Oliver. Their children were baptized in this church: Rachel, 11 June 1770; Sarah, 11 Feb 1772; Mary, 11 June 1773; Edward, 12 June 1775; Ann, 12 June 1777; Elizabeth, 11 June 1779; Frances, 11 June 1781.

The father of Edward RaynerA the overseer was Edward RaynerB, 1699-1758, yeoman of Whittlesford, who married Mary ___. Their three children were baptized there: EdwardA, 28 January 1733; Rachel, 6 April 1735; Martha, 25 December 1736. EdwardBís will, probated 8 Sept 1759, left £ 5 a year to his wife annually, to be paid by his son Edward, to each of his daughters £ 40 ďnow in the hands of my brother James Rayner of Duxford" and the rest of the estate to his son EdwardA, executor.

The Duxford clue led us to James Rayner, whose will dealt with his properties at Duxford, Barrington and Whittlesford and to the parents of EdwardB and James, namely Matthew RaynerC of Duxford (baptized in the church of St. Peter 3 January 1648-49) and Anne Dearing of Shelford, who were married 10 June 1678 at Holy Sepulchre Church in Cambridge. He was 29 and she was 14. Anneís father, William Dearing, died when she was four and left her ten acres of arable land at Thriplow, where the family lived. Anneís widowed mother took her young children to live with her parents, Will and Alice Howling. She inherited two acres and £ 20 from her yeoman father in his will of 20 December 1662. Her father had inherited a tenement and land from his father Thomas Howling, who had in turn received copyholds of 20 acres from Thomas Howling Sr. in his will of 14 September 1557.

The generations of the Rayners are as follows:

1. Matthew RaynerD married Marie Trigg at Duxford St. Peter 3 November 1635. She received a bequest of £ 80 in the will dated 6 October 1629 of her father, William Trigg, yeoman of Ickleton, Cambs. Matthew and Marie had three children: Mary, Anne and

2. Matthew RaynerC of Duxford and Anne Dearing of Shelford had eight children: Matthew, Anne, Mary Elizabeth, William, Alice, James and

3. Edward RaynerB, 1699-1758, yeoman of Whittlesford, and Mary ____ had three children: Rachel, Martha and

4. Edward RaynerA who married Frances Adams and had eight chldren, including

5. Edward Rayner1, baptized 12 June 1775, presumed to have been he who married Mary Watson of Withersfield and emigrated with her and their children to PEI.

Not finding the birth or baptism of the Frances Adams who had married Edward RaynerA the overseer, I wondered whether her son Edward1 had found his wife in Withersfield, Suffolk, because his mother might have come from that area and because he might then have visited relatives there. Lo and behold, a Frances Adams, daughter of Philip and Frances Adams, was baptized in Withersfield 4 December 1743. Unfortunately for this family historian, the will of her farmer father was dated 15 November 1766, proved 13 November 1767 (ref. Dalton 4:118) while she was still single. He left her the sum of £ 30 and, after her motherís death, a share of the personal estate. He also made a bequest to his daughter Margaret, who had married at Withersfield 14 December 1756 Thomas Jobson of Harston. Frances and Margaretís father, Philip Adams, baptized at Withersfield, was the son of John Adams and Emm Mansfield, who married 25 April 1687 at Withersfield.

Thus there is no direct proof that this Frances Adams of Withersfield was she who became the mother of Edward Rayner1 the immigrant but there is a strong presumption based on the following:

What of Mary Watson ? Her family in the 18th century were nonconformists and few of their vital records have survived. The village Withersfield and the neighbouring town Haverhill are situated in a finger of Suffolk that juts into the southeastern corner of Cambridgeshire. Fortunately for us their members had to marry in the local Anglican church till 1837 and many were buried in the Anglican cemetery. Fortunately a photocopy of the record page of the family Bible of Mary Watsonís younger sister, Betsey Tuffield Watson, Mrs. Charles Parker, has come to hand. In it she shows important family dates: her fatherís birth, his marriage to Sarah Tuffield (Tuffill), her sister Maryís birth at 5 p.m. 2 July 1777, her own birth 28 Dec 1782, but above all for our purposes on 16 March 1799 the birth of Louisa Rayner at Little Wratting.

Now we need have no doubt that this Mary Watson was the immigrant mother of the PEI Rayners. The Land Tax record for 1799 shows that Mr. Rayner, presumably, Edward1, was renting farm property at Little Wratting from a Mr. Brown and that the sum assessed was £ 9 [Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, ref. B150/11/1(2)]. The register of St. Maryís Anglican Church there shows the baptism of Louisa Rayner 24 August 1800, of William Simpson Rayner 10 August 1801 and of Elizabeth Rayner 14 August 1803. The birthdate of Louisa is particularly interesting because the PEI census of 1881 shows her age as 93 when she was really 82 and that of 1891 gave her age as 100 when she had reached the great age of 91. She died a year later.

We have traced Mary Watsonís family back three generations:

  1. Robert WatsonC and Mary Haylock, married at St. Maryís Church in Haverhill 7 June 1719 ; no baptismal records of their children found; will of that miller, proved 17 April 1776 (ref. Dalton VI, 97), left all his estate to his son JohnB because his wife Mary, his second wife Sarah Crow and his son Joseph had died.
  2. John WatsonB, also a miller, married Elizabeth Borham, daughter of Thomas Borham and Elizabeth Taylor in Withersfield 24 September 1744. The nonconformist register of Haverhill shows the baptism of their children including
  3. John Watson Jr.A, also a miller, married Sarah, daughter of William and Mary Tuffill of Withersfield in the Anglican church 8 August 1776. Sarah and her sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Richard Simpson, received bequests of 13 silver spoons and £ 200 each from their father William Tuffill, cordwainer, in his will of 3 November 1780 (ref. Dalton VII, 408).

We have yet to account for the time between 14 August 1803, the date of the christening of Elizabeth Rayner at Little Wratting and February of 1809, when two of Edward Rayner1 and Mary Watsonís children were baptized in St. Paulís Church, Charlottetown. Because John rented his farm at Little Wratting, there was no sale of land to provide a clue to when he and his family left the area. Whether they spent some time with his father and mother in Whittlesford or went directly to the place of embarkation we do not know. Nor do we know why, Edward, the only son of a prosperous and prominent yeoman, decided to emigrate. We do, however, have a picture of a couple well suited to farm in Prince Edward Island, Edward descended from a long line of sturdy husbandmen and Mary from ancestors who worked the land and milled the grain. Their living descendants are to be found not only on the Island but in many parts of Canada and the United States.

I am deeply indebted to Michael Galafant of Reading, Berkshire, to Mrs. Mary Bone of Cambridge and to Dr. Joanna Martin of Ipswich, Suffolk for their help.

Update 2006: The Rayner farm in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire is five hundred years old. When the Morton family bought and completely restored the house, the timbers were dated to 1476. The brick chimneys were added a hundred years after that , during the Tudor period. The handsome white house with its pink roof is near the road and beyond it are two central timber-framed barns and several outbuildings.

The Rayners lived there from 1700 onwards and the last owner of that name was John Rayner, the younger brother of Edward Rayner, our Island immigrant.. John was born in 1776, never married, and died at the age of eighty-four in 1860, when the house was sold to the Paine family. Like his mother and father, John was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary and Saint Andrew at Whittlesford. Why Edward left Whittles ford and the old Rayner Farm remains a mystery.

See: The Descendants of Edward Rayner and Mary Watson


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Last Updated: 12/10/2006 4:25:20 PM
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