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August 29, 2022 / Jim Fenton

Early Fenton Ancestry

I have been researching my ancestry over the past 20 years or so. I have previously written about my Fenton ancestors who had a farm in Broadalbin, New York.

I am a descendant of Robert Fenton, one of the early Connecticut Fentons. Since one of his other descendants was Reuben Eaton Fenton, a US Senator and New York governor, this branch of the family has been well researched and documented, in particular with the publication in 1867 of A genealogy of the Fenton family : descendants of Robert Fenton, an early settler of ancient Windham, Conn. (now Mansfield) by William L. Weaver1. Here’s what Weaver has to say about Robert Fenton’s origin:

Robert Fenton, who is first heard of at Woburn, Mass., in 1688, was the common ancestor of the Connecticut Fentons. We can learn nothing in regard to his parentage, birthplace, or nationality. The records of Woburn shed no light on the subject; and we can find no trace of him elsewhere, previous to his appearance in that town.

The genealogy goes on to relate an old tradition that Robert Fenton had come from Wales, but I have been unable to find any basis for that tradition.

Somewhere in my research, I came upon a reference to a Robert Fenton in The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699 by Peter Wilson Coldham2. It said that on 17 July 1682, a number of Midland Circuit prisoners had been reprieved to be transported to America, including Robert Fenton of Birmingham, and included a reference number for the source material. The timing was about right, but there was still the question whether this is the same Robert Fenton that appeared in Woburn six years later.

In 2018 I was going to London for a meeting, and wondered if I could find out any more about this. I found out that the referenced document was available through The National Archives, and I could place a request to view the document. But first I needed to complete online training for a “reader’s ticket”. This was a short video class on the handling of archival documents and other rules, some unexpected (no erasers are allowed in the reading room). I completed the training and arranged for the document to be available when I was in London.

The National Archives is located on an attractive campus in Kew, just west of London. My wife and I went to the reading room and were photographed for our reader’s tickets (actually plastic cards) and admitted to the room. We checked out the document and took it to a reading desk. On opening the box, we had quite a surprise: the document was a scroll!

We opened one of the scrolls carefully (using the skills taught in the online course) and started to examine it. The writing was foreign to us, but scanning through it we quickly found what appeared to be “Ffenton”. This seemed to be the record we were looking for. We photographed the sections of the scroll that contained several mentions of “Ffenton” and examined some of the rest before carefully rerolling and returning it. What an experience it was to actually touch 335 year-old records relating to an ancestor!

When we returned home, we intended to figure out what the document actually said, but it became clear (over the next few years!) that this required an expert. I contacted a professor at Stanford that specializes in paleography to see if he could offer help or a referral, and he gave me a general idea of the document and that it was written in Latin (also that the Ff was just the old way of writing F). Eventually I was referred to Peter Foden, an archival researcher located in Wales, one of whose specialties is transcribing and translating handwritten historical documents (Latin to English). I sent copies of the document pictures to him, and was able to engage his services to transcribe and translate the document.

Peter’s translation of the document is as follows:

The King gives greeting to all to whom these our present letters shall come.
Know that we motivated purely by our pity, of our especial grace and knowledge of the matter by the certification and information of our beloved and faithful Thomas Raymond, knight, one of our Justices assigned for Pleas to be held before us, and Thomas Streete, knight, one of the Lords Justices of our Exchequer, assigned for Gaol Delivery of our Gaols in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, the City of Coventry, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, for prisoners being in the same, have pardoned, forgiven and released and by these presents for ourselves, our heirs and successors, do pardon, forgive and release, Robert Sell late of Derby in the County of Derbyshire, labourer, by whatsoever other names or surnames or additional names or nicknames of places, arts or mysteries, the same Robert Sell may be listed, called, or known, or was lately listed, called or known, or used to be listed, called or known, the felony of murder, the felony of killing and slaying of a certain Dorothy Middleton however done, committed or perpetrated, for which the same Robert Sell stands indicted, attainted or judged. And furthermore, out of our more abundant special grace, we have pardoned, forgiven, and released and by these presents for ourselves our heirs and successors we do pardon, forgive and release Henry Ward late of the town of Nottingham in the County of Nottinghamshire, labourer, Thomas Letherland, late of the town of Northampton in the County of Northampton, John Pitts of the same place, labourer, Samuel Shaw the younger of the same place, labourer, John Attersley late of Spalding in the county of Lincolnshire, labourer, John Brewster, late of of Grantham in the County of Lincolnshire, labourer, Peter Waterfall late of Derby in the County of Derbyshire, labourer, John Waterfall of the same place, labourer, John White late of the City of Coventry in the County of the same, labourer, Joseph Veares late of Birmingham in the county of Warwickshire, labourer, Edward Cooke of the same place, labourer, Robert Fenton of the same place, labourer, Mary Steers of the same place, spinster, Thomas Smith of the same place, labourer, Humfrey Dormant late of the Borough of Warwick in the county of Warwick, labourer, Edward Higgott late of Derby in the county of Derbyshire, labourer, Eliza Massey of the same place, widow, and Jeremy Rhodes late of Worcester in the County of Worcester, labourer, or by whatsoever other names or surnames or additional names or surnames or names of places, arts or mysteries, the same Henry Ward, Thomas Letherland, John Pitts, Samuel Shaw, John Attersley, John Brewster, Peter Waterfall, John Waterfall, John White, Joseph Veares, Edward Cooke, Robert Fenton, Mary Steares, Thomas Smith, Humfrey Dormant, Edward Higgott, Eliza Massey and Jeremy Rhodes may be listed, called or known, or were lately listed, called or known, or any of them individually or collectively was or were listed, called or known, of every and every kind of Treason and crimes of Lese Majeste of and concerning clipping, washing, forgeries and other falsehoods of the money of this Kingdom of England or of whatsoever other kingdoms and dominions, and also every and every kind of concealments, treasons, and crimes of lese majeste of and concerning the uttering of coinage being clipped, filed and diminished, by whomsoever (singular or plural) the said coinage was clipped, filed and diminished, and also every and every kind of felonies, homicides, burglaries and trespasses whatsoever by them or any of them done, committed or perpetrated, whereof the same Robert Sell, Henry Ward, Thomas Letherland, John Pitts, Samuel Shaw, John Attersley, John Brewster, Peter Waterfall, John Waterfall, John White, Joseph Veares, Edward Cooke, Robert Fenton, Mary Steares, Thomas Smith, Humfrey Dormant, Edward Higgott, Eliza Massey and Jeremy Rhodes, are indicted, attainted, or judged, or are not indicted, attainted, or judged, and the accessories of each of them, and the escapes made thereupon, and also all and singular the indictments, judgments, fines, condemnations, executions, bodily penalties, imprisonments, punishments, and all other things about these matters, that we or our heirs or successors in any way had, may have or in the future shall have, also Outlawries if pronounced or to be pronounced against them or any of them by reason of these matters, and all and all kinds of lawsuits, pleas, and petitions and demands whatsoever which belong, now or int the future, to us against them or any of them, by reason or occasion of these matters, or of any of them, and we give and grant unto them and unto each of them by these presents our firm peace, so that nevertheless they and each them should stand (singular and plural) righteously in our Court if any anyone if anyone summons them to court concerning these matters or any of them, if they cannot find good and sufficient security for their good behaviour towards us our heirs and successors and all our people, according to the form of a certain Act of Parliament of the Lord Edward the Third late King of England, our ancestor, edited and provided at Westminster in the tenth year of his reign. And furthermore, of our abundant special grace, and certain knowledge and pure motives, for us our heirs and successors, we will and grant that they shall have letters of pardon and all and singular matters contained in the same shall stand well, firmly, validly, sufficiently and effectually in Law and shall be allowed by all and all kinds of our Officers and Servants and those of our heirs and successors, notwithstanding the Statute in the Parliament of the Lord Richard the Second late King of England held at Westminster in the thirteenth year of his reign, or any other Statute, Act, Order or Provision made to the contrary in any manner, provided always that if the said Henry Ward, Thomas Letherland, John Pitts, Samuel Shaw, John Attersley, John Brewster, Peter Waterfall, John Waterfall, John White, Joseph Veares, Edward Cooke, Robert Fenton, Mary Steares, Thomas Smith, and Humfrey Dormant, do not leave the Kingdom of England to cross the sea towards some part of America now settled by our subjects, within the space of six months next after the date of these presents, or if they remain or return within seven years immediately following the six months after the date of these presents, or any of them shall return within the space of seven years next after the date of these presents, that then this our pardon be and shall be wholly void and of none effect in respect of Henry Ward, Thomas Letherland, John Pitts, Samuel Shaw, John Attersley, Peter Waterfall, John Waterfall, John White, Joseph Veares, Edward Cooke, Robert Fenton, Mary Steeres and Humfrey Dormant and each of them, notwithstanding anything in these presents to the contrary thereof. We wish however that this our pardon be in all respects firm, valid and sufficient for the same Henry Ward, Thomas Letherland, John Pitts, Samuel Shaw, John Attersley, Peter Waterfall, John Waterfall, John White, Joseph Veares, Edward Cooke, Robert Fenton, Mary Steeres and Humfrey Dormant and each of them, if they shall perform and fulfil or any of them shall perform and fulfil the said conditions. And we furthermore also wish that after the issue of this our pardon, the said Henry Ward and all other persons named in the previous condition here mentioned to be pardoned under the same condition shall remain in the custody of our Sheriffs in our said Gaols where they are now detained until they and each of them be transported (singular or plural) to the aforementioned places beyond the seas, according to the said Condition. In witness of which, the King is witness, at Westminster on the fourteenth day of July by the King himself.

So it appears that Robert Fenton was convicted of treason “concerning clipping, washing, forgeries and other falsehoods of the money of this Kingdom of England.” He was pardoned on condition that he leave for America within six months and stay no less than seven years. While I have found no record of Robert having practiced forgery in America, his son Francis was nicknamed “Moneymaker” because of his well-known forgery escapades3. One of those events caused the Fenton River in Connecticut to be named after him. Francis might have learned “the family business” from his father, so this strengthens the likelihood that this Robert Fenton from Birmingham is my ancestor.

Appendix

For reference, here is the Latin transcription, referenced to the parts of the document pictured above. The line breaks match the original:

(part 1)

Rex &c Omnibus ad quos presentes littere nostre pervenerint Salutem Sciatis quod
nos pietate moti de gratia nostra speciali ac exita scientat & mero motu
nostris ex cirtificatione & relatione dilectorum & fidelium nostrorum Thome Raymond
militis unius Justiciorum nostrorum ad placita coram nobis tenenda Assignatorum & Thome
Streete militis unius Baronum Scaccarii nostri Justiciorum nostrorum Gaolas nostras
lincolniensis Nott Derb Civitatis Coventrie Warr & Northton de prisonibus
in eadem existentibus deliberandum assignatorum Pardonavimus remissimus et
relaxavimus ac per presentes pro nobis heredibus & Successoribus nostris
pardonamus remittimus & relaxamus Roberto Sell nuper de Derb in Comitatu
Derb laborarium seu quibuscumque aliis nominibus vel cognominibus seu additionibus
nominium vel cognominium locorum artium sive misteriorum idem Robertus
Sell cenceatur vocetur sive nuncupetur aut nuper cencebatur
vocabatur sive nuncupabatur feloniam mortemnecem feloniam
interfectionem & occisionem cuiusdam Dorothee Middleton qualitercumque
factam comissam sive perpetratam unde idem Robertus Sell indictatus attinctus
sive adiudicatus existit Et ulterius de uberiori gratia nostra speciali
pardonavimus remissimus & relaxavimus ac per presentest pro nobis heredibus
& Successoribus nostris pardonamus remittimus & relaxamus Henrico Ward
nper de Villa Nott in Comitatu Nott laborario Thome Letherland nuper
de villa Northton in Comitatu Northton laborario Johanni Pitts de eadem
laborario Samueli Shaw junioris de eadem laborario Johanni Attersley nuper de
Spalding in Comitatu Lincoln laborario Johanni Brewster nuper de Grantham in
Comitatu Lincoln laborario Petro Waterfall nuper de Derb in Comitatu Derb laborario
Johanni Waterfall de eadem laborario Johanni White nuper de Civitate Coventr’
in Comitatu eiusdem laborario Josepho veares nuper de Birmingham in Comitatu
Warr laborario Edwardo Cooke de eadem laborario Roberto Fenton de eadem laborario
Marie Steers de eadem Spinster Thome Smith de eadem laborario
Humfrido Dormant nuper de Burgo Warr in Comitatu Warr laborario Edwardo
Higgott nuper de Derb in Comitatu Derb laborario Elize Massey de eadem vidue

(part 2)
& Jeremie Rhodes nuper de Wigorn in Comitatu Wigorn laborario seu quibuscumque
aliis nominibus vel cognominibus seu additionibus nominium vel cognominium
locorum artium sive misteriorum iidem Henricus Ward Thomas
Letherland Johannes Pitts Samuel Shaw Johannes Attesley Johannes
Brewster Petrus Waterfall Johannes Waterfall Johannes White Josephus
Veares Edwardus Cooke Robertus Fenton Maria Steares Thomas
Smith Humfrius Dormant Edwardus Higgott Eliza Massey et
Jeremias Rhodes cenceantur vocentur sive nuncupentur aut nuper
cencebantur vocabantur sive nuncupabantur aut eorum aliquis
cenceatur vocetur sive nuncupetur aut nuper cencebatur vocabatur
sive nuncupabatur omnes & omnimodos proditiones & crimina lese maiestatis
de & concernentes tonsura lotura falsis Fabricationibus & aliis falsitatibus monete
huius Regni Anglie aut aliorum Regnorum & Dominiorum quorumcumque necnon
omnes & omnimodos misprisones proditiones & criminis lese maiestatis de et
concernentes utteratione pecunie existentes tonsurates filate & diminute oien per
quos vel per quem pecuniam predictam tonsuram filatam & diminutam fuit acetiam
omnes & omnimoda felonias homicidas Burglarias & transgressas quascumque
per ipsos vel eorum aliquem qualitercumque factas commissas sive perpetratas
unde iidem Robertus Sell Henricus Ward Thomas Letherland
Johannes Pitt Samuel Shaw Johannes Attersley Johannes Brewster Petrus
Waterfall Johannes Waterfall Johannes White Josephus Veares
Edwardus Cooke Robertus Fenton Maria Steeres Thomas Smith
Humfrius Dormant Edwardus Higgott Eliza Massey & Jeremias
Rhodes indictati convicti attincti sive adiudicati existunt
vel non indictati convicti attincti sive adiudicati existunt

(part 3)
ac accessares eorum cuiuslibet & fugam & fugas super inde facta acetiam
omnia & singula Indictamenta Judicia fines Condemnationes
executiones penas corporales imprisonamenta punitiones & omnes alia
seu eorum aliquem per premissis vel aliquo premissorum habuimus habuemus vel in
futuro habere poterimus aut heredes seu Successores nostri ullo modo habere
poterint Necnon utlagarii si quo versus ipsos seu eorum aliquem occasione
premissorum sunt promulgata seu fiunt promulganda & omnes & omnimodas
sectas querelas & impetitiones & demandas quecumque que nos versus
ipsos seu eorum aliquem pertinent seu pertinere poterint ratione vel occasione
premissorum seu eorum alicuius & firmam pacem nostram eis & eorum cuilibet
damus & concedimus per presentes Ita tamen quod ipsi & eorum quilibet stent
& stet recte in Curia nostra si quis versus ipsos seu eorum aliquem loqui
voluint de premissis vel aliquo premissorum licet quod ipsi vel ipse et
eorum quilibet bonam & sufficientem securitatem non inveniunt de se bene
gerendo erga nos heredes & Successores nostros & cunctum populum nostrum
iuxta formam cuiusdam Actus Parliamenti Domini Edwardi nuper Regis
Anglie tertii progenitoris nostri Anno Regni sui decimo apud Westmonasterium
editi & provisi Et ulterius de uberiori gratia nostra speciali ac ex certa
scientia & mero motu nostris pro nobis heredibus & succcessoribus nostris volumus &
concedimus quod habere littere pardinationis & omnia & singula in eisdem
contenta bone firme valide sufficienter & effectuale in lege stabunt
& existunt & per omnes & omnimodos Officiarios & Ministros nostros & heredes &
Successores nostrorum allocentur Statuto in Parliamento Domini Ricardi nuper
Regis Anglie secundi Anno regni siu decimo tertio apud Westmonasterium tenti
aut aliquo alio Statuto Actu ordinacione vel provisione in contrario

(part 4)
inde facto in aliquo non obstante Proviso tamen quod si predicti
Henricus Ward Thomas Letherland Johannes Pitts Samuel Shaw
Johannes Attersley Petrus Waterfall Johannes Waterfall Johannes White
Josephus Veares Edwardus Cooke Robertus Fenton Maria Steeres
& Humfrius Dormant non exibunt extra Regnum Anglie transituri
extra mare versus aliqui partem Americe modo inhabitatum per subitos
nostros infra spacium sex mensium proximas post datum presentium aut si ipsi
infra septem Annos immediate sequentes sex menses post datum
presentium remanent aut remanebunt aut redibunt aut eorum aliquis
redibit in Angliam infra spacium septem Annorum proximos post datum presentium
quod tunc hec nostra pardonatus sit & erit omnino vacua & nulli vigoris
quoad ipsos Henricum Ward Thomam Letherland Johannem Pitts
Samuel Shaw Johannem Attersley Petrum Waterfall Johannem Waterfall
Johannem White Josephum Veaeres Edwardum Cooke Robertum Fenton
Mariam Steeres & Humfrium Dormant & quemlibet eorum aliquid in
hiis presentibus in contrario inde non obstante volumus tamen quod hec
nostra pardonatio sit in omnibus firma valida & sufficiens eiusdem
Henrico Ward Thome Letherland Johanni Pitts Samueli Shaw Johanni
Attersley Petro Waterfall Johanni Waterfall Johanni White Josepho
Veares Edwardo Cooke Roberto Fenton Marie Steeres & Humfrio
Dormant & cuilibet eorum si performabunt & perimplebunt aut aliquis eorum
perimplebit & performabit conditiones predictos volumus etiam ulterius quod
post allocationem huius pardonationis nostre predictus Henricus Ward & omnes
alii persones in conditione predicto nominati preantea hic mentionati sub
eadem conditione fore pardonati remanebunt sub Custodia vicecomitium nostrorum
in Gaolis nostris predictis ubi modo detenti sunt quousque ipsi & ipsei
ac eorum quilibet & earum quilibet transportati fuint vel transportati
fuit in partibus transmarinis prementionatis secundum Conditionem predictam
In cuius &c [rei testimonium] Teste Rege apud Westmonasterium decimo quarto die Julii
per ipsum Regem

References

1. Weaver, William L. (William Lawton). A Genealogy of the Fenton Family : Descendants of Robert Fenton, an Early Settler of Ancient Windham, Conn. (Now Mansfield). Willimantic, Conn. : [s.n.], 1867. http://archive.org/details/genealogyoffento05weav.

2. Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990.

3. Weaver, p. 7

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