History of the Mortimer family
The Mortimer Family, 1600-1700
Tracing the ancestry of the Mortimer family in the seventeenth century is far from easy. In fact it is nigh on impossible. The major difficulty is the lack of proof as to the birthplace of William Mortymore, who married Grace Pool in 1728. We can guess a few things about his background from the fact that he was illiterate, probably a younger son (on account of the fact he settled in his wife's parish and therefore inherited no land of his own), and quite possibly a mariner, since his eldest son was one. But these are only guesses, and while they indicate we should be looking for a younger son of a sailor, yeoman or husbandman in the region of the Teign, these clues are not much on which to work.
The most likely baptismal entry in the region which might be William's is that of one William Mortimore of Kingsteignton, who was baptised the second son and third child of William and Joan Mortimore on May 23rd 1699. Not only was this William a younger son, his brethren's names - Mary, John, and Joan - almost exactly fit the names he gave his own children (Mary, William (twice), John, Joan and Frances). Furthermore Kingsteignton is just on the other side of the Teign estuary from Combeinteignhead, where William eventually settled. Although this is not an inconsiderable stretch of water, it was a means of communication and employment for all those living near it, and in the seventeenth century it would have brought people together rather than dividing them. Furthermore, if this William Mortimore of Kingsteignton was the man who married Grace Pool in Combeinteignhead in 1728, then he was only following his cousin Mary Lang, who crossed the river to marry and settle in Combeinteignhead a few years earlier.
Let us then assume that our William Mortimore came from Kingsteignton.
The next problem we have to face is that the parish registers for Kingsteignton do not exist prior to 1670, and the bishop's transcripts (official contemporary copies of the register) exist in only a very mangled form for the years 1602/3, 1606/7, 1619, 1629, 1631, 1636, 1640, 1642, 1663, 1664, 1668, 1669 and an undated year. Apart from these we have only the evidence of the Hearth Tax returns (1674, 1677) and a couple of roughly transcribed wills. The whole body of evidence, including relevant entries from neighbouring parish registers, may be summarised as follows:
The early part of the family history is easy to reconstruct: John Mortymer, son of William, was baptised in 1617 and married Catherine Fursland in Exeter in 1641. She was the third daughter of Walter Fursland, a member of the old established family of Fursland of Bickington, whose lineage appears in the Visitation of Devon (see Vivian, Visitations of Devon, 1895). Their eldest child Joan, was born the following year, and before 1648 their son William had arrived.
The question is: can we say with any confidence that the other members of this family, especially those described in Andrew Mortimer's will, descended from John and Catherine?
There is no reason to suppose that the John Mortimore who was churchwarden of Kingsteignton in 1680, and the John Mortimore who was buried in 1687, were not synonymous with John Mortymer, baptised in 1607. There is only one head of a household noted in the 1674 Hearth tax returns called Mortimore, and although one wonders what William Mortimore was up to in that year, it is quite possible he was still living at his father's home, and therefore would not appear in that list of householders. The other name one might expect to find is that of Andrew: however, if he were also John Mortimore's son, he might also be living at his father's house, since he must almost certainly have been younger than William. The likelihood of Andrew being the son of John and Catherine is increased by the fact that Catherine's elder sister married one Andrew Holwill, and thus there was a family precedent for use of this comparatively unusual christian name at this time.
If we then turn our attention to the will of Andrew Mortimore, this clearly states that Mary Mortimore, who married John Lang, was his sister, and that William Mortimore, who was buried in 1730, was his brother. It would thus also indicate that John and Catherine had a number of children in addition to Joan and William, namely: Andrew, Mary, Elizabeth and possibly Rebecca, who married Thomas Skeen. It would also suggest great longevity for the male members of the Mortimore family, William living from before 1648 to 1730 (eighty-two years), Andrew from probably some time in the 1650s to 1723 (in the region of seventy years) and John Mortimore, as has been seen, eighty years (1607-1687). While these seem to be quite plausible lifespans, the respective ages of later members of the family are much less, only William Mortimore who married Grace Pool attaining a similar age (probably 1699-1780). If this reconstruction is accurate, the Mortimores of Kingsteignton were a long-lived lot.
All this together would allow us to postulate that our William Mortimore, who married Grace Pool, was the third child of William Mortimore (c1647-1730), and that this William was the son of John Mortimore (1607-1687). This all fits very nicely, but only while overlooks certain facts. Firstly, who was the William Mortimore who died in 1716? And secondly, why does Andrew Mortimore's will not mention our William, the only member of the family not to be mentioned? Why does the will of his brother John Mortimore (dated 1763) will not mention him or his family? There are a few explanations possible. One is that this William (d1716) was a son of Andrew's who died before his father: this is unlikely, however, since no children of Andrew are recorded in the baptismal register. Another answer is that he was the William Mortimore born in 1699. This of course would mean that the Kingsteignton family has little or nothing to do with us. Yet another explanation is that there were in fact two branches of the family in Kingsteignton. We have been working on the assumption that John Mortimore (1607-1687) had no brothers, since no burials are noted of Mortimores and no other names appear on the Hearth tax returns. But what if he had a brother, and Andrew, Mary, Rebecca and William were all his children? There would then have been two Mortimore families in the vicinity, and two William Mortimores. This is quite possible if the shadowy father of the four children died before 1674, and if Andrew and William were unmarried and living in relative's households. Such a theory would allow us to state that the William who died in 1716 was the son of John and Catherine, and that Andrew's brother William died in 1730. It would also allow us to presume a slightly later birth date for William and Andrew, which gets around the problem of William's suspiciously old age and the advanced age at the time of their marriages (nearly fifty and forty respectively).
There is one other possibility. If Charles Worth made a mistake in noting from the 1723 will of Andrew Mortimore, writing 'brother' rather than 'nephew' to describe the relationship of William Mortimore to Andrew, then almost everything falls into place. In this case one would have some confidence in stating that William Mortymore who married Grace Pool lived was baptised in Kingsteignton in 1699, and was the second son of William Mortimore (c1647-1716), who married Jone Cose of Torbryan (1671-1736) in 1695, and that this William and his brother Andrew, and his sisters Joan Mortimore (1642-1706), Rebecca Skeen (d1710), Mary Lang (d1711) and Elizabeth (d1675) were all the children of John Mortimer (1607-1687) and Catherine Fursland (d1674). The only question this would leave would be: who was the Mary Mortimer who died in 1707?
To sum up we simply do not have enough evidence, and until we something else turns up, it is impossible to say for certain where William Mortymore, the husband of Grace Pool, came from.
Last updated 16 May 2000