Against this we must weigh the evidence of Eben Putnam's well documented study of the Convers family of Essex in the appendix to Charles A. Converse's _The Converse Family and Allied Families_ (Boston: Eben Putnam, 1905) which suggests the Deacon Edward Convers of Woburn may be Edward Convers of Navestock and South Weald, co. Essex. Additional pieces of evidence have been offered in favor of Edward Convers of Essex in the following articles: 1. Arnold P. G. and Carolyn Bryant Peterson, "Edward Converse of Woburn, Massachusetts: Notes on his Birthplace and Ancestry," _New England Historical and Genealogical Register_ (_Register_) 146 : 130-132. 2. Douglas Richardson, "The English Origin and Ancestry of the Parker Brothers of Massachusetts and of their Probable Aunt, Sarah Parker, wife of Edward Converse," _Register_ 153 : 81-96. 3. Leslie Mahler, "The Maternal Ancestry of Allen Converse of Woburn, Massachusetts, _The American Genealogist_ 175, 4 [Oct, 2000]: 329-330.
What do we know about Edward Convers of Woburn that might help us identify his ancestry and where he lived in England? There is no record of his ever making a statement which would identify his home in England, nor does he make any references to relatives living in England. We know that in all likelihood he arrived in Massachusetts with the Winthrop fleet in 1630, bringing with him a wife named Sarah (Richardson suggests that he married Sarah after his arrival in Charlestown, but her name, Sarah Convers, can be found on the list of members received into the First Church of Boston a few lines after Edward's own name --she is number 84 in the list, so she was probably a part of a large group of people, including Edward, received in the fall of 1630), sons Josiah and James and daughter Mary. (I don't know of anyone who has ever explained the son Phineas listed with Edward in Charles Edward Bank's _The Winthrop Fleet of 1630_ (Baltimore: Genalogical Publishing Co., 1961), p.66. Banks includes sons John, Josiah and James. More on this later.
We know from depositions (Peterson, "Parker Brothers," p. 94, notes 66 and 73) that Josiah was 41 in 1660, and James 39, which would make their birth dates circa 1619 and 1621. Mary married her first husband in Dec. 1643 and if we assume 18 as age at marriage, her birth date would have been about 1625. Edward, then, would have married circa 1617, and if we assume an age of 20-30 for him at the time of marriage, he would have been born about 1687-1697.From Edward's will (dated 1659, prove 1663) (Middlexex County Probate file 4920) we know that he had "kinsmen" Allen Convers and John Parker, and a kinswoman Sara Smith.
We know that Edward was literate -- he could sign his name. It appears from the historical record that he was an ardent Puritan. Although Edward did not, as was typical of the period, state his social class in his will, it is evident from the records of the period that he was probably a yeoman. (Hill quotes from the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: "It is ordered that Mr. Tynge, Mr. Saml Sheopard & Goodman Edward Convers, are to set out.....", p. 100. "Goodman" and "Goodwife" or "Goody" were terms that would apply to the yeoman class, while "Mister" and "Mistress" would have been used for gentlemen and their wives.)So, if we were looking "blind" for Edward in English records, we would be looking for an Edward Convers, born about 1687-1697, who married a woman named Sarah about 1617, and had three children born in England, Josiah ca 1619, James ca 1621 and Mary ca 1625. He would have male relatives named John Parker and Allen Convers and a female relative named Sarah. He would be of the yeoman class at the highest and probably have strong Puritan leanings. He might well be a second or third son whose older brother had inherited the family property.
How do our two "candidates" compare?Edward Convers of Essex has a surname that is exactly the same as Edward of Woburn. We have to account for a change in spelling for Edward Conyers of Wakerly, but this is hardly conclusive. Both were born at acceptable dates if we can accept the pedigree to which Mr. Hill refers as authentic. (There is no Edward Conyers recorded as having been baptised in Wakerly in 1590, but again, this is hardly conclusive.) Although Edward of Essex married Sarah Parker in Great Burstead in 1614 her death in 1625 means that she was not the Sarah Convers who came to America with Edward of Woburn. On the other hand, Edward of Wakerly married Jane Clarke according to Hill's pedigree, and he does not record a date for her death leaving this Edward free for a second marriage. Hill postulates a first son for Edward of Wakerly, also named Edward, but does not show any indication of Josiah, James and Mary, nor does he account for the fact that Edward of Woburn makes no mention of this eldest child, or any grandchildren by him, in his will. (It was quite common for immigrants to America who had left adult children in England to leave at least some token to these children in their wills.) Edward of Essex has a son Josiah baptised in South Weald in 1618 and a son James baptised there in 1620 as "John Convers son to Edw. Convers and Sarah his wife." There is no record of Mary's baptism, but a birth in 1625 could well have meant that Sarah (Parker) Convers had died in childbirth, probably the most common cause of death for younger women at this time. It is even possible that Mary was the child of Edward's marriage to the second Sarah, the mother of his youngest son, Samuel, and that a record of her baptism will be found in the same place as the record of Edward's marriage to Sarah ____. Edward of Essex does have a nephew Allen and a niece Sara, the children of his older brother Allen Convers of South Weald. He also has a nephew by marriage, the nephew of his first wife Sarah Parker, named John Parker. No such relatives are shown in the records for Edward of Wakerly.
Edward Conyers of Wakerly is clearly described as "gentleman" in the Visitation of Northamptonshire, 1681. (Henry Saint-George and Henry Isham Longden, _The Visitation of the County of Northampton taken in the year 1681_ (London: College of Arms, 1935) V. 87 Publications of the Harleian Society. Thanks to Marlene Laing for a copy of this.) It is very unlikely that anyone described as a gentleman by the king's heralds would have been called "goodman" by the colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.Finally, we must note that what might be called the scholarly genealogical community has rejected Hill's assumptiopns from the time it was published. A review in the _Register_ in July 1887, commented ³we consider the connection suggested by Mr. Hill improbable,² although Edward Convers of Woburn, ³may have been an offshoot of this family." The recent publication of _The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633_, Volumes I-III (Boston:New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995) by Robert Charles Anderson, clearly accepts the Essex origin of Edward of Woburn, although as Richardson notes in "Parker Brothers," he conflates the first and second marriages of Edward into a single Sarah.
I suspect that Hill's sources for the later generations of the pedigree he gives in his book were John Birdges _History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire_ (1791) and John Nichols _The History and Antiquities of the county of Leicester (1795) and that these in turn used some of the same sources as Saint-George and Longden in the Visitation of Northamptonshire noted above. Both of these are available in the library of the NEHGS, andI'll have a look the next time I am in Boston. I will also abstract the Conyers entries in the parish register of Wakerly when I get to a Family History Center and have access to a microfiche reader. I have no argument with the pedigree Hill published, only with his assumption that Edward Conyers of Wakerly, b. 1590, is the same man as Deacon Edward Convers of Woburn.
I will also summarize all I picked up on the Convers family of Essex, although all I have really done is add a few names and marriages and confirm the sources that Eben Putnam gave us over a century ago. I had hoped to find Edward's marriage to the second Sarah but did not.Hal Whitmore
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