Search billions of records on


From book "Descendants of James Stanclift of Middletown, Connecticut and Allied Families", By Robert C. and Sherry [Smith] Stancliff

Go to:    Home Page


At a time when surnames were first becoming established in England, a family came into possession of land in the Shibden(1) Valley of Northowram(2), Parish of Halifax, Wapantake(3) of Morley, West Riding(4) of York. The land located in the Pennine Mountain Range, was at the bottom of a precipitous hill or cliff. The first head of the family became known in 1274 as John de Stanclyf(5), or John of the stone cliff. John was also elected Greave or Grave of Hipperholm(6) in 1307 and 1310(7).

A visit to the Shibden Valley today, a location that has been described as "the valley time forgot", reveals that the hill has changed little, and is as rocky and steep today as it was then. Sheep still graze in this pastoral valley, and in places portions of an ancient cobblestone path are part of the walking trail now called "The Calderdale Way". This trail was once a pack-horse road when Halifax was the principal wool fabric producing center in England. The pack-horse road was used to take the finished cloth to London(8).

A sandstone quarry was opened just over that hill yielding a buff to grey colored stone, now called "Millstone Grit".(9) The stone was lowered down the face of the cliff and used to build the houses in the Valley. Broken blocks of stones still lie on that steep hillside, attesting to the difficult task of handling the large blocks of stone in that time. In this place, the Stancliff family built a home that they named Skowte or Scout. "Scout" in Archaic British Dialect means, a cave formed by jutting rocks or a high precipitous rock and a "Scouter" was a stone working term for one who, by use of wedges and jumpers, broke off large pieces of stone. Today we would call him a quarryman.

At this site the Stancliff family lived and thrived for centuries, building and rebuilding houses that were each in succession called Scout. Sometimes there was more than one building named Scout, the records include Upper Scout, Water Scout and Scout Farm. These Stone working terms, associated with the family at such an early date, seem almost a prognostication of the heritage of the Stancliff Stone Carvers many years later, in Connecticut.

The Stancliffe family prospered and grew in the Shibden Valley and there came a time when the Stancliffe family was in possession of three large land holdings. Within sight of the original home named Scout, a second house of substantial proportions was built, and that farm was called Hagstocks. Yet a third holding was located not far from the Valley, and was called New Hey. The Stancliffe families in this area enjoyed the status of "Landed Gentry"(10). Perhaps this circumstance gave rise to the family tradition, of one branch of the Stancliff family, that has maintained that James Stanclift came from Yorkshire, England and that he was one of three sons of an English Earl.

There is some doubt that the early Stancliffe men would have wanted to be more than prosperous land holders. It is written in the History of Halifax concerning King Charles I, who ascended the throne in 1625, that "At his Coronation, King Charles offered a knighthood to every man who had an income of forty pounds and upwards from the rent of lands. His idea was to enrich himself by the fees that had to be paid by every new knight. Those men who refused 'the honour of knighthood' were fined, and if they did not pay their fine, were thrown into prison. Seventy of the gentry of Halifax Parish paid these fines, and by this means, the king drew 1,034 6s 8d. from our parish"(11) The fines paid average over 16, that was a great deal of money in those days. The King obtained his revenue but not the allegiance of the leading citizens of Halifax.

In the mid 1600s the place known as Scout in the Shibden Valley passed into the hands of a family named Mitchell, by marriage of a Stancliffe woman to a Mitchell man. The mid 1600s was a time when many of the homes of the West Yorkshire gentry were replaced with residences of a new style, one of these was Scout Hall(12). A building designed by a Mitchell/Stancliffe grandson, John Mitchell, in grand proportions(13). It was built by the famed Yorkshire stonemasons on the site of the old Stancliffe houses named Scout. What the structure lacks in grace and beauty, it makes up for in mass, as it dominates the Shibden Valley. Today at the rear of the building there still remain vestiges of the crumbling walls of a previous structure named Scout. The stonework in this building readily exhibited the skill of these stone workers. The procedure used was called "dry construction" as each stone block was cut so precisely in relation to adjacent blocks that there was no need to use mortar of any kind. It is only in the restoration efforts, some three hundred years after the original construction, that there has been the necessity of mortar in some areas. There are several aspects of the building that are unique. There is a bas-relief sculptured lintel above the front door of the hall, unusual for its time, which reflects the versatility of the Yorkshire stonecutters. It is a hunting scene. John Mitchell's other interests are also reflected by the decorative carvings at the corners of the windows facing the cliff. The carvings represent the suits in a deck of cards, a spade, heart, club and diamond. Even the roof is "shingled" with stone. Slabs of stone about four foot by three foot in size and several inches thick are pegged to the heavy oak framing of this structure.

Scout Hall is also notable because of the numerous "Mason's Marks"(14) that appear on the outside portion of the building. One of these Mason's Marks was a capital I with a horizontal dash at mid-height, found on all levels of the building. This mark is identical to the mark used by James Stanclift in Connecticut to sign legal documents. Land and Property documents record that this symbol was engraved upon brownstone posts and used to mark the boundaries of his homelot in East Middletown, CT. One of the other Marks upon Scout Hall, occurring just as frequently, was the canopied A,  i.e. a capital A with a horizontal dash in the peak of the letter, that was favored by James Stanclift when engraving tombstones.

There are gravestones near Halifax that if found in the Connecticut River Valley, would without question be identified as the work of James Stanclift. James Stanclift of Middletown, CT engraved tombstones in the style of Halifax stonecutters. The stones that employed the unique attributes by which James Stanclift is identified in Connecticut(15) seem to be found exclusively in the Halifax and the nearby Elland area. It was of great interest to find that James and some of the Halifax carvers were influenced by the style of gravestones left behind by the early Roman invaders. Several elements of this style were noted in the ancient walled city of York. At the Archeological excavations beneath the great Cathedral at York, there is a portion of an old Roman gravestone on display that has a "canopied A" and the "nested LL". In another area of York, in an Archeological Museum, there is a large grave covering stone that has the inscription carved around the edge of the stone. Each of these factors was used as a point of verification in identifying the work of James Stanclift in Connecticut. An Archeologist at the museum indicated that stones such as this might be found not only in York but in an area to the West of Halifax, in Lancashire. It is probable that one of the Halifax Carvers saw ancient Roman gravestones and incorporated some of the design characteristics into his own work.

The building, called Scout Hall, was completed in the fall of 1680(16). The politics of the time were such that religious dissenters, or Nonconformists, were being persecuted with vigor throughout England. Halifax, never existed in an atmosphere of passive conformity, but prided itself on being a community of independent thinkers.

Some members of the Stancliff family were closely aligned with the Parish Church at Halifax, and at least one of them is buried within that church. There is a grave stone in the central aisle of the church for a Stancliff, but thousands of feet over hundreds of years have worn the stone smooth leaving little more than the surname to be read. The name Stancliffe is associated with "one of the bells in the Halifax Parish Church Steeple-the 'Stancliffe'. On all the bells in the steeple there was an inscription; and on the eighth it ran as follows:- 'All you that hear my mournful sound, repent before you lie in ground. Stancliff, 1691' This of course, was the passing bell."(17)

The law of primogeniture was in effect in England and only the eldest son inherited land. So in many prosperous families the other sons in the family were provided with an education to prepare them for life. So it was with the Stancliff family in Halifax, and many second and third sons were sent to University and became ministers. One of these, the Reverend Samuel Stancliffe, was born in Halifax, educated at St. John's College in Cambridge and was rector of "Stanmore Magna" or Great Stanmore in Middlesex County in 1662. In that year on "Black St. Bartholomew's Day" Samuel, along with many of England's finest clergymen, was ejected from his position because he refused to accept the Church of England's restrictive edicts. He was not the only Stancliff to be termed "a Nonconformist"

The Stancliff family in the Shibden Valley was closely identified with one of the leaders in the "outlawed" Nonconformist religious movement. The famous Nonconformist minister, Oliver Heywood, sought and was given sanctuary in the homes of these families. John Stancliffe, master of Hagstocks, a half mile distant from Scout Hall was frequently mentioned in Heywood's diary citing religious ceremonies that were held at Hagstocks, such as "on munday octob 13 (1673) we had a private fast at John Stancliffs of Hagstocks...."(18). John Stancliffe was in prison, as a result of his religious viewpoint, on June 10, 1678 when Heywood wrote "I visited an afflicted family at Hagstocks, J. Stancliff being in prison I discoursed prayd with his wife, god helpt."(19)

John Stancliffe's brother in law, John Hodgson, leading a force comprised of Halifax recruits, fought against the Royalists and eventually became an officer serving under Oliver Cromwell. He died in prison on Jan. 24, 1683/4. The hardships endured by these people was a result of the entire family's tenacious adherence to precepts that differed from that of the Church of England. Oliver Heywood mentions "James Stancliffs, son of John of Hagstocks" as being an apprentice in London in 1675, and also of being at Hagstocks in 1676 where many prayers were offered for James. He was recovering from "two serious fits of sicknes" and just as dangerous, the threat of being influenced by a nurse who was an Anabaptist(20). There was no mention of the trade in which James was being trained as an apprentice. The Reverend John Shepley Stancliffe speculated that this James could possibly have been the man who a few years later moved to New England(21). There is no proof that James, son of John of Hagstocks, is the same man who settled in Middletown, Connecticut, and if the age given on James' gravestone in Middletown is correct, then this cannot be the same man.

The final punishment for participation in forbidden Nonconformist meetings was confiscation of property and banishment to a foreign plantation other than Virginia or New England. Virginia and New England were known to be strongholds of dissention and Puritan thought, and thus banishment to those areas was not sufficient punishment. Passage was to be financed by indenture(22).

It is of interest that David Stanclift, son of Lemuel, when asked to write down the family history as he had heard it from his father and other relatives, wrote that the first Stanclift had been born in Halifax, Yorkshire, England and come to this country in 1680. He also said the story had been passed down that the immigrant ancestor had left England because his departure was a political necessity.

There is no proof at this time that the man we know as James Stanclift of Middletown, Connecticut left England for political reasons, but it would explain why James Stanclift, a skilled stone mason, aged 42 years old, probably from an important family in Halifax was indentured on August 2, 1680 in order to leave his home and start a new life far from the shores of England.

The record of this indenture was found at the Bristol, England Council House in a slender leather bound volume entitled "Servants to Foreign Plantations"(23). This volume was discovered in 1924 when the City of Bristol established an Archives Department and this and other old records came to light.

This record was the result of a need to document legitimate indenture contracts. Authorities sought to stop the practice of kidnapping and selling apprentices and children into servitude in the Colonies. They started a record of all those indentured for service in the Colonies. The terms of many of these indentures provided that after the completion of the obligation the individual was to receive a parcel of land and provisions to sustain him through the first year, the indentured person would then become a productive member of a new society. In many cases the indenture was handled by a "broker" who made a contract with an individual and then sold the contract either in England or in the Colonies to someone needing the specialized skills of the indentured individual. It was not uncommon for the Master of a ship to hold the contract on some of those individuals who were passengers on his ship.

The records at the Bristol Council House contain over 10,000 names of emigrants to the new land. "All of them sailed from Bristol, and as at that time Bristol had a monopoly of the Virginia trade, this list gives the names of practically every person who left England for Virginia, Maryland and the West Indies.... A small portion were political prisoners. There were few ages in English history when this resource insured so constant a supply."(24)

In 1986 the original books were available for inspection at the Bristol Council House. The records revealed that the Nevis Merchant under command of Captain Arthur Grant sailed from Bristol, England in September 1680 bound for Nevis, in the Windward Islands and for the Colony of Virginia(25). On a subsequent voyage the ship Nevis Merchant(26) made port in Boston, MA on her sweep north to pick up the trade winds for her return to Bristol, England. She was described in 1687 as being "a Shipp", or square rigged on all masts, of seventy tons, two guns, built in England, out of Bristol, England(27). Arthur Grant was still the Master. Captain Arthur Grant was listed as the holder of several of the indenture contracts for passengers on that voyage.

Whether James indeed spent four years in Nevis and completed the terms of his indenture, we may never know. Dr. William Stanclift of Manassas, VA spent time in that area with the express purpose of searching the records for some proof that James Stanclift had been in Nevis. There were no records available for that time period. A search of the oldest graveyard in Nevis did not reveal any stones that might have been carved by James Stanclift. There are, however, several families bearing the surname "Stancliff" living in Nevis today. None of the individuals contacted had any knowledge of their heritage.

James Stanclift was in Lyme, Connecticut about 1684. It is significant that Lyme had been settled by a number of families from the Halifax, Yorkshire, England area, there were other Halifax families nearby on Long Island. The Diaries of Oliver Heywood mentioned going to the homes of these families such as Tillotson, Waterhouse, and Chadwick, which indicated that they too held Nonconformist views. The question arises- If James Stanclift wished to join these people from Halifax who had established a community in the Colonies, and if he was leaving England of his own accord, why then didn't he go directly from Bristol, England to Lyme, Connecticut? If he was free to arrange his own indenture to the Colonies, why did he choose to go to Nevis before the journey to Connecticut?

It became evident that soon after his arrival in this country, James Stanclift owed money to three wealthy men in New London, CT. These men were Christopher Christophers, Samuel Fosdick and Joseph Rogers, all engaged in commerce with the West Indies. Christopher Christophers, one of the most influential men in New London, CT, amassed his fortune in trade not only in the West Indies but also with England. He appeared repeatedly in the Bristol Shipping Records as both a ship owner, a cargo owner, and the holder of indentures. The land records of the area at that time contained a record of both land and livestock that was bought, sold, leased or mortgaged, and there is no record in either the Lyme or the New London Land and Property records that accounts for James Stanclift's debt to any of these men. It is interesting to speculate that the money owed by James may have been payment for passage to the Port of New London from Nevis or it may have even been for the redemption of an indenture.

Those members of the Stancliffe family who left Halifax and established a business in London in the mid to late 1600s were no less rebellious than those remaining in Yorkshire. Two men in particular appear frequently in the shipping records of London, they were Michael and Samuel Stancliffe. These men seemed to be successful merchants dealing in yard goods and haberdashery(28). They also seem to have been deeply involved in the Quaker movement and suffering the same persecution that their relatives in Halifax were experiencing, including arrest and imprisonment(29). Samuel Stancliffe, London Haberdasher, purchased two 5000 acre tracts of land in East Jersey in 1688. In that year A. Hamilton wrote a letter to W. Dockwra(30) concerning this land which said "I have taken all imaginable pains to Encourage Mr Stancliffs designs because his designes seem to be reallie honorable, in alloting his propriety as a refuge to poor banished protestants & besides I am sensible it will prove a great good to the Country. I have placed him on Myston river as a place convenient for such a design, but remember I had an eye by that Neighborhood to make Mr D's land more valuable 'There is a gushet of about 2000 acres a rear of your uppermost lots, which I design to take up for you....'" The letter goes on to say this is the best land in the province.(31) The project was abandoned and Samuel sold his property in the Colonies without ever leaving London. There is no evidence that Samuel had any contact with James Stanclift.

1. .THE STORY OF OLD HALIFAX by T. W. Hanson, page 49, "Shibden was formerly spelt Schepedene - the sheep vale".

2. .Northowram was contracted from North over Ham. The Ham or Hamlet was Halifax.

3. .Also spelled Wapontake. It meant the taking or touching of Weapons, and was of Norse derivation. It is a division of land.

4. .The Ridings or Administrative districts of Yorkshire were derived from "thrithing or trithing", a division into thirds.

The "t" was lost when combined with directional prefixes, East, West and North.

5. .John Shepley Stancliffe Manuscript indicates that he appeared on the Wakefield Manor Court Rolls of Oct. 18, 1274 and appeared in very early court records as Greave of Hipperholm in 1275.

6. .A Grave or Greave was a local official elected in annual rotation from the chief holders of land in an area. His duty was to collect money due to the Lord of the Manor. Hipperholm was one of the three Graveships of Wakefield Manor, the others being Rasterick and Skammyndene now Scammonden.

7. .HISTORY OF BRIGHOUSE, RASTRICK, AND HIPPERHOLME by J. Horsfall Turner, first published 1893, reprint 1985, page 55

8. .English Periodical COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE, Dec. 20, 1946, page 1200, THE VALLEY TIME FORGOT by M.Lisle

9. .ENGLISH STONE BUILDING by Alec Clifton-Taylor and A.S. Ireson Published in London by Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1983 page 30, "The most important building sandstones are from the Carboniferous series; the stone from the Coal Measures, the Millstone Grit and what are known as the Lower Carboniferous sandstones. These form the stone of a large part of Northern England, including the whole length of Pennines".

10. .WEBSTER'S TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY defines Gentry as the English Class between the Nobility and the Yeomanry. The Stancliffe men who owned these holdings were frequently referred to in records as "Gentlemen".

11. .THE STORY OF OLD HALIFAX by T. W. Hanson, reprint of 1920 publication in 1985, page 137.

12. .RURAL HOUSES OF WEST YORKSHIRE 1400-1830, published by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, page 83-84.

13. .The Hall is 76 feet long by 48 feet deep, the three levels reach 33 feet at the eaves and 55 feet at the peak of the roof. It was envisioned by John Mitchell as one wing of a structure that would eventually be in the form of an E.

14. .ENGLISH STONE BUILDING by Alec Clifton-Taylor and A.S. Ireson Published in London by Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1983

MASONS MARKS-Personal marks of the masons, not to be confused with code marks or quarry identification mark. Mason's marks came into general use in England at a time when Surnames were not yet established. Masons were free to devise their own marks and frequently this was accomplished by "differencing" those marks used by their fathers or grandfathers. The marks served two purposes, to associate each mason with his work and the responsibility for correcting errors on a particular stone, and to establish productivity and remuneration. These marks usually did not appear on the face of the stone. This however was the practice in parts of Scotland.(the Halifax area of Yorkshire, relatively close to the border of Scotland, entertains many customs from that area). This mark was also used by masons who were illiterate to sign a legal document.


16. .HALIFAX ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY PUBLICATION, November 5, 1946 Article, Scout Hall, by W. B. Trigg

17. .NORTHOWRAM, IT'S HISTORY AND ANTIQUITIES with a Life Of Oliver Heywood, by Mark Pearson, F.King & Sons, Halifax - 1898, page 239

18. .THE REV. OLIVER HEYWOOD, B.A. Autobiography, Diaries, Anecdote and Event Books, In three volumes, Edited by Horsfall Turner, Vol.I, page 299

19. .THE REV. OLIVER HEYWOOD, B.A. Autobiography, Diaries, Anecdote and Event Books, In three volumes, Edited by Horsfall Turner, Vol.II, page 65

20. .THE REV. OLIVER HEYWOOD, B.A. Autobiography, Diaries, Anecdote and Event Books, In three volumes, Edited by Horsfall Turner, Vol.III, page 166 and 174.

21. .In 1936 John Overton Stancliff of Oakley, CA wrote to Charles Herman Stancliff of Houston, TX. John Overton told of contacting Percy Stancliffe of Sion Hill, Yorkshire and through him the Reverend John Shepley Stancliffe, the genealogist. It was John Shepley Stancliffe's theory that since there was no further evidence in the Halifax or London records concerning James Stancliff, son of John Stancliffs of Hagstocks, that he left the area and may well have gone to New England.

22. .The "Conventicle Act" of 1664 Outlined the penalties for those who refused to abide by the 1662 "Act of Uniformity". These penalties were suspended under the "Declaration of Indulgence" in 1672 and enforced with renewed zeal between 1675 through 1685.

23. .Bristol Apprentice Book, Council House, Bristol, England, Reference 04355.

24. .BRISTOL AND AMERICA, A RECORD OF THE FIRST SETTLERS IN THE COLONIES OF NORTH AMERICA 1654-1685, Introduction to the Transcriptions by William Dodgson Bowman, page 15

25. .James Stankliffe was listed as destination Nevis, but others on the same voyage were destined for Virginia.

26. .NAVAL OFFICE SHIPPING LISTS FOR MASSACHUSETTS for the date September 29, 1687, Ledger page 13.

27. .She is not to be confused with the "Nevis Merchant" out of Boston under the command of Timothy Clark, who coincidentally was married to a cousin of Mary [Tinker] Waller Stanclift.

28. .Documents at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London researched by Dr. William Stanclift indicated repeated entries for shipment of goods to Virginia and New England.

29. .EXTRACTS FROM STATE PAPERS RELATING TO FRIENDS 1654-1672, edited by Norman Pinney, page 149 and

JOHN PERROT, EARLY QUAKER SCHISMATIC, by Kenneth L. Carrol, pages 86-87. Copied by Dr. William Stanclift at the Friend's Historical Society, Friends House, London, England.

30. .Andrew Hamilton, a merchant from Scotland acted as an agent in East New Jersey for William Dockwra in a Quaker initiated land enterprise.