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Home: Surnames: Brigman Family Genealogy Forum

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Narrative #4
Posted by: Terri England (ID *****9177) Date: May 29, 2012 at 10:33:01
In Reply to: Narrative #3 by Terri England of 509

child. Sylvestre’s pain would have been eased by rubbing homemade ointments on her belly, cupboards and drawers opened, chests unlocked and knots untied. After a successful delivery the infant was swaddled and kept in a dark and warm place to give ample time to prove he could sustain life before being moved through to the next step of baptism. Strange to the modern mind was the way young children of the time were treated; mothers were cautioned to keep their hearts at arm’s length from the child until it reached the age of five or six and proven an ability to survive and worthy of a parent’s love. It is difficult to imagine a society where so much value was placed on children and so much hope vested in a couple’s ability to produce a large brood but where children could regularly suffer from a lack of attention and affection.

Three days later, on Thursday, 1 January 1659, Thomas was taken to St. Dunstan Church in Mayfield and christened by the Anglican priest, a member of the Protestant Church of England. Although to the modern mind it would seem the year of his christening should have been 1660 instead of 1659, we must remember the calendar system used by the government and church of the period was one where the new year was counted on the annunciation of Jesus -- or at that time agreed to be March 25. In point of fact, Thomas was born during the period of the Twelve Days of Christmas. He was likely baptized in a humble ceremony without his mother present -- the custom of keeping women from holy places for several weeks after giving birth was still largely practiced throughout the country. The priest would have taken great care to wash away original sin and drive all evil from the newborn, including placing salt in Thomas’ mouth to represent the reception of wisdom and exorcizing any demons known to lurk around Mayfield, including the devil himself and an act for which St. Dunstan himself had originally gained fame and notice by the Church. (For more information click or paste this link: )


Christmastide was a tradition that held strong through the Renaissance period in Sussex where feasting and merrymaking were part and parcel but gifts not exchanged. Many still practiced the “Feast of the Fools” and employed a “Lord of Misrule” who was a young peasant boy selected to preside over the festivities in a sort of mocking of authority and included great drunkenness, storytelling, jesters, flutes, drums and dancing. Although it had long been a Catholic tradition in England to name a new child based on their on a saint’s “name day,” and Thomas had been born on the day of Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett (who had been assassinated and martyred in 1170), this was the age of the Protestant and the island's own Church of England so Thomas was most likely named after his father. 1659 was a highpoint in Protestant religious change in celebrations with the reinstatement of Christmastide only brought about the prior year when Oliver Cromwell met his death as Lord Protector of England and Christmas was no longer considered a popish relic and therefore sinful to celebrate.

Oliver Cromwell’s death and the close of the English Civil War allowed Anglican priests to once again pick up pen after a ten years' respite and record christenings in their parish. Had the timing not been just right and the parish clerks ready to revive traditions of the Church we would never have had written proof of Thomas’ birth. The date of Thomas’ birth would remain insignificant to him because specific age was unimportant then and only strength or ability had any influence for an individual of his social status and not yet reaching his majority of twenty-one. Birthdays would not be celebrated for another two hundred and fifty years. After all, the recording of births in parish registers was done so only because Henry VIII provided the citizenry a means of proving heirship – and that which did not pass by will or in the case of accidental death of the parent prior to a child coming of age – allowed the Crown to seize all the assets of the parents. A very greedy king, indeed. (For more information click or paste this link: )

There is common misconception that children of the Renaissance were treated like adults and expected to behave like them as soon as they could walk and talk. Children played and imitated of their parents, learning important skills as they matured. This does not mean children were never expected to do any household work or help their parents in daily chores. But for the younger members of the family this assistance took the form of simple tasks such as carrying water, herding geese and gathering fruit. Such play was seldom organized. Young children amused themselves with toys and simple games, playing ball or hoops, racing, chasing each other and engaging their imaginations as children have done for millennia. Climbing trees, walls and other structures made up much of their adventures. Lacking specific playgrounds, they played wherever was convenient -- the fields, in the house or yard, even in the country paths. If a village had a green, it was usually a very popular spot for play.

Although the majority of children in the Renaissance spent their younger childhood with their parents, there were those who left home to live with employers or masters in trade. It was common for children to leave home and be “bound out” in apprenticeship before about the age of ten to twelve. Some poor families placed their children under indenture simply to reduce the number of mouths to be fed and parents often realized some gain in this by receiving small monetary sums just enough to justify sending the child into servitude.

The rules of bondage were strict and the social position of the child changed to that of property owned by the master. The bonded person could be sold, given away or willed to another. Should the child reach the age of fourteen and thus of marrying age, for that time they could not do so without their master’s consent. Indentured servants were not allowed to buy or sell goods but once they came into their majority could own land. Many were treated cruelly while others prospered by learning a new trade. In cases where mistreatment prevailed the indentured had the right to bring complaint before the local authorities.

It is a misconception that all indentures were for a period of seven years; some lasted one year, while others might last until eighteen for females and twenty-one for males. A formal contract would be drawn between the master and bonded, sometimes with the parents’ mark or signature affixed. The bond was then torn in half (thus making an ’indent’ in the contract and later known as an indenture) and served as proof that once fitted together again that the terms of the exact same contract had been met. The master was required to house, feed and clothe the child, sometimes educate them to a certain level of mathematical skills or reading and writing, but always with the express edict of teaching the child the “mysteries” of the particular trade of the master, be it baker, barber, midwife, needle-maker, and in rural Sussex, most likely a husbandman who labored in the fields and learned the mysteries of farming.

Thomas “the Adventurer” was a husbandman (typically the lowest of all farming classes and beneath that of a yeoman), or at least was described as such when two seperate indictments for his arrest were issued in January of 1670. In that year Thomas was just eleven years old and had likely been bound out to a master in nearby Parish Warbleton (only five miles southeast of Mayfield). As bad luck would have it, Warbleton was a hot-spot of non-conformist Quaker activity and one in which the authorities had kept a close eye since the reign of Bloody Mary and the burning of Quaker martyrs in the nearby town of Lewes, starting some one-hundred years earlier.
We can never be exactly sure what took place on the fateful day when young Thomas made the mistake that would alter his life and ultimately tear him from his country, family and all he knew and must have loved. This mistake – the mischief of a young boy – is the very reason the Brigmans in America exist to this day.

The indictments made against Thomas Brigman originated from the Sussex Quarter Sessions and because his crime was deemed of such a heinous nature, the matter was quickly turned over to England’s Assize Court, a higher court presided by judges who made their itenerant way to the various English counties twice a year. Thomas was charged as a felon and the penalty for felony charges was death by hanging. Lowly persons were hardly ever afforded the luxury of the “old chop,” with the noose and a cheering crowd being the preferred method of punishment.

To that date and sometime afterwords, England took little note, if any, of a person's age -- a felony was a felony no matter the circumstance and a young poor boy had little chance of escaping the verdict that surely awaited him. During this time the extent of how horrendous the crime was determined based on whether the crime took place in the day or night – with night being, of course, the most scandalous. Mayfield, for example, had a curfew bell rung from Norman times and meant to dissuade breach of law. The bell continued to ring until the nineteenth century and the earliest churchwardens’ accounts show payments for ringing “ye eight o’clock bell.” Surely Thomas’ mother at least once gave him “dishes of tongues," or a scolding in the slang of Sussex at the time.

Both indictments are written in clerical Latin -- a sort of abbreviated Latin used by court clerks throughout the land and up until 1722 when the courts finally changed their official language to English. Sadly for us, this clerical Latin makes the indictments all the more difficult to decipher. Nonetheless we can glean the gist of the indictments and learn that young Thomas Brigman, husbandman of Warbleton and with devilry on his mind, broke the King’s peace on 7 December 1670 when he seruptiously stole one pair of flaxen sheets, some "lynen smocks," a mappum or handkerchief and linen tablcloth – all from Thomas Wood. Even worse, Thomas also stole a priest's alb (vestment) from Thomas Golding. It is likely these were men of the cloth, the items stolen from the church and the church had therefore been desicrated by one small boy. While the total value of what he stole is not completely decipherable it appears to amount to well over £28; a high value thus a dastardly crime when even a theft of eight shillings would have brought a punishment of jail if not outright death by hanging. (For more information click or paste this link: )

A comparison of the value of money over time shows that from 1670 to the year 2010 a single British pound of 1670 is worth about £83 in 2010. Given the total amount stolen was in excess of £28 the amount stolen would translate into today’s British currency at £2325, easily translating into American dollars at a sum exceeding some $3600.


Thomas was eventually captured and jailed; probably shortly after the theft. He would have been held in the nortorious prison of Horsham where many a Quaker and nere-do-well waited and sometimes spent their lives in entire confinement. The jail at Horsham, like all other jails in England of the time, was run as a private-profit industry with no state intervention, subjecting the incarcerated to the kindness (or lack thereof) of the jail owner. Bedding and food was not provided and only gained through the mercy of those who might visit and attempt protection from equally needy fellow prisoners. Prisons of this day were dark and dank and rudimentary at best, with dirt floors strewn with rush and if lucky a

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