6/21/13 & 12/31/13
Larry Pearce, great-great grandson
Today is the bicentennial anniversary of the wedding of Richard (1782/5-1861) and Susan Austen Pearce (1791-1865). A number of things make this celebration remarkable: first, most families don’t know much if anything about such ancestors let alone observe their wedding date, but we do on both counts; second, one historical and several scholarly documents have been written about their courtship and marriage and we look forward to sharing excerpts; and third, the nuptials had a connection to British Royalty and the anniversary date falls in the same month and year that Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years on the throne, the longest reign of any living monarch. Richard and Susan were united in what was called “The Queen’s Church,” and we’re reminded, with all the media coverage of QEII’s timeless royal splendor, what that area of London must have been like back then. More about the church and our families’ ties to the British monarchy in a minute, but several other interesting and curious considerations will be covered. Richard Pearce’s twin sister Sarah was betrothed to Susan’s brother Charles the very same day in the very same church in a double marriage ceremony. Finally, and quite ironic, is that this is the day that the summer solstice is observed. Not only were the Pearces from Wiltshire, the home of Stonehenge, perhaps the most famous center in the world for solstice celebration, begun some 5,000 years ago, but the “Original Family Narrative” (OFN) says that our family were “old Brittons,” perhaps descendants of those sun worshippers. Stonehenge is also the repository of many ancient graves, suggesting a keen interest in preserving the memory of ancestors. How appropriate!
While the research into our ancestors is ongoing, I thought this occasion would be a good time to summarize all that is known about the Pearce and Austen couples, carefully citing our sources for reference by future generations. It’s hard to imagine the information that might be discovered through the technology available in 50 or even 100 years. My personal journey began around 1995 with a tattered copy of the Pearce-Austen OFN, a yellowed 4-page document, generated on a manual typewriter, uncovered in an old box my father had given me, left from my Pearce grandparents’ estate. We’ll refer to that wonderful story often. But today, rather than mechanical keys activating a metal alphabet through carbon ribbon onto paper, the digital internet is the medium of choice and my web page is the preferred vehicle of distribution for various commentaries and analyses on that story. Over that past dozen years my work has been read and responded to by countless friends and family from around the world. That was only possible through the virtual medium of the internet. Be that as it may, let’s begin with a bit of the OFN as it pertains to our couples and that joyous event back in 1813.
The Pearce-Austen family narrative was probably handed down orally in bits and pieces until sometime before 1901, when it was organized and typed on paper by one of Charles (1785-1856) and Sarah Pearce Austen’s (1782/5-1856) granddaughters. It begins by providing both historical and geographic context then continues:
Grandfather Austen married Sarah Pearce of Bourne, England, in 1813, whom he had met at a fair some twenty-eight miles from Bourne. He was in company with his sister, Susan, at the time. Sarah Pearce was accompanied by her twin brother Richard Pearce, and a friendship grew between them which resulted in their marriage. In the meantime an intimacy sprang up between Richard Pearce and Susan Austen, and in time they were all married at the same time in the Marylebone Church, which was called the Queen’s Church, and Royalty attended their wedding.
[Grandfather Charles’ military commission] gave him access to the Royal family and admitted him to the Palace in [the future] King George IV’s time. He there met Princess Adelaide and Charlotte. Princess Adelaide was mother of the present Queen Victoria. Grandfather had danced with all the Princesses in [the future] King George IV’s time. He was admitted to all the festivities of the Royal family. At that time his position in the army gave him prestige. He was their escort frequently then with his squad of men.
British historian Robert Penhey was kind enough to provide written comments on the historical accuracy of such statements in the OFN. For this article, obvious misspellings, punctuation errors, and redundancy in the original text have been corrected by me for easier reading. When appropriate, I have also made comments and explanations on content. For example, family genealogists believe that Richard and Sarah were from Wiltshire County and that the mention of Bourne as place of residence may refer to Aldbourne, although there are many locations in England with similar names. Penhey says:
[The Pearce and Austen fair-goers] would then have met at somewhere like Hereford or Ware, which lie on a direct road from Bourn and are only 12 or 14 miles from St. Albans [where Charles supposedly lived at that time]. There are numerous place names that contain “bourne” as an element; it is an English word [meaning “stream”]. Conceivably, Sarah was visiting her sister, Charlotte Hale, if the latter were already married and living in Wiltshire [referred to earlier] at say, Winterbourne Basset. Conceivably, the name had become shortened in the [storyteller’s] mind to “Bourne.” If Charles was a sheep farmer, he would have had business at a fair for the purpose of selling or buying sheep, so meeting there would not be unlikely.
Penhey also suggests that Charles’ military duty may have brought him in contact with the Monarchy and thus the decision to be married in “The Queen’s Church” and the comment, “Royalty attended the wedding.” Read his full or abbreviated commentary for a better understanding. In the interest of accuracy, a quick search on Google reveals several other churches and chapels in London today that carry various designations associated with the Crown, but St. Marylebone has been specifically identified by our OFN as “The Queen’s Church” where the Pearce and Austen couples were wed, and that’s good enough for me.
Archdeacon the Rev. Luke Heslop, D.D., was the minister of the parish at that time, but the actual wedding ceremonies may have been conducted by William Mead, Curate to Dr. Heslop and registrar. Witnesses to the vows were Charlotte and Ralph Hale and Mary Austen, sister and brother-in-law of Sarah and sister of Susan. The Church of England had some rather strict rules for marrying, especially when one or both parties resided outside the parish. The official Marriage Allegation from St. Marylebone Church states that Charles was a member of the parish, while Sarah Pearce was from a parish in the London suburb of Hemel Hemstead. While Richard and Susan’s allegation is not available, Dr. Willard Austen’s (a distant uncle) research notes list them as members of the nearby Parish of Enfield. Below are photocopies of the actual certificates of marriage for the Pearce and Austen weddings.
The allegations are curious because, according to a 2004 letter of inquiry I received from British researcher and author Andrew M. Hill, Charles’ family had been elders in the Baptist church. Furthermore, I believe that Richard’s family had great sympathy with John Wesley’s Methodist movement. Not only is a “Brother Pearce” who resided near Bristol mentioned in Wesley’s journal, but the later Pearces of Pine Township were founding members of the Salem Methodist Church there. Granted, this is speculation, but all this is to say that probably at least some of the Austens and Pearces had at one time signed off as nonconformists under the 1662 religious Act of Uniformity. Why did the couples choose the Church of England in which to be married?
Nevertheless, the double wedding was held on a Monday, 200 years ago today, in the Queen’s Church, St. Marylebone, London. In 1967, another distant uncle, Fred Tice, gave family genealogists some interesting background on the church and some personal comments on the visits he and wife Opal paid to the present-day sanctuary in 1952 and again six years later:
The original congregation built a small church in the thirteenth century near the Tybourn stream in a district called Tybourn, famous chiefly as the locale of the Tybourn Tree where criminals were hanged. The tree was located near the site where the Marble Arch now stands in Hyde Park and is marked by a white stone set into the pavement. In 1958 I walked into the heavy traffic to see it while Opal watched from the window of our room in the Cumberland Hotel.
The church was called St. John the Evangelist at Tybourn. In 1400 a new church was built about a half mile higher up the bourne and was dedicated to St. Mary – St. Mary by the Bourne (a stream). By the middle of the fifteenth century the name Tybourn had given place to that of Marybourne because of the unpleasant association with the hangings. This in turn became St. Marylebone Church.
[Speaking of the hangings, I’m reminded of] an exchange of letters between Dr. Austen and me. Having just learned about Dr. Austen, I thought it would be fun to write him and say that I had proof that our great-grandparents had been married. Replying in the same spirit, he wrote that it might interest me to know that the last pirate hanged on Tybourn Tree was a man by the name of Austen!
When Opal and I visited the church in 1952, and asked the warden, Mr. Collins, if we could see the record of the double wedding, he took us into the office and brought from the vault the record book for 1813. Turning to June 21st, he pointed to names we wanted to see – a thrilling experience! [Uncle Fred says that this record book has since been transferred to the London County Record Office.]
It seems that the Queen’s Church, St. Marylebone, has always prospered and many changes to this London landmark have taken place over the centuries. By 1722 the congregation had grown so large that a Chapel of Ease had to be built nearby, also known as the Oxford Chapel. In 1738, a third church was built. This was probably the sanctuary in which the Pearces and Austens were joined as two separate families.
The community around the ediface became known as Marylebone High Street, site of a public garden where famous persons such as composer George Frederick Handel had performed (the Handel House Museum is nearby) and more recently was the home of BBC London. A variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions with food, art, and music for every taste delight visitors today.
Uncle Fred continues with additional information that includes a little of the old and a little of the new, a wedding tradition:
[That third sanctuary] was the church building in which the double wedding took place. Being a very small structure, and the city of London having since enveloped the area, it needed to be replaced by a larger structure. This was done in the same churchyard. In fact, the foundation stone for it was laid on July 5, 1813, just two weeks after the day of the double nuptials. And the little old church had stood nearby until World War II, roughly 450 years, at which time it was damaged by bombs and had to be razed. Mr. Collins, the warden, took us to the site and I stood where Mr. Collins said the bride and groom would have stood. Embedded in the original foundation were old gravestones, and where the altar had been, a memorial statue to Charles Wesley had been placed.
More about Wesley in a minute, but my own internet research revealed that shortly after the Pearce and Austen double wedding, additional underground construction continued there and the new St. Marylebone Church was complimented with a large vaulted crypt, completed around 1817, which served as a burial ground until 1853 when its use was discontinued. In 1980 the bodies were removed from the crypt and reburied in Brookwood cemetery in Surrey. The St. Marylebone basement was then re-developed, and in July 1987, HRH Prince Charles dedicated the newly refurbished subterranean area for use by various groups and organizations. According to the church web page, it’s still called appropriately, “The Crypt.”
A number of famous persons were christened, married, and or buried at St. Marylebone over the ages. Lord Byron was baptized there in 1788 and Lord Horatio Nelson’s daughter in 1801. Read more about our Nelson ancestors in an earlier article, “The Nelson Name: From Viscount to VIP, Lord to Lady.”
The son of novelists Charles Dickens, a local resident, was baptized in this church. The ceremony was later fictionalized in his story “Dombey and Son.” The actual church was used as the location in shooting the 1957 film recounting that tale, renamed The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Marriages at the church have included philosopher, statesman, and scientist Francis Bacon in 1606 and poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in 1846. In fact, artist William Hogarth’s famous painting “The Rake’s Progress” (1735), shown above, depicts a marriage scene in the older St. Marylebone church that probably gives Pearce and Austen descendants a fairly accurate glimpse of what the 1813 facility might have looked like. Hogarth’s artistic statement, however, is tongue-in-cheek with signs of disrepair in the building and a spider web covering the poor box. A look at the connotation of the word “rake” suggests that the groom is less than reputable, but Hogarth’s title assures us that he is making “progress” by tying the knot, perhaps a sarcastic throwback to the old Tybourn hanging tree. I’m sure none of that applies to our families.
As for funerals, Uncle Fred mentioned Charles Wesley earlier, prolific hymn writer and brother of Methodism founder John Wesley. He lived and worked in the area and once said, “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” On his death, his body was carried to the church by eight clergymen of the Church of England and a memorial to him stands today in the gardens in High Street, close to his burial spot. One of his sons, Samuel, was perhaps the organist at the church around the time of the Pearce and Austen wedding.
After the wedding ceremony it was time for other matters. According to the OFN, the honeymoon lasted about eight days, from Monday (according to Ancestor Search “Day of the Week Calculator” for June 21, 1813) until the next Monday, and was taken at each groom’s parents’ house, after which each couple “packed up all their belongings.” As if the courtship and wedding weren’t the stuff of a Jane Austen novel, what follows in the narrative is:
Grandmother [Sarah Pearce Austen] had two eight-horse wagonloads of household goods. The horses had bells on them that played tunes such as, “God Save the King,” etc. Likewise, Susan [Austen Pearce] had as many household goods as my grandmother, and it was arranged to meet on a certain long bridge that crossed a river that ran near Bourne, and when they met to pass all the teams were stopped and a great time was held. Bottles of wine were broken and faith was pledged again and again.
For all the romantic details, do read the entire OFN with commentaries, but suffice it to say that seven years passed, and in 1820, the men, Richard and Charles, came to America in search of property to start a new life before apparently returning to England for their wives and children. The return to the Port of New York on April 12, aboard the ship Venus the following year, was harrowing indeed, the stuff of which adventure movies are made. Captain Samuel Candler out of the Port of London apparently got lost or was blown off course, and the trip took nine weeks, about twice the usual time. The ship’s registry listed the following Pearces as shown in the original manifest below:
A daughter, Sarah, was born the following year, but died in infancy. Could her early demise somehow have been the result of her mother’s rough sea voyage or hardships in the new land? Five other Pearce children, including my Great-grandfather Charles, followed. Indeed, God was with the two families, and His blessings were their lot as they lived out the remainder of their days just across Pine Creek from each other, Richard farming and running a grist mill and Charles farming and probably raising sheep. The writer of the OFN puts it this way:
The Pearce and Austen families always lived happily, never having any falling out. Both Richard Pearce and Grandfather Austen had never done much heavy labor in England, however they both lived to a good old age and were gathered to rest, and both are buried in the old grave yard at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church, where they and their families were wont to worship.
Surely, every family wants to discover notable things about their ancestors, perhaps famous people with whom they associated. It’s safe to say that our Richard and Susan Pearce fit both of these criteria. We have documented evidence here of their wedding in “The Queen’s Church” 200 years ago today, a facility filled with history and associations with famous people. How fitting that the attention this month on the 60th anniversary of the reign of present Queen Elizabeth II compliments the story of our couple. Add the excitement of a double wedding, Pearce-twin brother and sister marrying Austen-sister and brother; wonderful honeymoons; births of numerous off spring; emigration to the New World; and living out happy and successful lives so close to each other, and burial nearby. Of course, many questions remain. Was the June 21 wedding day just a coincidence or somehow symbolic of the Pearce’s birthplace in Wiltshire, site of the magnificent Stonehenge with it’s powerful connection to the joyful summer solstice and reverence to our ancestors? I’m sure we’ll never know, but what fun it’s been and will be to remember those happy couples on that glorious day 200 years ago.
Austen, Brian, family historian and researcher with credits to
Caroline Pinkers, Susan Lee, Marjory Austen, and Lynn Austin
. Annotations by Larry Pearce.
“The Ambrose Austen, Sr. Family of Kent, UK.” 3/24/01
“Genealogy of Austen & Pearce Families 1757-1911.” Monongahela, PA: Monongahela Republican, 1911.
“London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921.” 12/31/13
“Original Pearce-Austen Family Narrative.” Nd.
Passenger Arrivals at Port of New York 1820-1830. P. 997. http://www.ancestry.com
Pearce, Larry. “Treasures in an Old Box.” 1/2/04
Penhey, Robert J. “Commentary on Pearce-Austen Original Family Narrative.”
6/24/96. Edited, & annotated by Larry Pearce. 2/15/01 rev. 11/21/07 & 5/9/13
Pinkers, Caroline Austen. “Commentary on the ‘Pearce-Austen Original Family Narrative.'” 3/4/11
Tice, Fred A. “The Tice-Pearce Heritage,” 1967. with
“Introduction and Commentary” by Larry E. Pearce,
3/17/01 rev. 11/30/07