Abbreviated Penhey Commentary on Pearce-Austen OFN

on work by
Robert J. Penhey, British Historian [1]
[Edited, & annotated by Larry Pearce]
2/15/01 rev.  11/21/07 & 5/9/13
For full version (9 pages) see “Penhey Commentary on OFN” in 3 parts:
Pt. I – Introduction through Charles Austen’s admission to the royal palace,
Pt. II – Life at Castle Gate Manor & courtship before coming to America, and
Pt. III – The London wedding, sea voyage, & life in America

Internal evidence implies that the text [of the Original Family Narrative] was written in the years around 1900. The reference to the “present Queen Victoria” dates it not after 1901. The marriage of the writer’s grandfather in 1813 is consistent with this, supporting the conclusion that it was written after Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837. [2]

The name “Austen” originates from the French “Augustin,” the name of a saint (Latin name Aurelius Augustinus) of the [Roman] Catholic Church from the period shortly after its separation from the Orthodox. This is not to say that the Austin/Austens are blood relations of the said bishop. His name probably relates in turn to the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, Octavianus, who took the title Caesar Augustus. He was the one in charge in Rome at the turn of the Era. An ancestor of the Charles of the text probably worked for an Austen (Augustinian) monastery in some capacity, or simply wished to be associated with a later St. Austin (Augustine) who brought the Catholic version of Christianity to Britain (about 605) and began the process of ousting the Celtic Church, which was a version of the Orthodox cut off from the Greek Church by the geographical position of the Roman one. Austin set up his headquarters at Canterbury in Kent, the county of Charles’ birth.

[Re: Charles’ military service] I have never before heard of a man’s enlisting formally in both the army and the navy. It would be possible to enlist in one, serve one’s term, leave and then enlist in the other. That has been done though it is not at all usual. There certainly were Austens in the navy. Jane Austen, the novelist, had two brothers who each attained high rank in that service. They were beginning their careers during the period of the war with the French Republic and establishing the foundations of their high ranks during the Napoleonic wars. The younger of these was Charles John Austen (1779-1852) who died as Commander in Chief of the East India Station. However, beyond this coincidence, there is no sign, in the relevant generation of the novelist’s family, of a connection with the Austens of Pine Creek [Allegheny Co., PA].

The early part of the 19th century, notably in 1803, was period of English fear of invasion by France. [3] The parallels with the reactions to the similar threats of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and of Operation Sealion in 1940 [WW II] are striking. The defenses all relied on control of the seaward approach to England, though in 1940 the major arm in that control was in the air above the sea. The second line of defense was on land and was in each case, shall we say, unconvincing, though probably stronger in 1803 than at the other times. In each case, an elaborate early warning system was set up and played a progressively important role when considering the three crises chronologically. In 1940 this was crucial. It is not surprising then that the writer confused the invasion scare of 1803 (ultimately removed effectively by the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar in October 1805) with the Armada of 1588. [4] There is a document in Lincolnshire Archives concerning precautionary measures lest there be invasion. It is dated May 1798 and contains no mention of any Pearce in its lists of people capable of rendering service in the event of invasion. [5] It goes into some detail concerning allocation of men to calvary, infantry etc., arms, tools, vehicles, fodder, livestock owned by individuals, flour, bread baking capacity and so on. But, there is no mention of a Pearce.

There was plenty of what [the grand-daughter] calls reconnoitring. This was part of the early warning system. Throughout the decades of the wars there were endless patrols for the dual purpose of obtaining warning of French offensive naval action and closing French ports to imports from the non-European world [such as sugar from the West Indies]. It was a long, hard slog but it was very effective. This is why it was in France in this period rather than in another place or time that the sugar beet was first developed as a significant crop. [6] For much of the time France still had access to European agricultural production, but this did not solve the problem. Before the blockade, France had tended to supply the other countries rather than importing from them. Thus, when world supplies were no longer available, although they were not as great as they later became, all of Europe ran short. However, the main impediment to food supply overland to already quite large food consumers, such as Paris, was the lack of an effective means of doing it in this pre-railway period. Blockade-runners were paid much more handsomely for delivery into the Seine, where river transport to Paris was simple, than for delivery to the Loire, which was a longer river route and much more difficult.

[Re: Charles’ admission to the Royal Palace] Evidence within the [narrative] indicates that Charles Austen had daily contact with the Palace in 1807 at the latest. However, future George IV was born in 1762. As Prince of Wales, he established his own social circle and it may have been with this that Charles Austen was connected, the reference to the time of George IV meaning that of the man who became George IV. Adelaide and Charlotte, Princess Royal, were of this generation. [7] There were three Charlottes. One was the queen of George III and died in 1818. Her granddaughter was daughter and heiress of George IV. The third was a daughter of George III and Charlotte. The most likely candidate for Charles Austen’s attention was George III’s sixth daughter, the Princess Royal (1766-1828). By 1800 she may well have been married and moved to Wurtemburg.  Princess Adelaide is harder to find. Queen Victoria’s mother was the Duchess of Kent, wife of Edward, Duke of Kent. He was a brother of George IV and William IV. Both the Duchess of Kent and her daughter were called Victoria. [8] When it came to dancing with princesses, there were plenty to chose from, though not all were young ladies present at court during the relevant period. In Queen Victoria’s generation were Charlotte, Elizabeth, Victoria, Augusta and Mary Adelaide. [9]

[Re: Castle Gate Manor] In place names, “gate” has two meanings. There is the obvious one of an opening in a wall, but in a part of England which was settled by Danes, that is to say the North and to some extent the East, a gate is a street. Therefore, Castle Gate might be a door into a castle or the street leading to the castle. It is not a typical name for a manor. However, it sounds like a grace and favour of the monarch. This would place it by the castle gate in somewhere like Windsor Castle. There are indeed houses called the Poor Knights’ Lodgings near one of the gates of Windsor Castle. The “Pepper com. Right” would be the peppercorn rent. This is a nominal rent which could be anything such as a penny a year or a rose presented on the 10th of June or indeed, a peppercorn. It means that the place was effectively rent-free, but the legal rights and obligations of a rental tenant applied. [10] Where the sheep fit into that set up is another matter. They strongly imply a rural estate and Castle Gate in Cornwall might fit the requirements.It does look as though Charles was a member of the Prince of Wale’s circle, i.e. a friend of the Duke of Cornwall, the heir to the throne. The three were one man. Relations between George III and the Prince of Wales were such that Charles would not have been welcome at court, but perhaps tolerated. This fits with the grace and favour farm. He is not likely to have been given it without somehow having made himself useful. [11]

[Re: The meeting of the Pearces and Austens] The internal chronology seems a little shaky. The couples met at a fair 28 miles from Bourne. If this was Bourne, Lincolnshire, then Kettering or Market Harborough might have been the place. Both these, Kettering the more so, are conveniently placed to be reached from Litchborough. The same, however, is true of Wellingborough in relation to Bourn in Cambridgeshire. Bourne, Lincolnshire, now has the final “e” and Bourn, Cambridgeshire, has not; but it was settled only in about 1880-90. Whichever Bourn(e) it was, Litchborough can be seen as a likely base for Charles, but the story says that he moved there two years before going to America. He set off in 1820, so that gives us 1818 for his arrival at Litchborough, and the couple was married in 1813. He was in St. Albans for four years, so he arrived there in 1814, and even allowing a little latitude, this is still a tight timetable for fitting in courting and wedding arrangements. If Charles was living at St. Albans when he went to the fair, the Bourn, Cambridgeshire is the more likely home for Sarah [Pearce]. They 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. If Charles was still based at Castle Gate, Cornwall, then he was well away from home 28 miles from either Bourn(e). Although there are numerous place names that contain “bourne” as an element, it is an English word. [12] 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 [storytelling] granddaughter’s mind to “Bourne.” This train of unlikely possibilities can, I think, be set aside. 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. The question is, “Which one?”

[Re: The wedding] Marybone Church, or the Queen’s  Church, seems fairly straightforward. [13] While Marlebone is a district of Wigan, Lancashire, now part of Great Manchester which is little-known outside that area, the well-known one is in an area of London which was a fashionable new quarter in 1813. The name “Marylebone,” in London at least, was until about forty years ago, pronounced “marrabun,” but is now generally called “maral’b’n.” It is an odd example of the introduction of an “L” to a pronunciation over a period when most L’s, not at the beginning of a word, have been dropped. The point of this diversion is that Marylebone might well be the way in which St. Marylebone was remembered and transmitted to late nineteenth century Pine Creek. [14]

[Re: After the wedding] Why should [Charles and Sarah] have gone to Castle Gate when he had sold the place about six years before?

[Mr. Penhey concludes his commentary with questions about the possible location of the “long bridge,” but we believe now that those are moot as Bourne, the town in question around which all this discussion centers, was and is most likely in Wiltshire. He closes with the regret that he is unfamiliar with the Pine Creek destination in America and so he doesn’t comment further. In the complete version of this commentary, I comment on what it must have been like traveling and settling on the American frontier of 1820. I hope you’ll take time to read it.]


[1] These musings of Mr. Penhey, a resident of Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, were sent to me after a brief visit to his home during a vacation trip. I was referred to him by the Bourne Library. He has the reputation of being very knowledgeable in both local and national historical affairs.

[2] The narrative is signed simply “SAG”, and several family researchers believe it was written by Sarah Austen Grubbs. See the previous Commentary by Pinkers.

[3] Napoleon contemplated a hazardous and utterly unnecessary military action against Great Britain based on risky and fantastic assumptions and preparations. This was to be the longest and most elaborate of his entire career, straining every muscle of the French people and their many subjected allies in order to achieve his latest “pipe-dream-become-idee fixe”. In Britain over a quarter-million volunteers joined the beefed up regular army of 116,000 men. The number of warships in the Royal Navy was dramatically increased. The long, irregular coastline was divided into 28 coastal districts guarded by some 700 small gunboats (Alan Schom, Napoleon Bonaparte 308, 328).

[4] Trafalgar was commanded by Lord Nelson – another famous Pearce Family name to be discussed later – and a fleet of 27 ships in what is called “the greatest victory in naval history” (Schom 369). According to one historian, “Nelson is the best loved name in English ears” (G.M. Trevelyan, History of England 578).

[5] Is this because the name in question is Austen, not Pearce? Is this an oversight by Mr. Penhey? Also, Charles lived in Kent County. I include this error to show the depths Mr. Penhey went to in researching. Apparently there were no Pearces in or near Bourne in the military at that time.

[6] It is also raised, along with corn and other grains, in the fens, or reclaimed lowlands adjacent to and east of Bourne. Agriculture was and still is the major industry in Bourne. Richard Pearce was supposedly a miller by trade, which is why upon coming to America he bought and operated the mill side of Pine Creek, as we shall hear later.

[7] Future Austen and Pearce daughters were to be named after them, a usual custom for the British, but unusual for new Americans after the War of 1812, except for Whigs and Loyalists.

[8] For fun, do an Internet search of “George IV.” According to, George Augustus Frederick was “rather too fond of women and wine,” not the sort we would have wanted our ancestors associating with. His amorous nature was controversial, to say the least. After having his first illegal marriage to a “Catholic” annulled, he married his cousin, Caroline, who ran off to Italy with their daughter, only to return later to try to claim her Queenship. George barred her from the coronation. He died ten years later of a bleeding ulcer.

[9] These were favorite names for the Austen-Pearce line. Charles had younger sisters named Mary and Charlotte. His brother Thomas has children named Elizabeth, Caroline, Mary, and George. Richard and Susan Austen Pearce also gave some of their children royal or traditional names: Charlotte, Frederick, Alfred, and Ambrose. My Grandfather Wesley had a sister named Addie.

[10] An Internet search of “Castle Gate” reveals a Presbyterian church by that name with origins from 1689 in a small town near Nottingham, famous for Robin Hood and about 30 miles from Bourne, Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands. We originally wondered if this town could be Charles’ Castle Gate Manor and how Mr. Penhey missed considering it. Family researchers have since learned that the name was actually “Cattle Gate Manor” near London.

[11] no doubt a reference to an earlier statement that Charles and his uncle before were war heroes with access to the throne.

[12] from Latin and French, meaning “boundary, goal, or objective” that is often associated with a river or stream.

[13] See WWW.SMVPH.ORG.UK for pictures and information on the still thriving St. Mary the Virgin parish in the Edmonton Area of London referred to by poet William Blake near Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park. It is famous as the birthplace of the English Hymnal credited to composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. Hoever, we believe now that the site of the Pearce-Austen wedding was the Marylebone Chapel, now across from London’s famous wax museum. Charles Wesley, composer of thousands of hymns and brother to Methodism founder John, is buried there and many other famous men have been associated with this parish.

[14] The writer of our narrative calls it “Marybone,” but the French translation of the actual church, “Marylebone,” is “Mary the good.” Another meaning might be after “marl,” or rich, sandy soil, literally “the good earth.” The next installment should answer the church question once and for all.

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