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Fay Sampson’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)



JOHN BREWER was the eldest son of Ambrose Bruer and Johan Mildon of Knowstone, close to the Somerset border. He was baptised there on 6 Sep 1575, in the reign of Elizabeth I. He was the first of six children.

The Brewers were then the only family of that name in Knowstone. It is believed that his parents moved there from Brushford, just across the county border in Somerset.

John followed this family tradition by moving away from the parish where he was born and founding a new branch of Brewers in Molland, three miles further north in the foothills of Exmoor.  The probable explanation is that he was a mason, as were many of this family. One village could not supply enough work for more than one or two masons.


His first wife was Agnys Norrice. Although she married in Knowstone, Agnys was born in Molland.

Weddings normally took place in the bride’s parish. In this case, John and Agnys were married in John’s birth parish of Knowstone. It lies between Tiverton and South Molton, just south of Exmoor. We do not know why the couple were not married in Molland. Perhaps Agnys had moved to Knowstone.

Marriage. St Peter, Knowstone.
1598 Oct 2  John Bruer and Agnys Norrice.

This was three years before the death of Elizabeth I.


The couple set up home in Molland. The loss of the Molland baptism registers from 1601 to 1640 means that we do not have full information about their family. There are only occasional Bishop’s Transcripts and parish accounts. Mark Brewer has had these researched with the following results.

We know of three children from this first marriage, including sons Robert, and William.

In 1612/13 there are burials for both his wife Agnes and the infant William. Agnes would appear to have died in childbirth.


ELINOR KINGE. Shortly after, on 28 Apr 1613, John Brewer of Molland married again, this time at Holy Trinity, Exeter. His second wife was Elinor Kinge of Tiverton.[i] It was not uncommon for couples from rural parishes to marry in Exeter. Sometimes, the bride was heavily pregnant, but not always.

There is one likely baptism for Elinor in Tiverton. There was another baptism in 1568, but since Elinor was still alive in 1662, this earlier baptism would make her an improbable 94. Much more convincing is the following.

Baptism. St Peter, Tiverton.
1589/90 Feb 3  Ellnor daughter of Richard King.

This would make her a more plausible 72 when we last hear of her.

Her mother was Annis Adame.

She was the youngest in a family of seven, and the only daughter

Elinor was born in a disastrous year for Tiverton. Plague was sweeping across Devon, with Tiverton one of the worst hit towns. Elinor’s brother Christopher had already died in 1587 and may have been an early victim. In 1591 the death toll soared to 550, a tenth of the population. Amongst those buried were Elinor’s mother and all five of her remaining brothers. Only she and her father were left.

In November of that year, her father remarried, to Margaret Crudge. Margaret may herself have been a plague widow. Elinor grew up cared for by her stepmother. She would have had no memory of her birth mother.

There were no half-siblings from this marriage.

Only seven years later, Tiverton suffered another catastrophe when a frying pan fire caused 300 houses to be burned down. Collections were held in many churches for those who had lost their homes or livelihoods in the fire. We do not know whether the Kinges were among these.

As if this was not enough, an even more disastrous fire hit Tiverton in 1612. This time 600 houses were lost.

Elinor married John the following year, when she was 22. We can only speculate on how the groom from Molland met the bride from Tiverton, 13 miles away. We might have discounted this marriage if it were not for the evidence of their marriage licence which gives the parish of both bride and groom.

Marriage. Holy Trinity, Exeter.
1613 Apr 23  John Brewer and Elinor Kinge.

The Bishop’s Transcripts for Molland tell us of two more children from this marriage between John and  Elinor. One of these was Lewes, baptised in 1623.

In addition, we believe them to have had a son Oliver, who moved to Rose Ash 5 miles away. The uncommon name Ambrose was passed on to his son and grandson, making it highly likely that he was descended from the same Ambrose Bruers as John. Oliver’s first known child was baptised in 1639, giving him an estimated birth date c.1613. This is only a guess, but since for most of the year before Agnes’s death she was pregnant with William, and births took place usually two years apart, Oliver would have been born to Agnes not later than 1610, making him at least 29 at the birth of his first child. This is not impossible, but a little on the old side. If Elinor was his mother, he could have been born any time from 1613 onwards, making him 26 or younger at the birth of his first child. This seems a little more likely, though the evidence is not conclusive. Probably he was born fairly soon after her marriage to John.

Another William Bruer raised a family in Molland from at least as early as 1642, making it highly likely that he too was John’s son.

John was buried in Molland in 1640.

There are three Brewers in the 1641 Protestation Return for Molland: Nikolas and John together and William separately. We have evidence of William, whom we believe to be the older John’s son, raising a family in Molland. Nicholas appears to be John senior’s younger brother. John junior could be Nicholas’s son.

John senior did not live to see the Civil War of the 1640s, but Elinor lived through it.

The people of Devon suffered greatly the war, as the armies of both sides marched across the county demanding food for their men and horses. Lord Goring’s Royalist cavalry were particularly notorious for their brutality. Even a fellow Royalist described them as ‘dissolute, wicked and ill-disciplined’. [1]  But the Roundheads were not beyond reproach. Eventually, the people of the West Country became so incensed with both sides that they formed Clubs to rise up in protest and defend their communities.

A number of North Devon parishes were particularly anti-Royalist. Nevertheless, in Molland, the Clubmen were led by John Courtenay, the local squire and JP. Courtenay had been a commissioner in King Charles’s army. It may have been thought that his record would help to legitimise their protests to the Royalist authorities.

In the church of St Mary in Molland there is a curious carved stone box, known as the Courtenay Heart Chest. It is said to contain the hearts of Courtenay family members.

Courtenay Heart Box
St Mary, Molland [2]

The widowed Elinor could have fallen into poverty in old age, but the family stepped in to help her.

John’s younger brother Nicholas had also moved to Molland. He married the widow Agnes Lake in Knowstone in 1616. They had no known children, though there may have been baptisms in the missing registers Agnes, wife of Nicholas, was buried in Molland in 1636.

This would have made it easier for Nicholas to help support his widowed sister-in-law. There are payments from him to the parish from 1652-1656, and similar payments from the parish to Elinor Brewer at the same time.

Nicholas moved to Bampton and was buried there in 1656, when the payments end.

Similar payments continue from William Brewer to Molland parish, and from the parish to Elinor Brewer, from 1658-62. William was probably Elinor’s son.


Robert Bruer was buried in Molland in 1661. He was the oldest son, who brought up his family in Meshaw.

Elinor’s burial has not been found. We would expect it to be soon after 1662, in the period immediately following the Restoration of the Monarchy.


[1] Mark Stoyle, Loyalty and Locality: Popular Allegiance in Devon during the English Civil War. University of Exeter Press, 1994, p.119.
[2] Britain Express. https://www.britainexpress.com/images/attractions/editor2/Mollard-4452.jpg





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