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)
THOMAS NICHOLS (12)
THOMAS NICHOLS of South Molton seems the most likely father of Nicholas Nichols, who married in Rose Ash in 1665. Nicholas does not appear to have been baptised in Rose Ash. The village is 5 miles from South Molton.
The South Molton registers begin in 1601, two years before the death of Elizabeth I. The earliest Nichols to appear in it are Agnes, wife of Walter Nichell, buried on 24 June 1609 and Marren Nicoll, buried 17 Oct 1611. Either of these might be Thomas’s mother or grandmother. There is then a 14-year gap. When the surname appears again, it is with the baptism of Thomas’s children.
Neither Thomas’s own baptism nor his marriage are found in these registers. He may have been born before 1601 or in another parish. He was almost certainly married outside South Molton. The baptismal register does not tell us the name of his wife.
Baptisms. South Molton. (from DCRS transcripts)
1625 Nicholes, Christan wife daughter of Thomas 8 Dec
1628 Nicholas, Thomasyne d. Of Thom. 1 May
1630 Nicholas, Umfry s of Thomas 12 Sep
1633 Nichols, Mary d of Thomas ?Mar
1635 [Ni]chols, Nicholas s of Thom 30 May
There is no record of Nicholas dying young or of him raising a family in South Molton. He is therefore a good candidate for the man who married Elizabeth Beere of Rose Ash 30 years later.
From 1633 there are also baptisms for the children of Edward Nichols and Jane Shapton. Edward may be Thomas’s younger brother. His baptism does not appear in South Molton either, so it may be that the Nichols family had moved into the town from another parish.
There is a burial for Humfry Nicholls on 20 Apr 1634. Since the burial register at this period does not name the father of dead children, this may be Thomas’s son. If so, the boy was under four. But it could be an older relative, possibly Thomas’s father, after whom his eldest son might have been named.
There are also burials for women, one of whom may be Thomas’s mother, if she was not one of those earlier ones. Another may be his wife.
Burials. South Molton.
1637/8 Nichols, Alce 4 Feb
1641 Nicholas, Jane 7 Dec
1642 Nicholls, Jane 12 July
1643 Nichols, Joan 11 Nov
We have now entered the time of the Civil War. In England, the war was principally about the contest for power between King and Parliament. But a strong contributory factor was the divide between the Catholic and Reformed wings of the church. From the 16th century, South Molton had been one of first communities in this area to produce fervent adherents of reformed Christianity, in opposition to Roman Catholicism. There was a congregation of ‘professors’ of protestantism in the town in the reign of Mary I, the queen who had returned the country to Catholicism following the Reformation.
South Molton remained a zealously protestant town. Even before the Civil War broke out, there was trouble. In 1640, 600 North Devon men were conscripted to fight the Scots. They were marched away and quartered at Wellington in Somerset. On 12 July, they observed that Lieutenant Compton Evers did not attend church, and suspected that he was a Catholic. They attacked the house where he was billeted, even climbing on to the roof and stripping the tiles above his bedchamber. They dragged him down the stairs by his arms and legs and beat him to death with cudgels. As he lay dying, they stripped his body and found a crucifix. Then they deserted and hastened back to Devon, boasting of what they done. They defied orders to disband, insisting that in future they would only be led by their own officers. Nine of those suspected of the murder came from Bishops Nympton and South Molton.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, most of the wool towns of Devon were on the side of Parliament. South Molton, the centre of the NE Devon cloth trade, was particularly vehement in its opposition to the Royalists. When the Earl of Bath, Lord Lieutenant of Devon, tried to publish the Commission of Array in the town to rouse them for the King there was a riot.
When the Earl of Bath and his gentry allies rode into South Molton . . . they found that the women of the town ‘had filled the steps of the [town] cross with great stones, and got up and sat on them, swearing if [the Royalists] did come there, they would brain them all’. One woman, a butcher’s wife, even ‘came running with her lap full of rams horns’ to throw at the luckless Earl.
the common sort of the town . . . fell in a great rage . . . and swore that if . . . [the Royalists] did attempt any thing there, or read their Commission . . . they would beat them all downe and kill them, aye, if they were all hanged for it; and thereupon betooke themselves to arms, both men, women, and children.
The crowd was estimated to be at least 1000 strong, including ‘both men and women . . . which do daily beg from door to door’.
Passive resistance continued, even after the Royalists had conquered the area. In November 1643, a number of inhabitants refused to join in a posse which the Royalist sheriff had summoned. In April 1644 the town constables gave false directions to a group of Royalist soldiers, and were tried before the county sessions for it. In 1645, an entire company of South Molton men left their homes under Royalist occupation and marched off to join the Parliamentary garrison at Taunton. The country villages around were similarly disaffected.
In 1644 the South Molton burial register lists ‘One Stranger’ on 30 May, ‘Three Strangers’ on 19 Sep, ‘One Stranger’ on 19 Oct. The unusual number of bodies to which no name could be put may mean these were casualties of the war, unknown soldiers of either army
Feelings ran highest in the summer of 1645, when Lord Goring’s barbarous and rapacious cavalry descended on the region. Bands of Clubmen were formed to defend the local inhabitants from them. South Molton men were prominent among these and by September they had retaken their town from the Royalists.
Before the end of the Civil War, on 23Nov 1644, Thomas Nichells married in Elizabeth Pearce in South Molton. There are four possible explanations for this. 1) Our Thomas’s first wife might have died and this was a remarriage. 2) Thomas might have had a son Thomas junior, whose baptism is not recorded in South Molton; it was normal for men to give their own name to one of their sons. 3) Another Thomas Nichols might have moved into the parish from elsewhere. 4) The bridegroom might have been resident in another parish; the South Molton registers often do not give this information. The fact that this marriage was not followed by baptisms for their children suggests that the bride was an older woman, or that the couple raised their family outside South Molton. Either the first or the last explanation is therefore more likely.
The records of 16th century Nichols in South Molton come to an end with the burial of John Nichols in Jan 1649/50, just after the close of the Civil War. Quite probably he was the child of John Nichols, born in February the previous year. No burial has been found in South Molton for Thomas. He may have been a casualty of the Civil War, when ‘strangers’ were often buried outside their home parish. But the absence of any new generation of baptisms suggests that Nicholas was not the only one of this family to move away.
 Unless otherwise stated, information on the Civil War is from Mark Stoyle, Loyalty and Locality: Popular Allegiance in Devon during the English Civil War. University of Exeter Press, 1994.
 Mark Stoyle, Devon and the Civil War. The Mint Press, 2001.
NEXT GENERATION: 11. NICOLLS-BEERE