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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)



WALTER DOWNEY seems the most likely father of William Downey of Witheridge in the sixteenth centurY. He called his first son Walter.

The names Downe/Doune and Downey/Downhay are both found in Witheridge this century. In the following century, Downey is frequently found, but Downe hardly at all. It is not certain whether these are separate surnames or just variant spellings. In the early records of this century,  Doune or Downe is the usual form. The name Downey first appears with Thomas Downhay, who was a lowly-rated taxpayer in the 1545 Lay Subsidy Roll.[1]

Thomas Downey appears to have been a free tenant, holding his land from the Duchy of Lancaster.[2] Free tenants paid an annual quit rent, but had a security of tenure not enjoyed by other tenants. We can assume that Walter grew up on a farm. The name Witheridge means ‘wether’s ridge’. This was sheep-farming country, supplying the prosperous Devon wool trade. The parish was upland country, and partly moor.

We do not know when Walter was born. The parish registers begin in the 1580s. Walter first appears in the records in the 1569 Muster Roll.[3] He is a pikeman. Every able-bodied man between 16 and 60 was eligible for service, so Walter must have been born in or before 1553, the year when Mary I inherited the throne from her half-brother, Edward VI, and sought to turn the Protestant country back to Catholicism. But his children were marrying and raising their own families in the 1580s, so we can estimate their births in the 1550s. That probably puts Walter’s own birth back to the 1520s, when Henry VIII was on the throne. In that case, he would have been in his forties when the Muster Roll was drawn up.


?JOHAN. We have no firm evidence for the name of Walter’s wife, but his burial is followed five years later by that of Johan Downehaye, widow. She may be Walter’s wife. William, whom we presume to be Walter’s son, named two of his children Walter and Johan, which may be a pointer, but the latter is too common a name for it to be very significant.


We do not have baptisms for their children. By the time the Witheridge parish registers begin, this younger generation are marrying and having children baptised themselves. There are two names which are probably Walter’s and possibly Johan’s children. These are William Downhay, who has children baptised from 1588 onwards, and perhaps others before the register begins, and Johan Downehay, who married Richard Saule in 1590. There were probably others.

Walter does not appear in the 1581 Subsidy Roll as taxpayer.[4] This may be because he was not a householder. He could have been living on his father’s farm. Thomas Downe was rated to have a yearly income from land of £1. This Thomas died in 1587 and his presumed wife Margrett in 1588. But for them to have been Walter’s parents, they would both have to have lived to around 80.

The other possible reason for Walter’s absence from the list is that those assessed for goods at under £3 were not listed. If Walter had a low income, other than from land, he would not be recorded.


Walter died in 1588.

Burial. Witheridge. (DCRS transcript)
1588  Downehey, Waulter  28 Dec

This was followed by:
1593  Downehaye, Johan, wid.  11 June

If the theory about the two Johans is right, then the older Johan lived to see her daughter married.

If Downe and Downey are interchangeable surnames, then William Downey’s parents could be the Thomas Downe who died in 1587 and his presumed wife Margrett, as an alternative to Walter and his presumed wife Johan. But since both surnames occur in the register at the same period, it seems safer to assume that they were used by different families, or at least by different branches of the same family.


[1] T.L. Stoate, ed.,Devon Lay Subsidy Rolls 1543-145, (www.thebookshop.org.uk)
[2] Peter and Freda Tout and John Usmar, The Book of Witheridge: A Parish Through the Centuries, (Halsgrove, 2003).
[3] T.L. Stoate and A.J. Howard, ed., The Devon Muster Roll for 1569, (www.thebookshop.org.uk)
[4] T.L. Stoate, ed., Devon Taxes 1581-1660, (www.thebookshop.org.uk)





Sampson Tree